Friday, November 30, 2012

Japan News Roundup: Tsunami Debris Relief, 'Corking' U.S. Troops, Training Santa-san

Island dispute sees dips in visits to Japan. Via.

• Japan will give the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration $5 million “to help with collection and disposal of marine debris from its March 2011 tsunami disaster” (BusinessWeek). Timely news as debris is expected to land in Hawaii soon, specifically on a beach where an estimated 20 tons of current-carried garbage already washes ashore every year (NBC).

• Japan put many 3/11 reconstruction projects not linked to disaster zones on hold "after criticism the spending was not directly related to recovery from the disasters" (Associated Press). With a quarter of the $148 billion reconstruction money earmarked for “unrelated projects, including subsidies for a contact lens factory in another region and research whaling,” the hold frees up only $210 million. In addition, the government plans to sell off some 56,000 homes lent cheaply to officials to raise approximately $2.1 billion for reconstruction (Bloomberg News).

• A United Nations envoy urged Japan to do more for residents and workers affected by the Fukushima nuclear crisis, citing over-emphasized optimism on radiation risks and lack of access to health check results as major recurring problems. (Associated Press)

• With elections just weeks away, Japan's ruling party promised "cool-headed and practical" diplomacy in contrast with the opposition’s hawkish rhetoric, and restated its goal of phasing out nuclear power by the 2030s (Reuters). Meanwhile, Shiga Governor Yukiko Kada formed a new political group “that aims to get Japan out of nuclear power, create more opportunities for women and promote a work-life balance that makes it easier for families to raise children” (Japan Times). Political powerhouse Ichiro Ozawa has joined.

None of the candidates have won the hearts (or votes) of those in the tsunami-devastated region, who feel reconstruction has fallen off the political agenda (Reuters). "Many of the 159,000 people who fled their towns…are finally accepting that it may take decades, perhaps generations, before their town could be restored to anything like it was before the disaster” (New York Times).

• Japan unveiled an $11 billion economic package, "its second round of stimulus in a little more than a month" (Financial Times).

• The Senkaku/Diaoyu island dispute between Japan and China “has affected a broad cross-section of Japanese business, from cars to cosmetics. But perhaps the biggest blow has been to tourism”, with JNTO reporting Chinese tourism down in 33% from 2011. (Wall Street Journal)

• In an annual government survey, Japan's feelings for the U.S., Russia and India are up, while views on China and South Korea "sank to their lowest levels in decades".

• U.S. commanders are telling troops in Japan to “put a cork in it” (TIME) and “buddy up” (WSJ), after a number of arrests and embarrassing incidents. America’s highest-ranking military officer in Japan said “the two countries are considering such countermeasures as joint U.S.-Japanese patrols and a ‘hotline’ in Okinawa for reporting troop misbehavior to U.S. military law enforcement officials” though “he opposed reopening the status of forces agreement, an accord on the legal jurisdictions for American troops that has long been a lightning rod for anti-U.S. base activists.”

• People Power: Forbes highlights more of The Nikkei's top 100 people having the greatest influence on Japan’s future; the first Japanese-American woman senator vows to push Japan ties (Asiance Magazine); now in her 70s, Yoko Ono carves new niches in her life, from fighting world hunger to revolutionizing men's fashion (NYT); Forbes also profiles Ernie Higa, the Wendy's Japan executive re-launching and revolutionizing the brand across the pacific (when talking about the country’s decline, he notes “Japan is still alive. It’s the third-biggest economy, and you can still succeed here by finding the right niche and adapting”).

• Sea Views: Tokyo activists rallied against dolphin and whale hunts over the weekend, part of demonstrations held around the world (AFP); Japan is on a quest to make bluefin tuna more sustainable (The Atlantic); The Times meditates on ama, Japan's free diving 'sea women'.

• South China Morning Post interviewed the authors of Strong in the Rain, the "harrowing but compassionate" collection of stories from tsunami victims. "There was a sense among many Tohoku people I met that telling their stories to journalists was grandstanding. They viewed their suffering as nothing special, compared to others," said one author.

• Language Lesson: Japan Times looks at "notable negatives" and other Japanese linguistic oddities, starting with the famous monkeys Mizaru, Kikazaru and Iwazaru (of "see/hear/speak no evil fame"). How did they get their names? "The negative verb inflexion -zaru, which happens to be a homonym for saru (monkey)."

