Saturday, July 31, 2010

News Blast: U.S. To Memorialize Hiroshima, Open Executions, Manhwa Vs. Manga And More

Watermelon love. Via.

U.S. Memorializes Hiroshima

Nearly 70 countries plan to attend the annual peace memorial service in Hiroshima on August 6, commemorating the atomic bombing of the city. For the first time in 65 years, the U.S. will send a representative, Ambassador John Roos. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku told Bloomberg-BusinessWeek: "the Japanese government welcomes this... The event will become an opportunity for major nations’ officials to deepen their understanding of our desire for nuclear disarmament and resolve never to allow the misery of A-bomb attacks to be repeated."

Also this week, the U.S.Assistant Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Kurt M. Campbell testified before the House Armed Services Committee, discussing the political and economic drama unfolding in Asia:
"The U.S.-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of our engagement in the Asia-Pacific. The alliance has provided a basis for peace and security in the Asia-Pacific for a half-century and has -- in many ways -- underwritten the 'Asian economic miracle' and the spread of democratic governance throughout the region. This year the United States and Japan are celebrating the 50th anniversary of our Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, a historic milestone that offers both an opportunity to reflect on the successes of the past and, perhaps more importantly, to chart a forward-looking course for this relationship to ensure that it is well positioned to manage issues of consequence both in the region and beyond."

Foot-and-mouth Contained

Big news in Japan this summer has been the outbreak of Foot-and-mouth Disease in southern Miyazaki Prefecture. While hundreds of cows have been infected and put down, causing consternation with farmers, the disease has not spread to humans yet. After about three months, it seems to have run its course, with the last remaining ban on transfers of livestock in foot-and-mouth affected areas lifted on July 27. Public and sporting facilities are re-opening, and the state of emergency, called May 18th by prefectural governor Hideo Higashikokubaru, has been called off.

The causes of the disease in Miyazaki Prefecture are unknown. The first case was confirmed in late April on a small cattle farm. Scientists have identified the gene sequence of this particular strain of Foot-and-Mouth as similar to recent outbreaks in South Korea.

Japan's Executions Open to the Media

Japan conducted its first executions since the DPJ took power over a year ago. Two hangings were presided over by Justice Minister Keiko Chiba, who has long been an opponent of capital punishment. Many accuse her of political wrangling: she lost her seat in the House in last month’s elections, but retains her position in the Cabinet. Chiba "never signed executions while she was a lawmaker. But now as a private citizen, she quickly gave the go-ahead. I don't understand it," opposition Your Party Secretary General Kenji Eda said. She defends herself though by stating that she "thought long and hard about the death penalty and felt strongly the need for thorough deliberations about capital punishment among the public."

Two days after the executions, the Justice Ministry announced it will open the execution chamber to the media, to address the secretive nature of Japan's capital punishment system and stir debate over the death penalty.

Bite-size News:

►A '111 year-old' man thought to be alive was found dead in Tokyo an estimated 30 years after his death. His family, who recevied pension payments as recently as this year is under investigation on suspicion of fraud and negligence.

Japanese women had the longest life expectancy in the world for the 25th straight year in 2009.

►Police earlier in the week arrested a truck driver suspected of illegally dumping 2 metric tons of discarded gravestones in a remote, abandoned seafood processing plant.

►Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi talks to CNN about 640 he took from space and posted on Twitter.

►With China's soft power strides and South Korea's manhwa competing with manga, Asahi asks if Japan is slipping in the 'cool' culture battles.

►With rural Japan seeing decline, incredible rice paddy art keeps one region on the map.

►A robot that can help people find their glasses is the toast of a Japanese expo.

►The JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching Program) accepted 4334 young people from 36 countries to spend a year (or more) for paid positions teaching English to Japanese elementary and middle school students. The program has long been a cornerstone for Japan-US exchange.

►PM Naoto Kan wife's published a book entitled What on Earth will Change in Japan After You Become Prime Minister?--a scathing list of her husband’s failings.

►From now until November, New York City’s IFC Center holds a Yasujiro Ozu retrospective. This weekend, it’s Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family. The film came out in 1941 at the height of World War II, and the Japanese occupation of China. It’s a subtly political and rigorously humanistic response to those troubled times.

►Boing Boing’s Mark Frauenfelder is vacationing in Japan this summer, and he’s blogged pictures of some seriously strange watermelons. They’re grown in confined spaces, therefore taking the shape of their containers: hearts, pyramids and boxes. And yes, you’re reading those prices right: 9,450 yen for a watermelon is roughly equivalent to $100.

N.O., S.J.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

It’s A Wrap: JAPAN CUTS Concludes Its Biggest Year Yet!

Hidetoshi Nishijima (L) and Ryoko Hirouse (R) in Zero Focus

JAPAN CUTS 2010 screened its final film on July 16th and the numbers are in: over 5,500 tickets were sold, resulting in a record attendance in the four years Japan Society has produced the JAPAN CUTS film festival!

