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The Sainsbury Institute Abroad

A busy week in Japan…

Yvonne Tasker, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, UEA, giving one of her four talks during her week-long stay in Japan
Yvonne Tasker, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, UEA,
giving one of her four talks during her week-long stay in Japan

As part of our closer working with the University of East Anglia (UEA), Simon Kaner, who is Director of the University’s Centre for Japanese Studies as well as Head of the Centre for Archaeology and Heritage, spent a week in Japan at the end of May and early June with Professor Yvonne Tasker, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at UEA and Dr Rayna Denison, Senior Lecturer in Film and Television Studies in the School of Art, Media and American Studies, and specialist in Japanese cinema, in particular anime.

As Dean of the Faculty, Yvonne has responsibility for the Centre for Japanese Studies, as well as a place on the Management Board of the Sainsbury Institute. As such she is instrumental in developing the onward strategy for Japan-related teaching and research at UEA, as well as the Sainsbury Institute’s future direction as we plan for the move to the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts on the UEA campus in 2019-20.

This was the first visit to Japan by Yvonne, a renowned world-class specialist in gender studies and film studies, whose research has until now mainly taken her west to the United States rather than east towards Asia. The purpose of the trip was to introduce Yvonne to some of our key partners in Japan, and also to look into how the University’s increasing interest there can be harnessed to enhance UEA’s international research reputation. With this in mind, we arranged for Yvonne to give a series of lectures while in Japan, a challenge which she took up with enthusiasm and alacrity, resulting in a series of no less than four impressive and engaging talks, each on different topics, in a week.

Prior to our departure we had the opportunity to brief Yvonne on current gender and film-related developments in Japan, including the ‘womenomics’ programme being promoted by the Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. One of Yvonne’s recent publications is a compendium of papers on the theme of “Gendering the Recession’, and in her final talk at the University of Tokyo, she presented a provocative and stimulating assessment of her personal take on the situation in Japan. We benefitted greatly from the Sainsbury Institute network during the visit: the University of Tokyo lecture was facilitated by our former Handa Japanese Archaeology Fellow Dr Matsuda Akira, who returned to his alma mater to teach in the Department of Cultural Resources Studies last September after a very successful five-year tenure of a lectureship in Japanese Artistic Heritage at UEA. Cultural Resource Studies is also where Nicole Rousmaniere spent three years on secondment from the Sainsbury Institute in the noughties. Dr Fukuoka Maki, former Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow at the Sainsbury Institute translated Yvonne’s lecture which was delivered to a large audience of faculty members and students (including some who had taken part in the Sainsbury Institute – University of Tokyo Winter programme – see elsewhere in this issue), and generated a lively discussion.

Yvonne spoke on female directors in Japanese cinema at the International Research Centre for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken) in Kyoto, which inspired the idea of developing a joint research project between Nichibunken and UEA
Yvonne spoke on female directors in Japanese cinema at the International
Research Centre for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken) in Kyoto, which inspired the idea
of developing a joint research project between Nichibunken and UEA

At the International Centre for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken) in Kyoto, Yvonne spoke on ‘Female Directors in Japanese Cinema’, with additional observations by Rayna and comments from Professor Kitaura Hiroyuki, the film studies specialist at Nichibunken. This talk was arranged by Professor John Breen, who readers will recall gave the 2015 Carmen Blacker Lecture all about the Ise Grand Shrine. Yvonne and Rayna provided a fascinating account of how and why women directors continue to be so invisible in Japan – despite a very significant presence in other media, notably television, and set the Japanese situation in a global context – in which even in Hollywood it is big news when women directors get to work on mega-budget blockbusters. A number of academics from Kyoto Prefectural University made the long journey from central Kyoto to Nichibunken to join us for the talk, including Professor Uesugi Kazuhiro, who was about to leave for his first visit to Norwich, to take part in the symposium on Early Maps of Japan being organised by our current Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow, Dr Radu Leca. At the reception afterwards, Professor Inaga Shigemi, one of Japan’s foremost art historians, and currently Deputy Director of Nichibunken, regaled us with his attempts to establish a major research project on contemporary culture in Japan at the behest of the Japanese government, which has identified this as a theme in need of more research – and the evening concluded with UEA being identified as the answer to his dilemma, and plans for new research collaborations in precisely this area. All helped by the fact that Professor Inaga is an old friend of the Sainsbury Institute and UEA: he was one of the participants at the 1997 conference on The Nature of the Masterpiece in Japanese Art held at UEA, attended by Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury, and at which the seed of the idea of establishing the Sainsbury Institute was born.

In addition to the talks at Nichibunken and the University of Tokyo, Yvonne and Rayna also gave a lecture for potential Japanese students interested in studying at UEA, and spoke at Osaka University, at the invitation of Professor Aoki Naoko, who visited Norwich in late 2014. UEA is in the process of developing an exchange agreement with Osaka University, which will become the 15th Japanese university with which we exchange students. All UEAs Japanese Language Degree students spend their third year in Japan, and the success of the programme means that we need to enhance our range of exchange partners. This is all especially timely as the first cohort of Japanese Language Degree Students graduated from UEA this summer. We also somehow found time for visits to some of our important partners in Japan, including the British Council, and the Nippon Foundation who have funded lectureships and studentships at UEA. We have just appointed our new Sasakawa Lecturer following on from Dr Ulrich Heinze’s departure in 2015, whose post was originally funded by the Nippon Foundation through the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation. Dr Ra Mason takes up this new post, in International Relations and Japanese Foreign Policy in the School of Politics, Philosophy and Language and Communication Studies, in September. We also visited the Japan Foundation, who originally funded Dr Matsuda Akira’s post in the School of Art History and World Art Studies. Matsuda-san’s replacement, Dr Nadine Willems, has just been appointed to a new Lectureship in Japanese History in the School of History at UEA. We also visited Kanazawa University, home of our current Handa Japanese Archaeology Fellow, Dr Yoshida Yasuyuki, with which we are developing collaborations in the field of cultural tourism, and met colleagues from Ritsumeikan University, another important partner university.

Yvonne was amused by the strict signage demanding ‘No Scribbling!’ at Nijo Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kyoto
Yvonne was amused by the strict signage demanding ‘No Scribbling!’ at Nijo
Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kyoto

Not wanting to waste any time, we also ensured that Yvonne had the opportunity to savour some Japanese culture, with visits to the Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa, Akihabara Electric Town in Tokyo, the Edo-Tokyo Museum and the Nijo Castle UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kyoto, where we amused by the strict signage demanding ‘No Scribbling!’, delightfully incongruous for a Dean whose responsibility at UEA includes our famous Creative Writing programmes as well as the British Centre for Literary Translation – both of which have Japanese dimensions, to say nothing of coming from the University in England’s only UNESCO-designated City of Literature. Our busy week was rounded off by a relaxing evening at a hot-spring hotel near the coast of Fukui prefecture, which provided a well-deserved respite for Yvonne before the long flight home.

This trip, which followed hard on the heels of a visit by UEA Pro-Vice Chancellor Professor David Petley, who combined speaking at the Geophyscial Union Conference in Chiba with visits to the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and the Toshiba International Foundation, and a half-day along the Shinano River (focus of a major Sainsbury Institute project) looking into his personal research area of landslips, demonstrated how committed the University is to fostering enhanced connections with Japan, something reiterated in the University’s newly formulated international strategy. We look forward to more visits to Japan by colleagues from across the University, and a further deepening of these all important relationships.

Simon Kaner
Director, Centre for Japanese Studies, University of East Anglia
and Head, Centre for Archaeology and Heritage, Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures

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