Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Teaching Teachers About Japan, In Japan

Educators' Study Tour to Japan 2009 Participants. Photo by Kazuko Minamoto

Every year Japan Society sends US teachers and school administrators to Japan for research, to meet their Japanese counterparts, and bring their experiences and new knowledge back to the classroom in the fall. The program – the Educators’ Study Tour to Japan – has long been a valuable resource for middle- and high-school teachers who are interested in Japan and want to incorporate Japanese cultural, historical, or social material into their curriculum. This year the ten educators, from New York and New Jersey, teach a variety of subjects, including Social Studies, Literature, and Art, and will be tasked with completing an academic unit to be taught when they return.

Their itinerary is pretty full – they’ll visit Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and the ancient capital of Nara, among other places. In addition to meeting with Japanese teachers and students in Elementary and Secondary schools, participants have a couple of other great opportunities. They’ll meet Abbot Tsutsui of Todaiji Shrine in Nara, and also take a private tour led by him through the shrine itself. The abbot doesn’t ordinarily conduct tours, so this will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Participants also have a chance to meet Tsugio Ito, an A-Bomb survivor from Hiroshima. Ito is a powerful advocate for peace, having lost his brother in the bombing, and his son, many decades later in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. Here’s Ito’s moving discussion from last year’s trip: [video].

Perhaps the best opportunity for cultural immersion and exchange occurs when the teachers and administrators stay with two different Japanese families during their visit, from different places and different walks of life. First, they’ll be staying in Obu, a suburban town, and later in the trip, in Wakayama, with farming families. There are many tangerine (mikan) farms in Wakayama, and participants will be able to get some hands-on experience (and no doubt eat some super-fresh mikan!)

In off-moments from touring and meeting their Japanese counterparts, teachers will be gathering material and inspiration for their units. Their interests range widely – religion, history, environmental studies, and traditional arts being just the beginning.

Kazuko Minamoto, Japan Society’s Deputy Director of Education Programs, says that “Teacher education is very important. The impact they have on classrooms is great, and they can reach thousands of students over the course of their careers. Students will be more engaged by knowledge, stories, and material gleaned from first-hand experience than textbook learning.”

The participants in the 2010 Educators’ Study Tour to Japan are:

Tamara Acoba - US History, Government & Politics The Young Women's Leadership School (NY)

Gloria Adams - Visual Arts, Reading City College Academy of the Arts (NY)

Lisa Guttman - Visual Arts, Reading City College Academy of the Arts (NY)

David F. Jacob - Assistant Principal Clarkstown High School North (NY)

Christopher Kollarus - Global History, Geography Somers High School (NY)

Thomas M. Murphy - World, US, European History Marist High School (NJ)

Torianna Murray - Assistant Principal East New York High School of Transit Technology (NY)

Judi O'Brien - History The Berkeley Carroll School (NY)

John Rearick - English Literature & Writing Poly Prep Country Day School (NY)

Camille Jean - Tedeschi World History, Women's Studies Huntington High School (NY)

Keep up to date on their exploits, both on this blog and also their Facebook page, and the Japan Society Education Twitter page.

楽んで いってらしゃい!


Monday, June 28, 2010

What's IN: Acumen Fund's Jacqueline Novogratz In Tokyo

 Novogratz speaks in Japan April 20-24, 2010.

This Spring, Japan Society and the Tokyo Foundation cosponsored two public speaking events in Tokyo featuring Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder and CEO of Acumen Fund and a member of the Society's U.S.-Japan Innovators Network (IN).  At the sold out events, Jacqueline spoke about Acumen Fund, the organization she founded in 2001, and its work to break the cycle of poverty by enlisting the market and its tools to achieve long-term social change.

Transcripts from the symposium, Where the Market and Morality Intersect: A New Approach to World Poverty, on April 21 have been posted on the Tokyo Foundation website in both English and Japanese.  Japan Society also hosted an intimate breakfast with Japanese IN members.

Jacqueline’s visit to Japan coincided with the recent release of her book, The Blue Sweater in Japanese.  Featured at a Japan Society public lecture in New York, the memoir follows her transformation from a young idealistic woman working in Africa to one of today’s most inspiring social entrepreneurs.

The number of media outlets who interviewed Jacqueline while she was in Japan is a reflection of the great interest in social entrepreneurship in Japan.  In addition to numerous interviews with print media, she was also interviewed by NHK and was a featured speaker at the Japan National Press Club.


Friday, June 25, 2010

News Blast: Heat, Beards, Divorce, Samurai In NY

Image via.

Hot for Climate Change

Japan hopes an early-to-bed-early-to-rise civic initiative helps cut household carbon emissions. The "Morning Challenge" campaign says a typical family can reduce its footprint by 85kg (187.4 lb) annually if everyone goes to bed and gets up one hour earlier.

