| Japanese (日本語)

Vol.2 August 2007


Taking Pop Culture Seriously:The International MANGA Award

Lion Dance with Japanese flute and taiko drums

Becky Cloonan with Ambassador Sakurai

With the growing influence and popularity of Japanese comic books, or manga, around the globe, the Japanese government has established an international prize to honor talented overseas artists who are making important contributions advancing this exciting art form.

The International Manga Award is the culmination of an idea first envisioned by Foreign Minister Taro Aso in a speech in April 2006 (www.mofa.go.jp/announce/fm/aso/speech0604-2.html). In his remarks Mr. Aso proposed the establishment of the equivalent of what he called a “Nobel Prize for Manga” that would help promote Japanese cultural diplomacy. Now a reality, the International Manga Award’s executive committee is composed of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the President of the Japan Foundation, members of a special pop culture committee from the Council on the Movement of People Across Borders, and representatives of the Japan Cartoonists Association.

The first annual award attracted 146 entries from 26 countries and regions. This past June, nineteen finalists were selected and the winners were later announced as follows:

The International Manga Award (First Prize)
Lee Chi Ching, (China-Hong Kong), age 43, for Sun Zi’s Tactics
“Shorei” Award (Three Runners-up)
KAI (China-Hong Kong), age 28, for 1520
Benny Wong Thong Hou (Malaysia, age 30), for Le. Gardenie
Madeleine Rosca (Australia, age 26), for Hollow Fields

East Coast Rising

East Coast Rising

Among the international finalists was the gifted American cartoonist, Becky Cloonan, who was chosen for her book East Coast Rising, released by Tokyopop in 2006. Ms. Cloonan is widely recognized for the manga-influenced drawings in her work. Her first published book was the 2002 graphic novel Jennie One, written by Brian Wood., and she is perhaps best known for her 12 issue series Demo (2004), also with Wood, which was nominated for two prestigious comic book industry Eisner Awards in 2005. East Coast Rising is Ms. Cloonan’s first solo comic book. Set in a futuristic landscape where New Jersey has become a home for criminals and New York City lies underwater, it tells the tale of a young boy named Archer who is saved by a group of pirates, brought aboard their ship, La Revancha (The Revenge), and must recover a valuable treasure map stolen by a rival gang.

In a ceremony at the Consulate in New York, Ambassador Sakurai congratulated the talented Ms. Cloonan and presented her with a certificate honoring her as one of the first finalists for this prestigious, new international prize. Asked if she considered herself more a manga artist or a comic book artist in the American/Western style, Ms. Cloonan said she felt such hard distinctions were becoming less and less significant and that she considers her work uniquely her own.

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LDP Suffers Defeat in Upper House Elections;
Abe to Continue as Prime Minister


Prime Minister Abe speaks at the prime minister's office that he will reshuffle the ruling Liberal Democratic Party leadership and his Cabinet at the same.

©Photo Kyodo

On July 29, the first full-fledged national vote since last September’s inauguration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was held when Japanese voters went to the polls to choose members of the House of Councilors. While the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) made spectacular gains, acquiring 60 seats to become the leading party in the upper house, Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) suffered a historic defeat, winning only 37 seats, the smallest number since 1989. The results mean the LDP has lost its dominance in the upper house for the first time since the party’s founding in 1955.

Following the historic losses, Japanese newspapers analyzed the outcome. Calling it a “crushing defeat for the LDP” the Yomiuri Shimbun saw the losses as stemming from “the response of the government and ruling parties to the problem of unidentified pension records, which was sluggish and amplified distrust . . . and various contentious statements by cabinet ministers and scandals involving politics and money.” As for the DPJ’s resounding victory in the electoral districts, the Mainichi Shimbun (July 30) explained, “In the rural areas, which have many single-seat districts, dissatisfaction over the regional inequalities that increased under the administration of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has been building up, and it appears to have suddenly erupted on the occasion of the House of Councilors election.”

Despite his party’s disappointing results, Prime Minister Abe declared he would not step down. “My work on building the country has only just begun” he said. “From now on, I must fulfill my responsibility as Prime Minister.” In his email magazine of August 2nd, he stated “I accept in all seriousness that this severe election outcome stems from the anger and betrayal of trust felt by the people of this country, and I am keenly aware that I must answer with all sincerity to the uncompromising voice of the people. There has been much criticism, and some have called for my resignation. However, it would be unacceptable to simply halt the flow of reform midstream.”

Prime Minister Abe promised to carry on with his wide-ranging program of reforms aimed at rebuilding education, the civil servant system, as well as promoting a new strategy for economic growth, revitalizing regional areas, resolving global environmental issues, reconstructing Japan's Asian diplomacy, revising the Constitution and restoring overall trust in the political system. He declared “with the determination to make a fresh start, I will hold firmly to the convictions that guide me toward the creation of a new nation.”

