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The Japan Society

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 2247
Held at: Japan Society
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Full title: The Japan Society
Date(s): 1860s - 2003
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
View subfonds/series records
Extent: 13 linear metres
Name of creator(s): The Japan Society of London | 1891-1988
The Japan Society | 1988-


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Japan Society of London was founded at a meeting of the Japanese Section of the International Congress of Orientalists held in London on 9 September 1891, when a resolution was passed calling for the formation of a society 'for the encouragement of Japanese studies and for the purpose of bringing together all those in the United Kingdom and throughout the world who are interested in Japanese matters'.

The proposal of Arthur Diosy was warmly supported by members of the Section, and Diosy along with Diagoro Goh, Chancellor of the Imperial Japanese Consulate General in London, were appointed its initial honorary secretaries. The societies objectives were the encouragement of the study of Japanese language, literature, history and folk-lore, art, science and industries, of the social life and economic condition of the Japanese people, past and present, and all Japanese matters. Diosy, Goh and Francis T Piggott (former Legal Advisor to the Japanese Cabinet) formed an organizing council which met in the Royal Society of Arts in Dec 1891. Professor William Anderson FRCS (formerly medical doctor to the Naval Medical College, Tokyo, and medical officer to the British Legation) was elected the first chairman. There were 124 original members and two corresponding members.

In 1896, the Society was involved in collecting money for the relief of sufferers in Japan from the tidal wave that struck the north-east coat of Japan, Jun 1896 - raising a total of 3, 872. It also provided some 3,000 for the Red Cross Society of Japan in 1904.

By 1897, the Society had 803 members. The Society prospered in the climate engendered by the Anglo Japanese Alliance, 1902. Their lectures proved popular with an average attendance of 200 in 1905. There was general admiration for the Japanese exploits in the Russo-Japanese was, 1904-1905, and in 1910 the Society participated in the Japan British Exhibition was held at Shepherds Bush.

The society was also involved with the visits of a number of Japanese princes and statesmen, including Marquis (later Prince) Hirobumi Ito in January 1902, Count Masayoshi Matsukata former prime minister and finance minister, with his wife in May 1902, Prince Akihito Komatsu, brother of the Emperor, in July 1902, Prince Arisugawa in July 1905, Prince Fushimi in May 1907, Prince Morimasa Nashimoto and Princess Nashimoto, in 1909, and Prince Yorihito Higashi-Fushimi and Princess Higashi-Fushimi in 1910.

The outbreak of World War One in 1914 led to a decrease in membership through resignations and death of members killed in action, as well as a general curtailment of activities. While their programme was revived following the war, membership did not reach pre-war levels and by 1930 total membership numbered 674. In 1919, the lease on the premises occupied by the society was not renewed, and the office moved to 22 Russell Square, while continuing to hold its lectures at 20 Hanover Square. The Crown Prince of Japan and the Edward, Prince of Wales, became patrons of the Society around 1921, a position which they both gave up on accession to their respective thrones.

Despite the Society's apolitical character, the lack of British public support for the policies of the Japanese government, particularly in China, during the 1930s, contributed to the decline in the Society's membership numbers. The Society's activities continued however, until suspended by a meeting of the Council 1 April 1942. The lease on the Society's offices was given up, the library put in storage and publication of the Transactions ceased, though the Society was to remain in being.
The Society was revived in 1949 at an Extraordinary General Meeting held at the Royal Society of the Arts. They produced a new publication Bulletin, in June 1950 giving news on the Society and its members. The Society welcomed the signing of the Peace Treaty with Japan, 8 Sep 1951 in San Francisco, however during the 1950s UK-Japan relations did not run smoothly in the wake of war-time atrocities and new resentments over trade, however membership gradually increased from 657 in 1956 to over 1000 in 1964-5. A new constitution was adopted in 1958 with the objective of the promotion of mutual understanding and good feeling between the British and Japanese peoples. This same year corporate membership was instituted.
The Society had a number of committees catering for interests of the members, including a Social, Programme, Library, House Entertainment, Publications, Finance and Garden Committee. In 1961, the Garden Committee established the Bonsaikai, which eventually separated from the Society in 1988. There was also a stamp group, and Ikebana group (formed 1964), two separate art circles, an Otomodachi-kai - an information group of English and Japanese ladies (formed 1961).
In 1959, the Wakatakekai was formed independently to cater for the interests of younger people who had visited Japan or were interested in its culture, as well as a growing number of young Japanese coming to work in the UK. In 1962, this independent group became the junior section of the Society.

The Society's constitution was amended between 1986-1988, removing the time limit for service of the Chairman, altering the name to The Japan Society, and rewriting its objectives to emphasise its Charitable status and purposes. The Society's centenary in 1991 was marked by The Japan Festival - over 300 events held throughout the UK.

The Society is governed by a Constitution (Articles of Association) and by decisions taken at the Annual General Meeting. The AGM also elects the Chairman and Members of its Council, which manages the affairs of the Society. The Society became a Company Limited by Guarantee in 1998.


