| Japanese (日本語)

Vol.10 May 2008


Diet Stalemate

National Diet

National Diet

©The House of Councilors of the Diet

Apolitical impasse is underway in the Diet of Japan, where the upper and lower houses of the legislative body are controlled by different parties. The Foreign Press Center of Japan reports:

The government failed to extend a special tax measures law beyond its expiration on March 31 and to keep alive the provisional gasoline tax rate which is exclusively channeled to national road construction programs. The upper house of the Diet, whose majority is the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), refused to act on the special measures bill that was passed by the lower house controlled by the ruling LDP and New Komeito Party. The law lapsed, and the gasoline price at the pump went down by 95 yen per gallon from 581 yen ($1= approximately100 yen).

The House of Councilors assembly hall

The House of Councilors assembly hall

©The House of Councilors of the Diet

Prime Minister Fukuda was adamant about reinstating the provisional gasoline tax for financial reasons, even resorting to the superiority of the lower house over the upper house. (With a vote of more than two-thirds, the lower house can prevail over an upper house decision after 60 days from its first vote. Using this procedural measure, the lower house reinstated the gas tax on April 30th.) In the midst of this impasse in the Diet, Prime Minister Fukuda made an announcement that he would abolish the road-specific revenue system from fiscal year 2009. (The DPJ is demanding the scrapping of the current system for road-specific revenues from the gasoline tax that is exclusively earmarked for road-related spending.)

National Diet

Masaaki Shirakawa
The governor of Bank of Japan

©Bank of Japan

The political loggerheads in the Diet also influenced the recent appointment of the governor of the Bank of Japan. Masaaki Shirakawa was appointed head of the Bank of Japan by the Diet on April 9. This ended an unprecedented situation which saw a three-week vacancy in the central bank’s top post after Toshihiko Fukui stepped down on March 19 without a successor approved by the Diet when his term expired. Shirakawa was approved earlier by the Diet as a deputy governor, and had been acting governor. The government’s nominees for the top post were voted down twice by the upper house, which is adamantly opposed to anyone with a Finance Ministry background for the Bank of Japan post. It rejected Muto, while approving Shirawaka as a deputy governor. In place of Muto, Prime Minister Fukuda nominated another former vice finance minister, Koji Tanami, only to be turned down again.

This article is extracted from Japan Brief April 7 and 15, Foreign Press Center, Japan

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New Jersey’s “Cherry Blossomland”

BBranch Brook Park (located between Newark and Belleville, in Essex County, New Jersey), was the first county park opened for public use in the United States in 1895. One of the most spectacular parks in the Tri-State area, it was designed by none other than Frederick Law Olmsted, the famed designer of Central Park in New York City.

The park is approximately 360 acres of rolling hills, spectacular glades, and meandering brooks. Each year tens of thousands of people visit to enjoy the more than 2300 flowering cherry blossom trees that grace the park. Branch Brook’s cherry blossoms are said to be greater in variety than the famous trees in Washington DC, earning it the nickname “Cherry Blossomland.” The cherry trees there were originally a gift from Ms. Caroline Bamberger Fuld, a member of a prominent Newark family, in 1927. She gave the park 2000 trees in 28 varieties. With the original trees getting older and some dying or decaying, in 2006, the County of Essex and the Branch Brook Park Alliance began an ongoing project to replenish the groves and more than double the number of trees by 2010.

Each April, Essex County and the Japanese American Citizens League hold a Cherry Blossom Festival to celebrate the coming spring and the beauty of the sakura trees at Branch Brook Park. This year’s week-long event, the 32nd annual festival, featured a Cherry Blossom Run, concert, bicycle tour and the 2008 Essex County Blossomfest, held on April 20th.

Blossomfest kicked off with an opening ceremony and cherry tree planting. Ambassador Sakurai took part for the first time and he pointed out to the crowd that his name “Sakurai” contains the character for “sakura”, meaning “cherry blossom” in Japanese. He also said he was very happy to know the ancient Japanese tradition of the cherry blossom festival is shared by so many people in New Jersey. 

