Japanese create talking toilet

Major Japanese toilet maker Toto has created a talking commode. The new Neo model has a robotic lid that moves in time with its voice, which for some reason is male.

Neo features in a series of short video ads for the Japanese market, apparently as a joke. The videos show Neo chatting with a man about everyday things like relationships and riding Japan Railways trains.

The company's Tototalk campaign promotes the Neo 2 prototype model, which is currently on display in the Caretta Shiodome mall in downtown Tokyo. Check it out in the video below.

Neo 2 is designed to provide every function imaginable, a tongue-in-cheek reference to Japan's highly engineered toilets. Neo 2's ridiculously long armrest features more than 10 buttons. They can make Neo 2 tell jokes, give the weather forecast, or display an outsize bum scrubber.

The same functions can be controlled via a real-time Web link and Webcam at the Tototalk Web site.

In one joke, Neo talks about the U.S. cities of Onalaska in Texas and Wisconsin. The name is pronounced "Onaraska" in Japanese, and "onara" means "fart."

In their endless quest to engineer toilets into high-tech electronic waste receptacles, Japanese manufacturers have produced Western-style toilets that have remote controls, bum spray and bidet functions, heated seats, and dozens of buttons to control the various functions. Public toilets for women often have a Toto function called Otohime, or "sound princess," which masks the sound of urination with an artificial flushing noise.

Toto was also behind such innovations as the Washlet bum shower, a function called "Tornado flushing" and the tankless toilet. Some have contributed to cutting water use.


Obama bows to Japanese emperor and heads to China

November 17: Obama bows to Japanese emperor and heads to China. The way US President Barack Obama bowed before Japanese emperor has won millions of Japanese hearts as his respect for the ailing emperor looked genuine and not just a formality.

Obama who has just completed a year in office knows the art of winning the heart more than any other leader in the world. He is a warm and lively person who enlightens the most boring meetings.

But will he be able to do the same with Chinese leaders and Chinese people?

Despite being outstanding planners Chinese leaders come as mechanical and a bit boring. Though things are changing fast and President Hu Jintao in particular has tried to change it, but there is miles to go on this front right now.

Meanwhile Chinese President Hu Jintao and US President Barack Obama pledged on Tuesday that the two countries will "take concrete steps" to advance "sustained and reliable" military-to-military relations in the future, official news agency Xinhua reported.

"The two sides will actively implement various exchange and cooperation programs agreed between the two militaries, including by increasing the level and frequency of exchanges," according to a joint statement issued after their talks in Beijing.

Hu and Obama also vowed to deepen counter-terrorism consultation and cooperation between the two countries on an equal and mutually beneficial basis, said the statement, carried by Xinhua.

The two sides promised they will boost joint efforts to combat transnational crime and criminal organizations as well as money laundering and the financing of terrorism, including counterfeiting and recovery of illicit funds.

The two countries agreed to exchange evidence and intelligence on law enforcement issues in a timely and reciprocal manner, and undertake joint investigations as well as provide investigative assistance on cases of mutual interest, according to the statement.

Obama arrived in Beijing on Monday after visiting the nation's economic hub Shanghai on the third leg of his four-nation Asian trip starting from Nov.13 that has already taken him to Japan and Singapore.

During his stay in Beijing, he will also meet with Wu Bangguo, chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, and Premier Wen Jiabao. He is scheduled to leave China for South Korea on Wednesday.


Japan hopes to host National Palace Museum art

A Japanese delegation of parliamentarians recently told President Ma Ying-jeou that Japan would like to borrow art from the National Palace Museum for exhibit. Taiwan's foreign ministry said that such an exchange would be good for relations with Japan, but Japan must first enact an anti-seizure law to ensure the safe return of the pieces. The ministry cited that France and Germany were also required to amend their laws, which they did, before the National Palace Museum lent them artworks.

Taiwan's National Palace Museum was also praised recently by the International Council of Museums for rejecting the offer of receiving two controversial Qing dynasty bronzes from a French collector this year. They were once the property of the Imperial Summer Palace in Beijing, and China insists they be treated as stolen property.

The director of the National Palace Museum said she did not accept the bronzes because of UNESCO guidelines to not accept works of possible illegal origins. The National Palace Museum is currently hosting its first cooperative exhibit with the Palace Museum in Beijing. The exhibit Harmony and Integrity: The Yongzheng Emperor and His Times will be on display until January 10th.


Important and Iconic Works from the Masters of Asian Art at Christie's

Also leading this season’s Evening Sale is Zao Wou-ki’s "19-11-59". Estimate: HK$8,000,000-12,000,000 /US$1,025,600-1,538,500. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2009.

HONG KONG.- Collectors from around the world will have the rare chance to acquire exceptional works from the biggest names in Asian contemporary and Chinese 20th-century art in this season’s Asian Contemporary & Chinese 20th-Century Art Evening Sale held on November 29 at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre. Valued at over HK$125 million (US$16 million), the sale will present over 40 iconic works by renowned Chinese 20th Century artists such as Sanyu, Zao Wou-ki, Lin Fengmian, Chu Teh-Chun, and Yun Gee, as well as works by premier Asian contemporary artists such as China’s Liu Ye and Zeng Fanzhi and Japan’s Kenji Yanobe.

Chinese 20th Century Art: Fusion of East and West

The early 20th-century was a time of change and regeneration in China. Against these social conditions, traditional Chinese artistic values faced unprecedented challenges as Western technological advancements began to enter into the country. This fusion of Chinese traditional visual art with Western modern art movements produced the unique East-West aesthetic and technical sophistication found in the works of major Chinese 20th-century artists such as Sanyu, Zao Wou-ki, and Chu Teh-Chun, each of whom are represented with rare and important works in this season’s Evening Sale.

Following the record sale of Sanyu’s "Cat and Birds" at Christie’s Hong Kong in May of this year (HK$ 42,100,000/US$ 5,418,270/£ 3,410,100), comes another major work: "Potted Flowers in a Blue and White Jardinière" (estimate: HK$8,000,000–12,000,000 /US$1,025,600 – 1,538,500), one of the Sanyu’s finest examples of his exploration in uniting Eastern and Western aesthetic ideals. Painted in the 1950’s, "Potted Flowers in a Blue and White Jardinière" uses a striking combination of pink and Prussian blue, with infinite variations of color that create a luminescent glow evoking Mark Rothko and Yves Klein. This skilful technique is also reminiscent of that used to create the rich visual effects produced by variations of black found in Chinese ink-wash painting. The casual simplicity of the lines belies a precise organization in the composition that allows Western spatial abstraction and linear concepts to be expressed through an Eastern still life subject.

Also leading this season’s Evening Sale is Zao Wou-ki’s "19-11-59" (estimate: HK$8,000,000-12,000,000 /US$1,025,600-1,538,500). Embracing the finest elements of Yuan and Sung dynasty landscape painting, Zao’s work strives to finds new meanings in the traditional aesthetic, while also incorporating Western artistic techniques to express color, light, and shadow. The result is an entirely new style of abstract expression through which he captures the subtle changes of space, nature, light and darkness to create a world of vivid and spectacular majesty. In "19-11-59", blue tones shift and swirl in a rising cloud-like mass, creating a fantastic visual experience that seems to expand and evolve in a cool deep calmness. Zao’s technique of using radiant light to create a visual effect of movement within color is exceptional and unique even among Western artists, underscoring his successful incorporation of Western art forms into traditional Chinese art.

"Vertige Neigeux" (estimate on request) is a rare and exceptional work from artist Chu Teh-Chun. Although Chu Teh-Chun's abstract works draw inspiration from Western abstract expressionism, they also exude a poetic sensibility that is deeply rooted in the Chinese view that painting and poetry derive from a single source. Struck by the beauty of a snowstorm scene while traveling in Switzerland in 1985, Chu began painting a select number of snow scenes. A work that was nine years in the making, "Vertige Neigeux" is exceptionally large, a truly rare work not only in size but also as Chu no longer painted snow scenes after 1991. Broad, sweeping strokes suggest rolling mists and flowing waters, while washes of pale green suggest the undefined spaces used throughout traditional Chinese landscapes.

