Thursday, October 28, 2010

No Brands Land

Across the world there are growing movements advocating that companies do more to encourage sustainability, waste reduction and recycling in order to rein in their environmental impact on our world. In Japan, the Kabushiki-gaisha Ryōhin Keikaku has been doing just that for 30 years. Americans and non-Japanese would probably recognize this company by a much more compact name: MUJI.

MUJI, meaning “no brand” in Japanese, was started in 1980 as an offshoot of the Japanese supermarket chain Seiyu and focuses on producing cheap, high quality goods for the average middle-class family. It achieves this by streamlining its manufacturing process, minimizing packaging and making use of various sustainable processes such as "using recycled cardboard in many of its products, using unbleached cotton and practicing sustainable forestry."

Currently, all of MUJI’s U.S. stores are located in New York New York City, including one branch at MoMA and one at JFK airport. MUJI’s sustainable practices and unique "no frills" way of doing business have gotten considerable press attention including The New York Times, Time Out New York, and the TAXI design network.

Japan Society hosts the discussion America Meets MUJI  November 3 (currently SOLD OUT), featuring three internationally acclaimed designers from the Muji Corporation, Naoto Fukasawa, Kenya Hara and John Maeda, who discuss the concepts behind the creation, design and essence of MUJI. Fukasawa is a product designer who has won countless awards for his work designing products for MUJI as well as companies across the globe. Hara is a graphic designer and was the brains behind the spectacular opening and closing ceremonies at the Nagano Winter Olympics. Maeda is a Seattle native known for his philosophy of humanizing technology. He is a world-renowned designer, served as associate director of research at the MIT Media Lab, and was named by Esquire magazine as one of the 21st century’s 75 most influential people.

Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the store, the discussion is followed by a signing of the newly released coffee table book MUJI that gives an intricate look at MUJI’s rise and the inner workings of the company--a fascinating read for anyone interested in sustainable business practices.

Some describe MUJI as the Japanese IKEA, but perhaps its best described by a quote from the book (reviewed recently in The Times), "Muji exists in a category all on its own."
America Meets MUJI is just one of several Japan Society events focusing on smart design.On November 2, The Design Difference looks at sustainability in architecture and shares lessons from Tokyo on how to build better city housing projects, and Chef Says: Japanese Knives are the BEST  looks at the samurai origins and global appeal of Japan's incredibly durable cutlery.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Movie Too Insane To Resist

Welcome to our Hausu… if you dare. Via.
Imagine if Beetlejuice, the classic Alice in Wonderland, Evil Dead II and the Terry Gilliam cartoons from "Monty Python’s Flying Circus" collectively decided to conceive a child with Japan as surrogate mother. The freakish, hybrid spawn would be a film alternately frightening, funny, absolutely bewildering… but never boring.

The movie in question is the 1977 self-described (and purely Japanese born) "fantasy horror" film Hausu--House as it's called in America. The plot is surprisingly simple. Annoyed that her father plans to bring his new fiancée on their yearly family vacation, Oshare (which can be translated as "fashionable" or "gorgeous") decides to abandon the trip and takes seven of her friends to her aunt’s house. The aunt, unbeknownst to the group, is actually an evil spirit who feasts on young girls. The spirit possesses Oshare and begins to hunt the women.

At its foundation House sounds no different than countless unsuspecting-teenagers-meet-gruesome deaths-at-the-hands-of-an-evil-antagonist horror flicks. Where House differs from typical slasher fare is its use of over-the-top surrealist imagery: killer lampshades, blood-spewing cat wallpaper, nefarious floating heads and man-eating pianos—all splayed against 70s retro, psychedelic animation that enchants just as much as it horrifies. Janus Film's trailer alone is a work of art:

"A fear too beautiful to resist!"

Nobuhiko Obayashi made his film directorial debut with House after a celebrated run in television commercials (remember those Charles Bronson MANDOM ads?), and in 2009 was awarded the prestigious Order of the Rising Sun by the Japanese government for his stellar career in the entertainment industry.

House was success in Japan during the 70s (though never a "Jaws-size success" notes Chuck Stephens in his great essay "House: The Handmaindens"). The film has only recently gained the cult status it deserves in the U.S., thanks in part Janus Films distribution efforts, and savvy art house presenters across the States.

Japan Society screens House at our October 29 its OBAKE! costume party, and yesterday the Criterion Collection released House on DVD and Blu-Ray. Wherever you see it, you're in for a cinematic treat you won’t soon forget. But don't take it from us...

