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Monday 4 September 2023

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (55)

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (55)

Dear Japan Society members and friends
One of the pleasures of travelling in the British Isles is the frequency with which reminders of Japan and of Japanese culture crop up, often unexpectedly. In July, for example, I had to spend a few days in Brighton and was pleasantly surprised to discover an exhibition at the small Hove Museum of Creativity of Ukiyoe woodblock prints from the museum’s own collection, displayed under the theme of Godai – the five elements of earth, water, fire, wind and void. Hokusai, Hiroshige and Kunisada are all well represented, having been collected early in the 20th century (I think) by a local resident who later donated them to the museum. As that visit was followed by a late July trip to Japan to give a lecture at University of Tokyo (available here as a cure for insomnia), I was conscious of another of the pleasures of summer travel in the British Isles: the temperate weather. According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, for the first time since 1875 every single day in August has seen temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius.

Then last month, touring around the (also temperate) southernmost counties of Ireland I was thrilled to visit the impressive Lafcadio Hearn Japanese Gardens in Tramore, a small seaside town near Waterford. This wasn’t a surprise as I had heard that these gardens had been created just under a decade ago, but the surprise – and delight – was at how well they had become established in that relatively short time. They are of course an act of commemoration of that great Irish (well, Irish-Greek) writer who is far better known in Japan (as Yakumo Koizumi, his adopted name) than in Ireland. He spent summers as a child at Tramore, and it was the visit of his great-grandson, Bon Koizumi, in 2012 to retrace his ancestor’s roots that led to the idea of the gardens. Professor Koizumi directs the museum in Matsue in Hearn’s former home which some members may, like me, have had the good fortune to visit. And by some sort of further miracle, a great-granddaughter of Hearn lives near Tramore and is also involved with the gardens.

History is always with us, though sometimes it brings less pleasant images than those of Hokusai or Lafcadio Hearn. Last Friday, 1 September, brought the 100th anniversary of the Great Kanto Earthquake which in 1923 devastated Tokyo and surrounding areas, and killed an estimated 105,000 people, chiefly through the fires that resulted. Japan’s worst ever natural disaster provides a vital, if sometimes overlooked, background to the country’s evolution during the 1920s and 1930s, as well, alas, as having left deep scars on Japan-Korea relations thanks to the mass killings of Koreans that took place in the aftermath of the quake. The Japan Times had an excellent long report on the Great Kanto Earthquake on 31 August, focused on Yokoamicho Park in Sumida-ku where so many perished in a firestorm; for those who prefer a more comprehensive and academic approach the Asia-Pacific Journal Japan Focus brought out a special issue for the anniversary including, I note, an essay by our former Japan Society board member Janet Hunter on the economic costs of the disaster.

Talking of former board members, and indeed of history, Japan Society members might also like to know that this month one of my distinguished predecessors as Chair, Haruko Fukuda, will be publishing her memoir. Entitled My Families and Other SamuraiHaruko’s book is especially interesting on her forebears and the parts they played in modern Japanese history.

After the great success of our Stonehenge trip I’m delighted to see a busy schedule of events for the autumn. These include a Japanese woodblock print workshop with the wonderful artist Hiroko Imada and the return of our academic lecture series. Dates for these will be shared shortly with members.

In addition to these we are about to resume our popular quarterly lunch series organised jointly with the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry. If dates can be agreed shortly, hopefully in October the first will feature as our guest speaker the next Lord Mayor of London, Michael Mainelli, who takes office in November and has set “Knowledge Miles” as the theme for his mayoral year. I look forward to benefiting from his own knowledge and seeing how the Japan Society and our members might be able to contribute.

I hope we might be able to confirm the date for that event before members gather for the Japan Society Annual General Meeting at 6.00pm on Friday 8 September kindly hosted by the Embassy of Japan on Piccadilly. I know that once we have reported on the Society’s finances and activities in 2022 our new Chief Executive, Michael Rivera King, is keen to say a few words about his team’s plans, especially in terms of events and special interest groups, and have the chance to listen to your ideas, whether formally during the AGM or informally during the reception that will follow. I too look forward to catching up with all those who prove able to attend. You will also be able to see the exhibition currently on show at the Embassy, Aizome: The Craft of Japanese Indigo Dying.Finally, if you can forgive me for mentioning Christmas so soon after the summer, I can also report that the date has been set for the Japan Society Christmas Party, also kindly hosted by the Embassy: it will be on 7 December.


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