Wednesday, March 31, 2010

News Blast

'Doraemon' author's museum to feature 50,000 original drawings

A museum dedicated to the author who created "Doraemon" and other popular cartoon series will feature around 50,000 original drawings, the desk and other items the late cartoonist used as well as his cartoon characters, planners announced Monday. The Fujiko F. Fujio Museum is scheduled to open Sept. 3, 2011 in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, the city where he spent more than three decades till his death in 1996. The three-story structure will have a total of around 5,500 square meters, according to an outline unveiled.

Toyota takes steps to improve image

With its reputation severely damaged by safety issues, Toyota Motor Corp. announced several steps Tuesday to improve its image, including the establishment of a panel of regional and local quality-control executives that will call the shots on recalls and other steps. The committee, which held its first meeting Tuesday, will also share global information on claims, defects and recalls more speedily, Toyota said.

Japanese man faces execution in China

Beijing has notified Tokyo of the imminent execution of a Japanese man sentenced to death for smuggling drugs, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qing Gang said Tuesday. It will be China's first execution of a Japanese national since the two nations normalized diplomatic relations in 1972.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Accounting for Financial Reform

"While Europe stalls, Japan has raced ahead to become the largest economy so far to take advantage of new accounting rules reformed in the wake of the banking crisis. Japanese companies began using the International Acc­ount­ing Standards Board’s (IASB) new fair value rules yesterday, increasing pressure on other developed nations to adopt as well. It is the first stage of a three-part revision of the fair value standard. The rules, redesigned with banks in mind, use a mixed-measurement model to value assets at either their market price or amortised cost."

-Mario Christodoulou, Accountancy Age

As part of an agenda for global financial reform, the Group of 20 Leaders (G20) have called for standard-setters to re-double their efforts to achieve convergence in global accounting standards by June 2011. At the same time, the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) is midway through its own comprehensive response to the financial crisis. Both endeavors are likely to result in a period of change for Japanese companies, investors and others involved in financial reporting.

Sir David Tweedie, Robert Herz

On April 7th at a corporate breakfast at Japan Society, Sir David Tweedie, Chairman of the IASB, will provide his own observations on the opportunities and challenges of financial reform, and his desire to see Japan play a leading role in shaping the future direction of global financial reporting. The Presider will be Robert Herz, Chairman, Financial Accounting Standards Board.

A Fresh Approach to Japanese Food

"I think Japan's traditional businesses are a rich heritage," says Nicolas Soergel, a French and German dual national and an eight-year Japan resident. "The problem is that no one is there to inherit them."

According to The Japan Times, Soergel is trying to revamp Chinriu Honten, a 140-year-old food business based in Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, which he runs along with his wife, Takako Komine. The firm, which specializes in selling umeboshi, yuzu (citrons) and other preserved foods, was founded by Monya Komine, who back in the Edo Period served as chief chef for Odawara Castle. Soergel's wife took over the family business in March as its fifth-generation president, with him joining as managing director.

What a lucky article to find less than two weeks before j-CATION! New approaches to Japanese food will be celebrated thoroughly thanks to the many Food Vendors and the array of drinks served in the j-Lounge.

FPA Event of the Week Video

Good news! 

Our event on March 19th, Obama's Internet Initiative & Social Reform in the U.S. & Japan was declared as The Foreign Policy Association's Event of the Week Video, a video series that highlights the most critical and influential lectures, discussions and gatherings in New York City related to U.S. foreign policy and global affairs.

Be sure to check out this enlightening lecture!

Tokyo Collection Week

The Mainichi Daily News has a great photo series on the 10th Tokyo Collection Week, which took place from March 23 to March 26 and was held primarily at the Tokyo Midtown shopping complex.


Aimed at sharing Japanese fashion with the world, some 40 brands unveiled their 2010-2011 autumn/winter collections. Collection newcomer Entoptic, by designers Wataru Matsumoto and Kenta Kakinuma, kicked off the show. Mainichi described the line as expressing "threat and protection" in clothes adorned with thorns and furs wrapped around models' bodies, depicting independent, modern urban women.

To get the complete lowdown on designers featured, notable collections, and killer photos, go to the official site for Japan Fashion Week.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Driving into the Future

Going green on the highway is all the rage today--but what will the green car look and drive like down the road?

At Japan Society on March 30th, Thomas Stricker, Corporate Manager, Technical and Regulatory Affairs and Energy & Environment Research Group, Toyota North America, Rich Steinberg, Head of the Electric Vehicle Operations and Strategy Group, BMW North America, and Bill Visnic, Senior Editor, Edmunds', consider the green car of the future. The panel will be moderated by Micheline Maynard of The New York Times, who covered some of Toyota's recent ups and downs.

Last November in Washington D.C., Mr. Stricker spoke on the topic of environmentally friendly cars and Toyota's strategy for a sustainable future. He highlighted the need to craft not only smarter cars but a smarter infrastructure to support new technologies while reducing the cost. Watching the video of his 5-minute speech is pretty enlightening as to the real possibilities of the success of the hybrid car.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

j-CATION: Blindfold Taste Tests

We had a very interesting afternoon at Japan Society today, doing some prep work for Clash of the Foodies, a live game show taking place during j-CATION that will challenge all five senses. Colorful teams of food experts and Japan enthusiasts from across the city, including pop superstars Our Hit Parade and Queen of Squeeze Amazon Annie, will gather to compete and prove themselves number one!

What is it?

We're not going to tell you!

You'll have to wait until April 10th to find out what's in store for the blindfolded contestants!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Japan and Friends: Foreign Relations

"Last Wednesday at the Grand Prince Hotel, the Japan Institute for International Affairs convened a symposium on the East Asian Community. With the opening speech delivered by Hatoyama himself, and a promise to broadcast the entire proceedings both domestically within Japan and overseas, the event was quite high profile," writes Joel Rathus in his recent article Japan’s early moves on the East Asian Community. "The presenters themselves represented the cream of Asia’s Track II diplomacy. This was underlined by the fact that, in addition to handshakes with Prime Minister Hatoyama, Foreign Minister Okada met with the international guests over dinner at the Foreign Ministry’s official guest house that evening. The conclusions of the symposium will surely find a place (at least informally) in the policy-making process of Japan, and perhaps more broadly."