The day’s weather was chilly at first, but the festivities soon warmed things up as people gathered around to enjoy Japanese traditional dance, watch music performed on the stage, and participate in Japanese cultural demonstrations like tea ceremony, ikebana, origami, and bonsai.

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20th Ship for World Youth

In January this year, many youth from different countries embarked from Tokyo upon a six-week journey around the world. This is the SWY program, which has the 20-year tradition. Dahlia Lahiji, the National Leader of the USA delegation talks about her experience. 

“For the past 20 years the Japanese government has been experimenting with a revolutionary idea on how to bring about peace and cultural understanding between Japan and the international community. It is called the Ship for World Youth (SWY) Program. In January of 2008, nearly 260 (about 120 Japanese and 140 foreign) youths from 14 countries gathered in Tokyo and embarked upon a life altering cross-cultural journey aboard a ship for six weeks. Learning and exchange took place both on board the ship as well as the official port of calls - Muscat, Oman and Chennai, India.

The elements of the program are the same every year: national presentations showcasing the history, music, dance, culture, etc., by every represented country; a safe and comfortable environment to have meaningful exchange of ideas; socially engaging port of call activities. And every year the program changes: different countries are invited to participate; different ports of call are visited; new Advisors teach different courses; a fresh batch of Participating Youths (PY) head up original and relevant seminars.

The official purpose of the SWY program is to broaden the global views of Japanese youth and international youth through mutual understanding and friendship, cultivation and practice of international cooperation and practicing leadership in an international environment. The lasting result of the program is 250 leaders returning home with fresh new perspectives on world affairs and the drive and will to change the world.

I was one of those doe-eyed PYs who returned home with dreams of changing the world. I had participated on the 14th program in 2001, right after September 11th. I had exchanged ideas with incredibly educated and talented youth from around the world. I was inspired, centered and energized! I returned home with a sense of purpose and the belief that I could make a difference. That is why the SWY program is so important - in an age of cynicism and self-doubt, it provides youth with the strength of character to pursue your dreams and attain them.

This past January I was fortunate enough to participate as the National Leader of the USA delegation in the 20th SWY program. An official invitation by the Japanese government is sent to the Embassies of the participating countries in May. By early September the participating countries choose the delegation. From September to January the delegation prepares for the upcoming voyage. In the United States, the USA SWY Alumni Association runs the selection and preparation process wholly.

This year the USA delegation was as diverse as the country it represented, with participants of various ages, ethnicities, cultures, religious beliefs, education levels, etc. For example, we had an advocate and a journalist, a PhD student and an ESL teacher, an entrepreneur and a mother of two. Once a week for four months prior to departure an hour-long conference call would help the delegation prepare for the voyage; obtaining passports and visas, choosing course discussions and preparing assignments, preparing for national costumes, national presentation, national party, etc.

Every year the SWY program has a slogan. This year it was “Friendship, Leadership & Partnership.” From the moment the program began this slogan personified the SWY spirit, past and present. Alumni gathered for a Commemorative Walk to mark the 20th Anniversary of the program, raising money and awareness for the SWY Forest Project, whereby Alumni help raise money to plant a forest in Bali, Indonesia. All fourteen nations on board the SWY 20th program partnered up to have a series of auctions on board the ship and raised enough money to sponsor 12 children for one year at the Bala Mandir Orphanage in Madras. Individual leadership was apparent in many PYs who initiated clothing drives, workshops, seminars, club activities, etc all during their free time on board the ship.

The SWY program is very difficult to explain to anyone who has not experienced it. If you are interested in learning more, please visit www.swyaa.org or www.swyusa.com. ”

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culture connection

Japan Day Returns to Central Park

Columbia Gagaku Ensemble

On Sunday June 1, the center of Manhattan will be transformed into a Japanese summer celebration. This year’s Japan Day will take place at the East Meadow, the north-east part of Central Park, an open area that can accommodate 35,000 people. The festival is a perfect chance for New Yorkers to get together in the park and to get in touch with the traditions and contemporary culture of Japan. The entire community of over 60,000 Japanese people living working in New York hopes this festival will help build ties and serve as a message of thanks to the great city it calls home.

