It is with great regret that JAPAN Forward notes the passing of Sir Hugh Cortazzi on Tuesday, August 14, at the age of 94.
While perhaps best known as Britain’s ambassador to Japan (1980-1984), Sir Hugh had a distinguished career in the British Foreign Service, of which his posting to Japan was just one episode. His influence on Japan would continue throughout his life.
His involvement with Japan began early, when he was selected as one of a few young men trained in Japanese at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). The training was part of the British effort to produce intelligence officers for the war with Japan.
Sir Hugh and another famous graduate of this effort, the sociologist Ronald Dore, may be seen in a symposium commemorating this training program among the events celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of SOAS in 2016.
Following a distinguished career in the British Foreign Service, Sir Hugh moved to the business sector, holding directorships and advisory positions with British companies as well as Japanese firms with substantial UK investments.
Although he never held an academic position, Sir Hugh produced more scholarly works than all but a tiny number of Japan specialists employed in academia. His interests were wide-ranging, including antique Japanese maps and traditional Japanese humor.
He was especially interested in UK-Japan diplomatic relations both at the formal level and in terms of the personalities involved.
He was also deeply interested in the British and Japanese monarchies. In addition to his commentary in this area, he translated Crown Prince Naruhito’s diary of his experiences at Oxford, The Thames and I (BRILL/Global Oriental publishers; First British Edition January 30, 2006). The Crown Prince would become emperor upon the abdication of his father Akihito on April 30, 2019.
Aside from his academic works and general texts introducing Japan, Sir Hugh was a prolific writer of journalistic articles and essays on British and Japanese subjects. JAPAN Forward published Sir Hugh’s Japan’s Imperial Family and Britain’s Royals: A Tradition of Friendship and Understanding on December 12, 2017, one of his last essays dealing with Japan.
It is representative of his approach to Japan: respectful, but not uncritical. His insights and critiques will be sorely missed.