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Monday 5 July 2021

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (43)

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (43)

Dear Japan Society members and friends

It now seems to happen every year at some stage, but the extreme weather events we have been seeing lately still come as a shock as well, we must hope, as an eye-opener about the reality of climate change. I am sure many of us have had enjoyable visits to the hot-spring resort of Atami over the years, including during the summer, so to see it suffer a month’s average rainfall in such a short time, bringing deadly mud- and landslides down those precipitous hills, gives one quite a jolt. The personal tragedies and the film of the destruction are very sad, although it is a relief that the rescue efforts have been swift and so far quite successful. Many of us occasional visitors will know of Atami especially for its wonderful Museum of Art with its beautiful Noh theatre, which I am not surprised to note from the website is temporarily closed thanks to the extreme weather. By the way, I love the Takeuchi Seihō paintings shown on the website, from MOA’s current exhibition, “The Vibrant Life of Nature”.
The extraordinary heatwaves seen in the western parts of Canada and the United States have also shown a remarkable side of nature’s vibrancy, with temperatures in Oregon and British Columbia that are more typical of Saudi Arabia and which almost certainly presage a severe wildfire-season in those regions and in California. Even though Britain does occasionally experience flooding and storms, such sights remind us that we are fortunate to have a rather temperate climate, much as the frequent disappearance of summer sun may make us grumble. In a different (but still vibrant) way, this time of the year often brings to mind a conversation I had in the 1990s with the then CEO of South African Breweries in Johannesburg who was at the time contemplating exploiting the end of his country’s apartheid-era pariah status to expand abroad and wanted to assure the world that his firm would be more than able to match up to its then-bigger and more experienced European and American competitors. As he said with a snarl and some expletives not suitable for this family blog, “the worst those bosses have had to worry about is their strawberries getting wet at Wimbledon, while we’ve been dealing with droughts, political violence, wars and strikes. Don’t you think that might have sharpened us up?” Well, he did have a point. And SAB went on to do rather well, globally.
Speaking of Wimbledon, this is certainly a month of grand sporting events but also one of anxiety about whether it is yet right to allow spectators to sit in the stadiums to watch, and in what numbers. The reality, as the scenes in London when Scotland played England in the Euro 2020 football tournament, is that at least in the European summer fans will gather together in crowds regardless of whether they are allowed in the stadium. Indeed, as we saw this past weekend, they will also travel from England to Rome even when they are not supposed to. The running of Wimbledon at half-capacity, with larger crowds planned for the finals, and the same happening for the Euro soccer tournament at venues all over the continent, does put Japan’s anguished debate about the Olympics and spectators in some sort of perspective. It is good to see that nearly a quarter of Japanese residents have now received at least one dose of a vaccine, with 13% fully vaccinated, and that more than a million jabs are going into arms almost every day. It has been interesting, though not surprising, to see the role being played by large corporations in vaccinating employees, something that hasn’t generally been seen elsewhere. 
We all know the vaccination programme has happened much later in Japan than it should have, but nevertheless by 23 July when the opening ceremony will take place, a total of something like 65 million doses look likely to have been administered. The UK’s vaccination rate is a lot higher, but so are its current rates of infections (25 times Japan’s, on a pro-rata basis, on the latest seven-day average), hospitalisations and deaths (still slightly higher than Japan’s, even at today’s low levels). When the final decisions come about spectators at the Games, we should bear those comparisons in mind, especially when seeing the crowds at the finals of Wimbledon and the Euros next weekend. It is good that both our countries have been able to stage those other competitive events, namely elections, with four hard-fought by-elections in the UK in recent weeks and the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly elections this past weekend. It is to be hoped that Governor Koike’s health continues to improve in time for 23 July.
Politics, business and the presentation of a nation in global diplomacy and trade form, in a sense, the backdrop to the Olympics for Japan, but they will also very much form the basis of our conversation on 6 July from 6.30pm (BST) with Richard Needham and Philip Stephens. Richard is well-known to many of us as having been one of the co-founders of what was then the UK-Japan 2000 Group back in the 1980s and for having worked hard as minister of trade to promote British business in Japan and around the world. His just published, and very enjoyable, memoir, is "One Man, Two Worlds". Philip is chief political commentator of the Financial Times, and his latest book, "Britain Alone", is more like a national memoir, of the UK’s search for its place in the world since 1945.
Last month we held two current affairs webinars, both of which I found rather enjoyable and illuminating: one on the psychological background to gender inequality, and what employers and ordinary people can do about it, with Mary Ann Sieghart and Ian Robertson; and the other on the West’s place in the world, following the Cornwall G7 and President Joe Biden’s long European visit, with Hiroyuki Akita and Gideon Rachman. For those who missed the webinars and might like to catch up, the videos can be found respectively here and here.

* Image © Segment from Foxes and Raccoon Dog by Takeuchi Seihō

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