• A look at the "sparkly names" trend in Japan favoring pop culture christenings for kids. (Kotaku)

• New book sheds light on 'grim' realities of mental healthcare in Japan. (Japan Times)

• Reuters weighs in on sumo's decline in an 'age of convenience'.

• A 'floating' high-speed train unveiled in Tokyo is set to hit tracks in 2027 and cut travel time in more than half. (Discovery)

• Food: For the sixth consecutive year, Japan was awarded the most Michelin three-star rated restaurants in the world, “though the number slipped to 14 from 16” (Reuters); with the adage sake "never fights with food", chefs outside of Japan are beginning to pair the libation with non-Japanese food (BBC); one of Japan's top airlines will offer KFC on fligths from Japan to U.S. and Europe over the winter holidays. (Business Insider); the Washington Post examined ji-biru, Japanese craft beer, one of "Japan’s least famous but most exciting gastronomic exports."

The legacy of 007 in Japan: “James Bond made his official Japan debut in ‘You Only Live Twice’: The gentleman spy came to Tokyo and Fukuoka, saw some sumo, consorted with ninja and got intimate with two homegrown Bond girls” (Japan Times). In a plot fit for a Bond flick, Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency said that plans for a new solid-fuel rocket were stolen from computers (NYT).

• Tis the Season: “On a recent weekend, 88 Santa wannabes packed the school in Tokyo's fashionable Roppongi district for a crash course in how to behave as ‘Santa-san,’ as the man in red is known in Japan.”

• Japanese toymaker plans to launch one-person electric helicopter next year. (WIRED)

• No plans for the weekend? Here's how to make Gudnam out of electrical plugs. (Rocketnews24)

• Kotaku examines the tiny might of 21st Century netsuke, and unleashes Japan's terrifying melon bear.


Beware the melon-eating bears of Japan. Via.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Japan News Roundup: Obama Meets With Japan & China, Elder Crime Rise, Massive Mascot Boom

Noda congratulating Obama on 4 more years? AP photo via.

• President Obama ended his tour of Asia in diplomatic discussions with leaders of Japan and China (ABC), but "talk of trade was overshadowed by discussions over how to prevent violence over South China Sea territories." During the talks Obama "once again touted the U.S.-Japan alliance the 'conerstone' of regional security" (BusinessWeek).

• Japan's foreign minister Koichiro Genba answered some basic questions about Japan's stance on the island dispute in a New York Times op-ed. BBC News reported that Japan named the new ambassador to China: career diplomat Masato Kitera, 59, who will go to Beijing next month.

Reuters analysis of Japan's upcoming elections elections:
[The] likely scenario is that the December election ushers in a period of confusing coalition politics... that will complicate policymaking in a political system already criticized as indecisive as Japan struggles with such challenges as China's rise, the role of nuclear power after last year's Fukushima crisis and the ballooning costs of a fast-ageing population. Such prospects would deepen concerns at ratings agencies over Japan's ability to deal with its high public debt, which at more than twice the size of the $5 trillion economy is the heaviest among leading industrialized nations.
• Likely conservative Prime Minister candidate Shinzo Abe says strengthening Japan's economy and the military are the top priorities for his party as the country approaches elections on December 16 (BW). Meanwhile "the veteran Japanese politician’s Facebook page is sure getting lots of attention" (Wall Street Journal).

• "In next month's general election, politicians -- nearly all of them men -- will make promises on what they will do to fix Japan's economic morass. Very few of them will even mention women." (Agence France Presse)

Japan will spend $12.3 billion on its next economic stimulus. (BW)

• Japan's government is sending $4.7 million to Pakistan, where parts still remain underwater two months after a moonsoon caused massive flooding (Pakistan Observer). They are also sending $500K for New Jersey's hurricane recovery (New Jersey News). Two Japanese NGOs fight to get aid for war-torn Mali (Asahi).


• Despited ¥12 billion loss, a Miyagi Prefecture shipbuilder launched its first vessel built since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. "The ship is painted blue, green and orange, the colors used in the flags of the hardest-hit prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima." (Japan Times). On the otherside of the Pacific, a California port is building a tsunami-resistant harbor in response to 3-11 (Washington Post), and one oceanographer finds it ominous that Japan's tsunami debris is late landing in Washington State. (

• Just as U.S. airmen were turned over to Japanese prosecutors to decide charges for suspected assault (ABC), several more violations from armed forces personnel were reported in Japan, ranging from trespassing (AP) to indecent exposure and drunk driving (AFP).