The same government department came up with the "Cool Biz" campaign in 2005 that shaved 2 million tons of green house gasses  in two years by asking workers to forgo suits so the air conditioning could be kept at a cozy, energy-saving  28 °C (82.4°F) during the summer.

A great theory in practice, surely, but those of us who have been working with a wonky thermostat all week and enjoyed at least one 89 degree work day on the fifth floor of their office building (who shall remain nameless), may be be more inclined to agree that working in uncomfortable climates can have a negative effect on concentration. Though, of course, Earth comes first.

Divorce 'Fun'

One of the most circulated stories this week was the divorce ceremony in Japan, which came to a head with CNBC's jokey warning that  it won't be long before the trend hits the U.S. It's hard to find the humor when one factors in Japan's declining population, ever-increasing suicide rate (some reasons for the phenomenon and the government's new plan  for a 20% decrease), and other crises of intimacy.

Jezebel had a thoughtful article on divorce ceremonies, wondering "is something like this really all that helpful?" and taking on Roland Kelt's argument in The Telegraph that the ceremonies help people adjust to Japan's shifting gender roles.

Beards: A Hairier Decision

Japan's beard ban we mentioned last week returns in this week’s news. Recently enforced by Isesaki City on all male municipal workers, the ban has brought to light more cases of beard bias in the workplace. Japanese 7-11’s make it their policy to never hire men who sport beards. A PR rep said that they "might even fire workers growing beards regardless of whether they are regular staff or part-time workers." Sumo wrestlers, professional baseball players, and Disneyworld Tokyo staff, all work for companies intolerant of beards. In the past month, a postal worker, who was forced to get a pay cut because of his beard, successfully sued his employers for discrimination and got his pay back. 

Mitsuru Yaku, a mangaka (comic book illustrator) social commentator, and sporty beard-wearer, said "growing a beard or not should be a matter of personal freedom and left to each individual to decide […] but a beard is a symbol that is the polar opposite of a virtue associated with a serious-minded adult, and many people equate beards with decadence or moral laxity."

As details unfold, at least one person at Japan Society is aghast.

Bite-Sized News:

►Japan was euphoric over their World Cup 3-1 win against Denmark Thursday. Next up: Japan vs. Paraguay June 29.

►The exhibit Samurai in New York opened at the the Museum of the City of New York. Examiner's in-depth article notes "on display at the museum are extremely rare 19th-century photographs, ephemera related to the historic visit, newspaper reports, and superb works of art and adornment of Japanese influence" through October 11.

►Prime Minister Naoto Kan makes his international debut debut at the G8 and G20 summits in Canada

►Japan's new economic growth strategy calls for a slight easing of historically tight immigration restrictions.

►Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Museum displays more than 100 newly donated artifacts from atomic-bomb survivors.

►The International Research Center for Japanese Studies launches an online database of 1,826 images of ancient Japanese ghouls and apparitions of all sorts.

►In Japan, which is the world's largest per capita vending machine user, Coca Cola unveils 46-inch touchscreen machines.

►This year's Kyoto Prize winners are South African visual artist William Kentridge, Japanese medical scientist Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, and Hungarian mathematician Laszlo Lovasz.

►A Japanese slot machine collector grows in Brooklyn.

The New York Times reports "no online journalism of any kind has yet posed a significant challenge to Japan’s monolithic but sclerotic news media."

►An unlikely candidate blazes a trail for Japan's democratic party as elections near.

►A sumo scandal threatens Japan's grand tournament next month.

►An Expedia survey shows that Japan is the world's most vacation-deprived country, where people take only about half of their average 16.5-day allotment.

►Get to know the 'politically touchy' debate surrounding Japan's proposed sales tax hike.

►Hallelujah! New York City's Harlem Japanese Gospel Choir won the choir division of Gospelfest, one of the biggest competitions of its kind in the U.S. The group was founded in 1997 by Tommy Tomita.

►Japan's smartphone battle heats up. (Best  read while listening to this.)

Image Credit: Samurai in New York: The First Japanese Delegation, 1860; (l-r) Konesosho; New York Lady; Kingero, Soldier; Gommie, Soldier; (detail), 1860; Stereoscope view, hand-colored, Studio of C.D. Fredricks & Co. Collection of Tom Burnett

N.O., S.J.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Musashi Pities The Fool!

Fujiwara (R) as Musashi

If you don’t get your summertime fill of Japanese culture from the movies on tap at JAPAN CUTS  (or also the NYAFF), Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts has got your back!

There are two Japanese shows at this year’s annual festival – a dance performance by Suburo Tshigawara called Miroku and a staged retelling of Musashi. The latter has quite a pedigree. It’s directed by Yukio Ninagawa, who has directed hundreds of plays – ranging from Shakespeare to modern Japanese dramas – and is one of the major figures in the Japanese theater world. It’s written by the recently deceased prolific novelist and playwright Hisashi Inoue. And the main role of Musashi is played by bona-fide superstar Tatsuya Fujiwara of Battle Royale and Death Note fame.

