Friday, May 28, 2010

America's Heroes: Meet Graphic Heroes

Starting Memorial Day, the National Endowment for the Arts and Blue Star Families have echeloned over 700 museums and galleries across America for the Blue Star Museums initiative.

Japan Society is honored to be taking part, inviting active duty military personnel and their families to enjoy Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters for FREE through the exhibition's June 13 closing. With New York City's Fleet Week in full swing, we'll start the Blue Star Museums action a bit early on Saturday, May 29.

Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters' 1850s pacific overtures are filled with selfless samurai, tattooed tough guys, lovely ladies, ghastly ghosts, cozy cats, and rockin' octopi. The critics have noted Kuniyoshi's "eye for the fantastic and the ghoulish remains unmatched," and his "greatest prints represent turbulent, epic visions" that are "as fresh as this morning’s manga."

Blue Star Museums lasts through Labor Day. Though Japan Society Gallery closes June 13 until fall, other New York City organizations taking part include: American Folk Art Museum, Asia Society, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Children's Museum, Bronx Museum, Guggenheim, The Jewish Museum, The Met, MoMA, Museum of Arts and Design, Museum of Jewish Heritage, Museum of the City of New York, New York Botanical Garden, New York City Fire Museum, New York Transit Museum, Noguchi Museum, Staten Island Children's MuseumWave Hill, and the Whitney.

This Memorial Day Weekend, Japan Society Gallery is open Friday until 9 pm, and Saturday & Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm. The Gallery is closed Monday. As always, members and children under 16 are free anytime.

Have a safe holiday!

(NO, SJ)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Goodbye for Now!

Hi there,

This is goodbye for now! My internship with Japan Society has ended. I hope to return to work on this blog in the future as I'm rather devoted to it.

Much luck to everyone!


Summertime and the Learning is Easy

Photo by Kenji Takigami
During July and August, the Corporate Program slows down and takes a well-deserved break but it's during these months that our teaching programs get jazzed up.

Our list of summer courses is extensive and covers all manner of ability levels and topics, including classes on mastering kanji and classes devoted solely to reading. What better way to escape the groggy summer heat than by sitting in a cool, air-conditioned classroom and sharpening your Japanese skills?

And we're not just offering lessons on language.

Nearly every year the Education Program invites high school students to participate in an 11-day immersion workshop on Japanese cuisine and culture, during which they examine the multifaceted history of Japanese cuisine in connection with health and wellness. And on the last day of the program, families and friends are invited to a Japanese-style reception where Japanese dishes and tea are served, including those prepared by chefs and participating students.

This is a great confidence booster for any high school student. For example, Josephine Ledda (grade 12) participated in the workshop in the summer of 2008 and remarked:

The great thing about the Japan Society is that they know how to approach teenagers in a way that'll encourage them to learn. When we took this cooking workshop, we weren't just learning about Japanese food, we were learning about a very important part of their culture. And who wouldn't want to learn about a country through their food?

You can find other participants' comments, photos, highlights, and activity descriptions of the program in 2008 on our website and if you're interested, don't hesitate to sign up for this summer's Japanese Cuisine 101.

And don't forget to check out the 2010 Course Catalog. I bet you'll find something whether you're just beginning, want to brush up your advanced skills, or need a quick conversation lesson.


Japanese + American

From the California roll to hip hop to Zen gardens, the cultures of the United States and Japan have crisscrossed the Pacific, profoundly influencing one another.

As New York City starts warming up for summer, Japan Society is taking a look at some of the amalgamations of Japanese and American culture over the last 150 years.

First, our Film department is bringing you Toyo's Camera: Japanese American History during WWII on May 28th (this Friday).

Although World War II was a bleak period for Japanese-American fusions, it is a worthwhile topic to begin such a discussion with because knowledge of the internment of Japanese-Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor remains surprisingly low in both the United States and Japan. To get a better grasp on the cultural exchanges of today, we should first learn about the history and the processes that brought us to the present.

Even though bringing in cameras to the internment camps was prohibited, one man managed to smuggle in his own camera lens and build a camera to document life behind barbed wires, with the help of other craftsmen in the camp. That man was Toyo Miyatake, a successful issei (first generation immigrant) photographer and owner of a photo-shop in the Los Angeles Little Tokyo district, and of one of the many Americans who was interned with his family against his will.

