Hugh Cortazzi

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Sir Hugh Cortazzi
British Ambassador to Japan
In office
MonarchElizabeth II
Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher
Preceded bySir Michael Wilford
Succeeded bySir Sydney Giffard
Deputy Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
In office
Personal details
Born(1924-05-02)2 May 1924
Sedbergh, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
Died14 August 2018(2018-08-14) (aged 94)
Westminster, London, England
SpouseElizabeth Montagu
Alma mater
OccupationDiplomat, businessman, academic
Military service
Branch/serviceRoyal Air Force
Years of service1943–1947
RankFlying Officer

Sir Arthur Henry Hugh Cortazzi, GCMG (2 May 1924 – 14 August 2018) was a British diplomat. He was also a distinguished international businessman, academic, author and prominent Japanologist. He was Ambassador from the United Kingdom to Japan (1980–84), President of the Asiatic Society of Japan (1982–1983) and Chairman of the Japan Society of London (1985–95).[1]

Early life[edit]

Cortazzi was educated at Sedbergh School, St Andrews University and University of London. He served in the Royal Air Force from 1943 to 1947, serving in Britain and India, and later elsewhere in Asia. He began in the RAF as an Aircraftman 2nd Class and was assigned to a six-month course learning Japanese, taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies. After completion of the course, Cortazzi was sent to the headquarters of the Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre in Delhi, India, just as the war was ending. He was assigned to Number 5 Mobile Section, and was then posted to Singapore as the personal interpreter of General Miles Dempsey, the commander of the 14th Army. In 1946, he conducted many interrogations and produced translations of wartime documents in Singapore. In June 1946, he was posted to the British Commonwealth Air Contingent of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force and was based in Iwakuni. There he considered that the tasks he was given to undertake were of little value.[2][3] Cortazzi was granted a wartime commission in the rank of Pilot Officer in June 1945.[4] He was promoted to Flying Officer in December 1945,[4] and left the service in 1947, after which he joined the Foreign Office.[1] In 1998 Cortazzi published his autobiography, Japan and Back, and Places Elsewhere.[5]

Diplomatic career[edit]

After the War, the British Foreign Office posted Cortazzi to Singapore (1950–1951) and to Tokyo (1951–1954). After returning to Whitehall (1954–1958), he was posted to Bonn (1958–1960). Another stint in Tokyo (1961–1965) preceded his return to London (1965–1966). Another posting in Tokyo (1966–1970) was followed by a different kind of opportunity at the Royal College of Defence Studies (1971–1972), after which he was posted to Washington, D.C. (1972–1975).[1]

In 1975, Cortazzi was appointed Deputy Under-Secretary of State. The next few years in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (1975–1980) preceded his appointment as Her Majesty's Ambassador to Japan in 1980.[1] In 1980, Sir Hugh was elevated to the rank of Knight Commander the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George. He spent the next four years in Tokyo.[1]


Sir Hugh retired from public service after his years as British ambassador to Japan, but in private life, he has continued to work promoting better Anglo-Japanese relations. In addition to the books he has since written or edited, he has regularly carved out time to write reviews and a recurring column in the Japan Times.[5]

In 2006, Sir Hugh's translation of the Japanese Crown Prince Naruhito's account of his time at Oxford was published as The Thames and I.[5]

Sir Hugh diversified his experiences with time spent as a Director of Hill Samuel and Company, later Hill Samuel Bank (1984–1991). He has been a Director of Director: Foreign and Colonial Pacific Trust since 1984; a Director of GT Japan Investment Trust since 1984; and a Director of Thornton Pacific (formerly Pacific) Investment Trust since 1986. Since 1992 he has served as Senior Adviser to a number of Japanese multi-national businesses with significant interests in the United Kingdom—such as, NEC Corporation, Dai-ichi Kangyo Bank, Bank of Kyoto.[1]

Sir Hugh was a member of the Economic and Social Research Council (1984–1989); a member of the Council and Court, University of Sussex (1985–1992); and Honorary Fellow of Robinson College, University of Cambridge, (1988).[1]

He died on 14 August 2018 at the age of 94.[6]


Selected works[edit]

Sir Hugh has written, edited, translated or contributed to a number of books on the history of Anglo-Japanese relations, and Japanese history or culture.[5] He has also written articles on Japanese themes in English and Japanese publications.[1]

In a statistical overview derived from writings by and about Hugh Cortazzi, OCLC/WorldCat encompasses roughly 60+ works in 100+ publications in 4 languages and 4,000+ library holdings.[7]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Japan Society Archives: GB 2247 CORTAZZI
  2. ^ Peter Kornicki, Eavesdropping on the Emperor: Interrogators and Codebreakers in Britain's War with Japan (London: Hurst & Co., 2021), pp. 166, 246-7, 254-5, 264-5, 279-80.
  3. ^ Higham, Nick (12 August 2015). "How the UK found Japanese speakers in a hurry in WW2". BBC News. Retrieved 12 August 2015.
  4. ^ a b The London Gazette [dead link]
  5. ^ a b c d Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation: book launch Archived 9 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Sir Hugh CORTAZZI
  7. ^ WorldCat Identities Archived 30 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine: Cortazzi, Hugh

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by British Ambassador to Japan
Succeeded by