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No.42
No.42 ,Culture  Nov 22, 2017

A Collection of Modern French Paintings on a Return Visit to Europe
— Masterpieces from the Bridgestone Museum of Art Ishibashi Foundation —

Professor, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo

It is well known that there are outstanding works of fine art in Japan, this island nation in the Far East, but only a few experts know that there are actually several collections of Western art in addition to Japanese art. Nevertheless, several Japanese art museums with collections of magnificent works of modern French paintings have recently started to show the paintings in Europe — no doubt as a reminder of their existence. The Masterpieces from the Bridgestone Museum of Art exhibition held at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris this year (April 5 to August 21, 2017) attracted a lot of attention. The exhibition introduced the most important works in the collection of mainly modern Western art acquired by Ishibashi Shojiro (1889–1976), the founder of the Bridgestone Corporation. It must be said that the choice of the Musée de l’Orangerie, famous for its ... ... [Read more]

No.40
No.40 ,Culture  Jul 31, 2017

Remembering Ooka Makoto The Poet from Mount Fuji

I didn’t want to come from Mount Fuji,” Ooka Makoto once recollected matter-of-factly. But even as he said the words, he didn’t look particularly unhappy at the idea. Ooka Makoto was born in Mishima, a city in Shizuoka Prefecture at the base of the Izu Peninsula. In other words, he could see that sacred mountain from his home, and as a baby he was bathed in the water that flowed into the Kakita river from Fuji via underground tributaries. Many people have places of beauty as their hometown, but for a contemporary poet it’s no small matter. From ancient times to the present day, Mount Fuji has held a sacred place in the hearts of Japanese people, something you might describe as “special.” For Yamabe Akahito, Katsushika Hokusai, and Lafcadio Hearn among others, Fuji has been an expressive motif that symbolizes Japan itself. And ... ... [Read more]

No.40
No.40 ,Culture  Jun 18, 2017

Why are foreign chefs captivated by Japanese kitchen knives?

The decline in Japanese influence in the international community is often pointed out, but it is not always the case in the cooking industry. Japanese chefs are in tremendous demand all over the world. There are an increasing number of people who come to Japan from abroad to learn how to cook. This situation was inconceivable years ago. Of course, because prices are different, one cannot make a simple comparison. Amid the pessimism over Japanese products not selling well, including home appliances, according to trade statistics compiled by the Japanese Ministry of Finance, Japanese kitchen knife exports have continued to grow steadily since 2004 (excluding 2008 when the Lehman Shock struck the world). A while ago, when chefs from a foreign star-restaurant came to Japan, they would often buy many Japanese kitchen knives and take them home. But today everyone buys Japanese kitchen knives ... ... [Read more]

No.39
No.39 ,Culture  Apr 17, 2017

Haiku: “Sharing Makes Peace”

On 26 January 2017, the representatives of four haiku organizations and local governments held a press conference at the Japan National Press Club in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, and announced that they would launch a Promotion Council on April 24 targeting the designation of haiku on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Among the presenters were Arima Akito (president of the Haiku International Association), Takaha Shugyo (president of the Association of Haiku Poets), Inahata Teiko (president of the Association of Japanese Classical Haiku), Miyasaka Shizuo (president of the Gendai Haiku Association) and Mayor Okamoto Sakae of Iga, Mie Prefecture, the birthplace of Matsuo Basho. The group has been working on the project since July 2016.   “Haiku is the world’s shortest fixed form of poetry composed of syllables arranged in a five-seven-five pattern. Haiku is a form of literature that expresses human beings ... ... [Read more]

No.39
No.39 ,Culture  Apr 15, 2017

David Bowie & Arts:
Bowie and Japan

Bowie first became interested in the culture of the East after he encountered Tibetan Buddhism in the mid-1960s. Even though this was during the peak of the hippie movement, Bowie’s interest in Tibet was not transitory and he continued charity work for Tibet for the rest of his life. Before long, Bowie’s interest in Tibet broadened to Asia in general, and in Japan he was attracted first to stage arts such as kabuki and noh. This was probably not unconnected to Bowie’s involvement with Lindsey Kemp’s mime troupe at the time. Bowie’s interests broadened to clothing, accessories and Japanese culture through chance encounters with Sukita Masayoshi and Yamamoto Kansai. Just three days after arriving on his first trip to Japan in April 1973, Bowie went to the Kabuki-za theater and talked with the actor Bando Tamasaburo. During his US tour that February, he had ... ... [Read more]

