Vol.15 October 2008
- Ambassador Sakurai Visits West Virginia
- NY Hanjotei: Japanese Comedy in the Big Apple
- Report of the 2nd Senior Week
- Visit Japan - Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture
- Culture Connection -Japanese Pop Culture
- From the Ambassador's Desk
- New Bamboo at Japan Society
- Miyabi: Kimekomi Mataro Dolls
- Event Calendar
On September 28th and 29th, Ambassador Motoatsu Sakurai visited West Virginia to meet with political and business leaders as well as to participate in the opening events of the Hino Motors truck assembly plant in Williamstown. Hino is a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corporation that specializes in commercial vehicle manufacturing. This visit was Ambassador Sakurai’s second trip to West Virginia since he was appointed ambassador in April 2006; his first visit was in July 2007.
On September 28th, Ambassador Sakurai attended a dinner hosted by U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller honoring Hino. This reception was held in the historic Blennerhassett hotel in Parkersburg, near Williamstown. Parkersburg is located one and a half hours from Charleston, the state capital.
At the dinner, Ambassador Sakurai exchanged views on a variety of issues with local business leaders and government officials, including Ms. Kelley Goes, Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Commerce, and Ms. Jean Ford, Mayor of Williamstown. During the event, Senator Rockefeller said that he was proud of the long-established ties between West Virginia and Japan and he spoke of his continued efforts to strengthen this relationship.
Japanese corporations have enjoyed great support from West Virginia’s leaders, including Senator Rockefeller and Governor Joe Manchin III. West Virginia has received a significant amount of new investments from Japanese corporations, largely from auto manufacturers and suppliers, creating many employment opportunities in the local community.
On the next day, Ambassador Sakurai attended the opening ceremony of Hino Motors Manufacturing U.S.A.’s truck assembly plant. This is the first ever ‘final vehicle’ assembly plant to open in West Virginia. Hino has doubled the plant’s production capacity and has increased its staff since November 2007, when the Williamstown plant was first established.
About 300 people attended the opening ceremony, including Governor Manchin, executives from Hino and Toyota, and members of the media. The ceremony was a great success, thanks to the large number of distinguished guests in attendance and the enthusiasm of the participants.
Ambassador Sakurai spoke with Governor Manchin about recent developments in the U.S. economy and joined the Governor on a tour of the plant. The Ambassador gave formal remarks at the ceremony, in which he thanked the many local residents and West Virginia government officials who have supported Hino. He also expressed admiration for the Hino employees who made the project possible.
Governor Manchin, in his speech, welcomed the investment activities by Japanese corporations like Hino, and expressed his appreciation for the jobs created by such investment. He also gave words of encouragement to the local employees of Hino.
© Photo: Haruki Shimokoshi
Old time Japanese variety came to New York when the "NY Hanjotei" took center stage at Merkin Concert Hall on September 17. The event, an evening of Japanese rakugo, Japan’s traditional comedic storytelling, or "sit-down" comedy, was organized by professional rakugo comedian Katsura Kaishi. The Consulate General co-hosted the event.
The name "Hanjotei" comes from an Osaka yose (variety hall) that was established in 2006. At the New York event, in addition to Katsura Kaishi, three professional rakugoka performed, Master Katsura Sanshi, Katsura Asakichi, and Utsumi Eika. Japanese audience members were especially excited to have the chance to see Master Sanshi, a well-known entertainer in Japan. Also taking part was Canadian Greg Robic, Master Sanshi’s first foreign pupil.
In rakugo, the storyteller sits alone on stage and recounts a funny tale, playing all the characters, from geisha to samurai, using only a fan and a facecloth as props. Kaishi, the show’s organizer, performs rakugo in English; he was recently appointed a cultural ambassador by Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs to promote the traditional form in the United States.
Since last April he has been spent half a year touring the country in a motor home with his family and performing all around the United States. Starting in Seattle, Kaishi has given more than sixty performances in thirty cities including Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Baltimore, and Saint Louis. Over 13000 people enjoyed his performances before the "New York Hanjotei" marked the finale of his 2008 tour.