With his makeshift camera, Miyatake captured the dire conditions of life in the camps during World War II as well as the resilient spirit of his companions, many of whom were American citizens who went on to fight for their country overseas. Suzuki's documentary carries on the legacy of Miyatake's photography, addressing the historical context of the internment as well as the stories of other Japanese-Americans who were touched by this unfortunate chapter in American history.

The screening will be followed by a Q&A with special guests writer/director Junichi Suzuki and actor George Takei.

Although he is best known in the U.S. for his role as Hikaru Sulu in the television series Star Trek, Takei is also an outspoken proponent of gay rights and active in state and local politics. He has won several awards and accolades in his work on human rights and Japanese-American relations, including his work with the Japanese American National Museum.

Then prepare yourselves for a busy June!

Marc Peter Keane, "SHINSO: Where Forest Meets Field"
On Thursday the 10th, in this commemorative 150th year of the first Japanese delegation to the U.S., a distinguished panel will examine the influence, modification and adaptations of food, music and landscape architecture in Fusion in Motion: 150 Years of Japan-America Integration. This panel will include Theodore C. Bestor, Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University, Ian Condry, Associate Director of Comparative Media Studies at MIT and Marc Peter Keane, landscape architect.

The above picture is actually an example of Marc Peter Keane's zen-inducing garden trays for the Portland Japanese Garden in the autumn of last year. You can sense the luxurious quality of the materials he chooses to work with.

And on Monday the 14th, Senator Daniel Inouye, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, is going to address Japan Society. Long a champion of Japanese-American issues, Senator Inouye has been outspoken in urging the Japanese government to accept the relocation of Futenma within Okinawa and thus conclude these recently contentious bilateral negotiations.

But where would the fun be if we told you every exciting summer event we've got planned?

Make sure you keep an eye out for as yet unannounced programs!

News Blast

Photo courtesy of Kyodo News PR Wire
Hatoyama Cabinet to continue 'cool biz' campaign this summer

The government on Tuesday confirmed plans to continue this summer the "cool biz" light clothing campaign initiated in 2005 to help reduce air conditioning by setting office temperatures several degrees higher than usual. At a meeting of Cabinet members, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano instructed ministers to don traditional Okinawan "kariyushi" open-neck shirts at a Cabinet meeting June 1 to mark the start of the seasonal drive, during which men are encouraged not to wear ties or jackets.

Salmon takes over as top table treat in Japan

Salmon has overtaken horse mackerel as the most popular fish for Japanese people to eat, due largely to improvements in freezing technology that have raised the quality of imports as well as housewives' preference for a fish that is easy to prepare. The government released a study on fish consumption on May 21 in which salmon emerged as the most popular to eat at home, followed by squid and tuna, all of which are straightforward to turn into a meal. In 1965, salmon was not in the top five as it was much harder to find good quality fish because it deteriorated in quality as it was being shipped to Japan.

Cheap rent-a-car services revving up in Japan

Cheap rent-a-car services are starting to gain a foothold in Japan, with some outlets providing vehicles for about half the price charged by major car rental companies. Niconico Rentacar, one of Japan's biggest cheap rent-a-car businesses, operates a membership system with no initial fee or annual charges. Customers can rent a compact car for 12 hours for 2,525 yen or a regular sedan for 4,725 yen -- roughly half the price charged by other major companies. In the two years since its founding in 2008, the business has accelerated rapidly, and now operates 300 outlets.

Osaka seeks special business zone

Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto called on the central government Sunday to designate his prefecture as a special business zone that would serve as an entry point for businesses across Asia. The government has been considering legislating a system for special business zones, and during a meeting Sunday with Hashimoto, Senior Vice Cabinet Office Minister Motohisa Furukawa unveiled the administration's intention to submit the bill to the Diet early next year.

Is Japan becoming more insular?

With so much talk of globalization, it might seem counterintuitive to suggest that Japan is turning inward, but that's what some have concluded. The Washington Post recently focused on one example: the dwindling number of Japanese students studying abroad. Roughly 80,000 Japanese students now study outside the country, far fewer than, say, South Korea with less than half Japan's population. The fall has been particularly sharp in the United States, where Japanese undergraduate enrollment in universities is down by over a half since 2000.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Green & Clean

Photo courtesy of Virginia Gardiner

In Japanese, the word for "clean" and "beauty" is one and the same: kirei (きれい). With cutting-edge green technology and fixtures rendered into works of art, the Japanese bathroom has become an object of fascination and admiration worldwide.