Scope and content/abstract:

Archives of the Japan Society comprising:

minutes of the Council and Annual General Meetings, 1891-1999; draft minute books, 1892-1902 and related papers, 1902-1937; Council attendance book, 1914-1941;

administrative papers including general correspondence, 1901-1956; Secretary's correspondence, 1931-1938; Treasurer's letters out 1910-1920; letters relating to the Shakespeare Medal, 1929; letters relating to corporate members subscriptions, 1958-1960; Chairman's files, 1962-1967; Secretary's reports, correspondence, invitation cards and relate papers, 1925-1940; Constitution, agenda and notices, including Rules, 1941 and correspondence 1910-1930; annual dinner papers and programmes, 1894-1927; annual dinner correspondence 1930s; address books (of society members), 1903-1909; printed membership booklets, 1894-1920; Library loan book, 1964-1999; visitors book 1953-1974;

Financial Records including Ledgers, 1891-1894, 1906-1931, 1955-1961; accounts 1939-1955; index to bankers orders, 1902-1957; cash receipts, 1952-1957; petty cash book, 1896-1902;

Photographs, 1869s-1950s comprising:
images of individuals including Crown Prince of Japan, 1921; Sir John Dimsdale, Chairman [1903]; Marcus Huish, T B Clard-Thonhill, Douglas Sladen;

collection of portrait photographs of members of the Society, [1900-1910];

photographs of events, including Yokohama during the earthquake, 1909; the Battle of A-San and the sinking of the British-owned transport Kowshing off Korea, and Battle of Yellow Sea, [1894];

photograph album by Felice Beato, also containing watercolours by Charles Wirgman [1860s]; album of Frances Taylor Piggott - containing photocopies of Japanese meishi (visiting cards), invitations, and menu cards 1888-1891; albums with photographs by Tamamura Kozaburo [1890-1900], and Usui Shuzaburo, 1885; album of photographs of events such as the Japanese Crown Prince's visit to London, 1921; Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi's visit to Britain, 1959; the Japan Society's annual dinner, 1934; and garden party 1934;

glass lantern slides depicting Japanese script, festivals, costumes, wrestlers, craftsman, labourers, country life, religion, gardens, and houses;

manuscripts and personal papers including a notebook of Alexander Richard Newman, (fl 1964) containing manuscript notes on Japanese history and culture (undated); Reports on Japanese Currency by G Arbuthnot and others, 1862-1872; letters from Frank Stearns, Japan, to the Detroit Press 1890-1893; photocopies of letters of Algernon B Mitford to his father, 1866-1869; photocopies of letters to J C Marks from Chester Poole, Charlotsville, USA, 1956-1978; Certificate awarded by Prime Minister Kanin to Major E Calthrop, Military Attache, Tokyo Embassy; Autograph album containing signatures of prominent personalities associated with the Japan Society, 1894-1908; autograph book of Japanese visitors to London, 1919-1930;

press cuttings /scrap books including cuttings of articles on Japan by Raymond Koechlin, 1891 (in French); press cuttings and notices, 1895; press cuttings collection, 1889-1930; press cuttings and scrap book, 1893-1906; press cuttings relating to the Garden Party given in honour of their Imperial Highness Prince and Princess Arishgawa, May 1905; scrap book containing printed material including invitations, menus etc, 1912-1918;

Nichi-Ei Times, 1991-2003, Japanese newspaper published by Toshiko Marks, and edited Setsuo Kato, Japan Media Service Ltd, London; Society publications including Japan Society Transactions and Proceedings, 1892-1941; Japan Society Bulletin (in 1986 reverted to the title Proceedings) 1950-present; and Japan Society Annual Review, 1987-1989.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
English, French, Japanese

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:

By appointment only. Contact the Library Assistant, Japan Society, Swire House, 59 Buckingham Gate, London, SW1E 6AJ. Tel 020 7828 6330. Material containing personal information is subject to the regulations of the Data Protection Act 1998. Administrative records less than five years old are not available.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Photocopies available.

Finding aids:

The material is listed but not arranged.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Created by the Society and transferred along with the Society's library to various premises occupied by the society since its foundation.

Allied Materials

Related material:

The Japan Society holds the papers of Sir Hugh Cortazzi, as well as a Library collection relating to all aspects of Japanese life and culture.

The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) Library, London, holds library and archive collections relating to Japan.

Publication note:

The Japan Society, a history 1891 to 2000, Sir Hugh Cortazzi, edited by Anne Kaneko, Japan Society Publications, London, 2001.

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Historical Manuscripts Commission's On-Line National Register of Archives; The Japan Society, a history 1891 to 2000 Sir Hugh Cortazzi, edited by Anne Kaneko, Japan Society Publications, London, 2001.
Compiled by Alison Field as part of the London Signpost Survey Project.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
October 2003

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