© Photo: Haruki Shimokoshi
Turnout for the event was excellent for the evening’s two performances at Merkin Hall, with more than half those in attendance Americans. Kicking it off, Katsura Kaishi introduced the history of rakugo and gave a funny demonstration of how to eat udon noodles "rakugo style." He also had the audience members themselves act, which they enjoyed. Kaishi’s story was about an American man who loves Japan talking to a Japanese man at a sushi restaurant. Kaishi’s story was inspired by his experience touring the country and asking Americans what they think about Japan. Kaishi used pictures and photographs to make the performance understandable to the non-Japanese audience members. Judging by the laughter, they seemed to have enjoyed their first experience at an English rakugo show.
Kaishi said that, at first, he did not know if Japanese comedy would be understood by Americans but after his tour he has been pleasantly surprised to discover that laughter is a bridge between different cultures. Kaishi hopes to come back to the United States soon to perform again.
Katsura Kaishi’s NY Hanjotei is finished for this year but you may be able to catch him next year when rakugo returns!
© Photo: Haruki Shimokoshi
© Photo: Haruki Shimokoshi
© Photo: Haruki Shimokoshi
By Susan J. Onuma
Chairman of the JAA Committee on Aging Issues
The 2nd Annual Senior Week was held from September 12, 2008 to September 21 at JAA Hall. This event was first sponsored by the JAA Committee on Aging Issues as one of JAA’s 100th anniversary events last year. This year, we were happy to have this event co-sponsored by JAMSNET (Japanese American Medical Services Network).
Our sincere thanks to the Consulate General of Japan, JAMSNET and all the service providers for their participation and support of Senior Week. Due to the diversity of our participating lecturers and workshop leaders, Senior Week was a huge success. The reaction from those who attended was very enthusiastic and positive. Over 1,000 people from the Japanese and Japanese American community attended and many came to more than one event.
Coinciding with Senior Day in Japan, on September 15, Ambassador Motoatsu Sakurai gave his generous welcome speech to over 120 seniors at the Senior Luncheon held at JAA Hall. "Osekihan", a dish traditionally served at celebrations in Japan, was served to honor our seniors and wish them good health and happiness. Following lunch, lectures were given by Dr. Keiko Kimura (steps to take to extend one’s life) and Dr. Masazumi Adachi (on aging and Alzheimer’s). Entertainment was provided by Mr. and Mrs. Junji Masuda from Japan who through their group, Melody Pocket, perform at nursing homes in Japan.
Due to the enthusiastic participation of numerous service providers during Senior Week, seminars and workshops were held on a variety of health issues including but not limited to: Health Care Proxy, Power of Attorney & Wills, Social Security, Medicare US-Japan, Health & Gerontology, Preventive Health Care. Also held were workshops on activities to encourage enjoyment of daily living and good health such as dance, crafts, origami, calligraphy, chorus, yoga, tai chi, and massage.
- New programs/activities for this year’s Senior Week included, among others:
- - a tour of Isabella Geriatric Center where over 30 Japanese and Japanese Americans currently reside
- - report on the survey of various nursing and assisted living facilities in the tri state area conducted by the Committee on Aging Issues
- - lecture on the spiritual aspects of aging and hospice care by Rev. Kei Okada
- - lecture on the Japanese home helper system and long term care health insurance system by Hideaki Makuuchi from Itabashi-ku, Tokyo, Japan
- - film viewing of "Cats of Mirikatani" with guest appearance by 88 year old artist Tsutomu "Jimmy" Mirikatani
- - individual consultations on US and Japanese tax by Joe Oshima, CPA and immigration laws James Nolan, Esq. and Consulate General of Japan
- - lecture by Ms. Diane Rose from the City of New York, Dept of Aging, regarding benefits for senior citizens residing in New York City
The Committee on Aging Issues was established in 2005 to better understand the concerns and needs of our senior citizens. Results of an awareness survey conducted in 2006 indicated that there was a huge demand for information on the aging process and related concerns and issues. Since the inception of the Committee on Aging Issues, it was our goal to be able to provide information to the Japanese and Japanese American community on a large scale and to have this type of collaborative event. I am so pleased that we were able to come together and work for the benefit of our community. The positive results of Senior Week show that our greatest strength is our diversity and sense of community spirit. We look forward to holding more events where we can draw upon the resources and expertise of our respective groups and promote the services of those dedicated professionals who work in this area.
