| Japanese (日本語)

Vol.14 September 2008


Mr. Aso Becomes the New Prime Minister

Prime Minister Fukuda meeting with President Bush

New Prime Minister,Taro Aso


On September 24, the Japanese Diet elected Mr. Taro Aso as Prime Minister. In the House of Representatives, the country’s lower house, 337 out of 478 voted in favor of Mr. Aso. In the House of Councilors, Mr. Aso won 108 out of 240 while Mr. Ozawa received 125 votes and was chosen as prime minister on the second ballot. However, in accordance with the Constitution, the decision by the House of Representatives takes precedence over that of the House of Councilors and Mr. Aso has become the new Prime Minister of Japan.

The race for prime minister actually began with the party president election of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which was held on September 22, after Prime Minister and Party President, Yasuo Fukuda announced his intention to resign. The party-chief election had been the focus of media attention because the new LDP president would practically become the next prime minister, as the LDP and its coalition partner, the New Komeito party, hold the majority in the House of Representatives.

In the LDP presidential race, 4 other LDP lawmakers filed their candidacies besides Mr. Aso: Nobuteru Ishihara, 51, the former Minister of Administrative Reform and son of Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, Yuriko Koike, 56, former Defense Minister and once a TV anchorwoman, Shigeru Ishiba, 51, former Defense Minister, and Kaoru Yosano, 70, Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister. Junichiro Koizumi, 66, former Prime Minister, did not register his candidacy. After the 13-day official campaigning, Mr. Aso, the party’s Secretary General, was elected as party chief and nominated to be a prime minister candidate.

Mr. Aso, 67, served as Minister for Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications from September 2003 to October 2005, and as Minister for Foreign Affairs from October 2005 to August 2007. During the premiership election campaign, Mr. Aso emphasized the importance of increasing fiscal spending for economic growth. He is also known for his outspoken character and his love of comic books.

The Japanese Diet has a number of important bills to deliberate, such as the fiscal 2008 supplementary budget bill and the revised Replenishment Support Special Measures Law. The former is considered to be important as a large-scale measure to stimulate the economy. The latter bill is also required in order for the government to continue refueling activities by the Maritime Self-Defense Force for ships of other nations in the Indian Ocean, as part of its contribution to the international counter-terrorism efforts.

On September 24, immediately after he was elected as Prime Minister, Mr. Aso announced his new cabinet members:

  • Mr. Kunio Hatoyama : Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications, Minister of State for Decentralization Reform
  • Mr. Eisuke Mori : Minister of Justice
  • Mr. Hirofumi Nakasone : Minister for Foreign Affairs
  • Mr. Shoichi Nakagawa : Minister of Finance, Minister of State for Financial Services
  • Mr. Ryu Shionoya : Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology
  • Mr. Yoichi Masuzoe : Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare
  • Mr. Shigeru Ishiba : Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
  • Mr. Toshihiro Nikai : Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry
  • Mr. Kazuyoshi Kaneko: Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism
  • Mr. Tetsuo Saito : Minister of the Environment
  • Mr. Yasukazu Hamada : Minister of Defense
  • Mr. Takeo Kawamura : Chief Cabinet Secretary,Ministre of State for the Abduction Issue
  • Mr. Tsutomu Sato : Chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, Minister of State for Okinawa, Northern Territories Affairs, Disaster Management
  • Mr. Kaoru Yosano : Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy
  • Mr. Akira Amari : Minister of State for Regulatory Reform, Administrative Reform and Civil Service Reform
  • Ms. Seiko Noda : Minister of State for Science and Technology policy and Food Safety, Consumer Affairs
  • Ms. Yuko Obuchi : Minister of State for Social Affairs and Gender Equality

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2008 Foreign Minister’s Commendations


On July 11, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan announced the recipients (54 individuals and 26 organizations) of the Japanese Foreign Minister’s Commendations for 2008. Included were three pioneering women in performing arts and one organization based in New York. The Foreign Minister’s Commendations honor those from various fields who have made extraordinary achievements and significant contributions to the promotion of cultural exchange and friendly relations between Japan and other countries.

An awards ceremony and reception to celebrate the three individual New York awardees was held on September 9th at the residence of Ambassador Sakurai. Mr. Sakurai presented the awards on behalf of Foreign Minister Masahiko Koumura, and he expressed his great respect for the awardees’outstanding achievements as performers, their tireless work forging cultural dialogue through music and dance, and their many contributions strengthening the friendship shared between the people of Japan and the US.