In his weekly editorial on East Asia Forum, Peter Drysdale adds, "A crucial question is whether the United States should be invited to join the enterprise. No step forward in consolidating East Asian regionalism can be taken without consideration of trans-Pacific economic and political security interests and the US interest is welcome. But the US is not a natural fit in the economic integration agenda that East Asia needs to work up in detail within EAS and US participation within EAS itself would be awkward logistically. Which is where Australian Prime Minister Rudd’s Asia Pacific Community idea comes into play. If, and as, EAC moves forward it makes good sense to tie its development in tandem with entrenching a comprehensive (Asia Pacific Community) dialogue between Asia and the United States (and probably Russia). And that is where there would seem to be a great deal of complementarity between Mr Hatoyama’s and Mr Rudd’s thinking about the evolution of regional architecture. In the coming weeks we shall post contributions from top analysts from across the region on these and related issues."

News Blast

Déjà vu in Japan’s agricultural policymaking

The Hatoyama administration has approved a fiscal 2010 budget containing ¥561.8 billion in expenditure on a new ‘individual household income compensation system’ (kobetsu shotoku hoshō seido) for farmers, to be launched in April. This income subsidy will compensate farming households for losses incurred as a result of higher production costs and lower market prices. The scheme will begin with a ‘model project’ targeting rice farms nationally.

Google's China exit means Asian success hinges on Korea, Japan

Google Inc.'s looming withdrawal from China adds to pressure to expand in South Korea and Japan, where the Web-search company has won a fraction of the popularity it enjoys in the U.S. and Europe. There is little doubt that Google's Chinese search engine will be shut down after a two-month standoff with Chinese authorities. Efforts to gain traction have paid off for Google elsewhere in Asia, including Japan, where it took the top spot from Yahoo Japan Corp. Google had 48 percent of Web searches in Japan in February, up from 40 percent a year earlier, according to ComScore. Yahoo had 43 percent.

S. Korea, Japan inch closer to shared perception of history

History scholars from South Korea and Japan have wrapped up a 30-month study aimed at reconciling widely differing views of their shared past, producing one modest agreement and reconfirming that the formerly bitter rivals have a long way to go before resolving all points of contention, including Japan's colonization of Korea. Still, the study was significant in that the two sides clearly identified their differences and provided the basis for future discussions that the neighboring nations hope will lead to a joint history textbook, South Korean researchers in the joint committee said Tuesday.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Play Company in association with Japan Society presents…

The Play Company is producing the English-language premiere of Enjoy, a play by wunderkind playwright Toshiki Okada. The play will run on Tuesdays and Sundays from March 27 to April 25. Dan Rothenberg, Co-Artistic Director of Philadelphia’s Obie Award-winning Pig Iron Theater Company, directs a cast of American actors in this new English translation.

Following the lives and romances of 20 and 30-somethings who work part-time in a manga café in downtown Tokyo, this slacker comedy of manners reveals a portrait of Japanese youth culture adrift and illustrates the current socio-economic rifts in Japan that have widened the gap between generations.

Toshiki Okada, Japanese playwright/director/choreographer and founder of the red-hot theater company chelfitsch, is going to lead an intensive workshop for choreographers, dancers and physical theater artists at Japan Society on Monday, March 29 from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM!

Okada, whose award-winning play Five Days in March was presented at Japan Society last year to much buzz, has become the most talked-about theater artist in Japan and Europe for his use of “super-real” dialogue accompanied by a choreography made up of exaggerated everyday gestures of fidgets and twitches. Okada’s workshop opens up the possibility of theater and dance vocabulary to include these quotidian movements, and to go beyond “real” to find the hyper-real.

John Lipsky and Asia's Wealth

In a speech at the China Development Forum in Beijing John P. Lipsky, who is the first deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, offered a grim prognosis for the world’s wealthiest countries, which are at a level of indebtedness not recorded since the aftermath of World War II. This is according to The New York Times article I.M.F. Gives Debt Warning for the Wealthiest Nations published yesterday.

Mr. Lipsky has imparted some of his valuable knowledge at several Japan Society events before, in 2003's Has Japan Turned the Corner? A View from the U.S. Treasury and most recently, December 2009's View from the IMF: Building a Post-Crisis Global Economy.

At the April G20 meeting in London, the IMF underwent a significant strengthening of its role and lending capacity. Today it sees primary challenges as moving beyond the current fractured international financial system in restoring global growth on a more balanced and sustainable basis while preserving open global markets, and seeking to combat social strains wrought by the Great Recession.

Here is an excerpt from Sunday's article:

"Mr. Lipsky said the average ratio of debt to gross domestic product in advanced economies was expected this year to reach the level that prevailed in 1950. Even assuming that fiscal stimulus programs are withdrawn in the next few years, that ratio is projected to rise to 110 percent by the end of 2014, from 75 percent at the end of 2007.

The ratio is expected to be close to or to exceed 100 percent for five members of the Group of 7 countries — Britain, France, Italy, Japan and the United States — by 2014. Canada and Germany are the other G-7 members.

“Addressing this fiscal challenge is a key near-term priority, as concerns about fiscal sustainability could undermine confidence in the economic recovery,” Mr. Lipsky said. Maintaining public debt at post-crisis levels could reduce potential growth in advanced economies as much as half a percentage point annually, compared with projections before the crisis."

Environmental Art

In an era when living and working mindfully of natural resources is more critical than ever, artists are fusing their creative life with environmental consciousness:

Mariko Mori is a wildly popular contemporary artist whose massive installations encompass "life and death, our role in and with nature."

With innovative buildings throughout the world, the "accidental" environmentalist architect Shigeru Ban "isn't comfortable with the word 'green,' which he finds vague, not to mention fashionable, although his projects are often described as such."