Hamamatsu City :Shizuoka Prefecture
Located halfway between Tokyo and Osaka, Hamamatsu City is an easy ninety-minute bullet train journey from both cities. By plane, a flight will take you to Central Japan International Airport, known as Centrair; Hamamatsu Station can then be reached in 2 hours by shuttle bus. In March 2009, the Mt. Fuji Shizuoka Airport is scheduled to open, making it even more convenient for people to visit Hamamatsu.
Hamamatsu City, with a population of roughly 820,000, is known as the place where Tokugawa Ieyasu, the shogun who founded Japan’s Edo Dynasty in the early 17th century, spent his youth. Today, in central Hamamatsu, you can find Hamamatsu Castle as well as beautiful cherry blossoms. Even today, the locals remind you of that great hero of the past. People in Hamamatsu are known for their “can-do” spirit and willingness to take chances. Thanks to this characteristic, Hamamatsu City has turned out pioneering enterprises, many which are household names worldwide. Even if you have never heard of Hamamatsu City, you know transportation manufactures like Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki, as well as musical instruments producers like Yamaha, Kawai and Roland. All these famous companies were started and/or are currently based in Hamamatsu.
With its many musical instrument makers, it should come as no surprise that Hamamatsu is one of the leading music cities in Japan. The Hamamatsu Museum of Musical Instruments is the largest museum of its kind in Asia; it displays about 1200 musical instruments collected from all over the world. The Hamamatsu International Piano Competition, launched in 1991, is widely considered a gateway to the music world for young pianists. The next competition will be held in the fall 2009.
Geographically, Hamamatsu city is 1.25 times as large as New York City. It is blessed with a wide variety of natural landscapes including mountains, ocean front, rivers and lakes. Jet-skiing, wakeboarding, kayaking, and trekking are just some of the outdoor sports enjoyed in Hamamatsu. Near Lake Hamanako, famous hot spring spots include Benten-jima, Kanzan-ji and Mikkabi, and feature many hotels and inns with excellent spa facilities and beautiful views. Also, don’t forget to taste the broiled eel, Hamamatsu’s regional specialty.
Near Kanzan-ji is the Hamamatsu Flower Park, where you can enjoy a wide variety of flora from around the world. From September 19, 2009 to November 23, 2009, the expo Hamamatsu International Mosaiculture 2009 will be held at the park and will showcase flowers and plants, and highlight artistic beauty and sophisticated skills of horticulture and gardening. Everyone is welcome to this unique event.
For further information on Hamamatsu City, please visit: http://hamamatsu-daisuki.net/english/top.html
This article was contributed by Japan Local Government Center, the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR), New York.
Japanese Pop Culture
© Photo by Matthias Ley
Japanese pop culture, such as manga (comic books) and anime (animation), is attracting more and more people outside of Japan. In the following interview, Mr. Roland Kelts, half-Japanese American writer and lecturer, tells us about his observation on this phenomenon as well as his teaching experience in Japan.
JIC (Japan Information Center) : Your position as a resident of Tokyo and New York is unique. What do you see happening now from your vantage?
Mr. Kelts : I think both countries are undergoing severe transitions. America is losing its central place in the world’s imagination. And Japan is finding its current position, as America’s ‘little brother,’ to borrow Takashi Murakmi’s term, untenable. A lot of people are looking to Japan for guidance, and Asia is rising fast. Japan needs to understand and accept its own unique strengths.
JIC : But you also teach Japanese students about their own culture-as a half-Japanese American. What do they tell you?
Mr. Kelts : In Japan, a lot of my students are stunned to learn that foreigners care about their cultural products. They (my students), know they’re cool-but they don’t care that much, because they are sincerely worried about their futures. They think that Japan is over, finished, and they are amazed to find that young Americans think they are the hottest culture in the world.
JIC : How do you address that disjunction?
Mr. Kelts : I just try to show them the evidence. Artists like Takehiko Inoue, Naoki Urasawa and, of course, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata are auteurs-totally independent geniuses working for the sake of art, and art alone. In some ways, Japanese anime and manga are where American movies and comics were in the 1970s-ideal media for fresh visions.
JIC : Do your Japanese audiences react differently from your American fans?
