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Friday 5 June 2020

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (10)

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (10)

Dear Japan Society members and friends

In cricket, that English national sport which arrived in Meiji Japan a good decade before baseball but sadly was superseded, there is a saying called “the commentator’s curse”. No sooner has a cricket commentator on TV or radio observed that a player is looking well settled in, runs the curse, than they will suddenly be dismissed. The announcement this week that there will, after all, be a Test series of three matches between England and the visiting West Indies team this summer, starting on 8 July, albeit in empty stadiums gave this Englishman the welcome feeling that summer might really be starting (which in England is usually a cue for heavy rain, or even snow). But for other, rather more sombre reasons, it reminded me of the commentator’s curse.

A fortnight ago I took part in an online symposium about the state of democracy organised by Trinity College Dublin and Columbia University in New York, part of the premise for which was that during the pandemic, the normal “public sphere” of free expression and demonstrations was not proving possible due to quarantines and social distancing. This week’s events have certainly proved otherwise, with protests breaking out all over America and indeed in London and other big cities about the tragic and terrible death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and what it signified about justice and race. Brave protestors in Hong Kong flouted an official ban on the commemoration of the anniversary on 4 June of the massacres near Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989, and in Italy right-wing opposition groups suddenly chose to fill the piazzas of Milan and Rome with demonstrations, one styling itself the “gilets arancini”, or orange vests, in homage to France’s gilets jaunes of 2018-19. This may signify that people, especially younger people, now feel less worried about health, or that perhaps these issues of democracy and the rule of law have put the pandemic into a new perspective.

Demonstrations are not, of course, seen much in modern Japan, at least they haven’t been since the 1970s – although I am old enough to remember the regular protests in the 1970s and smaller ones in the 1980s against the expansion of Narita Airport, which also explained the uncharacteristically tough security arrangements there. This week's webinar on the outlook for energy also reminded us about the anti-nuclear movement that arose in Japan after the Fukushima Dai-Ichi accident in 2011 and how it has successfully limited the restarting of most of the country’s nuclear power capacity ever since.

Our speakers, Professor Jun Arima of the Graduate School for Public Policy at the University of Tokyo, and Nick Butler, visiting professor at King’s College London’s Policy Institute, struck a distinctly sober but realistic tone about both the future prospects for nuclear energy in Japan and the UK alike and about the likelihood of any significant public policy initiatives to improve our two countries’ performance on carbon emissions reduction after the pandemic. A highly over-supplied oil market was likely to keep hydrocarbons prices low for quite some time, making it unlikely that renewables would be able to make dramatic progress around the world, and governments’ priorities, our speakers thought, would be for creating jobs more than improving the environment. The task, this implied, will be to make convincing arguments that these two goals can be combined.

We are planning future webinars on travel and tourism (Friday 19 June) and on the United States (25 June), more details of which will be circulated shortly. Next week I will be delighted to welcome back to the Japan Society Michael Mainelli, who rejoices in the title of Aldermanic Sheriff of the City of London while also being chairman of his commercial think-tank Z/Yen, producer of the Global Financial Centres Index; and Hiroshi Nakaso, chairman of Daiwa Institute for Research, previously deputy governor of the Bank of Japan, and now also chair of FinCity Tokyo, the organisation set up by Tokyo Metropolitan Government to help develop Tokyo as an international financial centre. Our topic will be the futures of London and Tokyo as financial centres, after the pandemic but also in the light of other factors such as Brexit and technological change. Do please join us.


*Image: The first cricket match in Japan ©Michael Galbraith

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