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Wednesday 4 January 2023

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (53)

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (53)

Dear Japan Society members and friends

May I take this opportunity to wish a very Happy New Year – Shin-nen akemashite omedetou gozaimasu – to all Japan Society members? We know that 2023 will be a demanding one, given all that is happening in geopolitics and economics, as was 2022, but we can take heart from the fact that last year Japan and the UK showed that in the face of danger and aggression our two countries stood closely together in defence of the same values and principles. When Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, hosts the annual meeting of the leaders of the G7 advanced countries (Japan, the UK, the USA, France, Germany, Canada and Italy) in his home town of Hiroshima in May, that close alignment is likely to be on display once again. Moreover, on a lighter note, we can also take heart from the fact that while 2022 was the year of the tiger, 2023 is the year of the rabbit, which as the Japan Times has explained, is a rather gentler, more hopeful symbol. 

Something else that Japan and Britain have long had in common is a great affection for a particular set of rabbits, namely those dreamt up by Beatrix Potter: the mischievous Peter Rabbit, and his better behaved sisters, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail. I have even found this blog from our Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, in the heady pre-covid days of 2019, celebrating the Japanese interest in dear Peter Rabbit (though the blog is wrong to date Japanese translations of Beatrix Potter back a mere 40 years; according to our own Biographical Portraits, the first translation of The Tale of Peter Rabbit appeared in 1906). I do hope that now that travel has resumed both to and from Japan, plenty of Japanese tourists will again make the pilgrimage up to Cumbria in this year of the rabbit.

The Japan Society, meanwhile, will be marking the new year with three sessions of a rather splendid Kakizome, or new year's calligraphy, workshop at our offices in London on Sunday 8 January. The three sessions, all with Yoko Takenami, a London-based calligrapher, are already fully booked but members can still join waiting lists in the hope of cancellations. Yoko’s book, The Simple Art of Japanese Calligraphy, is also well worth a look. 

What else should we expect from 2023? Well, the quip often attributed to the late movie mogul Sam Goldwyn, that we should “never make forecasts, especially about the future”, always reminds me to be cautious about prognostication at this time of year (or indeed at any time). Nonetheless, when we welcome the Japan Society’s good friend Jesper Koll to our quarterly online Japan Macro Salon on 10 January at 12.00pm our discussion will no doubt look ahead to some of the big issues facing the Japanese and global economies in coming months, not least the imminent appointment of a new Governor of the Bank of Japan, succeeding Haruhiko Kuroda when his ten years in office comes to a close at the end of March. Rather than predictions, however, I very much like the approach Jesper took in his new year’s article on his Japan Optimist site on Substack. There, Jesper postulated ten surprises that, if they were to occur, had the potential to change the global Japan narrative this year. Let me emphasise: he is not predicting that these ten “twists and turns” will necessarily happen, but rather saying that they are the sort of possible but unexpected developments that would alter things quite dramatically. We’ll certainly be discussing them, too, on 10 January.

More opportunities to discuss what 2023 may hold for Britain and Japan can be found on 12 January when we and the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry will be jointly hosting a Lunch on the Occasion of the UK-Japan 21st Century Group's Annual Meeting, which will this year be taking place in the UK and so a high-level group of politicians, scholars and officials will be visiting from Japan for the event. On 3 February we will have another in-person event to discuss world affairs, when our speaker will be Paul Tucker, a former deputy governor of the Bank of England, and whose new book, Global Discord: Values and Power in a Fractured World Order, has been on my reading list over Christmas and New Year.

Finally, let me close with two cultural topics. First of all, the Japan Society Book Club has already announced all the 12 books that it plans for discussion this year, which I, like perhaps other members, appreciate as a guide for my own reading during 2023. The full selection can be found here. Second, members in or near London might like to know that the British Film Institute is holding a special season devoted to the late great Akira Kurosawa*, including talks by the season’s programmers. Financial Timessubscribers might like to know, in case they missed it, that to mark the season the FT’s veteran film critic, Nigel Andrews, wrote a marvellous appreciation of Kurosawa on 30 December. I would also be remiss if I did not mention that an old friend of the Japan Society, the asset manager and writer Peter Tasker, published in 2019 his own study of the great director, “On Kurosawa”, for which he also produced a very informative special website.*To celebrate the BFI’s major retrospective of the work of the renowned director, Akira Kurosawa, the BFI are offering 241 tickets on screenings of Kurosawa films, as well as extended free access to the BFI player to enjoy at home streaming. Click here for details.


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