Japan Day @ Central Park was launched last year. Over 14,000 New Yorkers, Japanese, and Japanese-Americans from all walks of life packed Central Park to take part in this day-long festival, a chance to experience the very best of Japan’s traditions, its cutting-edge technologies, first-rate music and entertainment, and wonderful Japanese cuisine. Japan Run, a short-distance race directed by the New York City Road Runners, attracted over 5,000 entrants from around the Tri-State area.

Building on this success, the organizers look forward to making Japan Day 2008 even bigger and better. Preparations for the festivities are in full swing; the Japan Day Committee is headed by Mr. Michihisa Shinagawa, President and Chief Executive of Sumitomo Corporation of America. Japan Day @ Central Park begins bright and early with the Japan Run. It will feature Reiko Tosa, one of Japan’s Beijing Olympics women’s marathon runners, who will participate as a special guest runner. After the Japan Run, the festivities move to Central Park’s East Meadow where delicious food, fun activities, and exciting entertainment showcasing traditional and cool Japan await.

From calligraphy to curry, manga (comics) to martial arts, running to robots, there will be something for everyone. We hope to see you in Central Park’s East Meadow. Don’t forget to bring your friends and family to this exciting occasion to enjoy the very best of Japan in the heart of the Big Apple!

(For more information please visit www.japandaynyc.org)

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JETRO Launches a New Website

Mr. Gary S. Moriwaki

When most people think of Japan, they think of cars, kimonos, and karaoke. But there are still many more things to be discovered in Japan that Americans have not even heard of yet.

JETRO in North America has named its new site “Cool Japan,” and it was created to bring you the “hidden gems” of Japan that have yet to be discovered on this side of the Pacific.

It introduces things like the coolest Japanese cuisines, fashions, and designs. The aim is to reach out to business leaders and trend setters who are eager to find new and innovative products or ideas.

Food   If you would like to learn more about select Japanese ingredients and regional delicacies, and even recipes, check out the food section!

Design   Japanese design has always made a unique impression on the world, it just has not been available for the world to see. Learn some of the history of our designs, hand crafted traditions, and futuristic works.

Fashion   Click the fashion tab and learn about the hottest trends and styles coming out of Tokyo. Here you’ll find the latest news, events, and even where to shop in Tokyo!

Entertainment   Japan has a long list of successful hits that have become mainstream here in the U.S. via video games, karaoke, anime, sudoku…the list continues out.

You will surely find Japan’s undiscovered treasures through this website. So, take a look, and explore. For more information, please visit www.jetro.org/trends/trends_landing.php

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Luncheon in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on April 9
Governor Rendell met with Deputy Consul General Numata

Columbia Gagaku Ensemble

On April 9, the Pennsylvania Governor’s Advisory Commission on Asian-American Affairs organized a luncheon at the Governor’s Residence in Harrisburg.

The Consulate General of Japan as well as the Consulates of China, the Republic of Korea and India received invitations to this event dedicated to the construction of closer relations between the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Asian countries. Deputy Consul General Numata and Honorary Consul General Morikawa represented our Consulate in this luncheon and they exchanged opinions with senior officials of the state.

Despite his tight schedule before the Democratic Primary on April 22nd, Edward G. Rendell, Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, attended the luncheon for half an hour. Governor Rendell and Deputy Consul General Numata had a productive meeting in which they touched upon some concrete measures for strengthening the relationship between Japan and Pennsylvania, including the possibility of a meeting involving Governor Rendell, Ambassador Sakurai and Japanese corporate leaders in New York.

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culture connection

Anime, Manga and their American Audience

photo:Kodansha International

Animated movies and comic books are cultural phenomena becoming more popular and prevailing all around the world. Many people know the Japanese words anime and manga. Susan Napier, Professor of Japanese Studies at Tufts University and author most recently of From Impressionism to Anime: Japan as Fantasy and Fan Cult in the Mind of the West gives comments about it.

