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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]

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]

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]

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]

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]