Thursday, February 25, 2010

Toyota and the Green Car of the Future

Micheline Maynard, senior business correspondent for The New York Times, published "An Apology From Toyota’s Leader" yesterday, noting that, "In his testimony, Mr. Toyoda tried to reassure lawmakers that the company was addressing problems that led to the recalls. In addition, he said, the company was moving to repair its damaged reputation."

Back in October, Maynard held an event here to discuss how many Americans are uncomfortable about the influence foreign companies exert on our economy and to also promote her book The Selling of the American Economy, in which she argues that despite the lingering xenophobia that colors American perception of foreign-owned companies, foreign investments are actually an overwhelmingly positive force.

Plus she's going to be returning at the end of next month to moderate Green Japan Series: The Green Car of the Future, a panel with Thomas Sticker, the Corporate Manager of Energy & Environment Research Group of Toyota North America and panelists from Mercedes Benz and Ford Motors.

While they discuss what the future's green car will look and drive like on the road, it will be interesting to see what kind of an impact Toyota's current conundrum will have on their discussion.

Japan and Friends: Foreign Relations

Today on East Asia Forum there was an article entitled India’s deepening relations with Japan written by guest author, Nabeel Mancheri of Jawaharlal Nehru University. The article does an excellent job of summing up the history of relations between Japan and India post-Cold War, the status of the two nations' relationship now, and what the future holds.

This is just a taste (so be sure to read the full article later):

"Until the 1990s, the relationship between India and Japan had been highly asymmetrical. The Cold War created a strategic-political void between the two countries. Economically, India was too inward-looking to be of any great interest to Japan. The post cold-war realities, however, have been forging new strategic bonds.

As a result of the flowering relationship, 2007 was declared the Indo-Japan friendship year. The number of Japanese delegations visiting India over the past few years shows that India is a significant beacon on the Japanese investment radar. India, with its growing economic strength, has adapted its foreign policy to increase its regional as well as global influence, and Japan has been elevated into an important position within India’s ‘Look East Policy.’"

Notes from the Gallery

Your third sneak peek of our upcoming exhibition Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters: Japanese Prints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi from the Arthur R. Miller Collection comes to you from The New Yorker, who featured us in their much coveted “On the Horizon” section.

Hinamatsuri This Sunday!

A company in Tokyo that creates Hinamatsuri dolls has created a special doll modeled after figure skater Mao Asada, who is skating in the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games. She'd have a hard time ice-skating in all those ceremonial robes!

Hinamatsuri, also known as the Doll Festival or Girls' Day in Japan, is a time to wish for the health and future happiness of young girls. Every March 3rd, most Japanese homes with young girls display hina dolls, decorate them with peach blossoms and offer the dolls special colored and diamond-shaped rice cakes, white sake and other items.

Japan Society has an annual family program to celebrate where you can learn and enjoy musical performances and songs, as well as festival-related snacks and drinks. Children and families participate in decorating ceremonial dolls (hina-ningyo) and can create their own hina dolls to take home. (Boys are welcome to participate too!)

Our program this year is already sold out! However, any unclaimed tickets will be released for resale at the beginning of the program, so if you're desperate to come, there's still hope! If you're looking for a quiet and creative way to celebrate Hinamatsuri at home, make sure to check out our recent post on making origamiceremonial dolls (hina-ningyo).

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Another food-related post to whet your appetites for j-CATION!


This one comes from a fun article in The New York Times entitled Exploring Tokyo Through Its Ramen Shops:

 "Ramenate! is hardly the only ramen blog out there. There are dozens, many in English, many more in Japanese. Together they constitute but one small corner of Tokyo’s sprawling ramen ecosystem, a realm that encompasses multilingual guidebooks, glossy magazines, databases that score shops to three decimal places, comic books, TV shows, movies (like the 1985 classic “Tampopo,” in which a Stetson-wearing trucker helps a beleaguered widow learn the art of ramen) and, according to the Shinyokohama Raumen Museum (yes, there is a ramen museum), the 4,137 shops selling bowls of noodles in broth.

