Vol.19 February 2009
- Japan: A Cornerstone of U.S. Foreign Policy - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
- Meeting of the Japanese Ambassador and Consul Generals in the U.S.
- The 2009 Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival of Greater Philadelphia is Just around the Corner
- Visit Japan - Greetings from Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO)
- Culture Connection -Life Lessons from a Samurai
- From the Ambassador's Desk
- Robotic Workshop
- Awaji Puppet Theater Company
- Woodblock Printing Exhibition: "A Celebration" by Naoko Matsubara
- Event Calendar
On February 17, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, visited Japan. It was the first destination of her first overseas trip since taking office, and she met with Prime Minister Taro Aso and Foreign Minister Nakasone. Secretary Clinton reaffirmed that the alliance between the United States and Japan is a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, emphasizing that the partnership has been the foundation for security and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region and the world. Secretary Clinton stated that she will be committed to further strengthening of the relations. Mrs. Clinton extended an invitation from President Obama to Prime Minister Aso to meet him in Washington, D.C. on February 24th. Mr. Aso will be the first foreign leader that President Obama will receive at the White House.
Prime Minister Aso and Secretary Clinton discussed a variety of issues, and confirmed the central importance of close collaboration and solidarity in addressing not only the concerns of their two countries but also global issues, such as climate change, energy, and development. On North Korea, Prime Minister Aso stressed the importance of a comprehensive approach to the issues of abduction, denuclearization and missile deployment. Prime Minister Aso requested continued support for the early resolution of the abduction issue. Secretary Clinton said that the close alliance of the two countries is extremely important to resolve this issue.
Prior to the meeting, Secretary Clinton had a half-hour meeting with the families of the North Korea abduction victims, and expressed her personal sympathy as well as the nation’s concern for the issue. She met with Mr. and Mrs. Yokota, parents of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted by North Koreans in 1977 at the age of 13, and Mr. Iizuka, whose sister, Yaeko Taguchi was kidnapped in 1978. Secretary Clinton reportedly showed her deep sympathy when one of the family members told her that any parent would fight to the end if such a thing happened to them.
Secretary Clinton also met with her counterpart, Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone, during which she stated that the U.S.-Japanese relationship is vitally important to both countries, to the Asia-Pacific region, and to the world. Secretary Clinton said, “working together to deal with the multitude of issues that affect not only Asia but the entire world, is a high priority of the Obama Administration”. They discussed a wide range of topics including North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, global economy and finance, climate change, and development in Africa. The two then signed an agreement to relocate 8,000 U.S. marine troops currently stationed in Okinawa to the U.S. territory of Guam.
Meeting of the Japanese Ambassador and Consul Generals in the U.S., Business leaders, Honorary Consul Generals, and Japanese American Leaders
Ambassador Sakurai took part in a series of meetings from January 8th to 10th in Washington D.C., which were attended by Ambassador Fujisaki, Japanese Ambassador to the U.S., other Japanese Consul Generals, as well as prominent Japanese business executives, Honorary Consul Generals and Japanese American Leaders from all over the United States. Mr Manuel Morales, Honorary Consul General in San Juan, Mr Dennis Morikawa, Honorary Consul General in Philadelphia, and Mr. Paul Joseph Koessler, Honorary Consul General in Buffalo were among the participants, so were Mrs Susan Onuma and Mr Stann Nakazono, representing Japanese Americans in the New York area. Under the theme of “From All Japan to All America”, discussion focused on ways to further strengthen ties between Japan and the U.S., and to bring people of the two countries even closer, at a time of historic political change in the U.S. and unprecedented economic difficulties of global scale. Senator Daniel Inouye from Hawaii also took part in a couple of sessions during the three-day program to state his views on the way forward.
At these meetings, participants noted the strong commitment to the Japan-US alliance expressed by President-elect (then) Obama. They expressed high hope for an even stronger and more active alliance between the two countries under the new U.S. leadership. Remarks on local as well as national economic and political outlook by participants, including Japanese business leaders, highlighted the unprecedented and enormous nature of the challenges currently faced by the two countries. At the same time, it was recognized that, by working together, Japan and the U.S. could play a pivotal role in various fields, and lead the effort by the members of the international community to meet these challenges.