On August 7, during an extraordinary parliamentary session Satsuki Eda, a member of the Democratic Party of Japan, was elected president of the Upper House. Eda becomes the first non-LDP politician to assume the post. Prime Minister Abe indicated to reporters that he will reshuffle his cabinet and select new executives for the LDP on Aug. 27.

This article is extracted from Japan Brief (Foreign Press Center, Japan) and Abe Cabinet Email Magazine.

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Ambassador Sakurai Visits West Virginia and Pennsylvania

 Governor Joe Manchin III and First Lady Gayle C. Manchin

Governor Joe Manchin III and First Lady (Left)

On July 9th and 10th Ambassador Sakurai, accompanied by Ms. Sakurai, visited Charleston, the capital of West Virginia. It marked his first visit to the Mountain State since being appointed ambassador in April 2006.

They attended a dinner hosted by Governor Joe Manchin III and First Lady Gayle C. Manchin at the Governor’s Mansion. The governor’s residence is beautiful, impressive, and most surprisingly, very open to the public. Not surrounded by walls, fences or security guards, but by beautiful velvet lawns, its grounds are a popular spot for couples and families to visit and relax.

Governor’s Mansion

Governor’s Mansion

The Ambassador and Governor had a friendly exchange on various issues, including Japanese investment in the state. Governor Manchin expressed his appreciation for Japanese firms like Toyota that have made significant investments in his state. Japan is second behind only Germany, the largest foreign investor in the state, and Governor Manchin stressed that the direct investment provided by Japanese companies is of particularly high quality and has a very positive impact on the local economy. He cited as an example the efficient training methods introduced to West Virginian employees by Japanese businesses there.

Ambassador Sakurai agreed to help further develop economic ties. More specifically, he promised to help arrange a meeting with top executives of Japanese companies in New York. For his part, the Governor expressed his desire to visit New York City in the near future in order to promote outside investment in West Virginia.

 Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia

Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia

On July 10th, Ambassador Sakurai met Ms. Amelia Davis Courts, Executive Director in charge of International schools/ESL with West Virginia’s Department of Education. West Virginia has a long history of teaching Japanese language in middle and high schools and there is growing demand for teachers from Japan. However, according to Ms. Courts the number of Japanese teachers there has declined because of Japanese government budget restraints. She contrasted the situation to the rapidly growing presence of Chinese language teachers from China. Ms. Courts and Ambassador Sakurai agreed to cooperate to find ways to tackle the problem.

Ambassador Sakurai also paid a visit to Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia in Putnam County. About an hour’s drive from Charleston, the plant was established in 1996 and has expanded production capacity five times over ten years. Toyota manufactures engines and automatic transmissions at the facility, which employs about 1320 people, making it one of the biggest engine factories in the U.S..

Michael A. Nutter

Michael A. Nutter (Right)

Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia has established strong business relationships with West Virginian suppliers and local firms, as well as supporting community activities, educational programs, medical services, environmental preservation, and other local causes. After touring the factory, Ambassador Sakurai said he was very impressed by the pride the employees showed in their work and their many efforts aimed at building quality products efficiently.

On his way back to New York Ambassador Sakurai stopped by Philadelphia for a lunch with Michael A. Nutter, a candidate for mayor. If elected, Mr. Nutter said he hopes to promote investment from Japan and to focus on strengthening ties, such as Philadelphia’s ongoing sister city relationship with Kobe.

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culture connection

Masao Takabe

Masao Takabe

Go in New York

By Masao Takabe
New York Go Center (Nihon Ki-in New York)

You’ve surely played chess or checkers, but have you ever tried your hand at go? Well, about 42 million people around the world have! This ancient board game has existed for 4000 years and remains popular in Japan to this day. Go has its roots in India and the Middle East; after being introduced to China via the Silk Road it arrived in Japan through Korea in the eighth century.

Figure 1

Figure 1

The oldest surviving go board in Japan is housed at the Shosoin of the Todai-ji Temple in Nara. Property of the Emperor Shomu (729-749), the game is much like those in use today, with a board of 361 square grids, and ivory stones in navy and red with beautiful engravings of flowers and birds. In Japan’s Warring States period Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu were great fans of the game, and the go board used in matches between Hideyoshi and Ieyasu is still stored in Kyoto.

Figure 2

Figure 2
If the white stones are surrounded by the black stones, the white stones are removed by the black player.

