Vol.18 January 2009
- The Japanese Foreign Minister's Commendation Award to the Japanese Medical Society of America
- Graduates of the Japanese Weekend Schools in Greater New York Reunite
- Tea Ceremony Lecture and Demonstration in Pittsburgh
- Japan Info X-tra - Statistical Overview on Americans and Foreigners Living In Japan
- Japan Info X-tra2 -DuPont-Columbia University Awards 2009 Goes to “Independent Lens, Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story”
- Culture Connection - Shakuhachi - Sound of the Earth and the Inner Mind
- From the Ambassador's Desk
- The Young People’s Chorus of New York City
- Old Noritake: Kakei Collection
- Event Calendar
The Japanese Foreign Minister's Commendation Award to the Japanese Medical Society of America
In 2008, the Japanese Medical Society of America (JMSA) received a commendation from the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Japan, and the award was delivered to the JMSA by Ambassador Motoatsu Sakurai in New York.
The Foreign Minister's commendations aim to praise outstanding achievements of individuals and groups, and gain further understanding and support of various strata of Japanese nationals for their activities.
On December 12, 2008, at the JMSA's annual holiday reception held at the Columbus Citizens Foundation on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Ambassador Sakurai bestowed the award on behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The award was given to Dr. Jean Furuyama, president of JMSA, and the director of Waterside Dental Group.
The JMSA was originally established in 1974 as the Japanese Medical Society of New York. Originally created so that the members could help one another and refer clients, the members include medical professionals, dentists, nurses and other health care workers. In 1984, it changed its name to the Medical Society of America, extended the network to other states and Europe, and also has ties with the Japanese Medical Association.
It has been thirty years since the JMSA started giving scholarships to young and ambitious Japanese doctors. Many of those health care professionals brought back the most advanced medical techniques to Japan, but some of them remained here to help people.
Medical care can be a particular worry for those living abroad, especially in a country like the United States. Here you can find the world’s best medical care -- if you have adequate information and money. Language is another barrier to receiving quality medical treatment. Therefore, information sharing and networking between Japanese- speaking doctors is absolutely crucial for the Japanese community. That is why JMSA’s work building a network of medical professionals has been so important. What’s more, JMSA extends its support to deserving community groups and organizations; this year alone, eleven groups received awards from its Japanese Community Outreach Program (JCOP).
Without a core organization, efforts to maintain the network could easily break down. “JAMS-net,” the Japanese Medical Support Network, was created in January 2006 and has made concrete strides in strengthening ties between members of the Japanese medical community. The JMSA and Dr. Shunichi Honma, the former president of the JMSA, are key members of the JAMS-net network.
For all of these reasons, the JMSA has been recognized by the government of Japan for its prominent efforts and awarded the Foreign Minister’s Commendation.
- 2008 Japanese Community Outreach Program Grant Recipients:
- Brooklyn De Kosodate
- Hamilton-Madison House, Japanese Clinic
- Japanese American Association of New York (JAA)
- Japan Education Center
- Japanese Medical Support Network (JAMS-net)
- Japanese American Social Service Inc. (JASSI)
- NY de Volunteer
- NY Sukusukukai
- Young Japanese Breast Cancer Network
On November 26, Ambassador Sakurai hosted a reception at his residence, inviting graduates of the Japanese Weekend Schools of New York and New Jersey, and the Princeton Community Japanese Language School, who currently reside in the US. Also invited were teachers and representatives of major local Japanese companies and universities, who sit on the school boards. Although the reception was held just before the Thanksgiving holiday, approximately 80 people enjoyed meeting old friends and making new ones.
Ambassador Sakurai hoped that this event would also serve as a networking opportunity. He stated that he would like to draw people’s attention to the role of Japanese weekend schools in the U.S. The basic policy of government-supported Japanese Weekend Schools is to provide a similar education for Japanese children living in the U.S. to those who are in Japan. In the past, those children were expected to go back to Japan after a few years. Recently, however, there is an increasing number of “shin-nikkei-jin”, or a new generation of Japanese-American children. These children can be the result of an international marriage, are born in the U.S, or travelled to the U.S with their parents at a young age and chose to remain as they grew older. Children who want to learn the language and culture of their mother country are called “heritage learners”. The Japanese government is now beginning to adapt to the needs of these children as their knowledge of both Japanese and American language and culture will increase their potential to become a bridge between the two countries in various fields.