"Meow." Via.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Building Social Change Exchange From Tokyo To New York

There's a design charette brewin' for Brooklyn's Brownsville.
Eco products, urban agriculture, renewable energy: relatively new concepts which have become everyday terms around the world and now impact how we live day to day. We see the seeds of these ideas sprouting all over New York, with green roofs coming to life, street-side makeovers turning the city more bike friendly, and green markets popping up all over.

NYC is not alone in this transformation. Japan has made strides to answer the green call promoting more walking-friendly cities, LED lights are now the latest thing to cut energy costs, and architects are finding more ways to make green open space.

There are many ways the U.S. and Japan can learn and benefit from one another in the green revolution, and Japan Society fosters this discussion.

As part of a 2-day program, Japan Society’s U.S.-Innovators Network brings together designers, social entrepreneurs, and architects whose work focuses on social issues. On Tuesday, November 2, The Design Difference features Atelier Bow-Wow's Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, Public Architecture's  John Peterson and moderator Valerie Casey from Designers Accord. They discuss the latest thinking in architecture and design from Japan and the U.S. and explore its influence on behavior, how it illuminates culture, and how the built environment shapes community. 

Tsukamoto seeks to create spaces in ways that align and maximize the harmony (wa) of the space, the surrounding environment, and human need. In his book Behaviorology, he describes his approach as a thought process:
[it] brings about an immediate shift in subjectivity, inviting many different elements together and calling into question who or what may be the main protagonist of a space. Through this ecological approach our imagination follows the principles of nature and experiences space from a variety of perspectives. When one is surrounded by and synchronized to the liveable rhythms embedded in different behaviors – there is no experience quite so delightful.”
Peterson is looking to harness the power of public service by bringing together architects to volunteer 1% of their time to projects focused on public good. The program "challenges architecture and design firms nationwide to pledge a minimum of 1% of their time to pro bono service," connecting and committing  powerful firms with nonprofit organizations in need of design assistance.

Casey recently told the design site Core77 that key questions addressed in the discussion are:
What do Tokyo and Brownsville, Brooklyn have in common? How can we apply the tenets of "Behaviorology" - the interplay of people, nature, and buildings - to change social conditions? How does the built environment shape community and create culture, and what are the responsibilities of architects and designers in making positive change?
Come find out the answers and discover new ways design is shaping our lives! Tickets are $12 for general public and $8 for Japan Society members, students and seniors. And if you’re looking for more, check out MOMA’s Small Scale Big Change exhibit, which also explores how architecture impacts social design.

One of Atelier Bow-Wow's innovative green spaces. Via.

Monday, October 25, 2010

People, Monsters, Kids: Not Always What They Seem

Oh yes, it's an oni! Via.
We wrote about the OBAKE! costume party this Friday, but in addition, we have a Halloween treat just for the kids. Japan Society's Education Program invites children ages 3-10 to Meet Japan’s Mystical Folklore Creatures & Ghosts before the witching (i.e. trick-or-treating) hour on Sunday, October 31st.

Theatre Arts Japan -KIDS- debuts a new play written especially for this event, introducing the fantastical world of Japan's otherworldly creatures. In the story, a young man encounters a kind old woman on his way to light a lantern on a mountain top. When she invites him for tea, distracting him from his duties, the boy discovers she is not at all what she seems. He must turn to the mystical yokai  creatures in the woods and decide whether they are friend or foe and able to help him.

Among the throngs of Japanese beasties (there are literally hundreds), kids discover the tengu, a mysterious flying mountain creature; the kappa, a funky, frog-like river creature; the rokurokubi, a beautiful woman with a surprisingly long neck; and the ornery oni, who has the horns of a cow and the fangs of a tiger. After the theater performance, actors work with the children to create masks so they can transform into their favorite creatures from the show.

For our more adult  monster enthusiasts, we hope to see you at the Friday, October 29 OBAKE! party. In honor of both events, here's another update on a traditional Japanese ghost story, this time for the parents:

The weather outside is cold and rainy, so your kids and their friends are bound indoors. You put them in the playroom, promising sweet treats if they behave and play quietly. For a time, they play as quietly as they can, but slowly peals of giggles crescendo  from behind the door. When you go to check on them, they blame each other for moving things, tickling each other or playing little tricks—all of which each denies. As you leave, you hear a soft giggle, and turn around to see them all looking at you with wide eyes. Relative quiet ensues as you prepare the snacks, but total, eerie silence meets you when you walk back into the room. What are they up to? And did you see one of them duck under the table? You shake your head, but take a quick peek when you set the treats down. Your eyes must be playing tricks on you. As you start to divide the treats, a ghostly little hand grabs one. You follow the hand, past the silken translucent sleeve, to the face of a small girl in a pink kimono, nibbling on a cookie. She smiles, crumbs falling to the floor and disappears. Your child's new playmate is a Zashiki Warashi.