• Though "the number of elderly criminals being caught by Japanese police has rocketed…with pensioners committing almost 50 times more assaults than two decades ago," the trend "goes against that of society at large, where the overall number of crimes in Japan fell 5.8 percent on year, to 2.14 million in 2011, its ninth straight year of decline." (Herald Sun)

• Incidences of bullying in Japan has more than doubled since last academic year, with 144,000 reported over 6 months. (NHK)

Japan Times offers a strategy for learning Japanese, with this news:
According to the Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. Department of State, which has compiled language-learning expectations for their professional staff (people who already know other languages), Japanese is one of the five most difficult languages to reach speaking and reading proficiency in, requiring 88 weeks of study (2,200 class hours).
• While Japan's ninjas head for extinction (BBC) and sumo wresting declines as the national sport (Financial Times), the country has been experiencing a massive mascot boom (Reuters).

• Hiroki Kuroda agreed to $15 million deal with the Yankees. (ABC)

• Japan's opened its first environmentally friendly highway rest stop, equipped with some 4,000 solar panels and public toilets that use only recycled water. (UPI)

• For Japan's toilet giant, "global lavatory domination remains elusive, especially among shy U.S. consumers," because, according to top brass, Americans don't like talking about bathroom business.

• Japan's HEARBO made great strides in robotic sound processing. (Endgadget)

• Astronauts from Japan, U.S. and Russia returned to earth. (MSNBC)

• Chef Elizabeth Andoh whips up a cookbook showcasing cuisine and ingredients from Japan's disaster zone. (WaPo video launches immediate when opening link.)

• Yahoo's Japan Ramen project selected nine Japan-based foreigners (including six Americans) to spread the joy of noodle making around the world. (JT)

Scottish roots of Japanese whisky. (The Scotsman)

• Renovations on "once worthless" old Japanese homes, some from the 1600s, are yielding return of investments as high as 80%. (BW)

Japan's public libraries are thriving. (JT)

• One new photography book looks at the physical and spiritual aesthetics of bonsai (JapanCultureNYC), another captures the "living hell passengers endure on Tokyo's trains" (News Australia).

• A major Zeshin show and multimedia retrospective of David Lynch's artwork opened in Japan. Plus, the little known art of indoor moss installations. (JT)

• Sadly the Japanese gallery Ippodo is selling off its New York inventory and closing its Chelsea space on December 31. (ArtInfo)

• Kirie, the traditional Japanese art of paper cutting, gets a contemporary spin. What appears "to be ink paintings done with a sumi-e brush… are instead layered sheets of black and white paper, painstakingly created by using nothing more than a cutter knife." (JapanCultureNYC)

• "Good design and Japan go hand in hand," said the New York Times in their review from the Design Tide Tokyo expo.

• Verge reports from the 2012 Tokyo Designers Week, taking in "skateboards made from kimonos, giant rabbit art, Kinect-powered alarm clocks, giraffe-shaped skyscrapers, and over six hundred cellphones."

• "I believe it is necessary (for designers) to value the Japanese cultural undercurrent," legendary designer Hanae Mori told Asahi in an exclusive interview.

• Variety reported the anime Evangelion 3 broke box office opening records in Japan for the year, and that the seminal WWII anime Grave of the Fireflies will be released in US for the first time as part of a touring Studio Ghibli Retrospective.

• NTV launched a YouTube page with clips from their insanely creative hand-crafted site gag amateur contest show Kasō Taishō:


Friday, November 16, 2012

News Roundup: Japan Elections Set, Beijing Let's Japanese Marathoners Run, Tsunami Teens Visit NJ, Japan's Innovative 'Greatness'


• Japan averted its “fiscal cliff” by passing a crucial bill to keep the government from running out of money by the end of November (BBC). This comes when GDP figures “indicated the most dramatic contraction since the country was hit by the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011” (CNN). With media crying recession (NYT), CNBC posited that amping global demand over domestic stimulus might be Japan’s only hope for recovery. BusinessWeek pointed out the agreement ended the budget standoff and paved the way for elections while "polls showed voter discontent with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda at a new high." Noda indeed dissolved parliament and set elections for December 16, reported Associated Press, which noted “if Noda's center-left party loses, the economically sputtering country will get its seventh prime minister in six and a half years."

