March 2020 Message from the Executive Director

The hina dolls on display in the Lisa Sainsbury Library

Girls’ Day is celebrated on 3rd March across Japan by displaying beautiful hina dolls. 3rd March is also the birthday of Lady Lisa Sainsbury, who along with her husband Sir Robert established our Institute in 1999. Indeed, it was on her birthday in 1998 that she telephoned Nicole Rousmaniere to invite her to become the Founding Director of the Sainsbury Institute. Each year we mark these events by displaying the exquisite hina dolls that were presented to Lady Sainsbury by one of our long-standing friends and most generous supporters, Dr Handa Haruhisa. We are looking forward to welcoming Nicole back to Norwich to give our Third Thursday Lecture this month.

The hina dolls are traditionally displayed in Japanese homes in serried ranks, inspired by the imperial court. I am writing this having recently attended a reception celebrating the birthday of His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Naruhito, at the Embassy of Japan in London as the guest of His Excellency Nagamine Yasuhara who took up the post of Ambassador of Japan in autumn 2019.  We look forward to welcoming the Imperial couple to the UK later this year, during what will be their first official visit since the Enthronement ceremonies last year.

We are all aware of the impact that the novel Coronavirus COVID-19 is having around the world, and our thoughts are with everyone, whether in Japan, Europe or elsewhere affected by this. The Sainsbury Institute is implementing the advice issued by the University of East Anglia, following that provided by Public Health England – although they have yet to officially acknowledge the benefits of bowing over hand-shaking. We will be reviewing our plans at regular intervals over the coming weeks, adjusting them as necessary as circumstances require.

At the time of writing we expect to deliver a full programme of events and activities over the coming month. I will be in Hungary and the Czech Republic as a guest of the Japan Foundation Budapest Office giving lectures to promote our Japan Orientation Summer School, this year once again generously supported by the Toshiba International Foundation. And the Sainsbury Institute will be represented at the Association for Asian Studies annual conference in Boston, MA, later this month, where we look forward to meeting up with many of our former Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellows.

In this issue of our e-bulletin we introduce some of the activities in which the Sainsbury Institute is involved. Our Digital Humanities specialist Dr Matsuba Ryoko introduces some literary events around the city, including a visit by Natsume Fusanosuke, the grandson of one of the most famous early Japanese novelists to visit the UK, Natsume Soseki, whose novel translated as ‘I am a Cat’ is one of the best known pieces of Japanese literature in English (as well as its original Japanese!). We were greatly moved when one of our regular Third Thursday audience members, James Boddy, presented us with an exquisite fountain pen made by (now his) Onoto Fountain Pen Company. Natsume Soseki used a pen made by Onoto, and the pen presented to us by James is beautifully inscribed with the Natsume Soseki’s name 夏目漱石 and bears a very appropriate black cat design. Thank you, James, for your very thoughtful generosity, and along with all of our regulars, for your enthusiasm for what we do and being such a great support to the Sainsbury Institute.

From my window overlooking the Cathedral Close here in Norwich the first signs of spring are visible, this year blown in on the wings of the multiple storms that have come our way – daffodils and blossoms all starting to appear. Here is hoping you all stay healthy.


Professor Simon Kaner
Executive Director, Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures
Head, Centre for Archaeology and Heritage

The pen presented to the Sainsbury Institute by James Boddy, Onoto Fountain Pen Company