The play is based on the Japanese tale of the wandering 17th century swordsman Musashi. He was famed for his sword-fighting techniques, and dueled many people throughout Japan. In this version, Musashi tricks a rival swordsman, Kojiro, by arranging to fight with his back to the sun, thereby temporarily blinding his opponent. After he wins the duel, he leaves Kojiro for dead – but he isn’t! And he’s itching for a rematch. Kojiro catches up with Musashi at a temple, and the peaceful villagers hanging out there must try and convince the rivals not to kill each other. Here’s a trailer.

Musashi was performed in London in May to breathlessly positive notices. The Independent writes that “Yukio Ninagawa’s productions are often hauntingly numinous, but what he's done with Hisashi Inoue’s play Musashi transports us to a realm where life and death are literally one and the same.” The Telegraph notes the strong vein of comedy that goes through the performance (a samurai duel that turns into a tango? I’m in!) and says that “Both the play and the performances are vivid and entertaining.” He also notes that Fujiwara’s performance is “charismatic.”

Fujiwara’s newest film, Parade, directed by Isao Yukisada, will be screening in JAPAN CUTS. Like Musashi, Parade is balanced with serious themes and a light, breezy tone. Fujiwara will be attending the Noon screening of Parade on July 10th for a Q&A session – and later that evening will appear in one of the four performances of Musashi at the Lincoln Center. We hear tickets are getting scarce, so if you are interested, reserve ASAP!

A deptiction of Musashi battling a giant whale by our old friend Kuniyoshi


Monday, June 21, 2010

Senator Inouye Speaks At Japan Society

"this is one of the most trying and challenging times experienced in the U.S. and Japan relationship during the past 65 years" -- Senator Daniel Inouye
Japan Society had the privilege of welcoming U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye on Monday, June 14. to deliver a rousing lecture on U.S.-Japan relations.

The lecture attracted 175 movers and shakers, including Ambassador Nishimiya, Consul-General of Japan in New York, Michihisa Shinagawa, the head of Sumitomo Corporation of America, and Yoshihisa Suzuki, the head of ITOCHU Int.. The lecture was presided by Douglas Petersen, COO of Citibank.

According to Chris Poston, director of Japan Society’s Corporate Program, Inouye “spoke at a time of political instability in Japan on an issue that has for 65 years relied on political stability, namely the state of the U.S.-Japan security alliance. He raised some interesting issues of the need for Japan to increase its defensive capability, so that the U.S. military can reduce its footprint in Japan."

This topic is especially prescient now because of the debate surrounding the Futenma military base in Okinawa – which was a factor leading to PM Hatoyama’s resignation. Senator Inoyue took the Democratic Party of Japan to task for having questioned the deal struck with the Liberal Democratic Party in 2006, thereby ruffling feathers in D.C. and causing some on the Hill to question the strength of the alliance. He noted in his speech "We must keep in mind that the supreme goal of our two nations is to strengthen our relationship, and in that process bring about stability and the absence of military violence in the Asia –Pacific region." (Full speech.)

Senator Inouye has served as a senator from Hawaii since 1963 - for 47 years. He was born in 1924 to Japanese parents, and raised in Honolulu. In World War II, he served with the U.S. Army, and lost his right arm in the Assault on Colle Musatello in Northern Italy. He received the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Medal of Honor, and returned to university after the war thanks to the GI Bill.

Over his almost 50-year congressional career, Senator Inouye has served as a moderate Democrat. Last year he was appointed chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, which manages the Senate’s discretionary spending.

Keep an eye on our Corporate Programs page for upcoming opportunities to listen to politically and socially topical lectures like these – not to mention hob-knob with decision-makers!


Friday, June 18, 2010

News Blast: Manga News, Kan's First Week, Rice Ball Day And More!

Manga News reports on the BP oil spill. Image via.

Manga Brings News into the Now

A new Japanese website publishes the latest news in manga format. Many 1-2 page stories are commissioned from famous manga artists, and range from a 2-pager on the BP oil spill to a new study which proves that monkeys enjoy watching TV. We're hoping Hiroki Otsuka will be available to illustrate our news blasts!

Prime Minister Kan’s First Week   

The New York Times
reports Naoto Kan is off to good start, breaking politics as usual with tough talk and giving his party a poll bounce.Only a week in office, and Kan, the new Japanese PM with a whistleblower’s reputation, has been making waves. He unveiled a campaign to halve Japan's debt in 6 years, saying "Politics is power, and power must be used to remove the cause of people's unhappiness." In his first meeting with a foreign leader, Afghan president Hamid Karzai visited to promise effective use of  Tokyo's pledged $5bn in aid. Party members have even designed and distributed 'Yes We Kan'  T-Shirts, punning on his name and U.S. President Obama’s campaign slogan from 2008.

