Celebration of the Sasakawa Lectureship Programme at Birkbeck College London University

London, United Kingdom

Your Excellency, Lords, ladies and gentlemen. Let me begin by expressing my sincere appreciation to you all for your presence here today at this conference.

In particular, I would like to thank Professor Yoshihide Soeya from Keio University and Professor Koichi Iwabuchi from Waseda University, who have flown in from Japan especially to be here today. My deepest thanks go also to Dr. Nicola Liscutin from Birkbeck College, Dr. Harold Conrad from Sheffield University and the many others who gave their time to help prepare this conference. I would also like to express my deep appreciation to Birkbeck College, who have so kindly provided the venue for today’s event, to The Earl of St. Andrews, and to Mr. Stephen McEnally and everyone at the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, without whose kind support this conference would not have been possible.

I had the chance to speak briefly at last night’s reception, thus some people may have heard parts of this speech already. But as there are many people joining us for the first time today, I would like to take this opportunity to speak briefly about how this project came to fruition. For many years, Britain and many other European countries have had a close relationship with Japan, spanning areas such as trade, investment, culture and science.

One thing that has been vital in maintaining and building on these important relationships is the deep knowledge of Japanese language and culture possessed by those of you here today. Universities have played a major role, by supporting individuals such as yourselves, as you study Japan and its language. British universities have produced an especially large number of highly talented Japan scholars, and these universities arguably form Europe’s centre of Japanese research.

University experts on Japan also fill important roles as policy and strategy advisors to government and the private sector in addition to their research and teaching obligations. Finally, the students of these individuals go on to work in many fields, including the government, the private sector and international organizations.

However, when I attended a Trustees Meeting at the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation two years ago, their Chief Executive, Stephen McEnally, announced that research into Japan at British universities was being scaled back, due to financial and other constraints. When I first heard this, I assumed that the number of students interested in Japanese studies was decreasing. However, closer investigation reveals that the number is actually on the rise. This means that many who want to learn Japanese or about Japan are unable to.

I also learned that there are concerns that there are not enough opportunities for young Japanese studies researchers to develop their careers. The danger of this is that there might be no new generation to take over when the current one retires.

With universities finding it difficult to increase the number of Japanese studies courses, there is great concern over the loss of expertise in business, the environment fields, science and the media. These are vital areas to the expansion of exchange and cooperation between Europe and Japan. It was in the face of this situation that The Nippon Foundation and the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation began to consider ways to build an environment that would allow young people to pursue Japanese Studies and careers in the field.

After much discussion, we decided that the best way to do this is to create lecture posts for young researchers studying contemporary Japan. British universities responded with great enthusiasm, and today there are Sasakawa Lectureship posts at twelve universities spanning almost the entire UK. This would not have been possible without the cooperation of all the universities involved.

The most important step was taken by the universities, making the whole program viable. This was the commitment to continue the lecture posts after the funding of this program comes to a close.

I would like to formally thank all those concerned once again for their tireless efforts and commitment to this program. I am very pleased to say that this past year, thirteen new Sasakawa Lecturers filled the posts. The group is highly diverse, in terms of both specialty and nationality. Their fields include sociology, business, the environment, medical policy and visual culture, to name but a few. They come from places as far and wide as Germany, Russia, the United States, and of course Britain. The diversity of the group far exceeds our initial expectations.

I am sure that the many viewpoints the Sasakawa Lecturers will bring to their posts will become a driving force behind research into Japan in the UK. For that reason, I hope, through this program, to provide even greater opportunities for Sasakawa Lecturers and other young researchers, as they exchange information and collaborate on projects concerning Japan. I see today’s conference as the first step towards this vision of the future. Four of the Sasakawa Lecturers will speak today, and many others will moderate our activities. I am looking forward to an exciting and stimulating discussion over the course of the conference.

As part of our effort to deepen understanding of contemporary Japan, The Nippon Foundation is going to start a project this year to donate English books on contemporary Japan. We will also be funding new translations of modern Japanese works. The books that will be donated through this project are on display today in the room where you will be having your tea breaks. Please take the time to look through them when you have the chance.

In closing, I would like to once again thank all those who worked so hard to make this conference possible today.