Thursday, September 30, 2010

In Defense Of Lasting Relationships

After the end of World War II and the signing of the Postdam Declaration, Japan was required to disarm, dismantle and discard their war potential. The Japanese government reformed their defense into the Self-Defense Forces to deal with any problems that may happen in the mainland, but they were strictly banned from deploying outside their homeland.

The original intentions of Japan’s defense troops have changed in recent years due to changes in the international world. The JSDF have deployed on non-combatant peacekeeping missions and their provocative deployment to Iraq to help out on the reconstructive efforts. Also the geo-political arena has changed. Japan and the U.S. are concerned with the various problems facing both nations. The nuclear aggression of North Korea, the rise of China’s political, economic and militaristic juggernaut, not to mention core contemporary challenges within the basic framework of U.S.-Japan relations.

How do we assuage old ghosts and confront new realities? From a unique insider perspective, William H. Swanson, CEO of Raytheon, one of the world's largest defense contractors, comes to Japan Society to discuss the relationship with Japan, challenges of the 21st century, and how to maintain our amiable long-lasting friendship. The luncheon takes place Wednesday, October 6 at 12:30 pm, with the discussion starting promptly at 1:00.

More about Swanson and Raytheon in this recent Barron's article.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Mouthwatering Nostalgia: Japanese "Soul Food" On The Upper East Side

Soul food recalls home and warms the heart.  It instantly conjures memories, experiences and a connection to the special people in our lives. This year's final installment of Japan Town’s food festivals showcases Japanese soul food with a range of favorites from my childhood in Japan.

The festival promises yaki ramen (Japanese stir fry), ikimari dango (like a pierogi on a skewer), okonomiyaki (pancake and omelet all in one), yakitori (skewer grilled chicken lightly marinated in a delicate sauce) and for the sweet tooth, warabimochi (Japanese toffee but using jelly instead of caramelized sugar).

Featured is the distinctive cuisine of the Kyushu region, the southernmost islands of Japan. New York City’s Japanese restaurants and vendors from the Kyushu prefectures of Nagasaki, Oita, Saga, Kumamoto and Fukuoka are on hand to open a new world of food and introduce their savory soul-filling selections.

Join me for lunch, brunch, and/or an early supper, Sunday, September 26, 11 am to 6 pm, on the Upper East Side at Lexington Avenue between 94th and 95th Streets. The day will be an amazing journey beyond everyday Japanese cuisine!


Critics Sound Off: Ryoji Ikeda Pushes Boundaries Of Sight And Sound

Ikeda's work is snow joke. Via.

"A thing of hypnotic beauty and a gateway onto eternity."

"Extreme high and low frequencies; split-second variations in intensity, direction and duration; barely perceptible sounds; assaultive bursts of digital noise."

Sound like any concert you’ve been to recently? As previously posted, Japan Society and French Institute Alliance Fran├žaise (FIAF) hosted Japanese audiovisual artist, Ryoji Ikeda at FIAF’s Florence Guild Hall on September 10 and 11 for the New York-debut performance of datamatics [ver. 2.0].

Paris-based Ikeda combines raw binary numbers and extreme audio frequencies to create a sensational display as much modern art as musical performance. In addition to the quotes above, Steve Smith of The New York Times described Ikeda’s performance as "metaphysical, intricate and elegant", while Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim of The Wall Street Journal wrote that datamatics "blurs the line between nothingness and infinity". New York 1 technology correspondent Adam Balkin dedicated a full segment to the deceptively intricate, sensorial production.

Ikeda’s performances kicked off FIAF’s Crossing the Line festival which ends September 27. His site-specific installation transcendental runs until October 16th. Catch it before it bids adieu!


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Shadow Play: Kids Build With Light

Detail of the original architectural sketch of Japan Society's building.

An architect is an artist, painting the tale of man’s relationship with their space. Unlike Western architecture, which keeps people and nature separate, Japanese architecture presupposes that the inside space and the outside space are one continuous piece of artwork.