S.H., S.J.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Go Shichigosan!

As an American kid living in Japan, I remember my first shichigosan ceremony.  My fellow playmates, neighbors and other children dressed up in their little hakama and kimonos and proceeded to the local shrine (maybe for their first time, I know it was mine). We walked up the stairs, through the aged torii gate into the main shrine’s building to be blessed and given a bag with chitose-ame ("thousand-year candy") which is a long, thin red and white candy--that reminded me of a candy cane. In Japanese culture it represents growth when placed in a small bag with a crane and turtle-- all to give long life.

The Shichigosan, or the 7-5-3 ceremony, began around the Heian period as a rite of passage from childhood into young adulthood. Each age represented a different achievement within the child’s life. At the age of three, a child could begin to grow their hair, representing they were no longer babies. At the age of five, boys could wear the hakama, and at age seven the girls could begin wearing an obi with their kimono. By age seven all children were considered young adults and ready to enter a new phase in their lives. This ritual also was a way to chase away evil spirits from the child to ensure that they would be given a long healthy life.

Shichigosan is a special ceremony that makes a child feel a bit more magical and ready to take on the world. Though the two ceremonies Japan Society hosts with the Shinto Foundation this weekend are full, we wish all children, no matter what nationality or religion health, happiness and well being!


Enlightenment Through Cooking

Kansha if you can! Via.
What is the difference between the American vegetarian and the Japanese vegetarian? In the West, people choose vegetarianism for several reasons: for health, for fad, for spirituality or for principle. But Japan has been following the vegetable path much longer than its arrival on American shores due to geography and the religious influence of Buddhism, and the concepts are more intrinsic.

In her latest book Kansha, tracing Japan’s vegan and vegetarian traditions to their Buddhist roots (and offering several mouthwatering recipes in the process), Elizabeth Andoh describes the very basics:
Japanese meals are organized around a core of three foods: rice (or noodles), soup (clear, miso enriched, or puréed), and pickles. Greater volume and complexity are usually achieved by adding small dishes to this trio to round out the menu. Classic meal planning follows guidelines associated with Japan’s native culinary culture, washoku. Such meals achieve culinary harmony by balancing colors, flavors, and preparation methods.
Of course, the ideology and practice goes much deeper. Traditionally Japanese rarely ate or completely abstained from eating meat, stemming from adherence to the Five Virtues and the principle of ahimsa (non-violence).  For some, eating animal meat is akin to cannibalism because all sentient life is instilled with the same dhutu (spiritual essence) that resides in people. Also, much Japanese cuisine follows the rules of shojin-ryori (devotion cuisine): avoid killing plant life like root vegetables (potatoes, carrots and onions) and strong-smelling plants, and use seitan (mock meat made from wheat gluten and soy).

The Western vegetarian is catching up on how the East wines and dines. Those who still think vegetarian cuisine is bland, boring and unappealing should heed Andoh and Masato Nishihara , executive chef at Kajitsu  restaurant , which just received another Michelin star.

Both appear in the Japan Society sponsored discussion, Field to Table: The Role of Vegetable in Japanese Diet, taking place Monday, October 25. In addition to history and practice, they highlight a surprising twofold sustainability within practicing shojin: preserving the environment and preventing unnecessary waste in preparation and consummation.  Using all parts of the vegetable, it turns out, can create not only a soundly nutritious meal but bold artful complexities in flavor and texture. We can't wait to learn how!


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

From Jurassic Park To Linkin Park: Enter The Shakuhachi

Breathing new life into the ancient shakuhachi. Via.
Ancient Japan: the glowing sun peeking from the top of Mt. Fuji, a farmer picking rice, a housewife preparing tea, a cricket resting on a leaf. All bask in the warmth rising above the mountain’s zenith.

Picture that scene. Is it possible you hear music?

Scenes of Japan that evoke tradition are often accompanied by ancient Japanese instruments, from the plucked and strummed twangs of the shamisen to a haunting flute sound with a sharp edge.

