Vol.13 August 2008
- Prime Minister Fukuda Reshuffles Cabinet
- Ambassador Sakurai Visits Philadelphia
- 2008 JET Farewell Reception
- Japan Info X-tra - New York Issued Visas Tops in North America
- Visit Japan - Kawasaki City: Tops In Techonology And Eco- Friendly
- Culture Connection -Enjoy Rakugo!
- From the Ambassador's Desk
- New York Hanjotei, a Japanese Traditional Comedy in English
- Event Calendar
Photo Courtesy of Cabinet Public Relations Office
On August 1st Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda carried out a reshuffling of his cabinet and the executive lineup of the Liberal Democratic Party. It was Prime Minister Fukuda’s first cabinet reshuffle since his appointment on September 25, 2007, following the sudden resignation of the previous prime minister, Shinzo Abe.
At a press conference in the evening of August 1, Prime Minister Fukuda explained the aim of the cabinet reshuffle thus: "I have emphasized policies that will enable people to really feel an improvement in their lives. The mission of this cabinet is to produce policies and put them into practice. I call it the ‘cabinet for achieving peace of mind.'" He added, "I am not thinking of dissolving the House of Representatives [and calling a general election] any time soon."
When he launched his administration 10 months ago, Prime Minister Fukuda kept on 15 of the 17 ministers in the Abe cabinet. For that reason, it was dubbed the "inherited cabinet." This time, however, Prime Minister Fukuda has carried out a large-scale reshuffle, replacing 13 of the 17 ministers. While retaining the key figures of Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura, Minister for Foreign Affairs Masahiko Koumura, Minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare Yoichi Masuzoe, and Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Hiroya Masuda, Prime Minister Fukuda has also brought over three of the four LDP senior executives. Bunmei Ibuki, previously secretary general of the LDP, becomes minister of finance; Sadakazu Tanigaki, previously chairman of the LDP Policy Research Council, becomes minister of land, infrastructure, transport, and tourism; and Toshihiro Nikai, previously chairman of the LDP General Council, has been reappointed minister of economy, trade, and industry.
Photo Courtesy of Cabinet Public Relations Office
Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Kaoru Yosano, who emphasizes fiscal reconstruction, has been appointed state minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy. There are two women in the reshuffled cabinet: former Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Seiko Noda becomes state minister in charge of consumer affairs, which is one of Prime Minister Fukuda’s priority policies, and former Special Advisor to the Prime Minister Kyoko Nakayama, who has gained immense trust among the families of people abducted by North Korea, becomes state minister in charge of population, gender equality, and abduction issues.
The government also decided on July 29 the budget request guidelines for fiscal 2009, putting a ceiling of 47. 8 trillion yen on the total size of general expenditures for implementing policy programs, up 1.1% from the current fiscal year’s figure.
In order to keep the size of the budget within the ceiling, public works spending will be reduced by 3% from the preceding year, and an entitlement increase in social security costs will be trimmed by 220 billion yen. But at the same time, the government plans to set aside 330 billion yen for several "important issue promotion category"-measures to deal with the shortage of medical doctors and other social services; growth strategy; realization of a low carbon society; securing of a stable supply of food and energy.
The procedure of budget formulation, which culminates in the decision of a budget bill at the yearend, dictates that each ministry submits budget requests in late August, which then will be examined by the Finance Ministry. In the autumn through the yearend, the future of social security programs, fiscal rebuilding, economic growth policy and other factors in the equation will take shape.
This article is extracted from Japan Brief August 4, Foreign Press Center, Japan.
Photo : Courtesy of JAGP
On Tuesday, July 8th, Ambassador Sakurai, accompanied by Mrs. Sakurai, visited Philadelphia and met with Mayor Michael A. Nutter, Honorary Consul General, Dennis Morikawa, and the President of the Japanese Association of Greater Philadelphia, Tomoko Torii.
Philadelphia is known as the center of American Independence and the site at which the Declaration of Independence was signed. However, it is not well known that a strong, historic tie connects the city with Japan.136 years ago, Umeko Tsuda, then 6 years old, became one of the first Japanese women to study abroad. She later returned to Japan, but with her eye on a career in Japanese women’s education, she returned to Philadelphia in 1880 to enroll in the newly established, progressive women’s college, Bryn Mawr. When she returned to Japan in 1900, she opened a girls’ high school in Tokyo with the aspiration of creating institutions of higher learning for women. This is now Tsuda College in Japan, which to this day maintains a friendly sister-school relationship with Bryn Mawr.
In July 2007, Ambassador Sakurai first met with then mayoral candidate Michael Nutter and exchanged views on the global investment environment. This second meeting of "old acquaintances" was arranged by Consul Morikawa.
