June 2021 Message from the Executive Director

Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769-1825), Thirteen kabuki actors in various costumes sheltering from the rain under a tree (amayadori), c. 1801-1802.
1906,1220,0.434, © The Trustees of the British Museum

The wettest May on record just is behind us here in the UK and the rainy season (tsuyu) came early to Japan this year. There is something exhilarating about the downpours that mark the northern limits of the Asian monsoons, rendering even more vivid the colours of the irises and hydrangeas that characterise early summer gardens across Japan. Visiting gardens at this time is both enjoyable and restorative, and is a surefire way of enhancing one’s sense of well-being.

Even with encouraging news about the ‘rollout’ of vaccines and the relaxation of pandemic-related restrictions, we could all do with a well-being booster shot. We are reminded by the ongoing issues around international travel that this is a global challenge and that things will not ‘return to normal’ until the whole of humanity is immunised.  I attended, albeit long- distance, a fascinating workshop over the weekend in Minamisōma, one of the municipalities terribly impacted by the March 2011 Great East Japan Disaster (which we revisited on our February Third Thursday). The event focused on an ongoing ‘art and archaeology’ initiative based around the Urajiri shell mounds which date from the Jomon period, and the workshop title was Power of the Invisible: In Tangling Landscapes. Fostering well-being in disaster affected communities through heritage was central to the discussions. We were treated to a virtual tour of a new display at the Minamisōma City Museum, and artists’ accounts of works they had created inspired by the crafts, traditional economic activities, and what we now understand as ‘heritage’. Many thanks to Aki Sahoko and her colleagues for the invitation to participate and to the Toshiba International Foundation for supporting the event.

Over the years our Centre for Archaeology and Heritage has been involved in a number of art and archaeology initiatives in the UK and Japan, facilitating links between sites and museums and their communities. We were delighted to receive some funding from the University of East Anglia to explore the impact of such projects, and while we do this we will be investigating the possibility of new collaborations with our Japanese partners around heritage and well-being. We will keep you updated on our findings and new proposals.

This month we are delighted to launch a new exhibit at the Sainsbury Centre, Faces of Faith, developed in collaboration with our colleagues at the Sainsbury Centre and students from UEA’s MA in Interdisciplinary Japanese Studies and the MA in Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies. The project is introduced by Ollie Moxham, whose Beyond Japan podcasts are doing so much to keep our profile high. We are delighted to welcome Dr Akiko Walley to give this month’s Third Thursday lecture on a theme of direct relevance to the exhibit. The exhibit is one of the activities we are undertaking under the rubric of Nara to Norwich: art and belief at the ends of the Silk Roads, AD 500-1000 and is providing the opportunity to re-examine some of the wonderful treasures of Japanese art in the Sainsbury Centre. Congratulations to Ryoko Matsuba for winning a prestigious Daiwa Award from the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, which will support further collaborative research with the Nara National Institute for Cultural Properties, the Tokyo National Museum and the British Museum, including further participation by our students, on digital dimensions of this research. Ryoko organised a fascinating workshop on the digitisation of some of the Japanese hanging scrolls and paintings in the Sainsbury Collections – for which thanks are also due to Professor Akama Ryo and colleagues at the Art Research Centre at Ritsumeikan University.

We hope you also enjoy the review of last month’s online conversation about the Matagi hunters of Akita prefecture by our new PhD student Amanda McGuire, whose research on the Ainu and their place in the broader northeast Asian setting will be bringing further new insights for our appreciation of the indigenous peoples and traditions of northern Japan.

We were delighted to hear recently that the nomination of 17 Jomon sites in northern Tohoku and Hokkaido for inscription as UNESCO World Heritage is being supported by ICOMOS (the International Council on Sites and Monuments) and The Sainsbury Institute has supported this bid for over a decade, and it is wonderful to see it progress to the final stage, ratification by the World Heritage Committee. We offer our congratulations to all involved. We will be marking this over the summer, with the release of freely downloadable version of Kobayashi Tatsuo’s Jomon Reflections through Oxbow Books and more activities as part of our Online Jomon Matsuri.

Stay safe and well,

Professor Simon Kaner
Executive Director, Sainsbury Institute

e-Bulletin contents: