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Speech made by Ambassador Orita on the occasion of the opening of the British Museum's Cutting Edge exhibition
29 Sep 04

Sir John Boyd, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be with you all this evening to mark the opening of this exhibition ��פutting Edge�ߡ�on Japanese swords.

This event is also an opportunity to celebrate the reopening of the Japanese Gallery, which actually took place in June. Therefore, let me at the outset congratulate all those people who worked so hard to bring it about.

As the Japanese Ambassador officially and as a strong supporter of the British Museum personally, I was extremely concerned when the Japanese Gallery was closed in May 2003, as this Gallery is an immensely important facility. Clearly, it affords countless visitors from all over the world a valuable opportunity to gain insights into various elements of Japan's past in different periods of its history. It also gives Japanese people viewing the exhibits a sense of reassurance about the vibrancy of their own art and culture.

When we pleaded our case, our friends at the British Museum understood our concerns and made strenuous efforts to rectify the situation, despite the challenges they faced. Many of those friends are here this evening, and I would like to place on record how much I appreciate everything you have done to effect the reopening of the Gallery. I feel especially happy to see the reopening with my own eyes, as I will leave this wonderful country in 2 weeks time after completing my tenure here as the Ambassador. I will remember this evening forever.

This Exhibition consists of a magnificent collection of Japanese swords bequeathed to the Museum in 1958 by a private collector. Despite the provenance of the swords, even in Japan there is no single collection to compare with this one. Moreover, although the swords on display here have been shown in Britain before, this is the first time that they have been presented to the public with such an array of accompanying material enabling visitors to gain a proper grasp of their historical significance. The swords in this collection are far more than exquisite exhibits ; they can be appreciated in spiritual terms as well. They play a respected part in both the Shinto and Buddhist traditions, and reflect something of the essence of Japanese culture.

It is probably true that most people viewing these superb swords would have little understanding of the painstaking care required in order to keep them in good condition. This is why the role of the Peter Moores Foundation in making the exhibition possible is so significant. The Foundation generously paid for all of the swords to be sent to Japan to be polished by experts ? a process that requires two or three months to be spent on each sword.

I am happy to hear that a number of other exciting projects are being planned by the Japanese Gallery, the next one being Kabuki: The Cult of the Actor in Osaka, 1780-1830 , which will be presented next summer.

May I express my great appreciation of the efforts of everyone involved in organising these events. By making so many elements of Japan ' s culture and heritage accessible to the British public, you are all playing a valuable role in deepening the ties of friendship and mutual understanding between our two nations and peoples.

Thank you.





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