In the past, the Consulate arranged receptions for the Princeton graduates in December 2007 and for the New York and New Jersey graduates in March 2008. Participants commented that the event was a wonderful opportunity to connect with people from similar backgrounds and to renew their ties to Japan. The Consulate organized the event again, this time inviting graduates from all three schools to expand the Weekend School’s network. One board member said that he was very impressed with the talented and uniquely experienced people who remain deeply involved with Japan.
During the reception, an alumnus of the Princeton Community Japanese Language School, Mr. Kensuke Okabayashi of Piggy Back Studios, gave a speech in which he spoke about his fond memories of the school. Mr. Okabayashi said his love of Japanese comic books motivated him to learn the Japanese language in his childhood. He said that he would like to contribute to the Japan-US exchange through his career as an animation artist.
Mr. Hitoshi Kumagai, an alumnus of the NY Weekend School, and soldier in the U.S. Army, who just returned from Iraq also gave a speech. He said that the respect and discipline he acquired at the school helped him a lot in the Army, where there are strict rules and hierarchy. He also expressed his wish to become, in some way, a bridge between Japan and the United States.
On December 13th and 14th, the Consulate supported the presentation of two tea ceremony events in Pittsburgh, PA., in order to promote an understanding of Japan and its traditional culture. Mr. Sen So-oku, a chado-ka (tea ceremony practitioner) and successor to the iemoto (grand master) of the Mushanokoji-senke school, conducted a lecture and demonstration at the University of Pittsburgh and at the Pittsburgh Japanese School (Japanese Weekend School).
Mr. Sen So-oku was appointed Special Advisor for Cultural Exchange by the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan in June 2008. Based in New York as a visiting scholar at Columbia University, he organizes lectures and workshops both in the US and Europe to promote an understanding of the tea ceremony (Cha-no-Yu) and cross-cultural exchange.
On December 13th, a one-hour lecture and tea ceremony demonstration was held in the Book Center at the University of Pittsburgh. As many as 70 participants, including college and high school students, attended the event. In the lecture, Mr. Sen explained the important elements of the tea ceremony (chado), literally “the way of tea”, ranging from manners and customs to the concepts and spirit behind the ceremony. He also stressed that Cha-no-Yu is not only for the wealthy, but that anyone can enjoy it. Everyone was very impressed with his elegant demonstration (O-Temae) and left with a deeper understanding of Cha-no-Yu.
On the second day, another lecture and workshop was held at the Pittsburgh Japanese School, followed by classroom visits by Mr. Sen. Approximately 130 people, including students of different ages, parents and teachers, enjoyed the priceless experience. The event was well-received, and again, students had the chance to ask Mr. Sen many questions. One student who attended the event wrote a letter to Mr. Sen in which she said it was the first time in her life to attend a tea ceremony and she was grateful to Mr. Sen.
The Consulate looks forward to organizing similar events in the future, in order to provide an opportunity for American people to learn about Japanese traditional culture through a first-hand, rewarding experience.
Statistical Overview on Americans and Foreigners Living In Japan
According to recent statistics from the Ministry of Justice, there are over two million foreigners living in Japan, or 1.69% of the total population (approximately 130 million). Who they are and where they reside - the statistics show us one aspect of Japan today.
As of December 31, 2007, there were a record-high 2,152,973 foreigners registered. Compared to ten years ago, the number of foreign residents increased 45.2%, while the total population of Japan (including foreign residents) showed only a 1.3% increase.
U.S. citizens account for a relatively low percentage of foreign residents in Japan: 2.4% of all foreign residents, or the sixth largest group in Japan. One third of them live in Tokyo, while others live in major cities such as Yokohama, Osaka, Nagoya and Kobe. The distribution of U.S. citizens is quite proportionate to the regional population in Japan. The one exception is Okinawa prefecture, where 24.8% of the foreign population is made up of U.S. citizens, although military service members are not included in the statistics.
As for Japan’s Asian neighbors, until about the mid-90’s when the ratio dropped below 50%, Koreans had been Japan’s largest minority population. The Chinese population finally surpassed the Koreans this year.
From across the Pacific, the number of Brazilian and Peruvian nationals drastically increased in the early 90’s. This is largely because the Japanese government started to accept “returning” descendants of Japanese who had emigrated. Today, these two groups together account for 17.5% of the total foreign population in Japan, or approximately 380,000. Many of these Latin- Americans tend to reside in areas of Japan with manufacturing industries.
