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Lecture Explores Royal Relations Between Japan and the U.K.

Jason James, delivering his lecture, “Ties Over Time: Royal Relations Between Japan and Britain”

On September 7, 2022, Japan Institute of Portland Japanese Garden hosted a lecture from Jason James, Director General of the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation in London, England. One of the United Kingdom’s foremost experts of Japanese culture and its unique relationship with the West, James offered intriguing insight into the rich history of the bond between the royal families of both Japan and the U.K.

“It’s so exciting to be finally over here in Portland and to see this garden, which [Steve has] been telling me so much over the last few years,” James shared at the beginning of his talk. “And it really is looking beautiful, especially in this weather.”

James noted that the relationship between the U.K. and Japan first began in the early 17th century when William Adams became the first British person to reach Japan. There he brokered a deal with the Tokugawa Shogunate to allow trade between the two nations. The agreement was complemented by an exchange of gifts between the two island nations—the United Kingdom received two suits of armor, which have recently been on display at Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London. Japan received what is believed to be the first telescope ever in its country, wool, and a “precious cup.”

Jason James showing one of King George V’s tattoos.

Perhaps one of the most surprising ways the Japanese and British royal relationship manifested itself was through ink—King George V, while still a prince, visited Japan alongside his brother, Prince Albert, and wound up getting a Japanese-style dragon tattoo. “It’s probably not widely known that the King of England had a Japanese tattoo,” quipped James.

The relationship between the royal families continues to this day. This lecture was given one day before the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. The late queen and her husband, Prince Phillip, had visited Japan in 1975. News reports indicate that His Majesty the Emperor Naruhito will attend her funeral in his first overseas trip since ascending to the throne in 2019.

Japan Institute of Portland Japanese Garden CEO, Steve Bloom speaks at Ties Over Time.
Japan Institute of Portland Japanese Garden Travels to London

Prior to the lecture, Jason James was introduced by Japan Institute CEO Steve Bloom, who explained that the origins of this international relationship were borne out of a desire to hold a Peace Symposium in London. While one will be held this year in London, the initial hope was to hold it in 2020.

 “Some time around 2018 or 2019, I jumped on a plane and I flew to London and I stood outside Jason’s door and I knocked and wouldn’t go away,” Bloom joked. “I introduced myself and the Garden and said, ‘We want to do this Peace Symposium in London…can you help?’ And Jason has been enormously helpful to us in making so many introductions in London and giving us guidance and direction on everything from venue to organizations that we might think about working with. He’s become a great colleague and friend of the Garden in wanting to help us and the new Japan Institute and the work that we are doing.”

The Peace Symposium, “Peacemaking at the Intersection of Culture, Art, and Nature” will begin on December 5 and run through December 8 in London. This is the second of the series, the first being held on September 21 in Tokyo.

UPDATE: Read about Japan Institute’s peace programming held in London in 2022 here.