The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation: Champions of Cultural Confluence

Cultural exchange is a cornerstone of a solid bilateral relationship. The confluence of customs and characteristics, ideas and ideologies is vital to fostering a well-founded  friendship between two nations and its peoples. With a profound awareness of this truth, The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation is committed to cultivating mutual understanding and collaboration between the United Kingdom and Japan by providing financial assistance for an array of socio-cultural, artistic, linguistic, educational, health- and science-based programs that propel this pursuit.

Can you tell us about The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and its mission?

The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation is a UK Registered Charity and a British Company limited by guarantee. It was inaugurated in 1985, with a grant of £9.5million from the Japan Shipbuilding Industry Foundation, now called the Nippon Foundation.  Its main objective is to strengthen and promote a mutual knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of each other’s culture, society, and achievements. Its mission is to:

  • Enable dialogue, activity, and innovative research between the UK and Japan that introduces a new dimension to the relationship or activity
  • Create new relationships and partnerships
  • Reach a wide audience and have a broad impact
  • Address issues of common interest and concern to both countries and beyond, and support research for mutual and wider benefit
  • Enable global opportunities for a younger generation
  • Explore and celebrate activity outside main cities
  • Promote contemporary life, art, and culture in both countries
  • Encourage the study of Japanese language and Japanese Studies research in Great Britain and Northern Ireland

How does the Foundation promote mutual understanding and cooperation between the UK and Japan?

The foundation supports the dialogue between Japan and the UK.  This dialogue, which may start as a conversation, can become a research exchange and joint project with tangible mutual benefits.  We support projects at any scale or stage of development, if it meets our mission statement in the form of four programs:

  • Regular grant programs with deadlines for applications three times  a year in the UK, and twice a year in Japan
  • Support for PhD fieldwork from and to Japan
  • Up to three years commitment to medicine and health collaborations in our Butterfield Awards
  • The Sasakawa Japanese Studies Postgraduate Studentship Programme

The Foundation supports a wide range of fields, including Arts and Culture, Humanities and Social Issues, Japanese Language and Sport, Education, Science and Technology, and Medicine and Health. Can you provide examples of some successful projects in these areas?

We make around 150 awards a year in a wide range of fields, including Arts and Culture.  We have recently supported major exhibitions, such as Hokusai The Great Picture Book of Everything at the British Museum, to enthusiastic audiences.  We awarded a grant to Ikon Gallery in Birmingham for the first solo exhibition by an Ainu artist and by the musician Mayunkiki. The exhibition ‘Siknure – Let me live’ means ‘to keep something alive’ in the Ainu language, with the artist reflecting on her Indigenous identity through a new video work, exploring the relationship between her and her father.  It raised the profile of Ainu culture, as well as commented on the challenges faced by the community in the present day. The exhibition itself received almost 20,000 visitors over its two-month run.

With theatergoers able to return to venues that were forced to close during the height of the pandemic, a number of projects supported by the Foundation sought fresh and exciting ways to engage and involve audiences. ‘Noh Reimagined’ at Kings Place presented collaborations between leading Japanese Noh performers and UK theatre groups to put a contemporary spin and an outside perspective on the traditional artform; the Royal Shakespeare Company’s highly successful stage adaptation of Studio Ghibli’s classic animated film My Neighbour Totoro in collaboration with the original film’s composer Joe Hisaishi, Nippon TV, and Improbable — saw five-star reviews from critics and a sold-out 15-week run, receiving overwhelmingly positive responses from audiences of all ages. The latter will be back for a repeat run in the UK in November this year.   

Our support ensures that the popularity of and expertise in the Japanese language continues to develop in the UK, and this is reflected in the recent ‘Language Trends 2022’ report by the British Council.

By funding collaborations between the UK and Japanese researchers who tackle shared problems of environment, medicine, dementia and other conditions, our projects benefit a wider society beyond the bilateral relationship, as well as address global challenges.

Jenny White, Chief Executive of The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation

Education and sports exchange continues to be a transformative and life-changing experience.  We were pleased to support the Coventry Young Ambassadors ‘Islands of Peace’ Garden in the Coventry War Memorial Park. Our annual ‘Japan Experience Study Tour’ (JEST), gives a UK secondary school the chance of a lifetime to visit Japan and experience a culture very different from their own, including teaming up with local schools, visiting carehomes and police stations, and talking to survivors in Hiroshima. 

Our grants support Science, Technology and Environment researchers in their PhD fieldwork between Japan and the UK, and we commit to up to three years funding in our Butterfield Awards for Medicine and Health issues.  By funding collaborations between the UK and Japanese researchers who tackle shared problems of environment, medicine, dementia and other conditions, our projects benefit a wider society beyond the bilateral relationship, as well as address global challenges.

How does the Foundation decide which projects to fund?

We have a consistent and transparent process which ensures all grants awarded meet our objectives as a UK charity.  All applications are checked; that is to say,  that they meet the criteria advertised on our website.  Our mission statement gives a clue as to what we will be looking for.  In assessing applications at the Board meetings, trustees in the UK and Japan will take into account any unique or innovative aspects of the project, as well as the extent to which they will have a wide or lasting impact, and also see that they are consistent with the objectives of the Foundation. Applicants are informed as soon as possible, after that.  We ask for a report which is valuable in informing us of the impact and legacy of the project; we also ask for good photos to tell the story always a challenge!

The Foundation has been supporting students to study in the UK and Japan for many years. How has this program been successful in promoting mutual understanding and cooperation between the two countries?

The Sasakawa Japanese Studies Postgraduate Studentship Programme has been running for ten years and has supported over 170 Masters and PhD students studying at university institutions all over the UK.  This inclusive program is open to all nationalities and ages studying in the UK and supports both Japanese Studies and a broader reach of subjects for example, medicine, anthropology, art and social science, and the environment where the main focus is Japan.  Our aim for this program is to strengthen the position of Japan-related subjects in UK universities, and also to support the students.

Are there any new initiatives or projects that the Foundation is planning to support in the future?

After a period of time where it has been difficult to travel between the UK and Japan and therefore, where it has been easier to miss out on that authentic experience of another culture the common understanding of each others lived experience has been through the world of books. 

So, we are are delighted to be partnering with The Society of Authors on the new The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation Translation Prize. The winner will be announced in February 2024 watch this space!

How can individuals and organizations get involved with the Foundation’s mission?

We are always looking to support collaborations between Japan and the UK which will have positive and mutally beneficial outcomes.

Our offices in Tokyo and London are receiving applications for our grant program three times a year in the UK and twice a year in Japan.  Once a year, we receive applications for our Butterfield Awards in Medicine and Health and Environment, where we commit to up to three years of funding.  Please see our website for our funding criteria and information about our Studentship program,  and also our Facebook, LI and Twitter pages @GBSasakawa, and make a note of those deadlines!

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