Like all pieces of artwork, architecture shows the emotion and thoughts of the artist. Kazuo Nishi and Kazuo Hozumi authors of What is Japanese Architecture? remark, “Japanese through the ages have evolved a building art that seems to delight in opposites and contradictions”. Japanese architect uses light and shadow to reflect the purity, beauty, harmony and simplicity that unadorned nature characterizes for us through the changing seasons. 

On Sunday, September 26, two well known architects help children and their parents understand Japanese architecture’s intriguing interplay of light and shadow. Aki Ishida takes her client’s vision about a space and translates it into a distinct, innovative and intelligent design. Mina Hatano-Kirsch's designs melds with its surrounding environment, while reviving the bond between indoors and outdoors.

In the Japan Society family program Light in Japanese Architecture, the two artists explore the playful and friendly manner of Japanese architecture, and guide children through interactive and constructive activities that harnesses their imagination and allows them to create their own art with paper, wood and the never-ending possibilities of shadow and light.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Surviving A-bomb Peace Piano Tours New York

"Hibaku" (survivor) piano on the Hudson. Via.

Walking along the Hudson last Saturday, September 11th, near Pier 40 with the sun about to set behind New Jersey, you may have noticed a small makeshift stage containing a modest, careworn upright piano placed unobtrusively next to several microphones center stage. Eager to take in the incredible views at Battery Park or the loads of fun at Chelsea Piers, perhaps you rushed past what looked like a typical and ubiquitous impromptu New York City park performance.

The set-up was in fact for a long-planned memorial concert. A little over a month after the annual remembrance of the World War II atomic bombings of Japan, a piano that survived the destruction at Hiroshima was on the first leg of a tour commemorating the 9/11 attacks on New York.

When the bomb fell on Hiroshima in 1945, the piano was located a little more than a mile from the blast center, but miraculously recevied only superficial damage from shards of broken glass. Mr. Mitsunori Yagawa, whose father survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and who restored the piano for its international travels, told Mainichi: "I've organized concerts using this A-bombed piano for 10 years. I hope that through this, people will remember the victims of the terrorist attacks and that this will form a bridge between Japan and the United States."

The concerts continue in New York this weekend with free performances at Japan Society on Friday, September 17, at 7:30 pm; Convent Avenue Baptist Church on Saturday, September 18, 2010 at 2:00 pm; and Japanese-American United Church on Sunday, September 19, 2010 at 3:00 pm.

T.D., S.J.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Read "The Sound Of One Hand"

The Daruma that cannot be drawn. More drawings.

Our exhibition The Sound of One Hand: Paintings and Calligraphy by Zen Master Hakuin doesn’t open until October, but if you’re raring for a sneak peek and eager for context of Hakuin's life and work, the best primer is the official catalogue, released this week by Shambhala Publications. Co-authored by Audrey Yoshiko Seo and Stephen Addiss the 287-page, fully illustrated, hardbound color beauty is a comprehensive and wonderfully readable overview of the world's most influential Zen master.

Writing alternating chapters, Seo and Addiss explore Hakuin’s impact as both an artist and Zen monk. As explained in the introduction, Hakuin was a vital figure in the development of Zen Buddhism. He was a reformer of the major school of Rinzai Zen, establishing it as an open and inclusive alternative to some of the stodgier forms that preceded it. Maintaining the rigors of practice, Hakuin emphasized the study of koans (instructive riddles), which he called "poison words," in addition to silent zazen meditations and post-enlightenment training (because after enlightenment there’s still more to learn!)

Though his subject matter varied, Hakuin’s art reflects his teachings and inspirations from the everyday life: from the theatrical, such as Korean acrobats, to the somber and personal, such as other monks of his lineage. Many paintings accompanied his prolific writing on Zen philosophy and literature. Others depict goblins and other folk beasties, as well as major Zen figures, such as the founder, Daruma.