For those of you who want to become experts on toilets, the reading list isn't long because not enough serious books have been written on the subject. However, your first step should be to buy a copy of Rose George's The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters (Metropolitan Books, 2008).

To quote from Virginia Gardner's thorough review:

"With good humor and deep seriousness, George travels the world and presents impressive research about the current state of sanitation. Colorful encounters with people and places are centered around dismal facts. 2.6 billion people worldwide currently have no toilets--as George puts it, "Four in ten people have no access to any latrine, toilet, bucket or box." Resulting waterborne illness kills about 7000 people every single day. The centuries-old solution that's still current--flush toilets with sewers--is already taxing the richest economies, and won't be sustainable anywhere in the long term. George asks why such a fundamental aspect of our designed lives remains on the margins of polite conversation."

On Wednesday, May 26, at 6:30 pm, Rose George and Gunnar Baldwin, water efficiency specialist for TOTO USA, Japan's leading luxury plumbing manufacturer, will explore high tech and eco innovation in the Japanese bathroom, and the prospects for their wide adoption in the U.S.

Japan Society has TOTO washlet toilets installed in all the bathrooms and I'd recommend them personally. Although, sad to say, my enthusiasm lies less in the eco-friendly nature of the devices and more in having a toasty toilet seat in winter.

Hope to see you on the 26th!

Cosplay Photos!

If our spectacular cosplay event on the 15th wasn't enough for you (or if you missed it) and you're simply dying to dress up, June 7th is International Lolita Day!

In honor of this event, Kinokuniya Bookstore in New York City is teaming up with Del Rey Manga, Samurai Beat Radio, and VIZ Pictures to hold the very first Lolita and Maid Day. So dust off your parasols and bonnets!

We’re proud to help create Lolita and Maid Fashion Day at Kinokuniya, New York Anime Festival Show Manager Lance Fensterman said. Lolita and Maid fashion have quickly become two of the most prolific ambassadors of anime, manga, and Japanese culture in America, and the New York Anime Festival couldn’t be happier bringing these fashions to New York City – the fashion capital of the world.

Kinokuniya’s Lolita and Maid Fashion Day will include special all-day activities as well as a series of Lolita and Maid-themed speakers and presentations. But what I'm most excited about is the cake!

Café Zaiya on Kinokuniya’s second floor is going to be serving up a special menu of Lolita and Maid-themed desserts made especially for Lolita and Maid Day.

There's more information here.

Monday, May 17, 2010

News Blast

AP Photo/Junji Kurokawa

Beauty products offer Japan women rare promotions

It shouldn't be surprising that Panasonic's star manager for developing appliances for women is a woman herself - except that this is Japan, a nation notorious for holding back females in the workplace. The beauty products Shiori Yamada has developed and runs marketing campaigns for have turned out to be hits. And that was the easiest way to silence all the male skeptics at Panasonic Corp. One of Yamada's popular products, the ball-shaped Nano Care humidifier billed as moisturizing your skin, sold 350,000 in a year. She came up with an improved version that works while you sleep, a feature designed to appeal to busy working women.

Greek crisis to hit Japan indirectly

The Greek financial crisis is unlikely to wreak havoc on the Japanese economy, although a strengthening of the yen as a result of the euro's depreciation will inevitably affect exports bound for Europe, according to some economists. But they caution that Japan shouldn't regard the crisis as just something happening on the other side of the planet and the nation must work hard to rebuild its finances, which are actually worse than Greece's.

Japan, China in spat over nuclear arsenal  

Japan has urged China to cut its nuclear arsenal or at least to stop stockpiling more atomic weapons, prompting a strong reaction from Beijing at their foreign ministers' talks, officials said Sunday. The rare demand came when Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada met his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi at regional talks in South Korea Saturday, said Kazuo Kodama, the press secretary of Japan's foreign ministry.