Kan said Tuesday that he would not visit the Yasukuni War Shrine in Tokyo during his time as Prime Minister. Yasukuni is a shrine for World War II dead, and has long been associated with ultra-nationalist sentiment in Japan. Protests frequently occur in and around it about Japanese foreign policy and immigration policies – it has symbolic significance for both right-wingers and left-wingers. When PM Koizumi visited frequently between 2001 and 2006, it caused a foreign policy rift with China. Kan says "I think it is a problem for the prime minister or cabinet ministers to officially pay their respects at the Yasukuni Shrine because Class A war criminals are honored there."

Controversial off the record comments Kan made a year ago are resurfacing. According to a new book written by Shokichi Kina, a DPJ party member, Kan told him that Okinawa "should just become independent" and that negotiations to remove the U.S. bases in the prefecture "aren't resolvable." The comments have come to light only days after Kan expressed his support of Futenma, and his intent to continue Hatoyama’s policies in respect to it.

Tokyo Indie Music Scene

CNNGo goes to a Go!Go!7188 gig and gets blown away. Writer/Photographer Alex Zolbert interviewed the local Tokyo indie band before the show. They were reticent and answered many of his questions only with blank stares, so he wasn’t expecting much. He ended up being pleasantly surprised by their "relentless" performance, and "their throngs of fans were surging and pumping their fists."

If you want to hear more great Japanese indie bands with attitude, check out this list from the end of the decade with acts like Shugo Tokumaru and Macdonald Duck Éclair. My personal favorites for the record: The Boredoms and Cokiyu.


The Japan Times gives an intriguing review of Confessions, which opened June 5th in Japan and receives its U.S. premiere at our JAPAN CUTS festival in July. Reviewer Mark Schilling says director Nakashima’s work "turns genre on its head," and that Confessions has "a strange power."

Also playing at JAPAN CUTS is omnibus film Mutant Girl’s Squad. Asahi gives an overview of the film’s drunken genesis at last year’s NYAFF and its international screening schedule.

World Cupdate – Samurai Blue Victorious

Samurai Blue defeated Cameroon 1-0 this week. The victory marks Team Japan’s first-ever in World Cup finals, and response to it in Japan was jubilant. Public viewings of the televised match happened in stadiums throughout the country, and late-night parties spilled out from bars into the streets after the winning goals .

Keisuke Honda, who scored the winning goal, said: "This goal was a nice birthday present for me. I am so happy now and there is a great atmosphere in the team. We were able to stop Cameroon’s attacking players and I think that was why we were able to get a good result. We had confidence before the game."

Fans at home were overjoyed, though many Japanese on the street don’t predict Samurai Blue progressing past the next matches. The World Cup Blog previews Japan v. Netherlands. Our fingers are crossed!

World Cup fans, or Japan Society's proposed staff uniforms? Via. 
Bite-Sized News:

Happy Rice Ball Day! Celebrating the world's oldest existing rice ball (aprx. 2000 y.o.).

U.S. bans military forces in Okinawa from drinking at off-base bars and clubs after midnight 

►June 16 was the 150th anniversary of the first Japanese delegation sent to the U.S. New York City holds three events to celebrate.

►Though recuperating from cancer treatments, maestro Seji Ozawa cancels more concerts, but still plans to appear at Carnegie Hall in December to launch their Japan NYC season.

►Taliban holds Japanese journalist for $1m. He says he's in good health, but giving into demands would have the incident repeated.

►In news about news, The Japan Times reports over 90% of Japanese still read newspapers every day--a consistent figure over the past decade where U.S. readerships have steadily declined .

►The Japanese government launches sexy new ad campaign... for bonds. One real-life testimony: "I want my future husband to be diligent about money. Playboys are no good."

►A space capsule that may contain the first-ever asteroid samples heads for its final destination from Australia to Japan. Related, Discovery News shows first photos of Japan's experimental solar sail spacecraft sailing.

►Japan-U.S. panel called to maintain a program inviting English and other foreign language instructors to Japan, challenging a government view that it is an unnecessary public project.

The Wall Street Journal reports about Japan's quirkier inventions becoming an economic conerstone, the rise of Tokyo’s bike commuters, revival of Japanese blood-type personality indicators, development of a baby robot, and not one but two Japan news recaps.

The Economist reports e-commerce bucks Japan's economic downs.

Time Out takes a Japanese 'staycation' in New York City. Getting hungry just looking at the food page.

►For drinking devotionals, CNNGo lists Tokyo bars affiliated with religious organizations. At Bozu’s Vow Bar  (Monk’s Vow Bar), the Buddhist décor isn’t fake and the bartenders are ordained Buddhist priests.

►Author Shoichi Uchiyama tells the Daily Telegraph that he's had to increase his monthly insect tasting sessions in restaurants across Japan because of their popularity.

