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May 2024 message from the Executive Director

Through 2024 we are marking 25 years since the creation of the Sainsbury Institute through the generosity of our founding benefactors, Sir Robert and Lady Lisa Sainsbury. From 20th to 25th May we have two exhibitions at the Forum in Norwich and some associated special events presenting the results of a couple of our major current research initiatives: Nara to Norwich: art and belief at the ends of the Silk Roads and the Later Prehistoric Norfolk Project. Details can be found here. These events are organised in conjunction with the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, one of the oldest arts festivals in the world, going back over 250 years. In July we have further exhibitions and events in partnership with the Hokusai Museum in Obuse, Nagano and about the wonderful world of tanzaku – come and find out what these exquisite artworks are all about. And in early November we hold our 25th anniversary conference in London – more details will be available soon. We very much hope you can join us as we celebrate our first quarter century and look forward to the future of the study of Japanese arts and cultures.

I am writing this from the beautiful city of Mokpo on the southwest coast of Korea, where we are researching connections between Japan and Korea in ancient times as part of our Nara to Norwich initiative. We are very grateful to the Toshiba International Foundation for their continuing support for this project. You can read a more in-depth interview about Nara to Norwich on their Japan Insights website here. Over the coming days we will be visiting sites and museums including the Maritime Museum in Mokpo which contains the remains of a well-preserved ship-wreck laden with goods intended for the so-called Maritime Silk Roads, and some keyhole-shaped tombs very similar to those found on the Japanese archipelago. We then move on to Seoul to speak at the Royal Asiatic Society, and sites associated with the early Korean kingdoms of Silla and Baekje: Buddhism was transmitted to Japan from the latter in the 6th century. This will result in a new series of stories and blogs on our Nara to Norwich online exhibition.

An audience with a replica of the famous 7-pronged sword at the Museum of the Nara Prefectural Kashihara Archaeological Institute. The real one is at the Isonokami Shrine in Nara.
The tomb of Shōtoku Taishi, the Shining Prince, an important figure in the creation of the early Japanese state, including promoting Buddhism and Chinese-style law codes.

Our online Third Thursday lecture this month will be given by Professor Ellen van Goethem of Kyushu University, renowned for her work on 8th and 9th century Japan. Ellen will in fact be in Norwich the following week, along with Professor Fabio Rambelli of the University of California at Santa Barbara. They will be joining us, twelve priests from Karyōbinga Shōmyō Kenkyūkai in collaboration with the Hasedera temple located south of Nara city, and the St Peter Mancroft choir, for an exceptional workshop and performance at St Peter Mancroft church in Norwich on Tuesday 21st May. The priests will be in Norwich all that week, performing o-shōmyō お声明Buddhist sutra chanting at regular intervals while an immense image of the Eleven-faced Kannon Bosatsu at Hasedera is displayed in the Forum alongside the aforementioned exhibitions.

The peonies were in full bloom at Hasedera temple in southern Nara.
The stone stupa at Haeinsa temple, established in the early 9th century, near Daegu in Korea.

In Japan the eastern terminus of the Silk Roads is regarded as the 8th century imperial treasury, the Shōsōin at Tōdaiji temple in Nara, the focus of Professor Yukio Lippit’s Third Thursday Lecture in January. During the week of 20th-25th May we also welcome colleagues from the so-called Shōsōin of the Sea, the Sacred Island of Okinoshima, a UNESCO World Heritage site. At Norwich Cathedral, adjacent to our Sainsbury Institute Japanese Garden, there will be an exhibit about this fascinating island between Japan and Korea, where offerings were made to secure safe passage for travellers including traders, pilgrims, and diplomats from the 4th to 9th centuries. On Saturday 25th May we have a special symposium on our Nara to Norwich theme at the Forum in Norwich. Look out also for the May edition of The Historian, the journal of the Historical Association, which includes articles by many of our Nara to Norwich research partners.

The entrance to the buildings where the Tripitaka Koreana is stored at Haeinsa temple.
The Tripitaka Koreana: the earliest complete Buddhist cannon in the Hanja script – 6568 volumes, 81,258 woodblock prints from the 13th century.

There is much more to report. Last week we welcomed the Japan Library Group to the Lisa Sainsbury Library. Our Research Director Professor Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere has been in Japan preparing her latest celebration of manga and meeting the eminent Japanese art historians who have helped us so much over the years. More on this in the coming months. Dr Eugenia Bogdanova-Kummer has been in Madrid and Copenhagen, leading study visits to archives associated with postwar Japanese artists in Europe, part of our Ishibashi Foundation Digital Futures project. And Dr Ryoko Matsuba, who recently returned from fieldwork in Japan as part of her British Academy funded research project on the traditional paper industry essential to Japan’s woodblock printing industry, spoke at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. We hope you enjoyed the April Third Thursday lecture by our Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow, Dr Ji-Hye Han on postwar photography in Korea and Japan – a report by Shih-cheng Huang is available here.

Best wishes,
Professor Simon Kaner
Executive Director