Still unclear? Well, combine New Yorkers’ love of pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers, throw in some Southern barbecue mania, and you’ve still only begun to approximate Tokyo’s obsession with ramen."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

News Blast

Tokyo Sky Tree to become a new peak for Tokyo -- but of what?

Despite the recent economic recession, Tokyo's pursuit of height shows no sign of slowing down, providing a lot more opportunities for its residents to enjoy the new facets of the city. The Tokyo Sky Tree, a broadcasting tower currently under construction in Tokyo's Sumida Ward, is now visible from various locations as it grows taller every day. The tower has already reached 300 meters high, and once completed, it will be the world's tallest self-standing tower at 634 meters.

Japan Plans to Ignore Any Ban on Bluefin Tuna

Japan will not join in any agreement to ban the international trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna under the United Nations treaty on endangered species, the country's top fisheries negotiator said. The negotiator, Masanori Miyahara, said in a telephone interview this week that Japan "would have no choice but to take a reservation" - in effect, to ignore the ban and leave its market open to continued imports - if the species was granted most-endangered species status.

Asia’s Boom Conceals Some Darker Prospects

Taiwan grew at an 18 percent annualized rate in the fourth quarter. Japan is about to have its biggest initial public offering in more than a decade. A big Hong Kong property developer quickly sold hundreds of apartments in a remote suburb over the weekend after bringing in thousands of potential buyers with free buses from the city’s center. It is beginning to sound a lot like 2006 in Asia. Or is it?

Notes from the Gallery

This is your second sneak peak of our upcoming exhibition: Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters: Japanese Prints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi from the Arthur R. Miller Collection.

(Missed the first sneak peak? Find it here)

The New York Times gave us a shout-out with a short article featuring the new exhibit and they made sure to mention the special treat we have for you. Japan Society is selling prints of the originals showcased at the exhibit! Right now, they're available online in three sizes, framed (in black, gold or espresso wood frames) or unframed, for $75 to $500.
Here's a snippet from The Times:
"The show includes more than 130 works by Kuniyoshi (1797-1861), a master of color woodblock prints — among them, vivid images like that of a warrior stabbing himself in the mouth with a sword and a boy grappling with a giant carp. Thirty-six of those prints, including the one above of a Buddhist monk hiking on a snow-covered mountain, can be purchased as very high-quality digitalized prints, even before the show opens. Although, as Joe Earle, the director of the Japan Society Gallery, noted: “The prints you buy are not the actual size of the ones in the show — some are bigger than the original, and some are smaller. This is to prevent anyone from passing them off as original prints.”"

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Artists: Sayaka Kajita Ganz & Contemporary Bamboo Masters

Sayaka Kajita Ganz is a Japanese sculptor who now resides in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Make sure to check out her gallery of breathtaking sculptures made from recycled materials. Her work as an undeniable elegance to it that captures movement effortlessly.

Acting as a delicious juxtaposition to Ganz's pieces is the work of contemporary Japanese bamboo masters whom we featured at the JS gallery during the 2008/2009 winter exhibit.

Over the past few years, Japanese bamboo artists have reached far beyond the established boundaries of their craft. Our exhibition was the first in the world to be devoted exclusively to Japanese bamboo as a sculptural medium, featuring 23 innovators, old and young, who exploit to the full the tension between traditional skill and new expressive opportunities. Ranging from ethereal, computer-designed filigrees, through dramatic wall pieces to angry-looking, dirt-encrusted tangles and anthropomorphic, sexually charged sculptures, the 90+ works we had on display demonstrated awesome technique, meticulous attention to detail, and extraordinary creativity.

The piece above, entitled Breath, was crafted by Honma Kazuaki (born 1930), who moved beyond simple sculpture and flower baskets in the 1960s to create a series of bamboo paintings that earned him the two Tokusen prizes necessary to become a full member of Japan's Nitten world. Honma is the only living bamboo artist to achieve this status and has used his position to encourage other bamboo artists to expand their vision.

