Thursday, December 1, 2011

Japan’s Hunt For Former Glory: Recommendations From A Leading East Asia Expert


It is hard to imagine that Japan, the nation many look to for cutting edge technology and pop culture coolness, may be waning as a world power. The revolving door of a government saw six different Prime Ministers in five years led to what some view as unstable domestic politics, and the recent natural disasters devastated the northeast coast of the country and caused a major meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant that is still affecting the city. Japan held the distinction of being an economic powerhouse second only to the U.S. for decades until China surpassed them this year, and the country now faces its third “lost decade” its bubble popped. While tensions surrounding the U.S. base in Okinawa eased a bit this year as a result of Operation Tomodachi, some believe South Korea is becoming a more viable strategic ally for the U.S.

In Losing Its Edge? Evans Revere on How Japan Can Remain a Leader & America’s Closest Partner in East Asia, former diplomat and revered East Asia expert Evans Revere tackle these issues. Sitting down with editor Andrew Bast on December 1 at Japan Society, Revere draws on his experience to offer insights on how Japan can return to its former glory.

Evans J.R. Revere is a Princeton University graduate, a U.S. Air Force veteran and has gone on to become a top foreign affairs specialist, with 35 years of government service under his belt and being fluent in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. He is currently the Senior Director at the global strategy firm Albright Stonebridge Group and specializes in advising clients concerning Korea, Japan, and China. From 2007 to 2010, he served as the President and CEO of the Korea Society in New York and notably was part of the “New Beginnings” policy study panel that came up with recommendations for improving Korean relations with the U.S. before President Obama met with South Korea President Lee Myung-bak. He has negotiated between the U.S. and North Korea and was responsible for the State Department’s effective response to the tsunami disaster that hit Indonesia and other parts of South Asia in December 2004.

--Sean Tomizawa

Monday, November 28, 2011

Nissan's Carlos Ghosn: Steering Through Crisis, Driving Into The Future

Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn. Via.

Carlos Ghosn has a laundry list of crises that he has faced as the President and CEO of Nissan. Recent events including the post-Lehman collapse, the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the Thai floods and European economic turmoil have all presented huge challenges for the automaker. However, according to Ghosn, the yen’s rise is exacerbating the impact of all the other crises and is forcing even profitable companies to stop investing in Japan. Endaka--or strong yen--is affecting the long-term future of Japan and it needs fixing immediately.

“The yen is appreciating at the worst moment for the Japanese economy,” Ghosn told a packed auditorium at the Japan Society recently [full video here]. “The problem is we are making money, everywhere except Japan,” he said.

Ghosn said that the appreciation of the yen means that Japan cannot compete on cost, despite the “indisputable” quality of goods, skilled workforce and wealth of talent. “We are surrounded by countries who are making sure the exchange rate is competitive, how can we face a tsunami, a flood, a financial system collapse and on top of this have to have a re-evaluation of the currency of 35 or 50 per cent? We can’t.”

Ghosn has taken his concerns about the yen right to the top. When the Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda visited the Nissan plant in Yokohama recently, Ghosn said he decided not to overwhelm him with a long list of problems.

“When the Prime Minister said, “What can I do for you?” I said, “One thing, fix the exchange rate.”

But Ghosn clearly subscribes to the school of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Carlos Ghosn was brought in to Nissan in 1999 to save the company. And he did. He quickly implemented the Nissan Revival Plan and the carmaker returned to growth and profitability--it now ranks third behind Toyota and Honda in the U.S. car market. In 2005, he was also named CEO of Renault and the combined companies have 350,000 employees and global sales of 7.2 million units in 2010. Nissan’s latest innovation is the Leaf electric car, the market leader in 100 per cent gas free cars with about 15,000 units sold worldwide.

His prescription for crisis management starts with a clear assessment of the scale of the problem. The next step is to make a plan that selects a few priorities to get through the crisis but also maintains some longer-term projects. In Nissan’s case, after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, everything except electric car production and expansion in China was put on hold while the company concentrated on maintaining cash flow.

Ghosn also emphasized the importance of empowering the workforce to deal with adversity. “There is no way, you’re going to get through a crisis alone,” he said. “The one key which explains why we recovered faster than our competitors after the tsunami and the Thai flood is because we empower people.” Naturally for empowerment to work, top management also needs to be committed to and engaged in the plan.

Ghosn does however believe that Nissan has an “anti-crisis” weapon in the form of the electric car. Some predict that electric cars will be 10 per cent of the market by 2020. “Everybody knows I am the most optimistic,” he joked. “Which is obvious because we’re the only one with the car.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Power of Tomodachi: U.S. Military's Humanitarian Efforts Cemented An Alliance

Adm. Walsh salutes a Sendai base during Operation Tomodachi. Via.

When the March 11 earthquake struck Japan, the commander of the 7th fleet of the U.S. navy was off the coast of Singapore. Without orders, he set a course for Honshu and within a short time every U.S. naval ship in the region was under way for Japan.

As U.S. Navy Admiral Patrick M. Walsh told a standing room-only audience at the Japan Society recently [watch the full video], it was the beginning of Operation Tomodachi--or Operation Friend in English.

“The real story here is in the power of the idea, the idea of tomodachi, the idea that represents who we are, where our relationship is and what it could be,” Walsh said.

As 59th Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Walsh oversaw the mission. For him, Operation Tomodachi went way beyond providing help to a nation in crisis; it cemented the U.S.-Japan alliance and highlighted the importance of understanding the geo-political challenges facing the Asia-Pacific region.

To appreciate the scale of Operation Tomodachi it helps to list a few numbers: there were 20 U.S. naval ships and 140 aircraft deployed to the area, and 19,703 U.S. marines and sailors took part. Many of the U.S. bases in Japan from the disputed Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, to Yokota Air base just west of Tokyo and Misawa Air base in Aomori were involved. They provided humanitarian aid including 246 tons of food and 21 million gallons of water. They also helped to contain the nuclear disaster and deal with the “emotionally debilitating” aftershocks. It was an operation that called upon all the U.S. armed forces’ logistical and technical skills but that also required immense compassion and diplomacy.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Joichi Ito: Open Networks And Hacker Spaces Can Save The World

Icono clash. Via Fast Company.

Juliet Hindell reports form Japan Society's November 10 event Innovation in an Open Network with MIT Media Lab director Joichi Ito. Watch the full video here.

