June 2024 message from the Executive Director

“We are Shingon Buddhist monks from Hasedera in Nara, Japan.
We have visited Norwich to pray for people’s happiness and world peace.
We would like to thank you for welcoming us so kindly.
Our country is very far from the UK. However, the skies of both countries are connected as one.
So we believe that our souls also can be united as one.
We truly hope that our prayers will bring the light of mercy and wisdom to the spirit of the people of Norwich.
Thank you.”

Above is a transcript of the special 願文 (ganmon or prayer) that Numajiri-san, the leader of the 総本山長谷寺 (Hasedera) priests, read out in English during their last chanting.

Gyeongju burial mounds, kingdom of Silla.

The first instalment of our 25th anniversary programme took place during the last week of May: two exhibitions at the Norwich Forum; a display of the largest scroll painting in Japan, of the Kannon Bosatsu, bodhisattva of compassion and mercy, from the Hase temple in Nara, no less impressive at 12 metres in height for being a high-resolution digital replica (we would never have been able to show the paper original); unforgettable performances of oshōmyō [お声明] chanting of Buddhist sacred texts by priests associated with Hasedera and the Karyōbinga Shōmyō Kenkyūkai; and a symposium. We thank the Japan Foundation, the Tokyo office of the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and the VisitNara campaign for their generous support of this visit, and everyone at the Forum Trust for facilitating these activities. It was wonderful to be part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival for the first time.

A particular highlight for me was the extraordinarily moving workshop and evening concert at St Peter Mancroft, the main church for the city of Norwich, bringing the Hasedera priests together with the St Peter Mancroft Choir. For this we were joined by Professor Fabio Rambelli of the University of California, Santa Barbara, who further enchanted us by playing the sho, evoking ritual performances from ancient Japan, and Professor Ellen van Goethem from Kyushu University, who provided context for what we were hearing, as well as giving our May Third Thursday lectures on Japan’s earliest Buddhist temples – a report by Dr Andy Hutcheson of our Centre for Archaeology and Heritage is here.

Pensive Buddhas at the National Museum of Korea, Seoul.

Meanwhile in front of our Sainsbury Institute garden in Norwich Cathedral itself we held a special exhibition of detailed replicas of some of the National Treasures unearthed on the sacred island of Okinoshima, known as the Shōsōin of the Sea due to the large number of important objects from East Asia and the Silk Roads that were deposited there by diplomatic envoys, traders and pilgrims seeking safe passage across the treacherous straits between Japan and Korea in ancient times. I have been involved in this remarkable place since 2006, and it was wonderful to welcome Okadera Miki and Inamori Kosuke to Norwich from the Fukuoka Prefectural World Heritage Promotion Office. Okadera-san has steered the Sacred Island of Okinoshima and Associated Sites of the Munakata Region UNESCO World Heritage initiative since the start – culminating in successful inscription on the World Heritage List in 2017. An important part of the World Heritage process is an ongoing research agenda, and I am looking forward to attending the next Okinoshima conference towards the end of this year.

I would like to thank everyone involved: the audiences who provided such wonderful feedback and all the organisations and individuals in Norwich and Norfolk who made the priests and our other guests feel so welcome. We were also delighted to celebrate our historic headquarters at 64 The Close with a 25th anniversary reception, welcoming many old friends to the building. It was a particular honour to welcome The Lady Dannatt, Lord Lieutenant of Norwich, representing His Majesty King Charles III, the Lord Mayor and the Sheriff of Norwich, along with their consorts, and representatives from the Embassy of Japan to the UK, Norwich Cathedral, the city of Norwich and the county of Norfolk. I was especially pleased to be able to announce that plans are now well underway to allow us to stay in the Close for the foreseeable future, along with an enhanced presence on the University campus.

Olivia Butler provides a full report on that exceptional week here. And there is much more to come. So much, in fact, that we are preparing a special supplement to our monthly e-bulletin which contains details of all the events planned for July. And a little further in the future, please save the date for our 25th anniversary conference in London on Saturday November 9th.

A lecture for students at Mokpo University, Korea.
With Nakamura Kosuke and colleagues at the Society for Archaeological Research, Okayama.

I spent the previous three weeks in Japan and Korea, working on the next stages of our Nara to Norwich project, of which more later. I was honoured to be invited to speak to the 70th anniversary meeting of the Society for Archaeological Research [考古学研究会] at Okayama University, where I had my first adventures in Japanese archaeology an unbelievable four decades ago, introduced to the remarkable Professor Kondo Yoshiro by Professor Gina Lee Barnes, who taught me about East Asian archaeology as a callow undergraduate. It was a great pleasure to meet many old friends as well as making some new ones. I was also very grateful for the opportunity to give a talk at the Royal Asiatic Society Korea branch in Seoul  with Susan Whitfield, our Professor of Silk Road Studies who created the Nara to Norwich exhibition in the Forum. We were joined in Korea by Professor Neil Price of Uppsala University, who will be investigating the eastern extent of the impact of Viking culture as part of a major new Swedish initiative, the World in the Viking Age, in which Susan and I are thrilled to be involved. I re-iterate our sincere thanks to the Toshiba International Foundation for their tremendous support for our Nara to Norwich project since its inception.

Our June Third Thursday Lecture takes us into uncharted waters for the Sainsbury Institute, with an online talk by Douglas Brooks, specialist on traditional Japanese boat building techniques, whose expertise was put to use as consultant to the current TV sensation Shogun. James Clavell’s novel and the 1980 mini-series were inspirational to many of us developing our interests in Japan at that time, and this latest iteration comes highly recommended – even if it was filmed in Canada rather than Japan! I hope you will be able to join us for what promises to be a fascinating talk.

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.

Best wishes,
Professor Simon Kaner
Executive Director