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Friday 18 December 2020

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (31)

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (31)

Dear Japan Society members and friends

For once, we can certainly say that we didn’t go to the Annual Dinner for the food. Nor did we go to the Christmas Party for the drink, even though the Japan Society members who attended were taught how to make a nifty looking cocktail involving sake and cold tea. What we did go to the virtual “dinner with a twist” for, however, was comradeship, a sense of belonging and above all a lot of fun. The remarkable entertainment organised by Japan Society staff ranged from the Min'yo Crusaders who re-work Japanese folk songs using musical styles from all over the world, to a video of the British Museum’s new curator for the Japanese collection, Rosina Buckland, talking about Hokusai drawings just acquired by the museum, to Yuriko Kotani performing stand-up (or rather, sit-down) comedy through to a live calligraphy demonstration from Sapporo. It was quite a show, which gave me quite an appetite for the dinner I ate afterwards. To those who missed it I can certainly say “please join the Japan Society” but I don’t know whether I can say “come next year” because we all hope members will indeed go to a conventional 2021 annual dinner for the food and drink as well as friendship, but I hope we can find ways to repeat that sort of very special online experience in the future. Meanwhile members and friends may enjoy this video produced by the Japan Society and shown at the virtual dinner as a way of summing up the Society’s activities in what we all hope and pray will prove to have been a very unusual year.
As that video reminds us, one of the last in-person events of 2020 turned out to be the annual lecture by Paul Madden, the UK’s ambassador to Japan, kindly hosted on 5 March by Nomura Securities in their splendid auditorium. It turns out that that annual lecture might be Ambassador Madden’s last, at least in-person, since it was announced this week that his posting which began in January 2017 will end in March. He will be succeeded by Julia Longbottom whom some members will recall as having been Deputy Chief of Mission in Tokyo from 2012-2016, then Director of Consular Affairs until early 2020 and most recently Director of the Coronavirus Task Force, both at the Foreign Office in London. Certainly we will do our best to arrange a last lecture as ambassador by Paul Madden, probably online before March, and will look forward to welcoming Ambassador-designate Longbottom to address the Society in person in London in early 2022. Let us note that this will mean that both the UK and Japan will have new ambassadors in early 2021: we look forward to welcoming Ambassador-designate Hajime Hayashi by whatever means is permitted. And we can also note that the UK will now have female ambassadors in both Washington, DC, and Tokyo.
During the week of the virtual annual dinner we also hosted two webinars on current affairs: the first, the video of which can be viewed here, provided a particularly large audience with a detailed briefing about the new UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement by Hiroshi Matsuura, the new Deputy Chief of Mission in London having previously been Japan’s chief negotiator for the free trade deal, and Minako Morita-Jaeger, of the UK Trade Policy Observatory. We learned that the main innovation of the CEPA lies in its section on data and e-commerce, and that if Britain wishes later to apply to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership then agreement will need to be reached on some issues that were left unresolved by the CEPA, in particular rules for investment. The second webinar was rather different, looking at higher education in our two countries. We were fortunate to hear from two university heads, David Richardson, vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia, and Yuko Takahashi, president of Tsuda University in Tokyo. The video can be viewed here. Our speakers shared their preoccupations about the conduct of entrance exams, about the mental well-being of staff and students, and about the management of online teaching during Covid-19, while also seeing opportunities in terms of global reach and international collaboration.
It has certainly been a year both for reflection and one to be reflected upon. As the video of the year’s activities showed, it has been nevertheless a year of intensive work by the Japan Society, both in order to adapt to digital communication and to exploit them to offer new things, both to schools and to members and supporters. You may find it interesting to browse through the website, where can be found recordings of past webinars and cultural talksbook reviewsresources for schools and families, and soon a video of Tuesday’s talk on the role of the comedian in Japan by Till Weingärtner.
As this will be my last Chairman’s Blog for 2020, I will close by thanking you all for your encouragement and support of the Japan Society this year. I also wish you a restful and enjoyable Christmas and look forward to offering a hearty Omedetou in the first blog of the New Year.


* Photo: Horikawa River Pleasure Boat © JNTO

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