Despite the drastically different mediums, the sculptures of Ganz and bamboo masters such as Kazuaki have an unmistakeable fluidity to them. There is life and movement captured in the exquisitely crafted pieces and it is obvious that they are devoted masters of the materials they employ.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

News Blast

Japan eclipses China as top US Treasury holder

China's holdings of US Treasury bonds tumbled in December, allowing Japan to take over as the top holder of American government debt, according to Treasury data released Tuesday. China's bond holdings dropped substantially to 755.4 billion dollars in the last month of December from 789.6 billion in November, said the Treasury's international capital data report. Japan's holdings increased to 768.8 billion dollars in December from 757.3 billion dollars in November, according to the data.

South Korea wants Japan to also introduce daylight savings time

South Korea hopes that Japan will join its push to introduce daylight saving time this summer in a move aimed at saving energy, Yonhap News Agency reported Wednesday. "It is true that Japan's stance is one of various factors in deciding whether South Korea will adopt the system," an unidentified official at the presidential office was quoted as saying. South Korea is contemplating whether to set the country's clocks forward an hour in summer, probably from April until September.

Japan's solar power capacity more than doubles in 2009

Solar power capacity in Japan rose to 483,960 kilowatts in 2009, 2.1 times more than the 2008 total, according to the Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association (JPEA). The new total -- based on shipments of solar energy systems -- marked a record jump in the nation's installed solar power base, with the previous highest increase coming in 2005.  

Women in a Holy Mess

Tsunko, a woman in her 50s, just broke up with her boyfriend, 20 years her junior. When two of her childhood friends come to her apartment and find it in total disarray, it doesn’t take long for them to abandon cleaning the place and start adding to the chaos with their own stories, secrets and losses.

Ai Nagai’s Women in a Holy Mess is a hilarious portrayal of post-menopausal life written by one of the most prominent and beloved female playwrights in Japan today. Co-founder of the acclaimed Japanese theater company Nito-sha, Nagai has won numerous awards, including the prestigious Kishida Kunio Drama Award, given annually to the best new Japanese play.

Women in a Holy Mess will feature a cast of American actors led by award-winning director Cynthia Croot at Japan Society on the evening of Monday, February 22nd. Following the reading, there will be a conversation with the artists and with Nagai herself via high-speed digital video conferencing.

Bonus: Performing Arts Network Japan interviewed Nagai in 2006 and her answers were honest and poignant. This is a short quote from her:
"Even though I have taken up this theme of what is happening in the public schools, I have not written it as a play of accusation. And, I believe that even if I took that approach, it would not be interesting. Instead, I wanted to write a play where we could experience what happens when a system is put in place that “forces” us to do something. We may read about these issues in the newspaper, but I think it is hard for most people to imagine the things that are actually going on in these situations and what the people involved are actually saying and doing and what the atmosphere is like. By writing a play about this issue, I first wanted to find out what I personally would experience. Then I wanted people to experience it through my play so that I could find out what they think."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Japan and Friends: Foreign Relations

Senior Fellow at the Japan Center for International Exchange, Hitoshi Tanaka, who spoke at Japan Society on January 14th about changes in Japan's foreign policy, recently published an insightful article on East Asia Forum about the state of the relationship between the United States and Japan entitled The US-Japan alliance: beyond Futenma. Here's a brief exerpt:

"The benefits for Japan are clear. The alliance was conceived during the Cold War as a mechanism to protect Japan from a single looming threat—the Soviet Union—that has since disappeared. However, the end of the Cold War has not eliminated Japan’s need for some sort of deterrence capacity. Nearby countries such as China and Russia have nuclear capabilities and North Korea is developing its capability. Japan cannot ignore this."

