January 31, 2006 Vol. 2, No. 2

Prime Minister Koizumi Delivers General Policy Speech to Diet; Declares Determination to Bring Reform to Culmination


(L-R) Amb. J. Thomas Schieffer,
Sadaharu Oh, Hank Aaron, Amb. Ryozo Kato

Homerun Legends from Japan and the U.S. Celebrate Baseball Exchange


-By Shiori Okazaki
(Embassy of Japan)

Sadaharu Oh and Hank Aaron, both homerun champions and baseball legends in Japan and in the U.S., have never played against each other. But many had the opportunity to see them together on January 17. On this day, the Embassy of Japan hosted a reception to honor a long history of baseball exchange between Japan and the U.S., and to celebrate the first-ever World Baseball Classic (the Asia preliminary rounds will begin in Tokyo on March 3). Ambassador Ryozo Kato welcomed the two superstars to his residence, inviting sports figures, authors, government officials and business leaders to witness this historical event.

153 key figures of the private and public sectors attended the event, including 41 members of the media. Prominent attendees included the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, J. Thomas Schieffer, as well as President and Chief Operating Officer of Major League Baseball, Robert DuPuy. Ambassador Schieffer had come from Tokyo to attend this ceremony.

Many of the guests brought baseballs in hopes of having them signed by Aaron and Oh. They went home with hats and shirts representing the Japan team of the World Baseball Classic, as well as hats for the Softbank Hawks, the Japanese team that Oh now manages.

Hank Aaron, who came in from Atlanta for this event, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. With 755 hits, Aaron set the Major League Baseball record for the most homeruns in a career, surpassing the 714 record by Babe Ruth.

Sadaharu Oh is a leader in all of recorded pro-baseball, with 868 career homeruns. He was inducted into Japan's Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994. Besides the Softbank Hawks, Oh has also managed the Yomiuri Giants. Oh will also manage Japan's team in the World Baseball Classic.

The World Baseball Classic will run from March 3 to March 20 this year. Because the Summer Olympic games conflict with the schedule of Major League Baseball, this will be the first international baseball tournament that features major league players. Besides Tokyo, games will be held in Phoenix, Ariz.; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Orlando, Fla.; Anaheim, Calif. and San Diego, Calif. Exhibition games will be held in various cities in Florida and Arizona. Besides Japan and the U.S., 14 other teams will be participating in the World Baseball Classic: Australia, Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Italy, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, Panama, Puerto Rico, South Africa and Venezuela.

Links:

Major League Baseball: http://mlb.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/index.jsp
World Baseball Classic: http://mlb.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/mlb/wbc/index.jsp
Softbank Hawks (Japanese only): http://www.softbankhawks.co.jp/

Article by Mitsuru Kitano, Minister for Public Affairs at the Embassy of Japan, Published in The International Herald Tribune on January 13, 2006:


The house in Fukaya, designed by Kishi

Japanese Architecture Lecture Series Kicks Off with Waro Kishi


-By Shiori Okazaki
(Embassy of Japan)

On January 23, the Catholic University of America's School of Architecture and Planning, with support from the JICC, presented a lecture called "Recent Works: Traditional and Modern Architecture with Waro Kishi." This was the first lecture of a 5-part Japanese architecture series that Catholic University is hosting.

Kishi, who founded Waro Kishi + K. Associates/Architects in Kyoto in 1993, is the recipient of many awards, including the Kenneth F. Brown Asia Pacific Culture and Architecture Merit Award from the University of Hawaii in 1995 and The Japan Institute of Architects Award for the best young architect of the year in 1993.

Kishi has lectured at Kyushu and Kyoto Universities, M.I.T., and the University of California at Berkley, and currently lectures at Kyoto Institute of Technology. His experience in public speaking were apparent when he joked that, while he previously used to use interpreters when he lectured, "this time I decided to use my poor English because a friend told me that direct communication is important." He showed a Powerpoint presentation of some of his best works while explaining his design and the theories behind it.

One of the first works Kishi showed was a restaurant he designed in Kyoto, called Murasaki no Wakuden. "Its theme is contemporary and historical at the same time," he said. Since the restaurant is a lunchtime place, he designed the exterior of the restaurant to be built from the material of traditional Japanese lunchboxes. He used natural materials in other places, such as soil for the floor and walls, and wood or paper for the ceilings.

