Behind the Scenes

New Year Message from the Executive Director: A lot in the pipeline

Akemashite omedetō gozaimasu, a belated happy new year from Norwich. Looking back a bit, last year was yet another busy and fruitful year for the Sainsbury Institute, and we found ourselves particularly engaged towards the end.

Mami Mizutori, Executive Director

Mami Mizutori,
Executive Director

In late November 2015, we hosted the second Toshiba Lecture series in Japanese Arts and Science focusing on robotics. In the lectures ‘Beauty and the Robot,’ held in Norwich and the Science

Museum in London, Professor Furuta Takayuki, a well-known scientist, and Professor Yamanaka Toshiharu, a prominent product designer, who together have worked on many robotics projects, delivered their talks on how they focus on ‘making things happen’. In other words, they told us how they change the way our world functions, instead of just ‘making things’. One of their creations, Halluc II, a mobility robot, made a special appearance during the lectures and this further strengthened the impact of their message. In addition, in early December, our Professorial Academic Associate, Professor Adrian Favell, organised a two-day symposium at the Cathedral Hostry in Norwich on how the arts is deployed in Japan in a manner to deal with the problem of depopulation in rural areas. You can read about this event in an article written by Professor Favell featured in this edition.

There was a common thread to these two events: how effective is the arts in tackling the challenges we face? Can a robotic device, one that is not only functional but also beautifully designed, help the elderly and physically challenged to be more mobile and happy? Can a festival of contemporary art every two years help revive a depopulated and ageing rural village in Japan? These themes concern the impact of the arts and culture on contemporary society, and this is a question which is asked with increased frequency in contemporary society. And then there is an ultimate question here: do arts and culture related activities need to have a certain social impact? Are we not allowed to indulge in these activities, simply to enjoy the outcome and expect them to be funded for their pure academic, intellectual or aesthetic significance?

The Institute will continue to pursue these themes throughout this year in all three of our core activities: research, outreach and education. We will also continue to forge partnerships with other organizations and host collaborative events. Our past record suggests that partnership is the key to enhancing and projecting the message we want to convey to our wider audience. I am happy to say that we already have a solid list of activities lined up for this year, and thrilled to be able to give you a glimpse of the forthcoming programme.

Three years ago the Institute concluded a collaborative agreement with the Faculty of Letters of Chuo University, one of the major universities in Japan. As a result two workshops, one on how scientific discovery is changing the face of archaeology, and the other on the vibrancy of Edo publishing culture, have been organised in Norwich. This year in November, we will invite Professor Yamada Masahiro, a prominent sociologist in Japan. He has coined terms such as para-site single, single adult individuals living with their parents for a prolonged period dependant on them economically, and konkatsu, hunting strategically for one’s partner as vigorously as one does for a job. I am personally interested in exploring the possibility of organising a workshop with Professor Yamada on issues that affect the youth in Japan and the UK and Europe. The flip side of the challenges that an ageing society present is how they impact on youth.

We will also continue to host workshops around the research themes of our Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellows between now and the summer. Themes vary from historical maps of Japan and the arts, the way of tea and vessels used in tea ceremonies, to Meiji Buddhist art. These workshops are aimed at assisting our young fellows to enhance their research plans and at the same time to bring to the Institute an array of academics which strengthen our network. In addition to our young scholars, this year we have with us a special Senior Sainsbury Fellow, Kimura Tadakazu, who is the former CEO of the Ashahi Newspaper, one of the major newspaper companies in Japan. With his broad experience in Japanese media, we are confident that Kimura-san will enable us to move forward the Institute’s research in the study of contemporary Japanese media.

In February, we look forward to welcoming five undergraduate students from Tokyo University as part of our collaborative agreement with their Faculty of Letters. Internationalization is the mantra of universities around the world and Japan is no exception. At the forefront of this effort is Tokyo University, the highest ranked Japanese university in the Times Higher Education League Table. Recognition of the Sainsbury Institute’s academic strength has led to the conclusion of the aforementioned agreement. To make the course truly productive and interactive, we will pair students from Japan with five UK and European students so that they will spend two weeks together learning about British archaeology and cultural heritage in and outside the classroom. In addition, prior to their arrival, the Japanese students have been assigned to complete a five-week online course which will hopefully whet their appetite to learn more once they arrive in the UK and also to prepare them for the academic environment here in England.

The other flagship project in education is our Summer School ‘Japan Orientation’. This summer, for the third time, we will work once again with the University of East Anglia to host a month-long summer school on Japanese arts and cultures. This unique summer school is open to all but it is particularly attractive for students of Japanese studies in Central and Eastern European countries because the Toshiba International Foundation and the Sainsbury Institute provide a total of 15 full studentships to them. Japanese studies is very popular in these countries but there are still financial constraints limiting the modules that can be provided. Feedback from students in past years has given us much confidence concerning the richness of our programme, which provides an array of different modules on almost every Japanese subject from history, literature, anthropology to international relations and business studies.

Finally, I am proud to say that our outreach program for this year is as rich as ever. To mention just a few examples, on 12 March we will host the third Ishibashi Foundation Lecture series in Kyoto, Japan. We are in partnership with the Research Centre for Japanese Garden Art and Historical Heritage of the Kyoto University of Art and Design. This lecture series is aimed at projecting to Japanese audiences how their culture has been absorbed, interpreted and sometimes altered abroad. This year two lecturers from the UK and Europe will speak on ‘Japanese Gardens: To whom do they belong?’

Our third Toshiba Lecture series on Japanese Arts and Sciences will be held in partnership with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew this year. Botanical illustration is part and parcel of the science of botany and one of the only three current botanical illustrators at the Kew Gardens is from Japan. Together with Ms Yamanaka Masumi, the illustrator and her colleagues at the Kew Gardens, we will organize three different lectures around the topic of Japanese flora in November. Once again we will be working with the British Museum, our key partner on this project, and one of the three lectures will be held at the British Museum.

We will be promoting our outreach programs throughout the year so please keep an eye on our website to find out what is scheduled.