►Not sure what pairs best with hornet larvae, but we may have something for escargot: Kanazawa brews sake fit for French restaurants.

N.O., S.J.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

'Turnaround King' Wilbur Ross Discusses The Importance Of Business In Japan

Wilbur Ross talks freshness of Japan with The Nikkei.
"Generally speaking, westerners do not recognize the opportunities in investing in Japan, and they overestimate the risks. I hope to correct these misunderstandings through the activities of Japan Society." --Wilbur Ross

As we announced last month, Japan Society's new Chairman Wilbur L. Ross, Jr., CEO of WL Ross & Co. LLC, took the helm on June 9. He recently spoke with The Nikkei, Japan's most prominent business newspaper, about the importance of business in Japan, and common misconceptions investors have about East Asia. The article appears below in translation.

Education, Science, and Finance: The Strengths of Japan
“Japan’s Aging Society Hinders Growth” – Wilbur Ross, The King of Bankruptcy

American investor Wilbur L. Ross (72 years old), who has revived many distressed companies, was dubbed the “King of Turnaround” by Fortune magazine. Based on his 20-year investment history there, he sees a positive future in Japan. What does this influential investor see in Japan?

Nikkei: Rapid growth in Asia’s emerging markets has led to a pervasive loss of self-confidence in Japan.

Wilbur Ross: Because of its large population, it’s only natural that the scale of China’s economy is large.
Being number 2 or 3 is a matter of pride. The United States will eventually lose its number 1 status. Rather, if I were Japanese, I would ask myself, “Am I making full use of my abilities and resources?”

Japan has been doing a great job to maintain a trade surplus with China. There are only a few countries in the world able to do this. Japanese companies have built first-rate production bases in China, and in India, Suzuki holds the largest share of the automobile market. Japan has been contributing to the development of the emerging countries more than America. Although Japan’s economic growth rate is low, the future for Japanese companies is bright.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Action… and CUTS!

Hard knocked Matsuko gets excited about JAPAN CUTS 2010. © 2006 Amuse Soft Entertainment

Tickets just went on sale for Japan Society’s 4th annual JAPAN CUTS  film festival, July 1-16. With over 20 of the latest and greatest contemporary Japanese films, there is something for any mood. We have evolutionary romances, historical epics with a rock n’ roll soul, surreal dreamscape-skipping horror, classroom psychodrama, a Hitchcockian thriller a la Douglas Sirk., and plenty more that you could never dream to think to ask for. Take a break from the Manhattan's sticky summer heat with a cool cinematic treat: 30 screenings, 8 star filmmakers on hand to discuss their films, and 3 reeling after-parties in 16 days!

In addition to films from '09 and '10 that have never been seen outside of Japan, there is a special selection called "Best of Unreleased Naughties" (2000's = naughty for some!), featuring some of Japan's most impacting films from the past decade that are still sadly unreleased in the U.S. Also, 8 of the films are co-presented with our friends over at the New York Asian Film Festival, touting over 70 screenings starting June 25.

I saw several of the JAPAN CUTS films while in Japan recently, so enjoy my brief reviews after the jump!

Friday, June 11, 2010

News Blast: Kickin' It With Samurai Blue

Artwork via Vanity Fair , ESPN and the AM I Collective.

World Cupdate

Japan's men's soccer team (affectionately nicknamed the Samurai Blue) landed in South Africa on Sunday to gear up for another warm-up World Cup match for 2010. Japan faced Zimbabwe on Thursday and came to a tie 0-0. Fans at home geared up too by holding a screaming competition in honor of their team. Whoever screamed the word 'GOAL!' the loudest got unofficial bragging rights. Norio Nakayama won (32 seconds) and said in regards to Japan’s fate in the World Cup the "The ball is round and everything may happen." But added: "Of course I'd like them to do their best and be hell-bent on winning." Watch a video of his winning scream here.

Naoto Kan Chosen as Next PM

The Democratic Party of Japan chose ex-PM Hatoyama’s Finance Minister, Naoto Kan, for Japan's next Prime Minister. Kan, 63, was elected last Friday by a wide margin in an internal Party vote. He has a reputation as a whistleblower and a civil rights activist. Early in his career in the 1970s, he served on the election campaign of Fusae Ishikawa, a major figure in the Women’s Rights movement. Also, while serving as a Health Minister in 1996, when his political party formed a ruling coalition with the Liberal Democratic Party, he exposed and apologized for his government’s accidental distribution of blood tainted with HIV. His frankness and candor won him many allies both within the political sphere and in the public’s eyes.

While Hatoyama’s Cabinet resigned en-masse to make way for Kan’s picks, Kan re-instated most officials in the same positions they previously held.

Kan will continue many of Hatoyama’s policies – most notably on the U.S. military base on Okinawa. He telephoned President Obama to discuss Futenma, saying  both the U.S. and Japan should do more to resolve the base issue. In his first press conference as PM, he said he wants to "drastically rebuild Japan" and that fiscal challenges are "the biggest issue the country must tackle and must be discussed beyond our party’s boundaries."

