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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 2014, we held highly appealing major events to mark the 150th Anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Switzerland, the V4+Japan Exchange Year, the 100th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Bolivia, and the Japan-Mexico Exchange Year marking the 400th anniversary of the Hasekura Mission.

Meanwhile, in response to requests from countries around the world, we held touring stage performances and exhibitions with the co-sponsorship or cooperation of other institutions. We thereby earnestly continued to present Japanese culture to the world.

*V4 (Visegrad Four) is a regional alliance of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia founded in 1991 in Visegrád, Hungary. In 2013, on the 10th anniversary of V4+Japan dialogue and cooperation, a summit meeting was held with leaders from the V4 countries and Japan. They agreed to designate 2014 as the V4+Japan Exchange Year.

Photo of Actor Koji Yakusho at Filmpodium movie theater in Zürich
Actor Koji Yakusho at Filmpodium movie theater in Zürich

Logical Emotion—Contemporary Art from Japan exhibition

To mark the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Japan, the Logical Emotion—Contemporary Art from Japan exhibition was co-organized by The Museum Haus Konstruktiv in Zürich.

Planned by curators from Japan and Switzerland, the exhibition featured over 80 works by 14 Japanese artists, architects, and designers. They included internationally-acclaimed artists like Yayoi Kusama, Tatsuo Miyajima, and Akihisa Hirata. The works were very diverse with paintings, sculpture, photography, videos, design, crafts, manga, and architecture. One work was created anew to match the room, while another work was a large installation occupying the entire exhibition space where visitors could experience it. Based on the exhibition's seemingly contradictory title, the art works inherently featured "logical" elements and "emotional" elements. This cross-sectional genre introduced a new viewpoint of contemporary Japanese art. It was thus very well received.

After the exhibition was held in Switzerland, it traveled to Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow in Poland to mark the V4+Japan Exchange Year. It garnered much praise among museum visitors, mainly the younger generation. The exhibition received much local press coverage in both Switzerland and Poland. The exhibition defied an unified understanding of it and showed what Japanese contemporary art can be and how compelling it can be. During the exhibition period, the respective venues held related lectures and workshops on art, fashion, architecture, and design to explain various aspects of Japanese culture. It was a great opportunity for the local people to increase their understanding of Japan.

Installation image of "Logical Emotion" exhibition
"Logical Emotion" exhibition
Courtesy of Museum Haus Konstruktiv Photo: Ilja Tschanen

Okinawan Traditional Performing Arts Tour of South America —New Winds form Ryukyu and Male Dance Troupe—

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Japan-Bolivian diplomatic relations and the 60th anniversary of Colonia Okinawa's settlement, the Okinawan Traditional Performing Arts Tour went to three Bolivian cities. The troupe also performed in two cities in Brazil right after the FIFA World Cup as a primer for the 120th anniversary of Japan-Brazilian diplomatic relations in 2015. The tour was co-organized by National Theatre Okinawa.

Michihiko Kakazu, artistic director of National Theatre Okinawa, handpicked five dancers and four musicians for the tour. They are young, talented male performers with a progressive style while retaining traditional Okinawan elements. They performed the whole gamut of Okinawan dance, music, and drama from classical works to lively, crowd-pleasing performances. All their shows were sold out and the audience gave standing ovations.

In São Paulo, Brazil, home to the world's largest population of Nikkei (Japanese descendants), tickets sold out within an hour. The show attracted much attention and people had high expectations. At the end of the performance, the entire audience gave a standing ovation.

In Rio de Janeiro, the performance was held in the new Cidade das Artes performing arts center, the pride of Brazil. Most of the audience were non-Nikkei. Although they did not understand the language, they laughed at and applauded the performers' comical antics and graceful dances. A standing ovation spread through the hall.

Colonia Okinawa in Bolivia is a settlement established by Okinawan immigrants after World War II. One week after Colonia Okinawa held a ceremony to mark its 60th anniversary of settlement, the troupe arrived and received a very enthusiastic welcome. On the day after the performance, the troupe visited a local elementary school and gave a special lesson to children who were learning the sanshin and Ryukyuan dance. While seeing the children passionately keeping Okinawan culture alive on the opposite side of the world from Okinawa, the troupe members could not help but feel totally elated.

In Santa Cruz, Bolivia's second largest city, there was some anxiety over attracting an audience. However, after the troupe was featured on a local TV program, the 400-seat hall got filled with over 600 people, making it a very enthusiastic audience.

On the last day, the troupe performed in La Paz, Bolivia's capital whose elevation above sea level is about 4,000 meters. Despite the long, exhausting journey and altitude sickness, the troupe performed fervently even at times inhaling some oxygen. Amid cheers and applauses, the performance ended with a grand finale. During its 16-day tour, the troupe was able to present a refreshing air of traditional Okinawan performing arts to South America and span a cultural rainbow between Bolivia and Japan.

Stage photograph from the Okinawan Traditional Performing Arts show in São Paulo
Standing ovation at the Okinawan Traditional Performing Arts show in São Paulo

"Japan-Mexico Exchange Year" Marking the 400th Anniversary of the Hasekura Mission Festival International Cervantino

Festival International Cervantino is Latin America's most important arts festival held annually in October in Mexico's Guanajuato, a World Heritage Site city. It featured over 3,000 artists from the diverse fields of music, opera, theater, dance, art, film, and literature. About 400,000 attended the festival that was covered daily by the local press.