Ms. Shigeko Iimuma

The award recipients were as follows:

Ms. Shigeko Iinuma (know as Emiko Iinuma) founded Harmonia Opera Company in 1981, the only Japanese opera company in the United States. The company has played a pivotal role promoting artistic bonds between Japan and the U.S. Ms. Iinuma, as president, stage and artistic director, has promoted cultural exchange and mutual understanding between the two countries by introducing Japanese and Japan-related Western opera to audience in the U.S, and by training young American talent to perform opera in Japanese.

Ms. Kazuko Inoue

Ms. Kazuko Inoue founded the Inoue Chamber Ensemble (ICE) in 1982. As pianist, president and artistic director of ICE, she has held more than 200 concerts with Japanese and American artists. She has introduced American audiences to Japanese traditional and contemporary music and vice versa, as well as commissioning new works by Japanese and Japanese-American composers. Ms. Inoue actively promotes person-to-person exchange in the field of music by sending American students to Japan and by inviting Japanese performers and delegates to the United States to learn more about American not-for-profit culture.

Ms. Sachiyo Ito

Ms. Sachiyo Ito, dancer, choreographer and educator, has performed classical and contemporary Japanese dance at over 500 performances in the US, Europe and South America. Since 1972, through her work as an educator at universities and cultural institutions in the US, she has introduced thousands of American students to the art of Japanese dance. Her non-profit educational organization, Sachiyo Ito & Company, was established in 1981 and has greatly contributed to fostering friendship between Japan and the United States.

Japanese Medical Society of America (JMSA), for which a separate ceremony is scheduled to be held in December, was also granted a commendation. Since its establishment in 1974, the organization has significantly contributed to the promotion of the welfare of Japanese nationals in the US by assisting them with medical issues. Its activities include, among others, the doctor networking, the establishment of a doctor referral system, scholarships for young Japanese medical students, and the dissemination of medical and health-related information.

Photo Gallery

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Japan Studies Program at the Council on Foreign Relations

Ambassador Sakurai and Dr. Richard Haass, president of the CFR

On September 11th, Dr. Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and renowned foreign affairs expert, invited leaders of the Japanese business community in New York to a dinner reception at CFR’s headquarters as a show of appreciation for their support of CFR’s new Japan studies program and to express his commitment to invigorate the program using contributions provided by the business community. Ambassador Sakurai, co-hosting with Dr. Haass, delivered congratulatory remarks to open the dinner.

Headquartered in New York, CFR is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization and one of the most prestigious think-tanks for foreign affairs in the world. Its mission includes proposing and disseminating ideas for better understanding of the world and studying foreign policy choices facing the United States and other governments. Last year, Dr. Haas published an article titled “Asia’s Overlooked Great Power”, in which he reaffirmed the importance of Japan-US relations. Also, at the beginning of this year, CFR launched the Japan Program with its first fulltime research senior fellow for Japan studies, Dr. Sheila Smith. The Council believes the time has come to increase its commitment to analyzing Japan, assessing its significance for American foreign policy, and contributing to the shaping of U.S. policy toward Japan. Dr. Haass’s article and Dr. Smith’s biography and her current research program can be found on CFR’s website:

Dr. Sheila Smith and Japanese business leaders

At the dinner reception, Dr. Haas expressed his appreciation for the business leaders’ contributions and their support for the Japan Program. He also shared his views on recent international political events and the ongoing economic situation. Dr. Smith, chair of the Japan Program, discussed her current and future research projects and welcomed the additional expertise offered by Japan’s corporate leadership in the US-Japan dialogue about future relations between the two countries. She intends to conduct numerous studies in a variety of forms; publishing articles, conducting roundtable discussions and seminars, as well as making special reports to corporate members. Highlights of the 2008 initiatives include a Roundtable Series on Japan in Northeast Asia. And, 2009 initiatives will include: (1) a new Roundtable Series on Japan’s Political Challenges and Implications for Its Global Role, and (2) a research project entitled Power Shifts and Policy Consequences: A US-Japan Conversation on the Rise of China and India.

The Consulate General of Japan in New York sincerely appreciates CFR’s efforts and business leaders’ support for them. It recalls Prime Minister Fukuda’s “Initiative to Strengthen Japan-U.S. Exchange”, which was announced last November on the occasion of his visit with President Bush in Washington D.C. One of the three pillars of this initiative is to further promote intellectual exchange between the two nations. For this purpose Japan has committed 150 million yen over the next three years to support U.S. think-tanks. CFR’s Japan-related project is to be partly funded by the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership under this initiative.

