Tributes to Sir Hugh Cortazzi GCMG (1924-2018)

Sir Hugh Cortazzi (2016)
Image by Sue Hudson

Members of the Japan Society and other friends are invited to send their message of condolence and tribute, which we will post on this page together with any photographs you would like to share.

Please email your message to

The obituary written by Sir David Warren, Chairman of the Japan Society, can be found here.


Hugh was my Ambassador when I arrived in Japan for the first time as a language trainee at the Embassy in 1982 and then for the first half of my posting. For a young British diplomat in Japan, the depth and breadth of his passion, knowledge and enthusiasm for all things Japanese were a real inspiration – though also a source of occasional despair that one could never hope to begin to emulate them. The deep respect and affection which very many Japanese had for him personally was a real strength for the Embassy and the UK’s relationship with Japan. Since then I, as no doubt so many others, have been continually impressed by his commitment and energy. His death is truly the end of an era. My wife, Phyllis and I send deepest sympathies to his family and particularly to Elizabeth.

Martin Hatfull, Deputy Chairman of The Japan Society


The Japan Foundation London was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Sir Hugh. His contribution to The Japan Foundation and the advancement of Japanese relations within Great Britain and beyond was beyond measure. His tireless efforts and generous support will have left a lasting legacy which will inspire and influence generations to come. He will be sorely missed by us all. 

Mana Takatori, Director General, and the staff at the Japan Foundation


I am deeply sorry to learn of Sir Hugh Cortazzi’s passing.
I would like to extend my heartfelt condolences to the entire family.
Sir Hugh has been crucially important to the furtherance of the Japan-UK relationship, to which I would like to express my sincere appreciation and respect as Chairman of The Japan British Society in Japan. Also it was an honour for Mizuho Financial Group to have known such a great leader and we will truly miss him.
Please convey our sincerest condolences to his family and all at The Japan Society.
May he rest in peace.

Takashi Tsukamoto
Chairman: The Japan British Society
Honorary Advisor: Mizuho Financial Group


Through his lifelong example, Sir Hugh inspired a generation of his colleagues to understand Japan and to contribute to the Japan-British relationship. His breadth and depth of knowledge in this field and his energy to apply and spread it are unmatched and legendary.  Hugh’s foresight and commitment set a gold standard for the economic and business relationship with Japan and for British policy in the promotion of exports and inward investment.  Future generations working in the foreign service and in business, political and academic relations with Japan will do well do seek guidance in his deeply researched and prolific writings.
Those of us privileged to know Hugh cherish his signature in our professional and in our personal lives. 
Our deepest sympathy to Elizabeth and her family.

Paul and Carolyn Dimond


I was so saddened to learn of the death of Sir Hugh Cortazzi. I have very fond memories of first meeting him back in 1995 when I was president of the Japan Society of Northern California. At that time I reached out to the Japan Society in London as San Francisco was looking into its own Japan Society history in preparation of celebrating our 90th anniversary! He had at that time recently completed a history of the Japan Society, London. Sir Hugh was very helpful, charming and welcomed me warmly. I was truly honored to have made his acquaintance. It is at that time that I became a member of Japan Society London! I have since enjoyed his many biographies and chronicles of UK-Japan history and relations.

Kathleen Kimura MBE


Sir Hugh has been Honorary President of the Japanese Garden Society for many years. A post he served with his characteristic enthusiasm and vigour. His encouragement and assistance has been invaluable to the  development of the JGS over the years. For which we have felt both honoured and extremely grateful. 