From Wang Huaiqing comes "Six Screens", a large paneled work painted in 2006 (estimate: HK4,000,000-5,000,000/US$512,800-641,000). It is work from a series where the artist reinterprets ancient Chinese culture using Chinese Ming furniture themes. In "Six Screens", Wang employs a highly modernist style of expression in order to deconstruct and reconstruct a screen. He simplifies the original physical divisions into soft, black, geometrical shapes, reminiscent of Chinese paper-cutting, while using the variations of vermilion - a color heavy with symbolic of ‘China red’. By adding texture through the use of oil paint and by exposing different layers of paint with a scraping technique, a thoroughly modern element is injected into the traditional form and color, resulting in a work that is both firmly rooted in China’s traditions while embracing expressive means and methods of Western art.

Asian Contemporary Art: A Window to the Future

Among the contemporary works to be presented at this season’s Evening Sale is a seminal work by acclaimed Chinese contemporary artist Zeng Fanzhi. His emotionally raw paintings anticipated the emotional and psychological strain that would haunt the new China as it struggled with modernization and rapid social changes in post-1980’s. Zeng’s concern over the alienation and loneliness inherent in modern life can be found at the very heart of his works. Created in 1994, "Untitled" (Hospital Series) (estimate: HK$8,000,000-12,000,000 /US$1,025,600-1,538,500) is a crucial work of Zeng Fanzhi’s career. This piece from the Hospital series can be considered a milestone in Zeng artistic career which paved the way for the creation of his later and much renowned Mask series of the mid to late 1990s. Untitled (Hospital Series), a monumental and ambitious canvas, features patients with crude and lugubrious bodies and exaggerated and impenetrable gazes being treated by numb indifferent doctors. Zeng’s use of colour and a distorted three-dimensional view heighten the sense of emotional and physical chaos.

From Kenji Yanobe, one of Japan’s most creative contemporary artists, comes the whimsical sculptural work "Soul of Bubble King" (estimate: HK$700,000–1,000,000/US$89,700-128,200). Inspired by the Japanese subculture of Anime and Manga, Yanobe’s works are intellectually inquisitive and convey a stoic persistence in facing adversity in everyday life. Created in 1992, "Soul of Bubble King" is a monumental sculpture that can inflate and deflate, reflecting the artist’s interest in fortification, selfdefence and scientific advancement, executed with playfulness and precise engineering.


Asia Society

725 Park Ave (at 70th St) Upper East Side Map
Subway: 6 to 68th St–Hunter College Directions

The Asia Society sponsors study missions and conferences while promoting public programs in the US and abroad. The headquarters’ striking galleries host major exhibitions of art culled from dozens of countries and time periods—from ancient India and medieval Persia to contemporary Japan—and assembled from public and private collections, including the permanent Mr and Mrs John D Rockefeller III collection of Asian art. A spacious, atrium-like café, with a pan-Asian menu, and a beautifully stocked gift shop make the society a one-stop destination for anyone who has an interest in Asian art and culture. Read more: http://newyork.timeout.com/venues/upper-east-side/6763/asia-society

For Taiwan craftsman, sword-making is in the bones


CHE DING, Taiwan — The sword-maker inserts an 18-inch shaft of metal into his red-hot kiln. Then he adds his special ingredient: a human thighbone.

The bone, says Kuo Chang-hsi, is supposed to purify the metal and give it a special aura.
For the past 30 years, the craggy-faced blacksmith has been replicating ancient Chinese and Japanese swords. At 65, he is Taiwan's last known practitioner of the art. His workshop is a dimly lit set of rooms crowded with sword-making equipment. Framed photographs of him with local politicians and foreign visitors attest to his celebrity.

Kuo's technique features yew- and coal-fed fires, lethal-looking slabs of steel and iron, and perfect timing with those bones, which he keeps in a ceramic urn.

"When I first tried to make a Kanjiang sword I failed," he says, referring to a famous weapon first made in China some 2,400 years ago. "Then I remembered — there's a saying that if one wants to make a good sword, one needs human bones."

Some of them come from disused cemeteries, left over when the bodies were reburied elsewhere. Or from relatives who believe a sword containing their loved one's bone will make a fitting memorial. These bones are retrieved years after the death. A whole side industry of bone-washing exists in Taiwan.

Among Kuo's countless replicas is the "Green Destiny Sword." It featured in the internationally acclaimed martial arts epic "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," directed by Kuo's fellow Taiwanese, Ang Lee.

In Asia, the best craftsmen are the Japanese, who can spend years working on a single sword, Kuo says.

"Makers in the Chinese tradition usually take only a few days," he says. "That has an obvious effect on quality."

Kuo says he spends several weeks making a sword.

He comes from a family of blacksmiths that started in the trade in 1888, specializing in farm tools. He joined the business at the age of 13.

"We were poor. My granddad was a blacksmith, and I followed my dad's path to become a blacksmith too," he said. "I didn't want to be a blacksmith, but my dad told me that if I refused, he would tie me up to stop me from running away."

He branched into sword-making around 1980, and it is now the signature element of his trade. His workshop in Che Ding, a small fishing port in the south of the island, stands among market stalls in a town square smelling faintly of fish.

A sword begins with a slab of iron and steel softened in 1,300 degrees Celsius (2,400 degrees Fahrenheit) of heat. Next comes the bone, its phosphorus content turning the light from the kiln to turquoise. Then the metal goes into an electricity-powered press to be shaped and flattened in dozens of rapid-fire thrusts, and finally is hammered into completion.

"When people worship using these swords, they will feel a strong sense of security," Kuo said. "There are some venerable monks who tell their followers to take their bones and use them in swords that can be used later in religious rites."

Kuo says his most valuable sword was an elaborate Japanese-style weapon he made for a collector 16 years ago in exchange for a new Mercedes-Benz. Five years later, he said, it changed hands for about $200,000 — at least five times what the Mercedes cost. "I wish I hadn't sold it," he said.

Kuo's own collection is in his Museum of Weapon Art, a short drive from his workshop. Meticulously laid out in display cases are 4,800 swords, knives, axes and pieces of armor.
Most are from China, including a few reputed to be more than 2,000 years old. There are also pieces from Mongolia, Turkey and Egypt.

Kuo's grown son has not followed him into blacksmithing so he has hired a 24-year-old apprentice, but insists he has no intention of retiring.

"I'll work here until I drop," he says. "It's impossible to reject orders from my customers. For better or worse, sword-making is the calling God gave me."

After 5: Taste of Japan

This year's Japanese Fall Festival will offer a little taste of Disney.

Two regular performers at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., will headline the Springfield Sister Cities Association's 14th annual Japanese Fall Festival on Sept. 11-13.

Japanese storyteller and illusionist Kuniko Yamamoto and professional candy artist Miyuki Sugimori will perform in the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park, 2400 S. Scenic Ave.

The nonprofit Sister Cities Association - which connects Springfield citizens with Isesaki, Japan, and Tlaquepaque, Mexico, through cultural exchanges - is partnering with the Springfield-Greene County Park Board for the weekend event.

Kuniko is known for her Japanese pantomime, dance and music sprinkled with magic. She's spent the last decade traveling the U.S., performing at such venues as The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and Disney's Epcot Japanese Pavilion, according to http://www.kunikotheater.com/.

Miyuki sculpts taffy-like candy into animals, flowers and other shapes and decorates with paint and accessories before sticking the finished product onto a chopstick. She has demonstrated her candy art designs, called amezaiku, on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" and The Food Network, and she is scheduled to perform at the Greater Kansas City Japan Festival the weekend after visiting Springfield.

A sneak peek of their works is available at www.springfieldmo.gov/sistercities, where YouTube links under the News tab show performances by the artists.

Other festival performers are coming in from St. Louis: Taiko drumming group Osuwa Taiko and traditional Japanese top spinner Hiroshi Tada. Osuwa Taiko is a nonprofit group dedicated to the historic Japanese art of drumming; literally translated, taiko is "big fat drum," according to www.stltaiko.com. The group will be playing at the Missouri Botanical Garden before coming to Springfield, where performances are scheduled for 1 and 7 p.m. Sept. 12 and 1 p.m. Sept. 13.

Local martial artists and Japanese traditions, including sword demonstrations, and a tea ceremony also are highlighted in Springfield's Japanese Fall Festival. Ceremonies kick off 5:30 p.m. Sept. 11 with a children's parade.


Ramen-making robots cut cooks out of the food equation

Who needs humans? At a ramen noodle shop in Nagoya, Japan, a pair of robotic arms serve up 80 bowls of noodles a day to their hungry customers. They never get tired and they don't need tips.

Of course, one could argue that there's no art in a robot making food. But with some types of food, no art is needed. You think people at McDonalds are putting their own unique spin on burgers? No. Which is why, eventually, robots will be doing all the work at fast food restaurants. Because a robot never spit in a burger.


