October 2023 Message from the Executive Director

Autumn is drawing in at 64 The Close with the weather in the UK turning colder and noticeably darker as we enter October. While Norwich has enjoyed some cooler temperatures, I have spent the last month in a much warmer Japan visiting partners, friends and colleagues.

On 19th September we signed an agreement of cooperation with the Japanese National Institutes for Cultural Heritage, the umbrella organisation for the National Museums of Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara and Kyushu and the National Research Institutes for Cultural Properties, Tokyo and Nara. This is a wonderful development for the Institute and we look forward to working closely with all these organisations, many of which we have worked with previously on an individual basis, as we approach our 25th anniversary and beyond. We are also pleased to be renewing our Consortium for Cultural Heritage with the National Museum of Japanese History, Kobe University, the Hungarian National Museum and the Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, one of the oldest centres for Oriental Studies in the world.

Professor Simon Kaner and Dr. Ryoko Matsuba joined representatives from member organisations of the Japanese National Institutes for Cultural Heritage to sign an agreement of cooperation.

While in Japan I was able to give several talks relating to our exhibition Circles of Stone: Stonehenge and Prehistoric Japan which closed on 3rd September with exuberant performances from the London Taiko Drummers, following our Japan Foundation sponsored conference Stone Circles Across Eurasia. More details of all this will be available on our website shortly. These talks took me north to Hokkaido, to Muroran, one of Japan’s great centres of steel production, and the wonderful Project Jomon that is revitalising a remarkable disused circular elementary school built atop a Jomon shell midden. I also spoke at the University of Tokyo’s Hokkaido field station at Tokoro, on the coast of the Sea of Japan, to students taking part in this year’s Summer Programme in Japanese Archaeology and Cultural Heritage. And, I managed to take in the excellent Jomon of the North exhibition at the Hokkaido Museum meeting many old friends from our dogu ceramic figure exhibitions several years ago.

During a brief visit to Nara I was also able to progress plans for the next stages of our Nara to Norwich: art and belief at the ends of the Silk Roads project. I look forward to attending the special discussion workshop on this that we have co-organised with Norwich Cathedral on the afternoon of Saturday 14th October, just before Professor Jiao Feng’s lecture kicking off the International Association for the Study of Silk Road Textiles conference.

We were delighted in September to have two opportunities to welcome members of the public to our historic headquarters. On Saturday 16th September, we took part in Heritage Open Days and opened up the institute with various displays related to our projects including our virtual reality institute, a manga corner, and a mini-display on Japanese performers in late 19th century Norwich. The day was an excellent opportunity to spread the word about some of the initiatives we are working on, and to engage with people and local audiences who may not have heard of our work before. Our VR model, complete with headset and controllers, was a particular hit with some of our younger visitors who managed to expertly navigate our virtual exhibition spaces and come face-to-face with models of dogu, Japanese stone circles, and netsuke. We also welcomed Pernille Rudlin, leader of Ninjin – the Digital Museum of Japan-UK (show) business project, to give a talk on the Japanese performers who came to Norwich in the 19th and 20th centuries. The talk explored the lives of the sometimes overlooked individuals who performed as part of the itinerant acrobatic troupes that toured the UK and beyond, and what their experiences and lives reveal about British perspectives on Japanese culture at the time and vice versa. We are very grateful to Pernille for the fascinating talk and for lending her materials to the display – we look forward to seeing more from her research project in the future.

Left: A young Heritage Open Days visitor explores our VR Sainsbury Institute exhibition. Right: Our Heritage Open Days manga corner display.

Our Third Thursday Lecture this month also took place at the institute, given by Professor William Marotti (UCLA). Professor Marotti delivered a fascinating talk that examined Hijikata’s seminal dance work, Hijikata Tatsumi and the Japanese: Revolt of the Flesh, within its 1968 context. The talk was followed by a lively Q&A with both online and in-person audience members. You can read a report on the talk by former Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow Daria Melnikova here.

Upcoming in October, we will be hosting another in-person lecture, this time given by Feng Zhao, Director of the China National Silk Museum on the topic of Textiles from the Eastern Silk Roads. We will be returning to the Norwich Cathedral Hostry for this event and would be delighted to see many of you there on Saturday 14th October at 16:30 – please email to book your place. This lecture is taking place in conjunction with the International Association for the Study of Silk Road Textiles (IASSRT) symposium, which this year takes place in Norwich and has been co-organised by the Sainsbury Institute. The conference brings together experts on Silk Road textiles from across the world, which Norwich is particularly well-placed to host given its extensive history with the textiles trade. Our Professor in Silk Road Studies, Susan Whitfield, has been leading on the project and we will report more on the event next month.

Pernille Rudlin gave a talk on the history of some of the first Japanese performers who ever came to Norwich and Norfolk during the 19th and 20th centuries.

As well as the IASSRT symposium, there are several other conferences that the institute is supporting or co-organising over the next few months. On 1st November, a conference on Japanese architecture led by Dana Arnold, Manchester School of Architecture, will take place in Manchester before we round off the year with the Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) conference hosted at UEA between 18th-20th December, which provides an important opportunity to early career researchers and archaeologists to present their work – this year on the theme of climate archaeology. It feels that we are now seeing the full return to in-person conferences and events, while also maintaining online outputs that allow audiences across the world to engage in events. This is a balance that the institute continues to work towards, and I hope to see many of you, either in-person or online, at our events over the coming months.  

Best wishes,

Professor Simon Kaner
Executive Director