January 2024 message from the Executive Director

I am sure that our readers are aware of the troubled start to the New Year in Japan. Our prayers and sympathies are with all those affected by the earthquake that brought so much devastation to the lacquer-producing city of Wajima, the surrounding areas of the Noto Peninsula and much of the Japan Sea coast of central Honshu. The extent of the damage is still becoming clear at the time of writing. And this was compounded by the terrible accident at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport the following day, which saw the nigh-on miraculous escape of everyone aboard the JAL jet but the tragic loss of the lives of most of those on the Japan Coastguard flight setting out to bring aid to the region stricken by the earthquake the day before.

We have entered the year of the Wood Dragon in the Japanese Zodiac calendar, considered the most powerful of the 12-animal Chinese zodiac signs. The combination of the dragon’s power, and the nurturing and stable nature of wood is thought to bring opportunities of achievement and luck for the coming year.

This January is a particularly important month for the Institute, as it marks 25 years since the founding of the Sainsbury Institute through the generosity of our benefactors, Sir Robert and Lady Lisa Sainsbury. Since then, we have hosted over 250 Third Thursday Lectures, welcomed over 90 fellows and visiting scholars, and been instrumental in the execution of exhibitions, events and activities across the world. To celebrate this landmark year, we will be undertaking our Japan in Norwich programme which we will be releasing further details of over the coming months. With a variety of conferences, exhibitions and projects planned for this, it is shaping up to be a very exciting and busy year for all at the Institute – and I look forward to seeing many of you at the planned events over the coming months.

The plaque in the main foyer of the Institute commemorates our foundation in January 1999.

We ended 2023 with a series of excellent events which were the culmination of months of hard work by colleagues across the Institute. The Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) conference took place on UEA campus, welcoming archaeologists, scholars and students from across the country for a stimulating few days of papers on the subject of climate archaeology. Kristina Douglass and Joanne Clarke gave excellent keynote speeches throughout the conference, and we were delighted to welcome back to Norwich Colin Renfrew, Professor Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, probably the most famous living archaeologist, to award him the inaugural prize for Outstanding Contribution to Archaeological Theory in recognition for his many years of service to the field, as well as for being central to establishing TAG in the late 1970s.

We were then delighted to host a hybrid edition of our Third Thursday Lecture series, taking place on UEA campus but beamed out via Zoom to an audience across the world as Dr John T. Carpenter expertly guided us through the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recent nihonga acquisitions. John has been involved with the Institute from its inception, and we were delighted to welcome him back to Norwich for the event. His beautifully illustrated presentation highlighted the cultural influences at play within nihonga works, and where we might look for frames of reference and context for the works of this genre. For those of you who were not able to attend, Dr Eriko Tomizawa-Kay has provided a report of the talk in this e-bulletin and we also have the recording of the talk now available on our YouTube channel. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to John for making the long journey over from the US for the talk, and for ending our year with such a fascinating lecture. As an additional New Year’s treat, we also include a report on Professor Yukio Lippit’s November lecture on the treasures of the Shōsōin, as well as a summary of our Heritage Open Days mini-display on Japanese performers in 19th and 20th century Norwich.

Dr John T. Carpenter delivered the talk to both a live audience at UEA campus and an international audience online.

As we look forward to January, this month’s Third Thursday Lecture will be given by Dr Jonathan Zwicker, Associate Professor of Japanese Literature and Agassiz Professorship in Japanese at UC Berkeley, on the topic of kabuki. Based on his latest publication, the talk will assess how performance was circulated and embedded beyond the stage through printed materials – and we hope that many of you will be able to join us online for this on Thursday 18th January.

On behalf of all my colleagues at the Sainsbury Institute, I wish you a very happy and healthy New Year.

Best wishes,
Professor Simon Kaner
Executive Director