Rice Paddy Crop Art in Japan (2009)

Art has no boundaries, naturally, no the indiscrimination of occupations and races as well. In Japan, the nation whose all citizens love animations, farmers also show their love for the animations in their own way.

The Aomori prefecture is located in the northernmost Japan, over 900 kilometers north to Tokyo. Enter Aomori prefecture and bump along the country road for a while, you will arrive at Inakadate, a small ancient village with a history of 2000 years in planting rice. Since 1993, the village has held a “Rice Paddy Crop Art” every year, which attracts tourists all over Japan or even all over the world to get a view of the huge rice paddy pictures.

To obtain the best visual effect, the farmers of Inakadate get busy as early as when they prepare to plant rice in every April. They design well the pictures that they want to demonstrate this year in advance, and then plant rice with different varieties and different colors of leaf in the rice paddies, thus to “paint” out different kinds of pictures in the rice paddies.

Here, we will share you the harvests of farmers this year: Napoleon, Sengoku-period warrior, Naoe Kanetsugu and Osen

Artistic road to utopia may break down regional barriers

AUSTRALIA and Japan are developing together a Utopia Project that would present an arts Olympics every two years in an Asia-Pacific centre. They have enlisted the potential support of eight other countries in planning to stage non-competitive arts shows that would include artists, works and performances from across the region. The project would involve exhibitions, workshops and educational presentations, and would move to a different city each time in order to share the costs and the impact.

Alison Carroll, the arts director at Asialink, which is promoting the project, says: "The problem with art biennales, which are popping up everywhere, is to sustain them for the second or third time, in the same location. Our concept would require only a very small secretariat, and tiny administrative costs."

Arts Minister Peter Garrett is being asked to come to this party. If the Australian government offers its support, then Australia and Japan would invite the eight others to join the process formally.

Carroll says: "This trend of collaboration in our region is accelerating now. The structures are growing stronger all the time, in education and the arts. Unless we're proactive, we'll miss the boat because even now, we are not always viewed as part of the region. So we have to demonstrate our commitment."

The East Asia Summit process, in which Australia participates, involves meetings of environment ministers - including Garrett - and Carroll says that arts ministers should meet regularly too.

"Arts are a great way for countries to scrape away preconceptions and present what's really happening today. And we too in Australia tend to have an old-fashioned view of Asia and culture.
"We seem to think that contemporary art only happens in New York or Venice, but it's happening all around us. That's a shame, because in some respects we know more about Asia than any other Western country does. If we don't take advantage of that, it's our loss."

This bold Utopia Project seeks to follow up an extraordinarily successful three-year arts collaboration between Australia and Japan, which has involved four pairings of leading artists. The final exhibition to emerge from a series of exchanges involving artists, curators and other art professionals of the two countries will be shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney from July 28. It brings together the works of Australian Louisa Bufardeci and Japanese Zon Ito, whose collaboration began at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo. The curators of the museums found parallels "in their symbolic use of colour and ordered forms, along with their interpretation and unconventional use of space."

Asialink has co-ordinated the exchanges, with support from agencies such as the Australia Japan Foundation. Its arts director Carroll says: "Japan can have anything it wants. It has the resources to go to the Americans and Europeans. And in the past, Australia has been overlooked or dismissed as second best. That Japan's top artists, galleries and hot young curators are today eager for this exchange at this level shows a really significant shift in thinking.

"They are seeing something here with which they keenly wish to engage."

This shift coincides, says Carroll, with a growing comprehension within Asia-Pacific countries that in the realm of contemporary culture "this is a region unto itself. And Australia, like Japan, wants to take a leadership role and be a key player. "We can now do this together, involving our funding and philanthropic organisations. That wouldn't have happened five years ago."

The exhibitions have attracted extensive public interest in Japan, with for instance 51 newspaper and magazine articles written about the most recent show that closed there last October.

Akira Tatehata, director of the National Museum of Art in Osaka, says: "Currently, Australia enjoys an important presence in the Japanese contemporary art scene and is attracting attention from the general public as well as from the art world.

"As the Australia-Japan arts relationship has reached a certain maturity, I believe that it is important for future projects to have a specific focus, to introduce areas that have not been exposed previously to each other."

Shihoko Iida, a curator at the Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery, says: "The number of mutual projects that are held in both countries and initiated by young artists and art professionals has been increasing remarkably in recent years. It is important to continue and deepen our dialogue."

"The Japanese don't want our money" to persuade them to participate, says Carroll. "They want a good show. You can't buy your way into Japan. They want some support, but they mainly want (a show) to enhance their reputations.

"They want a mature relationship" with intelligent contemporary thinkers, she says. "Works that happen to be produced by Australians, that are interesting beyond the limits of boundaries, not items that comprise national descriptors, not works that are patently 'Australian'."

It is impossible to be artistically present in Japan without Japanese support, she says. The initial three-year program - which preceded the program now being concluded - cost the federal government $500,000 and other Australian organisations $800,000. The Japanese partners contributed $1.2 million towards showing Australian art there.

The Patricia Piccinini show proved especially popular, being the subject of more than 100 Japanese newspaper articles. "We couldn't do that for her," says Carroll. "That's what a partner is about. It would be fantastic if we could develop that kind of relationship with other countries in our region, such as China."


Art Complex Museum to host tea ceremonies starting June 28

DUXBURY, MA - The first in a series of four public Japanese tea ceremonies will be offered by the Art Complex Museum at 2 p.m., on Sunday, June 28. Aiko Somi Rogers, who was trained by the Urasenke School of Tea in Japan, will conduct the ceremony. Rogers will explain the ceremony and answer questions. Utensils used for the tea span four centuries, and the ceremony itself is a quiet, simple ritual based on hospitality.

Additional tea ceremony presentations are scheduled for 2 p.m., on July 26, which will be a family event, Aug. 30 and Sept. 27.Admission is free but seating is limited and available on a first-come basis. Guests are advised to dress for the weather. In case of rain, the presentation will take place inside the museum at 189 Alden St., Duxbury The program is supported primarily by the Carl A. Weyerhaeuser Family Charitable Trusts, and by gifts from friends of the museum.


Master of emotions

AT the opening ceremony of Louis Vuitton: A Passion for Creation, the artist most sought-after by guests for autographs and photographs was Takashi Murakami (pic).

One of Japan’s leading contemporary artists, Murakami – the only visual artist to make Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” last year – proved to be a crowd-pleaser. Always smiling and accommodating, he granted the Asian media a brief interview.

Asked how the current art scene is driven by financial motives, Murakami, 46, says it is money that allows creativity to thrive. “At the end of the day, art needs a rich ground like Paris, New York and London.”

He is surprised by Hong Kong’s rise in the art world, and feels the city is headed in the right direction. For example, he points out, the recent Hong Kong International Art Fair (May 14-17) drew a record attendance and robust sales.

Asked what inspires him, Murakami says, “As artists, we need to feel emotions all the time. For instance, I attended a funeral last week and there were a lot of people crying. Although I was sad, I was inspired by all the emotions surrounding me.”

Another emotion that inspires him is anger. “That’s why I am always asking my colleagues to make me angry,” he says, drawing laughter from the crowded room.

His art pieces may be colourful and bright but Murakami explains that “I always emphasise that the dark side exists even in cuteness and in the thoughts of peace-addicted people.”

A graduate of the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, this prolific contemporary artist gained fame for his art style, called Superflat, which is characterised by flat planes of colour and graphic images involving a character derived from anime and manga. It is an artistic style that comments on otaku lifestyle and subculture, as well as consumerism and sexual fetishism, he explains.

In past media interviews, he was asked about straddling the fine line between art and merchandising. His reply: “I don’t think of it as straddling. I think of it as changing the line. What I’ve been talking about for years is how in Japan, that line is less defined, both by the culture and by the post-War economic situation.

“Japanese people accept that art and commerce will be blended; in fact, they are surprised by the rigid and pretentious Western hierarchy of ‘high art.’ In the West, it certainly is dangerous to blend the two because people will throw all sorts of stones. But that’s okay – I’m ready with my hard hat.”

According to the Wikipedia, Murakami – like the legendary Andy Warhol – takes low culture, repackages it, and sells it to the highest bidder in the “high-art” market. But unlike Warhol, he makes his repacked low culture available to other markets in the form of paintings, sculptures, videos, T-shirts, key chains, mouse pads, plush dolls and limited-edition Louis Vuitton handbags.