The formidable Daruma is most often depicted as large, hairy and homely man, with piercing eyes, wearing plain red or white robes, and earrings. Hakuin’s representations of him, however, varied widely over his career, and, even though they ascribed to the accepted format, it seemed he was getting at something beyond physical representation. Indeed, as the inscription on one work he did at the age of 44 says: "I have painted several thousand Daruma, yet have never depicted his face. This is only natural, for the moment I spread the paper to draw it, the original form disappears. All of you, what is this Daruma that cannot be drawn?"

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mathematic(k)s & Blips

Ikeda bends math to astounding audiovisual conclusions. Via.

Imagine being immersed in a black and white (and very occasionally red) world of nearly imperceptible electronic whines, trippy digital beats, lulling clicks and jarring ticks, swirling computer-generated geometric dust devils and slippery, speeding, jarring, eye shattering mathematics. Senses have been loaded, perhaps about to spill over, and  perceptions of the world and sound itself have come into question by hyper, hypnotic and profoundly confounding live audiovisual experience created by one of Japan's leading new music pioneers, Ryoji Ikeda.

The Contemporary called Ikeda "a man for whom sound and vision comprise not two separate senses but a single stimulus to the senses," and described the awesome opening of one of his shows as such:
Nothing: a blank black screen and a wall of silence. Slowly, imperceptibly, a distant high-pitched hum emerges from the sonic void, like the sound of a moist finger running around a half-filled wine glass. Simultaneously, slowly, the screen flickers into life: white lines bisecting the black background. The hum disintegrates into blips and bleeps. Flashes of beauty flicker on the screen... then fragment into a never-ending series of numbers. The visual aesthetic vanishes, to be replaced by pure data, yet at the same time the very essence of the image transformed into an abstract but utterly precise mathematical code.
This weekend Ikeda performs the New York premiere of his 2006 masterpiece datamatics [ver. 2.0]. Co-presented by Japan Society and FIAF as part FIAF's Crossing the Line Festival, datamatics takes place at Florence Guild Hall September 10 and 11.

The festival includes a solo site-specific installation up through October 16 designed for the FIAF Gallery, consisting of Ikeda's hyper-real manifestations of complex mathematics, combining discussions with Harvard number theorist Benedict Gross and meditations on transcendental numbers


Friday, September 3, 2010

News Blast: Kan Vs. Ozawa, Japan's Tea Party, Walkman Runs, Panda Twins, And More

Japan takes Little League world series championship. Via.

►The U.S. and Japan again missed their deadline to resolve the Futenma airbase debate. AFP blames Japan's politics and WSJ calls it good news for advocates of the base. The two countries, however, did release a report regarding construction of a new base, calling for a more environmentally friendly option

►Meanwhile, Nebraska Governor Dave Heinema is building better relations with Japan for his state.

►The battle for Japan's sixth prime minister in four years has officially begun, this time within one party. WaPo has an extensive article on the showdown between between the current PM Naoto Kan and DPJ power broker Ichiro Ozawa, noting that the "Kan-Ozawa contest serves as a reminder of Japan's search for a decisive leader." A vast majority of Japanese voters would like to see Kan reelected, and he was visibly moved at the DPJ rally of support. Observing Japan's Tobias Harris wrote about the unlikelihood of an Ozawa upset in Foreign Policy (he also discussed election issues and the "intellectual paralysis" plaguing Japan's economic policy with CNBC Asia). Ozawa says the two candidates will be as tight as Obama and Clinton regardless of the election outcome.

Jetwit discusses the rise of Japan's brand of Tea Party, as reported in The New York Times.

Asahi reports Japan's Defense Ministry may create a military force modeled after the U.S. Marine Corps "to strengthen the defense of remote islands in southwestern Japan amid the rapid modernization of China's military."