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culture connection

8 marriages are reported on 08/08/08

U nder the Japanese Family Registry Law, Japanese nationals must report their marriage to the city hall, or the Japanese consulate or embassy overseas. Coincidentally, eight couples reported their marriage to the Consulate General of Japan in New York on August 8, 2008.

The Japanese family registry system is quite unique. The father, mother and all of their children are registered together as a family at one of the city halls in Japan. Once one of their children gets married, he/she creates a new family register with his/her spouse, and is removed from the registry of the parents. This is in contrast to the US, which uses an individual birth registration system.

In the fiscal year 2007 (from April 2007 to March 2008), this consulate received 388 marriage reports in total. This is the 3rd largest number amongst overseas missions, exceeded only by Sao Paulo and Los Angeles.

Among the marriages reported to this consulate, an overwhelmingly large number of cases are marriages between Japanese brides and American grooms (248), while Japanese grooms, while there were only 17 reports of American women marrying Japanese men. 44 Japanese couples (both parties Japanese nationals) also reported their marriage to this consulate.

Reflecting the ethnic diversity of New York, the rest of the marriages reported to this office were between Japanese nationals and non-US citizens. The spouses of Japanese varied greatly: Chinese, British, French, Korean, Indian, Mexican and more. They came from Asia, Americas, Africa, and Europe: actually from every continent in the world. Some were here as refugees, and did not have a method to prove their nationality. Nonetheless, it is important to identify the nationality of the foreign spouse since it will influence the nationality of the baby under Japanese law.

If at least one of the parents is Japanese, and the baby is born in the US, they usually acquire at least Japanese and American nationalities. It is not surprising for a baby to receive nationality from several different countries.

Under the Japanese Nationality Law, babies born with more than one nationality may waive their obligation to choose one until they reach the age of 22. Japanese consider a child to be an adult at the age of 20, and thus the baby can keep dual nationally until 2 years after coming of age.

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culture connection

Chado - "The Way of Tea"

Mr. Sen So-oku

Purity and tranquility in a small, square room - nowadays, more and more Americans have experienced a key element of Japanese traditional culture, Chado, the tea ceremony or literally, “the way of tea.” Mr. Sen So-oku, 32 years old, is a chado-ka (tea ceremony practitioner) and successor to the head of the Mushanokoji-senke school of the tea ceremony. In the following interview he expresses his hope that Americans will explore the world of Chado. Now in New York as Special Advisor for Cultural Exchange, Mr. Sen will be promoting understanding of Japanese culture and cross-cultural exchange in the year ahead.

JIC (Japan Information Center): Many Americans have seen a tea ceremony demonstration, but do you think that they can truly understand and appreciate the concept of the tea ceremony in light of cultural and linguistic barriers?

Mr. Sen: Chado is a way of communication. It can bring people closer, despite differences in age, sex, nationality, etc. There is a misunderstanding that the tea ceremony is just about mental discipline, precise manners, and formality. This is probably because in foreign countries the tea ceremony is often performed like a show; the host is an actor and the others are a passive audience. In Chado, however, there is no such distinction; everyone is part of the process. I would call Chado a form of “participatory art.” It has its own world. The manners to be followed in the ceremony are a common language. It is like soccer -- you have a set of rules to play a game.

JIC: Rigid customs, complicated movements, etc. This stereotypical image of Chado makes many people hesitate to give it a try.

Mr. Sen: The rules were established for good reasons. One simple example is that you must not raise the tea bowl high above. If you do this, the host will worry you might drop it and break the precious bowl. The rules we have today are a crystallization of consideration and respect for others. They are the formalized way of showing your respect and hospitality.

Indeed, manners and form are quite natural and practical. My favorite word is “tenari”, meaning wherever your hand naturally goes. I heard that my great grand father, an iemoto, head of the school, used to use this word to answer every question from his disciples. Let the things as they are - I think this principle captures the essence of Chado, not only physically but also mentally.

Following each step matters because they can take you to another place. The word “tea” appears in a Japanese expression “nichijo sahanji”, meaning a trivial, everyday matter like tea and a meal. It is true; actions like pouring tea and wiping teacups are done by everyone in the kitchen everyday. However, proper manners and form are, as I said, a common language spoken in the world of Chado. They are an agent in the process of turning our everyday life into a different world.

