Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sound Bites

Went to j-CATION? Samurai Beat Radio caught up with Yuki Chikudate, singer of the Brooklyn-based dream pop band, Asobi Seksu, just before their performance at Japan Society.

You can download the podcast of the interview here or visit the Samurai Beat Radio Official Blog to check out some cute photos!

On a similar note, STEIM, the Amsterdam-based music laboratory of experiments in electronic sound and instruments, are spending the weekend of May 7th-8th at Japan Society.

STEIM artists Yutaka Makino and dj sniff discuss the process of creating their innovative electronic music and share their perspectives on the latest international collaborations in an Artist Talk and Demo. Then, in the Mobile Touch Exhibition, visitors will have the rare opportunity to make their own music on STEIM’s wild collection of invented electronic instruments, including the Finger Web, the Cracklebox, the Voice Scratcher and the Headbanger.


And where would we be without throwing a concert?

For this performance, STEIM’s Artistic Director, Takuro Mizuta Lippit, has assembled a lineup of groundbreaking international artists from STEIM’s roster, including:

Yutaka Makino (Japan/Germany): A composer and technical wizard who has pioneered the blending of music, sculpture and architecture
ABATTOIR: A duo comprised of Audrey Chen (U.S.)—vocalist, cellist and analog electronics musician/composer and Robert van Heumen (Netherlands)—a composer and tinkerer equally at home with a keyboard or a joystick
• A collaboration between digital media composer Yannis Kyriakides (Netherlands) and guitarist Andy Moor (U.K./ Netherlands) of the legendary Dutch punk band The Ex
dj sniff (Japan/Netherlands), a.k.a. Takuro Mizuta Lippit—turntable musician and Artistic Director of STEIM

Psst...If you want a sneak preview, check out this video!

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Japan and Friends: Foreign Relations


The Editor-in-Chief of the Asahi Shinbun in Tokyo,Yoichi Funabashi, published an article for East Asia Forum called Japan-Korea FTA cornerstone of the East Asian Community, which makes several valid points. One example:

"A Japan-South Korea FTA would be instrumental in pushing for a further opening of the global trade system. It would also help Asian regional integration. Integrating the markets of the closest neighbors in Asia will become the cornerstone of the East Asia community."

Japan Society held a panel discussion on April 20th entitled The Japan – China – US Triangle: Competing Partners, which discussed the obstacles in navigating mergers and other alliances among China, Japan and the U.S. due to the nations' completely divergent cultures, histories, and legal systems. Japan and South Korea likely face many of the same issues thanks to their difficult history with one another. To quote from Funabashi's piece:

"During a visit to South Korea in March, farm minister Hirotaka Akamatsu was told by Yu Myung-hwan, the minister of foreign affairs and trade, that since this is the 100th anniversary of Japan’s annexation of Korea, many South Koreans consider it to be a ‘year of humiliation.’ Yu urged caution, noting that emotions were again running high over the territorial issue."

The relationship betweem these two nations is one that will spell out the future of East Asia's relations not only in trade but in cultural respect. It's a relationship that will be worth watching in the coming years, especially as China's economy pulls ahead of Japan's.

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Japan Watching

For anyone interested in any part of Japanese life, there are thousands of Japan watching blogs and websites all over the internet. Some focus on current news, some focus on contemporary culture, some focus on in-depth articles, and some focus on food. I like to spend hours perusing the internet for interesting nuggets about Japanese society (heck, I even wrote my thesis on Japanese visual culture), and it's easy to forget how symbiotic culture and economics are.

That's one reason I appreciate Japan Society so much. Being able to learn about Japan-U.S. trade relations and about the global spread of anime all in one place really allows a visitor to get a full picture of contemporary and historical Japan.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cosplay Party 2.0 is Coming!

May 15!
Following the massive success of Japan Society's KRAZY! Cosplay Party in 2009, we're hosting our second annual cosplay event, Cosplay Party 2.0, in conjunction with the exhibition Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters. Fans are invited to create and showoff costumes of their favorite characters, and share their enthusiasm for anime, manga, and video games.