Grammy and Academy Award winning composer (not to mention co-founder of the seminal 80s techno pop band Yellow Magic Orchestra--remember "Computer Games"?) Ryuichi Sakamoto says, "we must take care of our environment... you still eat every day, you breathe air and drink water. That is the environment within you and you are a part of it."

As part of the Green Japan series, Japan Society presents Conscious Inspiration: Juxtaposing Nature & Art Form on Tuesday, March 23, bringing together these three artists to explore connectivity between nature and art and discuss how their relationship with the environment has influenced their creative processes.

The panel is moderated by Stefano Tonchi, editor of T: The New York Times Style Magazine, who has a gorgeous (and surely environmentally conscious!) home. (SJ)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Internet & Social Reform in the U.S. & Japan

Joshua Fouts, Kevin Werbach, Toshihiro Yoshihara, Devin Stewart

Above are some of the participants of March 19's luncheon lecture, Obama's Internet Initiative & Social Reform in the U.S. & Japan which was packed.

Kevin Werbach was quoted in a March 10th LA Times Online article about the ongoing tensions between Google and China. He said that though Google's unofficial motto is "Don't be evil," standing for ideals can be difficult when operating a huge multinational business.

"One reason so few companies make statements like 'Don't be evil' is that in reality the world is not black and white. You're going to come into situations where the right ethical answer isn't entirely clear, and the right economic answer isn't tremendously clear either."

Still, Werbach gave Google credit for making a principled stand, whether or not the company had fully anticipated the implications for its business. The article is definitely worth reading. And if the chemistry between the internet and politics and ethics and economics interests you, Joshua Fouts's Dancing Ink Productions hosts a selection of articles on creativity and the virtual world.

Devin Stewart has also written a very long list of insightful pieces about a plethora of topics, from Toyota to human trafficking to climate change to the freedom of the press in the Arab world. But one article that caught my interest was called, Is Japan Giving Up? Stewart explores the national attitude in Japan and the impact of recent trends in behavior, economics, and foreign relations.

"It would be absurd to give up on a country purely on the basis of its national mood. In fact, Japanese manufacturing output has risen, GDP is picking up, exports have grown their fastest in 30 years, and the trends I have described will all be familiar to any Japan watcher. Moreover, Toyota's sales surged 48 percent last month in Japan. But I have never seen the mood bleaker. Let's hope that this new low provides a rock bottom from which Japanese optimism can rebound."

Recipes for a Good Time

Ahh, who doesn't love the beginning of spring? The sunshine, the smiling New Yorkers, the smells of delicious foods wafting out of open windows...

Alright, so I'm a little hungry. And j-CATION's still over two weeks away! But lucky for me, one of our favorite chefs Harris Salat of The Japanese Food Report is calling for recipe testers for his upcoming cookbook entitled "The Japanese Grill."

What does this mean? As a recipe tester, you'll be sent grilling recipes along with a response form. You'll cook them, and tell them what you think. Do the instructions work for you? Did the dish turn out delicious? (But, of course.) Anything confusing or unclear? No prior recipe testing experience required. All you need is a standard outdoor charcoal or gas grill (a Weber is perfect). They're looking for enthusiastic home cooks who hunger (so to speak) to learn more about Japanese cuisine and grilling. 

Speaking of gastronomic activities, the events and features of j-CATION are now listed on the webpage!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Saturday Double Feature

Saturday, March 20th

座頭市喧嘩旅 (Zatoichi kenka-tabi)
5 PM

Also known as Zatoichi and the Scoundrels. In chapter five of the Blind Swordsman saga, Zatoichi encounters a dying man who asks him to deliver the maiden O-Mitsu to her family. Feeling honor-bound to fulfill the request, the cane sword-wielding masseur goes on a perilous journey and soon finds himself between a rock and a hard place as rival gangs compete to kidnap his beautiful protégée for a ransom. There will be blood indeed!

切られ与三郎 (Kirare Yosaburo)
7 PM

In Scar Yosaburo, a band of yakuza ruffians mutilate the face of an actor after he is caught with the gang boss’s mistress. A misty, moonlit tale from the Kabuki repertoire and a stirring classic of the most artful category of samurai films, zankoku jidai-geki ("cruel historicals").

j-CATION in The New Yorker

The New Yorker commissioned an illustration to accompany their preview listing of j-CATION in this week's "On the Horizon" section. This is a very prestigious occurrence with lots of competition vying for listings, let alone an illustration!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

News Blast

Japan's famous Tsukiji fish market braces for tuna trade ban

As bartenders close the shutters in Tokyo's glitzy nightlife district, just a short walk away handbells ring in the pre-dawn tuna auctions in an old warehouse in Tsukiji. Veteran auctioneers call for bids for hundreds of snap-frozen tuna laid in neat rows in the world's largest fish market, the size of more than 40 football pitches. The famous market on Tokyo Bay, long a must-see tourist spot, is facing a disputed relocation plan in coming years - but another threat is looming large, a possible cross-border trade ban on Atlantic bluefin tuna.

Disney high-speed support may boost Japan, China trainmakers

Walt Disney World in Florida may be the next stop for bullet-train makers in Japan and China. Central Japan Railway Co. and China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Corp. are competing for the $8 billion President Barack Obama granted for 13 high-speed corridors across the U.S., including a Tampa-Orlando line that may include a station at the Walt Disney Co. resort in Orlando. The Japanese company, also known as JR Central, is eyeing North America as a shrinking population at home limits its growth.

Hatoyama's brother quits LDP, aiming to form new party

Former internal affairs minister Kunio Hatoyama, the younger brother of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, announced Monday that he has left the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party and will form a new party. "The current LDP alone cannot bring about a major change in Japanese politics," Kunio Hatoyama, 61, told reporters Monday evening after tendering his resignation letter to the LDP, indicating he hopes to create a new party before the Golden Week holidays starting at the end of April.

