LONDON — From next May to early 2002 a series of cultural and educational events together known as Japan 2001 is scheduled to take place throughout Britain. As one of the official programs of Japan 2001, a photo exhibition is to be staged by the Japanese Residents’ Association (U.K.).
This association, based in London, was established four years ago to promote friendship and cooperation among long-term Japanese residents in the U.K.
The exhibition aims to trace the history of the Japanese in Britain over the last 140 years. It sets out to explore lesser-known social and cultural associations between the two countries through images collected mainly from private photo albums of Japanese who have spent part of their lives in Britain.
According to Keiko Itoh, the accomplished and efficient cochairwoman of the photo exhibition committee, the Residents’ Association “hopes this exhibition will remind audiences of the long-standing close relationship between Britain and Japan at all levels of societies ranging from diplomacy and business to sports, arts and family friendships. The exhibition, ‘A Visual History of the Japanese in Britain,’ will be launched in London in the autumn of 2001, and will then travel to several different cities in Britain.”
Itoh, who has lived in the U.K. since 1991, has for some time on her own account been researching and writing about the Japanese in Britain. Her connections were unusually strong long before she came to live here. “My maternal grandfather lived and worked in London in the 1920s and ’30s,” she said. “My mother was born here in 1921. My father met my mother when he was studying at Cambridge in the 1930s and my grandfather was his guardian. My grandmother died here in 1935. Near her grave is a communal Japanese plot in which rest many Japanese who lived in Britain between the two world wars.”
Born in Kobe, Itoh spent several childhood years in New York, where her father was assigned to the C. Itoh family office. She returned to Japan in time for her to attend Japanese schools. The next time she left, she was on her own. “I attended university in the U.S. and graduated from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania,” she said. “I returned for one year of graduate studies at Sophia University, then went to Yale University.” She obtained a master’s degree in East Asian studies in 1976.
Her first appointment was at the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations. “I worked as assistant to Mrs. Sadako Ogata, who had just been appointed a minister,” Itoh said. “When Mrs. Ogata’s assignment ended, I left the Japan mission and as a press officer in the department of public information joined the U.N. Secretariat. On my first overseas mission, to cover the Science and Technology for Development Conference in Vienna in 1979, I met my future husband, an Englishman.” She was the first Japanese her future husband, Tommy Helsby, had ever met. He was then a journalist who lived in Oxford. He transferred to New York, and the couple married in 1981.
After 10 years in New York, and with two daughters, the family moved to London. “I spent a year as a reluctant full-time mother and housewife,” Itoh laughed. She returned to being a press officer, that time with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Five years ago, she chose a part-time media consultant’s position at the London Office of the world Bank whilst enrolling as a mature postgraduate student at the London School of Economics. Last year she left the World Bank to complete her Ph.D. thesis on the Japanese in prewar Britain.
Itoh gave a lecture to the Japan Society in London on the subject of the life in London of her grandfather Viscount Hisaakira Kano. “As a result of that lecture, I was approached by the Residents’ Association asking me to become a part of their photo exhibition project,” she said. “Fortunately, the ‘Visual History of the Japanese in Britain’ is very closely related to my task of completing my doctoral thesis.” As her committee assembles photographs for inclusion in the exhibition, Itoh asks for contributions, perhaps from old family photo albums. “Any photograph representing aspects of Japanese activities in Britain could be an important piece that would add new dimensions,” she said.