In November 2003, ArtNews had it that Murakami’s work was among the most desired in the world. At Christie’s last May, Chicago collector Stefan Edis reportedly paid US$567,500 (RM1.9mil) for his 1996 Miss ko-2, a life-size fiberglass cartoon figure. In May 2008, Murakami’s sculpture of a naked boy, My Lonesome Cowboy, sold for US$15mil (RM52mil) at a Sotheby’s auction.

Wow! Natural Art in the Ocean

This photo, taken from a NASA satellite, reveals the life embedded in two ocean currents that are converging in the Pacific Ocean.

In the northwest Pacific, the Oyashio Current flows down out of the Arctic, past Siberia and the Kamchatka Peninsula. Around the latitude of Hokkaido, Japan, it begins to veer eastward and converges with the warmer Kuroshio Current, flowing into the area from the south.

The new image illustrates how the convergence of these two currents affects phytoplankton, the microscopic plant-like creatures that form the base of the marine food web, scientists explained.
When two currents with different temperatures and densities — cold, Arctic water is saltier and denser than subtropical waters — collide, they create eddies. Phytoplankton growing in the surface waters become concentrated along the boundaries of these eddies, tracing out the motions of the water. The swirls of color visible in the waters southeast of Hokkaido (upper left), show where different kinds of phytoplankton are using chlorophyll and other pigments to capture sunlight and produce food. The bright blues just offshore of Hokkaido may be churned up sediment, rather than phytoplankton.

During the spring bloom season, nutrients are abundant in the surface waters. The water has been "resting" all winter, when light levels were too low — and storms were too frequent — to support phytoplankton growth.

But as the phytoplankton deplete the available nutrients, the bloom will taper off. At this stage, the eddies in the convergence zone can give a boost of nutrients at the surface because they don't just circulate the surface water; they also produce upwelling. The upwelling can draw nutrient-rich water up from deeper in the ocean, allowing smaller blooms to occur later in the growing season.

The washed out appearance of the image at lower left is from sunglint—the (blurred) mirror-like reflection of the sun off the water. At upper right, a plume of haze, perhaps smoke from fires in Mongolia and Russia, cuts across the scene.

The image, from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Aqua satellite, was taken May 21 and released this week.


Asian Art Museum brings way of the Samurai to SF

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco Asian Art Museum curator Yoko Woodson has organized many important exhibits — including the memorable two-part show of works by Hokusai and Hiroshige a decade ago — but the museum’s upcoming “Lords of the Samurai” may well become her biggest, most spectacular accomplishment.

Woodson brought the Hokusai/Hiroshige drawings from the Honolulu Academy of Arts’ James Michener collection to The City, making their public viewing possible for the first time, although individual pieces had been around.

With the Samurai exhibit, which opens Friday, Woodson is unlocking the key for hidden treasure none of which has been available outside Japan.

In fact, some of the 160 objects — armor, weaponry, paintings, lacquer ware, ceramics, costumes and more — are not readily available to the public even in Japan. The reason: Contents of the exhibit coming to Larkin Street are the private possessions of one family.

Woodson and former museum director Emily Sano began work on the show four years ago when former Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa (in office 1993-94) came to San Francisco on a business trip and visited the museum.

Hosokawa’s family is one of the most prominent Samurai clans, going back more than a half a millennia, between the 14th and 19th centuries, which were dominated by warriors who formed the country’s military aristocracy.

“This is the first time that the family’s heirloom arms and armor, paintings and decorative and applied art objects are to be shown in a comprehensive way in the United States,” says Hosokawa.

“Through the stories of the Hosokawa family, illustrated through their superb collection, we can understand the nature of the upper echelon of the warrior elite in early modern Japan,” according to museum director Jay Xu.

The Hosokawa collection in Japan is housed in the Eisei-Bunko Museum and in the family’s former home, Kumamoto Castle on Kyushu island. Ten of the artworks carry the designation of “important cultural properties” or “important art objects” due to their artistic and historical significance to the nation.

Because of their importance and fragility, some of the works will be rotated Aug. 3, replaced by others.

Besides their primary fame as elite warriors, the Samurai have also excelled in artistic, cultural and spiritual pursuits, all reflected in the exhibit.

“The Legacy of a Daimyo Family,” the show’s subtitle, refers to “great name,” meaning the standing of the Hosokawa family. Throughout 18 generations, the lords practiced and promoted the arts, even more prominently than did ancient European royal families.

Hosokawa, 71, himself is a celebrated tea practitioner, who has won acclaim for his skill as a ceramist and calligrapher. Some of his tea bowls and other tea ceramics are among the many on view in the exhibition.

From an earlier time, Sumimoto Hosokawa (1489—1520) is described as a great archer and horseman, “far above other humans ... also versed in waka [a form of Japanese poetry] and appreciates the moon and the wind.

“Outside the citadel, he takes bows and arrows; in meditation and reading of sacred books he protects Buddhism. Inside and outside, pledging to the mountains and rivers for the sake of the rulers and vassals, always with propriety and benevolence, he attains saintly wisdom.”


Lords of the Samurai

Where: Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., San Francisco

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except closed Mondays and until 9 p.m. Thursdays; show runs Friday through Sept. 20

Tickets: $17 general; $13 senior; $12 college students; $7 youths; discounts after 5 p.m. Thursdays; $5 first Sunday of each monthContact: (415) 581-3500, www.asianart.org

Japanese Film, Fashion and Art Center to Open in San Francisco

San Francisco already features one of America's oldest and largest Japantown, but come August 2009, it'll get a fresh infusion of modern J-Pop culture with the opening of New People, a spanking new three-story building that will feature the latest, greatest and coolest films, fashions, art and design straight from Japan. From the movie theater in the basement screening new and classic films to the fashion boutiques featuring top labels straight from Tokyo and an art gallery on the top floor, New People promises to make Japanese pop culture even more exciting and accessible to Americans than ever.

Located at 1746 Post Street (across from the Japantown Center), the 20,000 square foot New People building is currently under construction, and is scheduled to open to the public on Saturday, August 15, 2009. You can follow the progress of this project by visiting the New People website, NewPeopleWorld.com and clicking on the "News" section for the latest photos and updates straight from the site. You can also sign up to receive updates via email, so you can be one of the first to find out about events scheduled to celebrate New People's arrival in the City by the Bay.

So what can you expect to find at New People when it opens? Here's a floor by floor breakdown:
Basement: VIZ Cinema - a 143-seat theater with "high-definition digital projection and THX®-certified sound" that promises to show a mix of current and classic films from Japan, anime and live action movies and documentaries.

1st Floor: Cafe & Restaurant - New People wasted no time in getting two dining establishments that would please even the most picky gourmand to anchor their building. Blue Bottle Coffee Company is a Bay Area coffee roaster and cafe that specializes in absolutely addictive "this ain't your auntie's Starbucks" coffee and espresso drinks. There are already several Blue Bottle cafes and kiosks around town and they always attract a crowd of hardcore caffeine devotees.

Meanwhile, Delica rf-1 (one of my favorite places to eat in the San Francisco Ferry Building) offers gourmet Japanese bentos, salads and snacks that are light, healthy and tasty.
Mezzanine: NEW PEOPLE: The Store - The New People aesthetic comes together in their signature shop, which promises to offer "all that is kawaii (cute), fun, fabulous and bizarre," in apparel, books, toys, DVDs, music, design items, with "exclusive product designs and limited edition goods" to make it extra worth your while to check out items you won't be able to find any where else.

2nd floor: Fashion Boutiques, featuring Baby the Stars Shine Bright, 6% DokiDoki and Black Peace Now - You know all those fabulous fashions you've seen in movies like Kamikaze Girls or in the pages of Gothic & Lolita Bible? Now you can get the hottest styles straight from the streets of Tokyo at these three leading fashion houses. Lolita fashion house Baby, the Stars Shine Bright is opening their first flagship shop in New People. If you're into this fabulously frilly style, you like to know that Baby is looking for a General Manager to run their first US flagship shop. Also on the 2nd floor will be Black Peace Now, a label known for "mixing Japanese gothic and punk details into powerful, exquisite silhouettes." And on a lighter note there's 6% DOKIDOKI, which embodies "girl culture from the center of Harajuku!" Look for "crazy fun, crazy colors and crazy love" in their line of accessories, clothes and "objects that will stir your imagination."

