Brown metal landmark in Japan during golden hour
Reflections on art and technology. Harumi Wharf, Tokyo, Japan. Image ©

Nagatoshi Shimamura, Unsplash used under license and adapted from the original.

March 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought forward the need for global digital capability in the cultural and creative sectors.

The Japanese government is making the development of digital capacity the cornerstone for the recovery of the arts, culture and creative industries. 

But while Japan is renowned for world-leading technology and innovation, the UK has a complementary advantage in the use of digital tools and technologies in the arts. 

The ‘UK in JAPAN’ initiative brought together the respective cultural and creative sectors – policymakers, academics, and tech companies – to explore knowledge-sharing and new collaborations.

UK in JAPAN is a joint initiative by the British Council and the British Embassy Tokyo, highlighting the breadth of the UK’s collaborations with Japan, from culture, through education, to business. 

Launched in September 2019, to coincide with the Rugby World Cup in Japan, UK in JAPAN has recently celebrated the signing of the UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement and now looks forward to the opportunities of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

COVID-19 necessitated some rapid adaptation in the cultural sector. The British Council developed the ‘Culture Connects Us’ online festival to bring together outstanding UK arts, Japanese audiences and potential collaborators. There is a focus within this festival on arts and technology. 

UK and Japan: synergies

While the UK sector is well-regarded by Japan for the quality of its interdisciplinary practices, Japan is admired by the UK sector for the exciting ambition of technological advances, for example in AR, VR, 5G and immersive tech. 

Clare Reddington, CEO of Bristol’s iconic Watershed and a British Council Trustee, has been supporting dialogues and developing opportunities on the theme of arts and technology within the UK in JAPAN programme.

Clare finds the scale and ambition of Japanese media arts a huge inspiration, but observes that the UK has much to offer: 

‘Our Japanese collaborators are excited by our focus on user experience and interdisciplinary collaboration. A dynamic synergy is emerging here.’

Data from the British Council’s recent soft power perceptions research endorses the opportunity for knowledge-sharing: 

  • 51% of Japanese respondents believe the UK has world leading arts and cultural institutions
  • 71% of UK respondents believe that Japan is at the cutting edge of science and technology. 

The UK Government’s publication of the Integrated Review provides important context framing the UK-Japan relationship. The document outlines the role of technology in sustaining strategic advantage, as well as the geopolitical and geo-economic shift towards the Indo-Pacific, with Japan a key player in this landscape. 

UK in Japan: arts and technology

Collaboration between the UK and Japan in arts and technology is going from strength to strength since the first shared project, in 2011, followed by Playable City in 2015

Since then, the interface between arts and technology has evolved significantly. Most recently, the challenges presented by COVID-19 have catalysed new ways of working, with increased reliance on digital engagement. 

Clare chaired a virtual roundtable on ‘The Future of Arts and Technology’ which explored the technology focus of each country, shared ideas around equitable mechanisms to support collaborative research and development, and discussed a possible wider remit for arts and technology projects to address challenges outside the cultural sector, from wellbeing to climate change.  

‘Digital technologies are key to rebuilding our lives and businesses after the pandemic. Creative arts can play an important role at the heart of this recovery, curating opportunities for global exchange, the stimulus of fresh ideas and the inspiration of good practice. This is really exciting.’

A highlight of the UK in JAPAN campaign is a special UK-Japan arts and technology session during the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, in partnership with Arts Council England, British Underground, Department for International Trade (DIT) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) on the virtual UK House #UKatSXSW. 

Towards greater resilience

The UK-Japan bilateral relationship featured in a recent discussion on ‘The Future of Museums and Galleries’, between the director of the UK’s National Gallery, Dr Gabriele Finaldi, and the director of Mori Art Museum, Mami Kataoka.

They were introduced by Nigel Adams MP, Minister for Asia at the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) who also has responsibility for soft power. Minister Adams paid tribute to the unique collaboration of culture and creativity to COVID-19 recovery in both our countries, describing a bilateral relationship that goes from strength to strength. He also highlighted the important role of the arts to aid prosperity and respond to global challenges:

‘Cultural resilience has never been needed more so than now. Together, we will continue to build on this momentum through cultural exchange and it’s through open dialogue, creative thinking and strong collaboration that we will encourage innovative solutions.’ Minister for Asia Nigel Adams MP

Clare Reddington echoes the imperative of regular communication over time, to build the trust in our relationship which will enable effective collaboration: 

‘The British Council in Japan is exceptionally well networked across the arts, culture and technology sectors and vital to the development of contacts between them. They have vision for what can be achieved and are adept at creating partnerships with mutual synergy and respective strengths. Their catalysing role is indispensable.’

The aim is to strengthen intersectoral collaboration, through dialogue between policymakers, creative practitioners, academic and the tech sector.

‘Now more than ever, British cultural organisations need to ensure we are globally connected, both to share and to learn. The British Council is central in making this possible.’ Clare Reddington

As we look towards recovery for the cultural sector in the UK and Japan post-COVID-19, British Council Japan is committed to continue in its well-established role, which is to broker and nurture strong and trusting partnerships.

Our Arts and Technology programme has strengthened goodwill and sparked many creative ideas. We see this as just the beginning of an exciting new chapter of collaboration between the UK and Japan.

Matthew Knowles, Director Japan, British Council with thanks to Jenny Daly, Head of Stakeholder Engagement Festivals and Seasons, British Council and Clare Reddington, British Council Trustee and CEO of Watershed 

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