JIC: In Japan, as our lifestyle changes, people are gradually moving away from traditional culture, including Chado.

Mr. Sen: I invented a set of table and chairs so that people can enjoy the tea ceremony without sitting down in a formal chashitsu (tearoom) with tatami mats. The traditional style of chashitsu was established 400 years ago, when tatami rooms were commonplace. It was only natural for people back then to come up with a tearoom style based on what they had at that time. But today, a chashitsu is very expensive to maintain. Even without formal chashitsu, I wanted people to be able to enjoy tea and feel the same as people did in the past. It may look different, but the essence is the same.

Tea Ceremony at Rockefeller Plaza on Sep. 8, 2008

JIC: Have you met with criticism because of your unconventional ideas, such as the standing style tea ceremony?

Mr. Sen: I don’t consider myself as doing something completely new. I am just trying to do something best, something that fits today’s context. As I mentioned, the idea of fitting into a certain time or situation does not contradict the spirit of Chado.

On the other hand, we have things that are fading away from our society - certain seasonal rituals, and kimono, tatami, etc. We must preserve these. They make us aware of the change of seasons and the beauty of nature. Adjusting to the times and preserving tradition must go hand in hand.

JIC: What would you like to achieve while here in New York?

Mr. Sen: In New York, quite a few people already know about Japan to a certain extent. But I think their knowledge is based on what they have seen, like tea ceremony demonstrations. We need to move on to the next stage now. I would like more people to actually take part in a tea ceremony and explore the world of Chado for themselves. I would be even happier if we see an increasing number of Americans enjoying Chado as part of their everyday lives, as a part of their own culture.

Mr. Sen So-oku is currently a visiting scholar at Columbia University specializing in Japanese art. He also organizes tea ceremonies and workshops and attends symposiums both in the U.S and in Europe.

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From the Ambassador's Desk

In Japan, a new prime minister has just been elected. Unfortunately, since he is the third prime minister in the last two years, people may find it difficult to remember his name. His name is Taro Aso. Previously, he was Secretary-General of the Liberal Democratic Party. He once served as Minister for Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications and subsequently as Minister for Foreign Affairs. He is also a good athlete; when he was young, he participated in the Olympic Games in Montreal as a trap shooter. With a number of important bills to be deliberated and issues to be resolved, I have great expectations for the leadership of the new Prime Minister.

In New York, two weeks ago, we recognized the anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11. During the attacks, 24 Japanese nationals lost their lives. Back then, I lived in the U.S. and witnessed the great suffering as well as the resiliency of the American people. It was an unforgettable experience for me. Those who lost their lives and their bereaved families are always in my thoughts.

Foreign-Minister,Masahiko Koumura

Airlifting activities in Afghanistan

Counter-terrorism is a major challenge for Japan as well. Japan has actively engaged in global counter-terrorism efforts, along with the U.S. and other nations. Japan’s counter-terrorism efforts are wide ranging: for instance, refueling activities in the Indian Ocean, airlifting activities by the Self Defense Force in Iraq, and economic cooperation through Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Afghanistan and Iraq.

In September 2006, in an effort to protect its own people residing overseas, Japan’s Foreign Ministry launched its Emergency Information Service System (EISS) covering the US and Canada, where an especially high number of Japanese nationals travel or live. In case of a large-scale disaster, this system allows people to directly confirm the whereabouts and the safety of those in the disaster areas. This system is useful not only in case of a terrorist attack but also natural disasters such as a hurricane.

In case of an emergency, those who are in a disaster-hit area may not necessarily have a means of communication that reaches abroad, like a mobile phone with which they can make an international call. Telephone service may be overloaded or halted, so they may not be able to talk to their families in Japan. In such cases, they can call and leave a message at the “data center”, free of charge, even from a public phone. Their families in Japan can access the center to listen to the message and confirm their safety.

In the context of combating terrorism, we cannot leave aside the issue of the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea. I truly appreciate the American people’s understanding of this issue and their sympathy for the victims and their families.