The restaurant is close to Daitokuji Temple, as well as to a large street with busy traffic. Wanting those in the restaurant to see the beautiful temple, but not the buses and taxis passing by, Kishi attached wood louvers to the windows. As a result, customers on the second floor see only the tall temple and greenery from the window, and not the traffic passing below.

Kishi also designed the antique gallery Kazurasei, in which he incorporated a Japanese garden. The specific type of garden he used was called tsuboniwa, which is only one tsubo (a traditional Japanese unit for area), or approximately 36 square feet. The tsuboniwa is in the middle of the house, like a courtyard. "It's small, but you see everything: stones, wood, light, water. It's a miniature of nature--a miniature of the world itself. The world is inside the house as a garden," Kishi said.

Another example is a house he designed in Fukaya, Saitama prefecture. His client requested that Kishi design the house in the style of another prominent architect, the American Pierre Koenig, who is known for his exposed steel and glass houses. To be in sync with the modern, suburban setting near Tokyo, Kishi made a warehouse-like design of opaque glass. While one wall is open into space, the opposite wall, which should be the darkest part inside the house, has a skylight. With light coming in from both sides, "it looks like the roof is floating," Kishi said. He also used the material of glass so that those inside can "feel the suburbs even inside the house." On the other hand, looking from the outside in, "at night the glass becomes bright, so you feel that someone is living here," Kishi said.

Just this past December, Kishi completed the Laurel restaurant in Shanghai, China. His assignment was to make a water-and-ink drawing by a famous Chinese painter, Shi Tao, into reality. He created a skylight for the moon, and acrylic edge lights to signify stars. He made the ceiling to symbolize heaven, the ground as earth, and floating VIP room as the people in between.

While Kishi used still photographs for this presentation, he emphasized the importance of dynamic movements in architecture. "For me, architectural experience is the same as a movie--a sequence of different scenes. Turn this way, go that way, and the view changes," he said.

While Catholic University has partnered with other countries before to showcase their unique architectural culture, such as Finland, Switzerland and Austria, Japan is the first Asian country. Other lectures to be held in this Japanese architecture series will all be at Catholic University. They are:

  • "The Gendering and Re-Gendering of Japanese Domestic Space"
    February 13, 5:30pm, Koubek Auditorium (Edward M. Crough Center for Architectural Studies)
    Speaker: Jordan Sand, associate professor of East Asian languages and cultures at Georgetown University and the author of "House and Home in Modern Japan: Architecture, Domestic Space, and Bourgeois Culture, 1880-1930"
  • "Architecture from Boundary Space"
    March 27, 5:30pm, Koubek Auditorium
    Speaker: Hitoshi Abe, principal of Atelier Hitoshi Abe in Sendai, Japan
  • "Architecture of Intensity"
    April 3, 5:30pm, Koubek Auditorium
    Speaker: Satoshi Okada, who received the 2000 Best Architecture Award from Yamanashi Prefecture
  • "Imagined and Realized: From Recent Works"
    April 10, 5:30pm, Koubek Auditorium
    Speaker: Fumihiko Maki, 1993 Pritzker Architecture Prize recipient

Weddings are one occasion
when the Japanese exchange gifts

The Tradition of Gift-Giving in Japan


-By Go Tanahashi
(Embassy of Japan)

Among the many inquiries we receive at the JICC that pertain to Japanese culture, one particularly popular topic is how, when, and what to give as gifts. Since we receive many questions such as "What should I bring to my host family in Japan?" or "What should I give as a wedding gift to my Japanese friend?", I would like to briefly introduce the gift-giving culture in Japan.

One characteristic of gift-giving in Japan is that the exchange of cash is prevalent. There is a tradition called otoshidama on New Year's Day, when parents, grandparents and relatives give money to children. The amount depends on the household, but in general it increases as the child becomes older. According to some statistics, the reasonable amount should be 2,000 yen (=$18)* for preschoolers, 3,000 yen (=$26) for elementary school children, and 5,000 yen (=$44) for middle school children. If you have many young relatives, you would end up spending a lot. According to one research data, the average elementary school child earns a total of 25,000 yen (=$219) in one New Year's Day.