This is just your first heads up! There will be more posts chock full of details closer to the date, so keep an eye out!

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

News Blast

AFP/File

Japan falls fast from Obama priority list

When he took office, US President Barack Obama moved quickly to show his commitment to Japan. He welcomed its then prime minister as his first White House guest and Hillary Clinton made the Asian ally her first destination as secretary of state. What a difference a year makes. When Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama came to Washington last week for a summit on nuclear security, his face-time with Obama consisted of approaching him at a dinner when the president asked guests to enjoy the food before discussions.

Now isn't the time to privatize Japan Post

Japan's government is planning to expand deposit caps at the country's state-owned bank -- already one of the biggest deposit-taking institutions in the world. Critics worry this move signals a fundamental rollback of the Junichiro Koizumi-era reforms. To the contrary: Now would be the wrong time to privatize the postal bank. Japan Post is a 200 trillion yen ($2.2 trillion) government-owned institution. Privatization advocates assume private-sector demand for funds isn't fulfilled by the postal savings bank, since its lending to the private sector is extremely limited. If this were the case, the correct policy would be for the government to aggressively reduce both its fiscal deficit and the role of the postal-savings program-and then get out of the private sector's way. That is precisely what former Prime Minister Koizumi wanted to do when he pushed hard for postal privatization in 2005.

Japan's flatlining is a future prototype

Immigration is a taboo issue in homogeneous Japan, leaving us to mull how it can fare with what it has, demographically speaking. The strategy seems to be morphing into Asia's Switzerland, proving that living standards needn't shrink with population. There are environmental benefits in making do with fewer people. Can our planet really sustain 9 billion people by 2050? Imagine the massive leaps in clean-energy technology required to make things even somewhat sustainable.

Reprieve for death row dogs in Japan 

Dog-lovers in Japan are dismayed because increasingly many pet puppies are being disposed of once they grow up, most ending up at the pound where more than 70 per cent are put down. The idea of adopting a dog from the pound has not caught on in Japan where many strays are seen as second-hand goods. Now a group has been formed in Japan to try to save dogs from death row.

Guide drafted for teaching Japanese to foreign residents

A government subcommittee has drafted guidelines for the first time on teaching Japanese to foreign residents to make their daily life easier, officials said Thursday. The draft guidelines compiled by the Cultural Affairs Council subcommittee lists examples of words and phrases that foreigners should be encouraged to learn for smooth communication in 10 main categories, including health care, travel and shopping.

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Japan Society's First Annual Manga Competition


In celebration of Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s fundamental contributions to the world of contemporary manga, Japan Society is hosting MANGA MADNESS!

So, if you love manga and like to draw, submit your own previously unpublished manga and have it judged by world renowned manga master, Hiroki Otsuka, our Mangaka-in-Residence!

Prizes will be awarded for Best Overall entry and for 1st place in two separate categories: A Comic Strip Inspired by Utagawa Kuniyoshi and Doujinshi.

Best Overall prize winner will receive a $75 gift certificate for the Kinokuniya bookstore and 1st place winners will receive $50 gift certificates for Kinokuniya. Winners will also receive an exhibition catalog from Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters: Japanese Prints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi from the Arthur R. Miller Collection, a special mystery bonus prize and have their artwork displayed at Japan Society!

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Japan – China – US Triangle

Considering the fact that East Asia Forum has been reporting almost obsessively over the relationship between China and the United States, the United States and Japan, or Japan and China, it's obvious that whatever the results of this tense triangle are, their influence will be global.

Left to right: Philip Berkowitz, Henry Liu, George Pierce, Timothy Wilkins.

Japan and the U.S. have enjoyed the closest of relationships, politically and economically, for the last sixty years. However, China’s emergence as a world economy in the past decade has made it a power to be reckoned with. Japan Society will host a breakfast panel discussion that focuses on the business experience of multinational companies -- and their counsel -- in navigating mergers and other alliances among China, Japan and the United States, nations with completely divergent cultures, histories, and legal systems.

