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Friday 17 July 2020

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (16)

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (16)

Dear Japan Society members and friends

Let’s start with some good news, for once. Regular readers will know that I have been especially interested in the pioneering work on a Covid-19 vaccine being done at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute, not out of loyalty to my alma mater but out of a belief that the remarkable speed of their work, amid an unprecedented level of global scientific collaboration and research investment by universities and companies in many countries, offers a ray of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy period. Recent days have seen updates by them, and by Moderna, the American firm that seems most advanced in this field, that have been especially promising. The early prediction from Oxford that I cited in my blog on 1 May of millions of doses being available as soon as September or October doesn’t look too far off the mark, going by this long and thorough report in Bloomberg Business Week. It all depends on the results of the mass trials of the Oxford vaccine now under way in Brazil and South Africa. Oxford’s manufacturing partner, Astra Zeneca, is already producing a large stockpile of doses in the hope that this optimism is borne out.
We also had some optimism, if of a sober sort, from Rebecca Salter, President of the Royal Academy of Arts in London and Mami Kataoka, Director of the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, in this week's webinar. As we spoke, the Royal Academy had just re-opened for its “friends and patrons” and was due to open its doors to the general public as of 15 July. The RA’s current exhibition, Picasso and Paper, had been due to move on to another gallery but thanks to the pandemic having affected all arts institutions globally, the touring schedule had been able to be adjusted. The Mori Art Museum had been slower to reopen than many regional museums in Japan thanks to Tokyo’s higher infection rate and difficulties in managing access given that entrance to the Roppongi Hills location is only by a lift, but it was now due to reopen on 31 July. At another London museum, the Victoria and Albert, it also emerged that an exhibition that had been due to close in June, “Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk”, will still be there when the V&A reopens on 6 August, so if you missed it you may still be able to take a look. Here is our review from earlier this year.
What fascinated me, and many questioners, in the presentations was how different are the history and traditions of these two major institutions. The role of the big media companies in organising and promoting exhibitions in Japan, ever since the early 1950s, was a particular surprise, but also plainly a concern for Kataoka san given signs that the media companies felt this business model was no longer working. And the central place played by the schooling of young artists at the Royal Academy ever since its foundation in 1768 was also an eye-opener. Both speakers were worried about the impact of the pandemic and its economic aftermath on today’s new generation of artists and curators, but Kataoka san seemed refreshingly upbeat even about that: she was looking forward to seeing what new forms of contemporary art emerged from the pandemic, she said, and felt that creative people would always find their own creative responses to difficulties and obstacles.
Those members with creative urges may also be interested in our new Manga workshops with the artist Fumio Obata. Those with a bent more towards history and architecture might like to take a look at a new video series about Japan’s modern castles being made by Oleg Benesch of the University of York and his colleague Ran Zwigenberg of Penn State University. Some may recall a lecture Oleg gave to the Japan Society in October 2017. So far, we can join them on visits to the castles of Himeji, Osaka and Hiroshima, via their collected research materials combined with Google Earth. 
Our next weekly webinar, the last in this series before we take a summer break, will be on 22 July and will address the thorny but vital issue of gender inequality in both Japan and the UK. I was amused, if that is the right word, to read this week that the Japanese government has decided to revise its target that 30% of leadership positions be held by women by the end of 2020 because they seem only just to have noticed with barely five months to go that the private sector and civil service are less than halfway there, while the lower house of the Diet is even further behind. This suggests that the official target was not a very serious one. Nevertheless, progress is being made, just as it has been over the past decade in the UK, albeit likewise from a low base. I am delighted that to discuss this issue we will welcome Yoriko Goto, chair of the Deloitte Tohmatsu Group in Tokyo and vice-chair of the Japan Chapter of the 30% Club, which seeks to persuade organisations to make faster progress towards this target. And in London we will welcome Heather McGregor, who was one of the founders of the 30% Club in London in 2010, who many will have read for years thanks to her much missed “Mrs Moneypenny” column in the Financial Times, and who is now Executive Dean of the Edinburgh Business School.


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