Japan to make high-tech bid for 2022 Cup 

Japan plans to use its technological expertise to win the right to host the 2022 World Cup. Members of Japan's 2022 World Cup Bid Committee gave a preview on Monday of some of the advanced technology they plan to use for hosting football's quadrennial showpiece. Japan officially submitted its bid to host the 2022 World Cup on Friday when organisers took their bid book to FIFA in Zurich.

Prized Japanese social values that withstand 'Westernization' 

Japan is a fascinating and beautiful country, but its culture can be baffling to Westerners. This seems especially true for Americans, with our long history of geographic and cultural isolation from Europe and Asia. In their quick visits to Kyoto's majestic Buddhist temples and Tokyo's ultramodern glitz, our tourists catch a glimpse of the old versus the new. But they get almost no real contact with Japanese people. As for those motivated by commerce, most Americans realize soon enough that guidebooks on "how to do business with the Japanese" are cliched, oversimplified and even misleading.

Meet Japan Society's New Chairman of the Board: Wilbur Ross

We were thrilled to announce today that Wilbur L. Ross is the new Chairman of the Board, effective June 9.

Mr. Ross, Chairman & CEO, WL Ross & Co., LLC, spoke to The Wall Street Journal* about his appointment and noted, "the world has become more interconnected, making relations with Japan--America's fourth largest trading partner after Canada, Mexico, and China--more relevant today than ever."

Upon his election, he said "I have witnessed Japan Society's power to connect the people of the U.S. and Japan firsthand as a supporter, a participant in its galvanizing programming, and, in the last few years, as a member of its Board. Where mutual understanding remains our mission, I am excited to further support the Society as it seeks a broader, more continuous relationship between the people of the U.S. and Japan."

Since 2000, WL Ross & Co. LLC has underwritten Japan Society's Corporate Program and recently renewed their support as a program partner.

A collector of Japanese photography, Mr. Ross supported Hiroshi Sugimoto: History of History at Japan Society Gallery 2005-06, as well as the Society's 2007-08 centennial celebration.

As a participant in Japan Society programming, Mr. Ross spoke at a major corporate restructuring symposium, presided a Japanese economic recovery discussion with Hiroshi Watanabe, Vice-Minister of Finance for International Affairs of Japan, and talked with Scott Callon of Ichigo Asset Management, Ltd., to discuss the firm's landmark decision to launch what became Japan's first successful proxy solicitation.

Mr. Ross has served on Japan Society's Board of Directors since February 2005. He is a gala chair for the Society's 2010 Annual Dinner on May 24, keynoted by Jamie Dimon, Chairman & CEO, JPMorgan Chase & Co.

*Note: The WSJ article inaccurately reported this appointment marked "the end of an era" for the Rockefeller family's involvement with Japan Society. In fact, we received a generous gift from the Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Fund during our 100th anniversary year; our centennial gala dinner honored David Rockefeller, Sr., and Senator John D. Rockefeller IV introduced President Clinton's keynote; and Justin Rockefeller currently serves on our Board. Kudos to WSJ though for highlighting our Language Center and the U.S.-Japan Innovators Network, two important JS programs that the media tends to overlook!

Photo Credit:  Wilbur L. Ross, Jr. (left) greets Fujio Cho, Chairman, Toyota Motor Corporation (right), in 2007 at the "Centennial Speakers" lecture series during the Society's 100th anniversary year. Photo (c) Ken Levinson.


Since he recently appeared on the cover of New York Magazine, I think it's safe to say that David Karp is a hot topic these days. When you consider the exponentially rising popularity of tumble blogging platform Tumblr, the reason why becomes clear.

It's hard to beat Doree Shafrir's introduction to Karp as it appeared in The New York Observer back at the beginning of 2008. So I won't try:

"When the 21-year-old Internet entrepreneur David Karp was 17, he moved himself to Tokyo for five months—he prepaid the rent on his apartment because he was under 18—where he continued working as the chief technology officer of UrbanBaby, the New York-based message board and e-mail list for overprotective parents with a lot of disposable income and free time on their hands. He had been home-schooled since he was 15, after dropping out of Bronx Science, and had been taking Japanese classes at the Japan Society on 47th Street."

Yep, that's us! I'd suggest reading the rest of her article, if you get the chance, as it is an in-depth telling of Karp's fascinating history and unique trajectory. However, much like the clipping below (which comes from Page Six Magazine of The New York Post), it is just a touch outdated.

But what from 2008 isn't by now?