We've got a great line up for this event.

Speakers:
Carl Cheng, Partner, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP
Henry Liu
, Chairman and Managing Partner of China Practice, Nixon Peabody LLP
George Pierce, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Toyota Tsusho America, Inc.
Timothy Wilkins, Partner, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP

Moderator:
Philip Berkowitz
, Partner, Nixon Peabody LLP

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Artists: Sanaa & Contemporary Bamboo Masters

Denis Balibouse/Reuters

Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, partners in the Japanese architectural firm Sanaa, have won the 2010 Pritzker Architecture Prize, the profession’s highest honor.

“They explore like few others the phenomenal properties of continuous space, lightness, transparency and materiality to create a subtle synthesis,” the jury citation said. “Sejima and Nishizawa’s architecture stands in direct contrast with the bombastic and rhetorical. Instead, they seek the essential qualities of architecture that result in a much appreciated straightforwardness, economy of means and restraint in their work.”

According to The New York Times, the pair’s buildings include the acclaimed New Museum in New York, a sculptural stack of rectilinear boxes on the Bowery, which was completed in 2007. The first Sanaa project in the United States was a glass pavilion for the Toledo Museum of Art, completed in 2006. It holds the museum’s collection of glass artworks, reflecting that city’s history as a major center of glass production.

Although their work has been concentrated in Japan, Mr. Nishizawa and Ms. Sejima have designed projects in Germany, Britain, Spain, France, the Netherlands and the United States. Among their most recent projects is the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology’s Rolex Learning Center in Lausanne, which appears in the above photo.

 Honda Shōryū (b. 1951) Untitled, 2006. Bamboo, 18 1/2 x 39 x 14 1/2 in. Jeanne and Michael Klein.

The Japanese have a stunning history in design and architecture in a variety of mediums. Sunday Morning on CBS News did a great segment called Japanese Bamboo Art that discusses the history of the use of bamboo in art and architecture and features artist Shochiku Tanabe.

And last year, Japan Society hosted an exhibit featuring the contemporary works of bamboo masters, such as the piece above by Honda Shōryū, which demonstrates the phenomenal lengths traditional materials can be taken to.

You can check out an online gallery of photos from the exhibit here

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Films Galore!

 The Ramen Girl (C) Digitalsite Corp./Media 8 Entertainment

Shrinking from ten days to two, eighteen feature films to nine, and migrating east from last year's Santa Monica location to the New Beverly Cinema, the 2010 Japan Film Festival offered large crowds a taste of the past year in Japanese cinema.

Check out LA Weekly's fantastic coverage along with trailers for some of the most popular films here.

The most well-attended and talked about L.A. premiere was with no question Ramen Girl, with a noodle cooking Brittany Murphy scrubbing toilets under the stern eye of revered actor Toshiyuki Nishida.

Besides the fact that it would be hard for a middle-aged salary man with twenty years of work under his belt to afford the Tokyo apartment Abby (Brittany Murphy) lives in as a beginning copywriter, Ramen Girl is a must see for anyone who fancies a good bowl of piping hot chashu ramen.

Nishida’s performance as Abby’s whiskey-inhaling teacher, Kimiko Yo as his kind-hearted wife and Tsutomu Yamazaki as the bow-inducing godfather of ramen (both from last year’s award winning film, Departures) gave exceptional performances supporting Abby’s coming of age story as she takes on the art of ramen.

Japan's Society's Globus Film Series Mad, Bad...& Dangerous to Know is about to begin showcasing Mariko Okada films, including:

 

Impasse
A.K.A. Flame and Women and Flame of Feeling

炎と女 (Hono to onna)
Directed by Kiju Yoshida, 1967
Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 7:30 PM
Buy Tickets
 

The Affair

情炎 (Joen)
Directed by Kiju Yoshida, 1967
Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 7:30 PM
Buy Tickets
 

Woman of the Lake

女のみづうみ (Onna no mizuumi)
Directed by Kiju Yoshida, 1966
Sunday April 18, 2010 at 6:30 PM
Buy Tickets

The grand finale of the series will be Two Wives, which features not only the alluring Okada but also Ayako Wakao. This is the first time this film will be officially screened outside of Japan and with two powerful female leads, it's not one to miss.