It was also stressed that further efforts should be made to strengthen cultural, intellectual and people-to-people exchange between the two countries. In doing so, participants recognized the necessity of making a more effective and integrated use of the various resources and networks that already exist in the U.S., across different sectors and areas. Honorary consul generals, on their part, stressed their willingness to work further to represent Japan in their respective localities. This was welcomed by the Japanese side, which appreciated the activities of the honorary consuls and pledged to further support and work closer with them. The Japanese American leaders explained about their activities to develop further networks among themselves. It was noted, including by Senator Inouye, that the activities of the Japanese Americans could also have a positive effect on the further strengthening of people-to-people links between Japan and the U.S.
The meetings thus turned out to be very lively and productive. The consulate general of Japan in New York, in cooperation with various partners inside and outside the government, intends to build upon the discussion that took place during the three-day program in order to continuously enhance the bilateral ties between Japan and the U.S.
By the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia
The annual Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival of Greater Philadelphia celebrates the coming of spring and the friendship between Japan and the United States. Each year when Philadelphia’s cherry trees bloom, the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia (JASGP) hosts events that highlight Japanese culture and art, providing a positive international experience for Philadelphia and the surrounding region.
The Festival began in 1998 when JASGP pledged to plant 1,000 sakura (flowering Japanese cherry trees) in Philadelphia. In 1926, the Japanese government made a gift of sakura to the City of Philadelphia in honor of the 150th anniversary of American Independence. The plantings JASGP began in 1998 were a continuation of this legacy. In 2007, the pledge was fulfilled and 1,000 new sakura blossom each year in Philadelphia, a renewing symbol of international friendship and cooperation.
As more trees were planted and more events were added each year, awareness and attendance for the Festival grew. In 2003 the Festival’s scale increased dramatically thanks to generous support from Subaru of America, and the Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival of Greater Philadelphia was born.
Expanding from 2 events with 200 attendees in 1998 to 40 events with 40,000 attendees in 2008, Philadelphia’s Festival is definitely the fastest growing Cherry Blossom Festival on the east coast. The year of 2009 will feature over 45 events, including music and dance performances, martial arts demonstrations, events and classes for Japanese cuisine, films, lectures, and more. Local talent and visitors from Japan join the Festival’s many programs, and guests come to see Philadelphia’s blossoms from all over the region.
The Festival’s largest event is Sakura Sunday and will be held on April 5, 2009. Sakura Sunday takes place at the Horticulture Center in Fairmount Park, where there are sakura both from JASGP’s plantings and from the original gift from Japan in 1926. This outdoor springtime event draws thousands of guests who come to watch colorful performances, enjoy picnics under the blossoms, shop for Japanese crafts and gifts, and learn about traditional Japanese arts like tea ceremony, origami, calligraphy and ikebana. The Horticulture Center is also the site of Shofuso, a 16th century Japanese Teahouse rebuilt in Philadelphia and a cultural treasure that guests can enjoy on Sakura Sunday. Special visitors who come to join the celebration each year include the Japanese Ambassador from the Consulate in New York, the Mayor of Philadelphia, and Japan’s Cherry Blossom Queen.
Funds raised through the Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival support JASGP’s Community Cherry Tree Planting Project. Since the ten-year/1,000 tree pledge was fulfilled in 2007, JASGP has focused on planting smaller groves of sakura in neighborhood parks around Philadelphia. By working in partnership with local volunteer groups to take care of the trees, JASGP reaches out to new communities and spreads international understanding and environmental awareness.
As the first major festival in Philadelphia’s calendar year, the Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival is a wonderful way to experience the renewal of the seasons in the spirit of cross-cultural friendship.
For more information, please visit www.phillycherryblossom.org.
- About the JASGP
Established in 1994, the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia is an association of individuals, corporations and organizations in the Greater Philadelphia region. Its mission is to bring peoples of Japan and the US closer together by promoting and encouraging a better understanding of the business, cultural, social, educational and political practices and customs of Japan and the United States. The JASGP offers over 70 events throughout the year for people to get involved in the Japanese and American communities in Philadelphia.
Greetings from Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO)
Here are three questions for you:
- Have you been to Japan?
- Are you planning to visit Japan?
- Are you looking for information on traveling to Japan?
In 2008, Japan received approximately 770,000 Americans, which unfortunately is a 6% decrease from the previous year, probably due to the recession and strong Japanese yen. The U.S. accounts for only about 10% of all tourists and ranks 4th after South Korea, Taiwan and China; two-thirds of all visitors to Japan come from Asia.