A number of films seem to have struck chords with audiences and critics alike. Twitch praised Parade’s “unsettling” tone and the “uniformly excellent” cast. Cinema Strikes Back loved  One Million Yen Girl, and thought that writer-director Yuki Tanada’s work “hit all the right notes.” The Village Voice found  Bare Essence of Life to be “unpredictable and occasionally astonishing.” Blogger J B Spins admired  Zero Focus’ “lush production” and praises it as “an emotionally complex thriller that holds together quite well.” This Week in New York called out Dear Doctor as a “warm, tenderhearted film.” In regards to Confessions , whose two screenings were both sold out, Reel Talk says  “Whatever the plot’s truth, of murder or revenge, Confessions crafts a chilling hundred-three minutes.”

A number of special events happened during JAPAN CUTS’ two-and-a-half weeks as well. Katie’s Japan Files reports from the Q&A with director Isao Yukisada and actor Tatsuya Fujiwara, after a screening of Parade. Cinema Knife Fight has a lengthy post from the Sushi Typhoon Party following the premiere of Mutant Girl’s Squad. In addition, Japan Society Film Program’s Tumblr has great wrap-ups of the films screened, with rare artwork and stills and insider photos from special events.


Kenichi Matsuyama in Bare Essence of Life

Samuel Jamier, chief film curator at Japan Society, predicts another big year for JAPAN CUTS in 2011. He wants to keep the focus on thoughtful, creative commercial films from innovative directors like Confessions’ Tetsuya Nakashima and One Million Yen Girl’s Yuki Tanada. Films based on original stories with strong scripts are a priority. He discusses in greater detail in a fantastic VCinema post-fest interview.

Female filmmakers will likely continue to make a strong showing. "There's definitely more visibility," Samuel told The Walls Street Journal about 2010's lineup, "and even when there isn't a female director, a lot of these films focus on dominant female roles." This year JAPAN CUTS showed new films from Tanada, Miwa Nishikawa (Dear Doctor) and Satoko Yokohama (Bare Essence of Life). These directors’ films have a fresh perspective on their respective genres and showcase the emergent and indelible power and skill of women making movies in Japan today.

One trend that does not seem to be happening in Japan, however, is 3D. Of course, in the U.S. we’re all about the 3D, but in Japan, the only major 3D film over the next year will be a digital re-release of the 2000 Tatsuya Fujiwara starrer Battle Royale.

Whatever the future of Japanese Cinema holds, one thing is certain. You will catch the best of it next year at JAPAN CUTS 2011!

N.O.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

News Blast: Border Control, Holo-Vision 2022, First Lady Of Flight, Nimble Ninja Kids And More!

Cool Japan fest in NYC's East Village. Photos via.

Japanese Border Control & Immigration Policies

Where the U.S. army has a pronounced presence on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, the Japanese Self-Defence Forces plans to increase their presence over the next year. The Japanese Defense Ministry has announced plans to deploy more troops on Okinawa, as well as several hundred on the even more southernly Sakishima Islands. Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa cites increased activity by Chinese naval vessels as a chief concern this move will address.

On a related note, a new resource will no doubt prove invaluable for civilians looking to get through Japan’s borders. The brand-new blog Turning Japanese  is on a mission: to provide, in English, a comprehensive overview of the Japanese Immigration protocols as well as instructions for applying for Japanese Citizenship. What makes this news so exceptional is that there really isn’t another (official) resource for English-speakers on the subject.

News from the World of Food

The Telegraph has two news-items on possible health side-effects from eating certain kinds of food. First: soy sauce could reduce symptoms of menopause . Studies in Japan show that soy contains a compound that reduces the production of oestrogen, which contributes to menopausal problems. Of course, the news that soy sauce is a ‘miracle food’ should be taken with a grain of salt. The article also cites previous studies, which have showed that soy sauce can prevent cancer and lower cholesterol.

On the more dangerous side of the spectrum: konnyaku, a Japanese jelly that’s harvested from a very starchy tuber known in English as the konjac (though it’s also known by such sinister names as Devil’s Tongue and Voodoo Orchid). In Japan, it’s usually eaten raw, as konnyaku sashimi in long thin strips. However, the dense chewiness of it has led to over 20 deaths in the past 16 years, and over 20 hospitalizations, all among the elderly or young people. Kenta Izumi, parliamentary secretary for the Cabinet, has convened a panel of lawmakers, doctors, and manufacturers to come up with a safety standards law to reduce casualties. The American Food and Drug Administration actually removed a number of konnyaku-based candies from US shelves starting in 2001 as a response to deaths in America.

A Bumpy Ride in U.S.-Japan Relations?

In the pages of Newsweek, columnist Tobias Harris predicts rough times ahead for Japan-U.S. relations. For Harris, the tension will mostly stem from issues of security: the U.S. is interested in pursuing a more security-based partnership with Japan, where Japan will expand their army, and join the U.S. on key missions. Japan’s DPJ, however, have a tenuous hold on power after the disappointing elections a couple weeks ago. In this political climate, it doesn’t look like the Japanese government will allocate more funds to defense, and therefore will enter a more dependant relationship with the U.S.

Bite-size News:

Bloomberg-BusinessWeek reports Japan's Provinces are 'withering away'  and that budget cuts are most likely accelerating rural decline. The warning stems from the Bank of Japan's Sakura Report, a regional survey akin to the Federal Reserve's Beige Book.