Mr. Kelts : Definitely. In Japan, there is a generation gap-and it’s huge. Older Japanese audiences are shocked to discover that Americans and other Westerners care about Japanese cultural exports. But younger Japanese seem to take it all in stride. ‘Of course they love us,’ young Japanese seem to say, ‘because we’re better than they are.’
American audiences, by and large, are just thrilled that Japanese are creating this wonderful art and not promoting it. It’s almost a paradox: Japan is seen as ‘cool’ partly because it’s not trying to be cool. And American pop culture is at a dead-end creatively.
JIC : It sounds like American fans form communities around Japanese pop culture. Is that true?
Mr. Kelts:Absolutely. And this is where the story becomes interesting to me. What I wrote about in Japanamerica was the way Americans have come to appreciate Japan as a brother, a sister, and even a partner-as American influence becomes weaker. Japan is seen as a leader in the 21st Century by young Americans who have grown tired of what they see at home.
JIC : Do you think this will bring Japanese and Americans closer together?
Mr. Kelts : It already has. Americans are now studying the Japanese language because of titles like Dragonball Z, and Japanese are now thinking of Americans as good friends, as real people, rather than freakish celebrities from the West. I am very hopeful. I think America and Japan are natural allies in the 21st Century. I wrote Japanamerica because I wanted to write a story about the future, and Japan and America are the story of the future.
If you watch Grave of the Fireflies, or Ghost in the Shell, or Akira, you can’t avoid the intimate relationship forming between two very different cultures. That alone gives me hope. Japanamerica is about the future. I can’t wait.
JIC : What are you doing now to further this relationship?
Mr. Kelts : I am teaching at the University of Tokyo and Sophia University, and I have a new project called Anime Masterpieces, that aims to introduce Americans and Japanese to the wonders of Japanese creativity. I will also be continuing my work as a writer to drive this relationship further. I will continue giving talks around the world, and my first novel, ACCESS, will be published next year. It’s a novel about the love of crossing cultures.
JIC : Thank you, Mr. Kelts.
Mr. Kelts : Arigato.
Mr. Roland Kelts is a half-Japanese American writer, editor, and lecturer who divides his time between New York and Tokyo. His book Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S. (www.japanamericabook.com) was recently released in updated paperback editions in English and Japanese. He is also a contributing editor and writer to A Public Space and Adbusters magazines, and a columnist on contemporary Japanese culture at The Daily Yomiuri. He is a guest lecturer at the University of Tokyo and Sophia University, and he is currently co-director of a new anime lecture and screening series, Anime Masterpieces (www.animemasterpieces.com), launching in the U.S. this fall and winter. He has lectured at New York University, Rutgers University, and Barnard College, and he is a graduate of Oberlin College and Columbia University. His forthcoming novel is called Access.
Ihope you are all enjoying the fall weather in New York.
In Japan, the new Prime Minister Taro Aso formed his cabinet. On September 25, only about twenty-four hours after he was appointed prime minister, Mr. Aso flew to New York and addressed the U.N. General Assembly on behalf of the Japanese Government. In his speech, Prime Minister Aso issued a clear message to the international community that Japan would pursue world peace and happiness through economic prosperity and democracy.
Some media reports commented that Mr. Aso had soured Japan’s relations with China and South Korea and raised tensions in Asia from 2005 to 2007 when he served as foreign minister. I was surprised by such comments. In actual fact, as Japanese foreign minister, Mr. Aso strengthened Japan’s equal partnership with China and South Korea, thus greatly contributing to enhancing relations with these two countries. Mr. Aso’s achievements were highly praised by his counterparts. As prime minister he is now back at the forefront of diplomacy, and I have great expectations for him.
By the way, Mr. Aso also has a great sense of humor. During his U.N. speech, due to a technical problem, the interpreter’s voice could not be heard; aware of this, Mr. Aso made the audience smile with a quick joke: "It’s not a Japanese machine, I think, no?"
Here in New York, Senior Week was held from September 12 to 21. It was scheduled to coincide with Japan’s national holiday "Respect-for-the-Aged Day". The event, in its second year, was successfully organized by the Japanese American Association of New York Inc (JAA) and the Japanese American Medical Services Network (JAMSNET). I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to the over 1000 Japanese and Japanese Americans who participated, as well all those who worked hard to make the program successful. The Consulate will continue to actively engage in aging issues, so that elderly in New York can stay healthy, enjoy their lives, and feel a sense of community spirit.