Even though the situation does not seem to be brightening up anytime soon, we believe that Japan has a lot to offer U.S. travelers. And once the economy gets better, as President Obama promised, tourism will increase.
We, the Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), are promoting travel to Japan. The “Visit Japan Campaign” has set a goal of having 10 million visitors to Japan by 2010.
In the meantime, in order to promote Japan, JNTO uses print and online advertisements, develops the “Visit Japan” website, participates in travel shows and holds seminars for consumers and the travel industry. Our office in Manhattan welcomes anyone looking for information and brochures on travel to stop in, email or call.
We also would like you to support JNTO activities by sharing you travel experiences in Japan with your friends, writing posts for the JNTO blog website and submitting articles for our newsletter. If you are a teacher, it might be interesting to talk about Japan with your students. JNTO can provide free posters and brochures for the classroom. We are also available to speak about traveling to Japan if you have a group of people.
Finally, do you know what the most efficient and effective way to support JNTO is? Please visit Japan for yourself with lots of friends and family!
For more information about Japan and JNTO, please visit www.japantravelinfo.com.
Life Lessons from a Samurai
© National Museum of Japanese History
Loyalty, selflessness, death, honor - if these are the only words you associate with samurai warriors, you may not have the whole picture of the life of a samurai. The Edo period was a peaceful time in Japanese history; there were no battles, the value of martial skills declined, and the lifestyle and status of samurai gradually changed. Observing this, a samurai physician with insights into Buddhism, Confucianism and philosophical learning, wrote life lessons for a healthier, more rewarding life for samurai. This was a unique approach at that time, but is very much relevant to concerns we have today. In the following interview, Mr. William Scott Wilson, the translator of Hagakure, the Book of Five Rings and many other samurai works, gives a fresh perspective to the life of samurai in the Edo era.
JIC (Japan Information Center): First of all, how did you get started translating Japanese samurai writings?
Mr. Wilson: When I was studying at the Monterey Institute of Foreign Studies, a Japanese acquaintance suggested that I might be interested in author Yukio Mishima’s favorite book, the early 18th century samurai treatise Hagakure. After reading only a few lines, I was tremendously impressed with the simple elegance of the language and the selfless philosophy the writer, Yamamoto Tsunetomo, espoused. I was determined to translate at least the heart of the book, and a year later secured a farmhouse in the countryside of Okayama Prefecture. After working on the translation there for about two years, I sent the manuscript to Kodansha International, who kindly accepted and published it. That was in 1976, and the book is still in print.
JIC: Why did you want to translate Yojokun, your most recent book?
Mr. Wilson: The Yojokun was written by Kaibara Ekiken, a samurai physician who completed the work at about the same time that Hagakure was written. That was a relatively peaceful time in Japanese history: the ‘Warring States’ period was over, there were no battles, hence the samurai’s raison d’etre had virtually disappeared. Ekiken takes a completely different approach to this change in status than does Tsunetomo. I chose the Yojokun because it was a departure from other samurai writings I had worked on, and I thought it might offer more breadth of understanding to readers interested in Japanese culture in general or samurai culture specifically.
JIC: What are the basic premises of the Yojokun?
Mr. Wilson: There are two. The first is that you can and should be able to live a long and satisfying life. Most people are endowed at birth with bodies which, properly maintained, may function well for nearly a century. Those born with weak constitutions may overcome that liability with proper diet, attitudes, and lifestyle. Ekiken himself lived to a very ripe old age, and published Yojokun when he was 84. He discusses the body as a gift from one’s father and mother, and from Heaven and Earth; therefore it is something to be valued and protected.
The second premise is that all phenomena - from mountains to man to mind - are modulations of ki (Japanese: ), the fundamental matter-energy that makes up the universe, and that the balance and circulation of ki is paramount for good physical, mental, and spiritual health. The Yojokun is a guide to living for optimal health of all three kinds.
JIC: Why is Ekiken still relevant in the 21st century?
Mr. Wilson: The content of the Yojokun is a timeless prescription for living, not a novel set of ideas on health or spirituality. It is based on how the body, mind and spirit function at their best according to millennia of medical observation. In that sense, it transcends limitation to any particular century.
A reading of Yojokun makes it clear that many of the issues addressed in the book are still current today. What is the best diet to follow? Should I take supplements? What kinds? What can help me perform in the bedroom? How can I be happy? People’s concerns remain the same, and Ekiken’s answers in all such issues were based on traditional methods, his own observations over sixty years of practice, and a philosophy that informed the Far East for over two thousand years. It is interesting to note that many of his basic insights - on avoiding stress, eating less, and getting exercise, for example - are still regularly repackaged in prosaic form for today’s readers.