Variety examines the possibility of Japan broadcasting live holographic television by World Cup 2022.

FIAF inspects Japan for 2022 World Cup hosting bid, finds it 'very balanced'.

67 countries pledge to attend the August 6 peace memorial service marking the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

►A decision on the U.S. air base in Okinawa is not likely until November. 

Japan Today profiles Ari Fuji, Japan's first female commercial flight captain, who had to get her license from the U.S. because of Japanese height restrictions.

Mainichi profiles Noriko Williams, a Japanese langauge teacher who authored a pictorial kanji character textbook for English speakers. Says Williams, "I wanted to teach kanji learners that these seemingly meaningless combinations of lines actually derive from ancient wisdom."

The New York Times has further news on the story from last week about the Japanese government agency that allegedly exploits foreign workers and interns.

Celebrating dramatic growth overseas, Twitter CEO Evan Williams tells a cheering crowd in Tokyo: "We've come a long way in two years especially in Japan."

►Peter Fernandez voice of Speed Racer (and who wrote the American lyrics for the show's theme song) died this week. Anime News Network's Egan Loo told The New York Times "He took a quintessentially Japanese title and made it so Americans could enjoy it," calling the show "one of the first titles that turned Americans into fans of Japanese animation."

►The annual Tokyo Toy Show wrapped last weekend, and Kotaku has a collection of videos of some of the choicest toys. Dibs on the robot butterfly!

►Reports from Gothamist and Examiner on last weekend's Cool Japan street fest.

►Japanese and American manga publishers are scouring this year's Comic-Con for talent.

►Overview of the alums and allies petitioning to keep the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program alive.

►The Wall Street Journal is looking for examples of "Jinglish", notes that around 10% of Japanese stems from English words, though Frank Daulton, author of Japan's Built-in Lexicon of English-based Loanwords.

►A ninja themed excercise training facility for kids.

►Behold the portable watermelon cooler/heater.

►Canadian practices old-school silk making in Japan.

►Japanese men "muscle in on ballet, cooking, ikebana classes."

►Japan's giant salamanders may hold the key to stave amphibian extinction.

►U.K's Sansbury Centre offers an awesome electronic gallery guide for Unearthed, an exhbition of prehistoric ceramic figurines from Japan and the Balkans and Japan. Thru August 29!

►Japanese travel magazine, Paper Sky  has posted a fascinating three part series on fishing superstitions in the port town of Yaizu. Yaizu is home to one of the biggest fisheries in Japan and the biggest catcher of mackerel and tuna in Japan.

N.O., S.J.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hark, The Sound Of One Hand!

The new poster for The Sound of One Hand, opening October 1.
Japan Society’s upcoming gallery exhibition, The Sound of One Hand: Paintings and Calligraphy by Zen Master Hakuin, approaches! Outside our main doors, the 2010 JAPAN CUTS poster was retired this week and replaced by the new Hakuin poster.

The exhibition opens on October 1, 2010 and runs until January 16, 2011. It promises to be a fascinating display of the finest paintings by Zen monk and artist extraordinaire Hakuin.

Hakuin’s exact dates are unknown, but historians generally agree that he was born circa 1685 and died in 1768. While Hakuin’s work as an artist is deservedly well known, he considered himself a religious figure above all. The classic Zen koan “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” actually originated with Hakuin, and was a big part of his revival of the major Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism. In fact, most of his art was not created for the marketplace, or commissioned for temples. They were meditative exercises or meant as gifts for other monks who needed encouragement or advice.

Hakuin Ekaku, Seated Daruma, Seen from the Side. Ink on paper, 42 1/2 x 14 6/8 in. Ginshu Collection. Photo: Maggie Nimkin.
Co-curators and Zen scholars Audrey Yoshiko Seo and Stephen L. Addiss have pulled together 69 of Hakuin’s most notable works for this exhibition. Hakuin’s work is fairly typical of many Zen painters’ in that they were executed quickly and spontaneously, with a variety of techniques including fluid, deft lines, rough dark strokes, ink washes, and delicate calligraphic marks.

Hakuin’s subject matter varied much wider than many of his contemporaries. His output includes portraits of great Zen thinkers like Bodhidharma (the semi-mythical founder of Zen Buddhism), flora and fauna, and whimsical illustrations for Zen parables. His style was also very fluid. Some works have a fine attention to detail, and are conservative in design and execution, while others have brutal, bold, intentionally inelegant brush-strokes. The latter was a style that Hakuin himself was instrumental in developing, and later became a major evolution in Zen art.

Hakuin Ekaku, Hotei Watching Mouse Sumo. Ink on paper, 14 5/8 x 20 5/8 in. Ginshu Collection. Photo: Maggie Nimkin.
Japan Society has a fine history of Buddhism-related exhibitions, most recently: Awakenings: Zen Figure Painting in Medieval Japan in 2007, and Transmitting the Forms of Divinity: Early Buddhist Art from Korea and Japan, which The New York Times called one of the best exhibits of 2003.