Kyogen: Traditional Comic Theater

Three hundred years before Jonathan Swift, satire thrived in the form of kyogen, the Japanese comedic theater. Kyogen, literally “mad words,” originated during the samurai era and features humorous stories of daily life laced with biting social satire directed against the samurai class that was the main audience for the plays. Led by Yamamoto Noritoshi—designated as an Intangible Cultural Asset by the Japanese government—Yamamoto Kyogen will offer Japan Society two kyogen comedies:

Shido Hogaku (Stop in Your Tracks): The classic kyogen tale of a master-servant relationship turned on its head. A servant is sent by his callous master on a shameful errand, and, in his spite, the servant vows to get his revenge. Hijinks ensue as the two engage in a riotous reversal of station, with the servant getting the last laugh.

Tsukimi Zato (Moon-viewing Blind Man): A farce in which a blind man meets a passerby on the road while enjoying a full moon and quickly becomes the object of a cruel trick perpetrated by the stranger.

You can watch a performance of Shido Hogaku here. Like in the video, Yamamoto Kyogen will be in Japanese at Japan Society, but English subtitles will be provided!

Friday, March 26, 7:30 PM   |   Saturday, March 27, 7:30 PM    |   Sunday, March 28, 2 PM

Friday, March 12, 2010

Maybe The Manga Ate Your Baby

Interview with Hiroki Otsuka, Japan Society's First-ever Mangaka-in-Residence

Sometime in the late 70s around the age of 4, little Hiroki Otsuka was bitten by the drawing bug and simultaneously consumed by Japanese manga—comics that have long been a popular form of literature in Japan, and have only recently become staples in Western bookstores, libraries and the secret compartments of adolescents across America.

In a story befitting a comic book hero, Hiroki's prodigious talent and lifelong obsession led to a professional illustration career in 1994. After 10 grueling years crafting 20 pages every week, he landed in New York and almost instantaneously began making his mark in the art world. After his first solo exhibition in 2005, he appeared in major U.S. galleries, art fairs in Japan and Europe, and group shows at venues such as The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and Japan Society. Most recently he had a large retrospective at Berlin's Kunstraum Richard Sorge.

Hiroki was drawn into the Japan Society family in 2007 when curator Eric C. Shiner included him among 33 artists in the Society's centennial exhibition Making a Home: Contemporary Japanese Artist in New York. In 2009, he created the illustrations for a Japan Society-commissioned multimedia dance by award-winning choreographer Jeremy Wade.

Whether a manga panel or massive mural, Hiroki's lithe black ink concoctions are alternate worlds—evocative, dark, playful, intricate, irreverent and intoxicating. The compositions are psychologically complex, the lines compelling, often cut with a single use of bold color. His characters' eyes glisten with piercing vacuity, yet their bodies emote powerfully through subtle tilts and gentle gestures. For every fluid stroke of sadness, there is dry dash of wit. Regardless of the image or scene, the depth of Hiroki's work can be attributed to his mastery of storytelling.

On the eve of Japan Society's spring exhibition Graphic Heroes: Magic Monsters: Japanese Prints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi from the Arthur R. Miller Collection, we sat down with Hiroki  to discuss life as an artist, the power of manga, and the host of activities he will be engaged in as Japan Society first-ever mangaka (comic book illustrator) artist-in-residence. Humble, easy-going and even easier to laugh, it was no surprise to discover that Hiroki still wholeheartedly embraces the childhood manga monster within.

Interview after the jump.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

We're All Over the Web!

Our Kuniyoshi exhibit (opening tomorrow!) received a Village Voice "Choice" this week featuring a half-page image in the print edition. We also received the cover of CityArts for an article about AsiaWeek. In addition, Elle Decor has featured the exhibit on this month's online "Design Calendar," and the über-hip Thrillist featured an over-the-top review today.

Check out what people are saying:

"...almost 200 years later, they look just as fresh and feisty as a contemporary cartoon."
-Elle Decor

"The venerable origins of bad-ass Japanese art."


"If you love anime and manga, you should especially attend."
-Village Voice

World Record Eater Will Be at j-CATION

Photo by Tien Mao for Gothamist
History went down (one man's throat) at Fulton Ferry Landing when champion eater Takeru Kobayashi broke the world record in meatball eating. How many meatballs can one human eat in one minute? That record was 26 until Kobayashi blasted it to pieces by downing 29.

It was all caught on film too. Check out the video here!

You will get the opportunity to meet him at Japan Society on April 10th at our food-themed festival! And luckily you don't need an appetite as large as Kobayashi's to enjoy everything j-CATION has to offer. ;)

News Blast

Japanese gaming to profit from child subsidies

Japan's gambling industry is expected to be an unlikely beneficiary of a national child subsidy scheme, which aims to shower parents with cash and encourage young couples to start families. Pachinko parlours - the cacophonous pinball arcades that claim about 23 trillion yen in illegal gambling revenues every year - are expected to perform especially well. The monthly family benefit payments are perfectly suited to fuel a couple of hours' play.

Shipment of nuclear waste arrives from U.K.

The first delivery of at least 850 canisters of high-level radioactive vitrified waste arrived Tuesday morning by ship from the U.K. in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, where it will sit in storage for decades before being buried deep underground. Antinuclear activists argue that with no local government yet willing to host a final disposal site and concern over the international security and environmental risks of transporting so much nuclear waste between the U.K. and Japan, the shipments should end.

Japan's spouse hunters hone skills at marriage school

In search of Mr. or Mrs. Right, dozens of Japanese are attending a newly launched school in Tokyo that aims turn them into marriage material. The Infini school offers various classes for wannabe brides and grooms at a time when many people in Japan are either shunning the institution of marriage or are finding it very difficult to hook up with a partner. The school, which is open to men and women, teaches students how to talk, walk and present themselves elegantly in a bid to capture the hearts and minds of prospective partners and their parents, who are often a major obstacle to successful unions.

