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Behind the Scenes

The Vice-Chancellor and President of UEA in Japan: Chapter 2

Mami Mizutori, Executive Director
Mami Mizutori, Executive Director

Just around 18 months ago, in November 2015, Dr Simon Kaner and I had the pleasure of accompanying Professor David Richardson to his first official trip to Japan as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia (UEA) and Chair of the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures (SISJAC). For those of you who are not clear about the relationship between UEA and SISJAC, SISJAC has status as an independent charity but is formally part of UEA along with our sister organisations on campus, namely the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and the Sainsbury Research Unit for the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas. The Vice-Chancellor of UEA is ex-officio the Chair of the SISJAC Management Board and is one of the most important links connecting SISJAC and UEA.

Previous Vice-Chancellors were always interested in the connections and collaborations SISJAC had in Japan and were eager to visit the country. However, since Professor Richardson designated Japan as one of the five ‘dialogue countries’ along with the USA, China, India, and Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries with which the University would strengthen its collaboration efforts since taking office in autumn 2014, Japan has been given a special status in UEA’s internationalisation strategy. Therefore, the realisation of the second trip to Japan by Professor Richardson, which took place from the end of May for a bit longer than a week, was imminent [timely?] and in his own words ‘a bit overdue’. Here are some of the highlights of his visit.

The official itinerary started on 27 May at Dazaifu, Kyushu where Professor Richardson opened the 4th Ishibashi Foundation Lecture series co-organised with the Kyushu National Museum. Kyushu National Museum is the most recently established national museums in Japan, of which there are four, with a mission to promote the understanding of the formation of Japanese culture from an Asian historical perspective, given its proximity to the Korean Peninsula and China.

Supported by the Ishibashi Foundation, this lecture series is SISJAC’s flagship event in Japan offering an alternative viewpoint from aboard concerning Japanese culture. This year the theme was green tea, a topic of which the Japanese people feel they have special ownership. So, to say the least, it was not an easy task for our hand-picked two scholars from the States to convince and inspire the audience of more than one hundred people. Both presenters did a wonderful job: Professor Morgan Pitelka speaking on the development of tea culture in Japan and Dr Robert Hellyer on the trade of green tea. We were honoured that the Director of the Museum, Mr Shimatani Hiroyuki, opened the event together with Professor Richardson. The Deputy Director, Mr Ito Yoshiaki moderated the panel discussion which took place after the lectures, furthering opening the discussion to all the attendees.

Taking advantage of our Chair’s presence in Kyushu, we took him to Munakata City where for the past few years Dr Kaner has been supporting that city’s bid to register a sacred island, Okinoshima, and several other related sites as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Slightly less than a month before our visit, the prospect of this bid to be successful was high and there was a certain buzz at the Munakata Shrine which holds around 80,000 items excavated from Okinoshima. We were greeted and shown around by the Grand Priest of the Shrine, who explained to Professor Richardson how important this bid was for the city and its inhabitants. The following article from the Japan Times offers more insight into what makes Okinoshima so special and worthy of the status of a UNESCO heritage site.

Back in Tokyo the following week, we held two successful events, which was a testament to the breadth and depth of the collaborative networks that both UEA and SISJAC have in Japan. The first one took place on 30 May at the National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo, Japan, and was an international symposium titled ‘Exploring the past, present and future of the science of agriculture: towards new Anglo-Japanese research collaborations’. The event was opened with a keynote lecture by Professor Richardson on the role and mission of academia in the ‘post-truth world’, and was moderated by Professor Philip Gilmartin, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of UEA for Internationalisation and Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science. Academics from UEA and their counterparts from various prestigious research institutions in Japan delivered presentations. The objective of this event was to showcase the academic ties that UEA has in Japan in the field of science are well grounded, and have already opened new windows of opportunity for the future.

On the following day, at the prestigious International House in Roppongi, Tokyo, Professor Richardson hosted a reception for the supporters and friends of both SISJAC and UEA. Former Japanese ambassadors to the UK, members of the Japan Foundation and the British Council, academics from various higher educational and research institutions in Japan were among the more than one hundred people who were gathered that evening. Most notable was the presence of around twenty UEA alumni in Japan. Some of them had studied at UEA more than thirty years ago and still cherished fond memories of their time spent in Norwich. There were also British alumni who after studying at UEA came to Japan to find careers. Furthermore, as Professor Richardson mentioned in his remarks, this was the first time that he was accompanied to Japan by several of the ‘big guns’ from the University, including Professor Gilmartin, Professor Rosalynd Jowett, Head of the School of Health Science, and Professor Kevin Hiscock, Head of the School of Environmental Sciences, who were all present at the reception. The eclectic mix of people had one thing in common and that was their strong connection with SISJAC and/or UEA and their willingness to support our mission. It has taken SISJAC almost twenty years to bring this group together but we can proudly say that we are going from strength to strength together with UEA.

The itinerary of Professor Richardson was not only about scheduling large meetings in Tokyo. We were also mindful of showing him that much of what SISJAC does goes beyond Tokyo and into the different regions of Japan. Certainly, the best place to demonstrate this was the city of Nagaoka where Dr Kaner and Professor Nicole Rousmaniere have over the years cultivated a strong relationship. Nagaoka City is famous for its Jomon heritage and the flame pots which have been excavated from various sites there. Because one of the core research areas of SISJAC is Japanese archaeology, our academics have been working with Nagaoka to promote its heritage abroad. These efforts have culminated in facilitating flame pots from the city to be displayed at the British Museum. During his visit to Nagaoka, Professor Richardson was greeted by the Mayor of the city, Mr Isoda Tatsunobu, who is well aware of the collaboration with SISJAC.

On returning to the UK to attend to his busy schedule at UEA, Professor Richardson has told us that this second trip to Japan had made him realise how extensive the network SISJAC has created in Japan is and how highly our collaborators and supporters in Japan regard us. I am sure that the presence of our Chair in Japan has certainly boosted our status and with this conviction, we will continue our job with renewed energy.

Mami Mizutori
Executive Director, SISJAC
Special Advisor for Japanese Studies, UEA

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