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No.52
No.52, Culture  Jul. 4, 2019

A painter with two home countries, Foujita Tsuguharu

  Takashina Shuji, Director of the Ohara Museum of Art and President of the Western Art Foundation   During the unprecedentedly hot and uncomfortable summer of 2018, an exhibition titled “Foujita: A Retrospective ― Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of his Death” was held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in Tokyo’s Ueno Park. The retrospective featured works right from the beginning of Foujita’s career, dating from before he went to France and around the time he started to study oil painting at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (now Tokyo University of the Arts) to his late years when he poured his energies into the construction of the chapel of Our Lady Queen of Peace (Chapelle Foujita), which he designed himself in Reims, in the French region of Champagne. The retrospective was well worth seeing, including over 120 key pieces from ... ... [Read more]

No.52
No.52, Culture  Jul. 2, 2019

Coping with Over-Tourism: Protecting the “culture city” of Kyoto from tourism pollution

  Issues facing the city of Kyoto Moderator, Kiyono Yumi: Attention is focused on tourism as a promising twenty-first century industry. But at the same time, its tendency to threaten the daily life of residents has become evident, such as crowding and the poor manners of tourists in stations and well-known tourist spots. Today, I’d like to hear what our speakers consider are the problems affecting Japan’s most popular city for travelers, how they are being addressed, and what solutions might be possible. Alex Kerr: First of all, I’d like to make something clear. The title of the book I released with Kiyono Yumi in March 2019 is “Destroying the Nation with Tourism.” But I have no wish for the nation to be destroyed. Personally, I foresaw tourism’s promise in the 1980s, rented out individual machiya (townhouses) in Kyoto, and established a long-stay accommodation ... ... [Read more]

No.48
No.48, Culture  Jul. 10, 2018

Shinkokinshu: An Anthology for Our Times

  Most Japanese newspapers carry a weekly column of waka (poems in 31 syllables) and haiku (poems in 17 syllables) submitted by readers. This journalistic feature indicates to what extent poetry permeates the everyday lives of the Japanese. Similarly, at the beginning of each year the Emperor holds a competition for waka composed on a topic of his choice, and the people of Japan submit their poems. These modern poetic practices have their roots in the long tradition of court waka. Superior poems produced at the Japanese court over the centuries were collected in a series of anthologies compiled by imperial command. One of these, the Shin Kokin Waka Shu (New Collection of Ancient and Modern Poetry, usually abbreviated to Shinkokinshu), is considered by many to represent the summit of the art, and has the unusual distinction of having been edited personally by the ... ... [Read more]

No.48
No.48, Culture  Jun. 29, 2018

The World of the Japanese Newspaper Poetry Column

  Newspaper poetry columns called shimbun kadan have given numerous popular poets their start. They publish verse that is erotic and that is cute, that is about love, and that is about everyday life. Just don’t say that only the people who submit poems read them. The poetry in question is tanka, a short form of poetry having 31 (5-7-5-7-7) syllabets which dates from the Meiji period (1868–1912) and differs from the traditional form of poetry called waka as showcased in the eighth-century Man’yoshu and other such poetry anthologies commissioned by the Emperor. Newspaper tanka are the avant-garde   “That’s a funny place for a mole,” so you said. And so it started.” Yagimoto Motomoto, Tokyo   Is the above really a tanka too? Many people these days might say, “Yes. So what?” It uses colloquial speech and quotation marks; and it ignores the ... ... [Read more]

No.42
Culture, No.42  Dec. 19, 2017

The “Johnny's” Entertainers Omnipresent on Japanese TV: Postwar Media and the Postwar Family

Introduction What do Japanese people think of when they hear the name Johnnies? Perhaps pop groups such as SMAP or Arashi that belong to the Johnny & Associates talent agency? Or perhaps the title of specific TV programs or movies? If they are not that interested, perhaps they will be reminded of the words “beautiful young boys” or “scandal”? On the other hand, if they are well-informed about the topic perhaps jargon terms such as “oriki,” “doutan,” or “shinmechu” are second nature? In this way the word “Johnnies” (the casual name given to groups managed by Johnny & Associates) is likely to evoke all sorts of images. But one thing is sure: almost no Japanese person would reply that they hadn’t heard the name. If a person lives within Japanese society and they watch television even just a little, whether they like it or ... ... [Read more]

No.42
Culture, No.42  Nov. 22, 2017

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

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
Culture, No.40  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
Culture, No.40  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
Culture, No.39  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
Culture, No.39  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]