Joichi Ito is the ultimate iconoclast – a college dropout who now heads an academic institution, the MIT Media Lab. He is also the Chair of Creative Commons, the open network organization, and founder of Tokyo-based Digital Garage.

And he recently became involved in Geiger counter production. Six months after partial nuclear meltdowns at three Tokyo Electric Power reactors, skeptical Japanese took nuclear measurement literally into their own hands. And Ito was there, doing what he does best – finding opportunity in chance.

Home-monitoring of radiation is just the latest venture of one of Japan’s foremost entrepreneurs. Ito is most famous for helping usher Japan into the Internet age by cultivating and connecting a generation of angel investors and hungry young Internet entrepreneurs eager to replicate the energy and success of Silicon Valley.

Ito didn’t plan much of this; in fact planning is something he thinks is overrated.

His own Internet career began when he realized that nobody really achieved anything in Japan before the age of 45. In the new virtual world, he discovered it was better to be young. There were no rules and things moved fast and fluidly.

“If you plan everything you can’t be lucky and you need a lot of luck,” he said at a recent talk at the Japan Society. Ito was describing how many great Internet ideas started through chance connexions.

“Nearly every internet company starts out as what sounds like a stupid idea,” Ito said. But a willingness to try things out has resulted in companies like YouTube, which began as a dating site and morphed to become the biggest video site on the Internet. Chance over planning is a foreign concept in Japan. He recalled proposing an idea to a Japanese company, which he estimated would have cost about $100,000 to implement. But the company embarked on a feasibility study at a cost of $3million. “So they spent $3miillion dollars trying to decide to eventually not do something that would have cost $100,000.”

Today with the Internet’s Open Software protocols, anyone can start a company quickly and easily, a process he sums up with the word “agile”. But it’s not a process that lends itself to too much planning. While he thinks the Japanese talent for such business strategies as just in time delivery should sit well with this open architecture, he also warns that when the process is institutionalized, it gets bogged down in over-planning. “You have what I would call a compass, but how exactly you get there you figure out as you go,” Ito said.

Figuring things out is where open networks and hacker spaces have a crucial role to play according to Ito. He believes they are at the forefront of the democratization of knowledge.

Monday, November 14, 2011

United We Stand As Friends: U.S. Aid To Japan's Earthquake And Tsunami Victims


In the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disasters in Japan, the U.S. armed forces mobilized immediately to assist the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to provide relief for victims. The mission, Operation Tomodachi (tomodachi means “friend” in Japanese), not only saved lives during devastating times, but helped cement good relations between the U.S. and Japan, where tensions have flared due to base relocation issues in Okinawa.

Vice President Joe Biden called Operation Tomodachi the “largest humanitarian relief effort in U.S. history”, when he stopped at the Yokota military base to thank the thousands of personnel who participated. In her talk at the U.S.-Japan Council Annual Conference in October, Hillary Clinton recalled seeing firefighters sent from Japan to aid Americans during the 9/11 attacks, and said she was proud that America could return the favor.

This mission’s leader Admiral Patrick M. Walsh, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet who most recently was active in leading the Combined Maritime Forces in Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and various maritime security operations, believes Operation Tomodachi demonstrated “forward presence in the region to support humanitarian crises and deter aggression.”

Walsh appears at Japan Society on November 15 in Operation Tomodachi: Support, Compassion, Commitment. He discusses his experience leading the large joint relief operation, and shares what he personally witnessed during the monumental collaboration. Japan Society Chairman Wilbur Ross moderates.

--Sean Tomizawa

Friday, November 11, 2011

Otomo Vs. Marclay: Heavyweight Turntablists Reunite For NYC Concert

Before it was a standard in early rap, hip hop and DJ sets, turntablism—the purposeful manipulation of records against the phonographic needle—was long part of avant-garde music making. Two modern day masters of the genre, Christian Marclay and Otomo Yoshihide, bring the artform to new heights, spinning, looping, skipping and scratching a wild combination of free jazz, noise rock, sound collages, and controlled cacophony.

Hailing from Yokohama, Japan, Otomo played around with electronic devices as a teenager thanks to his engineer father. His interest in music started with creating sound collages out of tape recorders, playing guitar in a high school band and eventually falling in love with free jazz. After graduating from Meiji University studying ethnomusical history, he performed throughout Japan with a wide range of musicians and formed his most well-known group, Ground Zero, in the early 90s. Since then, Otomo has gone on to work solo and with many other artists to create sound experiments, and was most recently involved with Project Fukushima!, a performance festival supporting of the victims of the nuclear disaster affecting the region where he grew up.

Marclay is widely accepted as the progenitor of turntablism as high art. In early experiments, he broke vinyl records and assembled the different parts, forging mashed up music accompanied by rhythmic noises from the physical imperfections. More recent work includes Guitar Drag, consisting of a hooked up electric guitar dragged across the ground by a pickup truck and its consequent sounds blasted out of a large amp, and the epic, internationally acclaimed 24-hour long video, The Clock, winner of the prestigious Golden Lion award.

Otomo and Marclay perform together in NYC for the first time in over a decade in a one-night-only concert jam at Japan Society November 19 (part of Performa 2011). Before taking the stage, the two artists take part in a pre-concert discussion with musician, writer, and curator Alan Licht and ethnomusicologist David Novak.

In addition, Otomo exhibits his installation piece Without Records, an homage to Marclay’s album Record Without a Cover, on view for the first time outside Japan November 17-20.

There are many samples of Otomo’s and Marclay’s work on YouTube. Some highlights:

--Sean Tomizawa

Thursday, November 10, 2011

He's On The Hunt, He's After Hues: Fashion Pioneer Mines Colors In Central Park

Does Sunglow, Jonquil or Goldenrod dominate Central Park? Via.

In 2008 fashion and design pioneer Dai Fujiwara and his creative team took to the vast tropical lands of the Amazon to color hunt, matching thousands of cloth swatches with the surroundings to find the color palette they eventually used for the ISSEY MIYAKE Spring Summer 2009 collection. According to ColourLovers, "To test the veracity of their choices, they strung strips of cloths over open spaces like the river. If the colours 'melted away' and did not stand out from the background, they knew they had chosen the correct ones."