• With a third round of talks, China and Japan appeared "no closer to ending their stand-off over the tiny, uninhabited islands known to China as the Diaoyus and to Japan as the Senkakus." The Economist asked “why China seems to be fanning the flames of its row with Japan in the East China Sea” noting that "Japan and China established diplomatic relations in 1972, the leaders of both countries agreed to put the issue of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands to one side; to let future, supposedly wiser, generations deal with the problem." Reuters examined how debts and double-dealing sparked the row, and CNN said to “avert either a new cold war or a brief hot war” a possible trilateral solution is needed between Japan, China and the U.S. “based on simple principles: doing no further harm, putting aside differences, and expanding areas of mutual interest.” Examining the stand off, BBC described the islands:
Mostly rocky outcroppings which serve as a home to migratory birds and a herd of wild goats, the islands are closest to Taiwan, about 210 km (125 miles) northeast of Taipei and 1,800 km from Tokyo...The largest, Uotsurijima in Japanese, rises up like a forest-canopied mountain from the sea, with no port for landing. A little larger than New York's Central Park, the island's highest point tops the Eiffel Tower.
• The organizers of the Beijing Marathon reversed its decision and will let Japanese runners take part in the event. (Kyodo News)

•  Japan and North Korea reopened stalled bilateral talks, though "Japan and North Korea do not have formal diplomatic relations. The abduction issue and concerns over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs have long strained ties." (AP)

• Nikkei Business highlighted “the one hundred people creating the next generation” in Japan featuring puts 100 people in the categories of "revolutionist," "creator," "hero," "leader," "thinker," "newcomer," and "decider."

"Struggling to learn" is accepted in Japanese and other Eastern education systems, but is often seen as a weakness in the U.S. (NPR)

Japan is seeing a continued decline of post-secondary enrollment of Japanese students in U.S. schools and American students into Japanese schools. (Forbes)

• Teens who survived Japan's tsunami visited a high school in hurricane-affected New Jersey, talking for the first time to an audience that "can relate to the damage that a natural disaster causes." How long did the recovery take in Japan? "It’s not finished yet,” said one student. (Daily Record)

• The New York Times looked at the role sports played to help Japanese deal with the 3/11 disasters. "Unlike in the United States, where athletes might play a different sport each season, Japanese students commit to a single sport that they practice year-round. As a result, teammates and coaches provided a support network for many athletes affected by the catastrophe. Sports also helped connect student-athletes to family members and neighbors, many of whom played sports themselves."

• The new book Strong in the Rain gives voice to the survivors of #Japan's 3/11 disaster. Japan Times calls it "a riveting story about Japan's March 11 cataclysm told uncommonly well by two veteran Japan-based journalists who share their emotions, experiences and insights while giving readers ringside seats through captivating interviews with survivors. The authors give a haunting voice to the people of Tohoku, one that will linger in your memory, as their evocative prose conveys a sense of the panic, horrors and heartbreak endured."

• More on the decline of sumo, Japan's 2,000-year-old sport "hit by a 54-year recruitment low thanks to bullying scandals, death, allegations of illegal drug use — and a strict diet regime… Just 56 boys took up the this year while twice as many wrestlers gave it up." (The Sun)

• "Japan’s Sport Council on Thursday awarded a contract to design and construct a centerpiece, billion-dollar national stadium that forms a key part of Tokyo’s bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games to lauded U.K. firm Zaha Hadid Architects. " The Wall Street Journal's image gallery includes the winning design as well as finalists.

• "Within a decade [after WWII] Tokyo was on its way to being bigger and richer than ever. And it was producing huge amounts of art, feisty and fantastic, a wave of which comes surging out at you like a blast of sound — half noise, half music…" The New York Times reviews Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde opening this weekend at the Museum of Modern Art. Related, the Boston Globe reviewed Reinventing Tokyo at the Mead Art Museum.

• The Mori Art Museum opened a retrospective of darkly disaster-evoking artist Makota Aida, noting "the frequency of natural disasters in Japan is often invoked in explaining elements of the nation's aesthetic, from lightweight wood-and-paper architecture to the ephemeral beauty of ikebana." Also, a new exhibition at the Kyoto National Museum shows "fine line" between Japanese calligraphy and art. (Japan Times)

• Artist Laurie Simmons discusses her latest muse with New York magazine: a Japanese love doll.