Almost immediately following his formal appointment earlier this week, a number of fake Twitter accounts purporting to be Kan himself cropped up, though they were quickly shuttered.

Beard Burn in Isesaki City

In Isesaki City, about 60 miles north of Tokyo, the municipal government has banned beards on all city officials. The ban follows a number of public complaints that found beards on some workers to be "unpleasant." Local barbers and 'beard advocacy groups,' such as the Hige (Beard) Club are trying to work within the confines of the ban: Minoru Fujii, a Tokyo member says "I am designing beards for my customers that are considered acceptable in the company workplace." According to The Japan Times’ 'Views from the Street' public opinion column, most people agree that public officials should be neat and tidy, but that banning all facial hair is going a bit too far. Isesaki is the only municipality in Japan to instate such a ban.

Government Adds 'Sexy' Kanji to Everyday Use List

The Council for Cultural Affairs added 191 new characters to the jōyō kanji list, the list of kanji approved for everyday usage and taught to elementary- and middle-schoolers. Most of the new kanji had been omitted when the last list was compiled in 1981, because they were considered too complex to have to write longhand on a regular basis. However, because most people nowadays write on computers or cell phones, there is no longer as much need to write by hand. New kanji includes: 額 (ton – stop or pause), 藤 (fuji – creeper plant), and 艶 (en – sexy/ voluptuous) .

Bite-Sized News:

►Construction on a golf course in Japan’s ancient capital Nara disturbed some ancient tombs. We're hoping nobody picked up a curse!

►The spread of foot-and-mouth disease in Miyazaki Prefecture, Japan’s livestock center, continues.

►Japanese and American manga publishers fight scanlations.

►Japanese construction conglomerate Shimizu, Corp. unveiled plans to build a floating eco-city. It’s a joint project between 14 Japanese universities and the corporation to be completed in 15 years. "We would like to make it a utopia that belongs to no particular state," says Makoto Kajitani, director of the Super Collaborative Graduate School project director and president of the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo.

►A UK vet will publish a book about his experience as a prisoner of war during WWII, detailing his resulting lifelong friendship with one of his Japanese prison guards.

►A moving memorial for butoh legend Kazuo Ohno by Antony Hegarty from Antony and the Johnsons.

►NYT profiles director Shu Matsuri, noting "contemporary Japanese theater remains by and large terra incognita" around the world. The paper also profiled vernerable Japanese dance duo Eiko & Koma.

►Arthur R. Miller, one of America's top legal minds collects the ukiyo-e woodblock prints of Utagawa Kuniyoshi because of the artist's championship of free speech.

Kuniyoshi in closing: "Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters… is part history lesson, part barometer of Japan's political climate of the day, part manga precursor. It is all exquisitely created, boldly rendered, and remarkably preserved."

►Asahi reports "wacky candy says 'Japan' like no other gift"

►Finally, Japan Society launched a Japanese-language Twitter feed @js_desu  in addition to @japansociety, @Education_JS, @Innovators_JS, and @JSNY_Film. Happy following!


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Across The Divide, 150 Years of Cross-Culture Lotion Provides An Ocean Of Motion

Hip-hoppers in Japan. Image via UCLA Asia Institute.

Whether it's food, pop music or the landscape of our lives, a curious cultural hybrid of Japanese and American culture exists in all walks--a fact particularly astounding because the U.S. and Japan have only been open to each other since 1860.

In Fusion in Motion: 150 Years of Japan-America Integration, Japan Society’s Lectures Program brings together a dynamically disparate posse of specialists to explore cultural cross-pollination. The panel features Theodore C. Bestor, one of Havard's top anthropology professors (his Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World, has been called "one the best books recently published on Japan"); Ian Condry, who jives on media and cultural studies at MIT, and quite literally wrote the book on Japanese hip-hop; and Marc Peter Keane, a master landscape architect and author of many books on Japanese garden design.

The panel celebrates the 150th anniversary of the first Japanese delegation to the United States, marking the beginning of modern bilateral U.S.-Japan diplomatic relations. At this time business and diplomatic engagement took root and cultural exchange flourished. Fusion in Motion examines the fruits of these exchanges from three areas that have been particularly influenced by the cross-flow of ideas and techniques: music, food and landscape architecture.

The program is co-presented with the Museum of the City of New York, which, in late June, presents a mélange of historical artifacts from samurai visiting New York during the period! 

N.O., S.J.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters March Toward the Sunset

Sunday June 13th is the last chance to be speared, spooked and spirited away by Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s ukiyo-e imagination at Japan Society Gallery's Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters. Featuring over 130 of Kuniyoshi’s sly and enthralling woodblock prints, the show has been one of Japan Society’s most well-attended traditional art exhibitions of all time. And no wonder: the art is cool. From the first rooms, featuring epic battles with supernatural beasties, through rooms where portraits of beautiful ladies, effete avengers and strapping warriors tantalize from the walls, all the way to the surreal quirky comics in the final room (cats mimicking the 53 stations of the Tōkaidō!), walking through the exhibition was like peeling the curtain back and peering into a world just to the left of real.