When Japan Society first decided to get into the blogosphere, Tumblr came immediately to mind and indeed, you can find us at as well as on Twitter. While this blog serves as a hub and Twitter is great for quick updates, our Tumblr allows us to drum up enthusiasm for Japan Society through the sharing of individual photos and quotes with other Japan lovers on a less rigidly structured platform.

Karp is actually in Japan right now and, as you can imagine, he posts frequently. You can check out his personal Tumblr at Perhaps someday you'll also be able to see him speak at Japan Society...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

You want to learn more about Japan?

I have a few ideas.

National Geographic has a great Japan Quiz on their website that's pretty informative. Do you know the last time Mount Fuji erupted? How about the average weight for top level sumo wrestlers or common Japanese hangover cures?

I only got 4 questions out of 10 correct, sad to say. Maybe if I went to the Scarsdale-based non-profit International Lifelong Education (formerly known as the Japan America Learning Center), I would have been more prepared. Reporter Stacy Smith recently featured the ILE in a heartfelt piece for Chopsticks NY. Here's a brief excerpt:

"When you are a child, the opportunity to learn Japanese and experience the culture is invaluable.  Young minds are highly malleable, and I would not be the person I am today if it wasn’t for my sensei’s revolutionary classroom style.  It was the cultural aspects of Japan, unusual to me at the time, which really intrigued me and made me want to stick with Japanese.  I flashed back to this time during a trip to the Scarsdale-based non-profit International Lifelong Education (I.L.E.), formerly known as the Japan America Learning Center. Along with a potpourri of other classes, Japanese is offered at this facility, and its cozy atmosphere and stellar Japanese staff make it ideal for those looking to study this language."

Unfortunately, some of us are no longer children. But some of us have matured onto bigger and better things (like teaching), in which case there are a few other fonts of Japanese knowledge to be visited.

About Japan is an online resource for teachers run by Japan Society's Education Program but really, it's a great learning tool for anyone--like they say, the best way to learn something is to teach it. I just love the range of topics they cover. You can watch survivors of the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima discuss their experiences, paper cranes, and 9/11 and then right after, you can learn about canned whale meat.

Or for those of you who like your knowledge straight up on the rocks with no frills, there's Facts and Details: a comprehensive site with just that.

News Blast

Copyright © 2010 AFP
Tokyo samurai women punish fat with sword workout

Japan's ancient samurai swords were once used to slice apart enemies, but in a new fitness craze they serve to slash away at extra pounds and cut down on modern-day stress instead. "Cut down!", a sword-wielding instructor shouted during a recent "Samurai Camp" gym session in Tokyo as a squad of sweat-drenched women warriors followed suit, slashing the air with their shiny blades. "Put your right foot forward, cut down straight, thrust out your chest, no bending of the back," the instructor yelled to the sound of a techno dance beat and swooshing weapons. "Punish the extra fat with this!" To avoid turning the health workout into a bloodbath, the swords are made of wood and urethane foam, but the determination of the participants is steely: the goal is to shed five kilograms (11 pounds) in about a month.

U.S. transport chief test-rides Japan magnetic train

The U.S. transport chief took a test ride Tuesday on Japan's super-fast magnetic train, a contender for President Barack Obama's multi-billion-dollar national high speed railway project. Japan is up against China, France, Germany and other bidders as it seeks to sell its Shinkansen bullet and magnetic train systems for the American rail plan, which is backed by 13 billion dollars in public funding. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he looked forward to "the thrill of a lifetime" as he boarded the train for a 500 kilometre (310 mile) per hour ride at the Yamanashi Maglev Test Line near Mount Fuji.

One-on-one counselors to be introduced to support jobless people  

The government decided Tuesday to introduce counselors to support those who are unemployed over a long duration one-on-one in fiscal 2011. At a meeting to tackle the unemployment issue, Deputy Prime Minister Naoto Kan said, "It is necessary to support needy persons individually and continuously." The government plans to allocate the costs for the program in the fiscal 2011 national budget. The counselors are expected to help unemployed people find jobs and accommodation.