• "Until the 1980s, people in Japan generally strove to hide their relatives with dementia from the outside world. By and large, it fell on the spouse or the children to care for them — or the wife of a son whose parent had Alzheimer's." (Japan Times)

• The chilling history behind the abandoned Japanese island featured in the blockbuster new James Bond film Skyfall. (Verge)

• As everyone in the U.S. prepares for Thanksgiving feasts, Malaysia's The Star profiles the power of satsuma-imo (sweet potato) in Japan's culinary culture.

• A Japanese maitre d' was named Best Waiter In The World. (Business Insider)

• "It gave us the Walkman, the pocket calculator and heated toilet seats, but Japan's path to innovative greatness is littered with failures such as the TV-shaped radio and the 'walking' toaster" (AFP). Much new innovative 'greatness' from Japan dominated the news this week: Pepsi Japan's 'fat-burning' new flavor (The Week), which may be "too good to be true" (TIME); odor-absorbing underwear (Wired); and using 3-D scanners to make plastic miniature figurines of their customers (RocketNews24).


Hashima Island, featured in Skyfall. Via.

UPDATED: 11/24/12

Friday, November 9, 2012

Japan News Roundup: Reaction to U.S. Elections, Slimming Sumo, Crab Hat Cats


• The International Herald Tribune reported "relief and hope" spread over Asia with Obama's victory in the U.S. presidential election. The story was highlighted with the photo (above) of U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos celebrating with Japanese students in Tokyo. Though Obama will return to office a second term, Wall Street Journal noted "key members of his foreign policy team--including his main Japan advisors--likely won't be."

• Also in the elections, Hawaii democrat Mazie Hirono won the U.S. Senate race "to become the first Japanese-American female member of the upper chamber of Congress." (Yomiuri)

• Japan's defense minister said given China's assertive maritime maneuvers Tokyo wants to update mutual defense guidelines with the U.S. (AP). The New York Times noted "While the United States has maintained its neutrality, Chinese officials have said that Washington bears some responsibility in creating the dispute. They say the United States essentially took sides in 1972, when it returned the islands along with Okinawa to Japan without consulting China."

• The Japan and U.S. militaries began an enormous 12-day joint drill (NYT) for with some 37,000 Japanese and 10,000 American personnel. They left out one potentially contentious amphibious landing out of respect to ties with China.

• More than one hundred U.S. "soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and family members" participated in the fifth annual 24 Hour Jog-A-Thon to raise awareness and funds for the Okinawa Special Olympics. (DVIDS)

Six people were awarded the Order of Culture, Japan's highest honor, including Nobel laureate Shinya Yamanaka, film director Yoji Yamada, law scholar Shigeru Oda, art critic Shuji Takashina, painter Toshio Matsuo, and scientist Yasuyuki Yamada. (Japan Times)

• The world's preeminent Japan scholar Donald Keene received Japanese citizenship (NYT) The New York native moved to Japan last year as a show of support after the March 11 earthquake.

"Japan's 'Fiscal Cliff': National Crisis or Political Kabuki?" (WSJ)

• "With Japan's lackluster economic growth and seemingly relentless political turmoil, it's easy to think that Tokyo's relevance is falling with no end in sight. But Japan remains a vital part of Asia and it will be a major player in shaping the region's future." Carnegie Endowment lists why.

Four people on Japan's nuclear safety team took money from utility companies (AP). Though the transactions were legal, some say it raises questions about neutrality. Meanwhile, TEPCO asked for more money to deal with the nuclear crisis in Fukushima (BusinessWeek).

Japanese students visiting Pittsburgh described life after tsunami. The Pittsburg Tribune-News quoted 15 year old Yui of Hitachi, Japan, “I learned the importance of daily bonds of friendship.” Young New Orleanians crossed the Pacific to see "parts of Japan that had a lot in common with New Orleans: cities that lived through a disaster and where music made a difference." (WWLTV)

Outgoing Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro Fujisaki reflected on his tenure (Pioneer Press), noting:
It was a very fruitful four, four and a half years. We had some difficult times; we had good days as well. One of the difficult times was the 3/11 disaster that happened in Japan -- the earthquake, tsunami, nuclear accident and that was Japan's real difficulty. But American people have worked with us as if it was really their own problem. ... They have contributed a lot to us.
• Hiroshi Oem, the Ambassador of Japan to Pakistan was among musicians that gave a concert commemorating the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Pakistan (Daily Times).