During their most recent discussion, Mayor Nutter described his administration’s plans to prepare the city and region for the increased competition of an expanding global economy. He noted that the city is becoming increasingly cosmopolitan as more and more immigrants arrive and become part of the region’s expanding economy. With a population of nearly 1.5 million, Philadelphia is now home to more than a quarter million Latinos, Asians and Pacific Islanders. Forty-two languages are currently spoken in Philadelphia. Mayor Nutter mentioned that his own daughter is now studying Chinese.
Mayor Nutter said that while Philadelphia faces major challenges combating crime and reducing an unacceptably high dropout rate among school-age children, the city also has dozens of pleasant, affordable neighborhoods, a vast park system, an efficient mass transit system, as well as many quality colleges and universities.
The Mayor also stressed that there are many ways in which Philadelphia can learn from Japan, which include creating a mechanism for sustainable economic growth and its recycling system.
The Mayor said that attracting foreign business investment is an extremely important issue for the city’s long-term economic health, and that he would aggressively pursue foreign investment. He welcomed a Japanese hotel company’s interest to construct a hotel in Philadelphia, which could potentially become a beacon for Japanese tourism and business growth in the Philadelphia region.
Mayor Nutter concluded by saying that he would like to visit Japan, noting that Philadelphia and Kobe are connected by a Sister City relationship.
Ambassador Sakurai also met with Tomoko Torii, President of the Japanese Association of Greater Philadelphia (JAGP). JAGP helps with the Consulate’s One Day Consular Service, and along with the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia, serves as a bridge between Japanese and American communities.
The Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET) Farewell Reception 2008 was held on Friday, July 25th at the residence of Ambassador Sakurai.
Through the JET program, 120 participants from the New York area departed for Japan on Saturday, July 26th with great hopes and expectations. The night before their departure, Ambassador Sakurai congratulated the participant’s acceptance to the program and sent them off as cultural ambassadors to promote friendship between the U.S. and Japan.
In his speech at the reception, Ambassador Sakurai wished all participants the best of luck and the best of success in their new positions in Japan. He said that regardless of their destination, JET participants would be welcomed by their new colleagues at schools and offices as well as their soon-to-be neighbors. He added, “JET participants may encounter challenges, especially cultural misunderstandings, but they have the open-mindedness and the cultural awareness needed to live and work abroad”.
Since its launch in 1987, the JET program has been remarkably successful. It has now become one of the world’s largest and most respected international exchange programs. To date, over 44,000 young people from around the globe have worked in Japan through the JET program, more than half of which were Americans.
This year, approximately 1,110 highly-motivated people were selected out of 3,951 applicants nationwide. Of those, 120 have embarked for new lives in Japan from the New York area to take positions as assistant language teacher and coordinator for international relations.
The JET program is aimed at building international understanding at grassroots level, fostering cross-cultural awareness, as well as developing students’ practical language skills. Nowadays, in classrooms and communities across Japan - from large cities to tiny villages - the faces of JETs are a familiar sight. Even after returning home, JET participants continue to play a significant role as bridges between the U.S. and Japan in their own communities.
The Japanese government has always put emphasis on the JET program and, with the Consulate General of Japan, has made efforts to foster a JET community in various ways. For instance, by organizing career forums for JET participants, assisting the JET Alumni Association (JETAA), and by helping former JETs remain close and active with the Japanese local communities. The JET community remains strong and intact long after the participants leave Japan.
This year also marks the 20th anniversaries of JETAA and the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR), the coordinating body for JET. (For more information on their activities, please visit: jetaany.org/newsletter)
New York Issued Visas Tops in North America
Statistics on Japanese visas issued in 2007 were released last month, and they revealed that the Consulate General in New York issued 5,871 visas during 2007, the highest amongst Japanese missions in North America. In the Americas, this figure is only second to the Consulate General of Japan in Sao Paulo.
The figures also showed that New York is distinct from other missions in the world because of the enormous diversity of applicants. Last year, the Consulate handled passports of 130 different nations, as well as United Nations passports and US refugee travel documents. In addition, each country issues more than a few different types of passports including diplomatic passports and upgraded ones with new technology.
Overall in 2007, the Consulate issued visas for 2,802 US citizens, the largest group, followed by Chinese (653), Indians (633), Brazilians (163), and Filipinos (157).
Currently, US citizens are allowed to stay in Japan for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa before departure. Only those intending to work in Japan or to make a longer stay come to the Consulate for a visa. Of those who do apply, the most common professions in New York are entertainers, artists and athletes. In addition, a significant number of people apply for visas to work, to study, to join an exchange program, or to accompany Japanese spouses.