Two other big events that call for cash are weddings and funerals. There is a normal range for the amount of money for each occasion, such as 20,000 yen (=$175) or more when attending a wedding, and 3,000 yen (=$26) or more for obituary gifts and incense money when attending funerals. There is no maximum, so depending on your own wallet and your relationship with the recipient, the amount can keep increasing. There are other complications, such as the fact that each event and purpose calls for an exclusive envelope with a specific color and design. For those such as young inexperienced couples, manuals on "Good Manners for Ceremonial Functions" are a necessity.

Speaking of money, you may have heard that the custom of giving tip does not exist in Japan, but there are occasions when you may need to give one, such as to the coordinator of a wedding ceremony or to a Buddhist priest who recites the sutra at a funeral. A tip is also needed for the nakai, the room staff at a ryokan, or a traditional Japanese-style inn. In all cases, it is rude to give cash unwrapped, so it is advisable to prepare a small envelope, or at least wrap it in paper.

Another characteristic is the tradition of returning others' courtesies through money and gifts. When you receive cash as a condolence payment or as a congratulatory gift for marriages and births, you thank them by giving an item that is worth about half the amount of what you received. This is called hangaeshi. For returns on cash that is given for marriages, people often give paired wineglasses or Japanese dishes accompanied by sweets. Returns on condolence payments often consist of sweets and dishes as well. Returns on cash given for births are called uchiiwai, and are given to friends and acquaintances when there is a birth in your household.

In July and December, there is a custom called ochugen (for July) and oseibo (for December), when you give gifts to the people to whom you are indebted, such as parents, relatives, superiors at work, and business partners. It is said that this tradition originates from the gifts that relatives used to bring to the head family when they gathered together during the mid-summer Festival of the Dead or at the end of the year--now it is simplified so that only the gifts are sent, primarily through mail. Food articles that everyone can use, such as ham, dried seaweed, coffee, sweets, canned juice, beer, whisky, and seasoning sets, are always appreciated, and items that are meant to make grocery shopping less cumbersome, such as detergent and cooking oil, are popular as well. Recently "catalogue gifts" have also seen a surge in popularity: one sends a catalogue, and the recipient chooses what they want from the pages.

When traveling on a business trip or for vacation, it is customary to bring gifts back to your coworkers or superiors at work, such as sweets that are indigenous to your destination. This is meant to make personal relationships smoother at work. When visiting your business partner for year-end or new-year greetings or to request a major job, one frequently brings gifts such as Japanese sweets or cookies.

Gifts are often exchanged in Japan, but there does not yet exist a convenient and efficient system like the gift registry in the United States. Therefore, there are actually many gifts that go to waste. So often have people disliked and put away what they received for ochugen or oseibo, that an expression has been coined to describe such items: "drawer fertilizer." That is the reason the Japanese give practical items such as detergent--which may be unthinkable in the United States--rather than give items such as dishes, slippers or towels that may become a "drawer fertilizer."

There are other customs such as exchanging postcards on New Year's Day or during the summer to wish each other well, and celebrating longevity at certain ages such as 60 (kanreki), 77 (kiju), 80 (sanju), 88 (beiju), 90 (sotsuju), and 99 (hakuju). Each age calls for a different gift, such as something with a red color for kanreki. People also exchange gifts on western celebrations and holidays that have entered the Japanese culture, such as Valentine's Day, Halloween, and Christmas.

When there are this many do's, there are also don'ts. When visiting someone sick, you should never give a potted plant. Even among cut flowers, cyclamens and hydrangeas should be avoided, as well as chrysanthemums, which is the customary flower for funerals. Slippers should not be given to your superiors or those who are older than you, because they send the wrong message that you are stepping upon them. There are a number of gift items that are considered unlucky for different occasions, such as fragile and breakable porcelain or mirrors as wedding gifts, or ashtrays and lighters--which remind people of fire--as a gift to celebrate someone's newly constructed home. But what is most important is your care and consideration for the other person, so there have been people recently who do not heed these taboos. So if you would like to give a gift to a Japanese person, don't mind these customs and go ahead!

*According to the exchange rate of $1=114 yen, as of January 10, 2006.