Message from the Executive Director

As We Enter 2014

One year has passed since the Liberal Democratic Party government, led by Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, was established in late December of 2013. In response, the mood in Japan seems far more positive than a year ago. The first two arrows of Abe’s ‘Three Arrow Policy’ have been successfully implemented so far. These consist of monetary and fiscal policies designed to boost the economy that had been languishing during the past few decades. However, to bring about a lasting economic recovery, plans that also include structural reforms need to be put into place. Can more women be introduced into the work force, or possibly even more immigrants, to make up for the diminishing size of Japan’s labor force? What can we do to help the younger generations? Statistics show that more than 50 % of the Japanese in their twenties have never held a permanent job. After all, this is the generation that will bare the brunt of the aging population problems with mounting concerns about the pension system and health care. If future generations do not believe that they will be rewarded later by diligently paying taxes and national insurance now why would they feel obligated to do so, or in other words be good citizens?

In addition to these domestic challenges, the most imminent concern is the precarious security situation in East Asia. Throughout the last year, tensions among Japan, China and Korea continued to escalate and unfortunately we seem to not be setting a good tone to start off this year. Prime Minister Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine at the end of 2013 has disappointed both the Chinese and Korean governments. Few signs of any sort of positive gestures seem forthcoming from any side.

Not all but some of the challenges that Japan faces domestically may sound familiar in the UK. In contrast to Japan, the population in Great Britain is growing but the aging issue remains a shared concern. In addition, public antagonism toward immigration is a movement that has gained momentum with the possible arrival of sizable numbers of Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants in 2014. Is the UK becoming more inward looking or is this a natural and justified response to difficult economic circumstances? In September of this year a referendum will be held on the independence of Scotland. Although the general prediction is that the ‘No’ vote will prevail, we will have to see how much pace the campaign on both sides picks up later in the year. If the Tories are re-elected in May 2015 there may also be another referendum in 2017 on ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ concerning whether the UK remains in the EU. This outcome is said to be much less predictable.

As many industrialized countries, Japan and the UK face challenges in both the short and long term but where does the power of arts and culture figure into this context? We believe that although arts and culture may not be able to resolve issues that plague nations on the domestic and international fronts, arts and culture are certainly important in the sense that these fields can help people see the world that surrounds them with new insights to enrich their lives, bringing forth knowledge and enhancing beauty. In the end, countries are populated with human beings and how individuals perceive themselves and others ultimately defines the nature of a country.

With these ideas in mind, the Sainsbury Institute will continue to promote Japanese arts and cultures in the UK and Europe. We will also strengthen our efforts that we started last year to introduce how Japanese arts and cultures are perceived abroad. We hope to bring to you updated news on our activities through this website throughout this year.

Mami Mizutori