The latter is called the shakuhachi. The casual listener may recognize it from the music of romantic historical movies such as The Last Samurai, Memoirs of a Geisha or The Last Emperor. It was also used in the blockbusters Braveheart and Jurassic Park. The shakuhachi has also made appearances, both in electronic and natural forms, on many albums by contemporary recording artists such as Rush, Incubus, and Linkin Park. The sound famously served as the overture for Peter Gabriel’s hit "Sledgehammer" [full video here if you want to be whisked back to 1986] .

The shakuhachi came to Japan via Korea and has been traditionally played by the wandering monks of the Fuke sect of Zen Buddhism. During the Tokugawa era, the monks were one of few groups who the shogunate granted permission to travel without restrictions around Japan due to their religious duties involving playing the shakuhachi and begging for alms.

For those intrigued by this widespread yet relatively unknown instrument, Japan Society holds a shakuhachi master class and a separate workshop on the breathing technique employed by the Fuke monks during meditation called missoku (secret breathing).

Taking place Sunday, October 24, the master class and workshop are led by renowned instrumentalist Akikazu Nakamura, who studied shakuhachi and missoku for many years in Japan. recently caught up with Nakamura on the East Coast and captured this astounding performance:

There's plenty of opportunity in NYC this weekend to ride shakuhachi sound waves. The night before his master class and workshop, Nakamura performs live music for MoMA's premiere of the lost Japanese silent cinema masterpiece Kurutta Ippeiji [A Page of Madness], the centerpiece of the eighth annual To Save and Project festival of film preservation.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Something Obake This Way Comes

Can you spot the bakeneko? Via.

The wind softly howls outside your bedroom. You think it carries voices, but shake your head and mumble that it is only the sound of the wind ripping leaves from branches. You turn away from the window. An eerie light glows from behind your door accompanied by the soft sounds of padded feet. What it could be? The sound falls silent at the door, but something is there. Then you hear a soft, almost inaudible rapping–deafening to your ears. The rapping becomes insistent. You jump from the bed and slowly walk to the door. You grab the latch and fling it open. You look left and right. Nothing is there. You begin to think it was just your imagination, until you feel something brush up against your leg. An otherworldly cat look up at you and everything fades to black. You have just met a bakeneko.


This is only one of the many Japanese ghost stories, and the purrfect way to bring in the Halloween season and Japan Society's first-ever costume party OBAKE! An evening of Ghost, Spirits and Fun.

Obake are Japan's wide range of spirits and night creatures. In a fantastic article on Japanese ghosts, Mangajin Magazine notes obake are understood as transformations unlike their more tangible Western cousins. They are preternatural phenomena that alter and shift, where one meaning becomes unhinged and twisted into something undermining life's certainties. These can be everyday objects imbued with nefarious or nebulous sentience. Obake also encompass strange and grotesque beings: yokai ghouls and goblins, at times amusing, frightening or bizarre; yurei vengeance spirits; and oni ogres that terrorize the world when they're not guarding the gates of Buddhist hells.

Japan has tons ghosts and otherworldly creatures (discover more at Cosmologies' Japanese Spirit Realm  or the Obakemono Project.) We hope you conjure your best (or worst!) to share in the fun, terror, excitement and all the planned tricks and treats at Japan Society on October 29.

In addition to food, drink, music, a costume competition and complementary night tours of the current supernatural exhibit (granted, more spiritual than spooky, but there's plenty of demons and monsters), there's also a screening of the cult classic Japanese horror film Hausu, which purports a man-eating piano in addition to a bakeneko that has to be seen to be believed.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Five Films You Might Want To Watch With The Buddha Before Killing Him

To thine own self be... ouch! Via.
"If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha."
Linji Yixuan, Ch'an Master (? – 866)

Zen practices help people achieve serenity, better focus and greater understanding of the self. But as with everything in life, light must co-exist with darkness.

Enter Japan Society’s Zen & Its Opposite [watch the trailer], five classic films that show the relationship between Zen and violence, often overlooked when discussing Zen philosophy. Historically we can look to samurai meditating in order to center themselves before violent combat. Metaphysically, we can look at the constant battle between our spiritual selves and earthly desires.

A good example of the latter is the 1964 supernatural Japanese fantasy/horror film Kwaidan, which launches Zen & Its Opposite tonight. Each film illustrates one or several of the "Six Planes of Existence" in Buddhism's realm of birth and death. Kwaidan is four ghost stories elegantly strewn together, but at its core represents "The Realm of Humans", where beings are both good and evil--enlightenment within their grasp, yet blinded and consumed by their desires.Each of the short stories that comprise Kwaidan creates worlds where one must be on constant alert – something Zen Buddhism strives to improve upon – and nothing is as it seems.