Japan and Friends: Foreign Relations

There has recently been some friction between Japan and the United States over the Futenma base in Okinawa and over the existence of secret Cold War-era agreements with Washington that, among other things, had allowed American nuclear-armed warships to sail into Japanese ports in violation of Japan’s non-nuclear policies. Martin Fackler for The New York Times summed the issue up succinctly:
"The existence of the pacts, known in Japan as the “secret treaties,” has long been known from declassified documents in the United States and the testimony of former American and Japanese diplomats. But successive prime ministers denied their existence, turning the agreements into a symbol for many Japanese of how Liberal Democratic governments had turned their country into a stunted democracy run without full consent by the public."

After ending the Liberal Democrats’ nearly unbroken 54-year grip on power last summer, the new Democratic Party government opened an investigation into the pacts as part of their promised housecleaning of Japan’s postwar order. Exposing the truth about their nation’s secret dealings with the United States was also part of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s pledges to put Tokyo on a more equal footing with Washington. This fed concerns among some in Washington, particularly conservatives, that revealing the treaties was part of an effort by Mr. Hatoyama’s administration to push away from the United States."

Tobias Harris contributed some much-needed perspective on both situations in his essay Japan: The importance of open diplomacy for East Asia Forum, which was posted today. Here is a snippet:
"The Hatoyama government deserves some blame for not being clearer about why it wanted a review in the first place, which enabled some to paint the government as anti-American. But those who see the Futenma dispute in the worst possible light have misinterpreted the Hatoyama government’s position. I think that the Hatoyama government is approaching Futenma less as a foreign policy issue than as a domestic policy issue, because a bilateral agreement as complicated the realignment plan involves too many actors within Japan to be simply a bilateral matter for governments in Tokyo and Washington. Indeed, if the 2006 agreement has a flaw it is that the Koizumi government acted without the full approval of Okinawan constituents, which explains at least in part why subsequent LDP governments did little but drag their feet on implementing the agreement."

According to The New York Times, by March 3rd the Japanese government had approached United States officials with a tentative proposal for resolving a festering dispute over the American air base in Okinawa. The proposal would relocate the Futenma Marine Corps air station, a busy helicopter base, from a crowded city in southern Okinawa to a less populated area in the island’s north, but would be smaller and have a diminished impact on local residents and the environment than previously agreed upon.

It is unclear whether the proposal is going to be acceptable to Washington, or indeed to members of Prime Minister Hatoyama’s own coalition, particularly the Social Democratic Party, a tiny leftist group that wants the base removed from Japan altogether. Harris concludes:
"But whether or not the Hatoyama government succeeds, it is important to recognise that it is acting on the basis of an old idea, that a democratic foreign policy must necessarily be conducted in the sight of the people in whose name it is being conducted. In its pursuit of this aim, the Hatoyama government has also implicitly suggested that an alliance conducted behind closed doors is inappropriate for a more democratic Japan, that the alliance will not endure if it continues to rest upon secret agreements and understandings."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Brutes, Beauties & Beasts

Calling all manga lovers!

Sign up for one or more two-hour sessions with internationally acclaimed artist, Hiroki Otsuka, Japan Society’s Mangaka-in-Residence. Start your visit by seeing our exhibition: Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters: Japanese Prints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi from the Arthur R. Miller Collection.

Choose one or more of the five themes from the show as the inspiration for your character: Warriors, Beautiful Women, Theater, Landscapes, and Humor. Workshops take place on the first floor in the Murase room amidst a bamboo garden and an indoor waterfall.

The first residency of its kind in the United States in terms of content, scale and breadth of public engagement, Hiroki Otsuka will create an original full-length manga (Japanese style comic book) inspired by the work of Kuniyoshi—often working on site and visible to visitors. In addition, Otsuka lends his talents to an array of related activities, including the illustration workshops for the general public and New York City high school students (mentioned above), devising and judging an international manga competition, blogging about his work and experience at Japan Society, and creating original Kuniyoshi-inspired artwork to be made available to the public.

Otsuka will also participate in Japan Society's food-themed all-day festival j-CATION (April 10), and the Society's second annual cosplay event, Cosplay Party 2.0 (May 15), for which he will create promotional artwork.

"Kuniyoshi's love of complex narrative, his busy, frenetic style, his powerful characterization, his inventive use of space, and his mass-market appeal all mark him as a grandfather of contemporary manga," says Joe Earle, Director of Japan Society Gallery and organizer of Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters. "We are underlining the parallels between Kuniyoshi’s work and contemporary manga by asking Hiroki Otsuka—an outstanding manga artist living in New York—to serve as our mangaka-in-residence, inspiring visitors by creating his own meta-narrative about Kuniyoshi and his work."

Otsuka's yet-to-be titled original manga, which begins production on the March 12 opening of Graphic Heroes Magic Monsters, centers on a teenager who comes to Japan Society's exhibition as part of a school group. The student literally gets drawn into the artwork as a Kuniyoshi-inspired warrior and is called on to save New York City from the multitude of monsters marauding throughout Kuniyoshi's prints.

Obama Mixing it Up

Probably in response to the growing competition,, by far the largest social network in Japan, is no longer an invite only service.

Led by Japan’s 40th richest man according to Forbes, Mixi boasts over 25,000,000 users, a revenue per member 3 times bigger than Facebook, and attracts several times more visitors than Bebo on a worldwide basis. It has a quasi-monopoly among similar services in Japan (crushing international giants like Facebook or MySpace) and has recently started to diversify it’s offerings with new features such as iPhone apps and a micro-blogging platform similar to Twitter.

Mixi is just one of many Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) that have the power to improve productivity, help create internationally competitive businesses and that represent a key to social and organizational reforms. President Obama used ICTs effectively during his presidential campaign. Now in power, his administration makes aggressive use of the social networking tools to develop stimulus policies and other governmental operations. Here, ICTs are not just tools for election campaigns, but for realizing civic participation and transparent policy-making.

Also important is the vibrant blogosphere where discussions about the future of media industries and Internet firm business models are influencing corporate strategies. A pattern is emerging where corporate and policy decision-making is shaped by open Internet-based discussions. Japan has advanced broadband infrastructure and excellent entertainment services. However, comparable progress in reforming business and society is lacking, a problem the Democratic Party of Japan seems keen to address.

