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No.34
Culture, No.34  Sept. 26, 2016

Inhabitants of Darkness, Born Out of Human Anxiety From Edo-Tokyo Museum’s Grand Yōkai Exhibition “From Eery to Endearing: Yōkai in the Arts of Japan”

In Japanese folklore, yokai are specters, ghosts, monsters or apparitions that take on bizarre forms and startle people in their daily lives. The number of pictures and paintings depicting those forms increased dramatically during the Edo period (1603–1867), and yokai became a familiar theme. But paintings depicting the monsters that inhabit the spirit world have been produced since ancient times, and have continued to stimulate people’s imaginations for centuries.   “The Ruined Palace at Sōma,” oban nishiki-e sanmai tsuzuki (large-size multi-colored woodblock print, three prints forming a single composition), Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1844–48), now in a private collection. Exhibition period: 5 July – 28 August 2016 at the Edo-Tokyo Museum (Tokyo) and 10 September – 6 November 2016 at Abeno Harukas Art Museum (Osaka) Yokai can be regarded as manifestations of human fear and anxiety in day-to-day life. Their depictions in Japanese painting began to ... ... [Read more]

No.34
Culture, No.34  Sept. 25, 2016

Today’s Sumo Wrestlers Lack Spirit — Possibility of the advent of Japanese yokozuna

Whether you are Japanese or Mongolian does not matter in sumo Nagayama Satoshi: You were reappointed as the chairman of Nihon Sumo Kyokai in March. Around six months have passed since your initial appointment on December 18 last year. How do you feel now? Hakkaku Nobuyoshi: I have settled into the position. The outside directors helped me a lot, and I have undertaken my job by trial and error. As a result, I’m gradually becoming more confident. I have had a hectic time since Kitanoumi, the previous chairman, passed away. I have refrained from drinking for a year. Very recently, I have played the occasional round of golf. The Grand Sumo Tournament is very popular, with every date fully booked. Sumo fans still want a Japanese yokozuna. Personally, I believe that someone is a sumo wrestler as soon as he starts his career, whether ... ... [Read more]

No.33
Culture, No.33  Jun. 5, 2016

A Sardine-Shaped Cloud

Haiku International Association President Arima Akito delivers his welcome address.

The prize-giving ceremony for the 17th Haiku International Association Haiku Contest was held at the Arcadia Ichigaya Hotel in Tokyo on 5 December 2015. The prizewinning works and judges’ summations here follow, along with an extract of the speech given at the ceremony by the haiku enthusiast Radu Şerban, Ambassador of Romania to Japan. ]]> ... [Read more]

No.33
Culture, No.33  Jun. 3, 2016

The Origins of Japanese Culture Uncovered Using DNA ―What happens when we cut into the world of the Kojiki myths using the latest science

MIURA Sukeyuki: The Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) has one distinguishing feature in the fact it includes a mixture of both Southern and Northern style myths. This is proof that Japanese culture was originally not only one culture, but rather came into existence while being influenced by its various surroundings; but when it comes to trying to seek out the origins of that culture, as we would expect, there are limits to how far we can get using only an arts and humanities-based approach. That’s where your (Professor Shinoda’s) area of expertise—molecular anthropology—comes in and corroborates things scientifically for us. By analyzing the DNA remaining in ancient human skeletal remains, your research closing in on the origins of the Japanese people is beginning to unravel when the Jomon and Yayoi peoples and so on came to the Japanese archipelago, where they came from, and ... ... [Read more]

No.32
Culture, No.32  May. 16, 2016

Shogi and Artificial Intelligence

The waves of the third artificial intelligence (AI) boom are now sweeping across Japan in the same way as earlier fads did in the 1950s and the 1980s. Referring to the ongoing craze in the country, leading Japanese economic magazine Shukan toyo keizai wrote in its 5 December 2015 issue, “not a single day passes by without hearing about AI.” Many companies in Japan are making AI-related announcements one after another. Seminars on AI are held in Tokyo almost every day. But the question we must ask is this: Is the development of AI good news for mankind? From early on, many people in the world outside Japan forecast a dystopian future if AI were to surpass human intelligence. To cite an early example, Bill Joy, a U.S. computer scientist dubbed the Thomas Edison of the Internet, cautioned that robots with higher intelligence may ... ... [Read more]