Robert Ketchell, Chairman Japanese Garden Society


I am saddened to learn that Sir Hugh passed away on 14 August. I met him countless times, at Royal Air Force Club in many cases.
He knew me first as a reporter with Nikkei Business. My bond with Masanori Matsuura, the late entrepreneur who had taken care of Kei Wakaizumi,  also brought me and Sir Hugh closer together, as each time Matsuura-san appeared in London, he would arrange one at the Montcalm with both of us.
Mr. Matsuura was keen to learn so much from Sir Hugh that he founded in the 1980s a voluntary study group called Kotatsu-no-kai, with Kotatsu punning with the futon-covered heater and of course Sir Hugh’s surname, with Sir Hugh its honorary chairman.
He represented the first generation of Britain’s post war Japan experts, who overcame the wartime bitterness against the Japanese, for he had relations who suffered on the Burma/Siam railway. I remember when His Majesty the Emperor of Japan made a visit to London in the late 1990s, Sir Hugh and I both appeared live on a Radio 4 talk show, in which I was targeted by a plaintiff lawyer that represented ex POWs and Sir Hugh urged him to treat Japan with “Christian tolerance.”
I feel very much gratified that looking back, Sir Hugh continued to grant me his friendship after I left journalism and started to work with Taro Aso, and later with Shinzo Abe, despite that he apparently had nostalgia toward the Japan that was much less self-assertive, and that he felt uneasiness, which he did not hide, about those two political leaders.
A graduate of St Andrews University, he fostered himself to be a towering intellectual about all things Japanese. It is beyond anyone’s imagination that one single individual could accomplish as much as Sir Hugh did. The voluminous books he either wrote or edited should remain valuable forever for all of us wishing to study Anglo-Japanese relationships.

For more, see, for instance,

Thank you so much, Sir Hugh, and my deepest condolences to Lady Cortazzi.

Tomohiko Taniguchi


Thank you for letting us know of the passing of Sir Hugh. Shocking to hear the news as we saw him speak last month after the AGM. 
It was some years ago, but I did enjoy sitting next to him at a talk at Nomura and exchanged views on Japan and Japanese people and conflict etc, and still recall some of his provoking comments and his points of view, which I really liked. 
A very sad loss. I wish all the best to Lady Cortazzi and the family.

Mayumi Hawkes


I was very sorry to receive your announcement that Sir Hugh had died.  What a loss that is both to the Society and to Japanese studies.
Sir Hugh gave me my first break as a newcomer to the field of Japanese studies, and I will always be grateful to him for that.  His acceptance of my proposal of a chapter for his Britain and Japan: Biographical Portraits, vol. VII, was as unexpected as it was reassuring.  More recently, he told me that he would like to review my forthcoming book, Japan and the West: An Architectural Dialogue.  Sadly, that will not now be possible.

Professor Neil Jackson RIBA FSA


I was very saddened to hear of the death of Hugh Cortazzi this week. I was also surprised, as he didn’t seem to have health problems when I was chatting to him at a Daiwa event recently. He made the Japan Society into a power-house of publishing and research.
It was a measure of his trenchant writing that the feeling was that he had been dropped last year from the Japan Times for his critical views on some Abe administration policies, rather than due to his sprightly 93 years.
I only knew him in his last few years but it rather tickled me that I could be emailing him on some matter on the same day as having in my hands the trace of his early career at the Foreign Office.

Roger Macy


We are so sorry to learn of the sad passing away of Sir Hugh.  It was an honour to have been present at the recent Japan Society AGM and hear his address on the book which he co-edited, ‘Foreign Secretaries and Japan 1850-1990’.
I feel privileged to have in my possession, a copy of the book, ‘Kipling’s Japan’, collected writings, edited by Sir Hugh and George Webb.
Please accept our sincere condolences.

Fay and Toshimichi Okita


Both Noriko and I have so many memories of Hugh and Elizabeth
It has been amazing how he kept so active in UK-Japan relations over many years
I remember first meeting him in the Embassy 51 years ago in 1967 when he was in the commercial dept and I took somebody from White Horse Whisky to meet him.
We were not based in Japan when he was Ambassador but have seen so much of them both since we returned to the UK in 2001

Martin and Noriko Barrow


I was deeply saddened to hear the sad demise of Sir Hugh Cortazzi, former British Ambassador to Japan and former Chairman of the Japan Society.
I pray God that his soul rest in peace and may God give courage and strength to the bereaved family to bear this tragic loss of life.
Sir Hugh Cortazzi’s excellent contributions, excellent performances and hard work to the Japan Society and Britain, can never be forgotten.
I also extend my deepest condolences to Lady Cortazzi and their family.