In contrast to what most would think to find in such a rich, vibrant rainforest, Fujiwara discovered that earth tones were the most common matches, and, surprisingly the rivers bent more towards skin tones. One wonders what Fujiwara will find this month when he goes on a color hunting expedition in Central Park, where the leaves are at the height of fall change.

Japan Society welcomes Fujiwara November 16 in Mastermind in Textile: An Evening with Dai Fujiwara. He’ll discuss his Central Park findings, his tenure with ISSEY MIYAKE, and The Sun House, his foray into eco-friendly architecture in the early 00s, featured in the ongoing Fiber Futures exhibit. Cara McCarty, Curatorial Director of Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum of the Smithsonian Institution and an art and design expert with over 25 years of experience, moderates.

Graduated from Tama Art University in 1994, Fujiwara joined fashion mogul Issey Miyake as a member of the design studio Paris branch a year later, and was appointed creative director in 2006. One of his biggest accomplishments was the award-winning and museum-featured A-POC (A Piece of Cloth) project where clothing meets craftwork. On huge rolls of special fabric, shirts, pants and the like can simply be cut out with a scissor and put on in a flash with customizations easily made when needed. In 2006 Fujiwara was named creative director of ISSEY MIYAKE. He left the position in 2011 to pursue his own projects.

--Sean Tomizawa

Fujiwara sayonara. Via.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Avant Zen: Today’s Japanese Architecture

The Tod. Via.

Purity, clarity, calm. Much of Japan’s contemporary architecture exudes such feelings with wave-like curved walls and deceivingly simple stacked box structures. These buildings inspire awe, break beyond the expected and strive for ecological mindfulness--hand-in-hand with Zen concepts.

On November 10 Japan Society hosts New Japan Architecture: Recent Works & New Trends with celebrated architect Edward Suzuki and Dr. Geeta Mehta, professor of architecture at Colombia University and author of New Japan Architecture: Recent Works by the World's Leading Architects.

Inspired by Design published arresting highlights from this “new magnum opus of Japanese design”, featuring 42 established and fringe architects and 48 major projects from Kisho Kurokawa’s Tokyo National Museum (awesome interview in that link), to Toyo Ito’s Tod building, to Shigeru Ban’s Tokyo headquarters for Swatch. From the book's introduction:

When it comes to contemporary house design, the Japanese can be fearless and willing to forego comforts dear to most of us in order to live in a work of art. Shigeru Ban once remarked that he loved working for clients in Japan because they were willing to take a design further than any Western client.
Edward Suzuki, one of the featured architects in the book, has created a wide range of impressively designed homes, schools, and train stations, as well as the unlikely koban in Shibuya and a parking area out in Chiba. Born in Saitama in 1947, he studied at the University of Notre Dame and worked at various design firms in Tokyo and New York before starting his own in 1977. His works invoke a simultaneous sense of openness and structure through his use of large glass pane windows and repeated squares, rectangles, and the occasional curve to form the framework of a building. Interior greenery like large trees and potted bamboo add to the fresh, breath-taking feel of his designs.

Geeta Mehta has spent much of her life in Japan, graduating from the University of Tokyo, and is partner with Jill Braden at the interior design firm Braden & Mehta Design. Her harmonious blend of Western and Asian influences appear in work throughout U.S., Vietnam, and India as well for various corporations and private homes. Among her humanitarian efforts, she founded the the Mumbai-based Urbz think tank and the nonprofit Asia Initiatives. Along with the publication of New Japan Architecture, Mehta has penned several books on Japanese architecture and design.

--Sean Tomizawa

Earth first in much of Japan’s new architecture. Via.

Monday, November 7, 2011

We Are Legion: Decentralizing The Internet For Innovation

The general attitude among netizens is that with all the data that comprises the Internet, sharing is caring. Or is it the other way around?

In terms of file sharing, many are familiar with the concept of direct downloading as a means of getting music and videos, and its web of legal issues. An alternative method is BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer system where users simultaneously download and upload pieces of an original file which get shared around the Internet to complete the download. Instead of receiving data from a single source, multiple owners of the file chip in to help others claim their own.

BitTorrent is one example of free and open-source software (FOSS), in which anyone can take available software, make changes, improve, and redistribute it for free as long as they allow others do the same. There is no copyright concern, which can slow or even prevent openly sharing valuable information and knowledge that leads to innovation and breakthroughs. Ultimately FOSS exists to help “individuals and organizations reduce cost, increase use, improve standards compliance, enhance security, and avoid vendor lock-in.”

The philosophy and practical applications of FOSS can help solve impossibly complex problems and even have life-saving ramifications.

In Japan, in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunamis that led to nuclear crisis at Fukushima, little information was made available for people concerned about radiation levels. Safecast, formerly known as RDTN, took matters into hand by aggregating radiation data from various sources. In the spirit of FOSS, the team makes all data available to everyone after planting static radiation sensors around Japan, as well as utilizing portable Geiger counters that work with mobile devices.

As a forefront advocate for internet freedom and global technology policy, Joichi Ito, director of MIT Media Lab and former CEO of Creative Commons , argues we no longer live in a world of central control but rather in ecosystem of "small pieces loosely joined" with innovation on the edges. The ubiquity and low cost creation and distribution of information has fundamentally changed the way we collaborate.

Ito shares his ideas in Innovation in an Open Network at Japan Society on November 10. Drawing from his work at MIT, he’ll look at startups like Safecast, use of citizen Geiger counters, and other examples of 21st century practices that are bettering the world. Michael Zielenziger, McKinsey Global Institute senior editor and author of Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created its Own Lost Generation moderates.

--Sean Tomizawa

Friday, November 4, 2011

Art Alive On A5: Inspirational Postcard Pieces from Tohoku Artists

When the Great East Japan Earthquake hit on March 11th, power went out in most of the Tohoku region, impeding communications for weeks on end. The postal service turned out to be a godsend for families and friends. “In many cases, the first news that loved ones were safe was by postcard,” notes Joe Earle, director of Japan Society gallery.

Kate Thomson and Hironori Katagiri, two sculptors who divide time between Edinburgh, Scotland, and Iwate, Japan, curated work by 22 Tohoku-based artists in Postcards From Japan, a mini-exhibition free to the public at Japan Society’s A-Level until November 27.