Though the film was made by Japanese people, who might readily understand these Eastern concepts, the book on which the film was based was actually written by noted 19th century Japanologist Lafcadio Hearn, who was British-born and naturalized as a Japanese citizen in 1895, taking the name Yakumo Koizumi. So great was Hearn’s affinity for Japanese culture that his stories read like a born and bred native Japanese who has never stepped foot in the West.

After Kwaidan Zen & Its Opposite continues through February with screenings of Onibaba, Fires on the Plain, Hell  and Sword of Doom. Tickets are $12 or $9 Japan Society members, students and seniors.

For those who can’t get enough ghost stories before Halloween, Japan Society invites you to check out OBAKE! on October 29 for an evening of fun with ghosts, costumes and one of the most insane Japanese horror films of all time. More on that later!


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Creative Rights And Writing With Lewis Hyde

Lewis Hyde (r) gets messy with fellow ox herder Max Gimblett. Via.
Lewis Hyde is a renowned author, teacher, MacArthur Fellow and cultural critic known for his thought provoking and careful but lively debates about artistic body and the creative process. Notes NPR in a recent profile:
Hyde, whom David Foster Wallace once called "one of our true superstars of nonfiction," is an infectiously enthusiastic writer. He's able to jump from topic to topic while never losing sight of his thesis, and the side roads he takes the reader down — from Emily Dickinson to Bob Dylan, from Benjamin Franklin (whom Hyde calls the "founding pirate") to John Cage — are fascinating.
His books include The Gift, the classic treatise on creativity in society, and Trickster Makes This World, about the playful and disruptive side of human imagination. His latest tome, Common as Air  rethinks copyright and intellectual property for the 21 century. Here is a typically Hyde-ian section from NPR's lengthy excerpt:
"Intellectual property" is the phrase now used to denote ownership of art and ideas, but what exactly does it mean? Does it make sense, to begin with, to say that "intellect" is the source of the "properties" in question? A novel like Ulysses, the know-how for making antiviral drugs, Martin Luther King, Jr's "Dream" speech, the poems of Rimbaud, Andy Warhol screen prints, Mississippi Delta blues, the source code for electronic voting machines: who could name the range of human powers and historical conditions that attends such creations? All that we make and do is shaped by the communities and traditions that contain us, not to mention by money, power, politics, and luck. And even should the artist or scientist think she has extracted herself from the world to stand alone in the studio, a tremendous array of faculties and mind- states may well attend her creativity. 
There is intellect, of course, but also imagination, intuition, sagacity, persistence, prudence, fantasy, lust, humor, sympathy, serendipity, will, prayer, grief, courage, visual acuity, ambition, guesswork, mother wit, memory, delight, vitality, venality, kindness, generosity, fortitude, fear, awe, compassion, surrender, sincerity, humility, and the ability to integrate diametrically opposed states of mind into harmonious wholes . . . We would need quite a few new categories to fully map this territory — "dream property," "courage property," "grief property" — and even if we had that list, only half the problem would have been addressed.
Hyde champions the idea that art does not grow through strict adhesion to doctrine but instead takes the framework from past generations and uses it to bring forth new life--an ancient dialogue to find the perspective needed to contemplate our modern world. For Japan Society's oxherding exhibit, he translated and reinterpreted the ancient Chinese Buddhist parable "The Ten Oxherding Pictures"  concurrently with the creation of Max Gimblett's powerful ink-brush paintings. Discussing the process, he writes:
When it comes to the translations, the plan is to have each oxherding text appear in three different English versions: a “one word ox” which sticks slavishly to the Chinese (one word per character), a “spare sense ox,” which puts each Chinese syntactic unit into a simple English sentence, and an “American ox” (or “fat American ox”) which takes considerable liberties while trying to be faithful to my intuitions about the meaning of the series.
In conjunction with oxherding , Hyde gives a creative writing workshop at Japan Society on Saturday October 16 called The Personality of a Poem . A former director of creative writing at Harvard, and currently a creative writing teacher at Kenyon College, he will help writers of all levels discover methods of finding the "personal personality" of any written work of art, steering away from conventional thought and fostering instinct to travel down the unbeaten path and enjoy the wisdom it offers.

One of several workshops Japan Society's Zen season (including painting, breathing, and meditation),  this event is a good example of the opportunity the Society regularly affords that fulfills Hyde's call to action in his essay "Created Commons":
Let us begin by recognizing how deeply all creative enterprise needs to be fed by its larger community. Let us work to build the institutions that will make all talent prone to the happy accident of its fruition. Let us create a future that will be proud to name us as its ancestors.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

One Of Kind Monster: X Japan's Heavy Metal Rocks NYC

X Japan's lead singer Toshi at Roseland Ballroom. Via.

