Sir Hugh Cortazzi awarded Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of East Anglia, 2006

Sir Hugh and Lady Elizabeth Cortazzi on a visit to the Sainsbury Centre with Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere

The following words were written by Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere in 2006 to celebrate Sir Hugh Cortazzi’s award of Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of East Anglia. We are delighted to publish this here on the 2nd anniversary of his passing. Below this oration, we also share Sir Hugh’s own words that he shared on the occasion.


An Oration for Sir Hugh Cortazzi on being made an Hon D.Litt at UEA on 14 July 2006

I cannot express how delighted I am to be given the honour of presenting Sir Hugh Cortazzi for an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of East Anglia. I can think of few more worthy recipients. One has only to consider his distinguished diplomatic career, his continuing and wide-ranging scholarship (amounting to a book and many articles each year), any university would be proud to have his RAE contribution, but most of all for us at the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures and at the UEA, his constant support and advice has been inspirational. Sir Hugh and his wife Elizabeth have demonstrated outstanding generosity to the Sainsbury Institute, and indeed to the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts.

To cite just one example, Sir Hugh and Lady Cortazzi have placed their historically important and valuable collection of rare books, scholarly works, historic maps and historic prints of Sumo wrestlers and views of foreigners in Japan with the Lisa Sainsbury Library at the Sainsbury Institute.  More than 1000 books have arrived so far, and more are promised, over 60 maps are now entered in our online database and so accessible to scholars all over the world, making it one of the largest collections of early Japanese maps publicly available. And that is just for starters! He has recently put on long term loan with the intent to donate an important collection of ceramic works by the Japanese government designated Living National Treasure, Shimaoka Tatsuzo. This collection compliments the magnificent contemporary ceramics collected by Lady Sainsbury. Incidentally, works from the Cortazzi collection are currently on display in the lower level of the SCVA. But beyond material help, Sir Hugh has been important in advising SISJAC, helping us to form a support network and lobbying on our behalf. Indeed, when we called the East Asian Desk in the Foreign and Commonwealth office to ask for advice in the issuing of a visa, I was told by a Mr. Jonathan Dart that he was aware of us as our rather large poster hung behind him had kindly supplied by Sir Hugh!

Sir Hugh Cortazzi’s connection with Japan began in 1943 when he joined the RAF and studied Japanese at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, a language in which he soon became fluent. In 1949 Sir Hugh fulfilled an early ambition by entering the British Foreign (now the Diplomatic) Service, and he was first posted to Japan in 1951, returning there for a second tour of duty in 1961. He has said of himself with his trademark frankness that he was ‘at times, an undiplomatic diplomat,’ and a man who ‘had strong views and did not find it at all easy to disguise the[m]’. I would like to add, thank goodness for that!

Sir Hugh certainly did not share the colonial attitudes that often survived among British diplomats and businessmen from the pre-war period, and as a result he was able to establish social relations with a wide range of Japanese people. As a consequence he helped shape the shift in diplomatic focus towards a greater concern with economic and commercial matters. His connections were of particular importance when he was posted to Tokyo for a third time, from 1966 to 1970, as Commercial Counsellor. Sir Hugh’s fourth and last official posting to Japan was as our Ambassador from 1980 to 1984. In this period when Anglo-Japanese relations were dominated by economic friction, he showed extraordinary tact and energy in establishing and maintaining contacts with a wide range of Japanese society, including politicians across the political spectrum, top civil servants, senior business figures, and the Imperial household. Additionally, and importantly, he was able to attract funds from Japan to support Japanese studies in Britain. His energy and initiative and his ability to speak and write Japanese, together with his levelheaded, unsentimental sympathy with Japanese life and culture, enabled him to make a unique ambassadorial contribution to Anglo-Japanese relations.