No.39
No.39 ,Culture  Apr 13, 2017

David Bowie and his love of Japan:
A Man Who Saw the Future

  I believe that the first time I met David Bowie was in April 1973, when he came to Japan for his first tour here. Bowie was 26, and I had just turned 23. The memory is a little indistinct, but I think he told me that he wanted to see me putting on make-up. He came to my dressing room, sat behind me, and watched me intently as I did my face. The red shading off around my eyes must have seemed unusual to someone from abroad. Actually, around that time other artists from England, including Emerson, Lake & Palmer, also came to see me on stage. And at the time I did wonder why. They came from Britain, a country which places importance on forms and appearances. But, thinking back, as well as recognizing kabuki as a classical form, they must have ... ... [Read more]

No.38
No.38 ,Culture  Apr 03, 2017

Making Use of an Empty House in the Countryside: The Soja Art House Project

You have inherited a house in your home town from your parents. It’s been empty for a while, but it’s not easy to knock down a house so full of family memories. This is an issue faced by many Japanese people who once left their home town in the countryside to live in the city. A survey in 2013 recorded 8.2 million empty houses across Japan. Since there are a 60.63 million houses in Japan, empty houses account for 13.5% of the total. The low birthrate is one factor, but there are many old houses across Japan which are empty, but which the owners are reluctant to demolish. Ikenoue Shinpei, who lives in Isehara City in Kanagawa Prefecture, is the owner of such a house. It was originally built in the same country and reconstructed in Soja City, Okayama Prefecture, by his great-grandfather during ... ... [Read more]

No.36
No.36 ,Culture  Feb 22, 2017

Interview with Architect Ito Toyo: Architecture for the Future

Interview with the Architect Ito Toyo by Moronaga Yuji, Editorial Department of Asahi Shimbun Digital We must turn away from modern thinking that separates human beings and nature. So says world-renowned architect, Ito Toyo. Ito was involved in reconstruction following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, but he lost the competition to design the new National Olympic Stadium. Today, he is working on wooden temporary housing in Kumamoto. From someone who builds, he has become someone who connects. We asked Ito about the image of the architect in an age of shrinking population and few expectations for economic growth. Moronaga Yuji: What sort of temporary housing are you creating in areas hit by the Kumamoto earthquake? Ito Toyo: I want to provide temporary housing that is warm, not dreary and dull prefabs. The governor of Kumamoto, Kabashima Ikuo, feels the same way; of around ... ... [Read more]

No.35
No.35 ,Culture  Nov 07, 2016

Q&A The Origins of Shinto Shrines

Geijutsu Shincho: How and when did the history of Shinto shrines begin? Okada Shoji: Apart from the clay figures used during rituals in the Jomon period and the bronze bells used in rituals during the Yayoi period, the first definite evidence we have for rituals (kami worship) linked to present day Shrine Shinto is from the latter half of the fourth century, i.e. from the mid Kofun period on. Although we have found various traces of rituals, essentially there is nothing like a sacred building (shrine building). It is thought that there was a long period during which the kami were worshipped at iwakura (sacred rocks) and himorogi (branches set up temporarily to receive the kami). The location for these rituals was the boundary between mountain and village, which was also the boundary between the world of kami and the world of men. People ... ... [Read more]

No.35
No.35 ,Culture  Nov 01, 2016

The Chief Priest of Ise Jingu talks at length about subjects such as the Shikinen Sengu, the Summit, and the succession of the legacies

Why do Japanese people visit Ise? Knowledge created as a result of the Sengu that has been carried out for 1,300 years. We at Ise Jingu recently had the honor of welcoming the leaders of the G7 countries who visited Japan to attend the Ise-Shima Summit. Standing with Prime Minister Abe at the foot of the Ujibashi Bridge at the entrance of Naiku (main sanctuary), I shook hands with each of the leaders and delivered a short speech in English to welcome them. Predictably, when it comes to heads of state, they understand the advantages of showing courtesy based on the concept of “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” In the main sacred place, the guests proceeded to the Mikakiuchi zone, the inside of the outer Tonotamagaki fence, and paid their respects according to Japanese custom. Prime Minister Abe led the leaders ... ... [Read more]

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