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Arts and Cultural Exchange

Presenting Japan's Diverse Arts and Culture Overseas

Focusing on Important Diplomatic Occasions, Countries, and Regions

In 2013, we held highly appealing events to commemorate the 40th anniversary of ASEAN-Japan Friendship and cooperation and the 400th anniversary of Japan-Spain relations.

Meanwhile in other countries, we held stage performances and exhibitions (jointly with local organizations) suited to the respective country as part of our ongoing efforts to present Japanese culture.

Photo of Media/Art Kitchen Exhibition in Bangkok taken by Sittidej Nuhoung
Media/Art Kitchen Exhibition in Bangkok. Photo: Sittidej Nuhoung

「Drums & Voices」

Drums & Voices is a joint project of twelve traditional musicians from seven countries: Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Brunei, and Japan. They went on a concert tour to all seven countries. (In Brunei, only the Japanese and Brunei artists performed.)

To compose the songs for the tour, joint workshops were held in Thailand (June–July 2013) and Vietnam (August–September 2013) for a total of four weeks. The group then toured the seven countries from October.

In December, all the musicians were invited to Japan for a concert in Tokyo. They also performed a mini concert at the gala dinner held by Prime Minister Abe and his wife on the occasion of the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit Meeting in Tokyo. The musicians' joint performance in front of ASEAN leaders and government officials was a symbol of the friendship and ever closer relationship between Japan and ASEAN countries.

It was not easy to screen and select the musicians for this project. They had to be specialists in traditional music, highly skilled at percussion instruments, and able to take part in the project for a long term. At the workshops, people even from neighboring countries still had different musical and cultural backgrounds and could not understand each other's language. It was a major hurdle for making music together.

The project's music director was composer Michiru Oshima who had to first patiently understand the differences and similarities between their music during the four weeks of workshops. It was her first time to hear and collaborate with traditional Asian music.

With excellent musical skills and sincere attitudes, each musician helped to compose fifteen original songs. Each song did not represent only one country. Although the musicians had some reservations, they clearly understood the project's purpose and developed great teamwork. Their performances garnered high acclaim in all the countries they toured.

Photo of Performers from ASEAN countries taken by Kazunori Kurimoto
Performers from ASEAN countries. Photo: Kazunori Kurimoto

Sugimoto Bunraku in Europe

The Bunraku puppet play, Sugimoto Bunraku Sonezaki Shinju: The Love Suicides at Sonezaki, directed by contemporary artist Hiroshi Sugimoto was held in Madrid, Rome, and Paris. Two shows were held in both Madrid and Rome and eleven shows in Paris for a total of fifteen shows. They drew over 12,000 people.

In Madrid, where the shows were held to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Japan-Spain relations, there was much public interest and tickets were sold out. People lined up to buy tickets on the day of the performance.

Comments from the audience included: "The visual art direction was highly refined and well composed. The contrast between light and darkness on stage was beautiful." "It was my first time to see Bunraku. The profound literary content and the tayu chanter and music were wonderful. And the stage presentation was perfect and beautiful." "Seeing the audience so enamored with the performance indicates that the best arts can overcome language and cultural barriers."

As one of Japan's unique performing arts, Bunraku thereby made a strong impression with its superb literary content and artistic value.

Photo of  Sugimoto Bunraku Sonezaki Shinju: The Love Suicides at Sonezaki taken by Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy of Odawara Art Foundation
© Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy of Odawara Art Foundation

Yutaka Oyama Hogaku Trio's Japanese Harmonies in Central America

To mark the 400th anniversary of the Keicho Embassy arriving in Cuba and the 110th anniversary of Japan-Panama relations, the Japanese music trio of Yutaka Oyama (Tsugaru shamisen), Takuya Kato (taiko drums), and Yoshimi Tsujimoto (shakuhachi flutes) toured Central America during February 18–26, 2014.

The trio is led by Oyama who has been active internationally by performing with Japanese and Western instrument players. The trio held concerts, lectures, and live demonstrations in El Salvador, Cuba, and Panama where they presented their modern version of traditional Japanese music to music fans in Central America.

In El Salvador, they held concerts in the capital city, San Salvador, and Santa Ana. They even performed with César David Marino, a singer-songwriter perpetuating the country's traditional music. Playing to a full house, they received much applause.

In Cuba, the trio played on an outdoor stage at Havana's International Book Fair in front of almost 3,000 people. They also gave an exciting performance with a group led by David Alvarez, a popular Cuban singer aiming to revive traditional Cuban rhythms. Word quickly spread in Havana and the concert next day played to a full house at a major venue. The audience gave a standing ovation.

Before the concert in Panama, a commercial for the concert aired on the state TV station. Although there was a power outage due to heavy rain right before the concert, the excited audience let out loud cheers after each song throughout the concert.

The trio spoke Spanish at each concert and interacted with the audience. They performed their own arrangements of famous local songs with traditional Japanese instruments. To a local people who have a rich musical culture, the trio demonstrated that Japanese music had no limits. Audience 7,300 in all attended the concerts in the three countries, the number far exceeded by that of viewers on TV.