►Japan's Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada tells a China nuclear envoy that tensions from March's South Korean warship sinking are too high to continue the Six Party Talks with North Korea. WSJ carried an in depth interview with Okada on this topic and more.

Japan approved further sanctions against Iran, "including an asset freeze on 88 entities, 15 banks and 24 individuals."

►A new Brazilian film concerns the unspoken history of Japanese immigrants in Brazil. (Background: in the chaos following World War II The Japanese divided into two groups: one accepted Japan's defeat and one didn't. Confusion swelled into a brutal rampage among the Japanese, fueled by the repressive Brazilian government, who had set up concentration camps as tensions between Japan and Brazil intensified during the 30s.)

The Atlantic's James Fallows returns to his old Tokyo neighborhood and finds "an inward-looking country that has lost its ambition." Among many keen observations of Japan in the 80s and now, Fallows writes: "If you know China mainly through stories of its economic successes, you’re surprised on a visit that it’s still so poor. If you know Japan mainly through stories of its failures, which are real, you’re surprised that it’s become so rich. "

►Robert Ingersoll, who was the first ambassador to Japan from the business world (and served as Japan Society chairman in the late 70s and early 80s), passed away at 96. Japan Society remembers his contributions.

►Japan wants to help foreigners living in the country to learn Japanese.

Reuters breaks down Japan's latest $10.8bn solution for economic recovery.

►Twitter Japan is raking in the yen the old fashioned way: ad sales.

Yomiuri reports the Japanese government is setting up a new ministry to nurture culture industries, such as anime and fashion.

Japan experienced its hottest summer since 1898. Not surprisingly "cool products" were hot sells.

►In Japan, the Sony Walkman outsells the iPod for the first time.

Huffington Post shares some images from Japan's classic guide to American Ive League 60s style, that is back in print and for the first time in English translation.

Japan took the Little League world series championship, ending the U.S.'s five year reign.

►Labor Day Weekend sees U.S. and Japanese all-star baseball teams face-off in a three-game friendship series.

AFP profiles Japan's internationally renowned taiko troupe: "For decades Kodo's members have lived communally in the mountains of Sado, leading an austere and almost monastic life where trainees steel themselves with daily 10 kilometre (six mile) runs and hours of gruelling drum practice."

►In California's tough real estate market, LAist asks: is moving Pasadena's only Frank Lloyd Wright home to Japan the answer?

►Video: The Telegraph has the first look at baby panda twins born in a Japanese zoo in mid August.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Robert Ingersoll, 1914-2010

Ingersoll (far left) during a meeting of Ford's National Security Council, 1974

It was with heavy hearts this week that we learned of the passing of The Honorable Robert Ingersoll.

In 1972 Mr. Ingersoll became the first businessman to be appointed Ambassador to Japan since World War II. As noted in The New York Times obituary:
The appointment came at a time of strained relations between Washington and Tokyo, primarily over economic issues. Mr. Ingersoll’s company had long had joint ventures and licensing arrangements with major Japanese companies.

With Japan’s economy booming, the primary source of tension was its $3.5 billion trade surplus with the United States. In 1972, after negotiations with Mr. Ingersoll, Japan agreed to import $750 million in American manufactured goods and another $390 million in agricultural products.

Mr. Ingersoll served as chairman of Japan Society from 1978 to 1985. He took the helm following John D. Rockefeller's sudden, tragic death and continued the Society's impressive expansion of the 70s into the 80s.

Under Mr. Ingersoll's watch, the Society implemented the massive multi-arts, coast-to-coast Japan Today series in 1979, established the Japan Society Film Program (under the direction of Peter Grilli), dramatically increased activity and visibility in policy and business programming as Japan became America's most important world partner, and celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1981.

In addition to his invaluable contributions to U.S.-Japan relations as a business leader and diplomat, Mr. Ingersoll is remembered for his lasting participation in Japan Society activities, including support of our 2007-08 centennial. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.