• Aljazeera's 101 East video series looked at aging Japan and asked "how the world's most elderly society can overcome its demographic crisis." It noted Japan's population "fell by a record quarter-million to 127.8 million last year" and "the demographic decline has led to a spike in social problems and kodokushi or 'lonely deaths', which is a Japanese phenomenon that came about in the 1980s."

• Abaci and after-school clubs: Great Britain looks to Japanese techniques to improve numeracy.

"Sumo grapples with slimmer intake". (CNN)

• Now that "an estimated 2.9 million Japanese emigrants and their descendants live overseas", museums dedicated to them met to discuss top programming priorities: oral histories and minority issues. (Japan Times)

Core77 shared highlights from DesignTide Tokyo, including a moveable movie theater inspired by the Tohoku disasters, kamidana (mini shinto god shrines), koshirae light fixtures mimicking traditional lacquered sword mountings, "Paper-Wood" products, and high-concept furniture merging graphic design with traditional Japanese craft.

• Two weeks of eating and traveling Japan in just three minutes, courtesy of CBS News. Huffington Post discussed the joys of having a personal guide when traveling Japan.

• Designer Rebecca Taylor: "Every year I travel to Tokyo… it’s like a peek into the future, a journey to another planet, an explosion of creativity… I love how you can find art everywhere in Japan." (

The newly renovated Tokyo Station--completed in 1914--is "one of the few significant examples of early-20th-century architecture left in Tokyo, let alone Japan." (WSJ)

• A Studio Ghibli (often called the Disney of Japan) retrospective arrived in Atlanta, giving "viewers a glimpse into Japanese culture – along with simple and entertaining stories."

• An unpublished early manga of late Astro Boy creator Osama Tezuka was apparently found in a bookstore.

Kotaku shared images from a horrifying children's book that illustrates Jigoku, the Japanese Buddhist's incarnation of hell. They also shared an anthropomorphicized England as a Victorian anime character from Japan. (Is it just me or does the country look a little more like a zoomorphorphic trio of a dog in an elaborate Alien Queen bonnet eying a steak, and a pig and a crocodile at the dog's feet pointing towards Nova Scotia.)

• Though PetsLady is "not saying Crab Hat Cats are the latest pet trend", they featured Japan's Top 10.

• Flower-focused theme park Nabano No Sato holds its annual Winter Light Festival of Japan mid-November through March.


Photograph by André Sato on Flickr via.

UPDATED 11/22/12.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Silver Wind's 'Waves' Roll Back To Japan

Detail of Hōitsu's Waves courtesy of the Seikadō Bunko Art Museum

The silver-leafed crown jewels of Japan Society’s critically acclaimed exhibition Silver Wind: The Arts of Sakai Hōitsu (1761-1828), Waves wave sayonara this weekend when they return to Japan after Sunday, November 11.

Due to their fragility, the pair of gorgeous 12-feet, six-panel screens, on loan from the Seikadō Bunko Art Museum for the first time ever to the U.S., was originally scheduled to return home on the 4th, after a five-week showcase, but are hanging around an extra week due to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

America’s upper East Coast experienced the terrible force of nature when the super storm tore through. Though it may be too soon to reflect or heal from the experience (one week later many people are still displaced from homes and hundreds of thousands are without electricity), disaster has a way of feeding art, and the creative process can help counter and transcend devastation.

With this in mind Waves takes on a new level of meaning. In Hōitsu’s deft hands, the samurai-turned-monk-turned-painter tames nature’s belligerent power. His enormous cresting, crashing, black-and-white-on-silver waves are rendered hypnotic and ghostly—phantasmagoric hands beckoning from the depths, a specter of disaster washing gray in memory with the passing of time.