JIC: How did Ekiken achieve such longevity? How was his lifestyle different from others’?
Mr. Wilson: Ekiken clearly followed his own advice. By all accounts he was an even-minded and sympathetic person who was curious about life. He traveled extensively by foot, boat and horse, following his own rule: keep the ki circulating. He seems to have lived a stress-free lifestyle, and to have been happy writing and tramping the countryside in his botanical and other studies; his writings hint that he cultivated a habit of gratitude for every day of his life.
Ekiken’s concern for the loss of vitality among members of the samurai class stemmed from his own observations, but the literature of the time anecdotally confirms these: generals grown too fat to mount their horses unassisted; rank-and-file samurai overindulging in food, sex, and drink; and former warriors going into debt for overspending on luxury items. His book was intended as an antidote for behaviors that were probably becoming all too common.
JIC: Thank you very much.
Photo by Anastasia Walsh
William Scott Wilson is the translator of many classic Samurai texts including Hagakure and The Book of Five Rings (Kodansha International), as well as the author of The Lone Samurai, a biography of the legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. In 2005, Mr. Wilson received a commendation from the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan for his distinguished literary works and translations that furthered cultural understanding between Japan and the USA. He is currently working on a translation of the Tao Te Ching, a 5th or 6th century B.C. work in Chinese. Next year Mr. Wilson is planning to begin a biography of the 20th century haiku poet Santoka.
In late January, I returned to Japan for the first time in almost a year. During my week there, I was struck by how, as in the U.S., the economic situation is serious; in particular, employment conditions remain very harsh. In December, Japan’s unemployment rate exceeded 4%. I was reminded that the U.S. and Japan must work together with a sense of urgency to overcome the current economic crisis and to protect jobs and the lives of both our peoples.
In the midst of this difficult situation, President Obama and his eloquent words are having an impact with Japanese people. Books on the new president’s life story and anthologies of his speeches are selling well throughout Japan. In fact, many Japanese are trying to learn English from his speeches. It seems that the courageous and well-composed message of President Obama, who was elected with the slogan, "Yes We Can", is inspiring people, regardless of their nationality.
From February 16th to 18th, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Japan, her first overseas visit since taking office. Her busy schedule included a foreign ministerial meeting, a courtesy call on Prime Minister Aso, a meeting with family members of North Korea abduction victims, and the signing of an agreement on the relocation of U.S. marines from Okinawa to Guam. During the visit, Secretary Clinton emphasized that "the alliance between the United States and Japan is a cornerstone of our foreign policy." This stance of the Obama administration was fully reflected in this fruitful visit.
Finally, as some of you may have already heard, Mr. Shinichi Nishimiya, former director-general of the North American Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo, has been appointed as my successor. For the next month or so, until the end of my term, I will be doing my utmost to ensure that Mr. Nishimiya is able to take over my duties smoothly, and I ask for your continued support and cooperation.
© Suken USA Corp
On March 21 and 22 a Robotic workshop will be held at the Greenwich (CT) Japanese School for children interested in the fascinating world of robots. The workshop will give children an opportunity to learn how to built robots and encourage interest in the field of Computer Sciences and Engineering.
Organized by Suken USA for both Japanese and non-Japanese, the workshop will offer children 10 years of age and older, an introduction to robotics. The workshop will be held in both Japanese and English so that all in attendance can learn about robotics in the language with which they are most comfortable. Professor Makoto Mizukawa of the Shibaura Institute of Technology of Japan, a foremost authority on robotic technology, will cover the concepts of what a robot is and what it can be in both English and Japanese. Using graphics and animation, the lecture will give children a visual and easy-to-grasp understanding of robotic concepts and mechanisms. The workshop will also provide attending children with a robot kit and hands-on instruction necessary for them to design and build a robot based on their own idea.
© Suken USA Corp
The first day of the workshop will focus on a tutorial lecture and building of their robots. The focus of Day two will be on designing and fun activities. With help from instructors, children will learn to assemble and build robots using tools. After the first day, children can take home the robot and think about how to design their own robot and assemble the material necessary to build a unique fighting robot creation of their own. A contest will be held on the afternoon of the second day to select the most unique and interesting robot design. In addition, there will be battles to decide which robot is the strongest for both children and adult participants to enjoy.