Also making an appearance on East Asia Forum's lineup was Tobias Harris of MIT, who we featured in an earlier post, with a piece on Okada Katsuya’s first time visiting South Korea as the foreign minister for meetings with President Lee and other senior officials. Here's a quote from his article, entitled Okada acknowledges past wrongs in Seoul:

"Japan has apologized to South Korea before, and many — not only conservatives — will wonder why Japan has to apologize again. Okada’s remarks provide some hint as to why Japan still has work to do on historical reconciliation. Rarely has a Japanese statesman shown that he is apologizing because he has looked at his country’s behavior through the eyes of its victims and come to appreciate just how destructive Japan’s actions were."

Destiny's Son (斬る)

Showing at Japan Society on Friday, February 19th

"Destiny's Son is like a haiku.  Lyrical, minimalist, a true gem."
- Patrick Galloway, Stray Dogs & Lone Wolves

In Kenji Misumi’s breakthrough film, Ichikawa seeks revenge and redemption after his family is murdered by a rival clan. An astonishing, dreamlike samurai film written by Kaneto Shindo, Destiny’s Son is a demonic masterpiece: designed with quasi-expressionist artistry, awash with surreal landscapes, and subsumed in an otherworldly beauty that fuses Zen and sword.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

7 Websites That Feature Incredible Photos of Japan

1. Stephen Wirtz Gallery: Michael Kenna

Check out the exhibition pages for Kenna's ghostly landscapes of Hokkaido in winter. Sublime photography adds an eerie quiet to the snowscapes shot in black and white.

2. Travel Japan Blog

Looking through this site means thumbing through the photo album of a sublime photographer and his adventurous family. Photos range from his children perched in front of breathtaking cityscapes to portraits of ancient Japanese temples to shots of quirky vending machines to an elegant series on the unpainted napes of geisha's necks.

3. More glimpses of unfamiliar Japan

Consistently beautiful gems of photo series found off the beaten track in Japan that span nature, architecture, culture, history, hidden nooks, and much more.

4. Tokyo Daily Photo

An almost daily photo from Tokyo, Japan that spans the absurd to the simple, the manga to the art history.

5. Fixed in Japan

A cyclist with a spunky attitude that shines through in all his vibrant photos.

6. Photographer in Japan

A finalist in the Photoblog Awards for Best Asian/Oceanian Photoblog 2008, has a knack for catching people and scenes at the perfect moment. Every shot is infused with spectacular emotion.

7. The Mainichi Daily News Photo Journal

Excellent snapshots of Japanese life from all over the islands from day to day with an interesting blurb accompanying each shot.



A Guide to Serving Sake

This is another in a series of yummy food-related posts to whet your appetite for j-CATION!


Harris Salat, of our event Japanese Hot Pots to WarmYour Soul, recently presented an interesting post on his blog about the proper temperatures to serve sake at along with information on the methods of heating the sake and some etiquette.

For those of discerning taste, there are eight temperature ranges to serve sake at depending on the time of year and the type of sake and the type of meal it's being served with. As a rule of thumb for the rest of us, he said you can't go wrong with drinking any sake at room temperature.

Here are a couple of other general guidelines taken from his post:

Fragrant sake (like gingo or daigingo): Drink chilled, around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, but don't drink it cold, which will kill the delicate aroma and taste (like drinking white wine too cold).

Unpasteurized sake (namazake): Drink it a little cooler, in the 41-50 degree range, to bring out its crisp, fresh taste.

Rich sake (like junmai or honjozo): These are perfect served room temperature or warm -- kan. What is warm? Body temperature (98 degrees) up to 110 degrees. (Perfect with hot pot, by the way.)

Read more on the fascinating aspects of sake at Salat's blog!

Origami Hina Doll Instructions

About Japan recently posted easy-to-follow instructions on how to make origami hina (dolls) to celebrate the coming of Hinamatsuri (Doll Festival or Girls' Day) on March 3rd.