Balbir Singh Bakhshi, Member, Japan Society


I was so saddened to hear of the death of Sir Hugh Cortazzi yesterday evening. I want to send my deepest sympathy to his wife and  his relatives and his friends. I met and spoke to him many, many times during my membership of our society, he will be sadly missed by all who knew him. Sad news indeed, regards to you all, in sympathy

Fred Smith


The first word that came to my mind when I read The Japan Society’s notice of Hugh’s death (after grief at his loss) was that he was indefatigable: and I wrote that in my letter of condolence to Elizabeth. I wrote to her my memory of his standing at the photocopier in the chancery in Tokyo, copying the letters William Willis had written to his family in Ireland which Dr Hagihara had found and lent to him for his book on Willis (published in 1985).
I was his Private Secretary for a few months when he came to Tokyo as Ambassador in 1980. I failed at that job because I couldn’t keep up with his speed. I remember sitting down with Hugh and Vicki Turkington (his PA) for what we called dairy meetings, to sort out the diary. Eventually, after I moved into the chancery and was reporting on political issues, I did get Hugh’s trust.
As importantly (and I should have said this to Elizabeth) Hugh introduced me to Japanese pottery.  He was a keen collector and liked to visit a notable kiln on each of his prefectural visits (he visited every prefecture, as I also did in my time in Japan from 1980-83 and 1998-2003). We visited Funaki Kenji at Fujina, near Matsue on the Japan Sea coast, who told us about a forthcoming show at the Akasaka Green Gallery. I bought my first guinomi there.  And the rest is history, as my ceramic collection continues to expand.
So thank you, Hugh, for how you helped me to deepen my love of Japan.

Richard Jones


On behalf of myself and JETAAUK, we would like to convey our condolences to Lady Cortazzi and their family on the passing of Sir Hugh Cortazzi. I would also like to express gratitude that within his amazing history of deepening UK Japan understanding, Sir Hugh Cortazzi was also a great promoter of the JET programme and its role within Anglo Japanese relationships. He always included a special chapter on the JET Programme featuring the experiences of selected British ex-JETs in many of the books he compiled and edited and I myself was lucky enough to have had my experiences published back in 2001. I have met him several times since, having had the honour to sit next to him and Lady Cortazzi at a dinner for the Japanese Prime Minster in London in 2014, where I was able to hear more about his fascinating experiences and views. He will be missed.

Sarah Parsons, UK National Chair, JET Programme Alumni Association UK


Hugh Cortazzi was the most generous spirited of men. Despite his status, he was ever open to new ideas, and interested in younger people who he thought might have something to contribute to his great cause of Anglo-Japanese understanding. His enthusiasm was contagious; if Hugh asked one to contribute in some way, it was impossible to refuse. I feel honoured to have been asked to contribute to his books, and extremely grateful for his efforts in enabling the publication of The Diary of Charles Holme’s 1889 Visit to Japan (Global Oriental 2008).

(Dr) Sonia Ashmore


Hugh has been my guide, mentor, inspiration and ally on all things Japanese for 37 years since I arrived as a language student in Kamakura. We were in the middle of an exchange over his new book when he threw in the mention of going in to hospital to have a new heart valve and said ‘I hope it will make me at least somewhat less decrepit’. I thought he was indestructible and we would be able to take up discussion of Monarchies when he had recuperated.
Hugh, you left us unprepared – you still had so much to do! We will miss you deeply.

Phillida Purvis


Sir Hugh and I worked closely together here.
He was a hard worker with great interest in Genji Keita’s “salaried men” stories. He produced magnificent English translations of some of them on his own while serving here as Commercial Counsellor. When he left here with his family for Washington to serve as Commercial Minister he handed me those translations, asking me to find a publisher for them. This was not an easy task as the foreign community here was small then. However, after many trials I succeeded in persuading the Japan Times to publish them in two volumes. As those stories were both so amusing and interesting he became well-known. This helped him a lot later.
When he returned here as Ambassador, he and Lady Cortazzi invited me to lunch with them at the Residence as their first guest. He used to come to my office every day. He did so so often that his secretaries used to contact me when looking for him. He and I worked together on his speeches (he was so popular here as Japanese speaking Ambassador), quite often until midnight.
He was really a hard worker. I pray that he will have a good rest in Heaven.

Jerry Matsumura MBE, formerly with British Embassy in Tokyo


Sir Hugh Cortazzi will be a great loss. Despite his increasing years, his enthusiasms never seemed to diminish. He was enormously supportive. On learning of my great grandfather Charles Holme’s diary of his visit to Japan in the 1880s, his immediately reaction was “this must be published”. And it was. He will be missed.