The goal of the workshop is to provide the experience of bringing an idea to life, a positive influence on a child's focus and creativity as well as a source of motivation and sense of accomplishment. Robotics promotes the creative senses, using practical problem-solving skills, plus physics and mathematics. Hands-on instruction in robotics is a rare opportunity for children to explore the fields of science and engineering which continue to gain in importance and promise to be more competitive in the future. This robotics workshop will provide children with an experience that is fun while educating them about fields, which are often a challenge to make interesting.
© Suken USA Corp
© Suken USA Corp
Awaji Puppet Theater Company
For the first time in 10 years, Awaji Puppet Theater Company, designated an Intangible Folk Asset by the Japanese government, returns to New York with a stunning program. Often referred to as the origin of bunraku puppetry, the Awaji performance traditions passed down for over 500 years share the ancient technique of three-man manipulation of puppets.
The company performs segments from classical dance pieces including Ebisu-Mai (Dance of the Fisherman God) and Hidaka-gawa Iriaizakura, based on the famous folktale of a lovelorn woman and her transformation into a serpent, as well as an episode from the traditional drama Tsubosaka Reigen-ki about the double suicide of a blind masseuse and his wife, and the divine miracle that brings them back to life. This intricate program highlights the Awaji puppet’s elaborate theater sets and props, and the highly refined mechanisms that manipulate the facial expressions of the puppets. The performance will be in Japanese with English subtitles, with live chanting and shamisen music accompaniment.
The Japanese Awaji Puppetry tradition dates back to the 16th century. Historically, this tradition arose from the religious and ritual use of puppets in rites of appeasement and blessing; puppets were used in ritual dances to celebrate and entreat the deities. Puppet artists from Awaji Island were famous throughout Japan for their ritual expertise.
By the 18th century, the clan leaders of the Awaji region supported and preserved the art form, and puppet performances became one of the most popular forms of theater in Japan. In the early 19th century, a man named Uemura Bunrakuken originally from Awaji founded his studio theater in Osaka, which later came to be known as Bunraku Theater.
Unlike the puppetry companies in Osaka those days that established their work in physical theater structures, the Awaji puppetry artists were traveling troupes, who, like a traveling circus, created their performance space wherever they went. Many traditional Japanese companies today have been deeply influenced by the traveling Awaji Puppetry art form, which is why Awaji is considered the cradle of Japan’s puppetry arts.
Woodblock Printing Exhibition: "A Celebration" by Naoko Matsubara
The Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, PA is presenting a retrospective of work by leading contemporary woodcut artist, Naoko Matsubara. The exhibition, Matsubara: A Celebration runs from March 7 through June 7 along with a special program designed to explore woodblock printing and Japanese culture.
Naoko Matsubara is considered to be one of the foremost Japanese woodcut artists in the world. For almost 50 years, she has explored the medium of the woodblock print, creating a body of work that is bold, often large in scale, and always captivating.
This exhibition features more than sixty works on paper, providing an overview of Ms. Matsubara's career from her earliest prints to her current experimentation with abstraction and vivid color.
Born in 1937, Ms. Matsubara grew up in Kyoto where her father was a senior Shinto priest. After graduating from the Kyoto City College of Fine Arts, she was a Fulbright scholar at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University). She lived and taught in the United States before moving to Canada in 1971. Her work has been exhibited in many countries, and is found in public and private collections throughout the world.
This exhibition not only celebrates her formative experiences in Pittsburgh, but also traces the overarching sense of vitality and grace that permeates her imagery in all phases of her career. Major repeated subjects and themes appear throughout the exhibition, including trees and nature, dancers, human hands, the theater, and places of worship.
There is an accompanying special program including lectures and a woodblock printing workshop. Anyone interested in meeting Ms. Matsubara may attend her lecture on Saturday, March 7 from 1:30 to 2:30 when she will speak about her woodblock printing techniques and her life in Japan and Pittsburgh. Families with children may join a Hinamatsuri (Girls Day) celebration on March 7 to see a traditional Girl's Day display of Japanese dolls with storytelling, chat with the curator, and attend special gallery talks for adults and kids (in English and Japanese). There will also be an opportunity for visitors to create their own print and receive a small wooden doll to take home.
Another special program, The Art and Cuisine of Japan, on May 21 will allow participants to explore Ms. Matsubara's work and enjoy a five-course dinner pairing Japanese and American cuisine with different varieties of sake.