WHO: Japan's life expectancy longest at 83 years

Japan and San Marino in Europe have the world's longest life expectancy at 83 years, according to the World Health Organization. On Monday, the U.N. body released World Health Statistics 2010, which is based on surveys conducted in 2008 and covers 193 WHO member countries. By gender, Japanese women boast the longest average life expectancy at 86 years, followed by France, Andorra and Monaco at 85 years. Japanese men were ranked 4th at 79 years, following San Marino at 81 years, and Iceland and Switzerland at 80 years.

Tokyo matchmaking services getting more diverse

Matchmaking services in Tokyo now come in a variety of forms -- even one aimed at bringing together cat lovers. So-called "cat cafe" Nyafe Melange in Tokyo's Ebisu district, where cuddly cats are on hand to be petted, is hosting lessons for singles on photographing their favorite animal. "There are many people who are getting bored of the ordinary style of matchmaking events, in which men go around the seats to talk to women," said Kazumi Nokajima, organizer of the event for cat lovers.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Time to Break Out your Gundam Suit, Bunny Ears, and Oversized Sword!

Since last year's Cosplay Party was...

...rather popular, we're doing it again!

At 2:00pm on Saturday May 15th, the huge Cosplay Party begins! Included will be a screening of Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone (2010, 100 min., Japanese with English subtitles, PG-13) in our big screen theater, delicious onigiri (riceballs) and tea, a photo booth, free admission to Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters, and of course...


We're holding a costume competition all day Saturday with special appearances from Uncle Yo, Mario Bueno, World Cosplay Summit 2009 Team USA, and manga Artist Hiroki Otsuka. Prizes are coming to you from Kinokuniya Bookstore and the musical entertainment is none other than cosplay DJ Ruby Red.

We can't wait to see what you guys come up with this year!

Get into the Groove

The New York Times featured a hearty preview of this weekend's STEIM events in the Weekend Arts section last Friday which included an interview with STEIM's artistic director, Takuro Mizuta Lippit:

"For 40 years the institute has offered electronic music innovators opportunities to work with designers, engineers and other musicians, Mr. Lippit said. Though Steim artists have visited New York before, Mr. Lippit said it was rare for the whole institution to be represented, as it will be at Japan Society."

We also had a preview feature on that included an interview with Japan Society's own Performing Arts & Film Director, Yoko Shioya, who was quoted saying:

"Put it this way, the layer of the musicians and composers in electric music in Japan is very thick—therefore, many types of musicians emerge…Japanese musicians in this genre have been quite influential in the international music scene."

You can find clips of STEIM's Mobile Touch Exhibition on our YouTube channel and watch as children and adults alike take advantage of the rare opportunity to make their own music on STEIM’s wild collection of invented electronic instruments, including the Finger Web, the Cracklebox, the Voice Scratcher and the Headbanger.

Also, don't forget to check out a video of STEIM's killler performance at Japan Society from May 8th!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Poles of Japanese Film

One thing I love about Japanese film is that it can be classic, elegant, and dignified or it can be garish, spastic, and barely clinging to any semblance of sanity.

This month we're bringing you both ends of the spectrum!

© Kadokawa Pictures, Inc.
First, on May 14th we're giving you the epitome of the matatabi (samurai gambler) movie: Lone Wolf Isazo, one of Raizo Ichikawa’s most spectacular performances.

Employing flashbacks within flashbacks and a brooding romantic style poised somewhere between Budd Boetticher and early Sergio Leone, director Kazuo Ikehiro charts Isazo’s descent from chivalrous naïf to vengeance-obsessed cynical wanderer, giving a definitive chronicle of the loneliness of the long-distance wanderer.

© Kadokawa Pictures, Inc.
Immediately after Lone Wolf Isazo, we're showing The Devil's Temple.

In this little known Kenji Misumi masterpiece, an abandoned temple nestled in the mountains is the scene of a fateful encounter between a Buddhist monk, two women in love with the same man, and a fallen samurai (Shintaro Katsu, at his most ferocious). As destinies collide: it appears that not just the lives of the quartet are at stake, but their very souls. Hell awaits!

Both films are the finale of the our Monthly Classic Series, The Double Edged Sword: The Chambara Films of Shintaro Katsu & Raizo Ichikawa.

© RoboGeisha Film Partners 2009
Then, on May 18th we're throwing RoboGeisha at you!

From the demented imagination of director Noboru Iguchi (Machine Girl) and special effects savant Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police) comes this brain-blasting vision of the future of genre cinema which defies description, sanity and good taste.

