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Twenty years at 64 The Close

The morning after the Robert Sainsbury Lecture, the Institute held an ‘open house’ for some very special guests to mark two decades of the Sainsbury Institute’s occupancy of 64 The Close. The pandemic meant that regrettably we had to limit the guest list, but it was a great pleasure to welcome to our Institute’s home old friends and representatives of some of the organisations that have provided such wonderful support to the Institute over the years.

64 The Close on a snowy day in 2018.

We showcased our new Timeline of the Sainsbury Institute, and invite you to pay a visit, scrolling through to rediscover some of what we have achieved over the past twenty years. We took the decision a while ago to no longer send out a formal annual report, but to instead embrace the potential of online communications, shifting to a focus on social media and our websites. We undertook an overhaul of our archives, with the support of some of our MA students and colleagues at the Art Research Center at Ritsumeikan University, and we will be continuing to develop the Timeline into the future.

64 The Close has become an integral part of the identity of the Sainsbury Institute. This building began life in the 12th century as part of the outer cloister of the Benedictine monastery which, until Henry VIII’s dissolution, occupied the land abutting the cathedral, and the range of buildings that included what is now Number 64 comprised the ‘Infirmerer’s Camera’, the monastic sick bay and dispensary. Becoming a private house after the Reformation, the building was remodelled and extended, latterly used by Woolsey and Woolsey Solicitors, including Norwich’s only known blind solicitor. The building was extensively refurbished by Lord Sainsbury of Turville on behalf of the Sainsbury Institute over two years following the initial endowment of the Institute in 1999.

This plaque, which stands in the main foyer of the building at 64 The Close, notes the vision for the Institute and its establishment by Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury.

This long history has left many traces throughout the building, with fragments of the beautiful white limestone that adorns the cathedral tucked behind doorways, Tudor bricks and ancient timbers. We have on occasion opened up the deeper recesses of the building, in particular in association with Heritage Open Days: inviting a lucky few to descend through the trap door in the floor of the ground floor toilet to marvel at the great brick-built medieval Great Drain that passes beneath, and revealing the 16th century wall-paintings, now happily preserved but concealed behind book cases belonging to our neighbours.

The story goes that our founding benefactors Sir Robert and Lady Lisa Sainsbury were keen for the Institute to be located in the city centre rather than on the University campus to encourage us to forge partnerships in Japanese arts and cultures far and wide, as well as closer to home. A glimpse of our mailing database, or the Timeline, demonstrate how we have fulfilled that ambition. 64 The Close has acted as a great attractor, welcoming generations of eminent specialists, students, indeed anyone with an interest (apparent or latent) in the arts and cultures of Japan. In recent years we have fostered an even closer relationship with the University of East Anglia, and look forward to taking up residence in the Sainsbury Centre, a move currently scheduled for 2024. We continue to nurture our connections with our other institutional partners, notably SOAS, University of London, and the British Museum.

Rebecca Salter, President of the RA, gave this month’s Third Thursday Lecture, on “The Presence of Absence” with friends and guests from SOAS, the Fitzwilliam Museum, and the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation to name a few. The lecture can be watched here.

The establishment of the Sainsbury Institute was marked by events including an inaugural address in June 2000 by Professor Donald Keene, doyenne of Japanese literary studies and the first person to teach Japanese at the University of Cambridge just after the end of the Second World War. Professor Keene spoke from the pulpit of Norwich Cathedral about the Emperor Meiji, the first emperor of modern Japan, about whom he had just completed a magisterial biography. Donald Keene returned to Norwich on a number of occasions, to deliver the Toshiba Lectures in Japanese Art on the Edo period literati figure Watanabe Kazan, and to give the first in the annual series of Carmen Blacker Lectures, commemorating his successor at Cambridge, the first woman to teach Japanese at a British University.  Following the opening of 64 The Close in October 2001, Lady Sainsbury joined us for a special conference held at the Dean’s Parlour, a short distance from Number 64, with Ian Buruma and other luminaries discussing the significance of art in Japanese culture. 2001 was a special Japan Year, a precursor to the current UK-Japan Season of Culture, with a major exhibition on Shinto Art at the British Museum, for which we held an accompanying conference at the University of East Anglia. Lady Sainsbury returned to 64 The Close many times in subsequent years, hosting a series of memorable lunches in the building and always displaying a close interest in the latest acquisitions in the library that bears her name.

In 2002 our visiting scholars joined the crowds applauding as Queen Elizabeth II drove past Number 64 as part of her Golden Jubilee. The Queen returned to Norwich to open the new Cathedral Hostry, including the Sainsbury Institute Japanese Garden, installed by the Japan Garden Society at the instigation of the Cathedral’s Preceptor, Canon Jeremy Haselock. In 2003 we welcomed the then Japanese Ambassador, Orita Masaaki, to 64 The Close, to officially open the Lisa Sainsbury Library, now one of the most significant libraries of Japanese arts and cultures in Europe. That same year we celebrated when Lady Lisa Sainsbury was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon by the Government of Japan, and again when our Trustee Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll was similarly honoured in 2005. Ambassador Nogami Yoshiji was a regular visitor to the Institute, combining his support for the Institute with his passion for roses, and the renowned rose growers of Norfolk – planting a beautiful rose bush for us in June 2005, whose blossoms continue to greet visitors, and for whom we commissioned the ‘Ambassador Nogami Rose’ to mark his return to Japan. In 2018 we were delighted to host Ambassador Tsuruoka Koji who came to Norwich to give our 200th Third Thursday Lecture, and to enjoy an unforgettable civic dinner in City Hall, while on the walls of Norwich Castle were projected images of early maps of Japan, part of the collection of maps, prints and other Japan materials placed on long-term loan with the Sainsbury Institute by Sir Hugh Cortazzi, former British Ambassador to Japan and Honorary Graduate of the University of East Anglia.

An early map of Japan projected onto Norwich Castle’s wall in 2018.

We continue to use 64 The Close in innovative ways. It provides a home for our post-doctoral research Fellows, numbering 80 since the Institute was established. We have used our large seminar room for our Summer Programmes, a teaching role enhanced this autumn with classes on our MA in Interdisciplinary Japanese Studies. We are developing our facilities as a digital hub for Japanese arts and cultures, and we have just embarked on hosting a new series of workshops by Norwich-based Japan boutique Kobo A-B.

So now we look forward to our third decade with ambitious plans, where necessary adapted to the new circumstances demanded by the pandemic. As the third Director of the Sainsbury Institute I am gratefully aware of the foundations laid by my predecessors, Professor Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere, now our Research Director, and Mami Mizutori, now at the United Nations. I would also like to acknowledge the generations of cleaners, notably Jackie, Julie Tufts, Libby Edwards and Hannah Beales who have kept our remarkable building in such excellent shape, and Orianno Vannucci who has maintained our houseplants and gardens since they were originally laid out by Sainsbury’s gardeners Gareth Stanfield and John Fielding. Lastly, I give my continuing thanks to you, our readers, and everyone, colleagues, friends, supporters, students and partners, who have helped breathe life into the Sainsbury Institute.

Leiko Ikemura’s bronze sculpture, Usagi Kannon, is currently on show at the Sculpture Park on the University of East Anglia Campus.

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