Toni Huberman


I gave Sir Hugh Cortazzi some small assistance with research for one of books and he was later kind enough to publish an essay by me in his Biographical Portraits series. I found him polite and courteous. As an editor of what I had written, he was efficient but always careful to secure agreement to any changes.
His many publications on Japan contain fascinating pen portraits and are hugely informative.He was was convivial in conversation and will be sorely missed both by people in Japan and by friends of Japan.

Peter Brunning, Member Japan Society


My first meeting with Sir Hugh was when I was a would-be author, on ANJIN / William Adams. On first sight he looked authoritarian, but in our conversation I realised he was not so erudite on the Edo period
and I corrected one misunderstanding and explained the various functions of Hatamoto. He was not so authoritarian, rather very open-minded and showing a thirst for new knowledge. He said he had tried to master classical Japanese and calligraphy before to study more deeply on the Edo period, but found it extremely difficult or impossible to understand. Since then, he insisted that I focus on researching on the very early period of Japan, which most Western scholars cannot do. And also he respected my calligraphy qualification and chose my work for the cover of his  Japanese Studies in Britain, which marked my debut as a calligrapher in the UK.
In his house, twice a day he had a cup of pure Japanese green tea, Genmaicha, sent from Kyoto ! When he took my husband and me round his garden, he reminded me of a Japanese Daimyo, walking his domain, maintaining dignity but modest, good manner, responsibility, thoughtfulness, inspiration and care about others and nature.
I express my most sincere gratitude for all the inspiration Sir Hugh has left for us all.

Hiromi Rogers


It is very sad to hear the news of Sir Hugh’s departure.
His works for Japan are the most biggest one which we will never forget.
We Japan Association in the UK wishes him to sleep calmly.
故 サー ヒュー コタツイー様のご冥福を心からお祈りします

Japan Association in UK


I would like to pay tribute to Sir Hugh for his long and unstinting support of Japanese Studies in the UK and for his long-standing interest in and contributions to the understanding of Japanese culture, history and religions.  Besides his work on behalf of the field in general Sir Hugh also provided great personal support and encouragement to individual scholars, as I can personally testify.  Via   positive reviews of my first book to personal letters, Sir Hugh not only encouraged me in my work on religion in Japan but also offered suggestions of what areas needed study in the field.   While he will be missed by all who have been involved in Japanese Studies  in the UK and all who are interested in Japanese culture, his legacy will long remain.

Ian Reader, Professor Emeritus, University of Manchester


It is clear that Sir Hugh was a pivotal figure in the advancement of modern UK/Japan relations. His unquenchable passion for the UK-Japan relationship did not diminish in retirement, and the BCCJ is lucky to have benefited from his encyclopedic knowledge of the business and political relationship, most recently through our 70th anniversary archival project. We are fortunate indeed that through his prolific writing, Sir Hugh has generously preserved a part of that knowledge for future generations.

David Bickle – President, British Chamber of Commerce in Japan


Sir Hugh Cortazzi was an unique phenomenon and a brilliant star in the firmament of Japanese studies. For nine decades Sir Hugh was woven into the tapestry of Japanese history. His understanding of the country was without measure and he seemed to have met just about every significant person in the postwar period.
Sent as a young interpreter to Japan between 1946 to 47, he encountered many key Japanese figures, a pattern which repeated itself in subsequent decades during his diplomatic career and later as a writer and scholar in retirement.
He possessed such an amazing overview of Japan’s culture and history and this made his insights illuminating. I only got to know Sir Hugh when he was in his eighties but his sheer dynamism and prolific writing output were amazing even then. He continued to produce scholarly works until the very end of his long and rich life.

Sean Curtin


While Sir Hugh Cortazzi was in much senior generation than me, I always had great respect whenever I heard about him.
I remember I had an honour to meet him just briefly, as far as I remember, in 1995 when I drove transaction for acquisition of British SME together with one of the oldest law firms in London. Sir Hugh Cortazzi was the adviser of the law firm at that time and I was so lucky to happen to have a short conversation with him in their office in London.
I am also lucky to be a part of BCCJ Excom to miss Sir Hugh Cortazzi.

Susumu Kaminaga, Former President, Sumitomo Precision Products Co., Ltd.