The evil, Tea Party-esque Kageno Corporation wants to return Japan to more traditional values and the weapons in their arsenal include their massive Geisha Army, two supernatural bikini-clad assassins and a plan to detonate a nuclear device on Mt. Fuji. But that's not enough! They're so evil that they also recruit two sisters and turn them into....RoboGeisha! However, RoboGeisha have uncontrollable hearts and it's not long before one of them begins to wonder if there's more to life than being a kimono-clad, robotic killing machine.

The screen swarms with nutso concepts like acid breast milk, butt swords and fried shrimp weapons while peekaboo sexiness and goofy ultra-violence are the order of the day. One part Japanese schoolgirl melodrama, one part grindhouse swordplay, one part open-plains chambara and one part Daimajin-esque, city-stomping "suitmation," RoboGeisha might just be the one cult movie to rule them all.

Might want to get your tickets for this one online before the crowds snatch up all the seats!

Annual Sake Tasting

Photo courtesy of The Japan Forum

Rice, water, koji and the skills of the brew master are touted as the most important elements in sake brewing. However, sake brewing goes through several important steps at the end of the process, including filtration, pasteurization, bottling and maturation, which together hold great sway over the final flavor of the sake.

At Japan Society's annual sake tasting event this year (Amazing Leverage: The Final Steps of Sake-Brewing), sake expert John Gauntner will explain how these simple-sounding, but very important processes, affect the distinctive flavors of sake.

Our Sake Tasting & Lecture has featured Mr. Gauntner, who is widely considered the world's leading sake educator, for the past three years. A founding member of the Sake Export Association, Gauntner is the author of The Sake Handbook, The Sake Companion, and the co-author of Sake, Pure & Simple, as well as Nihonjin Mo Shiranai Nihonshu No Hanashi (The Story of Sake Even the Japanese Don’t Know).

You can learn more about Mr. Gautner and the sake brewing process in detail at his website, but if you want to get the jump on the other event attendees and impress him with your wealth of Japanese alcohol knowledge, you can also check out our earlier post on temperatures to serve sake at or simply explore The Japanese Food Report for articles about sake.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Japan and Friends: Foreign Relations

"East Asia is dominated by the security triangle between the US, Japan and China," writes John Hemmings for East Asia Forum. He goes on to explore three interpretations of this triangle: realist, liberalist, and constructivist.

This was an insightful article and highly relevant to topics being discussed at Japan Society, in recent events and upcoming ones, such as the Corporate Conference on May 19th: Celebrating 150 Years of U.S.-Japan Trade Relations: Promoting the Next 150 Years of U.S.-Japan Business Collaboration.

Panelists Edward Lincoln, Shinichi Nishimiya, Tadayuki Hara, Hajime Ito

In 1860, as the Tokugawa era drew to a close, the Kanrin Maru, captained by Kaishu Katsu, set sail for San Francisco, marking the first time a Japanese-piloted ship crossed the Pacific. 2010 is the 150th anniversary of this extraordinary but little known historical event -- the first official Japanese mission to the West following over 200 years of self-imposed isolation.

In combination with the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Japan Security Alliance, this 150-year milestone is a testament to the importance of this essential bilateral relationship. However, Hemmings' conclusion sums up the future of the situation well:

"The US-Chinese-Japanese security triangle is a complex situation. Discussing it through the prism of three international relations theories helps to clarify possible developments. But this discussion has shown that, even if one of these theories is adopted at the expense of others, future movement remain hard to predict."

News Blast

Photo courtesy of Popsci

Japanese group aims to put humanoid robot on moon by 2015

Looking largely to inspire dreams of space among the Japanese, a manufacturing cooperative named Astro-Technology SOHLA announced on April 27th that they are planning to create and send a two-legged humanoid robot to the moon, have it draw the Japanese flag on the surface, and then hopefully get it back to the Earth, all by the year 2015. Making inspirational ideas about space technology a reality is not new to the Osaka-based cooperative of six small and medium sized enterprises. SOHLA had previously built a small-scale satellite, named Maido-1, as a demonstration of the ability of SMEs to research and create short-term, low-cost space technology which could help improve local economic activity.