As Arthur Lubow wrote in New York magazine, Kuniyoshi’s art wasn’t just witty and fun to look at; he was something of a pioneer as well:
“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.”

Kuniyoshi’s prints got rave reviews from local New York press: The New Yorker said his "eye for the fantastic and ghoulish remains unparalleled," CityArts found it "impressive," and Thrillist called them "Psychedelic" and "the venerable origins of bad-ass Japanese art." The New York Times commented on Kuniyoshi's erotic inclinations, featured briefly in the catalogue, but not in the physical exhibition.

After June 13th Japan Society’s mangaka-in-residence, Hiroki Otsuka, will bid us adieu, too, having worked since the exhibition's opening. In the meantime, he’ll be finishing up his original Kuniyoshi-based manga, Samurai Beam. Check out the final pages as they get posted online!

Too busy or geographically miss-located to catch the show before it closes? There are two ways it can live with you forever. Check out curator Timothy Clark's 300+ page, full color, gorgeously illustrated catalogue published by our co-presenters at London's Royal Academy of Arts. Or take home one of 36 high-quality Kuniyoshi reproductions, lovingly digitized and sized by our friends at the Museum of Fine Arts.

Japan Society Gallery is open this Thursday 11 am-6 pm, Friday 11 am-9 pm, and Saturday and Sunday 11 am-5 pm. Admission is free all the time for children under 16, Japan Society members, and,  thanks to the NEA's Blue Star Museums initiative, active duty military service members and their families. It is also free to everyone on Friday, 6-9 pm.

Catch the exhibition before it’s too late!


Photo caption: TOP, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Kabuki Actor Onoe Kikugorō III as the Spirit of the Cat Stone, c. 1835, olor woodblock print, R: 14 1/2 x 10 1/8 in., C: 14 5/8 x 10 in., L: 14 1/2 x 10 1/8 in, American Friends of The British Museum (The Arthur R. Miller Collection) 19408, photo © Trustees of The British Museum. BOTTOM, details of the exhibition catalogue Kuniyoshi: From the Arthur R. Miller Collection by Timothy Clark.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Everyday Is 'Japan Day' At Japan Society, But In Central Park It Happens Only Once A Year

Yo-yo fishes. Photo by Katsura on Flickr.

Join us this Sunday, June 6th in the East Meadow for the fourth annual Japan Day @ Central Park!

Throughout the day there will be tons of Japanese cultural activities for the whole family: main stage performances such as taiko drumming, sword fighting demonstrations, a fashion show, J-pop and hip-hop gigs, and much more. Also, there will be various activity tents scattered throughout the beautiful ground. You can try your hand at origami, calligraphy, and making Japanese-style fans (especially handy for the hot summer months ahead!) If you’re in the mood for food, there will be many snack tents offering Gyoza dumplings, udon noodles, senbei rice-crackers, and refreshing green tea. 

Japan Society will be running the yo-yo tsuri activity tent in conjunction with the Japan Local Government Center . To play yo-yo tsuri, you fish for water balloons with a rod made of a paper-clip and paper. You have to move quick so the paper doesn't disintegrate. Once you catch a water-balloon they bounce just like a yo-yo!

Festivities start at 10 am, but if you’re up early there’s the Japan Run at 8 am. Registration is closed, but you can still go the cheer on the over 5,000 runners who’ll be participating: including some past Japanese Olympians! The Kid’s Run at 9:30 is still open for registration.

Admission is free. All events will be held come rain or shine. We hope to see you there! 


Kazuo Ohno: 1906-2010

Kazuo Ohno (l) and his son Yoshito perform at Japan Society in 1999. (c) William Irwin.

A shining light from Japan's "dance of darkness" took to the sky this week: Kazuo Ohno passed away at age 103 in Yokohama, Japan.

"It is extremely sad news for the dance community--not only in Japan and America but across all five continents," said Yoko Shioya, who oversees Japan Society's Performing Arts Program. "Although formally trained in Western modern dance, Kazuo Ohno, together with the late Tatsumi Hijikata, pioneered Butoh--Japan’s inimitable contribution to contemporary dance."

Butoh developed in the 50s after World War II as a radical alternative to traditional Japanese dance. It embodied human agony with rigid, extreme, and highly controlled movement. Early pieces were ritualistic, almost primeval in their execution. Ohno's work, however, captured an ethereal, timeless beauty amidst the despair.