Under the Japanese Immigration Act, the visa status of foreign residents are classified into two categories. In the case of U.S. residents in Japan, about 27,900 people fall into Annex 1 (Non-immigrant) category. Of which, approximately 19,600 U.S. citizens (37.8% of all U.S. residents) have work visas; about 2,500 U.S. citizens (4.8 % of all U.S. residents) have student visas, and 5,800 are dependents. Approximately 22,000 people, or 42.5% of all U.S. residents, are in the Annex 2 (Immigrant) category. Included in this group are permanent residents, long term residents, spouses of Japanese nationals and Japanese descendants.
DuPont-Columbia University Awards 2009 Goes to “Independent Lens, Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story”
Thirteen winners of the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards were honored in the rotunda of Columbia University’s Low Memorial library on January 22. The ceremony was hosted by Katie Couric, CBS News anchor and 60 Minutes correspondent. She was joined by Hoda Kotb, NBC News co-anchor, and Ira Glass of This American Life, who presented the duPont baton awards at the ceremony.
Among the winners were Safari Media, ITVS, Chris Sheridan and Patty Kim (the writers, producers and directors) of Independent Lens, Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story on PBS. The documentary is a powerful, detailed portrayal of one family’s struggle and suffering after their 13-year-old daughter, Megumi Yokota, was abducted by North Korean spies near her home. The film shows how young Japanese men and women were kidnapped from seaside towns facing the Korean peninsula, for espionage purposes. "Abduction" examines the societal and political aspects of this story, and it is a moving story of family life, revealing the deep bond between parent and child. At the ceremony, Mr. Sheridan, receiving the silver baton, told how Megumi’s story was not just a Japanese story but a universal one.
Established in 1942 by Jessie Ball duPont in memory of her husband, the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards honor excellence in journalism. Since 1968, the Awards have been administered by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, and today are considered one of the most prestigious awards in broadcast journalism.
Other award winning programs included: CNN and Christiane Amanpour, God’s Warriors; NPR, All Things Considered, Melissa Block and Robert Siegel, for their coverage of the Chengdu earthquake; and ABC News, Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger for Nightline, The Other War: Afghanistan.
Shakuhachi - Sound of the Earth and the Inner Mind
By James Nyoraku Schlefer
To hear the Shakuhachi, a traditional Japanese bamboo flute, is to hear 1,000 years of the human experience; the sound is so penetrating that it makes you feel a deep, soulful connection with the earth, the heavens and the inner mind. But why is a Westerner playing a Japanese musical instrument? In the following article, James Nyoraku Schlefer, Shakuhachi Dai Shi Han (Grand Master), answers that question.
I first heard the shakuhachi thirty years ago when I was in graduate school in New York City. I was already establishing a career as a Western flute player, and was immediately intrigued with the sound of the instrument. There was so much color, such subtle shading and such powerful music that I decided immediately to learn to master the instrument. Nearly twenty years later, after studying first in New York and then in Japan, I have approached mastery of the instrument and have been awarded a jun-shi-han, two shi-hans, and a dai-shi-han license.
Today, my performance career has given me the opportunity to play in some of America’s most prestigious universities and concert halls, as well as in Europe, South America, Australia, and of course, Japan. I have twice been an artist-in-residence at Duke University, and enjoy a very diverse musical life. One week I will be dressed in a montsuki and hakama playing sankyoku music with koto and shamisen, the next I might be at Carnegie Hall performing with a symphony orchestra.
When I made my first trip to Japan for shakuhachi study, I was delighted to find out how eager the great teachers were to teach me. Their openness in accepting a Westerner into the rarified world of traditional Japanese culture was heartfelt, and continues to this day. I learned many techniques and developed a deep understanding of the diverse elements of style among different schools of shakuhachi playing, but probably the most important thing I learned about shakuhachi relates back to the original intent of this practice by the Buddhist monks; listening to sound.
I learned that by listening to and striving for beautiful sound, you are also seeking a higher place in the world. The cultural differences between Japanese and Americans evaporate when two people sit close to one another, playing music together, listening with great intent to the universe of sound within sound. It transcends all boundaries and artificial human constructs in a way words and language cannot.