3rd Floor: Superfrog Gallery - Look for modern, fun and thought-provoking exhibits to show up here. Stay tuned for announcements on the artist (or artists) who will be featured in the debut exhibit at this venue.

New People is the brainchild of Seiji Horibuchi, the founder and CEO of VIZ Media, and is fueled by a $15 million investment from Shogakukan, one of Japan's leading publishers, and part-owner of VIZ Media.

"New People is a truly unique space devoted to creativity and self expression, and will become a cultural destination unlike any other in the United States,” says Horibuchi. "New People will help nurture Japanese pop culture and also connect the public with its diverse creators. As North America continues to embrace a variety of hip trends from Japan, we look forward to expanding the vision of New People globally through film, art and other multimedia and forging innovative cross-cultural creative partnerships."

Pretty exciting stuff, right? Makes me extra glad that I call the Bay Area home that I'll be able to experience and enjoy New People often after its debut in August. Stay tuned for more updates as VIZ and New People trickle out announcements about special events that are sure to be scheduled to commemorate the opening of this new J-Pop center.


Japanese art: Manhole covers

When you walk down the streets in Japan, you may find yourself stepping on a piece of art. Where is that art? On manhole covers! This may seem like a very bizarre place to find it, but in Japan it is very common.

Japanese manhole cover designs are unique to the locality and utility of the community. The designs may depict famous historical buildings, plants, animals, story scenes, and even cartoon characters. Whatever is famous in that area is likely going to be featured on the manhole covers.
There is a cult interest in taking pictures of these covers, and some online galleries have hundreds of photos.

So when you are walking around Japan admiring all the sights, take a minute to look down at your feet and see what hidden treasure may be there.

An extensive and well organized Japanese manhole cover gallery (Mainly in Japanese)
A flickr group pool of manhole cover photographs
Another manhole cover gallery
One more manhole cover gallery


Momoyama Period (1573 - 1615)

With the decline of Ashikaga power in the 1560s, the feudal barons, or daimyos, began their struggle for control of Japan. The ensuing four decades of constant warfare are known as the Momoyama (Peach Hill) period. The name derives from the site, in a Kyoto suburb, on which Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536–1598) built his Fushimi Castle. Unity was gradually restored through the efforts of three warlords. The first, Oda Nobunaga (1534–1582), took control of Kyoto and deposed the last Ashikaga shogun through military might and political acuity. He was followed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who continued the campaign to reunite Japan. Peace was finally restored by one of Hideyoshi's generals, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542–1616).

The decorative style that is the hallmark of Momoyama art had its inception in the early sixteenth century and lasted well into the seventeenth. On the one hand, the art of this period was characterized by a robust, opulent, and dynamic style, with gold lavishly applied to architecture, furnishings, paintings, and garments. The ostentatiously decorated fortresses built by the daimyo for protection and to flaunt their newly acquired power exemplified this grandeur. On the other hand, the military elite also supported a counter-aesthetic of rustic simplicity, most fully expressed in the form of the tea ceremony that favored weathered, unpretentious, and imperfect settings and utensils.

During this era, the attention of the Japanese was more than usually drawn beyond its shores. In addition to the continued trade with and travel to and from China and Korea, Toyotomi Hideyoshi instigated two devastating invasions of the Korean peninsula with the ultimate goal of invading China. The arrival of Portuguese and Dutch merchants and Catholic missionaries brought an awareness of different religions, new technologies, and previously unknown markets and goods to Japanese society. Over time, these foreign influences blended with native Japanese culture in myriad and long-lasting ways.

Department of Asian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Furoshiki--the Japanese art of folding cloth

When it comes to wrapping a package, especially for a gift, most everyone hopes to create something pleasing to the eye. A wrapping tells a lot about how special the receiver is and even more about the giver.

Bright-colored paper and handmade bows conceal each surprise. So painstakingly wrapped and so hurriedly torn open, wrappings can rarely be used a second time.

In recent years, recycling or "green" alternatives have become more of a daily routine all around the U.S. And many Old World traditions such as decorative cloth gift sacks and squares of cloth wrappings, closed with a knot, are again taking hold.

For centuries, men and women in Japan carried clothing, books, gifts and other belongings in cloth-wrapped parcels. Artsy wraps even enclosed lunch boxes and spread as a placemat during the meal. Japanese furoshiki, as it's known, is a traditional wrapping cloth ranging from hand sized to that of a bed sheet.

With renewed interest in reducing waste and protecting our environment, furoshiki adds a fun and practicality to gifts as it encourages the wrapping's reuse.

Featuring this creative style for residents of the South Hills, Mt. Lebanon Public Library plans a program at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 23.

Furoshiki: The Art, Tradition and History of Folding Cloth and Wrapping Gifts and Treasures will be presented by Rosaly Roffman, poet and professor emeritus of Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Participants hoping to learn more about this Japanese tradition should bring a box or bottle and a square of lightweight cloth. Tablecloths or fabric remnants large enough to cover their items are good choices. Silk or polyester is recommended since both are thin and easy to knot.

"In Japan I've seen small items and even heavy machinery wrapped in furoshiki," said Rosaly.
In addition to her demonstration, Rosaly will read a few of her poems and speak on Japanese history and culture.

To continue the furoshiki trend, register for the program by calling 412-531-1912.


Japan officials promote hip home

TOKYO (AFP) — Japan's grey-suited bureaucrats have teamed up with a blue cartoon cat and Tokyo fashionistas sporting 'Gothic Lolita' urban chic in an official drive to promote hip Japan around the world.

Long famed for its cars and high-tech goods, the world's number two economy has stepped up an official campaign to promote its cultural offerings, from Tokyo city wear to video games and award-winning animation films.

Prime Minister Taro Aso -- an avowed fan of Japan's manga comics -- has thrown his enthusiastic support behind the drive to earn hearts, minds and hard cash by promoting the soft power of "cool Japan" overseas.

His conservative government has earmarked 11.7 billion yen (118 million dollars) for a museum on Japanese cartoon art and pop culture to be built in Tokyo that one English-language daily has dubbed the "anime shrine".

"It will be a centre that allows visitors to see and collect information on Japan's manga, anime, video games and media art," said Akira Shimizu, who heads the arts division at the government's cultural affairs agency.

The museum, to be built in coming years, pending parliamentary approval, is part of Aso's plan to grow Japan's cultural exports into an industry worth 20 to 30 trillion yen (200 to 300 billion dollars) by 2020.

"The word 'manga' has entered the global lexicon," Aso said as he outlined the plan last month. "Japan has materials that attract consumers around the world such as animation, games, fashion -- so-called 'Japan Cool'."

Much of Japanese pop culture has already won fans across Asia and around the world in recent years -- from classic manga characters like Astroboy and video game figures such as the Mario Brothers and Pokemon to Oscar-winning animation movies like Hayao Miyazaki's 2004 film "Howl's Moving Castle."

Manga comics -- an industry worth 4.6 billion dollars in Japan last year, according to the private Research Institute for Publications -- have long ago gone global and have won a cult following in the West.

Not all of Japan's cultural exports have won praise. Some manga comics are notorious for featuring extreme violence and sexual themes, and a video game in which players stalk and rape women has sparked outrage this year.

The government has picked the far more family friendly cartoon characters to promote Japan, and last year appointed robotic hero cat 'Doraemon' as the nation's first "Anime Ambassador".
The foreign ministry has also supported a world summit of cosplay -- short for "costume play", a subculture with a global cult following where hobbyists dress as 'Gothic Lolitas' and other often manga-inspired characters.

This year, the ministry chose three women to represent the "Lolita", "Harajuku" and "School Uniform" styles of Tokyo fashion and sent them off into the world as so-called New Trend Communicators of Japanese Pop Culture.

Takehiko Yamamoto, a professor of international politics at Waseda University, supported Japan's manga diplomacy.

"Japan has been too quiet... and hardly made itself felt" on the world stage, he said, adding that anime and manga are "one of the few ways in which Japan can exert influence on other countries".

Boise Art Museum Announces John S. Takehara Memorial

BOISE, ID.- The life and contributions of John S. Takehara, an internationally recognized ceramic artist and Professor Emeritus of Art, Boise State University, will be celebrated Sunday, May 17, in the New Grand Ballroom of the University’s Student Union Building at 2:00 p.m. Professor Takehara died of natural causes on April 1, 2009.

John Takehara lived and breathed clay, and he dedicated his life to the world of ceramic art. He not only made pots and taught about making pots, but he also promoted ceramic art as a sublime medium. He professed the material connected the maker with heaven and earth. He found an essence that “…resembles the creation of man by our Creator.”

