Japan-British Society wants help in recovering records of its activities

by Eriko Arita

For its 100-year anniversary in 2008, the Japan-British Society has started compiling a history of the organization and is asking for the public’s help.

The society wants information and material relating to its activities, particularly those before World War II, as most records on this era were lost during air raids, according to a top official of the organization.

Society Chairman Hiroshi Kitamura said a record of the group’s activities is important considering its historic role in bilateral relations. The society was founded in 1908, six years after Japan and Britain formed an alliance in 1902. It is the oldest bilateral organization in Japan promoting international exchanges.

“The alliance was (initially) a military one,” said Kitamura. “But officials of the Japanese Government at that time thought mutual understanding of the two countries was needed from cultural and social aspects, (so they) established the society.”

The Japan-British Society has played an important role in promoting bilateral cooperation and exchanges for nearly a century, except between 1941 and the conclusion of the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951, said Kitamura, who served as Japanese ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1991 to 1994.

Recently, large-scale festivals of Japanese culture were held in the U.K. in 1981 and 1991, and in 1998 a reciprocal event, the UK98 festival, was held with the cooperation of the association to introduce British culture to Japan.

Now the Japan-British Society is supporting the Japan 2001 festival, which started earlier this month and features a series of events to introduce Japanese traditional and contemporary culture throughout Britain. The joint patrons of Japan 2001, which is larger than past events, are the Prince of Wales and the Crown Prince of Japan.

The society has supported a number of exchange programs and offers opportunities for British and Japanese members to become acquainted with each other, including seasonal events and lectures. In the educational sphere, the society has supported English language study programs in Britain.

“As we have enhanced mutual understanding and exchange, an increasing number of people are joining us,” he said, adding that the society now has 2,670 individual members and more than 120 member organizations.

Kitamura and other officials of the society hope that bilateral ties will be further advanced by compiling the history.