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Culture, No.39  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]

Culture, No.38  Apr. 3, 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]

Culture, No.36  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]

Culture, No.35  Nov. 7, 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]

Culture, No.35  Nov. 1, 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]

Culture, No.36  Oct. 31, 2016

How the Thousand-Year Capital Created Genius Painter  Ito Jakuchu and the City of Kyoto*

  Tree, Flowers, Birds and Animals, pair of six-panel folding screens, color on paper, H137.5×W355.6cm (pair of right, above in this page), 137.5×366.2cm (left, below in this page), now in the collection of Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art Note: Special Exhibition “NO KYOTO, NO JAKUCHU,” November 22 to December 4, 2016 at the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art   The remarkable painter Ito Jakuchu was born in Shotoku 6 (1716), and was the eldest son of a Kyoto greengrocery wholesale store. The house in which he was born was located in the present-day Nishiki food market, where a line of shops now runs along the main street. “When we consider Jakuchu’s work as a painter, the fact that he was born in eighteenth-century Kyoto has a special significance,” says art historian Kano Hiroyuki, the leading expert on Ito Jakuchu. When Jakuchu lived, over 100 ... ... [Read more]

Culture, No.34  Oct. 17, 2016

The Master of Special Effects – The Legacy of Tsuburaya Eiji ― In conversation with Ooka Shinichi, President of Tsuburaya Productions

Explosions crash and bang as Godzilla or another monster destroys the city… Ultraman shoots Spacium Rays to take down another monster… The best thing about watching special effects movies is that they always shock and surprise you. Tsuburaya Eiji was known as the master of special effects, but in what ways is his DNA being kept alive today? We take a look back and share in the recollections of Ooka Shinichi, former cameraman and current President of Tsuburaya Productions.   There is one man in particular who was known as the master of special effects. In 1936, he developed the screen process (rear projection, a system involving positioning a screen behind the actors then projecting scenery onto the screen from behind) for the first time in the movie industry on the set of a German co-production called Atarashiki Tsuchi (The Daughter of the Samurai). ... ... [Read more]

Discussions, Culture, No.34  Sept. 30, 2016

No future for places that fail to attract talent

Cutting a Topknot That Had Been Tied for Twenty-four Years Meij: You have just had your retirement ceremony and had your topknot cut. Have you gotten used to your new hair style? Nishiiwa: Not yet, because I had a topknot for twenty-four years (laughs). Meij: I’ve read your autobiography (Tatakiage). True to the title, you really are a self-made man. What surprised me most is that you had surgery an astonishing nine times. I don’t know anyone else who’s had so many operations. Nishiiwa: Me neither, other than me. Meij: You won nineteen consecutive tournaments at the three highest ranks below yokozuna. That is amazing. Unlike ozeki, there is no kadoban for these three ranks. So, you will be demoted if you lose many more than you win, or even stay away from the ring for a tournament. What’s even more incredible is that ... ... [Read more]

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]

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]