Down by Japan Society's auditorium are two opposing walls lined with numerous tiny framed art pieces. They consist of beautiful photographic, acrylic, and ink work as well as some unusual media such as ruined remains of a school textbook, broken seashells, and even a small dried out fish.

The small-size artwork--fitting Japan’s standard A5 brochure paper--expresses a huge range of emotions. Abstract pieces stand out due to their use or lack of color while old photographs showing better times. Found objects from the aftermath wordlessly describe what has been lost. The conveyed feelings of whimsy, grief, and, most importantly, hope is incredibly powerful.

In the words of the wall text, Postcards from Japan is “a meditation on nature’s power to challenge us with no warning but it also reassures that life is indeed continuing in devastated Tohoku.”

When most funds are going directly towards relief efforts, the curators feel that creating art goes one step further to help “boost morale and stimulate hope for the future and enthusiasm to rebuild”. Sales from the exhibitions’ accompanying catalogue benefit artists living and working in the Tohoku.

--Sean Tomizawa

Images (top to bottom): Megumi Honda (1972–), Tono, Iwate Prefecture, Tenshin 2011, 2011, shells collected from hometown of Higashi-Matsushima, and paper , 5 3/4 x 8 1/4 in. (14.8 x 21 cm); Shigenobu Yoshida (1958- ), Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, Light Bird, 2011, acrylic on acrylic board, 5 3/4 x 8 1/4 in. (14.8 x 21 cm).

Friday, October 28, 2011

Cucumbrage: A Japanese Folktale Halloween Encore

What's that smell? Via.

It’s Halloween time and Japan Society once again has something spooktacular in store: Meet Japan’s Mystical Folktale Creatures& Ghosts through Theater Performance is back Sunday to treat families to all the creatures and ghosts unique to Japanese culture. Among many activities, kids can put on their best oni face with mask-making, or take the guise of other yokai as they enjoy the song and dance of an original play by Kanako Hiyama created just for the special day.

In the tradition of storytelling before the event (remember the zashiki warashi and bakeneko?), here’s a little introduction to a certain water-dwelling monstrosity…

One summer vacation, instead of hanging with his friends back in the city, a young boy is dragged by his parents to his grandparents’ home in the middle of nowhere.

The boy decides to walk through the nearby woods for a little adventure following a spat with his parents. Venturing deep into thick rows of old, gnarled trees and deepening piles of fallen leaves, the boy finds little amusement until he comes across a wooden signed nailed to one of the trees.


A strange sign to have in the middle of the woods, he thinks, then is distracted by a river peeking through a clearing in front of him.

He rushes over, marveling at the wide expanse of water. He delights in its shore, throwing rocks in the reiver every so often, until he trips over a basket of cucumbers. Without a thought--they look so very delicious--and having left the house with no lunch, the boy picks one out and digs in.

As soon as he bites into the cold, fresh cucumber goodness, the river bubbles and a slimy green arm with a thin webbed hand reaches out for the boy’s feet. He slowly backs away gripped by fear as a short creature with a beaked face, giant turtle shell on its back, and a disgusting stench emerges from the water, approaching with menace. The boy drops the cucumber and without thinking starts bowing deeply while profusely apologies. He looks up to see the creature stopped dead in its track. With vague look of comprehension on its unnatural face, the creature bends in a slow, low bow. Just as its beak touches the ground, water pours from a shallow hole in its its head. Realizing what has happened it falls to the ground in panic and weakly stares at the boy, who takes the opportunity to escape back home to the arms of his worried parents.

That day, the kappa has shown the boy that a little bit of politeness (and luck) goes a long way.

--Sean Tomizawa

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Stray Dog Homecoming: Daido Moriyama Returns To NYC

Black-and-white, high contrast, rough grains, askew, out of focus. Daido Moriyama’s thought-provoking photographic pieces--exhibited in Stray Dog at Japan Society in 1999--brought to light the dark, raw reality of Japanese city life when the nation struggled to reclaim its cultural identity in the midst of Western influences.

Moriyama was born in 1938 in the city of Osaka and started his photography career at 21, apprenticing with the famed Eikoh Hosoe, as Japan was still building from the occupation years. Some see in his work echoes of Japanese photographers Seiryu Inoue and Shomei Tomatsu as well as American artists such as Andy Warhol and William Klein, but for six decades his work has been quintessential Moriyama. From shadowy images of nude figures in the seedy underground to close-ups of seemingly random objects in Tokyo alleys, the work is an abstract of modernity taking hold of postwar Japan.

On November 4 & 5 Moriyama appears in Aperture Foundation’s PRINTING SHOW—TKY. Part of Performa 2011, this re-creation of his‘74 performance piece invites gallery patrons to suggest and arrange duplicates of Moriyama’s prints, photocopied onsite by the artist himself, to create a series of photobooks on display through November.

The day before the performances, Moriyama returns to Japan Society in An Evening with Daido Moriyama, discussing his many ventures into the photography world with a focus on his series 71 New York and PRINTING SHOW. Moderated by International Center of Photography curator Christopher Phillips, the evening offers fans and photographers alike insight into the life, work and high-contrast technique of the modern master.

--Sean Tomizawa

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Tale Of Two Conventions: New York Comic Con & Anime Festival 2011 Wrap-Up

Comic Con/NYAF 2011 activate! Via Brooklyn Vegan's awsm photo collection.

This year marked the fourth time I have been to New York Comic Con and Anime Festival and its magnitude and depth never ceases to amaze. From October 13 to 16, the Javits Center housed the biggest New York gathering of comic enthusiasts, anime diehards, and pop culture geeks of the world.

Reed Exhibitions, the event’s producers, once again outdid themselves by adding an extra day to the usual three, bringing even more special guests both new and returning, providing hours of fascinating panels, and cramming tons of exhibitors throughout the Javit’s 675,000 square feet of space with rare comics, one-of-a-kind merchandise, goods imported from Japan, and objects of nostalgia.

Close to a 100,000 people over the four days roamed the Center, many creatively costumed as characters parading around all four floors of the building. The amorphous mass of comic crusaders shuffled and huddled through the mammoth exhibitor halls, the theater, dealer’s showroom, autograph signing area, and artist alleys--all filled to capacity.

We waited hours in lines for panels featuring special guests such as Mark Hamill (the actor who played Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker, who has gained an even bigger following as the voice of Batman’s eternal enemy, Joker), exclusive screenings such as the upcoming Avengers movie hosted by Captain America star Chris Evans, and discussions around every conceivable facet of comics, anime, and video games.