The modern go board has a 19-by-19 grid (however, other sizes, such as 9-by-9 and 13-by-13, are used by beginners). It can be made of various materials, such as expensive Japanese nutmeg-yew (kaya), cherry, Japanese judas tree, or ginkgo wood.

Now, let’s go over the rules of go. Go is a game in which players contest for territory. Two players have either black or white stones, and take turns placing a stone on the board to mark their territory. If one player’s stones surround the opponent’s, the stones are captured and removed from the board (Figure 2). At the end of the game, the number of lines surrounding a section of the player’s stones and the number of intersections of lines are counted. In the Figure 3, the black section has a total of 23, and the white has 14. In this case, black wins by 9 (23 subtract 14).

Figure 3

Figure 3

In some ways go is more popular than ever. “Hikaru's Go”, a popular comic about a boy who devotes himself to becoming a professional go player was sold both in Japan and the US, and many young people began to play go. (Since 2004 “Hirakru’s Go” has been published serially in the US version of Weekly Shonen Jump, and a DVD and TV program have been released, as well.)

Go was first introduced to the US in 1920’s. There are now go clubs and go societies in every state in the US, making it possible to study the game and make friends almost anywhere. If you are interested in learning more a visit to the New York Iwamoto Go Center, located on 52nd Street between 1st and 2nd avenues, is definitely in order. A step into this classic New York townhouse reveals a unique atmosphere filled with go boards. And of course, now you can play go on the internet, too. Today, many people in America and Europe participate in international exchange by playing go-with friends and family in Japan.

New York Go Center

New York Go Center

To learn more about the game of go, please contact Masao Takabe, New York Iwamoto Go Center (323 East 52nd Street). Phone: (212)223-0342.

Nihon Ki-in (Japan Go Association)
New York Iwamoto Go Center

culture connection

Music to Our Ears

Mr. Miura and Ms. Ono

Mr. Miura and Ms. Ono (middle)

Music From Japan was honored with the 2007 Foreign Minister’s Commendation for its achievements furthering mutual understanding and friendship between the people of Japan and the United States of America. During a ceremony on July 25, Ambassador Sakurai presented a Certificate of Commendation on behalf of Foreign Minister Taro Aso to Music From Japan’s president and artistic director, Naoyuki Miura.

"Five Haiku from Buson" by Joji Yuasa 2007

photo: Ken Howard

Music From Japan -- the leading presenter of Japanese traditional and contemporary music in the U.S. -- has enriched the cultural life of New York and other cities by introducing Japanese performers and composers to American audiences. Mr. Miura, the organization’s founder, first arrived in New York City as a Fulbright Scholar in 1966 to pursue his studies in music. Realizing the musical traditions and composers of Japan were little known here, he created Music From Japan with the hope of exposing New Yorkers to the musical traditions of his home.

Junko Tahara, biwa

Junko Tahara, biwa, 2007

photo: Ken Howard

Since 1975, Music From Japan has presented nearly 400 works by Japanese composers, including 41 commissions and 59 world premieres. During the last three decades, the organization has performed concerts throughout North and South America, Central Asia, and Japan. More than 140 Japanese and American composers have been showcased, as well as many traditional Japanese works. Mr. Miura’s organization has ventured into cyberspace, too; its online database http://www.musicfromjapan.org/mfjdata.html is probably the world’s most comprehensive resource in English for information about Japanese composers.

Akikazu Nakamura, shakuhachi

Akikazu Nakamura, shakuhachi 2006

photo: Ken Howard

Michiyo Yagi, 20-string koto

Michiyo Yagi, 20-string koto, 2006

photo: Ken Howard

For its 2007 Festival Music From Japan presented “The World of Joji Yuasa”, a concert dedicated to one of the most notable Japanese modern music composers, who started his career in the famous experimental workshop, Jikkenn Kobo with Toru Takemitsu. And in a concert program the Junko Tahara Biwa Ensemble performed selections from The Tale of Heike, a medieval literary work chronicling a pivotal period in Japanese history. Beginning in the 12th century, the tale became part of an oral- musical tradition in which biwa music was interwoven with narration. A lecture on the history and significance of the biwa was given by Professor Barbara Ruch, Director of the Institute of Medieval Japanese Studies at Columbia. For 2008 Music From Japan is planning two programs: one entitled “Exploring Ma: Ancient Flutes and Contemporary Percussion” will examine the Japanese concept of ma (silence) in both traditional and contemporary music, and “Current Sounds from Japan” will introduce exciting commissioned pieces by three Japanese composers.

For more information about Music From Japan, please visit www.musicfromjapan.org.

