May 2020 Message from the Executive Director

The end of April and early May is Golden Week in Japan, a succession of national holidays and usually a time when people travel to see family and friends. How different it is this year as Japan, along with the rest of the world, struggles with the Covid-19 pandemic and a national lockdown all too familiar from our European perspective.

I write this message in the hope that all of our friends and supporters in Japan, and indeed in the UK and elsewhere, are safe and well. Through this global crisis, the Sainsbury Institute is working hard to understand the impact of this unprecedented situation on the world of Japanese arts and cultures, through our network of contacts in museums, galleries, universities and research institutes. Our partner organisation at the University of East Anglia Centre for Japanese Studies is issuing weekly e-newsletter with updates on the situation in Japan more generally, along with a treasure trove of online links, all accessible at

Local sheet newspaper (kawaraban) with an illustration of Amabie in 1846
Main Library, Kyoto University
Amabie being used for public safety campaigns against coronavirus
Courtesy of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Japan

The response from the cultural sector in Japan is energetic, innovative and creative, and, as elsewhere, greatly reliant on online resources. From the re-emergence of the pandemic-busting yokai figure Amabie to virtual tours of museum galleries, and the freely available slews of publications as e-resources, we are witnessing a digital revolution in the accessibility of Japanese arts and cultures.

This month our Third Thursday Lecture moves online, and full details about how to access this central event in our monthly calendar are available here. Please let us know how you find it, so that we can refine how we manage this in future. We have refreshed our website and will be making further online content available over the coming weeks, and through our social media will work to bring other online initiatives to your attention: for example there is now an excellent online tour of the exhibition at the Asia Society in New York, The Art of Impermanence. None of this would be possible without the dedication of our amazing team at the Institute, and I am grateful to everyone for their continuing flexibility and adaptability as we continue to work from home.

In this issue we also celebrate some very welcome good news, with our dear friend Tim Clark, until recently the Head of the Japanese Section at the British Museum, being honoured by the Government of Japan for his exceptional achievements in the study and promotion of Japanese art. We are delighted to bring you an interview with Tim, and know that you will want to join us in sending him our heartfelt congratulations.

The art of patient perseverance and endurance through often difficult circumstances is known in Japanese as gaman 我慢. Clive James introduced the notorious eponymous Japanese TV show of the 1980s to audiences in the UK. But as we commemorate the end of the Second World War in Europe this month, perhaps a more appropriate reflection on gaman is the art created in the internment camps where many Japanese Americans saw out the war, recorded in a remarkable book by Delphine Hirasuna and an accompanying exhibition. While gaman on occasion receives a mixed press, its positive connotations are perhaps worth contemplating as we look forward to the return of brighter times.

e-Bulletin contents: