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Friday 10 July 2020

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (15)

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (15)

Dear Japan Society members and friends

If nothing else, this pandemic has over the past few months taught us how vulnerable we all are and given us some inkling of the sort of steps that are necessary to reduce that vulnerability. Our friends in Japan perhaps needed less reminding of that, given the prevalence since time immemorial there of natural disasters. That special predicament of Japan was again on display this week, in the form of the terrible destruction wrought by torrential rain, flooding and landslides in Kyushu last weekend, taking more than 60 lives and forcing the evacuation from their homes of many thousands. We send our sympathies to everyone who has been affected.
In my introduction to this week’s webinar, I commented on how proud we at the Japan Society are about the fact that having been founded in 1891 we can claim to be the oldest such body in a western society dedicated to the study of Japan and to cultivating the relationship between our two countries, and even more so about the fact that the following year Emperor Meiji sent the princely sum of 100 guineas as a gift (which, adjusting for inflation, would be worth about £14,000 today). At every point in that century and a quarter, however, it has been important to sit back and reflect on what our two countries really mean to each other and how we can work together to deal with whatever contemporary issues confront us both. That is why it was a delight to welcome two speakers who are so well qualified to do just that. In Tokyo we had Tomohiko Taniguchi, who advises (and writes speeches for) Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on foreign affairs, having previously worked as deputy press spokesman in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2005-2008), a role he took up as a career change from journalism, which had brought him to London in the late 1990s as correspondent for Nikkei Business. And in London we had the familiar face of Jeremy Hunt MP, who as foreign secretary in 2018-2019 drew plaudits during a visit to Japan for his speech in Japanese.
Both our speakers rooted their reflections in the two great geopolitical and economic issues of our age: first, the need to respond to the rise of China and in particular to that country’s increasingly confident, some would say assertive, behaviour, especially within Asia but also in global affairs; and second, the responsibility and interest that the UK and Japan share in, as Taniguchi san put it, “encouraging, incentivising and motivating” future American presidents to remain not only actively involved in world affairs but also firmly at the head of the network of alliances and friendships that the US has established over the past 75 years. Taniguchi san added the need for the UK and Japan to work together to improve the way in which data, which he called “the oil of the 21st century”, is governed worldwide; afterwards, I regretted that we did not find the chance to discuss this issue further, since it is undoubtedly important, given the dominance of the American data giants such as Facebook, Google and Apple, and the corresponding rise of data giants in China which are currently mainly domestic but may not always be.
Jeremy Hunt commented that the strongest alliances in world affairs are not the merely transactional ones, in which one partner imports defence technology or something from the other, but rather ones in which values are shared, which both speakers felt is very much the case today between the UK and Japan. There was much positive talk about the potential to develop further the already close relationships between our two militaries – Taniguchi san indeed expressed the hope that, following the pioneering joint military exercise that was held in Japan in 2018, it might soon be possible for Japanese forces to travel to the UK for a joint exercise here – as well as about further enhancing collaboration over intelligence.
In that context of foreign and military affairs, I am pleased to be able to share a further invitation. The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), the country’s oldest defence and security think-tank, will on 13 August hold an online event, VJ Day 75 Years On: Reflections on the UK-Japan Relationship, in which a panel of expert speakers, including our own David Warren, will discuss the long-term impact of the second world war on our countries’ foreign and security policies, as well as how the UK-Japan relationship has evolved. RUSI has generously offered to invite any Japan Society member who wishes to attend this event to come as their guest. Anyone who would like to take up this offer should write to, providing their name and confirming they are members of the Japan Society, by the close of business on Wednesday 12 August
Our own next webinar will be on 14 July and will move away from current affairs to look at the arts and the state of arts institutions amid the current Covid-19 crisis. In Tokyo we will hear from Mami Kataoka, director of the Mori Art Museum, which I am sure many members have enjoyed visiting over the years; and in London we will hear from Rebecca Salter, who is President of the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly as well as being a practising artist herself, with a deep background in Japanese woodblock printing. Do join us, if you can, and by all means invite your friends to do so too.


Previous Chairman's Blogs