In the immortal words of Metallica frontman and rhythm guitarist James Hetfield, "Adrenaline starts to flow/Thrashing all around/Acting like a maniac/ Whiplash!" It can only refer to one type of music: Heavy Metal. Born in the UK in the early 70s, metal became a global phenomenon in the 80s with various sub-genres and a penchant for booming vocals; loud, fast, distorted guitars; pounding bass lines; and blasting drum beats.

Japan was by no means left out of the heavy metal revolution in the 80s and still has a thriving community of metal fans ranging from high school students to salarymen who unashamedly love this brand of subversive music in a country where so many outsiders perceive conformity to be status quo.

Arguably Japan’s most popular and successful heavy metal band, X Japan  just finished their first-ever North American tour at New York’s Roseland Ballroom last weekend. Notes Consequence of Sound in their enthusiastic review:
There are times when a person can get an inkling of what they’re in for with a concert before the show even starts. X Japan’s gig at New York’s Roseland Ballroom, their last stop on their first North American tour, was one such example. As we approached the venue, we noticed something peculiar about the line to get in, which was already moving. It wrapped around the entire block. Twice.
What separates X-Japan from other metal bands? Some people regard Japan as a country that takes a lot of influence from the West and "Japan-ifies" it. But X Japan took the sounds of several metal genres and an image even more over the top than the glam metal bands coming out of the West Coast in the 80s and pioneered a uniquely Japanese form of rock and metal known as Visual Kei, Japanese for "visual style."

Visual Kei is best summed up by one of X-Japan's early slogans: "Psychedelic Violence Crime of Visual Shock." In Visual Kei, image is emphasized as much as the music. Similar to American glam, the look consists of heavy make-up, flamboyant hair and costumes, and the occasional dip into androgyny. One could take this unique musical image to be a reflection of the surroundings under which the band formed and grew. American bands such as Mötley Crüe, Ratt and Poison arose from the Sunset Strip in LA where image was everything, whereas X Japan  sprang from the Kanto region, home to such wild and cutting-edge shopping districts as Harajuku and Shibuya.

X Japan can be said to have raised the bar on imagery and theatrics with their unique style and sound, and nearly 30 years after inception, they completely rocked the locals in New York City. Our heads are collectively banging and our horns respectfully thrown. Rock on. \m/


J-Pop Shop Talk: Beyond The Cult Of Cute

Join the Tokidoki family tonight! Via.
FIT 's exhibit Japan Fashion Now, on through January 8, is a visual study of Japanese pop fashion. It explores the utilitarianism, avant-garde underpinnings, subculture gestures and touches of kawaii (cuteness). According to FIT, Japan's contemporary fashion combines "the cute and the scary, the beautiful and the ugly, the animate and the inanimate, the strange and the strangely beautiful."

This is also true of Japan's distinct popular design, J-pop, which has long been making a splash on Western shores. In 2004, BusinessWeek asked "Is Japanese Style Taking  Over The World?" Japanese culturalist Roland Kelts told he noticed the invasion in the form of Pikachu upstaging Snoopy in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.
"That was just the tip of the iceberg," says Kelts, a University of Tokyo professor and author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S. "I mean, [look at] the fact that sushi is available in mainstream supermarkets around the country; the fact that Japanese style, design and architecture are appearing in major cities around the country; [and] the popularity of manga and anime in bookstores and Wal-Mart and Target."
Japan Society looks at the phenomenon at tonight's discussion The J-pop Influence: A Western Obsession from a complete insider's perspective. Two of the world's top pop designers, Tokodoki's Simone Legno and Nooka’s Matthew Waldman share their love of J-Pop and their thoughts on how it affects our Western designers and consumers today. Discover the nouveau cult of cute from the people in the know!

Do you have the time... for tonight's lecture? Via.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Japan House: A Building That Builds Relationships

Japan Society: a vivisection.
New York City is a little global town. Each block, corner and street contains the swirling, multicultural fingerprints shaped by the people who live here.  We hear it, smell it, taste it, feel it and ever see the impact of the proverbial melting pot on our everyday lives. But one thing we might not notice--because of their permanence, their ubiquity, or their size--are the city's mammoth cultural beacons: the buildings.

