Japan Society Chairman’s Blog – 1

01.03.20 Publication:

This is the first of what will be a regular “Chairman’s Blog” for Japan Society members and
supporters. I originally thought I would start the blog to coincide not just with our soon-to-
be-launched redesigned website but also to celebrate the joys of spring both in Japan and
the UK, with cherry blossom parties in full flow, with planning hotting up for their Imperial
Majesties’ State Visit in May, with much thought about how the Tokyo Olympic Games
might build on the achievements and enjoyments of last year’s Rugby World Cup, and, yes,
with some progress to discuss in the Brexit trade negotiations. But as we all know, the world
has suddenly changed, thanks to the covid-19 pandemic.

Spring is indeed here, but it promises to be an extraordinary one, with many of us
working from home – not a novelty for me, though it is for most – and not being able to
meet each other for a while at lectures, cultural events or other occasions. All the Japan
Society staff are also working at home, but they are coming up with a myriad ways to
connect with members online. This will necessarily be an experimental process, but like
others as we feel our way towards the best and most productive ways to use facilities such
as video conferencing we will increase the frequency and the range of topics. All ideas and
support would be welcome.

This is bound to be a period from which we will learn many things, hopefully most of
them positive. We have already seen, in the past few days, the Government of Japan taking
what I see as a very positive step by agreeing with the International Olympic Committee
that the Games be postponed until next year. As I wrote in an article for Project Syndicate,
which was also published in the Japan Times, this offers the chance to make the best of a
bad situation and now to make the Games a pivotal moment in a global health and
economic recovery in 2021. Much the same might be said of the State Visit, which when it
happens can be seen as a marker of a new beginning.

I rather hope that something similarly positive might happen to the UK’s
negotiations with the EU (and then with Japan and others) over our trade relationships after
Brexit. The fact that we all now have to focus on dealing with the coronavirus might enable
politicians and policy makers to take a bit more time to reflect on quite what the best future
arrangements might be rather than rushing to meet a self-imposed deadline. Without
wishing to stray into politics – always a temptation, as you’ll know – I do think that this
crisis, which in both health and economic terms is entirely shared and global, could (and
should) give new momentum to international co-operation of all kinds. This is surely a time
to be closer together and to learn more from each other.

Most of all, it is a time to stay safe. I wish all Japan Society members and supporters,
and all of your families, a happy and healthy spring. With my travel cancelled and staying
very much at home, I have enjoyed the exercises on the Radio Taiso video created by the
Japan Society’s education team, to support its work with schools. And to help me think of
the finer things in British culture, I have enjoyed listening to the daily Shakespeare sonnets
being recorded and shared on Twitter by Sir Patrick Stewart, who was of course a great
Shakespearean actor before becoming famous for Star Trek. “Shall I Compare Thee to a
Summer’s Day…?” Just the right thought for this unusual spring.