For this show, Japan Society offers a number of Zen-related programs. Also opening October1, the mini-exhibit oxherding is a series of contemporary ink paintings by Max Gimblett, in collaboration with poet Lewis Hyde, based on the famous Zen parable. Yoshi Oida, the great Japanese actor of stage and screen, performs his one-man show Interrogations about a Zen master’s test to determine his pupil’s enlightenment. In addition lectures abound and family events presented by our Education Program promise something for all ages.

Keep an eye out on this blog for more articles and more of Hakuin’s paintings leading up to the opening!

N.O.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Japan's Table For Two Fills Stomachs In Africa And The U.S.

Of the 7 billion people living on Earth, roughly 1 billion do not have adequate or reliable access to food and water. About the same amount of people are overweight, obese, or suffer from health issues related to overeating.

Table for Two, a Japanese nonprofit, aims to correct this imbalance. Instead of directly soliciting financial donations, Table for Two’s innovative model helps to design healthy meals to be served in cafeterias, restaurants and grocery and convenience stores. About 20 cents from the proceeds of the sale of these meals then goes directly to subsidizing nutritious meals for school-aged kids in Africa. Here’s a brief video of a launch event in a Japanese corporate cafeteria [video]

So, Table for Two’s aims are, well, twofold. First: to provide easier access to nutritious meals to children in Africa who may not normally be able to eat regularly. And second: to foster greater awareness of world hunger, and healthier eating habits in those who have easier access to regular meals.


Posho & Beans (image courtesy of TFT)

With over 250 corporate cafeterias participating in Japan, meals are already being served up to the hungry in Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi and Ethiopia, with South Africa to follow later this year. Meals for the school children under Table for Two usually consist of Posho, a maize porridge, and beans or meat for protein.

Table for Two is also in the process of expanding its operations into the U.S. High-profile clients include the Kitano Hotel and Columbia University, which begins participating in fall 2010. A full list will soon appear on Table for Two’s website!

As an individual, you can contribute by dining at a cafeteria or restaurant that’s a member of Table for Two, or by shopping at a store that is affiliated with it. Until that list is available, stay connected by joining Table for Two on Facebook. Japan Society holds an evening event on Wednesday, July 21with a lecture by Table for Two International Chairman Masahisa Kogure and a sampling of Table for Two-sanctioned meals. Kogure discusses Table for Two’s mission, and his strategies for expanding into the U.S. The event is part of Japan Society’s U.S.-Japan Innovator’s Network.

N.O.

Friday, July 16, 2010

News Blast: Japanese Beer Blasts In U.S., Interred Intern Concern, Café-ugees, And More!

Yoshitomo Nara to park it on Park Ave. Image via.
Disappointing Election Results for PM Kan

Even though Japan’s new PM, Naoto Kan, was appointed during a trick time in his country’s political history, he enjoyed an early surge in popularity and good will. This popularity proved to be short-live. In the recent elections, the Upper House, once dominated by Kan’s DPJ, underwent an extensive reshuffle, attributed by analysts to Kan’s position to raise the consumption tax.

On the other hand, the changing dynamics of the Upper House benefited smaller, newer political parties like Your Party (Minna no Tou), which came out of it with a healthy-sized minority. Yoshimi Watanabe, leader of Your Party, called for Kan to dissolve Parliament and step down because he foresees an unstable future. Many within the DPJ as well are calling for Kan’s resignation, reflecting the results of the election. To a certain extent, it’s common for Japanese politicians to resign following disappointing results—one of the reasons there have been five prime ministers in four years. However, Renho, minister of government reform asked, "Is there anything to be gained by resignations?" Her words have sunk in with DPJ members, and while many officials holding office in the cabinet lost their Upper House seats, Kan is calling on them for unity, promising a comeback in the polls.

Japan's Interns Allegedly Worked to Death


The Japanese International Corporation Training Organization has come under fire recently for allegedly exploiting foreign interns. This governmental organization makes positions for foreign interns, usually from developing countries, to work in technological or industrial companies and practice Japanese. Over 200,000 interns are in Japan under this program, and last year 27 died from symptoms related to overwork: heart failure, brain disease, suicide, and road accidents. While this figure is down from 35 in 2008, it still raises big concerns for workers' rights. Many interns reported working 100 hours of overtime on top of the 350 per month they were contractually obligated to. A group of lawyers and human rights activists representing the interns is seeking compensation for families of the deceased in Japanese courts.

Internet Café-ugees

CNNGo has a fascinating article on the culture surrounding Japan's internet and manga cafés, which have evolved from rows of monitors with swivel-chairs into warrens of small capsules equipped with reclining chairs, cutting-edge entertainment consoles, and on-demand fast food. Typical prices are about ¥300 an hour (around $4) or ¥1500 per night (about $17), making them a cheap hotel or shelter substitute. Many homeless as well migrate between internet and manga cafés because they are cheap, comfortable, and climate-controlled. Free shower facilities are available too. Of course, this phenomenon has a name coined by the Japanese press: Net Café Refugees.