On October 9 and 10, the eighth annual OHNY Weekend celebrates New York City's varied architecture and design, from the classic to the more exotic. For the fourth year in a row, Japan Society participates in OHNY with tours of its building (currently fully booked) and free admission to the Gallery show The Sound of One Hand.

Japan Society's building has been the center of the Society's mission to build understanding between the people of U.S. and Japan since it openend in 1971. Joe Earle, director of Japan Society Gallery notes that the building, designed by Junzo Yoshimura as the first example of contemporary Japanese architecture in New York, is a free adaptation of traditional Japanese architecture:
In Japan House (as Japan Society’s building was first called when it opened in 1971) we see a subtle blend of Japanese sensibility with contemporary materials and a modernist aesthetic. Although the building has undergone two campaigns of adaptation and extension over the years, its original atmosphere is especially well preserved in the lobby area with its low, modular, precast concrete ceiling, slate and timber surfaces, bamboo pond and stairs leading invitingly up to the gallery.
Though the Japan Society tours are full, we hope you have a chance to explore the building and the exhibition. In addition to the hundreds of buildings showcased throughout the city,  OHNY Weekend features a family festival to give children hands-on activities to discover and appreciate the beauty of New York City’s abundant architecture. Wherever the weekend takes you, and whatever your age, enjoy the places you pass by everyday in new and unexpected ways!


Thursday, October 7, 2010

From No-Self To Knowing Yourself: The Psychology Of Zen Buddhism And Its Real-World Applications

The unexamined ox is not worth training. Art by Max Gimblett.
Celebrities do it, Oprah endorses it, and we’ve already mentioned it: making a Zen escape to calm the nerves and unwind after a stress-filled day. But how does Buddhist philosophy and its mediational practices actually relieve stress and enable us to get in better mental shape? And how can we incorporate it our overly examined lives?

One of the world's most regarded experts on the subject, psychiatrist and author Mark Epstein (Thoughts Without a Thinker, Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart, Psychotherapy Without the Self), addresses these questions and more in Mindful Living, an intimate evening talk with oxherding contributor and author Lewis Hyde .

In the discussion Epstein and Hyde examine the connection between Zen teachings and psychology with an emphasis on awareness of the self and compassion for those around us and the world we live in. Both Zen philosophy and psychology deal with an examination of the self (or no-self, as the case may be), recognizing that if we understand ourselves we'll be better able to control our senses and emotions rather than being controlled by them. Zen meditation is a centering practice, allowing practitioners to achieve an increased sense of alertness and presence in their lives. Epstein shows how people can be more present, more tolerant, more generous, and more loving in daily life by incorporating meditation techniques into their routines. 

With the oxherding connection, the discussion also touches on how art and poetry can best express one’s feelings by providing an outlet for the senses. Hyde demonstrates how reading poetry, especially in multiple translations, enables readers to obtain new perspectives on the world and take solace in the mutability of language. He also shows how inspiration and compassion pour from paintings by classic artists such as 18th century Zen master Hakuin and contemporary artists such as Max Gimblett, Hyde's oxherding co-creator.

In addition to this one-time discussion, Japan Society offers a series of related workshops, from freeing the written word with Lewis Hyde and freeing the image from a sumi ink-soaked brush with Max Gimblett in October, to Zen for Everyone mediation workshops with Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara in November. Regardless of how you get to Japan Society, there's many paths to enlightenment once you arrive!


Join The Sound Of Critics And Audiences Clapping

The look of one hand. Via.
The legendary Yoshi Oida returns to Japan Society for two performances only, October 8 and 9, in what The Village Voice calls  a "rare chance to see the celebrated actor—who has not appeared in New York in 12 years—perform what is widely considered to be his masterwork."