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Event Calendar

Second Annual Kiku Flower Show and Cultural Exhibition

Katsura Kaishi

Courtesy of The New York Botanical Carden

Last year in the Bronx, tens of thousands of visitors discovered the exquisite beauty of kiku (chrysanthemums). This fall, New Yorkers will again have the opportunity to visit the elaborate flower and cultural show, Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Chrysanthemum, at the New York Botanical Garden from October 18 through November 16, 2008. New features to see at this year's show include the unveiling of a fourth variety of kiku, an exhibition showcasing the chrysanthemum in Japanese art, and a kids' program for families with children.

This flower show is the culmination of a multi-year exchange and collaboration between Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo and the Botanical Garden. Under this program, the Botanical Garden's horticultural staff underwent training in traditional Japanese kiku cultivation and display. This collaborative effort has produced a display that will debut the latest variety of kiku, Shino-tsukuri (driving rain) along with the three existing styles; Ozukuri (thousand blossoms), Ogiku (single-stem plants), and Kengai (cascades). Shino-tsukuri mums are characterized by blossoms that open wide, accentuating the two different colors of the flower inside and out. Each flower has three kinds of petals --quill, spoon, and flat. As the flower ages, the flat center petals curl inward like a pinwheel, dramatically changing the appearance of the entire flower.

Courtesy of The New York Botanical Carden

The Kiku, the emblem of the Japanese Imperial family, has been cherished as a visual motif in Japanese art for centuries. The Chrysanthemum in Japanese Art, is the exhibition of imaginative, intricate, and beautifully rendered representations of the chrysanthemum in many different art forms including woodcut prints of kimonos, hanging scrolls with watercolor landscapes, folding screens, refined lacquerware, a writing box, textile stencils, and a picnic set.

For families planning to spend the day at the Botanical Garden, there is the Kiku for Kids program which features activities for children and their families to explore various aspects of traditional Japanese culture including a tea ceremony specifically for children. The Botanical Garden's Continuing Education program also offers a number of Kiku-related workshops, lectures, and courses for all ages.

Second Annual Kiku Flower Show and Cultural Exhibition
October 18 to November 16
The New York Botanical Garden
Bronx River Parkway (Exit 7W) at Fordham Road, Bronx, NY 10458-5126
Garden Hours:
Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Courtesy of The New York Botanical Carden

Courtesy of The New York Botanical Carden

Courtesy of The New York Botanical Carden


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The Doll Sisters

Katsura Kaishi

This fall, old meets new in the heart of East Village when the Japanese puppet show, "The Doll Sisters" returns to La MaMa 30 years after its NYC debut for a limited engagement from October 23 to November 2, 2008. Using both puppets and actors, this modern take on a traditional puppet show combines the classic Edo-style production with a contemporary twist.

The tragic story of the "Doll Sisters" revolves around the yin and yang of two sisters. The younger sister is outgoing and passionate; the older sister is quiet and reserved. The play explores two opposite characters and personalities, yet both are the women struggling to find their love and resolution. The younger sister is obsessed with finding the man who loves her, while the older sister seeks vengeance on the man who abandoned her in the past. The play is written by Taeko Tomioka, who explores the struggle of women finding their place in society. "The Doll Sisters" updates traditional puppetry by using two puppeteers, two actors, and a Kuroko, a man cloaked in black who would traditionally be an on-stage facilitator, but becomes an actual character in this play.

The puppeteer of this production is Jun Tanaka, the 11th head of theater troupe Youki-za (founded in 1635), who has been designated as an intangible culltural asset in Tokyo. His skills and timeless technique, in combination with the directorial prowess of Japan's most notable contemporary stage designer Setsu Asakura, bring this production to life.

Ms. Setsu Asakura

The production of "The Doll Sisters" will be performed in Japanese.

The Doll Sisters (performed in Japanese)
Thursday, October 23 to Sunday, November 2, 2008
La MaMa Annex Theater
74A East 4th Street, New York City
Thursday to Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm and 7:30pm
Tickets $25, Seniors $20
Box Office (212) 475-7710
online tickets are available at www.lamama.org

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Performing Arts Exhibitions
10/16 - 10/19
KEN Dance Company : Spirited Astray

Theater For The New City
5/3 - 10/11
Good Things in Small Packages
Forbes Galleries

6/12 - 10/25
Warriors & Entertainers
/ Japanese Woodblock Prints 

The Alice T. Miner Museum
9/11 - 10/4
Divided Forms:Works by Keizo Ushio
Exhibitions Music Cultural Events
10/4 - 1/11/2009
New Bamboo: Contemporary Japanese Masters
Japan Society Gallery

Gagaku Workshop for Composers
Japan Society

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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