Friday, March 19th, Japan Society is hosting a panelist discussion to discuss these topics that's completely free to the public:
Obama's Internet Initiative & Social Reform
in the U.S. & Japan

Kuniyoshi Mention in Time Out New York & The New Yorker

While The New Yorker is featuring Kuniyoshi's “Hatsuhana Prays Under a Waterfall” on their Goings On About Town page, Time Out New York noted that

"Nobody at Japan Society would blame you for confusing Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s richly hued paintings of muscular samurai warriors facing off against wild-eyed sea monsters and evil spiders with a graphic-novel illustration. In fact, in its new exhibit, the institution seeks to further emphasize the strong connection between the 19th-century Japanese artist—who created more than 10,000 works in his lifetime—and contemporary manga and anime...The exhibit is divided into subsections (“Warriors,” “Beautiful Women,” etc.) that highlight both the artist’s range (creepy skeleton prints might be mere steps from a quiet, serene portrait of Mount Fuji) and his marketability."

Above is Kuniyoshi's Ariōmaru Kills a Giant Octopus, circa 1833-1835. In Japanese medieval military chronicles Ariō was a servant of Priest Shunkan who gave particularly loyal service during Shunkan's banishment and death on Kikai island. The inscription in the top right of the picture tells how Ariō killed a giant octopus during his journey to Kikai island to join his master.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

News Blast

Japan PM in a bind as upper house election looms

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, his party flagging in polls ahead of a mid-year election, promised on Monday to find a way to regain public backing but said he was not considering a cabinet reshuffle now. Only one in four voters plan to cast their ballots for his Democratic Party in an upper house election expected in July, a Yomiuri newspaper survey showed on Monday, as funding scandals and doubts about the premier's leadership erode his support.

U.S. sees 'critical role' for Japan on Iran

A top U.S. official said Friday Japan has "a very critical role" to play in international efforts to limit Iran's nuclear ambitions as the West pitches new sanctions against Tehran. Japan -- which relies heavily on Middle Eastern oil and, unlike its chief ally the United States, maintains relatively cordial ties with Iran -- next month takes the rotating chair of the U.N. Security Council.

Korea, Japan to sign e-government deal

Korea is set to export its e-government systems to Japan a hundred years after it was forced to adopt Japan's administrative system and rules under its colonial occupation. Korea and Japan will sign an agreement on e-government cooperation and technological exchange later this month, according to a government source. Korean IT companies have sold electronic government systems to Japan's local governments since 2004, but it will be the first such deal between the central governments of the two countries.

Artists: Yoko Ono & Japanese Contemporary Artists in New York

Yoko Ono is forever associated with the Beatles, yet her aristocratic family life in imperial Japan, long before she met John Lennon, was equally intriguing. Yoko is back in Japan for a three-week trip and, for the first time, has agreed to a journalist (Craig McLean of The Times Online) accompanying her to write about this side of her multi-faceted life:
"She may not look it, but Yoko Ono, a woman who has survived three decades of tragedy, debunking and myth, is now 77 years old. For many of those years, she has been blamed, perhaps unfairly, for the break-up of the world’s best-loved musical partnership: she was the woman who came between John Lennon and Paul McCartney, insisting on being in the studio as the band disintegrated. She also cradled Lennon just a few seconds after the fatal shots from a revolver rang out on a cold New York night in December 1980.

As she has grown older she has become — perhaps inevitably — more reflective about her past. She has mellowed and in recent years visits to Japan have become more frequent. She returned with Lennon several times in the 1970s at a point in his life when he had all but disappeared from public view."

Japan has been a constant presence in New York since 1860, when Walt Whitman witnessed a samurai delegation riding down Broadway. Not long after the first political and commercial visits, awareness of Japanese art began to trickle into Gotham, slowly at first but later building into a thriving network of creative exchange.

From October 2007 to January 2008, Japan Society featured 33 selected artists, all Japanese-born yet extremely diverse, and Yoko Ono was among them. The exhibition, entitled Making a Home, consisted of six sections that were linked by ideas the artists associated with “home,” ranging from comfort and safety found in physical structures to angst and loneliness experienced when living in solitude.

All of the Making a Home artists are true citizens of the world who have ventured beyond their homeland to enjoy the advantages of being an artist in New York, as well as experience the uncertainty that comes with starting afresh.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Japan Society in New York Mag

New York magazine featured our upcoming Utagawa Kuniyoshi exhibit in their Art section! Here's an excerpt from their attentive and generous review:

"In an almost 50-year career, spanning the first half of the nineteenth century, Kuniyoshi pushed across boundaries. He uses every part of the frame, deploying strong colors and powerful forms. He also works many genres: landscapes, beautiful women, actors, cats, and mythical animals, not to mention the battles of samurai and legendary heroes for which he is best known. Formally, he is brilliantly innovative: His three-panel compositions revolutionized Japanese art by spreading one image over an entire triptych. Less obviously (at least from our vantage point), he fought the censorship that was imposed in Japan in 1842, fashioning colorful scenes of monsters and demons that contain oblique symbols. They were subtle enough that the bureaucracy permitted his work to be published and widely distributed, while his knowledgeable audience could spot the subtext.

The immediacy of these prints helped attract crowds to last year’s Kuniyoshi retrospective at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, and it should do the same when the exhibition comes to the Japan Society on March 12. It’s nearly all drawn from the collection of Arthur R. Miller, who taught civil procedure at Harvard Law for 36 years, has moderated several acclaimed public-television series on the law, and is now a professor at NYU. “Power,” he said, when I asked what it was about Kuniyoshi that initially captivated him. “I’ve always liked military history, and I liked the images of the samurai and the warriors.” Over 30 years, Miller has acquired close to 2,000 of the 10,000 prints that the artist is thought to have produced."

APEC Japan 2010

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (or APEC), which turned twenty years old last November, is seeking a fresh way forward against the backdrop of the global economic crisis and the need to further boost open trade and investment in the Asia Pacific region. The coming two years offer Japan and the U.S. a golden opportunity to coordinate their efforts in support of the shared APEC goals, as Japan will host the 2010 summit in November in Yokohama while the U.S. will host the 2011 summit in Hawaii.

