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