Japan Society Chairman’s Blog – 7


One enjoyable memory from my time when posted to Tokyo is of a weekend visit in what I
think must have been 1985 to Ito-shi, out on the Izu peninsula, for the Anjin Festival. This
now annual fixture in Ito’s calendar is a wonderful celebration of William Adams, the ship’s
pilot who in 1600 became the first Englishman to set foot in Japan and became known as
Miura Anjin, the pilot of Miura. The Tokugawa shogun allowed him and his crew to stay, but
put them to work building ships in Ito. Every year, a ceremony is therefore held there in
which a British embassy official impersonates William Adams, and speeches are also made
by representatives from the Dutch, Mexican and American embassies, befitting the
thoroughly multinational nature of Adams’s arrival: in a Dutch ship, via California and
Mexico. There are usually spectacular fireworks and a glorious parade, but on the August
weekend when I visited they were sadly rained off. But I have fond memories of the lovely
ceremony, of a charming parade on stage by the local Girl Guide (now known as Girl Scouts)
troupe and of a band playing tunes from around the world, including (why do I remember
this 35 years later?) “The Green Green Grass of Home”. Which is also suitably global having
been made famous in the 1960s by both Jerry Lee Lewis in the US and Tom Jones in Britain.

So why am I dwelling on William Adams? The reason is that 16 May is the 400 th
anniversary of his death, in Hirado in Kyushu, where his gravesite can be visited. There were
to be ceremonies and celebrations marking that anniversary in both Tokyo and London,
which of course have had to be called off, or at least substituted, like many things these
days, by online events. Many of us, in both Japan and the UK, will be raising glasses (or cups
of tea depending on the time of day) to this historic figure, made famous also by James
Clavell’s 1975 novel, Shogun and a subsequent TV series in which he was played by Richard

Moreover, while I am dwelling upon anniversaries, there is also the 100 th birthday
this year of the Leach Pottery, jointly established by Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada in
1920. In celebration of that milestone, the Mingei Film Archive has just made available a
film, “Working at the Leach Pottery, 1970” free to watch until 15 June. Some of you may
also have seen a modern film about the Hamada family pottery in Japan, notably featuring
Shoji Hamada’s grandson, shown on the BBC as part of its "Handmade in Japan" series.

This week's webinar highlighted another form of UK-Japan interaction and
collaboration, namely in medical science. Thanks to our Japanese speaker, Kiyoshi
Kurokawa, professor emeritus at the Graduate Institute of Policy Studies, we collaborated
with his think-tank, the Global Health and Policy Institute, over publicising this event, and so
welcomed a large number of viewers in Japan as well as the UK. Our UK speaker was
actually a Belgian, Peter Piot, who lives and works in London as director of the London
School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has been one of the world’s leading researchers in
recent decades on both Ebola and HIV-AIDS, and had recently recovered from a severe bout
of covid-19 himself.

I found both speakers reassuring about the pace and intensity of scientific
collaboration and progress on combatting the covid-19 pandemic, which was a welcome
contrast to the previous week when we were lamenting the lack of international
collaboration at the political level. Dr Piot and Dr Kurokawa were particularly compelling
when discussing the promising candidates for treating and so managing covid-19, which will be crucial if the mortality rate is to be reduced and the health risks made more manageable
and less alarming. They felt that we would know “in a few months’ time”, which Dr Piot
further and perhaps bravely defined as July, which treatments were going to work best. Dr
Kurokawa himself has been working with Fujifilm to get that company’s Avigan flu
treatment into full-scale trials for covid-19.

Naturally, our speakers were more sober about the timetable to find a successful
and safe vaccine, suggesting that although there are about 100 research projects under way,
there were really fewer than 10 serious candidates. Then the task of producing and
distributing billions of doses in as equitable and orderly a way as possible will be daunting,
especially in the face of what has become known as “vaccine nationalism”.

An aspect of that nationalism will no doubt feature in next week’s webinar, the
subject of which will be China. I am looking forward very much to discussing how political
and commercial relations between China, the US, Japan and the UK are evolving during this
pandemic crisis with two of the leading scholars on China in each of our countries: Professor
Akio Takahara of the University of Tokyo and Professor Kerry Brown of King’s College
London. I hope that many of you will be able to join me.