Sir Hugh’s diplomatic career culminated in his knighthood, and since then he has continued to contribute with impressive skill to Anglo-Japanese understanding. He has been a director of British companies and an adviser to Japanese companies, has paid frequent visits to Japan and given many lectures both here and abroad. Sir Hugh has held important institutional posts, including 10-years as chair of the council of the Japan Society of London. He holds an honorary fellowship of Robinson College, Cambridge, and the Grand Cordon of the Japanese Order of the Sacred Treasure. He has also written extensively. His studies have often focused on Victorian interaction with Japan, including the editing of the important series Britain and Japan, Biographical Portraits. He has written, edited and translated many works that introduce Japan and its culture to English readers. Most recently he completed a translation of the Crown Prince’s memoirs during his time at Oxford, entitled The Thames and I.

For his extraordinary career, his scholarship, his continual support and generosity to UEA and the Sainsbury Institute, it is with particular pleasure that I commend this exceptional person, Sir Hugh Cortazzi, GCMG, to this congregation for the award of the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.

Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere
Founding and Research Director, Sainsbury Institute

Remarks by Sir Hugh Cortazzi on being made an Hon D.Litt at UEA on 14 July 2006.

I am greatly honoured to have been awarded an honorary doctorate of letters by the University of East Anglia. I should like to thank all concerned in the University for thus honouring me.

The University has a high reputation for the teaching and practice of creative writing. My writing has been mainly in the fields of history and journalism. I have often wished that I could write a successful novel: my wife has urged me many times to try to produce a best seller instead of writing academic papers but sadly I do not have the necessary ability.

I wish to thank Dr Nicole Rousmaniere for her kind words in outlining the basis for this award. She flattered me unduly. I am delighted to be associated with the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures (SISJAC) and would like to reiterate the thanks of all concerned with Japanese studies in this country for the generosity of Lady Sainsbury and the late Sir Robert Sainsbury who established the Institute in the grounds of Norwich Cathedral in association with the University and with the School of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London.

Sir Hugh and Lady Cortazzi at their home in East Sussex

SISJAC is the only institution in this country primarily devoted to the study and promotion of Japanese art, but it also has a wider remit as its title explains. Its post-graduate students are working on a variety of cultural themes under the guidance of the director and her deputy. Nicole is an outstanding scholar and the expert in this country on Japanese ceramics. She and the Institute work closely with the British Museum and have been particularly helpful in the work needed to ensure the reopening of the Japanese Gallery at the Museum. Simon Kaner, the deputy director is an archaeologist of distinction.

The Institute has a significant and growing library of books relating to Japan to which we have been pleased to contribute. The library is supervised by a full-time and expert Japanese librarian Akira Hirano.

I hope that one day the University of East Anglia may be able to provide courses in Japanese language, literature and history thus making Norwich a growing centre of importance in this country for Japanese studies. Unfortunately, in my view we in this country are not devoting sufficient attention and resources to oriental studies and in particular to Japan. The focus is on China which is, of course, important. But we need to remember that Japan has a GNP of more than four times that of China and is the second largest economy in the world. Japan has high standards of education and outstanding technology as well as an ancient and absorbing culture. Japanese companies have made significant investments in this country and British firms are increasingly investing in Japan.  We must not neglect the study of this important and friendly country.

I must also express my admiration for the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts which was established by the benefactions of Lady Sainsbury and the late Sir Robert and has recently been expanded and renovated. The centre which houses their personal art collection includes some outstanding items of Japanese art which should attract many visitors and should help to deepen appreciation of Japanese art and culture. Among the works of art collected by Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury are outstanding ceramic works by Hans Coper and Lucy Rie. I am glad that we have been able to add to the display of fine ceramics by our loan of a number of outstanding pieces by our friend Tatsuzo Shimaoka who has been designated a living national treasure by the Japanese government.

In conclusion I should like to congratulate all those who are receiving their degrees from the University today. They have, I hope, enjoyed their years at university and have benefited from their studies. I wish them all success in their various careers.

Sir Hugh Cortazzi, GCMC

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