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Monday 23 November 2020

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (28)

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (28)

Dear Japan Society members and friends

There is much in common between Britain and Japan, but one thing that certainly differentiates us is our relationship to Mother Nature. We British are fortunate to have weather that even at its wildest is none too extreme, a stable geology and fauna that presents few dangers to life, limb or even livestock. Where I used to live on Exmoor it is true that occasionally a driver would come off badly in a late-night collision with one of the beautiful herd of Red Deer, but alcohol also sadly often played a part. In Japan, we know too well of the impact of earthquakes, tsunamis and typhoons but perhaps we sometimes underestimate the wildlife. A good friend who has a house up in the Gunma mountains has reported several dangerous encounters with black and brown bears, the worst of which were fortunately averted by the brave action of his Japanese dogs. That is all a preface to bringing to your attention a rather nice story from Hokkaido, of a small town called Takikawa which has installed a mechanical wolf in order to scare off bears. As well as a cute tale of local inventiveness, this also confirms something about the wild world of the international media, namely the way in which such stories, especially when of Japanese exotica, ripple their way around the world once they’ve been spotted in local media, sometimes year after year. My first sighting of the wolf was in the New York Times on 15 November, but a Google search then revealed a video clip on NHK World of the rather marvellous creation about a month earlier, as well as subsequent stories in the Independentthe Guardian and others. And then I spotted a Mainichi story from 2018 showing the same mechanical wolf being used in Fukuoka prefecture to scare off other predators, which rather implied that the manufacturer, Ohta Seiki of Hokkaido, had been making the wolves for some time.  
Smart marketing has also been the hallmark of the French makers of “Beaujolais Nouveau”, a wine that is too young to be, shall we say, admired by the connoisseur but which engendered a very media-worthy race in the 1970s and 1980s by London wine merchants to drive to Beaujolais each November and be the first to get back with that year’s output. This fashion has more or less died out in the UK, at least as far as I know, but some remnants of it persist in Japan. Way back in the 1980s I recall how Japan Airlines made a nice show of flying in the new stock, so that thanks to time zones Japan could be the first place where the Beaujolais Nouveau was released and drunk on the designated day. The Mainichi Shimbun reported this week that one Onsen resort in Kanagawa prefecture has given the celebration yet another twist, by offering visitors the chance not just to drink the wine but also to bathe in it, naturally in an open air bath given this year of COVID-19. When I told a French friend, no fan of Beaujolais Nouveau, about this story he riposted that bathing is a better use of the wine than drinking it. I won’t comment on that view, but can add that France 24, an international news channel, also reported this week that one of Britain’s fairly few makers of red wine, a vineyard in Herefordshire near the Welsh border, has released its own fresh-from-the-harvest product, English Nouveau, competing with Beaujolais Nouveau by also opening its marketing on the third Thursday of November.
Education has long been at the heart of the Japan Society’s work, so the team are currently preparing hard for this year’s Sixth Form Japan Week from 1 December to 4 December, which thanks to being online promises to bring both Japan and the Society’s work to a much wider range of schools than is usually possible. There is still time to sign up for what will be a mixture of talks, workshops and panel discussions, including a particularly interesting looking one on “How Japan Shaped My Career”. This year has of course been an especially challenging one both for schools and universities, all over the world, and even more so for the students. The British Chamber of Commerce in Japan is holding a webinar on Tuesday 24 November to discuss the “Crisis-Driven Change” that is underway, which is free to attend and which, being held at 6.30 - 8.00pm JST is also convenient for those in the UK. 
This gives me an opportunity to give an advance mention to the Japan Society’s own webinar on the state of further education in Japan and the UK which will be held on 10 December. Our guests will be David Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia, and Yuko Takahashi, President of Tsuda University in Tokyo. That webinar also happens to be the same date as the Japan Society’s first ever online annual dinner, an event with entertainment even if the food and drink has to be on a DIY basis, so it will be a busy but interesting and fun day.
Meanwhile this coming week, on 26 November at 12.00pm GMT, our webinar will feature a conversation with Lionel Barber, who stood down as Editor of the Financial Times in January this year after 14 years in the role. We will not only discuss the changes that have taken place in what Private Eye likes to call “the Pink’Un” but also the FT’s experience of being acquired and run by Nikkei since 2015 in what counts as one of the highest profile Japanese takeovers of a British firm in recent years. 


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