Unfortunately, the private sectors of both Japan and the United States tend to have at best a vague understanding of APEC's goals and accomplishments. Japan Society is here to help!

APEC 2010 SOM Chair Ambassador Shigeru Nakamura of Japan and his U.S. counterpart, U.S. Senior Official for APEC Kurt Tong, are going to join us on March 15th for a corporate luncheon to discuss the principal themes for APEC Japan 2010. These include regional economic integration; a strategy for promoting balanced, inclusive and sustainable economic growth; and further emphasis on human security issues to protect societies against a multitude of threats including natural disasters, terrorism, food security and pandemics.

The internet has been buzzing about Japan's new role as the APEC chair. The Japan Times discussed the busy year ahead and on East Asia Forum, Christopher Findlay of Adelaide University intelligently analyzed APEC's goals:

"Balanced, inclusive, sustainable and knowledge-based – these are the dimensions of growth which APEC is talking about. Put their first letters together and you get BISK.

This agenda comes out of a number of forces for change, including the response to the global financial crisis, the concerns which have been raised about the distribution of the benefits of growth within economies (and between them), the intersection of these developments with the climate change debate, and the twittering rate of technological change in the digital world.

So BISK wraps up these forces for change. There are at least two sets of issues. One is what it really means. Is there a core component or is this another list in the APEC list of lists?"

Make sure to read the rest of the article to learn more and then, armed with knowledge, come to Japan Society on March 15th to participate in what should be a fascinating discussion!

Thursday, March 4, 2010


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

From The Japanese Food Report, the magnificent blog by Harris Salat of our event Japanese Hot Pots to Warm Your Soul, comes another post that's too yummy not to discuss.

Salat discusses the techniques of creating Japanese flavors using staples such as soy sauce, salt, sugar, vinegar, and miso. And he beautifully compares the subtleties in western cooking and eastern cooking:

Think about Western cuisine as a cuisine of impact. Butter, fats, herbs, spices are combined to create a flavor crescendo. Japanese cuisine, on the other hand, is concerned with balance. Sweet balancing salty, sweet balancing tart, seasonings balancing the natural flavors of ingredients. I read this difference described as a cuisine of addition (Western) versus a cuisine of subtraction (Japanese) — Japanese cuisine being focused on drilling down to the essence of an ingredient’s natural flavor. I also heard this difference, by the way, described as an oil cuisine (Western) versus a water cuisine (Japanese).

Definitely read the rest of his post!

Language Tips

It's not too late to sign up for the 2010 Spring Intensive Weekend Courses!

These are concentrated courses are held over two consecutive weekends that are designed to teach beginners basic conversational skills. They will be useful to people with traveling difficulties or scheduling problems, or who were too late to register or missed too many of our regular classes. They are also meant for people who are planning to travel or move to Japan.

These classes start this weekend so be sure to register quickly!

The internet is a treasure trove for those trying to master Japanese. Here are a few useful sites I've encountered lately:

Hills Learning: Highly Interactive Language Learning

Not only do they offer high-quality language classes, they also host a variety of events throughout the city, such as food tastings and networking events for those in Asia-related industries. Run by a young and energetic staff, there are a ton of opportunities to be found here.

The Ultra Handy Japanese Verb Conjugator

As stated, this site features a useful conjugator for Japanese verbs, but also included is a list of the most common verbs, a list of verbs that comprise of loan words + suru, and also a translation guide. While not the most comprehensive source, it's definitely worth having on hand for quick needs.

Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese

Resources and tools for the Japanese learner abound here. Whether you're looking for tips on your grammar or other students to chat to, this site is a willing and friendly study-buddy.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Artists: Paramodel & The Arts of Japan's Exploding Subculture

Paramodel is an artist unit formed in 2001 by Yasuhiko Hayashi and Yusuke Nakano. Their title is essentially a manifesto in sum--fusing the words Paradise, Paradox, and Model. In addition, the portmanteau plays upon the Japanese word puramodel (toy plastic dioramas). Through elaborate combinations of plastic toys parts with other everyday objects, they attempt to create blueprints of Paradise whilst underscoring life's paradoxes. Paramodel's expansive oeuvre ranges from massive, room-scaling installations, to mini-sculptures, with videos, drawing, and photography, and other media in between.

The above piece is called tommy sushi and it is featured in a series of similar sculptures that merge TOMY toy cars, plastic food models used by restaurants, and the dishes accompanying those cuisines.

Teriha Faye Yaegashi's interpretation from online gallery AZITO is too good not to repeat verbatim:  

"Strapped down to the toy cars, the plastic foods are readily docked onto the very dishes which would be used in their consumption. Yet, the cars cannot budge from the perimeter of the dish; the food cannot be consumed; and the viewer recognizes the paradox in having the exact collection of items needed for transporting food onto the table and into our mouths - and yet, not being able to perform either unction."

The best part? They're for sale!

Japan Society had a wild exhibition in Spring 2005 called Little Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture, a major exhibition not only featured in our gallery but also in installations of artwork in New York City’s public spaces and mass transit system. Like Paramodel, the art dealt heavily in the omnipresent plastic toys that have infiltrated our lives. So of course, Godzilla and a pair of Gundams were there, along with fantastic installation pieces like Teruhisa Kitahara's collection of Japanese vintage toys from the 1960s - 1970s below.

The exhibition explored the phenomenally influential manifestations of otaku culture -- the subculture of “geeks” or “pop culture fanatics”-- a fantasy world where apocalyptic imagery, fetishistic commerce, and artistic vanguards meet. The otaku culture, which emerged in the early 1980s, is obsessed with darkly fantastic science fiction, video games, comic books (manga) and film animation (anime). Little Boy features work by leading creators of these popular forms as well as paintings, sculpture, and installations by contemporary Japanese Neo-Pop artists whose work draws from otaku culture.

The exhibition, public art projects, and accompanying book created a dynamic arena in which to discover what Japanese critics, artists and intellectuals consider the most exciting and challenging cultural developments in Japan today.