Bite-size News:

902 unexploded bombs that date from WWII were discovered beneath an Okinawa restaurant. The bombs, manufactured in America, were not considered to be in danger of exploding and were safely disposed of by the Japanese Bomb-Disposal Squad.

Christian Science Monitor examines the notoriety of recently deceased Yankee's 'Boss' George Steinbrenner in Japan, drawing character parallels with his Japanese alter ego, Tsuneo Watanabe.

►Torrential rains have plagued the Western regions of Japan this summer, with tragedy in Hiroshima Prefecture this week.

►From The Japan Times: pundits posit a cloud over U.S.-Japan ties, two Americans head to Japan to document A-bomb survivors,  and next fiscal year all Japanese 5th and 6th graders will be taught English.

►WSJ: Japan demands the U.S. stop manga piracy!

The New York Times reports "cutesy yet devilish cartoon characters created by the Japanese neo-Pop artist Yoshitomo Nara will soon be familiar sights on the Upper East Side landscape."

►Japan electronics giant Sanyo cooks up world's first rice bread cooker.

Japanese beer to blast in the U.S.

►Photos from the Tokyo Toy Show.

►CNN's top 5 Tokyo experiences.  With sumo, trains, karaoke, fish markets and food, we're eager for their top unexpected experiences.

►Save a bird: adopt a wild cat.

►Bugged wondering who owns the Sony television on the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover?  This will guarantee to raise a smile!


N.O., S.J.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Get Chopping With Those Chopsticks: It’s Restaurant Week!


Great news, food-lovers: Restaurant Week is here. Hundreds of the best restaurants in NYC serving a variety of cuisines extend affordable prix-fixe options through July 25!

Asia Society put together a drool-worthy list of Asian and Asian-Fusion Restaurants. If it's Japanese food you’ve got an appetite for, there are 15 participating restaurants all over the city. We especially recommend Matsuri, whose executive chef, Tadashi Ono, participated in Japan Society’s Hot Pots to Warm the Soul workshop last December, and Megu, whose chefs have also participated in past workshops. Morimoto, the restaurant spearheaded by Iron Chef (and one-time Japan Society panel participant) Masaharu Morimoto, has tasty bento boxes on the menu. And in addition, Nobu chef Nobu Matsuhisa who received the Japan Society Award last year for his contribution to U.S.-Japan relations, always serves up a tasty feast.

EN is always worth a visit, with master mixologist Gen Yamamoto (who participated in our Shochu tasting event last February) and taste-tacular tofu. SushiSamba 7 is a Japanese-Latin fusion joint, which has especially funky cocktails and worldwide notoriety from "Sex and the City". While it does get a little crazy on weekends, it has a rooftop terrace with great views of the West Village. And last but not least, if you find yourself at Japan Society to take in one of the final films in JAPAN CUTS (closing July 16!), check out Megu Midtown next door for classy twists on traditional Japanese cuisine.


Takoyaki: Image via Here

Tables for participating Restaurant Week eateries fill up quickly, so if you find yourself shut out from your first choice, there are many other options for Japanese delicacies. Check out the East Village’s Japantown with Sunrise Mart, where you can buy ingredients to make your own favorites at home. There are izakaya like Kenka and Go. Izakaya are often referred to as Japanese pubs that serve tasty, unpretentious food, like okonomiyaki (cabbage pancakes with bacon, scallions, kimchi and other veggies), takoyaki (grilled octopus dumplings), and lots of beer and sake drinks. My personal favorite is Otafuku, a street stand nearby. There’s nothing quite like munching on takoyaki al fresco!

If your interest in food goes beyond the culinary to the socially responsible and entrepreneurial, then make a reservation for Japan Society’s Table for Two: Connecting the World by Sharing a Meal Wednesday, July 21. Masahisa Kogure, director of the Japanese charity Table for Two, speaks about his organization’s rationale and the motivations for expanding it to the U.S. And don't forget only four weeks until our Japanese Cuisine 101 summer workshop for high school students.

Bon appetite! Or "Itadakimasu!" as they say in Japan!

N.O.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Japan's Key To The Future Of Industry

Aaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has some concerns. How does Japanese industry get out of the "severely deadlocked" position that has it lagging behind power players and moody market swings? Is it even possible for the country to be globally competitive anymore? Does Japan have a chance to rebound after years of stagnation and the continued aftershocks of the world economic crisis?

In May METI unveiled the "Industrial Structure Vision 2010" as a fresh address to the concerns. The aim is to rev Japan's revenues, drive employment and run circles around the globe with industry. The roadmap first calls for four shifts in the public and private sectors to spur growth: build a new industrial structure, replace stagnant business models, forgo that globalization and domestic employment are mutually exclusive, and realign the role of government.

Sounds simple enough. Sustainable industrial structures practically grow on trees! All sass aside, when digging for more detail, one of the most condensed PDF powerpoints ever contained a diamond of an idea in the packed data and dizzying mix of problems, solutions, and fonts. The four herculean shifts mentioned above would incorporate 5 life-enriching, globally expandable sectors:

● infrastructure-related/system export (nuclear energy, water, rail, etc.)
● environment and energy problem-solving industry (smart grid, next-generation vehicles, etc.)
● medical and nursing, health and childcare services
● cultural industries including fashion, content, food, tourism
● frontier fields like robotics, space, etc.