Applications for temporary visas are highest among citizens from countries like China and India, where no visa-exempt agreement with Japan exists. These applicants are mostly businesspeople in New York City.
It is important to note that individuals with US permanent resident status are not automatically exempt from a visa obligation. Whether a visa exemption is granted depends on the type of passport and the issuing country. Unfortunately, every few months the Consulate receives reports of cases in which US green card holders are turned away at their departure airport because they failed to acquire a proper visa for Japan.
Processing time varies mainly by nationality and US visa status of the applicant. Certain categories of applications are forwarded to Tokyo for approval, which may take longer. With a pre-clearance certificate from the Japanese immigration authority, the visa application can be processed in a few days. Employers or schools are expected to obtain this on behalf of the applicant.
For visa officers, the busy season begins after New Year’s Day; many anxious mothers come to inquire about student visas for their children. Japanese schools start in April, so it is not too late to apply in March when schools send out pre-clearance certificates to parents. Even so, anxious mothers call, trying to confirm the issuance of visas - sometimes even before actually submitting an application. Around the globe parents are nervous when it comes to their children’s education. In that sense, New York is no different from the rest of the world!
KAWASAKI CITY: Tops In Techonology And Eco- Friendly
Photo: Courtesy of Kawasaki City
For the last one hundred years, Kawasaki City has been an industrial powerhouse. Kawasaki played a key role in supporting Japan’s post-war industrial and economic development as the heart and soul of the Keihin Industrial Zone. Today, the City has evolved into one of the world’s top developers of cutting-edge technology, where an abundance of research and development institutions, such as Kanagawa Science Park, makes Kawasaki a leader in new and developing industry.
Attaining the status of "International Environment Special District", a designation that promotes the revitalization of industry, urban infrastructure, and environment in the city's coastal area, Kawasaki city officials plan to strengthen the area's competitiveness internationally. By using its superior resources and strategic location within the greater Tokyo Metropolitan area, Kawasaki City can apply its environmental technologies to international assistance programs. An international city, Kawasaki is the first local government in Japan to participate in the United Nations Global Compact.
Photo: Courtesy of Kawasaki City
Kawasaki is also an historical city. Kawasaki Daishi is one of the most important temples of the Chisan sect of Shingon Buddhism. Built in 1128, by an exiled samurai named Hirama Kanenori, and a Buddhist priest named Sonken, it is one of three major temples in the Kanto area. It is believed that by praying for safety and well being in the temple all calamities will be eliminated. Kawasaki Daishi is also one of the three most visited sites in Japan during the New Year holidays.
Kawasaki is a city endowed with an abundance of natural attractions including the Tama Hills and Tama River. The city is also rich in arts and cultural offerings such as music and movies, and blessed with outstanding human resources, including nationally and internationally prominent individuals. The Taro Okamoto Museum of Art, named for a famous Japanese artist born in Kawasaki and the Japan Academy of Moving Images and the Showa Academia Musicae are also located in the city. In addition, Kawasaki has four cinema complexes, several studios, and a film school. Since it is blessed with an environment full of beautiful scenery, Kawasaki has been used as a prime location for the filming of television dramas and motion pictures.
Photo: Courtesy of Kawasaki City
Logistically, Kawasaki City is close to Tokyo and about 90 minutes from Narita International Airport. It takes about 18 minutes to travel from Tokyo station to Kawasaki station by local train. You can reach other main area in Tokyo such as Shinjuku and Shibuya within 30 minutes by local train from Kawasaki. Good accessibility has increased Kawasaki city’s population to 1.37 million, the 8th largest city in Japan.
For more information, please visit: http://www.city.kawasaki.jp/index_e.htm
This article was contributed by Japan Local Government Center,the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR), New York.
The one-person comic storytelling tradition of rakugo is popular and thriving in Japan. During a typical performance, the performer (called a rakugo-ka), clothed in traditional crested kimono, sits on a platform on the stage (kohza), and tells a funny story that leaves the audience in stitches. It seems deceptively simple but it is the result of years of tradition and practice.
After an introductory monologue called "pillow" (makura) to warm up the audience, the performer begins the main story (hanashi). The rakugo-ka uses different voices, accents and phrasing to play the various roles in the tale. During this process small jokes (kusuguri) are inserted before the story ends with a big punch line (sage).
© Kiyoshi Goto
Many rakugo stories are quite old and have been transmitted from generation to generation (the koten, or classics). They capture the flavor of rakugo’s several-hundred-year-old history. At the same time, newly created stories (shinsaku) are emerging too. Stories can be quite short or long, with very long and well-known tales (ooneta) performed by more experienced masters.