This Sunday, friends, colleagues, patrons, and former students are invited to help remember John Takehara. Boise Art Museum, Boise State, and the Cloverdale Seventh Day Adventist Church will join in sharing a collage of stories to create a portrait of this quiet man’s extraordinary life. A community wants to remember a man like John Takehara, because of what we have become as a result of his efforts.

While Takehara is known for his magnificent clay vessels, he created opportunity as well. As an educator, Takehara’s regular and extensive travels were elemental for his teaching as well as his own learning. He did not stand alone and profess; rather, he amassed the voices and experiences of people in the field who practiced excellence – Bernard Leach, Lucy Rie, Shoji Hamada – and brought the aesthetics they represented to his classroom. He collected art from every venture for the purpose of exposing students to creative diversity and inspiring them with the distinctions of fine craft.

Always in the pursuit of excellence, Takehara invited diverse artistic thinkers to expand and round out his own teaching. He expanded BSU students’ learning opportunities through the visiting artist series he initiated early in his tenure at Boise State. He hosted such ceramic icons as Paul Soldner, Peter Lane, David Shaner, and Frank Boyden, to name a few. He recognized the power of women in the field of clay art, too, and the list of visiting artists also includes Ruth Duckworth, Dora Delarious, and Ulla Viotti, among others.

The solution to the ever-present challenge of funding in the arts was simple to Takehara, who proposed to his students that if they created quality work and produced a market venue, this would generate the resources for the visiting artist workshops. Takehara initiated BSU’s annual Ceramic Sale & Student Show. The sale continues today and still provides the prospect for students to sell their fledgling art while contributing to the fund that enhances their own development.

Throughout his career, Takehara collected ceramics through purchases and trades of his works of art, building a collection of museum quality. Takehara maintained friendships with ceramists worldwide and often traveled to foreign countries to visit studios where he acquired many of the works in his collection. In 1994, Takehara donated his collection of fine contemporary ceramics by internationally recognized artists to the Boise Art Museum (BAM). His donation of 165 ceramics has generated numerous purchases and donations to support and further BAM’s ceramics collection.

A relentless perfectionist, Mr. Takehara’s inspiring, large-scale porcelain works helped to define clay as ceramic art in the Pacific Northwest during the latter half of the twentieth century and are widely cherished by devoted collectors. His pieces have an iconic power, calling the viewer to a place of contemplation; a place to recall the sublime.


Western celebrates Japan Week

When Western Japanese professor Michiko Yusa came to Bellingham in 1983, she felt like she stuck out. As a native from Japan, she said some people treated her differently. She said she could not even find the kinds of food she liked to eat. Soy sauce was hard to obtain, yet alone tofu.

Over time, Yusa witnessed Bellingham become a more progressive city. She said people today would never consider treating her as they did a couple decades ago. Three years ago, Japanese language became a major at Western, and sushi is now commonplace.

During April 27 to May 1, the Western community celebrated Japan Week, a tradition Yusa started 13 years ago. She said the original intent of the week was to increase awareness of the Japanese program and to help turn the program into a major.

Yusa said Americans’ understanding of Japan has come a long way in the past few decades.

“Our awareness has completely evolved,” Yusa said. “Overall, it is a totally different world.”

Activities throughout Japan Week included discussions, lectures and film showings. The most attended event was Japan Night, hosted by the Asia University America Program.

Western currently has 32 Japanese students enrolled from Asia University in Tokyo, Japan. The students just reached the midpoint of their 5-month stay and are business, law or economics majors who are learning English.

Past Japan Week topics have ranged from popular culture to war and peace to nature. Last year’s theme was “Return to the Origin,” because it was the 12th annual Japan Week, and traditional East Asian calendars are organized in a 12-year cycle. In 2008, Japan Week looked back at the roots of Western’s Japanese language program and examined how it has grown.

This year’s theme, selected by Yusa, was “Women in Japan.”

The theme was highlighted throughout the week by Western art history professor Julia Sapin’s lecture about women’s portrayal in Japanese advertising and by a Global Gatherings discussion regarding gender roles in Japan and the U.S.

Yusa said the role of women in Japan is a complex issue that needs to be examined from a both historical and present-day perspective.

Yusa said the way women are currently viewed in Japanese society is a result of how women were treated about 300 to 350 years ago during the samurai period. She said it was then that women first became the objects of men and had less power. Until the Middle Ages, women had more power and prestige and could be financially independent, she said.

While it is still harder for women than men to secure a career in Japan, today’s women might have more opportunities than they have had in the recent past, Yusa said.

At the Global Gatherings discussion, Asia University America Program student Sho Shimamura said he could see himself getting married and taking on some of the duties involved in raising a family and keeping up a household, as long as he could also work. The discussion group said if Shimamura is representative of the younger generation of Japanese men, Japan’s standards might be changing.

Dan Lindeman, a fiscal specialist for International Programs and Exchanges, said there is a belief in Japan that companies do not want to hire and train women because they think women will quit as soon as they get married and start a family. Lindeman said this is a belief that creates its own reality because if people believe it is true, women will be more likely to not try to get a job and have a family instead.

Edward Vajda, associate director of the Center for International Studies, helped coordinate Japan Week. He said people were able to look at Japanese culture from many perspectives. The week involved both the Western community and the Japanese international students on campus and incorporated both visual arts and linguistics.

Vajda said it is advantageous to fit many Japanese-related events into one week, otherwise the events might go unnoticed. He said any student could benefit from learning about Japan because of its special connection to Washington through the Pacific Rim and because of the high Japanese population in Washington.

During Japan Night, the Asia University students gave interactive demonstrations of different Japanese traditions, such as tea ceremonies, calligraphy, haikus and fashion.

Ellie McDermott, student services assistant for Asia University America Program, said she personally has had a great experience learning about Japanese culture. She said it was rewarding to see students sharing their own culture with friends from Western and the Bellingham community who came to participate. She said Japan Night was set up differently from other events throughout the week because it was an interactive festival.

“It is a chance to see different aspects of Japanese culture on a more one-to-one level,” McDermott said.

Ai Maekawa, an Asia University student, taught origami at Japan Night. She said origami is fun, and she has done it since she was a child.

Shimamura helped cook the food. Dishes served on Japan Night included okonomiyaki, a pan-fried food mainly made of batter and cabbage; yakisoba, a fried noodle dish; and curry rice. Shimamura demonstrated Kendo, a Japanese sport that means “way of the sword.”

Kendo is a sword-fighting martial art that involves spiritual and mental development, as well as physical improvement. It has its roots in traditional samurai swordsmanship.

Other popular martial arts sports in Japan include aikido, judo, sumo and karate. Shimamura said kendo is the most polite Japanese sport.

McDermott said having international students at Western provides a good opportunity for Western students to grow in their world views through the interactions they have with international students.

Maekawa said she has made some Western friends, but she would like to have more.

“Without leaving Bellingham, you can learn so much about a different culture and how to communicate with people from different cultures,” McDermott said.

Western senior Katy Cumby spent last year studying abroad at Nagoya University of Foreign Studies in Japan.

One thing that stood out to her was how old things were in Japan compared to Washington, Cumby said. As a native of Puyallup, Cumby said she was not used to seeing buildings that were built more than 100 years ago. She said some of the trees at temples she visited were 400 years old.

“There is all this old history, and I thought that was just really [impacting] because I had never thought about it before,” she said.

Cumby’s visit taught her as much about American customs as it did Japanese customs. She said she found out during her stay that some things were not as universal as she once thought they were. Cumby said she was surprised at how painfully slow people walk in Japan.

She said she thought walking with a purpose was a universal concept, but people in Japan tended to walk at a slower pace.

Cumby said a difference she appreciated in Japan was people’s awareness of the feelings of others around them.

She said people’s high awareness of social cues prevented others from having to come out and directly say what they need.

For instance, Cumby said if someone looked uncomfortable in a conversation, a Japanese person would know to change the subject. If someone seemed confused, a Japanese person would likely explain things further without being asked.

Also, people at her school in Japan were much more group-focused than Americans, Cumby said. Most students were involved in clubs, she said.

Despite this emphasis on groups, college students often lived at home with their parents or alone in studio apartments, she said.

Cumby said studying abroad taught her the value of interacting with people from different cultures.

Vajda said Japan Week helps increase the interaction between exchange students and Western students, which is a goal of the International Studies Center.