How it all fits together takes an expert explanation. Luckily, METI director Tadao Yanase is at Japan Society July 20 to speak at the roundtable discussion Industrial Structure Vision: The Way Forward for Japanese Industry, presided by the Carlyle Group's Jonathan Colby.

S.J.

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Friday, July 9, 2010

News Blast: Hostel Hotels, Dogged Champ, Dutiful Dads, Obama's Matcha Mouth And More!

For hot politics and hot days: matcha ice cream! Image via.
Some Japanese Hospitality Biz is Anything But

In his regular column in The Japan Times, controversial American-born Japanese civil-rights activist Debito Arudou (AKA David Schofill) alleges racial discrimination in the hotel industry. He points out that "Japan has no national civil or criminal legislation outlawing and punishing racial discrimination, meaning businesses with 'Japanese only' signs aren't doing anything illegal." A minority of ryokan (traditional-style Japanese inns), as well as modern hotels, insist on only serving Japanese clientele. Stated reasons for this vary. A manager of a ryokan points out that because foreign guests may be unfamiliar with Japanese customs and amenities (for example lack of Western-style beds and toilets) they could be uncomfortable. Other hoteliers' excuses are more xenophobic, claiming that foreign guests "steal hotel goods or cause trouble for other guests, thus making it a crime issue."

Arudou has made it his business to call out these hotel managers, and many of them have changed their policies after protests from activists and other guests. In a related article, the travel resource CNNGo reveals statistics from a survey conducted by the Japanese government where 27% of hotels did not want foreign guests staying with them.

Hot Dog Eating Champ Arrested

Citing contractual dispute, onetime six-time champ Takeru Kobayashi didn't compete in Coney Island's annual Fourth of July hot dog eating contest this year. He then spent a night in jail after rushing the stage to try to compete at the last minute.

This is all very sad news, as Kobayashi was a gracious and amiable guest at our j-CATION fest a few month back.

Bite-sized News

►The invaluable Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme, which subsidizes people from around the world to study Japanese in Japan, may go to the budget cuts chopping block.

►Kumiko Makihara's International Herald Tribune op-ed tells how being tall and tan in Japan can lead to racial profiling.

►Japanese fathers, who reportedly spend less time on domestic duties than any other developed country's dads, are encouraged to "swap their desks for diapers" with new government initiatives.

►A new play, staged in replica 1945 streetcars in Hiroshima, commemorates the courage of female operators and conductors when the atomic bomb struck. Actual operators, who served during and survived the attack, were invited to the premier. Naoko Hata, 81, said: "I am pleased that young people will pass along what we did then."

►After a record year of on-the-job attacks, Japanese railway companies offer staff martial arts training.

►The diplomatic ties between President Obama and new Japanese PM Kan were strengthened by Kan’s promise to prepare some matcha (green tea) ice cream for the American head of states’s next trip to Japan this November. Apparently, matcha ice cream is one of Obama’s favorites.

►About a dozen monkeys escaped a Kyoto University research center in Aichi Prefecture on Monday. They climbed up trees and "used the branches as slingshots to propel them over the fence." Since the escape, seven have been apprehended and five remain at large.

►Author superstar Haruki Murakami has gone on the record to say that there is a slight possibility for sequels to his newest novel, IQ84. The wildly popular novel, published over the past year in three parts, spans over 1,500 pages, though Murakami says that there are still stories left to tell with the characters. The first two parts of IQ84 are due next fall in the U.S. In the meantime, appetites can be sated with Neojaponisme's in-depth, thoughtful review.

►Teachers Gone Wild! Follow the exploits of the Japan Society Educators’ Study Tour to Japan on tumblr or at their Twitter page.

►A rave for Lincoln Center's presentation of the Japanese play Musashi from The New York Times.

►It was a hot one in NYC this week, which means it’s time to try some Japanese summer recipes! Cold somen noodles are great and super quick, or make your own  diplomacy-strengthening matcha ice cream.

►Osaka celebrated Tanabata (Star Festival) with 50,000 water-tight lights. The Japanese annual fest takes place on the seventh day of the seventh month (July 7),  but Japan Society invites families to celebrate Sunday, July 11.

►We missed this in-depth article from April featuring kamishibai storytelling, as well as the work of master storyteller Tara McGowan, who appears at our weekend Tanabata festivities.

►Everything you wanted to know about four months at Japan Society, but were afraid to ask!

N.O., S.J.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Eyes To The Skies: Tanabata Lands At Japan Society

A wish for world peace via.
In Japan, Tanabata, or the Star Festival, is a celebration of the meeting of two lovers blazing in the stars. Separated by the Milky Way, Orihime and Hikoboshi (represented by Vega, the Weaver Star, and Altair, the Cowherd Star, respectively) are allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month. On this day of heavenly miracles, people write wishes on colorful strips of paper and hang them on decorated bamboo trees.