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News Blast

AFP/File/Yoshikazu Tsuno

Risk of Japan going bankrupt is real, say analysts

Greece's debt problems may currently be in the spotlight but Japan is walking its own financial tightrope, analysts say, with a public debt mountain bigger than that of any other industrialised nation. Public debt is expected to hit 200 percent of GDP in the next year as the government tries to spend its way out of the economic doldrums despite plummeting tax revenues and soaring welfare costs for its ageing population. Based on fiscal 2010's nominal GDP of 475 trillion yen, Japan's debt is estimated to reach around 950 trillion yen -- or roughly 7.5 million yen per person.

As violence escalates, Japan firms cringe

The nearly month-long street clashes in Bangkok have bought much commerce to a standstill. Japanese companies with operations in Thailand are no exception. Because of its location, Bangkok is ideally situated as an export base for Japanese companies with business dealings in the West and in Asia. Some business leaders fear that a prolonged suspension could hurt the trend toward a global economic recovery.

ANA prospers while rival suffers

Business was booming for All Nippon Airways Co. in February as ailing rival Japan Airlines Corp. suffered its second successive double-digit fall in international passenger numbers. JAL said Monday that the number of passengers on international routes stood at 804,191 in February, down 10.3 percent from the same month in 2009. Passenger numbers fell 10.7 percent in January.

Start-up rents out Tokyo's tight spaces

Japan is famous for its ability to make the most of limited space. The cocoon-like capsule hotels were first developed here and many single city dwellers live in tiny studio apartments known as rabbit hutches. Now, a new online real-estate marketplace is taking that trait to new levels. Nokisaki.com, named after the Japanese word for the space that juts out from the edge of a building, seeks pockets of "dead space" around cities and converts them into short-term rental property. In Tokyo, where every sliver of land is at a premium, a few feet of unused private property near the front entrance of an apartment building can be used to sell muffins.

Not shaken, Japanese martinis are stirred. And stirred.

Thirteen stirs. Plus one-half. That's just part of the recipe for a classic Japanese cocktail called mizuwari. Cocktail culture in the United States has blossomed, with bartenders across the country rejecting syrupy sweet-and-sour mixes and fluorescent cherries for homemade bitters and microdistilled spirits. But in Japan, things are even more serious. Bartenders spend 10, maybe 20 minutes, carving individual cubes out of blocks of ice. After liquids and ice are poured into a shaker, bartenders jostle the thing just so, to achieve the right temperature and texture.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Quick Collage of j-CATION Snapshots

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The Wonderful Aftermath of j-CATION

I'd say the festival was a huge hit, wouldn't you?

j-CATION got a review from Alexandra Cheney in The Wall Street Journal yesterday that was so crazy awesome, I just had to reprint it in full:

"Nestled between the Holy Family Church and the Trump World Tower, a thumping beat emerges from Japan Society’s lobby and spills onto the street. Lining the block between first and second avenues, a crowd of culturally savvy j-CATION goers await tickets to enter the day long takeover event. Cheering all things Japanese, Japan Society presents “j-CATION – Taste Japan,” a 12-hour event that began Saturday afternoon and ended early Sunday morning.

Enter the glass doors of the building, which was designed by Japanese architect Junzo Yoshimura and opened in 1971. Women dressed in Cosplay (which is short for costume play) maid outfits greet guests at the door.

A $5 donation is suggested, and most people whip out their wallets, including Nobohiko Ikura, the president and CEO of Nippon Steel USA Inc., and Koichi Conatsu, president of Mitsubishi International Corporation. Both are members of the board for Japan Society.

The beats grows louder inside the doors, and vendors selling fried chicken in yakitori sauce and edamame as well as chocolate, vanilla and strawberry cream puffs filled-to-order beckon visitors to sample their wares. Behind them, a lily pond with bamboo reflects the yellow, red and green lights of the j-Lounge, the origin of the bass-heavy beats and one of the two bars set up throughout the three floors of Japan Society events.