The solo music for shakuhachi called honkyoku is completely compelling. The tradition dates back many centuries to a time when it was played exclusively for Zen Buddhist practice. The monks would “blow the bamboo” seeking ichi on jobutsu, “enlightenment in a single sound.” I am fascinated by the idea of ma or nothingness in the music. What happens during that time? How does it sound? How can nothingness have sound anyway? Does this exist in Western music and if so where?
It is this world of sound that has made composing music for shakuhachi another significant part of my musical life. I write for shakuhachi, koto and shamisen, and also compose for mixed ensembles of Western and Japanese instruments. I believe that this is a wonderful direction for new music. By combining the sounds of Japanese instruments with those of the West, I can create a musical language that rises above the stereotypical sound of each individual tradition.
One of the most difficult things about learning to play the shakuhachi is producing a tone. It can take as long as several months for most people to get a consistent sound. Being a flute player, I did have a slight advantage but still had to practice every day. Learning the notation system for shakuhachi was also a novel experience since it is completely different and uses Japanese letters. It became clear that the difficulties of learning shakuhachi, and there are many, are overcome by practice, proper guidance and more practice.
I bring this knowledge to my students. It is important that I teach my craft, and I have been doing so for over 15 years. Both teacher and student learn a great deal about themselves through this difficult, yet rewarding, pursuit. My dojo replicates many of the time-honored teaching methods found in Japan, molded by my equally profound immersion in Western teaching practices.
When I travel to Japan, I often bring students and we seek out top performers and teachers, and attend many performances of new and traditional Japanese music. It doesn’t matter that the music comes from thousands of miles away and from centuries past. All music, at its core, is an expression of the human experience. People around the world share the same joys, the same fears, the same emotions, and music expresses these feelings like nothing else. Japan has offered the world some of the most profound music, and with the shakuhachi, one of the great musical instruments. The music is universal and, like all great music, extends beyond time and place.
James Nyoraku Schlefer is a leading performer and teacher of shakuhachi in New York City. He received the dai-shi-han or Grand Master's Certificate in 2001, and in 2007, he received a second shi-han license, this one from Kurahashi Yoshio and the Mujuan Dojo in Kyoto. In Japan, Mr. Schlefer has also worked with Aoki Reibo, Yokoyama Katsuya, Yoshinobu Taniguchi, and Mitsuhashi Kifu. He holds a Master's degree in flute and musicology from Queens College and is currently courses in Classical Music, World Music and Jazz at CUNY. www.nyoraku.com
Happy New Year! I hope that 2009 will be a good one for us all.
The start of the new year is the perfect time to take stock of the past and reassess the future. Since I took office, I have put my energy into changing the mindset of our staff, and providing better service, for instance, by opening the Consulate office during lunch hour. As a result, according to a survey conducted last November, 83% of respondents said the Consulate’s service at the counter is “very good”, and 13 % rated it “good”. In that same survey conducted in 2007, only 58 % called the service “very good” and 38% said “good” -- evidence that the Consulate’s service has greatly improved.
As an ambassador with a background in the private sector, however, I am not entirely satisfied with this result. I told my staff that private companies strive to cut costs, even though they cannot be totally eliminated. And by the same token, a certain target may be unattainable; nonetheless, companies try their best to come as close as possible to achieving it. Therefore, I will not waiver in our customer service efforts, even though the survey results were positive. With an ear for our visitors’ suggestions, all of us at the Consulate are determined to continue our efforts, so that the Consulate is even more accessible to everyone.
In Washington D.C., the presidential inauguration ceremony on January 20th made history. I was thrilled to witness the high expectations of the American people, especially those who gathered at Capitol Hill - reportedly more than 2 million - to celebrate the inauguration of the new president, in the midst of difficult challenges, such as the economic crisis, unemployment and social disparity. Under the new administration, the Japan-US alliance remains the cornerstone of peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region. The Government of Japan heartily welcomes the inauguration of President Obama, and looks forward to working together with the new administration in various areas, such as security challenges in Asia, including North Korea’s nuclear development, fight against terrorism, and global warming.
The Young People’s Chorus of New York City
©Young People’s Chorus of New York City
The Young People's Chorus of New York City (YPC) will hold a Gala Benefit concert on March 11 at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Home of Jazz at Lincoln Center. The group, featuring three hundred choristers, will be joined by special guests, The New York Pops, for a night of dinner and song.
YPC, an award-winning internationally acclaimed group, was founded by Artistic Director Francisco J. Nunez in 1988 as an after school program for children to provide a safe haven where young people from many different backgrounds could come together and create beautiful music. The original chorus was made up of nine members. Today, the chorus numbers more than 1,100 young people ages 7 to 18.
