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July 2021 Message from the Executive Director

Artwork comprising obsidian from Hoshikuso and flint from Norfolk at the Nagawa-machi Town Hall
by David Smith and Otake Sachie

Welcome to Jōmon July. A series of initiatives relating to the Jōmon period of Japanese prehistory in which the Institute has been involved come to fruition this month. These include the nomination of 17 sites in northern Tōhoku and southern Hokkaido as UNESCO World Heritage, an inscription we hope will be ratified by the World Heritage Committee later this month.  I have had the privilege to visit most of the sites on the list over the years, as well as taking part in many discussions in Japan and elsewhere. Achieving this global recognition of the value of these sites is a long-term investment – and indeed it is already over ten years since we helped organise a conference at the Maison de la Culture du Japon in Paris on this theme. We congratulate all of our colleagues in Japan involved in the bid. The nomination includes a number of stone circles – and we await with apprehension what the Committee will have to say about developments at a World Heritage site closer to home, namely the planned road tunnel beneath the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage site.

Another Jōmon project long in the planning is the Hoshikuso Jōmon Obsidian Museum in Nagawa-machi, high in the mountains of Nagano prefecture, close to the upland resorts favoured by those seeking respite from the summer heat of the plains. As recounted in previous e-magazines, the Institute has worked with Mayor Hata and the people of Nagawa to raise awareness of these important sites, and we are delighted to help celebrate the opening of the museum this month.

As many of you know, we have also been involved in a bid to have Jômon Flame pots be the inspiration for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics seikadai or cauldron. Whatever the outcome, I am looking forward to visiting the new museum which opened last summer in Tôkamachi on the Shinano River where the assemblage of superlative Flame pots from the Sasayama site, designated National Treasures, are now displayed. In case you have not seen them, more examples of these exceptional artefacts continue to be on display in the Mitsubishi Corporation Japanese Galleries at the British Museum, courtesy of our friends in Nagaoka.

To mark these developments, our Third Thursday online event this month will have a Jōmon theme, and Kobayashi Tatsuo’s Jomon Reflections, will be made available an as open-access (freely available and downloadable) e-book from Oxbow Books. I hope you can join us on 15th  as we reconnect with some of our Jōmon friends.

July marks the end of an exceptionally challenging academic year, and presents a good opportunity to acknowledge all of my colleagues at the Institute, without whom we would be unable to carry out our mission. I thank them all, in particular our Office Coordinator, Hannah Stroud, who will be leaving us this month to pursue a new culinary career. As well as looking after our treasured building in the Cathedral Close and much more, Hannah has overseen our move to online Third Thursdays, and ensured that you receive these monthly e-bulletins. We wish her every success in her new venture.

There is still much happening before we take a summer break, though. Some 350 students from around the world will be joining our Online Summer Programme in Japanese Cultural Studies, generously supported by the Toshiba International Foundation and the Ishibashi Foundation runs from 12-23rd July. And we will be opening a major new exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre, Leiko Ikemura: Usagi in Wonderland, which will be on until the end of the year. Watch out for further details.

The eyes of the world will be on Japan later this month for the opening of the Tokyo Olympics: we sincerely hope the games can be delivered in a safe fashion during this pandemic, and act as a much-needed reminder of the higher aspirations of the human spirit.

Professor Simon Kaner
Executive Director, Sainsbury Institute

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