Up the stairs and to the right, a smaller, more intimate bar sells five kinds of beer and plum wine. From 1 p.m., when the doors open, till 5 p.m., visitors learn about the proper pairing of Japanese tea and sweets in the Sky Room. The remainder of the second floor is dedicated to “Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters,” an exhibition of Japanese artwork by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, a 19th century Japanese master of woodblock prints and painting.

Down the stairs once, and twice, to the basement where participants can view Flavor of Happiness, a film about food and an aging Chinese chef shown from 1:30 p.m. to 3:40 p.m.

Organized as a streaming event, ticket holders wander freely through the building. But everyone who craves access to the theater events must wait in line for a separate set of tickets, as space capacity is limited to 230 people.

“We didn’t expect such a continuous crowd, especially those who were so open to the spirit of waiting for the events they want to see,” said Shannon Jowett, the Society’s Director of Communications and the day’s doorman. At 7 p.m. the building had already seen upwards of 2,700 people. Jowett said the Society predicted a little over a thousand.

Post-film a different crowd of stroller-pushing families and hipsters flow into the theater for “Clash of the Foodies!,” an hour-long live game show where food bloggers meet cabaret superstars meet professional wrestler Queen of Squeeze Amazon Annie. The crowd applauds handsomely as Amazon Annie emerges victorious after 6-rounds of food tasting, identifying and re-purposing as clothing.

The stage is stripped of its equipment at Takeru “The Tsunami” Kobayashi, world-record-holding competitive eating champion enters the theater. His 45-minute lecture, “Table Talk,” takes time to address his methodology of eating, a.k.a breaking the hot dog in half then dunking the bun in water and shoving it into his mouth. Going three rounds, Kobayashi crushes the two mediators of the lecture, who look slightly ill as the eating champ washes the hot dogs, which are slightly larger than competition size, down with water.

There are also calligraphy and language classes, and sweet treats for the kids in the j-Lounge upstairs. Asobi Seksu, a dream-pop band out of Brooklyn is the final event of the night, and eager visitors line up once again for the chance to sit in the first row of the theater.

“The building is very old, and so is Japan Society and its members and programs” which turns 103 this year, according to Yoko Shioya, the artistic director for the last 13 years. “But we have a lot of faces and we want to share those multiple faces with all the people here tonight. That’s the point.”

The lights lower and Asobi Seksu take the stage, some yawn from their long day, others jump to their feet as the paper lanterns hanging above the stage pulsate to the beat of the drums."

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

It's not only us...

Everyone's getting excited for j-CATION!

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Kanpai!



Since I'm going to be working behind the j-lounge bar and since I can never get enough of the delicious posts at The Japanese Food Report, let's discuss drinks!

While we might not be able to serve the delectable-looking Warm Sake-Strawberry Whipped Cream Cocktail that Salat mentions, we will be providing a host of classic Japanese beers, sake, and even plum wine. Not to mention all the non-alcoholic beverages (Ramune Melon, Calpico, canned coffees, and more), which are equally tempting.

And don't worry if you get hungry! Throughout the day, a variety of scrumptious snacks and tasty treats will be available for purchase in our main foyer. Vendors from a selection of local restaurants and retailers will offer authentic tastes of Japan that run the gamut from junk-food to decidedly more esoteric cuisine.

See you on Saturday!

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hatoyama's Struggles


A year ago, in May 2009, Tobias Harris published "The DPJ bets on Hatoyama" on East Asia Forum. He stressed the risk associated with choosing Hatoyama to succeed Ozawa Ichiro, noting in particular Hatoyama’s history of indecisive leadership, poor decision-making skills, and over-reliance on those around him for guidance.

