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Saturday 5 December 2020

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (30)

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (30)

Dear Japan Society members and friends

As the year moves to a close we are all in a poor position to make the usual plans for Bonenkai and Christmas parties, but one tradition endures: the choosing, usually by publishers eager for attention, of “words of the year”. It is fitting that in Japan Sanmitsu has been picked as the top buzzword of 2020, since its simple mantra to avoid the “three Cs”, of closed spaces, crowded places and close contacts has been widely praised by virologists the world over as particularly good and effective communication. According to this article the mantra was dreamt up by officials at the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare back in March, in which case I hope they now find time to celebrate in some uncrowded way. I don’t know whether we Brits will conclude in the end that we wasted early weeks talking about singing “Happy Birthday” twice while washing our hands, but certainly all countries have a lot to learn from Japan's, as well as the wider East Asian, success in managing the health consequences of the pandemic. This week I particularly appreciated a webinar held by Chatham House about lessons from Japan, unfortunately open only to its members so I cannot share a video, but the talk from the really excellent Hitoshi Oshitani of Tohoku University convinced me that we must invite him to join a Japan Society webinar in 2021.
One thing Dr Oshitani mentioned of which I was previously unaware was how Japan’s large network of public health nurses has played a vital role in rapidly tracking the causes of clusters of infections as well as steering behaviour. Definitions undoubtedly vary between countries, but it seems that Japan has an extraordinary 40,000 or so public health nurses, of which more than 7,000 are based in public health centres. Their community knowledge and the trust in which they are held, according to Dr Oshitani, has been invaluable. They had a harder time, he said, quizzing people who had been infected when visiting night-clubs, but mostly their reservoir of trust paid off. More expert members may be able to advise me as to what is the correct comparison for England, but according to this government report in 2014 we had just 350-750 public health nurses working in “health protection teams”, although there are 11,000 health visitors. The range of that estimation of 350-750 may indicate that the comparison isn’t very solid, but the general point is that quite intensive community-based work is of great benefit during a pandemic, and Japan is particularly good at that.
Next week promises to be especially busy for the Japan Society and its own community, for we have two webinars and the virtual annual dinner, with a regular board meeting sandwiched in between. The first of the webinars is on 8 December at 12 noon when we will be discussing the new UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement and puzzling out what it will mean for businesses in both our countries. We are fortunate that Hiroshi Matsuura has just arrived in London as Deputy Chief of Mission having previously served as Japan’s chief negotiator for the UK-Japan deal. He will be joined as a speaker by Minako Morita-Jaeger, who is a trade expert at the Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex.
Then on 10 December, also at noon, we will turn our attention to higher education in the UK and Japan. Universities here have been struggling to maintain something of a normal student experience during the pandemic, while also needing to cope with the loss of income especially from external conference rentals and summer schools. In Japan things seem to have run more smoothly, and universities are less dependent on outside income from rentals and international students, but they face other long-term challenges such as declining domestic student numbers and, in the case of public universities, declining public funding. Our speakers will be Yuko Takahashi, who is president of Tsuda University in Tokyo, a prestigious private women’s university that was founded in 1900; and David Richardson, vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia, which also hosts the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures.
Last but by no means least, the evening of 10 December will see, at 7.30pm, the "dinner with a twist" that the Japan Society team have worked hard and imaginatively to organise. There will be live performances, musical interludes and the chance to chat online in break-out rooms, perhaps with a drink in your hand. This event may also provide a last, or at least one of the last, opportunities to hear from Ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine, as the news emerged in recent days that he will be leaving the UK in January. Thanks to the pandemic we have sadly not had as much chance as usual to get to know him (although some of us knew him during his earlier posting as economic minister) during what has been a short term of office. Such are the mysterious ways of ministries. This will give us a chance to raise a glass to him and wish him well in his next role. His successor has already been announced: Mr Hajime Hayashi, who has previously served as head of the European bureau and as ambassador to Belgium.


* Photo: Horikawa River Pleasure Boat © JNTO

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