“One of our goals is to internationalize the campus by both bringing students here and by increasing the interaction,” Vajda said.


Onsen (Hot Springs) in Japan

Ubayu Onsen, Yamagata

Nachikatsuura, Japan

Japanese art do in Delhi

Traditionally Japanese: At this art do at the Japan Foundation, guests caught a glimpse of the traditional Japanese art. On display were Noh Masks by Goto Terumoto and Japanese calligraphy works by Goto Kazue.

Made in India? The artist couple was visiting India for the first time. Kazue greeted everyone with a namaste. Said Terumoto, “We love Indian food, I don’t think it’s that spicy.” Yuka Koyasu, a guest, said, “Indians are a generous lot, dhanyawad.”

Dance ’n’ Drama: Students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) presented a dance-drama titled, The Lotus Path. Debanjali Biswas, a performer said, “It traces the journey of Buddhism to different parts of the world.”


Youth Learning Traditions, Future Bearers of the Art

Pass by the seemingly abandoned chapel at the foothills of Diamond Head, and you might be lucky enough to hear the booming sound of Taiko drums echoing from the building.
On this particular afternoon, the drums sound as a group of children play a very energetic and dance-like piece called Yodan-uchi. This piece involves movement around three large taiko drums, and is played to a fast-paced beat. It is an exciting sight for any passerby.

For those unfamiliar with the term, "taiko" means "big drum" in Japanese. Since it was brought to the states from Japan in the 1960s, Taiko has become an increasingly popular art form in North America. This performance art has become well known in various American communities and in colleges across the nation. But for some, taiko is not just about the music.

In an age when President Obama has inspired youth to take on civic responsibility for the good of all, so has the Taiko Center of the Pacific, a Honolulu-based taiko school, inspired youth to learn taiko to become more connected with Japanese tradition and understand their own obligation to pay respects to the art's origins.

In 1994, Chizuko Endo and world-renowned master taiko drummer Kenny Endo established the Taiko Center of the Pacific, or TCP, to provide a school where youth and adults alike could learn to drum while also observing the discipline and practices that are involved with the art form.
For instance, in the dojo they emphasize respect for the teachers, the instruments, for oneself, and for the art of taiko by bowing at the door before entering or exiting.

Through the school, the Endos formed the Taiko Center of the Pacific Youth Group, an accomplished performance group for advanced children aged 5-18. Yodan-uchi is a piece from their performance repertoire, and the energy and love of taiko is ever apparent in each song they play. For TCP, youth are especially important since they are the future of the art of Taiko.
"To be exposed to the artsgives youth better tools for doing well in their own lives as well as enriching the lives of those around them," says Kenny Endo, who has revolutionized the art form with his philosophy of tradition combined with innovation. "The important thing is to find one's path and dedicate their time to something they love."

For members of the Youth Group, taiko is that something.

"Through the years, taiko has provided me with an outlet to express myself. When I play I am able to channel all the emotions in my life into each hit of the drum," says Julia Hirata, who has been performing with the TCP Youth Group for one year, but has played taiko for about two years.

Long-time TCP Youth Group performer Ryan Luce says "there is a feeling, or 'high,' associated with playing taiko music," and he enjoys playing because of the cultural experience he acquires through the art.

This summer, the Youth Group will be taking its first trip to Japan on a Taiko Intensive Study Tour. There, they will have the invaluable opportunity to workshop with some of Japan's top taiko pioneers and apply some of the traditions they have learned.

"The trip to Japan is a natural step to discover the roots of this art form, meet new people and be exposed to the positive aspects of Japanese culture," says Endo. "Hopefully it will also inspire some of them to further learn about the rich traditions and their potential to keep creating."

The TCP Youth group will also be performing on April 25th at the Hawaii Theatre as a part of "Taiko Fest '09! Island Style," a concert organized by the Taiko Center of the Pacific. Also featured will be the Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble; Rhythm Summit Trio with Kenny Endo, Noel Okimoto, and Dean Taba; and special guests from a remote island in Japan, Hachijo Daiko.

For those children who wish to play but are not yet at performing level, TCP offers classes for kids ages 5-83, and has also brought back its Family Taiko classes to encourage parents and children to learn taiko and its Japanese traditions together. For more information on this and the concert, visit www.taikoarts.com or email info@taikoarts.com.


Japan-America Society of Hawaii's McInerny Foundation Japan Day

Kelsey Soma
Reader Submitted

The Japan-America Society of Hawaii (JASH) is providing four of Hawaii's high schools with the opportunity to experience Japanese culture at its Japan Day on Wednesday, April 8, 2009 (sponsored by McInerny Foundation) at Hawaii Tokai International College (2241 Kapiolani Boulevard, 8th floor classrooms and 9th floor Auditorium) from 9:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Student participants will come from Maryknoll School, Maui High School, St. Andrew's Priory, and St. Louis School for this half-day program, which features expert, community-minded volunteers who donate their time, energy, and supplies to the event.

The program highlights hands-on cultural activities that include bon dance, bonsai, calligraphy, traditional crafts, ikebana (Japanese art of flower arrangement), soroban (Japanese abacus), tea ceremony, and yukata wearing.

The program begins with a taiko demonstration by Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble, under the direction of Mr. Kenny Endo.

Since its inception in 1993, over 4,500 students from 48 public and private high schools have experienced this educational outreach program.

PROGRAM: Wednesday, April 8, 2009, Hawaii Tokai International College
Opening Ceremony w/ Taiko Performance 9:15 am
On-going Activities 9:45 am 12:15 pm
Bon Dance - Room 810 Bonsai Room 802A
Calligraphy - 9th floor Auditorium Crafts - Room 801A
Ikebana Room 802B Soroban Room 801B
Tea Ceremony - 9th floor Auditorium Yukata Room 809
*The power and energy of taiko by Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble
*Participation in a traditional tea ceremony performed by Urasenke Foundation
*Honolulu Fukushima Bon Dance Club teaching traditional bon dance
*Creation of Japanese Crafts led by Kikufu Nippon Bunka Kenkyu Kai
*Calligraphy brush lessons by Mrs. Shokyoku Hashiro
*The art of Kimono and Yukata dressing by kimono expert Mrs. Jean Sakihara and students from Kimono Project USA at Education Laboratory School
*Giant Abacus Calculation demonstrations and instruction with Mr. Hideaki Oshima from the Araki Hiroya Soroban School
*Mrs. Jessie Nakata teaching the students the art and aesthetics of ikebana
*Bonsai arrangements led by the Hawaii Bonsai Association

The Japan-America Society of Hawaii is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization with the mission of promoting understanding and friendship between the peoples of Japan and the United States through the special and unique perspective of Hawaii. The Society is committed to education and conducts six school programs from kindergarten to grade 12 and at the undergraduate level at no cost for Hawaii's students.

Information: Kelsey Soma, JASH, (808) 469-4646, ksoma@jashawaii.org.

Kodo ensemble turns drumming into art

QUINCY — It’s the rumble that gets you: the thumping, thunderous sounds of the taiko drums that are both unsettling and more than a bit exhilarating. For Kodo, one of Japan’s premier taiko groups, that rumbling is as deeply spiritual as it is dramatic – really, a window into an entire Japanese subculture flush with rites and history.


KODO At Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Ave., Boston, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $32-$58 available at the box office and by calling 617-266-1492.

The current Kodo group, which performs at Symphony Hall on Sunday afternoon, is more than two decades old. Its forerunner developed on the island of Sado, off Japan’s northwest coast and near Okinawa, which had long had been a refuge for exiles and intellectuals, a magnet for gold diggers (gold was discovered there during the Edo period) and, later, a de facto artist colony, thanks to an influx of students in the 1960s and 70s.

The tight-knit artist community gave birth to a touring drum ensemble – an extension of the intense percussion sounds that have been a part of Japanese music for centuries. The first version of the group, called Ondekoza, debuted in the 70s, and the first Kodo was formed by several of the Ondekoza musicians in 1981. While the contemporary Kodo group draws on a number of styles, taiko drumming remains the core characteristic.

“Taiko is not simply percussion, and for that, it’s very fortunate for Kodo that we’ve had a chance to perform at Symphony Hall,” said company manager Jun Akimoto, who was preparing for what will be the group’s second trip to the hallowed concert hall. “We bring this experience to a broader audience, and to bring it to classical music lovers and jazz lovers and lots of different kinds of backgrounds gets it to people who appreciate music most.”