No.32
Discussions, Culture, No.32  Apr. 20, 2016

The Unification of the Written Word in Modern-era Japan

Dr. MIURA Atsushi: Today, I will be speaking with Dr. Campbell, who emphasizes the importance of documents and materials written in scripts such as kuzushiji (cursive-style Japanese script) and hentaigana (obsolete or nonstandard variants of Japanese phonetic hiragana characters); writing styles that could be referred to as a kind of Japanese writing heritage from before the Meiji period, and which to most ordinary Japanese people are now unreadable.
Dr. Robert CAMPBELL: For example, when most ordinary Japanese people go into a soba noodle shop and see the word kisoba written in kuzushiji-style hiragana, most of them can read it, right? But that’s because it’s a soba shop. As another example, poems and such are often scribbled onto ]]> ... [Read more]

No.30
Culture, No.30  Mar. 25, 2016

Delicious DrinksThe Mellow World of Japanese Whisky

TSUCHIYA Mamoru, Whisky writer, representative of the Japan Whisky Research Centre

When did the Japanese relationship with whisky begin? Who was the first Japanese to drink whisky? At one time the theory was that William Adams presented Tokugawa Ieyasu with whisky. Adams was granted permission to stay in Japan by Ieyasu and changed his name to Miura Anjin, but whisky was not known in the early seventeenth century and Adams was English, not Scottish. (Whisky is a distilled drink that originated in Scotland. At the time, England and Scotland were separate countries.) In addition, the term whisky did not appear in the English language until the middle of the eighteenth century, and the English only came to know whisky in the latter half of the nineteenth century during the reign of Queen Victoria. ]]> ... [Read more]

No.28
Culture, No.28  Nov. 2, 2015

Edo and Tokyo as Viewed by Kobayashi Kiyochika, the “Last Ukiyo-e Artist”

Sketchbooks1878 to 1913/ privately ownedThese books contain the accumulated sketches of Kobayashi. Ten of them remain today. The sketches include many watercolor designs from which Kobayashi produced his kosenga, such as Kudanzaka Satsukiyo (Night in May at Kudan Hill), which is introduced below.

  Kobayashi Kiyochika is often referred to as the last ukiyo-e artist. Kobayashi goes by this name because he stuck to colored woodblock prints known as nishiki-e and kept pinning his hope on their potential until the end, despite the diversification and development of printing techniques in modern times. He must have had the pride of a defeated person because he was a vassal of the shogun born in Edo (present-day Tokyo). However, the innovativeness of Kobayashi and his importance as a modern artist stand out when we take away such frameworks associated with Kobayashi’s profile as an ukiyo-e artist. Kobayashi as a vassal of the Shogun tossed about by the Great Transformation from Edo to Tokyo We can learn how the young Kobayashi lived through the turbulent times from the end of the Edo period to the Meiji period in Kiyochika jigaden (Self-portrait ... ... [Read more]

No.27
Discussions, Culture, No.27  Jun. 3, 2015

Toward the Modernity: Images of Self & Other in East Asian Art Competitions at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum

The Fukuoka Asian Art Museum opened in the Hakata area of Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture, in 1999. In contrast to museums in Tokyo and Japan’s western urban areas near Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe, which feature works of Western and Japanese art, this art museum in Fukuoka was founded as the first museum dedicated to modern and contemporary Asian art. It is worth noting that since it opened, the museum has held Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale that focus on contemporary Asian art in addition to activities through permanent and special exhibitions and various art exchange programs. In 2014, the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum held an interesting exhibition titled “Toward the Modernity: Images of Self & Other in East Asian Art Competitions.” The art works exhibited were also shown at the Fuchu Art Museum in Tokyo and the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art. This was an ... ... [Read more]

No.27
Culture, No.27  May. 28, 2015

The region is a stage. Yosakoi Soran Festival (Sapporo, Hokkaido)Pageant of Lights and Sound — Witness the power of group dancing, and the moment when human bodies shine.

The parade along Odori Avenue runs north to south through central Sapporo.

The final stage in Odori Koen Park played host to twelve teams that had won a series of tournaments. Each team gave a riveting and spectacular dancing performance when they took the stage, which transformed into a powerful pageantry of people, sound, and lights that echoed across the sky. It didn’t take long for the spectators to become increasingly drawn in by the performances, just like when people watch an exciting game. They roared in delight upon seeing the performers quickly change their original costumes in unison. They were not merely watching dancing performances. All of them had been unconsciously brought together and made to take part in a contest that would determine this year’s winner. ]]> ... [Read more]