Japan Society Chairman’s Blog – 15


Historians will tell us that four months is far too short a time for permanent social or behavioural changes to occur, even if the pandemic already feels as if it has lasted forever. But one thing that really is clear is that those months have proven that video communications technologies such as Zoom are mature and easy enough for widespread use. Some days all of us feel “Zoomed out” and we’d love to have some face-to-face events too, but it has been wonderful for the Japan Society to be able to use Zoom to be able to reach a much wider group of participants, all over the UK as well as in Japan and elsewhere, and to be able to hear from so many speakers based in Japan. This is something we could never have done before.

This week’s webinar (click on this link for the video if you missed it) was a case in point. In pre-Zoom days, only by sheer luck and months of planning could we have hosted Yoriko Goto, chair of the Deloitte Tohmatsu Group and vice-chair of the Japan Chapter of the 30% Club (and as such one of the most senior female professionals in Japan), to talk about the gender equality targets that the club is dedicated to achieving. It might have been easier to persuade Heather McGregor, one of the founders of the 30% Club at its British origins a decade ago, to come down from Edinburgh where she is Executive Dean of the business school attached to Heriot-Watt university, but to have them coincide would have required a miracle. It is true that Zoom webinars do not easily bring us the “social capital” of trust, recognition and networks that Heather told us is crucial for women’s advancement into leadership roles, so that needs to be sought in other ways. Both speakers also highlighted the vital importance of collecting data on what is really happening inside companies, which in Japan has been greatly assisted by recent reporting requirements in the new corporate governance code. Mariko Bando, president of Showa Women’s University, and the doyenne of campaigners for female advancement, has predicted that the share of women in management roles in Japan will double during the next decade, thanks to current generations rising through the ranks. We’ll need all to watch the data to see whether that prediction comes true.

The day on which I am writing this, July 24th, was supposed to mark the opening of the Tokyo Olympics. We hope that a vaccine will become widely enough available in time to make the delayed opening possible in a year’s time, but meanwhile I also hope that any of you with children or grandchildren will have seen the Japan Society’s Sports Day Pack, which is designed to help you organise your own Undokai during the summer, to keep some of the Olympic spirit alive (or just to have fun). Dedicated sports fans might be interested in a new series of podcasts, Japan Sports Stories, hosted by Noel Thatcher (a 5-time Paralympic Gold Medalist) and Mike Salter (a Paralympic official) and featuring discussions about all sorts of aspects of sport in Japan.

Many of us have been wondering whether we have been using the lockdown and relative confinement as well as we might. So I must share my admiration for the way two senior Japan Society friends have used the time to produce and publish translations of Japanese novels. Jason James, our trustee who in his day job is Director-General of the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, has been publishing a chapter each week of his translation of Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s novella Yoshino Kuzu, a title he has translated as Yoshino Arrowroot (Yoshino is the name of a river). Meanwhile David Warren, my predecessor in the chair, has translated a novella by Soji Shimada, One Love Chigusa, which will be published by Red Circle books on 6 August. Unlike Shimada’s Tokyo Zodiac Murders this novella is apparently more akin to science fiction. I imagine David must have done much of the work before the pandemic, but I congratulate him nonetheless.

My last act before taking a summer break on the west coast of Ireland will be something both David and I have previously enjoyed doing at the Japanese embassy on Piccadilly, namely chairing the Japan Society’s AGM, which the embassy always so kindly hosts. This year of course it will have to be by Zoom, which means that in addition to hearing from Ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine, President of the Japan Society, we can also hear from Ambassador Paul Madden, generously giving us part of his evening in Tokyo. As well as conducting the necessary formalities for which I hope all those attending will send in their votes in advance, there will be time for questions from members and a new feature enabled by Zoom, smaller “break-out” discussions among groups of members, each chaired by a trustee. We hope to hear your thoughts in particular about membership and the reach of the Society, and about our activities. Do please register in order to be able to attend and I hope many of you will be able to stay online long enough to take part in those “break-out” discussions. See you on Tuesday.