In a week’s time, Rudlin Consulting will move to Norwich, UK. One of the reasons behind this choice of location is to be near the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Culture. I am keen to explore further how corporate cultures can be expressed “non-verbally”, through Japanese arts and culture, and also hope there is scope to collaborate with the Institute.
So of course I went to the lecture that Mami Mizutori, formerly of the Japanese Embassy in the UK, and now director of the Institute, gave to the Jiji Top Seminar (a monthly lunch for Japanese business people in the UK) last week. The title was “Do you invest in the power of culture?” She focused on the importance of soft power to Japan. Whether or not you believed that only Japanese can really speak Japanese and therefore only Japanese can really understand Japanese culture, (and I am guessing she does not subscribe to this point of view) she pointed out how a non-Japanese perspective on Japanese culture can help Japanese themselves to appreciate Japan’s culture.
Would an exhibition of Shunga (erotic art) ever have been put on in Japan, she wondered, the way the British Museum did last year? Probably the Japanese establishment would have deemed it to be pornography, not art, and therefore too controversial to touch. She also told the story of Joe Price, who started collecting Ito Jakuchu, a late Edo period (18thc) artist who had been neglected, but then became popular, culminating in a blockbuster exhibition in 2006 in Tokyo, the backbone of which was Price’s collection.
As this article described, Price was then able to use his collection to help cultural institutions in the 2011 earthquake region.
Mami also lamented that there is (no longer) a tradition of individuals sponsoring the arts the way there is in the US, and to a certain extent, the UK.
She wondered whether this was because post war Japan is a much more egalitarian place, and sponsoring the arts would be seen as flashy.
Pre-war many wealthy individuals did build up art collections (the Mitsubishi founding family Iwasaki’s Seikado collection or Idemitsu for example) and post war there is some sponsorship, such as Suntory’s famous concert hall. So the question I did not ask, was whether she was hoping that Japanese companies could fill the gap more than they do now.
As was pointed out by Akiya Takahashi, the director of Mitsubishi’s Ichigokan Museum in a recent interview (in Japanese) in the Nikkei Online, many major exhibitions in Japan are sponsored by newspapers and often take place in department stores. The staff therefore tend to be newspaper marketing employees, and there is a consequent lack of professional museum and gallery people, who can network with their peers in other countries. Also, what museum and gallery staff there are tend to return to universities to become academics. He is trying to change this by developing professionals at Ichigokan, encouraging them to travel abroad.
Furthermore, the newspaper sponsorship/temporary exhibition culture means that Japanese museums often do not have a permanent collection of any great strength. Again, Takahashi has been encouraging Mitsubishi to buy up some private collections for its museum. So my old employer Mitsubishi Corp is certainly doing its bit to help Japan’s soft power (and in the UK too – sponsoring the Japan room at the British Museum). I am very much hoping to see other Japanese companies “putting their money where their mouth is” as they say, and I suspect that was the subtle message of Mami’s talk too.
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