On Sunday, July 11th, Japan Society invites children ages 2-10 to celebrate with the family program Japan's Star Festival: Create Tanabata Decorations. Educator and master storyteller Tara McGowan introduces a variety of fun and exciting folktales through kamishibai traditional Japanese storytelling. Tara discussed the power of the medium in a recent article about her work and kamishibai in general:
"Children can go off on wild directions and lose focus. The cards keep them structured within the story. There’s something very concrete about it, and it’s a wonderful way to get children to play with story elements."
In addition to telling Tanabata stories specific to the holiday, Tara pays homage to the stars with more celestial stories that are engaging and illuminating for the whole family.

Children and their parents can also take part in an assortment of craft activities, such as making traditional tanzaku (paper strips for writing wishes), paper stars, colorful paper chains, and more. Children can proudly display their handmade tanzaku and ornaments on bamboo trees at the Society.

For those who can’t make it to Japan Society, we've posted tanzaku instructions on our site About Japan: A Teacher’s Resource, so you can make them at home or wherever you are.

Have fun stargazing and may your wishes come true!

S.I.

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Saturday, July 3, 2010

News Blast: Work, Go, Watch

You go Go! Image via.
Japan's Workplace Divides

The Wall Street Journal reports some surprising news: "a new divide is emerging between Japan’s haves and have-nots: gender. And it favors women." At the same time, Japan Today carried two interesting articles on the changing demographics of Japanese workplaces.

First up:  restaurant kitchens – both in Japan and the US – have long been bastions of male dominance. In Tokyo the dynamics are changing. Chefs Mika Yamasaki and Chisako Hori, are both owners of prestigious and Michelin-rated restaurants in the area. Yamasaki recalls that when she was first starting out as a restaurateur, and visited a bank to apply for a loan, she was "promptly shown the door." This comes on the heels of news that for the first time Tokyo has overtaken Paris as the city with the most Michelin-rated restaurants.

In the second story, at an unnamed factory immigrant workers are clashing both with Japanese workers and management as contractually promised prayer breaks are challenged. Japanese workers protest: "Why do we have to be used as a stopgap so they can go pray?", while immigrant workers respond, "We’d get more work done by discouraging workers from cigarette breaks." This situation raises thorny issues around workers’ rights in Japan, where many immigrant laborers are in the country on very short-term visas. Kenichi Ozaki, a clinical psychiatrist and commentator for J-Cast, which published the story, says "It’s going to be necessary for personnel management to change a policy that allows for ‘cultural diversity.’ One of the strengths of Japan’s manufacturing industries in the past had been a uniformly standardized work force. […] It will be important to listen to opinions about different ways of thinking with an open mind, and then work to build consensus."

Japan a Go for Go

This November the Asian Games (a local analogue to the global Olympics) adds a new event: Go, the 2,500 year-old Chinese board game. Widely played in Japan, Go is a highly strategic and complex game that will likely appeal to chess aficionados. YouTube has a neat how-to.

At the next Asian Games, the Japanese Go team goes up against the Chinese, South Korean, and Taiwanese teams. The Japanese team has been training for months already, in solo matches and also in doubles, which is extra challenging because team members are not allowed to consult with each other during the game. As per the Asian Games’ regulations, all Go contestants must take drug tests to qualify. Yuta Iyama, a competitor on team Japan, said "We cannot imagine body-building drugs having any effect on the game of go, but I will be careful about what I ingest."

JAPAN CUTS Above the Rest

The Wall Street Journal
notes our JAPAN CUTS film fest opened "with a double barreled big bang."

Reviews have started to come in: Nippon Cinema covered Boys on the Run  and Parade. Reel Talk takes a look at Confessions and Blood of Rebirth. Meniscus reviews Dear Doctor and Golden Slumber. And extended roundups came from New York Press and Firefox (which added two reviews).

If you're an NYAFF die hard (and you probably are), and on the fence of whether JAPAN CUTS is for you, The Village Voice sums up the differences in their preview feature this week:
"Loosely tied to the New York Asian Film Festival, the Japan Society's artier, slightly more serious survey of contemporary Nipponese cinema may never escape the ferocious and freaky shadow of its partner fest. Yet in its fourth and biggest year yet, Japan Cuts proves too vital to be considered a spillover event, with a section dedicated to the best unreleased treasures of the past decade (fittingly billed here as "the Naughties" and including 2005's shouldn't-be-missed Hanging Garden and the equally necessary Memories of Matsuko, a 2006 candy-colored musical tragedy)."
Got thorns?
(Note: You have until July 6 to win tickets from SciFi Japan to the King of Thorn screening next week.)

In related news, Director Yoji Yamada (his new film, About Her Brother is in JAPAN CUTS) and actress Kaori Momoi saw a special advance screening of the American remake of their film The Yellow Handkerchief, which stars William Hurt and Kristen Stewart and opens in Japan later this month.

World Cupdate: Final Installment

Sad news for Samurai Blue Fans – Japan lost 5-3 to Paraguay during penalty kicks, marking the end of Team Japan’s first-ever foray into the World Cup finals. The New York Times profiles their head coach, Takeshi Okada, and the team blog dissects the close loss. (We should have seen it coming from this ominous photo from WSJ.)