I was privileged to interview Sir Hugh at his home in St John’s Wood in 2013 for our book ‘Bridges: Anglo-Japanese Cultural Pioneers’ with Jeremy Hoare.
Of all the people we interviewed, Sir Hugh was the one that made me the most nervous. The sheer volume of his literary output is legendary, and the prospect of interviewing this titan of Japanese studies was quite daunting. I need not have worried; Sir Hugh immediately put us at ease, in spite of the plumbers working in his house that day.
The interview lasted about an hour, he talked candidly and openly on a wide range of subjects to do with Japan, and his views and comments on certain topics were sometimes surprising. After the interview we were invited to lunch at his favourite Japanese restaurant, Maguro-sushi, with Lady Cortazzi. Sir Hugh was kind, generous with his time, and gracious towards us, and was patient with our book endeavour.
He will be greatly missed by all of us in the Japan sphere, for his great knowledge and expertise, and for his continued support and enthusiasm for the understanding of Japan in the UK and elsewhere.

Suzanne Perrin, Japan Interlink London


When I heard of Hugh’s death, I was disbelieving, not having imagined that this seemingly unstoppable man would so suddenly be taken from us.  ‘Irreplaceable’ is an over-used word when we lose somebody unique, but I can think of nobody else that can now fill the role that he played.  I hope it is a comfort to his family that he lived his life so fully and could keep going right to the end.  How many people manage to fit as much into one lifetime as he did? 
He was tremendously helpful to me when I was writing my book A. B. Mitford and the Birth of Japan as a Modern State.  He it was who found the letters Mitford had sent his father from Japan which were essential for the work – he reproduced parts of them in his book Mitford’s Japan.  He did not keep them to himself, but deposited them in the Lisa Sainsbury Library and the Japan Society, so that other scholars could use them.  He carefully read my manuscript and generously gave me expert advice, saving me from more than a few embarrassments.  (contd…..)

Robert Morton, Professor, Chuo University, Tokyo


I was deeply saddened to hear of Sir Hugh Cortazzi’s death. Energetic, and not one to suffer fools gladly, he was, nevertheless, a modest, kind and unaffected man who in all the years I knew him was unwavering in his deep affection for Japan and its culture.
In life, we probably only come across a handful of people, at most, who end up shaping us. Sir Hugh certainly had an impact on my life, and I will miss him.
We met, for the first time, in April 1982 at the British Embassy in Tokyo. In his spare time, he was finishing off one of his early books – a cartographic history of Japan. I had come across an old – perhaps the oldest – map of Japan and a friend suggested that as I was going to be in Tokyo, I should call on Sir Hugh to show it to him. He was delighted and was just in time to reproduce it in his book.  (contd…..)

Terry Bennett


We were saddened to learn of Sir Hugh Cortazzi’s passing on August 14.
From our first foray into the UK with the NSK Peterlee plant, he fully supported our endeavors, and enabled us to overcome untold hurdles.
We are deeply grateful for his lifetime of contributions and kindness spanning the UK and Japan.
Our deepest sympathies go out to Lady Cortazzi and their family.

Toshihiro Uchiyama, President and CEO, NSK Ltd


I was so impressed when I met Sir Hugh, concerning his Biographical Portraits, how dedicated he was to make such an amazing record of  the lives and activities of people linking UK and Japan, and was so privileged to contribute in the recent volume X.
And what was so amazing was the kindness, care, and personally encouraging way he worked on this, drawing out the messages and editing for punchiness; I remember well his regular pithy column in the Japan Times, when we lived in Japan.
It was a privilege to know him and I have the greatest of respect, as I learned more. And he was the quickest responder to emails I have ever known, even in his 90’s !

Peter Bacon MBE


Like everybody else, I was shocked to hear of Sir Hugh’s sudden death. It was only a few weeks ago that we had heard him presenting his latest book at the Japan Society Annual General Meeting, and his energy was undimmed at that point, as he outlined other forthcoming book projects. Apart from that, for those of us involved in things Japanese, Hugh felt like somebody who had always been there, and always would be there.
I first met him in my first year studying Japanese at Cambridge, in 1983 or 1984, when he was Ambassador to Japan. His contribution to the department at Cambridge can’t be overstated; all the academics except for Dr. Carmen Blacker had been pushed into early retirement, and the university was considering closing the subject down. Hugh played a crucial role in securing funding (from Keidanren) for a new Chair in Japanese Studies, and persuading the university to rebuild. Further funding was raised by the new Professor (Richard Bowring) and the rest is history. (contd…)

Jason James, Director-General, The Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation


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