We saw big names such as Tony Moore, original artist for the Walking Dead comic series, and Pendleton Ward, creator of the incredibly wacky Cartoon Network show "Adventure Time", got their autographs, and brought back plenty of freebies and purchased action figures (signed by the previously mentioned artists!

Riding side car to New York Comic Con’s behemoth, New York Anime Festival (NYAF) roosted in the Javit’s incredible fourth fourth floor (imagine Cloud City from Empire Strikes Back combined with BSG's hangar deck). Populating this celestial haven were talented amateur artists displaying prints, buttons and all sorts of crafts, while the maid café gleamed with fancily dressed maids and butlers handing out candy. Opposite superheroes of every incarnation and valuable vintage comics was everything kawaii cute (heavy on the animal ears).

As always, the Japan element was in full force. NYAF flew over a slew of prolific industry names from Japan such as Makoto Shinkai, prodigy director (hailed to be the next Hayao Miyazaki) of feature anime films such as 5 Centimeters Per Second and The Place Promised in Our Early Days; screenwriter Dai Sato (Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell);  Katsuhiro Harada, longtime producer of the venerable Tekken fighting game series; and Junko Takeuchi, voice of popular manga character, Naruto, from the original anime dubbing. Other anime and manga-focused panels were hosted by industries like FUNimation and VIZ Media, who provided updates on acquired licenses and their release dates.

For the fourth year running, Japan Society had its own booth thanks to the organizers of NYAF.

"Maybe it’s the closeted otaku in me, but I live for the Comic Con and New York Anime Fest," said Japan Society’s Shannon Jowett, who volunteered at the Society’s booth. "The sense of community—by sheer number as well as  connectivity—is overwhelming and infections. Everyone gets along, has fun and shares passions and creative interests that they may not able to express everyday.”

Recognizing anime and manga fans’ inherent love for all things Japan, NYAF invited Japan Society to take part in the festival in 2008, offering convention goers exposure to many different kinds of Japanese culture.

“When we first started attending the cons in 2008, very few people knew about Japan Society,” said Jowett. “Now people run up to our booth, eager to sign up for language classes we offer and find out what we have coming up. They share stories from exhibits and concerts they’ve attended here and try out the Japanese they’ve learned from our language center. On a couple of occasions people have told us about the Japan-appreciation organizations they’ve started at their schools because of their experiences with us. Next to the guy that dresses up as a full-fledged Transformer, there is no greater joy at the Con.”

--Sean Tomizawa

Bumble be real. Via.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Cibo Matto: Reunited And It Tastes So Good

Putting the mmmmm in matto. Photo by Valentine.

After a 10-year hiatus, NYC’s delicious downtown duo Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda take Japan Society’s stage for the first time ever as the iconic band Cibo Matto on October 20.

"Japan Society has long been an important bridge between Japanese culture and the American audience,” the twosome told us. “We are very excited to play here".

Their style has been described as sharp, whimsical, and irreverent, with lyrics that buoy a vibrant spectrum of sounds influenced by hip-hop, trip-hop, jazz, rock, pop and African and Brazilian beats.

We are known as the band that sings about food,” Honda told MTV’s “House of Style” in the mid-90s . In fact, the phrase cibo matto is Italian for “crazy food” or “food madness”. The pudding proof of their moniker is in a smorgasbord of songs, from the sweetly smooth grooves of “Sugar Water” and tug-and-pull funk of “Beef Jerky”, to the avant spice of “Sci-Fi Wasabi” and the wack-a-doodle-doo-wop of “I Know My Chick”.

In addition to classics their set will be peppered with new, never-before-heard songs from their forthcoming reunion album, which NPR teased when the band began their tour this summer. An exciting roster of guest stars at the Japan Society concert includes Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, drummer Yuko Araki, bassist Jesse Murphy, instrumentalist Doug Wieselman and vocalist Jared Geller.

Opening for the band, silky-voiced J-pop sensation Yu Sakai marks his international debut. The Tokyo native keyboardist/singer-songwriter broke out in 2009 and won iTunes’ 2010 Best J-Pop Album of the year award with his debut album, Only Yu. His music is a blend of R&B beats, jazz-fused J-Pop melodies, self-mixed instrumentation and multi-layered vocals.

In what has been called a one-night-only music mashup of downtown New York and modish Shibuya, the concert is Cibo Matto’s first headlining NYC show since their highly acclaimed, sold-out Bowery Ballroom set in July and is the band’s only currently scheduled East Coast show.

CIBO MATTO and YU SAKAI: J-Music Ride takes place Thursday, October 20 at 8:00 pm. Doors open at 7:00 pm, and there is a cash bar open before and after the show, and during intermission. Tickets are $25/$20 Japan Society members and may be purchased by calling the Japan Society box office at 212-715-1258, visiting, or in person at the Japan Society box office.

--Shannon Jowett

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Secretary of State Clinton: Friendship Cornerstone To U.S.-Japan Relationship

Secretary Clinton at the U.S.-Japan Council conference. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta via.

Last Friday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made remarks at the U.S.-Japan Council's annual conference. The crux of her speech was common experiences that have built a strong, lasting friendship between the U.S. and Japan, a relationship that "has been tested by time and tragedy, by rivalry, and by the natural push and pull between two proud nations... And each time, it comes back even stronger." She continues:
Ten years ago, as a senator from New York, I saw firsthand what our friendship meant. When Japan sent firefighters from 7,000 miles away to help with the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, I was moved, but I wasn’t surprised. That’s just the kind of friend that Japan is to America and to many countries around the world. Wherever there is famine, disease, poverty, wherever there is a young democracy struggling to take root, from the frontlines to the forgotten corners, Japan is there, working hand in hand with America to build a safer, more prosperous world.

The generosity that moved us after 9/11 we sought to repay after 3/11. After Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, our governments launched the largest joint military operation in our history. More than 20,000 Americans from our military and other agencies took part in what we called Operation Tomodachi. Now, this was more than just a search and recovery mission; this was a demonstration of our deep ties, because as you know so well, tomodachi means friend, and that’s what we want it to be.