Japan did come out a winner on one World Cup front: Twitter announced the country set a global record for the most-ever tweets per second during the game.

Related: we now tweet in English and Japanese.)

Bite-sized News:


►As one Japanese girl makes contact with an estranged American dad, the Washington Post takes a look at effects a U.S. military base in Japan can have on families. Of note: "A generation of biracial Okinawans know about intercultural relationships, writ small. They know about romance and separations, child-support battles and reunions. They know that Japanese children refer to their biracial peers as 'halfs,' and nowadays, they know of the local American-Asian school, for biracial children, where those kids are taught to call themselves 'doubles.'"

►In Japan UNIQLO drops Japanese for English as the official store language. 

►Japan's 'hot dog king' bows out of this year's annual Nathan's Famous 4th of July hot dog eating contest on Coney Island, where he won six time is a row 2001-06. While he'll be missed, we have video of him showing how to gobble the goods at our April j-CATION table talk.

►The recent scandal where Sumo wrestlers and officials organized an illegal baseball betting pool went before the Japan Sumo Association this week. The board called for the suspension or resignation of all those alleged to be involved.

►Paris expects nearly 200K people for the biggest ever Japan expo this weekend.

►Did Japan's 382 million mile there-and-back-again asteroid probe achieve its mission? The New York Times wants to know.

The Times also has a must-see and a must-read this week. Chief film critic A. O. Scott notes  I Was Born, but... is "one of a handful of silent, black-and-white old movies that have the power to make all the subsequent advances in the medium look redundant." (Now playing at IFC in NYC.) In addition, the book section writes that David Mitchell "meticulously" recreates Edo-era Japan in his new book The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and applauds his mastery "not only of virtuosic literary fireworks, but also of the quieter arts of empathy and traditional storytelling."

The Telegraph excerpts Jake Adelstein’s fascinating book about the Tokyo underworld.

►On the heels of news that Japan Rail will begin installing safety screens at all subway stations in Tokyo, a salaryman saved a woman who had fallen onto the subway tracks by jumping down and pulling her into the gap between the platform and the tracks.

►Japan brewers use seaweed to come up with sake dark.

►As if the World Cup was not enough: Japan lost to the U.S. to advance to the world softball finals.

►Say chirashi! Japan Times posted their latest photo contest winners.

►BoingBoing has a video of a Harvard research project that created self-folding origami. The comments section has some cool ideas for practical applications.


N.O., S.J.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

JAPAN CUTS Launch!

From Confessions

JAPAN CUTS is upon us! Tonight's opening screenings are the North American premiere of Sawako Decides [review] at 6:45 followed by the SOLD OUT screening of Confessions (here's a review if you don't already have a ticket).

The screenings are followed by an informal get-together, with beer and various refreshments available. If you have tickets, be prepared to provide each other emotional and psychological support after the darkly intense Confessions.

There are many other special screenings and events at JAPAN CUTS this year:

• Director Toshiyaki Toyoda holds film intros and Q&As for his films Hanging Garden and Blood of Rebirth.

• Masanori Mimoto, the main actor of Alien vs. Ninja attends the July 3 screening as a guest of NYAFF and will take part in a Q&A.

• Director Isao Yukisada and actor Tatsuya Fujiwara are on hand for the July 10 screening of Parade, and the director will also be there for screenings of his other film, Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World.

From Parade
• Two of the three auteurs behind Mutant Girls Squad, Yoshihiro Nishimura and Noboru Iguchi, hold a Q&A after the screening.

• Here representing Oh, My Buddha! are director Tomorowo Taguchi and actor (and singer) Daichi Watanabe.

• The closing film of the festival, Sweet Little Lies, has a Q&A with its director Hitoshi Yazaki.

And let’s not forget to mention the parties! In addition to the Launch Party on opening night, there’s the Sushi Typhoon Party on Saturday July 3 following Mutant Girls Squad. Come dressed as an alien, ninja or mutant girl, and help celebrate the launch of the Sushi Typhoon DVD label! On Saturday, July 10, there’s the Night of the Filmmakers Party following Oh, My Buddha! Keeping with the 1970s setting and laid-back hippie vibe of that film, Night of the Filmmakers will be a throwback to the time period.

From Bare Essence of Life (Ultra Miracle Love Story)
Although we at the Japan Society strive to provide you with a hearty smorgasbord for this year’s JAPAN CUTS, there really was a huge variety to choose from. Perhaps one reason for this is how the film business is works in Japan.

The Japanese film industry is structured pretty differently from Hollywood. In Hollywood, film productions – even "independent" ones sometimes – are overseen by major studios that provide the vast majority of the funding. In Japan, most major studios (Kadokawa, Toei, Nikkatsu) have less capital to invest in film productions, and therefore funding is often procured from other sources. Smaller, or boutique, film production companies, television stations, publishers, or corporations, from Japan or elsewhere (South Korea and France are two big examples) all invest in various Japanese films. This means that filmmakers can often have more creative leeway to make the films they want how they want.

Regardless of how the film business works in Japan, we’re just glad to have so much cool stuff to show you. Tickets are zooming off the virtual shelves, so take some time and reserve yours!

N.O.

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