Since taking the role of Chief Executive, what have been your initial goals for the organisation in these somewhat challenging times?
International cultural relations have felt the impact of both the pandemic and other challenges. However, our goal has been to support the ongoing relationships that exist between the UK and Japan and encourage new ones online that can transform into face-to-face relationships and projects in the future. It is really hard for artists and scientists and academics at the moment to continue their practice and research and so as a UK charity, we see our support for projects as vital seed funding for keeping the international element alive. The Foundation, thanks to the Nippon Foundation, gives meaningful support in the form of the Sasakawa Japanese Studies Postgraduate Studentship Programme which annually funds thirty postgraduate students of any nationality in UK universities to study any aspect of Japan. This programme has been vital in developing and maintaining a thriving field of Japanese Studies in the UK and is of global significance.
With the United Kingdom and Japan actively strengthening their bilateral ties, what synergies do you see in terms of culture and shared ideas?
It is a truism perhaps to say that UK and Japan are both islands with common challenges, energy resources, ageing and rural depopulation, however the spirit of experiment, enterprise and innovation is thriving in both. There is an enduring mutual appreciation of each other’s art and design, music and film, an insatiable appetite in the UK for books by Japanese women writers, and an unbroken connection to nature which we can explore to meet the challenges of climate change.
Innovation, science and research bring Japan and the United Kingdom closer together. What role will The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation play?
The Foundation recognises that it is often difficult to get funding for new collaborations and ideas and so we focus on support for that initial spark of a conversation to explore potential collaborations in joint scientific research. Face-to-face meetings between laboratories for example have been on hold for much of the last 18 months so we hope to see an increase in collaborations in 2022 that could develop into something larger, with global impact, in time. Our Butterfield Award Programme (named after Lord Butterfield of Stechford, a former Trustee, Chairman and Patron of the Foundation, and a distinguished medical researcher, clinician and administrator) furthers cutting-edge collaboration between the UK and Japan in medical research and public health practice.
The programme intends to encourage and facilitate high-level exploratory exchanges and collaborations of mutual and beneficial interest between qualified professionals in Japan and the UK, and the investigation of scientific, clinical, social and economic aspects of medicine in which Japanese and British researchers, practitioners, policy makers, managers and voluntary sector workers may learn from each other.
Consideration is also given to practitioners, managers, carers or others in health-related fields to establish working links between organisations or produce a publishable comparative study. Areas in which grants have previously been awarded include health management; public health; health education; genetic aspects of ageing; cancer research: palliative care; stem cell technology; community-based psychiatry; patient and carer involvement; drug testing; voluntary sector development; and architecture and design for healthcare.
As you continue to promote mutual understanding and cooperation between the UK and Japan, what does 2022 hold?
We hope and expect that renewal of face-to-face in-person contact between both countries will bring about a reawakening of cultural relations and connections between UK and Japan. A shared concern for the environment will show itself in creative and scientific projects connecting and empowering people to make a difference. We wish to shift perceptions in both countries to show a more inclusive and diverse society and open the relationship between UK and Japan to more people, including scientists, academics, and artists.
We have offices in Tokyo and London, and we look forward to receiving more applications for our grant programmes in 2022. Educational exchange continues to be vitally important, and we are delighted that our Japan experience study tour (‘JEST’) provides an opportunity to directly experience Japanese culture and society and gives participants the opportunity to compare a very different culture to their own, challenging their most fundamental perspectives, while building confidence and self-reliance. This has been called ‘transformational’ and ‘life-changing’ by previous participants.