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Monday 11 October 2021

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (46)

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (46)

Dear Japan Society members and friends

If you’ll forgive the pun, it has been a noble week for some of the values shared by the UK and Japan. Since I am a long-time Grub Street Hack, as journalists and other writers were termed in 19th-century Britain, it will surprise no one that I was especially delighted to see the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to two brave journalists, battling to hold authoritarian governments to account: Maria Ressa of Rappler in the Philippines and Dimitry Muratov of Novaya Gazeta in Russia, a prize which the Nobel Committee declared was given to them on behalf of journalists and the freedom of expression everywhere. Six journalists working for Novaya Gazeta have been murdered in recent decades, most notoriously Anna Politkovskaya in 2006. Last year Maria Ressa gave this video talk for the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan about the campaign against her by the government of President Rodrigo Duterte. The Nobel prize announcement emerged to helpfully lift the spirits just as we learned in the UK that a Premier League football club, Newcastle United, is being sold to a consortium in which Saudi Arabia’s state investment fund plays a dominant part, bringing back ghastly memories of the murder and dismemberment by state officials on 2 October 2018 of a Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
 
By a happier coincidence, this award also occurred at almost the same time as I was giving a Zoom lecture for Portland State University’s Centre for Japanese Studies about global trends in mass media and their impact on the Japanese media, the first of a series of talks this Oregon-based centre is holding, the next two of which will be by speakers far more expert than me about today’s Japanese media scene. As my talk focused on trends in the advanced countries I didn’t dwell upon the violence and other intimidation journalists are increasingly subject to in illiberal countries such as Russia and, sadly, the Philippines, as was highlighted by the Nobel, but political pressure on media has certainly become an unfortunate feature even of liberal democracies such as the UK and Japan. Nonetheless, during my preparations my eye was caught by the report on Japan in the 2021 edition of the always invaluable Digital News Report produced by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford: the author Yasuomi Sawa comments on the increasing trend he sees for collaborations in investigative journalism across Japanese media houses which, as this journalism professor from Senshu University said, were previously “unheard of in Japan’s company-centred journalistic culture”. If so, it is a promising development likely to boost accountability.
 
Another of those noble values is of course science. Among last week’s winners of Nobel science prizes were one Japanese, Syukuro Manabe, for the physics prize, and one Scot, David MacMillan, for chemistry. Dr Manabe’s prize, shared with a German scientist, was for work that is especially pertinent for today’s concerns since it helped lay the foundations for the climate models that scientists and therefore all of us now depend upon. While congratulating these two men and getting a natural buzz of national pride we should also note something else they have in common: that having been born respectively in Japan and the UK both have spent almost their entire careers in the United States, and both happen now to be at Princeton University. It is noteworthy that both our countries are seeking, surely rightly, to increase the public funds available for university research in science and technology, with an interesting article in today's Financial Times (behind a paywall) about Japan’s new $90 billion university endowment fund which was announced in March, and its difficulties in recruiting top investment managers. Although pay is the key issue, budding applicants might not however be encouraged by the 90-year-old Dr Manabe's comments to Nikkei Asia about why he feels he thrived in a “curiosity-driven” culture in American science in a way he couldn’t have in what he sees as overly harmony-driven Japan. The new fund hopefully is, or arguably ought to be, part of an effort to change that.
 
There’s no doubt that the groundwork laid by Dr Manabe and other atmospheric scientists will provide a vital background to the political negotiations under way before and during the United Nations Climate Conference, known as COP26, which opens in Glasgow on 31 October and is due to last until 12 November. Ahead of that, to provide a guide both to what to expect and to what the UK and Japanese governments need to do to turn their impressive pledges on emissions-reductions into action, we will be holding a webinar on 20 October at 12.00 noon(BST)/8.00pm(JST). As our UK speaker we will welcome Christopher Huhne, who as a Liberal Democrat served as energy and climate change secretary in the Cameron-Clegg coalition government and is now a climate consultant. And in Japan our speaker will be Kimiko Hirata, an activist who this year was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize and is international director and a founding member of the Kiko Network, an NGO working to help halt climate change. It should be an illuminating as well as practical discussion. Those members especially interested in this topic might further like to know that our friends at the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan are also holding a climate discussion on 28 October (for which Japan Society members can get a full discount as non-BCCJ members by using this code CC_COP26). So too are our friends at the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, with their own webinar about “Net Zero by 2050 in the UK and Japan” on 12 October.
 
Coming up at the Japan Society are a splendid array of events on culture and history, including “Craft Culture in Early Modern Japan”, by Christine Guth on 18 October, a discussion on 28 October about a new musical now touring in Britain, “Tokyo Rose”, about the unfortunate Iva Toguri who was charged in 1949 and then imprisoned by the Americans for alleged wartime treason, and on 21 October a splendid special film with Rosina Buckland, curator of the Japanese collections at the British Museum, about the objects in that remarkable collection. As many will know, the British Museum is now hosting an exhibition, open until 30 January 2022, of one of its most recent acquisitions, Hokusai’s The Great Picture Book of Everything. I can’t wait to see both.

Bill

* Image: Cats and Hibiscus - Katsushika Hokusai

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