Jennifer Dunning wrote in The Times' obituary: "Mr. Ohno’s solo performances, for which he was known, were irresistibly powerful and fraught with ambiguity. A humanist, he communicated the themes of the form through identifiable characters, most often flamboyantly female." Ohno was particularly adept at depicting "decaying women", who, amidst their ostentatious hats, skewed wigs, or faded robes, were always forces of nature.

What is especially remarkable about Ohno's contribution to dance is that it came when he was well over 50. He didn't make his U.S. debut until age 77 at La MaMa E.T.C. Japan Society had the privilege to present him in 1993, 1996, and the 1999 retrospective Requiem for the 20th Century [photo above], which was Ohno's final performance outside of Japan. In 2007, as part of Japan Society's 100th anniversary celebration, the Society presented a month-long butoh festival in honor of Ohno's 101st birthday, including performances by Ohno's son, Yoshito Ohno, who heads the Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio.

Ohno danced well into his nineties. Even after he became confined to a wheelchair, he performed by any means he could, with his hands alone, or by crawling across the stage, "making use of the working parts of a body ravaged by illness and age," as Dunning notes, "perhaps the perfect metaphor for the dark art of Butoh."

Ohno continues to be an influence on a variety of international artist, as Antony Hegarty  recently told Sterogum of his collaboration with the Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio.

YouTube has a great collection of video with Ohno, including snippets of several of Ohno's performances from an independent documentary, and lengthy excerpts from The Dead Sea and Mother.

For additional background, see obituaries from BBC and Associated Press.

UPDATE: After this post went up, The Guardian UK published Antony Hegarty's moving tribute to Ohno, and The Washington Post ran their obituary [free registration required for the latter].

N.O., S.J.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

News Blast: Back to Earth

Soichi Noguchi waves goodbye to space via his Twitpic page.

Prime Minister Hatoyama Resigns

Eight months after taking office, Japan's Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama announced his resignation on Wednesday. When the left-leaning, Hatoyama-led Democratic Party of Japan came into office last September, it was the first time in decades the parliamentary majority didn’t go to the center-right Liberal Democratic Party. He promised large-scale change in Japan’s foreign and domestic policies -- most notably to move a U.S. military base called Futenma  on the southern island of Okinawa. When the debate over the base stalemated, and it was decided to leave it where it was, lawmakers within the Democratic Party as well as the Japanese public called for his resignation. However, because the Democratic Party still has a commanding majority in Parliament, Hatoyama’s resignation won’t force another election. A new prime minister will be announced Friday.

American military presence is concentrated on the southern island of Okinawa where Futenma hosts about 47,000 U.S. troops. The base, a reminder of post-war American occupation, is a controversial topic for many Okinawans. On May 17th, a reported 17,000 protesters formed a human chain around the base. A good overview of the debate, with many interesting testimonials from Okinawans, can be found here, and an American soldier based in Okinawa gives his side here.

Astronaut Returns

Astronaut Soichi Noguchi returned to Earth on Wednesday. He stayed on the International Space Station  for 163 consecutive days -- the longest stint for any Japanese astronaut. "The air on Earth tastes good," he said when he touched down in Kazakhstan. "I can powerfully smell grass and soil." While in space, Noguchi took part in a number of experiments, and built and installed a robotic arm in Japan’s Kibo module. When he had a free moment, he posted incredible images from space on from his Twitter account, @astro_soichi.

Japan at World Cup 2010

Japan World played its penultimate warm-up match for the 2010 World Cup in Austria on May 31. They were defeated by England, 2-1, but remain upbeat for their prospects for the actual thing in South Africa. Goalie Eiji Kawashima said, "Everyone was a bit down in the dressing room but we have another warm-up (against Cote d'Ivoire in Switzerland on Friday) coming up and there is still time to turn things around." Follow Team Japan’s travails at their team blog.

Japanese Summer Blockbusters

The summer blockbuster season is in full swing in Japan as well. Big releases include: Shodo Girls (trailer), about a girls’rural high school calligraphy team; Zebraman 2 (trailer), Takashi Miike’s new movie about a cosplay-superhero in a future totalitarian Japan; and My Darling is a Foreigner (trailer), about a young Japanese woman who finds love with a scruffily bearded American.

Related, Japan's top blockbusters and indie smashes from the last 10 years land in New York City July 1 at Japan Society's fourth annual JAPAN CUTS festival of contemporary Japanese cinema. Tickets go on sale June 10!

Nobuyoshi Araki’s Bday

Bad-boy photographer Nobuyoshi Araki celebrated his koki, or 70th birthday, on May 25th. The Japan Times' Jae Lee sat down with Araki at his favorite Shinjuku bar. Araki speaks about the plastic dinosaurs he considers his alter-egos, the death of his cat, photographing Lady Gaga, and his favorite subject matter: women. Says Araki: "I see women as female gods who protect me from the God of Death." There’s currently an exhibition of Araki’s work at Taka Ishii Gallery in Tokyo -- check out some images here [link contains some explicit material].