Photo: Teruhiko Osaki.
RThis fall The Japan Society will offer the opportunity to view works from the new phenomenon of Japanese sculptural bamboo art. New Bamboo: Contemporary Japanese Masters, which opens October 4, 2008 and runs through January 11, 2009, displays more than 90 works of exquisite and breathtaking decorative bamboo art created by 23 artists ranging from old masters to young artists.
Although woven bamboo baskets have been used in Japan for thousands of years, it was only during the last century that basketry came to be seen as an art form. New Bamboo explores the work of artists and craftsmen who recognized bamboo as a medium for sculpture by abandoning the traditional functionality of bamboo basket design. Ranging from ethereal, computer-plotted filigrees to angry, dirt-encrusted tangles and anthropomorphic forms, the exhibition's works reveal imaginative skills, masterful technique, and painstaking attention to detail.
Photo: Richard P. Goodbody.
New Bamboo examines the role of traditional basket making by assembling the works of influential artists who spent years producing baskets for a living, including a number who belong to long established craft dynasties. Shono Tokuzo (b. 1942), the son of Living National Treasure Shono Shousai (1904-1974), testifies to how skills honed in basketry can also produce wondrous and expressive art. His "Illusion" (2007) is an example of an extreme such form which leaves upright vertical strands unbound and free to unfold like an undulating sea of bamboo. Another artist pushing the limits of bamboo construction, Uematsu Chikuyu (b. 1947) is the meticulous artist who created "Wind" (2004), which evokes the circular motion its subject using a dark species of bamboo finished with lacquer.
The majority of the works selected for New Bamboo are by younger artists who have spent most of their careers making bamboo sculpture. One of the leading contemporary artists is Nagakura Kenichi (b. 1952) whose "Face I" (2007) is reminiscent of Constantin Brancusi's work; brash yet gentle, and sometimes purposefully awkward.
Viewers will be welcomed in the entrance lobby by a large scale, split-bamboo "Enclosure" by the noted bamboo master Kawana Tetsunori (b. 1945) which was specially commissioned for the exhibition by The Japan Society.
Photo: Susan Einstein.
Every culture has its own original dolls, yet none has a greater variety than Japan. From November 7-11, 2008 visitors will have an opportunity to view some of these exquisite traditional dolls at the Nippon Club Gallery exhibition, Miyabi: Kimekomi Mataro Dolls. For those interested in their actual construction, a demonstration illustrating the actual techniques used in making these dolls will take place on Saturday, November 8 from 1 to 3pm at the Gallery.
Kimekomi is a technique of doll-making in which the doll's mold is carved and then covered with pieces of fabric. The body of the doll is made from paulownia wood powder and paste, and then poured into the mold. After the body is removed from the mold, it is painted with plaster to stiffen it and to preserve the shape (photo 1). Grooves for inserting the cloth are then carved with a knife (2). Fabric is then inserted into the slits in the wood to create the illusion of clothing (3). Following the completion of the body, the face and head are made. The face is then painted and the hair applied. When the head is done, all components including the head and hands are attached to the body to complete the Kimekomi doll (4).
About 30 dolls are at the display at Miyabi: Kimekomi Mataro Dolls, including works by Mataro II and Maki Kadokura, another renowned Kirikomi dolls craftsman. The dolls' subjects range from the classical such as Kabuki and Juni Hitoe (twelve-layer robe), to those reflecting ordinary life of the Edo period.
The origin of Kimekomi dolls can be historically traced to Kamo Ningyo, a doll made at Kami Kamo shrine in the mid-18th century. Kamo dolls later came to be called Kirikomi dolls during the Meiji era (1868 - 1911) by Tokyo doll maker Eikichi Yoshino. Mataro Kanabayashi I (1897 - 1984) perfected Kirikomi dolls depicting the elegant world of the Heian era (794 - 1191). He concentrated his efforts on making his dolls' appearance depict the beauty and elegance of the Imperial court life of the day and his distinctive Mataro dolls' style are known for their rich facial expressions and grace.