In his more recent "Japan: Hatoyama is the problem with his government," Harris declares:

"I don’t fault the Hatoyama government for taking on a tough issue like Futenma or postal privatization. After all, signaling changes of course on these policies is a good way to show how Westminster-style reforms can promote cabinet-led policy changes, making elections meaningful. But I fault the Hatoyama government — I fault the prime minister — for failing to exercise the least bit of control over his cabinet and his ruling party, making a total mess of these policies and others and dragging the government’s approval ratings into dismal terrain."

A Kyodo News poll showed Sunday that the support rate for the Hatoyama Cabinet has dropped to 33% and according to a poll released on Monday by the Yomiuri Newspaper, nearly half of Japan's voters support no political party, a sign of mounting frustration with both ruling and opposition parties ahead of an election expected in July.

For instance, Aurelia George Mulgan notes that in the past, the gaze of Japan’s Public Prosecutors Office (PPO), vigorous in its pursuit of politicians taking bribes, fell almost exclusively on LDP politicians. But in the last year or so, it has switched its gaze, and begun going after the two most prominent DPJ politicians: Secretary-General Ozawa and Prime Minister Hatoyama himself.

Now, former Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano, who is set to leave the LDP after severely criticizing the party leadership, and former trade minister Takeo Hiranuma confirmed Monday evening their plans to launch a new party by the end of the week.

Harris notes that for years polls have shown that the value the public wants in its leaders is ‘the ability to get things done.’ And at this point it’s the only way the DPJ can save itself. The questions to consider now are: Can the DPJ recover enough to retain power? Can Yosano's new party become one that represents a new alternative for voters dissatisfied with both the DPJ and the LDP?

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Kuniyoshi Review!

"The seeds of manga and anime can be seen everywhere in the ukiyo-e prints of Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861), whose eye for the fantastic and the ghoulish remains unmatched. The Japanese artist, who produced thousands of prints, was so creative that even censorship became a source of inspiration. One law on the books forbade publishing images of Japanese warriors who lived after 1573; Kuniyoshi responded—and made a name for himself—with portraits of ancient Chinese warriors brandishing full-body tattoos (a Samurai practice). Another ordinance, which outlawed pictures of courtesans and geishas, spurred Kuniyoshi to create the series “Biographies of Wise Women and Virtuous Wives,” in which comely maids engage in absurdly arduous tasks, like relocating a boulder. A room of kyoga (literally “crazy pictures”) includes such hallucinogenic compositions as a brothel populated by sparrows and portraits of a man and a woman whose heads are composed—à la Giuseppe Arcimboldo—of bodies."

-The New Yorker

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News Blast


Japan's response to its ageing crisis

An ageing population, coupled with a declining birth rate, is an unprecedented challenge for Japanese policymakers. The issues created by this situation can be readily identified in the administration of Japan's pension system. It is widely recognised that record management for Japanese pensions has been, moderately speaking, incomplete, and more strictly speaking, defective. On the occasion of the introduction of the basic pension identification number, the Social Insurance Agency identified some 250 million numbers out of 300 million and consolidated them into 100 million basic pension identification numbers. As a consequence, 50 million pension numbers still remain to be identified.

Ministry unveils strategy to boost 'Cool Japan'

The government has drawn up a list of strategies aimed at boosting Japan's pop culture industry, thereby making Japan and its contemporary culture more competitive internationally. Japan's pop culture--namely its anime, games, food and fashion--is believed to have great potential for improving Japan's image and making its products more competitive in Asia, Europe and North America, where it is popular and being promoted under the name "Cool Japan."

New party set to be launched this week

Former Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano, who is set to leave the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party after severely criticizing the party leadership, and former trade minister Takeo Hiranuma confirmed Monday evening their plans to launch a new party by the end of the week.

Sumo: Fans hope 15-year-old Japanese prodigy can rise to the top

A 15-year-old boy, who has joined the Takadagawa sumo stable, has drawn attention as a possible future star. Despite his young age, Ryoya Tatsu, who is 193 centimeters tall and weighs 145 kilograms, is almost equal in size to Yokozuna Hakuho, who is 192 centimeters tall and 152 kilograms. Tatsu was among the newcomers who were introduced to the audience during the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament held in Osaka in March. The spring tournament, which coincides with the school graduation season, is also dubbed the "job placement tournament."