Americans who remembered the red and white flags on the jackets of Japanese volunteers at ground zero flew to Japan to return the favor. Across our country, in small towns and large cities, people raised money. Springfield, Illinois, for example, raised $32,000 selling blue jeans for their sister city in Japan. Nebraska corn growers donated nearly 9,000 bushels of grain. Japan-America societies across this country raised over $20 million for relief efforts in Japan. And the ambassador is passing out these white wristbands, which I’m very proud to wear. And as you might guess, he’s very persistent. So again, just say yes when he approaches you. (Laughter.)
Via the National Association of Japan Societies.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Generation Mobile: Kids Change The World One Cellphone At A Time

"Games should be played only in game arcades." Via.

Something that never ceases to amaze me is how far ahead Japan is in the cellphone industry. Japanese cellphones, or keitai denwa, had the ability to scan QR codes years before any other country had access to the technology, receive and send emails with unique addresses that have practically no character limit, and even watch local television shows with decent quality.

Their uniqueness even inspired the christening of a sociological phenomenon: Japan’s Galapagos Syndrome, "a phrase originally coined to describe Japanese cell phones that were so advanced they had little in common with devices used in the rest of the world”. The U.S. has played catch-up in the last decade with the advent of the smartphones like the iPhone and Droid series, both of which have gained popularity in Japan.

While the proliferation of cellphone culture seems to know no age boundaries, young people especially make up a large portion of mobile media culture in both Japan and the U.S. Some fear kids are becoming consumed by their handhelds and more and more prone to distraction. In Japan, where cellphones are practically given away as very fancy toys to those as young as middle school age, there is concern about children’s susceptibility to cyber-bullying and, worse, internet crimes. It is no wonder these devices are shunned and disallowed in the classroom.

But as technology becomes increasingly more handheld and integral to social engagement, what does the future have in store for educators, their students, and generations of youth?

Tonight’s panel Keitai Kids: Youth, Culture and Social Media in the USA and Japan looks at how mobile social media can be used to better education. The discussion features Tomi Ahonen, former executive for Nokia and a leading consultant on the mobile market, and the University of Tokyo media studies profoessor, Shin Mizukoshi, a proponent of cellphones in education, whose focus is anthropological as opposed to the more common technological stance. Trebor R. Scholz, the summit chair of the Politics of New School's Digital Culture Conference moderates.

The panels is part of The New School's MobilityShifts: An International Future of Learning Summit, a week-long conference bringing together great minds from different backgrounds to showcase how mobile media can be used to effectively teach and learn from outside the classroom.

The event is also a precursor of Japan Society Education Program’s new Going Global initiative, which will connect thousands of school children from Japan, America, and Pakistan through social networking activities and share ideas with each other to work towards a better world.

--Sean Tomizawa

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Destination JS: A Conbini-ent Truth

Dainobu's Authentic Japanese Grocery Experience In Midtown East

Destination JS explores the sites, shops, and eateries surrounding Japan Society.

One of the many things I miss about living in Japan is being near the convenience stores -- conbini -- that lined almost every street sometimes right next to each other. Whether it’s to stock up on a wide range of drinks, gorge on inexpensive and delicious bento, or do some minor grocery shopping, conbini are indeed the greatest convenience.

Fortunately for those with a hunger for the genuine Japanese conbini experience, Dainobu on 129 East 47th Street between Lexington and Third Avenue is only a short walk from Japan Society.

From beneath a striking orange and white awning, Dainobu’s bright and colorful interior invites passersby to either sensory overload or a nostalgia trip. Aisles of wet and dry goods provide even the most discerning Japanese food shopper with just about anything they need.

Dainobo also serves as a lunch spot for Midtown Manhattan's working urbanites. Visitors crowd around the large and varied selection of bento boxes and sushi rolls, while some wait in the back for a hot bowl of ramen, udon, curry, and much more. These authentic meals are less than $10, allowing satisfied customers to make off with authentic Japanese fare like bandits.

A place like Dainobu would not be complete without all the unique baked goods, such as the ever-popular imported melon bread. I was ecstatic to see my favorite Ginza Kimuraya steam cake. Those with Pocky on their mind may be more inclined towards the snack section, where all sorts of chocolates, gummies, potato chips, and other interesting products await.

Dainobu stems from several generations of grocery store owners, and the current head, Yasuaki Dainobu, expanded into New York in 2008. Meanwhile, the company has properties other than supermarkets, ranging from coin laundromats, floral shops, and internet cafés in the prefecture of Kumamoto where it all began.

After getting a fill of Japanese culture at Japan Society, Dainobu is a one stop shop for Japanese treats and staples that fill the stomach.

--Sean Tomizawa 

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Rise And Fall Of The House Of Mario: Can Nintendo ‘Leave Luck To Heaven’ Anymore?

Nintendo once held the undisputed position as the king of video games thanks to its long-living handheld Gameboy series as well as early consoles like the Nintendo Entertainment System and its many successors. The company has captivated the gaming audience ever since the mid-70s when they decided to look to electronic games to turn around their fading fortunes as a playing card company. Now the likes of Donkey Kong, Link, Samus Aran, and, of course, Mario, are recognized names worldwide for casual and core gamers alike.

Today, however, things are different as competing gaming consoles with superior technology from Sony and Microsoft and numerous smartphone games threaten to bury the venerable video game mainstay.

In 2006 the Wii jump started Nintendo’s resurrection from the failure of its predecessor, the Gamecube. Many bought into the Wii’s unique motion controls, which led to it completely leapfrogging the PS3 and Xbox 360 in sales for years, even remained in short supply for a awhile. However, the gimmick kept the console popular only briefly as gamers realized the other consoles provided more mature, engaging content and not just family-friendly fare that Nintendo is known for.

The 3DS, the latest in Nintendo’s handheld line which launched this year, has suffered disappointing sales and in a few short months resorted to a large price cut to encourage stragglers to purchase the glasses-free 3D gaming experience. With the announcement of the Wii U over the summer, fans were confused by the unclear purpose of the controller-console hybrid that finally seemed to have caught up with the level of current generation consoles. Investors were also unconvinced as demonstrated by a severe drop in shares following the reveal. Another negative change in their stocks occurred following a string of announcements at the recent Tokyo Game Show, though the drop is hotly contested.

Though uneven, there is urgency behind these sudden changes. While core gamers are over the various gimmicks and casual players have plenty of options in the saturated mobile games market, how can Nintendo secure their future in the industry?

