April 2022 Message from the Executive Director

Rebecca Salter PRA, Israel Goldman and Dr Sadamura Koto in front of a Kyōsai painting (Kabuki curtain for the Shintomi theatre, 1880, Waseda Theatre Museum) that featured in the British Museum Citi Manga Exhibition in 2019. Now in 2022, all were involved in the coming together of the latest exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, focussed exclusively on Kyōsai’s works.

While it remains impossible for most of us to enter Japan at this time due to continuing pandemic restrictions – which we hope will be eased as soon as possible – and so we cannot experience the cherry blossoms in Japan again this year, the first blooms have been spotted on some of the 30 flowering sakura trees planted around the Cathedral Close, within sight of the Institute, on the University campus and at various locations around Norwich. We are very grateful to the Embassy of Japan and all involved in the Sakura Project, which has seen over 6000 sakura trees planted around the country.

The culmination of the Sakura Project was celebrated with a planting ceremony at Cathedral Close and on campus at the University of East Anglia.

I am writing this in transit back from the hybrid. (in-person and online) conference of the Association for Asian Studies, held this year in Hawai’i. There was a palpable sense of pleasure as we were able to meet with friends old and new, in many cases for the first time in over two years.  The Institute and the Centre for Japanese Studies at the University were exceptionally well-represented in sessions ranging across art history, landscape studies, 20th century history, literature and the place of Esperanto in Japan. I was invited by the Japan Foundation to take part in their plenary panel marking the 50th anniversary of this agency that plays such an important role in supporting Japanese studies globally. We were challenged to define how we operate as ‘good ancestors’, imagining a future panel in 2072 looking back over the next half century of intellectual exchanges with Japan. It was a particular pleasure to host a Sainsbury Institute-UEA reception and welcome former Fellows and colleagues from the Center for Japanese Studies at the University of Hawai’i – and I would like to thank Dr John Szostak, Professor of Japanese Art History there and himself one of our former Fellows, for his help in arranging that.

This month we focus on the exhibition currently at the Royal Academy of Arts in London on the 19th century Japanese artist Kawanabe Kyôsai, expertly curated by Dr Sadamura Koto, one of our Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellows this year. We look forward to Koto’s Online Third Thursday Lecture on 21 April. We offer our congratulations to Koto, Israel Goldman whose collection this is, and everyone involved in producing this stylish and fascinating exhibition. All upcoming and related events to the exhibition can now be viewed on our new website, launched at the end of March.  

A selection of displays from the current ‘Kyōsai: The Israel Goldman Collection’ exhibition.
© Royal Academy of Arts, London / Marcus J. Leith

Also opening in April we have the fabulous Japan: Courts and Culture in the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace. The curator at the Royal Collections Trust, Rachel Peat, gave an Online Third Thursday Lecture on this project in July 2020, and we very much look forward to seeing the exhibition, anticipation only heightened by the pandemic-induced extended wait. Watch out for news about a special event relating to this exhibition in the autumn.

As we prepare for our upcoming Online Exhibition, Nara to Norwich: art and beliefs at the ends of the Silk Roads, I joined Susan Whitfield, our Professor of Silk Road Studies, at a fascinating conference co-organised by the Institute and the Kyoto National Museum on the question of forgeries among the Japanese collections of documents from the renowned Buddhist cave temples at Dunhuang. Sadly the entry restrictions to Japan meant that we could not join our Japanese colleagues in person, and we hope that the talks will be made available online for those who did not manage what was for many of us an ‘all-nighter’.

In preparation for yet another exhibition, this time at the iconic prehistoric site of Stonehenge this autumn – Circles of Stone: Stonehenge and Prehistoric Japan – we have been dispatching catalogues from the excellent exhibition currently at the British Museum, The World of Stonehenge (until July) to colleagues around Japan. This is the first major exhibition about British prehistory (and its European connections) at the British Museum, and indeed the first such anywhere in the last 40 years. We are particularly pleased to see the archaeology of East Anglia so well-represented, including sites we covered in our Global Perspectives on British Archaeology project, such as Grimes Graves and Must Farm, as well as the timber circle from Holme-next-the-Sea known as ‘Seahenge’. We are planning some archaeological research at our own Norfolk henge, at Arminghall (a proper henge unlike ‘Seahenge’) over the coming months, in an initiative which we hope will attract Japanese archaeologists to take a closer interest in the rich prehistory of Norfolk – currently less celebrated than the archaeology of other parts of the country. Congratulations to Dr Andy Hutcheson, our Research Fellow in our Centre for Archaeology, for securing a grant from the Society of Antiquaries of London in support of this. For those interested to learn more about stone circles across Japan and the UK, the latest issue of JOMON is available below, produced by the International Jomon Culture Conference, which takes a closer look at the sites of Stonehenge and Avebury – a taster of what we can look forward to from Circles of Stone: Stonehenge and Prehistoric Japan.

Seahenge, currently installed at ‘The World of Stonehenge’, dates back over 4,000 years and is on loan for the first time at the British Museum’s new exhibition.

May I take this opportunity to wish all our friends and colleagues a very happy Easter, and hope that you get to enjoy some spring blossoms wherever you are.

Professor Simon Kaner
Executive Director

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