Hinamatsuri (literally "Doll Festival" in Japanese) is a time to wish for the health and future happiness of young girls. During Hinamatsuri, most homes with young girls display hina dolls, decorate them with peach blossoms and offer the dolls special colored and diamond-shaped rice cakes, white sake and other items.

Originally, dolls were used as substitutes to protect young girls from misfortunes and were washed away in the river with the perceived bad luck. That practice transformed into decorating dolls and spread throughout Japan in the Edo Period (1603-1868).

News Blast

Nara fears 1,300th anniversary flop

The ancient capital of Nara is celebrating the 1,300th anniversary of its founding throughout 2010 with hundreds of events that officials hope will bring in nearly 13 million visitors and raise the city's profile domestically and internationally as a historical and cultural tourism center. But questions are growing about how successful the celebrations will ultimately prove, with concerns over the effect of the weak economy on events and attendances, a lack of foreign language tourism information and a local populace that has been slow to embrace the festivities.

Japan Airlines rejects Delta, stays with American

Japan Airlines, wooed for months by Delta Air Lines with promises of cash and a broad global network, is spurning the world's biggest carrier and opting to keep its alliance with American Airlines. Japan's flagship carrier says it will strengthen its partnership with American and apply to the U.S. government for antitrust immunity on trans-Pacific flights.

Hokkaido inmates making trash cages

Inmates at Abashiri Prison in Hokkaido are producing garbage cages that are winning strong popularity from resident associations and other groups because they save space and deter crows. At Abashiri Prison, 50 trash cages are made every month. They are priced in the ¥30,000 range, one-fifth to one-sixth cheaper than conventional trash bins.

Monday, February 8, 2010


Hungry? Get ready...

Take your taste buds on a trip to Japan as the first-ever j-CATION digs into the theme of Japanese food. Feast your eyes on Edible Cinema, drool over innovative bento box creations, and enjoy how-tos, tastings, and unexpected pairings of speakers throughout the day. Authentic and unusual drinks and bites satisfy cravings of the curious. The evening explodes into a feeding frenzy of music as the delicious sounds of Asobi Seksu deliver the main course. A D.J.'s mouthwatering, sweet beats rock j-CATION into the night.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

News Blast

Japan, China urged to take further steps in joint history research

Japanese and Chinese experts have compiled and released a report on the first joint research project they conducted on history. It is regrettable that its section describing the post-World War II period and the excerpts of their discussions are being withheld at the request of Chinese experts. Nevertheless, the move by the Japan-China Joint History Research Committee should be hailed as both countries, which have a bitter legacy from World War II, confronted historical facts and compiled a report.

Toyota on the hard shoulder

Japanese public debt is 200 per cent of GDP. Its economy is poised to be overtaken by China. Japan Airlines (JAL) is bankrupt. It is tempting to see Toyota’s defective accelerator pedal as part of the same story of failing Japan. To do so makes several mistakes. The first is to view Toyota as synonymous with corporate Japan, which it is not.

Full-body scanners for nation's airports in works

The government is considering installing controversial full-body scanners at airports following a failed attack on a U.S.-bound jet in late December, sources said Tuesday. The full-body scanners, which some other countries are introducing, are designed to produce images of the human body in white and all other foreign matter in black. They are considered more effective than metal detectors in spotting items hidden beneath clothes, but critics have raised concerns about invasion of privacy.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Wasabi On A Hot Dog?!

Remember that wildly popular event on hot pots we held? Get ready for our latest food forum: Wasabi On A Hot Dog?! - Rethinking Japanese Ingredients.

In this program, Michael Anthony, executive chef at Gramercy Tavern, and Craig Koketsu, executive chef at Park Avenue Winter, will explore how their fascination with Japanese ingredients have integrated them into their cuisines. Julia Moskin, who writes for the Dining Section of The New York Times is going to moderate.

Those of you with sharp eyes will notice that the chefs' names actually contain two links--I found awesome interviews I couldn't resist sharing!