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Friday 18 June 2021

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (42)

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (42)

Dear Japan Society members and friends

Over the past year and a half we have all become rather more knowledgeable about the way in which Mother Nature can spring surprises on us than we ever wanted or expected to be. So it was uplifting to read on the BBC News website about the discovery of some rare orchids in the rooftop garden on One Angel Lane, the London headquarters of Nomura International and where in normal times our annual lecture by the UK ambassador has kindly been hosted. These strikingly tall small-flowered tongue orchids are apparently normally found in the Mediterranean and on the Atlantic coasts of France, Spain and Portugal, although some were first spotted in Cornwall in 1989. No one knows how this species has jumped from one of those places to Nomura’s roof, but it is safe to say that it is too soon for the seeds to have come on the shoes of anyone who attended the G7 summit in Carbis Bay on 11-13 June. It is also, I would add, good to see the roof of an office building put to such good use, with its solar panels and garden. Far too many such spaces are left bare and wasted.
 
How many of you, like me, remember the advertising line “Hello Tosh, got a Toshiba?” from way back in 1985 when that great conglomerate was making waves in consumer electronics? For those of us who do, the long-running scandals and troubles surrounding the company have been sad to watch, the latest revealed by an independent investigation on how the firm colluded with officials from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to strong-arm activist shareholders and to restrict the use of shareholder rights. It has not cast a very flattering light on Japan’s much-vaunted reforms to corporate governance and stewardship, nor on the hoped-for influence from ESG (environmental, social and governance) investing, one of the most prominent names in which, Hiromichi Mizuno formerly of the massive Government Pension Investment Fund, has become embroiled in the affair. Some elements though do alas resemble the justified anger in the UK shown by the independent investigation led by Baroness Nuala O’Loan into the conduct of the Metropolitan Police over the unsolved murder way back in 1987 of Daniel Morgan, a private investigator. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, stands accused of having deliberately hampered inquiries into the case, while in a previous role, in order to protect the reputation of the Metropolitan Police. The common element is the way institutions and the people leading them close ranks and break rules in order to protect themselves.
 
That, as it happens, was also very much an underlying theme of our last webinar, featuring Professor Koichi Nakano of Sophia University and Alex Thomas of the Institute for Government, about the recurrent scandals and controversies concerning political corruption, campaign finance and conflicts of interest in both our countries. For those who missed it, the video can be found here. As we learned, the eternal difficulty is that of “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”, who will guard the guards themselves?, with searches for accountability so often going round in circles. Since that very illuminating discussion it is nevertheless worth noting that this week former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai was sentenced by the Tokyo District Court to three years in prison in his trial for bribing 100 local politicians and supporters to secure votes for his wife in an Upper House election in 2019. 
 
Our next webinar, on Thursday 24 June at 12.00pm, will be of a rather different nature. We have had a number of discussions about gender inequality in the UK and Japan over the past year, and this time we are going to examine the psychological and sociological factors that lie behind it, and behind the management challenge of getting the best out of your workforces, whether female or male. Our speakers both happen to have new books out this month and next which are very relevant to this issue: Mary Ann Sieghart, a journalist, visiting professor at Kings College London and former chair of the Social Market Foundation, whose new book is called The Authority Gap: Why women are taken less seriously than men – and what we can do about it; and Ian Robertson, a neuroscientist and clinical psychologist at Trinity College Dublin and the University of Texas at Dallas, whose new book is called How Confidence Works
 
We’re then planning two more current affairs webinars in fairly quick succession. On 30 June at 12.00pm we will take a look at the outcome of that G7 meeting at Carbis Bay, along with the rest of President Joe Biden’s eight-day visit to Europe, and ask what the notion that “the West is back” will mean for the UK and Japan. Our speakers will be Hiroyuki Akita, foreign affairs and international security commentator for the Nikkei and Gideon Rachman, chief foreign affairs commentator for the Financial Times. Then on 6 July we will have what I expect to be a more relaxed conversation about Britain, Japan and their roles in the world with Gideon’s colleague, Philip Stephens, and with Richard Needham, longtime friend of the Japan Society and former Conservative minister, again based on their recent books: Richard’s memoir, One Man, Two Worlds and Philip’s examination of sixty years of Britain’s diplomatic history, Britain Alone. Do join us.
 
Bill

* Image © Nomura

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