Japan Society’s panel Nintendo: What’s Next for the House of Mario? on October 6 features two experts who look at the Nintendo’s “ups-ups, downs-downs”, as one Japan Society Facebook fan so cleverly put it, and how the company can compete in today's market. Dan Sloan, author of Playing to Wiin: Nintendo and Video Game Industry’s Greatest Comeback, leads the discussion, and Jamin Warren, founder of Kill Screen Magazine, moderates. Whether attending as a concerned shareholder or an anxious fan of the Big N, the discussion promises insight into the now and future of the once undisputed gaming system king.

--Sean Tomizawa

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wilbur Ross: Ups From The Market’s Downs?

Wilbur Ross. Via.

Yesterday Wilbur Ross, chairman and CEO of WL Ross & Co. and chairman of Japan Society, sat down with Council on Foreign Relations’ Benn Steil to talk Greed vs. Fear: Making Sense of the Market Crash (watch the full video). The discussion used the August 2011 crash as a springboard to look at the economic situations of the U.S., Europe, China, and Japan, and how they can improve and fix their respective problems.

Reporting from the event, The Wall Street Journal noted that "Ross has to squint to see the bright side":
Wilbur Ross isn’t optimistic. He says he’s not totally pessimistic, but the financier is short on happy thoughts.

Over the course of an hour-long talk Wednesday afternoon at the Japan Society in New York, Mr. Ross voiced just about only one view that was in the not-totally-depressing camp. Stock markets, he says, “have priced in a very bearish scenario. Unless things get truly bad, the worst is probably over for the markets,” he said. 
While WSJ goes in-depth about the more pessimistic points, there were several observations and key takeaways for overall improvement from the discussion:

● The U.S. has gone two years with practically no budget. The lack of Democrat and Republican consensus on what needs to be cut is due to both sides aiming at each other’s "sacred cows". The resulting political inertia is the U.S. economy’s worst enemy. It prevents strong leadership and a lack of bold responses to various crises. The preoccupation with presidential and congressional elections, along with the Tea Party phenomenon, further polarizes the political structure doing little to help the economy.

● Greece has been at the brink of default for some time. The European Union never had preparations if a member leaves voluntarily or is forced to leave, which belies that a single currency means a cohesive political and fiscal union. European nations need to stop applying small fixes to crises and instead apply big changes to the point of overkill as soon as they come up.

● China is doing fairly well for itself despite a major housing shortage. The nation’s recent high economic growth means housing demand can be supplied without too much worry of a crash. Ross said that because of the economic success China is having, he would rather bet on their banks than the European ones.

● The U.S. and Japan both have cash rich economies, but they are not as liquid as they could be. True liquidity should be attained to help stimulate their respective economies.

● Japan, while the response to the recent earthquake was incredibly quick, needs to continue focusing on rebuilding the Tohoku region in order to help revitalize the economy. The cultural avoidance of change is also not helping progress, leading to further depression and low growth. Due to the labor shortage, Japan needs to incorporate more women and immigrants into the workforce.

● It would be most logical for Japanese companies to make more foreign investments especially while the yen is so strong. However, there is seemingly no push for that move, unlike in China where natural resources are in small numbers so they have dipped into Africa, South America, and even the U.S.

● Finally, there is a self-correcting mechanism in the economy that will only activate when governments decide to be more decisive with their actions, be more willing to invest, and generally be much bolder.

--Sean Tomizawa

Monday, September 26, 2011

Destination JS: Digging Dag Hammarskjold Plaza

Destination JS is a regular series exploring the sites, shops, and eateries surrounding Japan Society’s landmark building

Across from Japan Society is the cozy, tree-lined, avenue-length Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, a Midtown park where weary business folk, diplomats from all nations, and curious visitors find rest. Known as the "Gateway to the United Nations", the plaza is an oasis in the Turtle Bay neighborhood.

A steel gazebo at the Second Avenue entrance opens onto a brick promenade lined by light fixtures that take after old-fashioned gas lamps and benches modeled after those made for the 1939 World's Fair. Several fountains surround the plaza imbuing calm, while public sculptures and memorials stand in fascinating contrast to the urban, monochromatic surroundings.

One historically charged piece is Good Defeats Evil by Zurab Tsereteli, which is a sculpture of Saint George Slaying the Dragon comprised of parts from Soviet and American ballistic missiles.

Further in, one can stroll through the Katherine Hepburn Garden where the late movie great’s image and memorable quotes decorate stepping stones that form a path through seasonal flowers and vegetation.

For those who don’t speak Swedish, learning to correctly pronounce the plaza's name is easier than it looks. It comes from the plaza’s esteemed honoree and namesake, Nobel Peace prize recipient Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld, who served as the Secretary-General of the United Nations throughout most of the 50s and traveled all over the world for missions to end disputes and work towards world peace. Tragically, a plane crash while on the way to oversee the United Nations Force he established in Congo took his life 50 years ago this month. The city has preserved his legacy through the beautiful Dag Hammarskjold Plaza.

While most visitors to the plaza come to find peace from hectic everyday life, many come during the course of a year to fight for peace in their own country. Given the proximity to the United Nations and various consulates, public demonstrations are a regular occurrence. As a man who vigilantly aimed to progress world peace, Hammarskjold would have it no other way than to have the people of all nations freely speak their minds.

In addition, designated areas allow for a variety of performances and community events throughout the year, there is a constant rotation of public art, and every Wednesday fresh foods are available at a farmer's market beginning at 8:00 am.

Whether attending a film screening, performance, exhibit, discussion, or language class, Dag Hammarskjold Plaza is a memorable stop whenever you make Japan Society a destination.

