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.