Rakugo’s rules are unique. Unlike other popular forms of Japanese comedy such as manzai (a stand-up dialogue between two or more performers) and mandan (a single person stand-up routine) rakugo is always performed by a single performer and is characterized by a theatrical delivery in which the verbal jousting between characters is voiced by the performer.
Rakugo stories share several common traits. The characters are good-natured, lovable ordinary folk, usually innocents, cheapskates, pessimists, or optimists. Rakugo pokes fun at how these everyday people live their lives - especially when they take themselves too seriously. So while rakugo is very Japanese, its humor is really quite universal.
© Kiyoshi Goto
Rakugo draws upon the imagination of the audience members. Rakugoka do not use stage-settings or any props other than a facecloth and a fan that is skillfully deployed from time to time. Because performers use nothing the gap between the real world and story is filled in by audience members’ imaginations. The same story recounted by different performers on different occasions sounds quite different and classic stories that have been performed thousands of times remain fresh in the minds of listeners.
Since performers rely upon not just verbal techniques to tell their tales, but also on well-honed facial expressions and body language, rakugo training is conducted by imitating a master’s performances rather than by studying a written script.
If you want to learn more about the unique and funny world of Japanese rakugo this September is a great chance to discover more when performers converge on New York (see EVENT Calendar).
On August 1st, Prime Minister Fukuda reshuffled his cabinet. The most significant result of the reshuffle was that all of the influential figures of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) joined either a new cabinet or the party’s executive posts. Mr. Taro Aso was appointed as the party’s secretary general. He had distanced himself from Prime Minister Fukuda over differences in political stance. Among the new faces in the cabinet ministers, Mr. Koumura continues to serve as foreign minister, maintaining Japan’s basic foreign policies. On the security front, a focal point of Japan-US relations, Mr. Yoshimasa Hayashi, 47, was appointed defense minister. Mr. Hayashi has connections with the US: as a staff member for the late US Senator William Roth, he was involved in drafting legislation establishing Mansfield fellowship program.
Closer to home, Mr. Yoshiaki Kawamata has been elected chair of the executive committee for Japan Day @ Central Park 2009, succeeding Mr. Michihisa Shinagawa, who served as chair in 2008. Mr. Kawamata is Chief Executive Officer for the Americas, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ.
Japan Day @ Central Park, which began in 2007, provides an opportunity for New Yorkers to come together in the park and get in touch with the very best of Japanese culture, both traditional and contemporary. Steady, grass-roots activities help strengthen ties between Japan and the USA. I hope that the Japanese and Japanese-American communities in New York continue to thrive even further.
Last month, I was saddened to hear about the death of two valuable figures - Mr. Rocky Aoki, a well-known successful entrepreneur, and Mr. Michael W. Oshima, a Japanese-American, and very respected lawyer in New York. Both of them played a central role in promoting the Japanese and Japanese-American community in the U.S. I would like to express my sincere condolences to the families of these two significant figures.
Rakugo, a 400-year old Japanese performing art, is a form of verbal entertainment. Katsura Kaishi, the premier performer of Rakugo in English and one of the most popular Rakugo-ka (storytellers) in Osaka, Japan, is currently touring the United States and promoting this art. On September 17, the tour will culminate in New York with a performance known as NY Hanjotei. NY Hanjotei was established in 2007 based on the theater, Hanjotei, in Osaka that serves as a "yose" or variety hall showcasing traditional Japanese entertainment combining verbal, musical, and physical comedy. Kaishi brought the first NY Hanjotei last year and will come back this year with huge support from Rakugo master Katsura Sanshi, whose star status will illuminate the performance.
In the past Rakugo could be seen only in Japan and of course in Japanese, but since 1997 Kaishi has performed English Rakugo more than 200 times in over 12 countries including England, Australia, India, Brunei and the Philippines. His purpose is to share this art form with the world. In 1999, he made his debut at the Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal, Canada. In 2007, he presented a full week of sold-out Off-Broadway shows that drew the attention of both Japanese and American media.
During his American tour, Kaishi has performed in places such as comedy clubs and schools, as well as on top of bar counters and at the back of tractor trailers! His gift is that he can turn anything into a platform for Japanese traditional comedy. He is not only simply introducing Rakugo to the US, but also adding new artistic features and creating an innovative style. It won’t be long before he becomes as big a star here as he is in his home country.
- New York Hanjotei, a Japanese Traditional Comedy in English
- (April 15, 2008-September 30, 2008)
- New York performance:
- Wednesday, September 17
- 1st performance at 5 pm; 2nd performance at 8:30 pm
- Kaufman Center, Merkin Concert Hall
- 129 West 67th Street (between Broadway and Amsterdam)
- New York, NY 10023
- Cost: Free
- For tickets, call 718-433-1716 / 917-804-5661 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.