In 2014, 400 years after Tsunenaga Hasekura visited Cuba upon being sent by Lord Masamune Date in Sendai, the Yutaka Oyama Hogaku Trio did a great job in painting a musical rainbow between Japan and Central America.

Photo of Yutaka Oyama Hogaku Trio's Japanese Harmonies in Central America

KAIKO: Sericulture of the Imperial Household, Ancient Textiles from the Shosoin Repository, and Exchanges of Silk between Japan and France

Co-organized with the Imperial Household Agency and the Agency for Cultural Affairs, this exhibition introduced Her Imperial Majesty Empress Michiko's sericulture that the Imperial Family has been cultivating since the Meiji Period.

Held at the Maison de la culture du Japon à Paris in France, the exhibition showed textiles from the Shosoin Repository that were restored using silk from Japan's native 'Koishimaru' silkworm raised by the empress. Artifacts related to silk exchanges between Japan and France were also displayed. A video of the Imperial Household Agency raising silkworms was also shown.

Many visitors expressed their surprise and admiration at the fact the Imperial Family have had an essential role in continuing the Japanese cultural tradition. Many thought it was wonderful to find the long-standing custom playing a part in the 21st century. The exhibition was also lauded for showing the history of silkworm and silk exchanges between Japan and France.

Photo of the Exhibition "KAIKO: Sericulture of the Imperial Household, and Exchanges of Silk between Japan and France"

Continuing Programs and Projects for the World

The Japan Foundation is constantly introducing Japanese culture in many forms. Drawing on our cultural resources, we hold exhibitions and film screenings around the world. Our resources include traveling exhibitions of diverse genres and themes, a film library of Japanese movies in twelve languages, and film dramas and documentaries on DVD.

We also broadcast Japanese dramas, anime, and documentaries on TV and regularly exhibit at international book fairs, art exhibitions, and architectural exhibitions overseas. We also support the publication of translated Japan-related books.

Worth Sharing — A Selection of Japanese Books Recommended for Translation

Through the support program for translation and publication on Japan, the Japan Foundation has been supporting the overseas publication of Japan-related books for 40 years. This program has seen over 1,500 books translated for publication. The books are in over 50 languages covering diverse genres such as classical and modern literature, history, social sciences, politics, economics, and culture theory.

Worth Sharing—A Selection of Japanese Books Recommended for Translation is a booklet listing outstanding books we recommend to be translated and published. These books depict the current Japan and would help people overseas to understand current Japanese society and true-to-life Japanese people. Such books are a means for Japan to express itself. The books listed are selected by a selection committee well versed in Japanese literature and translation.

The books are selected according to a loose theme, with an emphasis on books about contemporary Japan that have not been introduced much in certain languages. Since no single viewpoint or aspect can tell the whole story, we aim to expose different viewpoints and aspects of Japanese culture and society.

In the booklet's first volume published in 2012, the theme was Japan's youth. Twenty youth-related books were selected for the list. Besides novels, it included research papers and essays about young people's current social issues and their aesthetic sense.

The second volume issued in 2013 had the theme of Japan's regions. Eighteen books were contemporary literature set in various regions and sceneries of Japan. And two were nonfiction.

The Translation and Publishing Support Program has been providing support to publishers that have acceptable plans to publish high-quality translations of any of the listed books. Translated books have thereby been published in many countries. We hope that this book list will enable people to meet authors, translators, and publishers and invite overseas readers to interact with Japan.

Cover Photo of "Worth Sharing-A Selection of Japanese Books Recommended for Translation"

Lectures, Live Demonstrations, and Workshops for Travel Exhibitions

Traveling exhibitions are one of the Japan Foundation's cultural resources. They cover diverse genres and themes including art, architecture, design, and pop culture. Our traveling exhibitions come with experts and artists to hold lectures, live demonstrations, and workshops. The exhibition becomes a multi-purpose event to help deepen people's understanding of Japan.

In fiscal 2013, the "JAPAN: Kingdom of Characters" traveling exhibition was held in Curitiba, Brazil. Japan's widely popular characters were presented in pictures and panel displays. Prominent voice actor Toru Furuya was also on hand for a lecture and voice-acting demonstration at a local art museum. He also met with local anime and pop culture people.

In Russia, the exhibition "Beautiful Handicrafts of Tohoku, Japan" was held in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Khabarovsk, and Vladivostok. It spotlighted the Tohoku region's handicrafts and showed the beauty of the handicrafts made since olden times and being forgotten in modern Japan. Masahiro Miura, an expert on Japanese folk crafts, gave a lecture on Tohoku culture. Also, Kengo Yonezawa demonstrated his cherry bark craftsmanship, and Sadaharu Narita gave a lecture and workshop on 'kogin' embroidery from Aomori.

Photo of the exhibition 'Beautiful Handicrafts of Tohoku, Japan'