May 2021 Message from the Executive Director

With the wisteria above my front door about to burst into blossom, I recall many happy visits to gardens and parks in Japan at this time of year, and amid the less cheery news stories noted that the 150 year-old wisteria (fuji 藤 in Japanese) in the Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi prefecture bloomed early this year. In its full glory, over 80,000 purple blossoms cascade down over those lucky enough to get to experience it in person, from its immense canopy, extending over 1000 square metres, and visitors also get to enjoy the fabulous wisteria tunnels, with pink, white and yellow blossoms. Here in East Anglia we are preparing for the long-awaited relaxation of pandemic restrictions. Many of us have had at least one dose of the vaccine. But there remains much uncertainty, and contemplating the beauty of the wisteria, symbolising durability and resilience, maybe provides a source of encouragement during times of doubt.

Ashikaga Flower Park
Inside Kameido Tenjin Shrine (Kameido Tenjin keidai), from the series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo (Meisho Edo hyakkei), 1856
Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858)
JP2517, The Howard Mansfield Collection, Purchase, Rogers Fund, 1936, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.

This month, continuing our exploration of northern Japan, we are joined by Alex Rodal and Javier Corso from Barcelona who have just published an exquisite and fascinating new book on the matagi hunters of Akita prefecture. The book brings together Corso’s stunning photography with text based on reflections on Banji Banzaburou, the ancestral figure of the matagi  who continue to hunt today. The book is the result of an extended and profound engagement with matagi, work picked up by National Geographic and others. Please join us for that.

The matagi represent one of the many ways that Japanese people engage with their landscapes. This month we also bring you a report from Andy Hutcheson in our Centre for Archaeology and Heritage. Andy has just published an article that explores the divergent ways in which landscape is constructed and perceived in Britain and Japan, drawing on his experience visiting Japan as part of an initiative to bring Amanohashidate, one of Japan’s renowned three most famous views, to a global audience. Andy’s visit was supported by the Kyoto Institute, Library and Archive, with which we have a close relationship, and which since its establishment has hosted several post-doctoral researchers from the Sainsbury Institute. 

In addition, it is pleasure to welcome Nancy Casserley back to the Institute and we thank her for her observations on our April Third Thursday. Nancy was closely involved in the exhibition of washi handmade paper we co-organised with the Norwich University of the Arts and the Economic Botany Collection at Kew Gardens in 2013. We were also delighted to hear from our Japanese collaborator on that project, Mrs Sakata Yoshie, the powerhouse behind the exemplary 21st Century Washi project which collected and published samples of handmade paper, and the songs that were sung to accompany the process, from the small number of remaining traditional washi producers from all over Japan. Congratulations are due to Sakata-san, now in her eighties, who has recently completed an MA, despite being very unwell. She is an inspiration to us all. I am sure that many of you will recall the wonderful nagauta performances that launched the exhibition. The project also engaged with several galleries in Norwich which put on washi-related displays, and it was also a great opportunity to work with Prue Dobinson and the International Association of Hand Papermakers and Paper Artists.

Applications are now open for our 2nd Online Summer Programme in Japanese Cultural Studies, which will take place over two weeks prior to the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics. You can access a report of the 2020 programme here. This year will see a similar format (with hour-long lunchtime webinars each day), but with completely new content – on the theme of Sports, Technology and Sustainability. Apply by 31 May to guarantee your place: free of charge and with a certificate of attendance for those who complete the course.

Stay safe and well, and I hope you can join us on May 20th.

Professor Simon Kaner
Executive Director

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