The 42nd festival in 2014 invited Japan as the official guest country. The occasion was the Japan-Mexico Exchange Year marking the 400th anniversary of the Hasekura Mission. With Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Akishino in attendance, the Japan program opened with the theme of Wa (Harmony). About 23,000 people enjoyed a wide variety of Japanese arts and culture. The Japan Foundation gave its cooperation from the planning stage onward and also assisted the art festival program director's visit to Japan for research. It also provided support for the participation of Japanese performers and the organization of exhibitions. It thereby contributed to the success of Japan's program in the festival.

On October 8, the Japan program opened with a concert by Tokyo Dageki Dan, a taiko drumming group. Their energetic taiko drumming was spotlighted. Before the end of their performance, there was a fireworks display near the venue, eliciting a standing ovation by over 5,000 spectators (including the spectators viewing it while standing). They cheered Japan as the guest country.

On October 23, violinist Ryu Goto performed together with the University of Guanajuato Symphony Orchestra to a full house of 800 people. Goto's superb performance and expression and the youthful joint performance drew much applause from the audience. Other performers like Rhizomatiks × ELEVENPLAY (fusion of technology and dance), Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo, Nishikawa Koryu Troupe, and next mushroom promotion (contemporary music ensemble) also received very enthusiastic responses.

Some of these troupes also toured Mexico. They toured a total of 24 cities and gave 25 performances to over 44,000 people. Japan's participation in this arts festival further deepened mutual understanding between Japan and Mexico after a relationship of 400 years. We hope it will encourage wide-ranging exchanges between the two countries in the future.

Stage photograph from Outdoor performance by Tokyo Dageki Dan at Festival International Cervantino
Outdoor performance by Tokyo Dageki Dan at Festival International Cervantino
Photo: Festival International Cervantino

Hokusai Exhibition in Paris

Published in 1814, the Hokusai Manga sparked Japonism in 19th-century Europe. To mark the 200th anniversary of Hokusai Manga's publication, a huge Hokusai exhibition was held from October 1, 2014 to January 18, 2015, organized in cooperation with Réunion des musées nationaux – Grand Palais.

Built for the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle, The Grand Palais National Galleries saw long lines outside every day during the Hokusai exhibition. Hokusai was a huge influence on European art in the 19th century. Artists in Paris were also enamored by Hokusai. A myriad of 700 works and artifacts were exhibited as a comprehensive introduction to Hokusai's art and career. Works influenced by Hokusai were also exhibited. The exhibition attracted about 360,000 people, making it a great success.

The exhibition stemmed from the Japan-France Joint Statement's roadmap for bilateral cooperation announced during French President Hollande's state visit to Japan in June 2013. The exhibition was a grand introduction to Japan's arts and culture in central Paris, an art capital that attracts tourists from around the world.

Photo of The Grand Palais National Galleries
For the Hokusai exhibition, a long line formed every day outside of The Grand Palais National Galleries

Continuing Programs and Projects for the World

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

We also broadcast Japanese dramas, anime, and documentaries on local 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 cultural 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.

The theme of the third volume for the booklet published in 2014 was Illuminating love in Japan. Love is a word with a multiplicity of meanings, encompassing romantic love, familial love, love of home, and numerous other concepts. And it is only through love that people’s universal emotions and values display themselves so strikingly. The list of 20 works are centered on non-fiction exploring the various forms of love expressed by Japanese people in the current age.

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 booklet will enable people to meet authors, translators, and publishers and invite overseas readers to interact with Japan.

Cover of Worth Sharing—A Selection of Japanese Books Recommended for Translation

Lectures, Demonstrations, and Workshops for Traveling Exhibitions

The Japan Foundation's traveling exhibitions present diverse genres and themes like art, architecture, design, and pop culture. They travel around the world to showcase Japan's art and culture. The traveling exhibition is an important part of the Japan Foundation's activities. Held in tandem with the traveling exhibitions are related lectures, demonstrations, and workshops by experts or performers sent to the venue. The traveling exhibition is therefore a multifaceted project, and the Japan Foundation actively organizes them to further people's understanding of Japan.

In fiscal 2014, starting off the "Japan and Central America Friendship Year" was the "JAPAN: Kingdom of Characters" traveling exhibition held in Costa Rica's capital San José. In conjunction with the exhibition, a special live performance was held by singer Ichiro Mizuki, the "Emperor of Anime Songs." He received wide media coverage by local newspapers, TV stations, and social media. He fully met the high expectations of Japanese pop culture fans in Central America.

Also, the "The Spirit of Budo: The History of Japan's Martial Arts" traveling exhibition showing the history and modern culture of armor and martial arts was held in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia. Two karate experts were also sent to coach local karate practitioners and hold demonstrations for college students. All the participants thought the program was very interesting and very high quality.

Photo of Singer Ichiro Mizuki and Costa Rican performers at the kick off event of "Japan and Central America Friendship Year."
Singer Ichiro Mizuki and Costa Rican performers at the kick off event of "Japan and Central America Friendship Year."

Photo of Demonstration by karate experts at the "The Spirit of Budo: The History of Japan's Martial Arts" traveling exhibition in Ethiopia
Demonstration by karate experts at the "The Spirit of Budo: The History of Japan's Martial Arts" traveling exhibition in Ethiopia