“What makes a middle aged computer scientist from Houston dress up in a black gown with a strange white mask? What brings young girls to sit on the floor at Borders bookstores to talk about their favorite comic book character? Why would Quentin Tarantino include a 15 minute animated sequence in the middle of his film Kill Bill? The answer is that all these people are fans of a major popular cultural phenomenon-Japanese animation (anime) and manga comic books. In the last decade anime and manga have become a genuine alternative to American popular culture around the world. Tens of thousands of fans attend anime conventions dressed as their favorite anime and manga character, while every day thousands more watch anime on the Cartoon Channel or buy their favorite manga. In 2004 the great director Hayao Miyazaki’s beautiful anime movie Spirited Away won the Academy Award for an animated film, much to the gratification of his legions of admirers around the world.

Spirited Away

What draws non-Japanese fans to anime? I have spent the last 10 years studying anime, manga and their audience and can attest that, while the answer varies from person to person, having interviewed hundreds of fans I can also say that there are some important commonalities in their responses. Perhaps the simplest way to explain anime and manga’s appeal is that they are both “universal” and “different.” As I explain to my students in my course on anime, talking about anime is like talking about Hollywood cinema. Anime works include romance, tragedy, comedy, epics, science fiction. fantasy, historical sagas and coming of age stories. And manga’s contents are even more wide ranging. Thus, both media offer something for everybody.

Perhaps the most popular works are the many coming of age stories that range across a variety of genres. These can be heartbreaking: Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies, about two orphaned children surviving in wartime Japan, is one of the most beloved anime both inside Japan, a poignant story of love and endurance. But they can also be intensely dramatic, such as Hideaki Anno’s brilliant science fiction series Neon Genesis Evangelion, which is both an exciting action adventure series and a deep and devastating exploration of the lack of connection between generations and genders in a near future Japan. They can also be lighthearted, as the immensely popular Naruto series, about the tribulations of a young ninja exemplify.

But anime and manga are also popular because they are different, contributing values and visions that are alternatives to the typical ones expressed in American popular culture. Miyazaki’s works, such as Spirited Away, Nausicaa and Princess Mononoke offer a vision of organic environmentalism that appeals to many viewers who want something besides consumerism and materialism. The science fiction director Mamoru Oshii’s works, such as Ghost in the Shell and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, explore both the allures and dangers of technology in distinctive and memorable fashion. To sum up their appeal, anime and manga offer a world that is both comfortingly familiar and yet enchantingly strange to their non-Japanese audiences.”

Susan Napier, Professor of Japanese Studies at Tufts University

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From the Ambassador's Desk


April is the month when cherry trees are in full bloom. As is written in Headline, I recently visited the Essex County Cherry Blossom Festival.

What I felt there first is the firm grass-root ties existing between the peoples of Japan and USA and constituting the substructure of the Japan America bilateral relationship at the current excellent level. The first young cherry plants were presented from Japan to Washington D.C. in 1912. Since then, even for the period when our bilateral relationship endured hardship, American people have cherished these trees and made them so popular that so many cherry fairs are held in USA today. Looking at cherry trees, which have become a symbol of the mutual goodwill and respect of both peoples, I reaffirmed my intention to strengthen this traditional friendship.

photo:Kodansha Intenational

There is another thing which I remembered there; the smiles of Japanese children who embarked on their new school lives in April (the month when new school years begin in Japan) . They are now full of dreams. What I hope in this regard is that they will strengthen their dreams together with other children of different cultural backgrounds. Living in NY, a city where children of various nationalities live and study together, I always feel that children here, including Japanese, can not only overcome their different backgrounds quite easily, but also enrich their dreams in their mutual interaction. This is my firm conviction which refreshed my determination to continue and develop the international cooperation in the field of education and cultural exchange.

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Event Calendar

Japanese Photo and Video Art Post Asia’s Economic Crash of 1990
Heavy Light: Recent Photography and Video from Japan

A man who tells me that he has always wanted to attract attention, ever since he was a kid, and has always been knocked around for it, 2002

©Hiroh Kikai

When the Economic Crash of 1990 hit Asia, it also hit Japan's financial sector quite hard, leaving many people without jobs.