The gala will honor Ambassador Mr. Sakurai, the Consul General of Japan in New York, and Mrs. Sakurai with the organization's Humanitarian Award. The celebration of song, silent auction and dinner will be held to benefit the YPC at Frederick P. Rose Hall, where the chorus is in residence. The highlight of the evening's concert will be YPC performing "Hiroshima" by NEA Jazz Master Toshiko Akiyoshi in a special arrangement for chorus by Mr. Nunez.
YPC has toured on three continents. Their travels have taken them from Carnegie Hall and the White House to Smetana Hall in Prague and St. Martin in the Fields in London and include their representation of the United States at the 2005 7th World Symposium on Choral Music in Kyoto. YPC also recently had the honor of singing for Pope Benedict XVI at Yankee Stadium on his first papal visit to the US. YPC has also won five gold medals in the World Choir Olympics and has premiered over 50 commissions from a Who's Who of contemporary composers.
The chorus will return to Japan this coming summer for a four-week tour of 18 cities across the country. Presented by the Min-On Concert Association of Japan, the YPC tour will begin July 14 in Sendai, continuing to August 18 in Kumamoto. This tour follows the chorus’s 2005 appearance in Kyoto at the Seventh World Symposium on Choral Music where their performances captured the attention of the Min-On Concert Association, a Japanese company dedicated to creating opportunities for young people to develop their artistic abilities and to building bridges between different cultures. Other cities to be visited include Aomori, Nagoya, Nishinomiya, Himeji, Kobe, Mihara, Hiroshima, Tokyo, Yokohama, Fukuoka, Kochi, Matsuyama, Kita-Kyushu, Oita, Nagasaki, and Saga.
Old Noritake: Kakei Collection
Courtesy of The Nippon Club
Noritake is a familiar name to many as a maker of porcelain tableware. What may not be known is how the name relates to an entire genre of prized antique Japanese porcelain called Old Noritake. From January 29 to February 25, visitors will have an opportunity to view Old Noritake: Beauty Bridging East & West - Kakei Collection, an exhibit featuring a collection of exquisite Old Noritake porcelain at the Nippon Club Gallery.
Following the Meiji restoration (1868), New York became the primary market for modern Japanese porcelain outside of Japan. Toyo Morimura opened Morimura Brothers, the predecessor of Noritake Company, on Sixth Avenue where he sold pottery, lanterns, screens, and other gift items. The reaction he experienced made him realize the potential market for Japanese art and craftsmanship when adapted to the taste of the American consumer. Seeing the popularity of porcelain in the U.S., the forerunner of Noritake Company was founded in 1904 near Nagoya to create Western-style porcelain tableware to market in the U.S.
Taking its name from Noritake Company, Old Noritake is the genre of Western-style porcelain tableware produced from the late 19th Century until the end of World War II. At the Old Noritake exhibit, about 80 items are displayed including flower vases, dinnerware, pitchers, porcelain figures, and tea cups and saucers dating from the time of the Meiji restoration to the late 1920's. Imurasei Uzurazu Sara (Imura Quail Plate) featuring a quail and rice plant decoration made in 19th century, is a classic example from the early era of porcelain created for importation into the U.S. Another unusual, unique plate dating from 1910 is A.A. Vantine Tako Kaiso Sara (Octopus & Seaweed Plate) depicting an octopus and seaweed in a Western-style drawing.
Old Noritake tableware uses a variety of decorating techniques employed in Western-style porcelain. One classic example is the Cho Kinmori Madoe Baramon Pitcher (Gold Butterfly with Rose Pitcher) which is decorated with a gold vine surrounding a hand-painted rose. Some pieces have a tapestry appearance; others have had tiny colorless beads applied. Maple Leaf Momo Kabin (Maple Leaf Peach Vase) is painted using the "tapestry" technique which creates a gauze-like texture. Coralene Kodachi Kabin (Coralene Tree Vase), a painstakingly detailed work, uses the bead application technique, coralene.
At the Old Noritake exhibit visitors are able to experience the work of the visionary Japanese who brought together old Japan and Western sensibility to create exquisite products.
Courtesy of The Nippon Club
Courtesy of The Nippon Club
Courtesy of The Nippon Club
Courtesy of The Nippon Club