Fundamentally, though, the screens are pure, timeless art. From his sumptuous catalogue for Silver Wind, curator Professor Matthew P. McKelway writes about the screens’ singular visual power:
Waves are a tour de force of vigorous commanding brushwork, compositional tension and balance and control of the unusual—and changing—effects of light and color on the screens’ surface. . .
McKelway also cites the complexity and technical challenges inherent in the work’s unique medium:
Although a specialty of Hōitsu’s, painting on silver leaf nevertheless posed challenges that a painter would not encounter with gold leaf. Silver leaf tarnishes over time, while gold leaf retains its warm tone without darkening. Like gold leaf, silver leaf cannot absorb ink and pigments, requiring the painter to take special measures to ensure that the image adheres to the resistant surface. Hōitsu brushed the waves in thick strokes of saturated ink that would better stick to the silvered finish. Throughout the screens, he applied diluted shell-powder pigment to highlight the waves’ crests and occasionally splattered it on the surface to depict their frothy spray.
In the Wall Street Journal’s  favorable review of Silver Wind, Lee Lawrence compares Hōitsu's Waves to its model/inspiration, Kōrin's Rough Waves (also on view at Japan Society’s exhibition as a loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art):
In both [works], a large wave rushes in from the upper right while another ripples up from the lower left. Kōrin's composition, however, fills a two-panel folding screen, while Hōitsu's spills across two six-panel screens. Kōrin's waves rise from a blue ocean to crest against a gold background; Hōitsu's are in black ink on a silver ground, and the artist echoes the general shape of Kōrin's top wave in his own lower one. The treatment of the metallic background also differs. In Kōrin's screen, the squares of gold leaf are applied unevenly, creating a fluid backdrop, while Hōitsu had his squares of silver leaf applied regularly to form a faint grid behind his swirling, tentacled waves. He probably also treated some leaves to retard their tarnishing, thereby creating a modulation reminiscent of a cloudy sky. . . "Waves" contains familiar Kōrin elements, but with a twist—in this case reversals—that reconfigure the composition to form something entirely new.
In his rave review of the exhibition for the New York Times, Holland Cotter delves further into the background and influences of Waves:
Hōitsu was of aristocratic samurai lineage but opted out of family politics by taking Buddhist vows. . . At some point in that past the Sakai family had commissioned work from Kōrin, so Hōitsu had some pictures on hand to study and made strenuous efforts to locate more, eventually publishing illustrations of 100 Kōrin paintings. The truest evidence of his respect, though, lay in his emulation of the master’s art, most spectacularly in the six-panel screen "Waves" (1815), a direct but utterly original response to Kōrin’s "Rough Waves."

Hōitsu began his picture with a distinctive feature. As if to establish an enveloping atmosphere of fogs and snow flurries, he painted directly on a silver-leaf ground. This tractionless surface let his inked brushes slide and glide around calligraphically, producing images of natural emanations more abstract than Kōrin’s but no less vivacious and threatening.

The result is a powerful example of a painting hand on the move—you can imagine Willem de Kooning looking on, lost in admiration—yet a physically fragile thing.
While this weekend marks the last chance to see Waves stateside, beginning November 13 they are replaced by the equally magnificent seasonal splendor of Maples and Cherry
(to be covered in a future post).

Silver Wind is America’s first comprehensive retrospective of the art and influence of Sakai Hōitsu, whose compositional daring revived the Rimpa tradition of art in Edo-period Japan. On view through January 6, 2013, at Japan Society Gallery, the exhibition features nearly 60 masterpieces, including folding screens, hanging scrolls, fans, as well as lacquer works and woodblock-printed books. The catalogue is available from the Yale University Press.

--Shannon Jowett

Friday, November 2, 2012

Japan News Roundup: Sandy & Fukushima Expose Nuclear Safety Losers, Japan's U.S. Election Pick, Lego Itsukushima Shrine

Via Discovery/Corbis.

• Comparing causes of the three nuclear reactor shut-downs on the American upper East Coast during Hurricane Sandy to what happened at the Fukushima Daiichi after the 3-11 earthwake, the New Yorker pointed to a Stanford study that notes "the United States came in second, behind Japan, as the country with the largest number of inadequately protected nuclear power plants".

Associated Press reported on Japan’s self-audit of government post-tsunami recovery and reconstruction spending, noting that in addition to 1/4 of the $148 billion earmarked for unrelated projects, "more than half the budget is yet to be disbursed, stalled by indecision and bureaucracy, while nearly all of the 340,000 people evacuated from the disaster zone remain uncertain whether, when and how they will ever resettle." BBC News put the number of people displaced 18 months after the disaster at 325,000 .

• The Washington Post ran a long, doom-sy “optimists turn to pessimists” as “declining Japan loses its once-hopeful champions" article, replete with charts. Business Insider countered: is it terrible that “Japan is becoming less crowded and the people are becoming healthier”?