Heavy Light: Recent Photography and Video from Japan is the first major exhibition of the photo-based artwork of the current generation’s working artists who survived the period after this crash. 13 Japanese artists living and working in Japan (Makoto Aida, Naoya Hatakeyama, Naoki Kajitani, Hiroh Kikai, Midori Komatsubara, Yukio Nakagawa, Asako Narahashi, Tsuyoshi Ozawa, Tomoko Sawada, Risaku Suzuki, Miwa Yanagi, Kenji Yanobe and Masayuki Yoshinaga) will feature 80 pieces of their artwork at the International Center of Photography. Half of them will show their work in the U.S. for the first time.

The focus of the exhibition centers around four themes: The relationship between nature and the manmade world, the reexamination of Japanese tradition, personal identity as a form of costume play, and the role of the child as a cultural icon.

Eyelashes, 1976

© Yukio Nakagawa Courtesy of Yukio Nakagawa Office and the Miyagi Museum of Art

Today the economic crash is over. People tend to overlook the rapid change in culture throughout Asia within the last decade. But there are artists who cannot ignore it. The images at the Exhibition represent the response of the people to those changes since the mid-1990s in Japan.

May 16 - September 7, 2008
International Center of Photography
1133 Avenue of the Americas, NYC
Info: (212) 857-0000 or http://www.icp.org


Young Gifted Pianist Aimi Kobayashi Returns to Carnegie Hall for Concert

Aimi Kobayashi

12-year old classical pianist Aimi Kobayashi will be one of the performers in The Passion of Music concert at Carnegie Hall on Saturday, June 14, 2008. She will be playing along with 12-year old Latvian singer Oksana Lepska and 17-year old Russian xylophone player Rostislav. They will perform selections by Beethoven, Chopin, Aaronbayev, Morozov, Saint-Saens, Abe and Sejourne.

Kobayashi began studying piano at the age of 3, played with an orchestra at age 7 and had her international debut at the age of 9. Starting in 2001, she won a piano competition sponsored by the National Piano Teachers' Association of Japan (PTNA) 4 years in a row. She has also won the "Glory Culture Prize" of her home region, Yamaguchi Prefecture, three times.

Kobayashi is supported by the American Association for Development of the Gifted and Talented (AADGT) Inc., a non-profit organization founded in 1993 which has helped over 30 young artists and aspiring musicians to be introduced around the world. AADGT first brought Kobayashi to Carnegie Hall in 2005. Due to her performance, Kobayashi and AADGT were featured in a French television program that was broadcast all over Europe. In December of 2005 Kobayashi traveled to Paris to perform in Cortot Hall. In February this year AADGT successfully organized her concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The American Association for Development of the Gifted and Talented (AADGT) presents The Passion of Music at Carnegie Hall

Saturday, June 14, 2008 at 3 p.m.
Carnegie Hall (Zankel Hall)
881 7th Ave. (at 57th St.), New York, NY 10019
Info: 914-381-0489 (AADGT)/ 212-247-7800 (Carnegie Hall) or www.aadgt.org

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Performance Exhibitions
5/30 & 31
The Crane Wife /
tsuru-no ongaeshi

The University Settlement
5/7- 5/25
Tadaaki Kuwayama: Paintings from the 1970s
Gary Snyder Project Space
3/21 - 6/15
Utagawa: Masters of the Japanese Print
Brooklyn Museum

4/5 - 7/13 @ Murakami
Brooklyn Museum
4/28 - 5/22 Our Two Person
Hewitt Gallery of Art Marymount Manhattan College

5/3 - 10/11
Good Things in Small Packages
Forbes Galleries

Exhibitions Cultural Events
5/8 - 6/7
The 80s, Vintage Prints
Daido Moriyama
Steven Kasher Gallery
5/10 - 6/10 Fifty-Three Stations of the Yokaido Road
Books Kinokuniya
5/17 & 6/21
Midori & Friends Children's Day Festival
Sony Wonder Tech Lab

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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