Japanese carriers to end mobile phone locks?

Japan's regulators decided to end restrictions on mobile phone users switching operators or changing the SIM card in their phones. The communications ministry and the country's four major carriers reached the agreement and will set up new guidelines for the plan, Jiji Press reported. At the moment, Japan's major mobile networks sell handsets that accept only their respective SIM cards only, and cannot work with handsets bought from other carriers. In other words, they sell network-locked devices.

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Ohanami


April has only just begun but Japan is already in full ohanami (お花見, literally 'flower watching') mode.

According to Japan Pulse, a survey this year by Goo Research (translated by What Japan Thinks) found that the number one problem ohanami party organizers have had was finding and keeping a good spot under the flowering trees. But with more Japanese people carrying smart phones, sophisticated applications are coming to the rescue, including new iPhone apps from AAA, Weathernews and the iSakura app from BayardNetwork Co., which appears to be one of the most popular.

iSakura apparently has info on 1,000 cherry blossom-viewing sites across Japan and has been hovering in the top 10 free downloads in the Japanese iTunes store. It can search for flower-viewing venues by name, area, train line or highway exit or by using GPS to find the nearest spot. The database is also searchable via specific conditions, such as night viewing, free entry, availability of parking and public toilets, and whether beer, sake or snacks are sold on site. For each location, in addition to all those details, the app tells how open the blossoms are on a 10-degree scale from budding to full.

I'm no iPhone app, but I can tell you where you can view gorgeous cherry blossoms in New York City. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden is holding its annual Sakura Matsuri, a weekend celebrating Japanese culture through over 60 events and performances, on May 1 and May 2, rain or shine. You'll be able to enjoy contemporary and traditional Japanese music and dance, taiko drumming, ikebana flower arranging, Japanese DJs, presentations on the art of manga, tea ceremonies, and workshops for all ages...providing you arrive fairly early.

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Mad, Bad... & All Over the Web


Last night the Mad, Bad... & Dangerous to Know film series kicked off with the screening of Tattoo (aka The Spider Tattoo), featuring Ayako Wakao, Akio Hasegawa, Gaku Yamamoto and directed by Yasuzo Masumura.

Today, the series was featured in New York Magazine, The Village Voice, and Time Out New York!

"As daft and beautiful a fusion of grindhouse exploitation and arty lyricism as anything on film."

-New York Magazine

"Kaji is the copy-ready deviant of the series, but Japan Society has seized the opportunity for layered programming, even if every film isn't killer. Besides spotlighting three actresses, "Mad, Bad . . . & Dangerous to Know" is also a tribute to the ruthlessly insistent filmmaker Yasuzo Masumura, a revealing high-low study in shame entertainment, and a never-mind-the-plot Scope showcase."

-The Village Voice

"If you're more in line with the stereotypically docile view of Japanese women, then this series—which surveys the work of transgressive actors Ayako Wakao, Mariko Okada, and Meiko Kaji—is not for you."

-Time Out New York

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Virtual Bento Box Battle


As some of you may know, one element of j-CATION is the Virtual Bento Box Battle. It is “virtual” since you don’t have to attend j-CATION to enter. We have received submissions from Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Hawaii and San Francisco (and a couple from NYC, too).

You can check them all out on the Japan Society Flickr page.

Although there was no strict theme to the challenge, we suggested a few ideas to get people started:

• The mission of Japan Society: “…to bring the people of the United States and Japan closer together in their appreciation and understanding of each other…”
• Imagery from the Japan Society Gallery exhibition Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters: Japanese Prints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi from the Arthur R. Miller Collection
• Representations of iconic Japanese foods, landmarks, customs, or public figures.

We are awarding the winners with some cool donated prizes, including a hot-water pot and rice cooker from Panasonic, photo printers from Canon, and bento box sets from MUJI.

All entries will be displayed on the website and on the flat-screen at j-CATION, so the world can see your wonderful work.

The deadline has been extended to Monday, April 5 so get crafty!

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