The Kodo musicians – there are 50 – still live on Sado and harvest rice, run an apprentice program and exist in the same communal fashion as their forebears and the island’s historical inhabitants. Musically, they continue to involve more modern Japanese sounds along with the ancient pieces that form the repertoire. Over the years, Akimoto said, Kodo has attracted former rock drummers, young composers and women.

“We have come to know that female drummers have different ideas than male drummers,” Akimoto wrote in Kodo’s press notes. “And because our different physical characteristics influence how we play, we are finding techniques and styles which male drummers never imagined.”

Akimoto said he wished the group had more time to spend in Boston, but Kodo will most certainly return. Next time, he said, he would like to broaden the visit to include other cultural activities and provide more perspective on Kodo, Sado and the taiko drum’s cultural importance.

“There are many Japanese groups that use taiko drums,” he said. “Kodo is not the same thing as taiko. Kodo is a community.”


SCI-TECH: Japanese scientist unveil humanoid walking robot

(NECN/APTV) - Japanese scientists on Monday unveiled a new humanoid walking robot at Tsukuba City, in Ibaraki prefecture, northeast of Tokyo.

HRP-4C, the latest model showcased to the media by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) has a female face which can express various emotions.

Developers at the government-backed organization, said their "cybernetic human," wasn't ready to help with daily chores or work side by side with humans - as robotics has been billed to do in the future.

Japan has been leading the sphere of robotics technology, and the government is pushing to develop the industry as a road to growth.

Yet, scientists said it was a challenge to develop a robot which looks like human and moves like human.

At AIST, Japan's national body for the state of art technology, developers have been working on such integration for past three years.

Other robots, like the ones from Hiroshi Kobayashi at the Tokyo University of Science and Hiroshi Ishiguro at Osaka University, have human-like faces and have been tested as receptionists.

Demands are growing for socially useful robots, such as those for caring for the elderly and the sick, government officials said.

HRP-4C was designed to look like an average Japanese woman, although its silver-and-black body makes it appear to be wearing a space-suit.

The robotic framework for the HRP-4C without the face and other coverings will

go on sale for about 20 (m) million yen (200-thousand US dollars) each, and its programming technology will be made public so other people can come up with fun moves for the robot, the scientists said.

The robot shown Monday has 30 motors in its body that allows it to walk and move its arms as well as eight motors on its face to create expressions like anger and surprise.

In a demonstration for reporters, the robot waddled out, blinking, a bit like an animation figure come to life, and said, "Hello, everyone," in a tiny feminine voice while its mouth moved.

The big challenge in creating HRP-4C was making the parts small so it looks female, especially its thinner legs, said Shuji Kajita, who leads the institute's humanoid research group.

The robot will appear in a Tokyo fashion show, although without any clothes, in a special section just for the robot next week.

The following story and video is from APTV.


Rape Victim Presses Case of Police Abuse in Japan

Run Date: 01/02/09
By Catherine Makino
WeNews correspondent

In Japan, rape is often kept hush-hush. But the high-profile case of one rape victim is challenging the silent treatment and raising questions about police practices. 'Jane,' as the victim is known, is suing police who required her to re-enact the crime.

(WOMENSENEWS)--An Australian woman who was raped by a U.S. Navy sailor in Japan in 2002 has settled the score, at least for the time being, with her assailant.

"Jane" as she calls herself, filed a civil suit against her assailant, a Wisconsin man named Bloke Deans, after the police here failed to bring criminal charges against him. In November 2004, she was awarded $49,555 in compensation from Japan's Ministry of Defense.

Now she's focused on what she calls her second rape by police officers at the nearby station where she sought help after the attack. The police didn't literally rape her, but they asked her to re-enact the crime in a way that she says left her feeling doubly assaulted.
She is seeking $182,000 in compensation.

She also says she's pressing the case to change a culture that prevents many women from bringing charges. "It is a silent culture where nobody says anything. But things are changing as more women begin to speak out," she told Women's eNews.

Although Jane has kept her real name out of news coverage, she has nonetheless become famous in Japan for talking about the taboo topic of her rape.

She sued the Kanagawa police for mistreatment and last week a judge dismissed her case in Tokyo's High Court.

Jane's lawyer, Mami Nakano, criticized the ruling. "If this kind of idea is tolerated in society, it would hinder rape victims from reporting their cases to police," she said.

In statements to the courts, the Kanagawa police have argued they are not obligated to provide rape victims with underwear or showers and it is an unreasonable request that investigations require the participation of a female officer. The police also said that because rape victims do not need urgent medical treatment they are not required to take them to emergency rooms and they do not believe Jane's assertion that she was too depressed by the crime to return to the scene. Taking re-enactment photos is normal protocol.

On Dec. 22 she appealed to Japan's Supreme Court. Jane says more than 40 lawyers from Kanagawa, Tokyo and Yokohama have offered to represent her appeal for free.

Rape in Van in Parking Lot

In the port city of Yokosuka, Jane was raped six years ago in her van in a parking lot after she left a bar in the early hours.

She says Deans, who was discharged from the USS Kitty Hawk in November 2002, has been allowed to avoid punishment by an unresponsive U.S. government despite her requests to learn how his case would be handled.

"I have been asking since the day I was raped," she says. "I even wrote letters to President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. military and government officials. They still have not gotten back to me."

Jane alleges that after the rape, she went to the police who then kept her in custody for 12 hours. She was afraid they would arrest her if she left and says she was in shock. The police moved her from a small room, then to the scene of the crime, then back to the station in a large room with other people.

She claims she was not fed, allowed to see a doctor, or given fresh underwear.

"I went to the Japanese police to seek help, sadly they didn't believe me," said Jane, who made her standard request for anonymity to protect the privacy of her three sons. "They interrogated me for several hours and the entire time I begged them to take me to the hospital. But they said I wasn't hurt enough and, if I was, then I had to show them where. I was told that on-duty doctors are for urgent patients and rape victims were not urgent."

Asked to Re-Enact the Crime

The worst offense, she says, occurred two months later, when the Kanagawa police asked her to return to the station to help investigators take re-enactment photographs. The photographer asked her to assume the various positions that the rape entailed. Incapable of doing so, Jane gave instructions to male and female officers so the photos could be taken.

"I was forced to become the director of my own rape," Jane says. "Re-enactment photographs must be banned. No human being should have to go through that. The police treated me without compassion or dignity."

Michael O'Connell, commissioner for Victim's Rights Australia, a government advocacy group, calls it one of the worst cases of police re-victimization that he has ever encountered.
"On hearing about Jane's plight, I was appalled that a victim of sexual assault would be treated with so little respect and dignity," he said in an e-mail to Women's eNews. "Internationally, the most progressive police know that their responsibilities to victims include protecting the victim, collecting and preserving evidence, and supporting the victim."

A report in late October by the United Nations Human Rights Committee found Japanese police practices in rape cases insufficient under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It also found a shortage of doctors and nurses in Japan trained to handle sexual violence and raised concern about weak-to-nonexistent punishment of sexual violence.

Call for Rape Crisis Centers

"Japan urgently needs to develop a national network of rape crisis centers and hotlines, linking different professionals to support sexual assault victims," Dr. Hisako Motoyama, executive director of Asia-Japan Women's Resource Center in Tokyo, said in a recent interview. "We definitely need to reform our out-of-date criminal justice system, including review of the penal code, systemic training of judges and prosecutors, and enforceable guidelines."

Rape is widely regarded as one of the most shameful experiences in Japan, said Dr. Hisako Watanabe, a child psychiatrist and assistant professor at Keio University in Tokyo who has treated rape victims, including small children, for 35 years. Many victims, she said, suffer the aftermath on their own, without proper medical and mental care or any chances of suing the perpetrator.

In 2006, Japan's Gender Equality Bureau released a study finding that of 1,578 female respondents around 7 percent said they had been raped, at least once. Of those, only about 5 percent--6 out of 114--reported the crime to the police. Of those who remained silent, nearly 40 percent said they were "embarrassed."

"The public assumption in Japan continues to be that rape does not exist; therefore there isn't any need for 24-hour rape crisis centers or support groups," Watanabe said. "Rape is still considered rare and, even when it happens, the victim could be suspected of having enticed the perpetrator into the act. Such an attitude by people around the victim could be more detrimental than the trauma of rape itself."

Catherine Makino is currently the Japan foreign correspondent for Inter Press Service and is president of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan. She has worked for numerous other major publications and broadcasters.