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Event Calendar

September 7 thru 9, 2007
An Ancient Comedy That Still Brings Big Laughs
Rakugo in English comes to New York City

New York Hanjotei

New York Hanjotei


Katsura Kaishi

Katsura Kaishi

Rakugo can be best described as a Japanese sit-down comedy full of comic storytelling, with a history of about 400 years. What makes this style of theater unique is that the performer sits on his knees when he performs, and wears traditional formal Japanese clothes (Kimono) and sometimes wears a pair of long wide pants (Hakama) and/or a formal jacket (Haori). The performer, what we call rakugo-ka, is usually equipped with a paper fan (Sensu) and hand towel (Tenugui). These items help the performer express and act out the story. For example, the fan can be chopsticks, scissors, cigarettes, a pipe, or a pen. The towel could be a book, bills, or an actual towel. The performer sits on a small mattress, dressed in his Kimono and acts out the whole story alone. There are about 300 popular stories, still performed as classic Rakugo today. After a few hundred years, people still find new laughter in the same stories. Actor Katsura Kaishi started performing Rakugo in English in 1998 and since then has brought this style of Japanese comedy to 12 countries and 31 cities worldwide as the King of English Rakugo. This year, in New York City, the traditional Japanese Rakugo entertainment “Yose-theatre” experience will be embodied in an authentic way, with Katsura’s sit down comedy plus Shamisen-mandan musical story-telling, juggling, magic, Lion Dance, and Japanese Taiko drumming. You will see that the power of laughter is universal. The only difference from the Japanese version is that everything is in English.

Place: Sage Theater
711 Seventh Avenue (between 47th & 48th St), 2nd Floor, NYC
Info: Phone: 212-260-9300 www.sagetheater.us (Sage Theater)
www.rakugo-world.com or email to info@productionhouseny.com


Isamu Kenmochi and Isamu Noguchi

Isamu Kenmochi and Isamu Noguchi seated together on Basket Chair, 1950
Photograph by Michio Noguchi
Courtesy The Noguchi Museum

Isamu Noguchi and Yoshiko Yamaguchi

Isamu Noguchi and Yoshiko Yamaguchi in Chuo Koron Gallery, Japan,
Photographer unknown
Courtesy The Noguchi Museum

September 19, 2007 to March 16, 2008
Special exhibition examines influential designs of collaborators and long-time friends

Design: Isamu Noguchi and Isamu Kenmochi, is an exhibition that explores the dynamic and productive working relationship between artist-designer Isamu Noguchi and the man credited with the invention of what came to be known as Japanese Modern. For just under two years beginning in 1950, Noguchi and interior designer Isamu Kenmochi, who worked at the Industrial Arts Research Institute (IARI), in Tokyo, worked together, pushing at the boundaries that separated tradition from modernism, hand crafting from mechanical production. This exhibition explores this collaboration and other works by the two men with a rich selection of some eighty-five works borrowed from collections in Japan and the United States. These pieces trace Noguchi’s early furniture design, including their impact on Kenmochi, while revealing the latter’s important contributions to twentieth-century design.

This exhibition presents furniture, interior and industrial-design objects, and drawings and photographs. These works illuminate the two men’s shared interests in Japanese traditions of simplicity, craft, and functionality, and their commitment to combining these with experimental techniques and materials typical of modern Western design. The installation of Design: Isamu Noguchi and Isamu Kenmochi incorporate a variety of materials, objects, and forms that evoke the era and places in which the two men worked. These include, for example, components of Kenmochi’s “Living Art” installations.

Place: The Noguchi Museum
9-01 33rd Road, Long Island City, NY 11106
Info:Info: 718-204-7088 or www.noguchi.org

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Performing Arts Music
Duet for Dance and Ikebana, Tenri Cultural Institute
9/12-16, 19-22
Basil Twist’s Dogugaeshi
Japan Society
8/27 - 9/8
Japanese Artist Association of New York
Tenri Cultural Institute
9/5 - 14
From Now into the Future Yoriko Inakazu
The Nippon Gallery
9/6 - 10/13
Daydream in My Garden by Go Sugimoto
M.Y. Art Prospects
9/12 - 29
Super Phat
Visual Arts Gallery

9/15 & 16
Bonsai Exhibit
Ohio House, Shofuso
Philadelphia, PA
9/20 - 26
Capa Wearable Art Alluring kimono ...
The Nippon Gallery
Cultural Events
Tea Ceremony
Shofuso, Friends of the Japanese House and Garden
Moonviewing (Otsukimi)
Shofuso, Friends of the Japanese House and Garden
Celebrate Japan!
Penn Museum

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(c) Consulate-General of Japan in New York
299 Park Avenue 18th Floor, New York, NY 10171
Tel: (212)371-8222