--Sean Tomizawa

Top photo by Sean Tomizawa; bottom photo by This Week in New York.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Japan’s Textile Pioneers: Weaving Threads Of The Past Into The Future

When visitors climb the stairs to Japan Society’s new exhibit Fiber Futures: Japan’s Textile Pioneers, they are greeted by Kyoko Ibe’s Requiem, created specifically for the show. The large, dark purple, net-like weave adds mystery to the Society’s typically calm lobby, and yet engulfs the garden pool from above in an almost protective manner. Japan Society gallery director, Joe Earle, notes that the piece is:
a memorial to victims of the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. The fluidity of water is one of the miracles of nature, yet all of us were shocked and saddened to see how it could destroy so many lives and livelihoods. Ibe created Requiem from ancient indigo-dyed paper, made in a pristine natural environment and originally used for Buddhist scriptures. Sensing that our uncertain times cry out for the qualities of peace and stability embodied in this lovingly preserved material, she has twisted and worked it night and day for many months as a prayer for divine protection.
The piece is just one of 35 featured textile artworks that combine the beauty of tradition with eye-popping experimentation. The use of color and incredible shapes are the first things that may strike visitors, but upon closer inspection, the impossible textures and intricate techniques stun the imagination. Each installation, ranging from soccer ball size to meters wide and tall, is imbued with personality and a story. Those that hang on the walls cast equally striking shadows, subtly adding to their mystique.

Fiber Futures runs through December 18th. You can view more photos from the exhibit here and here. Related programming includes an exhibition talk, a day with family activities, an evening with former Miyake creative director Dai Fujiwara, and individual workshops on weaving, dyeing and embroidery.

If you can’t make it to Japan Society, you can check out the gorgeous catalogue or download the free app for iPhone or Android, and wrap yourself with Fiber Futures wherever you are in the world.

--Sean Tomizawa

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Landmark Birthday for Japan Society’s Building

"I have tried to express in contemporary architecture the spirit of Japan." --Junzō Yoshimura
Days before the opening of its 104th gallery exhibition, just after turning 104 years old, Japan Society celebrated the 40th birthday of its building, recently designated New York City’s youngest landmark.

It was shortly after Japan Society launched the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund to aid recovery after the devastating tsunamis struck Northeast Japan when news broke that the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission approved four new landmarks, including Japan Society.

“We’re very proud of our building,” Japan Society gallery director Joe Earle told HyperAllergic at the time, adding, “It’s a remarkable place to walk into every day.” The article continues:
As a manifestation of the relationship between the United States and Japan, Earle points out, the design and construction of the Japan Society building came at a very interesting time. In 1971, “New York was just becoming aware of Japanese architecture. [The building] represents the rebuilding of the relationship between the two countries after World War II.” As a combination of Brutalist severity and Zen simplicity, the structure crosses artistic cultures.

“Looking out of my window now,” Earle describes during a phone conversation, “the long horizontal bars that filter the light give the whole front [facade] this kind of horizontality that was associated with Japanese domestic architecture … It’s a suggestion of Japanese architecture without actually being a copy of it, that’s what strongly appeals to me.” 

Completing a circle of great Midtown East architecture including the United Nations headquarters, Tudor City, the Ford Foundation building and Grand Central Station, Japan Society’s 5-story, charcoal gray building on 333 East 47th St. overlooks the cozy Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza Park.

The building is a smartly designed, geometrically playful edifice that contains warmth and reflective quietude—as useful for solitary thought as it is for intimate conversation and coming together to share ideas. While some might dismiss it as a “modernist box”, for most who visit, the brooding boxiness is a dark chocolate square with a liquid caramel center. It is the architectural incarnation of the quintessential New Yorker—austere and brusque perhaps at first blush, but warm, storied, and endlessly fascinating once you break the surface.

Known for infusing traditional Japanese elements in his modern works, architect Junzō Yoshimura used a much subtler blending of Japanese sensibility with contemporary materials in Japan Society’s building. The slats mentioned by Earle above, running horizontally on the second and third floors of the façade, are meant to evoke amado (Japanese storm windows used during typhoons). Hinoki (Japanese cypress) louvers in the exterior entry continue into the lobby ceiling, diffusing light and warming shadows. (Initially, the heat from light bulbs would release the wood’s fragrance, but regulations now require they be flame retardant, which masks the scent.)

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 a low, modular, precast concrete ceiling; extant original slate floors and walls; a large river stone near the entrance positioned as a foundation for seasonal floral arrangements; bamboo pond and waterfall; and stairs leading invitingly up to the gallery spaces, which encompass the entire second floor.

And while the building also contains a sub-level language center, a 262-seat state-of-the-art theater for lavish performances, pop concerts, film screenings and more; and three floors of administrative space, almost everyone who enters comments on its quiet beauty and remarkable stillness, welcome relief from the tireless energy of the city’s streets.


A brief history of the Turtle Bay neighborhood, home to Japan Society, the United Nations, missions of foreign governments and many private organizations including the International Institute of Education and the Ford Foundation, has been included in the Landmark Preservation Commission Japan Society Designation Report (PDF).

The area had remained little developed until after the Civil War, when residential and commercial development followed the opening of the Second and Third Avenue Elevated Railways around 1880. The large waterfront site along the East River between 42nd and 48th Streets was acquired by the Rockefellers, and John D. Rockefeller 3rd later donated the 47th street site to Japan Society in 1968.

“From the start, Japan Society was characterized as ‘the first building of contemporary Japanese design to be built in New York City’”, notes the report. Designed by Junzō Yoshimura in partnership with George G. Shimamoto during 1967-68, Japan Society, earlier called Japan House, opened in 1971.

Gabrielle Birkner in an article in The Real Deal refers to Japan Society as one of the notable exceptions to have been designed by a Japanese architect as it was not until much later that the architectural community in New York was receptive of design talent from abroad. According to the landmark's report, Yoshimura was “likely the first Japanese citizen to design a permanent structure in New York City.”

Shortly before the opening, Leah Gordon, an arts columnist for The New York Times on September 5, 1971 wrote:
In an area replete with UN Missions and consulates, this building has no seals, no mottos and is distinguished only by a slanted, 3-foot iron fence . . . It is soon apparent that this is no customary New York architectural atrocity but a sedate, jewel-like structure that, in its quiet way, commands attention.
Similarly, The Architectural Record in 1973 commented that the building:
...adds quite a dollop of civility to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza. Its exterior is quiet, nicely scaled and guardedly transparent: fleeting glimpses of the interior are afforded through bronze anodized aluminum screens, and the glass entrance doors.
In Yoshimura’s own words:
People the world over used to build their houses with local and traditional materials. Today, however, contemporary buildings all over the world use the same basic materials – concrete, steel and glass – yet different characters and nationalities can still be perceived amongst them. In designing Japan House I have tried to express in contemporary architecture the spirit of Japan.
 --Anu Tulachan and Shannon Jowett