Nearly 30 years after the original production (read the 1981 New York Times review), Oida breathes new life into his venerable one-man comedy with live music, Interrogations: Words of a Zen Master. This week Time Out New York warned "get ready to clap with one hand," while Flavorpill described the piece in detail :
Yoshi Oida is an actor, writer, director, and longtime member of Peter Brook's Paris-based International Centre for Theatre Research. His 1978 one-man show, Interrogations: Words of the Zen Masters, incorporates the brilliant British director's practice of breaking down barriers between performer and audience. Acting as a Zen master, Oida poses direct questions to audience members in the form of koans, riddles without definite answers, which determine enlightenment. One koan leads to another, lasting days. While there can be a very fine line between religion and theatre, Oida's Interrogations is one evening created for the sole purpose of a genuinely shared experience.
Though using Zen Buddhism as a framing device, the work draws from timeless theater conventions from around the world. In an exclusive interview with American Theatre [PDF of the article], heralding his return to New York, Oida discussed the play's intricacies:
The texts come from China’s 11th and 12th centuries. Normally in the Zen monastery, the master gives a koan to the student, and the student tries to think about it and write down a good answer. "Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of one hand clapping?" "Does a dog have a Buddha nature or not?" There are no right answers, because the koan is not logical. You must understand not the question, but what is the meaning underneath the question. In the 1970s, Beckett and Ionesco were very fashionable. Their plays were not realistic—they were anti-theatre. I thought, yes, this koan is very good for this world of anti-theatre, because there is no logic in it. The Rinzai Zen masters had a lot of questions, which I chose for the performance. Instead of finding out the answer, I pose the questions to the public. I am like a master asking a koan, and the public answers.
Interrogations take place Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $28 general admission and $23 for Japan Society member. A limited number of $14 student rush tickets are available 1 hour prior to each performance with valid student ID.

Yoshi Oida is also a celebrated opera director. His staging of Benjamin Britten's Death in Venice opens at the Canadian Opera Company on October 16.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

By These Powers Combined: New York City's Largest Pop Culture Convention To Date

Despite great peril, we survived the 2009 conventions. Image via.
The New York Comic Con and NY Anime Festival join forces, storming the Javits Center October 8-10 in what will undoubtedly be the greatest otaku show on Earth!

The hybrid monster convention features three days of East and West pop culture luminaries, virtuosos of ink and pen in the flesh, the unabashed selling and trading of precious goods, cult actors and VIPS dangled precariously before their devotees, and music, music and more music (and even some discussions about music).

For the third straight year, Japan Society joins hundreds of events and participants to give revelers a broader sample of the joys of Japanese culture (check out our vid from 2009).

Stop by the booth Friday to take part in an insane scavenger hunt with prizes from Kidrobot. We host a cosplay costume competition on Saturday (recruiting for our first-ever Halloween party in late October)—best costumes receive prizes from Kinokuniya Book Store. All weekend we'll be handing out free passes for our current exhibit of pop-y Zen Buddhist art from the 18th century, and there will be give-aways of our past exhibition catalogues, classic film screenings (currently focusing on the interplay of Buddhism and violence), and lectures ranging from Japan's influence on Western design  to Japan's inimitable vegetarian cuisine. We'll also be running around snagging choice interviews for our new Nihon New York video series (watch episodes 1 and 2) .

If you're at New York Comic Con or the NY Anime Fest this weekend, stop by the booth and say konnichiwa!

Konnichiwa Comic Con! Via.
S.H., S.J.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Hear The Silence So Loud

Details of Hiroki Otsuka's reverent and iconoclastic Daruma 28.

New York City: high-paced, intense--a metropolis where walking a step too slow or too fast can set off a deafening barrage of profanity and car horns. Amongst the craziness there always exists the need for escape, tranquility, and dare I say, Zen. For a weary New Yorker, Japan Society is that escape with its relaxingly quiet atmosphere, calming waterfall garden, and host of intellectually stimulating programs.

The escape is multiplied by three with the Society's new exhibition The Sound of One Hand, featuring America's first ever exhibition encompassing the paintings of eighteenth century Zen Buddhist master, Hakuin Ekaku. Though his work comes from a time where reverence and adherence to ancient traditions were the norm, it has a truly modern, populist feel to it.

Riffing on the contemporary vibe of Hakuin's art, the Society also presents two fresh, contemporary remixes on reverent Buddhist subject matter. Downtown artist Max Gimblett and author Lewis Hyde’s  oxherding is a bold spin of 'proper' form--10 years of collaboration deconstructing and reconstructing precious texts and holy images. As Gimblett himself puts it, he would have been considered a pop artist had he arrived in New York 10 years earlier in the 60s. His fusion of pop art sensibilities and Japanese calligraphy along with his intensity as an artist proves that the art of Zen, with its emphasis on tranquility and simplicity, doesn’t have to be boring.

There's another shock to the religious system before entering the Hakuin exhibit proper. Hiroki Otsuka’s Daruma 28 depicts the master and founder of Zen Buddhism, Daruma, in 4 acrylic paintings that portray him in private moments of spiritual struggle as a strikingly manga-esque, Gen-Y monk.

The Sound of One Hand opens today. Admission is $12, $10 for students and seniors, and free for Japan Society members and anyone under 16. oxherding and Daruma 28 are free to all Japan Society visitors during the course of the exhibition.