Curated by celebrated artist Takashi Murakami, Little Boy was the final installment of his Superflat trilogy, a series of exhibitions that have introduced a new wave of Japanese art and explored the interrelationships between vanguard art, manga and anime, and their forerunner, Ukiyo-e woodblock prints.

To learn even more about the powerful yet subtle pieces (or to just check out awesome pictures of the art), check out our Event In-Depth page.

Happy Hinamatsuri!

The above picture is from The Mainichi Daily News Photo Journal. It features kindergarten children floating handmade hina dolls, with their wishes written on them, down the artificial Sakae River in Nagoya’s Naka Ward on Wednesday, March 3, in celebration of the Hinamatsuri, or Dolls Festival.

You can learn how to make your own origami hina or maybe just buy one that looks like Mao Asada!

Perfect Timing

One of Asia’s largest food and drinks fair, Foodex is the go-to event for Japanese and foreign companies to network and show off their products. Foodex Japan is held annually, welcoming 2,400+ exhibitors from 60+ countries and regions. It generally draws over 85,000 visitors over the 4-day show period. With over 30 years serving as Japan's top trade food and beverage show, the event is a platform for exhibitors and visiting buyers to meet and interact, offering key opportunities for dynamic discussions and business possibilities to enter Asian and global markets.

While j-CATION might not be able to host over 85,000 people (the Japan Society building isn't quite THAT large), you'll definitely be able to sample a feast's worth of foods and beverages. And of course, dance!

Since j-CATION is about a month away, a lot of my coworkers are buzzing about it and working hard to make it the best it can be. Even I've been called upon to lend a hand in thinking up mouthwatering tag lines for some of the workshops and events j-CATION is going to feature.

It looks like it's going to be pretty exciting!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

News Blast

L.A.'s Little Tokyo looks to save struggling newspaper

Mickey Komai opens one of the leather-bound books stored in his Little Tokyo office and delicately turns the yellowed pages filled with Japanese and English script. Here in the pages of the bilingual newspaper his family has run for most of a century is the tumultuous story of Japanese Americans in Southern California. The Rafu Shimpo covered acts to ban Japanese from owning land, bringing over brides and eventually immigrating at all. "Why do people hate the Japanese?" the paper plaintively asked in one 1926 issue. The Rafu declared its "100%" allegiance to America after Japan's 1941 Pearl Harbor attack even after its publisher, H.T. Komai, was one of the first Los Angeles Japanese leaders taken into custody by the FBI.

Japan's jobless rate falls, spending increases

Japan's unemployment rate fell for the second straight month in January and household spending posted solid growth despite a decline in wages -- further signs of recovery in the world's second largest economy. The jobless rate fell to 4.9 percent from a revised 5.2 percent in December, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said Tuesday. The result was better than the 5.1 percent expected by economists in a Kyodo News agency survey. "At least in the labor market, the worst is over," said Hideki Matsumura, senior economist at the Japan Research Institute.

Culture Bridges Korea-Japan Relations

Some foreign news outlets have shed light on the alleged bad blood between Koreans and Japanese based on Japan's annexation of Korea a century ago to interpret why Koreans were so attached to the 19-year-old. They said Koreans were overjoyed because Kim outperformed her Japanese rival, Mao Asada. But evidence supports the claim that the "Yu-na fever" has little to do with Koreans' deep-seated nationalistic antagonism against Japan. Some evidence indicates that Korea-Japan relations are improving.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Mad, Bad... & Dangerous to Know

At the opposite end of the stereotype of docile Japanese women—heroic good mothers, chaste daughters and hardworking faithful wives—actresses Ayako Wakao, Mariko Okada and Meiko Kaji embodied the transgression of limits, breaking rules, flouting norms and generally upsetting everyone.

This series explores the idea of unconventional beauty that these spellbinding actresses created through an unparalleled body of films. Both Wakao and Okada were muses and inspiration for two major film directors, Yasuzo Masumura and Kiju (Yoshishige) Yoshida, respectively, while Kaji navigated between filmmakers, a wild card of Japanese cinema at the time. Put together, their films delineate what one could call an aesthetic of “convulsive beauty” (André Breton).

The first fiesty film is Tattoo (A.K.A. The Spider Tattoo) featuring Ayako Wakao, Akio Hasegawa, and Gaku Yamamoto. Directed by Yasuzo Masumura. Adapted by Kaneto Shindo from the acclaimed 1910 short story by Junichiro Tanizaki.

This is a dark and erotic tale, Tattoo follows the descent of a woman whose extreme beauty and ferocious nature bring her to the abyss. Otsuya, the daughter of a wealthy pawnbroker, charms her weak-willed lover into eloping with her. As they try to escape, she is abducted and sold to a geisha house by unscrupulous ruffians. Soon, she catches the eye of a tattoo master who uses her body as a living surface for his unholy art: he engraves into her flawless ivory flesh a large and monstrous spider tattoo. As if under the invisible influence of its evil force, Otsuya grows ever more wicked as she excels in the trade she has been forced into, eventually consuming the lives of the unwitting men she holds in her thrall. Did the tattoo artist transform her into the creature she has become, irredeemably spoiling her soul and skin, or in fact unleash the beast within?

Since this is the opening screening, it's going to be followed by the DRESSED TO KILL party!

Better get your tickets soon. I get the feeling this film is going to sell out fast.

Recovery & Future Challenges in Asia & the Pacific

Tomorrow, Asian Development Bank President Haruhiko Kuroda is coming to Japan Society to discuss with us over lunch how to achieve a regionally integrated yet globally connected Asia.

However, Joel Rathus of Meiji and Adelaide Universities recently said on East Asia Forum:

"Much has been made of late about the possibility of Japan drawing closer to China. But on the major issues of historical record, trade, and security, Japan’s China policy is unchanged under the DPJ, and is unlikely to change in the near future."

It will be interesting to see what Kuroda predicts the future holds for Asia in light of Japan and China's continuing tensions.