Number of children in Japan falls to record low for 29th year in row

The number of children in Japan under the age of 15 is estimated to have dropped 190,000 in the last year to 16.94 million, marking a record low for the 29th consecutive year, the government said Tuesday. In a report issued on the eve of Children's Day, a national holiday, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said kids comprised 13.3 percent of the population as of April 1. It was the 36th straight year the percentage has fallen and remained the lowest worldwide.

LDP to submit draft constitutional revisions

The leading opposition Liberal Democratic Party has decided to submit a draft proposal of constitutional revisions to the current Diet session, after the National Referendum Law is enforced May 18, sources said. The LDP is primarily considering easing the requirements for amending the Constitution, which are stipulated in Article 96 of the nation's top law. As the Deliberative Council on the Constitution in each chamber of the Diet has been dormant, there is no prospect the draft will actually be examined. Nevertheless, the LDP is aiming to demonstrate its resolve for constitutional revision ahead of the House of Councillors election in summer.

Portable beauty appliances powering lunch-time pampering

Younger women wanting to pamper themselves in the office are providing a ready market for a new breed of portable electric devices. While older generations of women may have tended to confine their crimping and preening to their own boudoirs, twenty- and thirtysomethings are increasingly demanding electric beauty equipment they can take on the go. "Men cannot even imagine the 'heat' in ladies' rooms at work places during the lunch break or after work," one female employee of an electric goods manufacturer said.

Japan's Green zones itchy to be global geoparks

Local residents and groups across the nation are stepping up efforts to have their areas certified as global geoparks, where rare landscapes useful for learning how the Earth was formed will be preserved and utilized as natural parks. Preparations are under way in eight areas, such as Muroto in Kochi Prefecture, to follow in the footsteps of Itoigawa river in Niigata Prefecture, which became the nation's first global geopark last year. Associations to promote areas as global geoparks have been established in 20 regions, including the Chichibu area in Saitama Prefecture. Geoparks are areas that are internationally certified as geological inheritance parks, where precious geographical landscape or geological layers remain.

What a Busy Weekend!

Taiko Masala, courtesy of Brooklyn Botanical Garden
The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens hosted a a phenomenal weekend celebrating Sakura Matsuri and Japanese culture that showcased over 60 events and performances, including Taiko drumming, Okinawan pop, a Samurai drama, sushi-shaped cookies, anime stand-up comedy, and so much more!

Japan Society ran its own booth, which was maintained by some of our diligent staff members. Our payroll manager, Manuel Martinez was pleased to note that many of the adults that accompanied the younger crowd enjoyed stopping at our table, asking questions, and picking up our pamphlets. And Cynthia Sternau, our publications manager, had this to say:

"The lack of cherry blossoms and NYC's usual weekend transportation snafus didn't stop the crowds of garden lovers and Japanophiles from pouring into the BBG for the Sakura Matsuri this past weekend. Japan Society's table was located in the Osborne Garden, right off the Eastern Parkway entrance, under a nice pink tent but a bit too close to the J-Lounge's sound system (Taiko & Tap was really loud!). Our gorgeous Kuniyoshi palm cards featuring four woodblock prints from the current Gallery exhibition were much admired! In fact, compliments were paid to Japan Society's programs by many who stopped by the table, including mentions of a late night at j-CATION and Film's recent "Dangerous Women" series. In fact, it was a whole lot of fun and very good outreach to take Japan Society to Brooklyn for the weekend."

That same Sunday, children and adults celebrated Children's Day (Kodomo no hi) here at Japan Society. There were performances of Japan’s classic children’s stories Peach Boy (Momotaro) and Golden Boy (Kintaro) and also song and dance related to the festival by Theatre Arts Japan – KIDS, directed by Eriko Ogawa. The attendees of this popular event enjoyed traditional snacks and created their own samurai helmets (kabuto) and carp streamers, which are traditional Children’s Day decorations.

If you wandered through Times Square afterwards, you probably ran directly into demonstrators, who were led by Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba and Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue.

The mayors and visiting atomic-bomb survivors, as well as members of nongovernmental organizations from around the world, held a 2-km march to seek the elimination of nuclear weapons ahead of a major nonproliferation review, reported The Japan Times. Calls for a nuclear-free world were also made at other events in New York, many led by Japanese campaigners who were visiting the city to have their voices heard at the five-year U.N. Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference that started on Monday and will run through May 28.