What an amazing day! I knew that John and I were going to be guests at the Japan America Society of Greater Cincinnati Gala dinner today but I had no idea what an opportunity it has turned out to be for the S&DR as well. It was held in an amazing Art Deco hotel (the Hilton) which was built by a philanthropist who got his money out of the US stock market a couple of days before the 1929 Wall Street Crash and invested it in building the hotel – to provide work for as many local people as he could during the Great Depression. It is stunningly beautiful.
The first person I really talked to is a lady from Bulgaria – Dr Georgana Ivanova. She just happens to be Associate Professor of Japanese Literature and Culture at Cincinnati University which offers an Asian Studies Programme. She is very keen on taking students abroad for what they call ‘experiential learning’ which is very popular over here at the moment. We had a long discussion about the S&DR and about Hitachi and the links between County Durham and Japan e.g. Durham University and is keen to follow through our meeting with discussions about bringing students over. She was also really interested in what is happening in Bishop Auckland with the Faith Gallery and branch of the Prado. She was really taken with the idea that Teikyo University has a centre at Durham University and brings Japanese students over to Durham.
I also met Japanese representatives of businesses located in this area and a wonderful sculptor called Tom Tsuchiya who is American born Japanese. We listened to music played by three ladies on Japanese traditional instruments. I also made contact with the Regional Chamber of the US Chamber of Commerce. They were all really interested in our story. When I spoke with Peter at the Smithsonian he told me that making links with US companies would be a really worthwhile thing to do from the point of view of sponsoring things like taking an engine to GB, and one of the biggest philanthropic organisations in this city is Procter & Gamble, which started here. They help to put the dinner on – so I’ve met people who can help me get in touch with P&G.
Finally, our friends have links to Japan going back many years which includes taking students from a local college on cultural visits. This year Helen has been awarded a national award by the Japan America Society and will be travelling to Japan in November as their guest to collect her award in person. On one of her recent visits one of her ‘grandsons’ (they have hosted Japanese students in their home for long periods for many years) took them to visit the Railway Museum in Tokyo and showed them the first steam engine to come to Japan – it was made in England! Apparently he is railway mad – and would be an ambassador for us in Japan.
We already have links with Hitachi – it now looks as if our other links with Japan are starting to grow. When I get back I plan to meet with Durham County Council’s international links specialists, Ludmilla Jordanova Professor of Culture at Durham University who sits on the Science Museums Group board, visit the Japanese College and Nissan – after all, Sunderland was part of Historic County Durham in 1825.