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The Japanese Government honours Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll

30 November 2005

Ambassador Nogami and Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll
Ambassador Nogami presents Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll
with her medal and certificate

The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon has been bestowed upon Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the promotion of Japanese culture and studies to British people. The decoration was presented to her by Ambassador Yoshiji Nogami on behalf of His Majesty the Emperor of Japan at a reception held at the Ambassador's London residence on November 28.

  • Announcement of the decoration of Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll
  • Interview with Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll

    Speech made by Ambassador Nogami

    Dame Elizabeth, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

    This evening we are gathered here with the very satisfying purpose of bestowing on Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon for her longstanding and tireless devotion to the promotion of Japanese art and culture among the British people.

    I understand that Dame Elizabeth's interest in Japanese art goes back to her student days at Trinity College, Dublin, after which she made her first visit to Japan in 1963. Her first-hand experience of traditional Japanese arts and crafts clearly made a deep impression on her. In 1985 she was able to apply her growing expertise in this field to good effect when she was appointed Keeper of the National Archives of the Victoria & Albert Museum. Thereafter, in 1988 she was appointed Director of the V&A, a post she held until 1995. During that time she contributed to the promotion of Japanese art and culture through a series of imaginative and stimulating events, such as the exhibition Visions of Japan, which attracted as many as 180,000 viewers.

    In 1995 Dame Elizabeth was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia, with responsibility for the overall running of that institution. There she established a chair each for Japanese Art History and the Japanese Language.

    Driven by her passion for the Japanese arts, Dame Elizabeth collaborated with Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury in establishing the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts & Cultures (SISJAC) in 1999. As a member of SISJAC's Board of Trustees and Management Board, she devoted herself to promoting and publicising the Institute and its activities, working closely with her counterparts at Japanese research institutions and with the staff at SISJAC. She was centrally involved in the flagship project of setting up the Lady Lisa Sainsbury Library. Inaugurated in June 2003, it is currently the leading library in Europe for the study of Japanese arts and archaeology.

    Throughout her involvement with SISJAC, Dame Elizabeth has striven to make the Institute and its activities accessible to the broadest cross-section of the public. To this end, she has organised a series of highly acclaimed public lectures, given both by SISJAC staff and outside speakers, which have attracted people interested in Japanese culture from all over the UK.

    In summary, Dame Elizabeth has done a tremendous amount to promote an understanding of Japan through its arts and culture, thereby helping to bring our two countries and peoples closer together. It is therefore a great pleasure and honour for me, as a representative of His Majesty the Emperor of Japan, to confer upon Dame Elizabeth Anne Loosemore Esteve-Coll the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon.

    Thank you.

    Speech made by Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll

    I first visited Japan forty-two years ago when I enjoyed my introduction to Japanese culture, and my husband amused the female staff in a traditional restaurant by drinking a bowl of sauce which he mistook for green tea. Mine proved the more lasting passion and my love affair with Japan is well past its Ruby anniversary.

    Japan has held me through all my senses, the architecture - both traditional and contemporary - has captivated me by the subtle use of volume and mass; textiles, both ancient and modern, are spectacularly beautiful in colour and texture; ceramics through the ages have a sophistication of shape and glaze which has immediate tactile appeal. My discovery of Japanese literature, sadly in translation, has made a lasting impact on my judgement and appreciation of world literature. At a less elevated level my enjoyment of tofu, soba noodles and indeed sake has afforded me great pleasure.

    All this has been interpreted for me by a number of remarkable people, some sadly who are no longer with us and others who remain good friends and wise counsellors. I owe a great deal to Sabasan, former Chairman and President of Toshiba, who in the moments of calm during the 1991 Japan Festival tried to teach me how to write Haiku. Alas, I was never able to join in the hilarity with which he and Sir Peter Parker greeted each other's verses. Nishiisan from Hankyu opened my eyes to the glories of Kyoto's temple gardens and even took me to the summit of Himeiji Castle in a thunderstorm, where we found that the only other people in the castle were two extremely wet V&A curators sheltering from the weather. Never have a Director and staff looked more astounded to see each other! Sori Yanagi took me on a magical evening to visit the Mingeikan and elucidated the early twentieth century links between Japan and England. Mme Kikuchi fired my enthusiasm for contemporary Japanese ceramics and Mme Noma from Kodansha testified to the superb quality of Japanese publishing.

    These contacts and these experiences were the seedbed from which a variety of activities have sprung. The touring exhibitions from the V&A, which reached thousands of Japanese visitors, included Victorian painting, Indian art, William Morris and many others. All were organised by Gwyn Miles, with whom it is always a pleasure to work. Following the terrible earthquake in Kobe, it was Robert Armstrong, then Chairman of the Board of Trustees, who so strongly supported my request to honour our next scheduled V&A exhibition to the devastated city.

    Later on it was Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury with their passion for, and intuitive insight into Japanese aesthetics who enabled me to work with their visionary benefaction - the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures: SISJAC. It has been a joy to work with Dr Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere and to see how in five years she has created an internationally respected research centre which also brilliantly caters for the general public in its' regular monthly lectures. No wonder that Sir Hugh and Lady Cortazzi have felt confident in lending their amazing collection of historic Japanese maps to SISJAC. Their generosity and active support is an inspiration. Dr. Simon Kaner, the Assistant Director of SISJAC has awakened a new interest, a fascination with Jomon culture which will see my lifetime out. Looking around this room I realise that there a surprising number of highly influential archaeologists present, all interested in Japan. Their presence highlights the intriguing dialogue in the arts in Japan - centuries old artistic traditions co-existing with the most advanced cultural experiments - installation art, performance art, virtual textiles, and photographic explorations of light and time which are global trailblazers.

    My part in this is very small indeed, I have facilitated cultural relations between our two countries, as and when it has been possible, and all the time I have been learning and enjoying myself.

    I am immensely indebted to my many Japanese friends for the insights they have provided into one of the world's oldest and most sophisticated cultures. The honour you bestow on me today, Your Excellency, is a recognition of how indebted our two countries are to each other and I am but a humble spokeswoman for that message.



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