• Diplomats from China and Japan emphasized U.S. role to resolve island dispute (WaPo). Looking at the tenuous business prospects between the two countries, Fortune Magazine cited one possible winner.

The majority of Chinese and Japanese citizens back Obama for second term, an AFP-Ipsos poll shows, "which suggests Mitt Romney's tough talk on the Asian powers could have dented his image." Related, Embassay Row’s 'favorite' Japanese Ambassador Fujisaki says goodbye to Washington, D.C. “People ask me which candidate my country prefers,” Fujisaki told the Washington Post. “It’s like a Christmas gift. You don’t say anything until you open it, then say, ‘It’s just what I wanted.’”

• A Sendai airport shut down after an unexploded WWII was discovered at a construction site.The Associated Press explained, "The United States heavily bombed Japanese cities during World War II, and finding unexploded bombs is not unusual, even 67 years after Japan’s surrender." Wired reported the bomb was U.S.-made and that this was the second such finding in a week.

• Last week it was reported that Japan ranked 101 globally for women’s equality. This week BusinessWeek discussed how Japan’s mothers are vilified as ‘Devil Wives’ for seeking to keep employment.

• Post-Fukushima Japan: super energy conservation seems the new norm, said the International Herald Tribune, but “can we learn to save energy without an immediate threat?”; San Jose Mercury News looked at how Google and Twitter were 'tech first responders' after Japan’s 3-11 earthquake, and the tech evolution thereafter; members of the Vienna Philharmonic played a Bach sonata on Mount Hiyori the Miyagi Prefecture, honoring victims of the 3-11 earthquake and tsunami; and the Los Angeles Times ran a feature on a motorcycle's tsunami journey from Japan to a memorial at the Harley Davidson Museum.

• Teaching, Learning & Beyond: A Wake Forest University student explained the art of Japanese tea ceremony and its central concept ichigo-ichie (a once in a lifetime encounter); a Japanese teacher visiting Florida schools said perhaps the biggest difference between U.S. and Japan classrooms: “cleaning time [when] all Japanese students clean the school at the end of the day — the classrooms, the bathrooms, the grounds. The kids don’t like cleaning time, but it’s a part of their schooling"; and WSJ profiled a candadian Enlgish teacher in Japan who became a j-pop star.

• Movies and Moving On: Japan Times reviewed the crowd sourced documentary Japan in a Day, which shows “3/11 made Japanese treasure the simple and normal things in life”; Twitch gave a first look at Ken Watanabe's Japanese remake of Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven; and sadly Jimmy Mirikitani, featured in the documentary Cats of Mirikitani, and whose early life was riddled with strife resulting from the U.S. Japanese interment camps, died at 92 (Rafu Shimpo).

• Reuters interviewed chef Hiroko Shimbo, whose third book suggests making one's own miso sauces and stocks with kelp and dashi is an easy way to bring Japan's flavors to U.S. homes

• Travel Tips: Associated Press reported that though Japan's capsule hotels are largely a businessman's special, they give budget travelers a unique lodging experience; tis (becoming) the season with ESPN’s 'A Skier's Journey’ in Japan article and video; and CNNGo posted an insider’s guide to the Tokyo Skytree for English speakers.

• Reportedly "Japan is now the second biggest producer of single malt whisky in the world". We’d like a source. And a flask.

• This year’s Japanese Halloween costumes creepy, wildly colorful, and sometimes political, plus some spooky spots to visit Japan. Semi related: are Pokemon the spawn of ancient Japanese demons?

• Japan Society in the News: the New York Times reviewed last weekend's traditional folk dance and music performances, noting "after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, alarm bells went off for the specific practice of Kuromori Kagura, which dates back more than 300 years and is named after a mountain and a shrine"; the Wall Street Journal raved about the Silver Wind exhibition, delving into the complexities of Rimpa art.

Fast Company explored pop-up paper craft that weds Japanese tradition and modern architecture .

• An Indiana University Japan club finally planted cherry trees after 10 year struggle.

• Read the Short History of e-Readers and eBooks in Japan.

• Ad Week looked at collection of 'awesomely weird' Japanese commercials, which aren't that weird if you have ever been to Japan, know anything about Japanese culture, or, say, compare them to ‘weird’ commercials seen in Europe and America. Some of them are downright awesome, though.

• An exhibit of 40 World Heritage sites built using Lego blocks opened in Tokyo. The Wall Street Journal ran a photo of Japan's Itsukushima Shrine.