Vol. 3, No. 7 (August 23, 2007)
The opinions and materials contained herein do not necessarily represent the views or policies of the Government of Japan.

 

Earthquake in Niigata:
U.S. Aid and Safety of Nuclear Power Plant

-by Shiori Okazaki
(Embassy of Japan)

Damages from the earthquake in Niigata
(Photo by M. Yoshimine, Tokyo Metropolitan University)

 

On July 16, a large-scale earthquake hit Niigata, on the west coast of Japan. The earthquake of magnitude 6.8 killed 11 people and injured close to 2,000 (according to Niigata Prefecture reports as of August 9), but foreign governments and individuals both in Japan and around the world quickly offered assistance to those affected.

On July 17, the U.S. Government conveyed to the Government of Japan its heartfelt sympathy to the victims and offered $100,000 in disaster relief. The following day, J. Thomas Schieffer, U.S. Ambassador to Japan, and Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, Commander of U.S. Forces in Japan, flew to Niigata to deliver 100 air conditioners and 10,000 pounds of water for the earthquake victims, as part of the promised aid. They met with Yuriko Koike, Japan's Minister of Defense, Hirohiko Izumida, Governor of Niigata, and Akira Shinoda, the Mayor of Niigata City, whereupon Ambassador Schieffer expressed his joy in being able to repay Japan's assistance to the U.S. following Hurricane Katrina. The Government of Japan expressed its heartfelt appreciation to the United States for its warm support.

Besides medical and housing care for the victims, another major source of concern was that the earthquake caused a small radiation leak and other problems at the neighboring Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant. But the amount of radioactive materials released was too low to endanger humans or the environment. Since then, the plant has been temporarily shut down while analysis and repairs are made. Safety officials from both the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan and the International Atomic Energy Agency have examined the plant. The Niigata region remains safe and open to tourism.

For more information on the safety of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant, please see: http://www.mofa.go.jp/announce/announce/2007/7/1174609_830.html
http://www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/News/2007/kashiwazaki-kariwa_report.html

 

 

The Emerging Leaders Network Program

-by Peter Ogden
Senior Analyst,
Center for American Progress

 

Participants (L-R) Scott Snyder (Asia Foundation), Peter Ogden (Center for American Progress), Minxin Pei (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), Andrew Oros (Washington College) and Randy Schriver (Armitage International), with coordinator Koji Murata (Doshisha University) at the Cabinet of the Prime Minister
(Photo courtesy of the Japan Foundation)

 

In the spring of 2007, Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership jointly launched the Emerging Leaders Network Program. The centerpiece of this program is a week-long trip to Japan, during which a small group of Americans are given a unique opportunity to discuss a range of issues with distinguished Japanese politicians, policymakers, academics, business leaders, and journalists, as well as to experience firsthand Japan's ancient and modern culture.

The inaugural trip to Japan took place in the first week of April. I was privileged to be a part of a five-person American delegation that included Dr. Andrew Oros of Washington College, Dr. Minxin Pei of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Mr. Randy Schriver of Armitage International, and Mr. Scott Snyder of the Asia Foundation and CSIS Pacific Forum.

In the course of our trip, we met with high-level officials in the Office of the Prime Minister (Ms. Yuriko Koike and Mr. Hiroshige Seko), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the National Institute of Defense Studies, and others. We also had occasion to talk to Japanese business leaders, academics, and members of the media.

Needless to say, our delegation was greatly appreciative of these opportunities. As Randy Schriver noted, "We were honored to be received by so many senior officials and influential citizens. It is a testament to how much the Japanese government values the relationship with the United States, and how much enthusiasm exists for deepening a dialogue with American scholars and policy experts."

Each of our meetings was refreshingly forthright, substantive, and productive. Scott Snyder noted that these meetings provided the American delegation with "a much deeper understanding of how Japan's domestic political environment is influencing foreign policy as well as how changing external factors are causing Japan to strengthen its capacity to provide for Japan's security." Some of the other themes of our discussions were U.S. force realignment in Japan, the implications of potential revisions to Japan's constitution, the future of the Six-Party Talks, economic and trade concerns, the regional and global implications of China's rise, and the energy security threats facing both of our countries. We also discussed timely issues such as Japan's impending decision about whether to create its own National Security Council and Prime Minister Abe's then-forthcoming visit to Washington DC.

A second important aspect of our stay was experiencing Japanese culture and gaining a fuller appreciation of its history and contemporary significance. We were provided with the opportunity to tour Roppongi Hills and to attend a performance at the Kabuki-za Theater, as well as enjoy a memorable teppanyaki meal. We also had the privilege of hearing Mr. Kazuo Ogoura, President of the Japan Foundation, discuss the subject of cultural diplomacy, and, of course, we learned from a number of people about the cultural significance of Daisuke Matsuzaka's "gyroball."

Our trip culminated in a day-long workshop hosted by the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership. In the morning session, we discussed issues surrounding the history and future of U.S.-Japan relations with an impressive array of Japanese academics, including Dr. Yoshihide Soeya, Dr. Seiichiro Takagi, Dr. Koji Murata, and Dr. Toshihiro Nakayama. In the afternoon, our delegation shared some of what we had learned in the course of the week, by speaking at a public event on a range of regional issues that are of mutual concern to U.S. and Japan.

The members of our delegation are eager to remain engaged in the Emerging Leaders Network as it evolves in the coming years, for its mission is an important one. As Randy Schriver observed, "To be successful, alliances require investment of time, energy and attention--but above all, a foundation based on mutual understanding must exist. The Emerging Leaders program will be an invaluable forum for expanding the pool of Americans with a deeper understanding of Japan, which will thus ultimately lead to a stronger alliance."

For more information, please see (in Japanese):
http://www.jpf.go.jp/cgp/exchange/event/070401.html

 

 

Kabuki in Washington

-By John R. Malott
President,
Japan-America Society of Washington DC

 

Last month, Washingtonians had the rare opportunity to see Kabuki, a traditional Japanese form of theatre with 400 years of history, performed by the prestigious Heisei Nakamura-za Kabuki troupe. On July 24, two days before the performance, Ambassador Ryozo Kato and Mrs. Kato hosted a reception at their Residence welcoming the main actors of the troupe that were visiting from Tokyo, including Kanzaburo, Hashinosuke and Senjaku.

Before coming to Washington, Nakamura-za had performed in New York as well, following the success of their Boston-NY-DC tour in 2004. Photos from their New York performance three years ago, taken by photographer Michel Delsol, are currently on display at JICC.

The Japan-America Society of Washington DC coordinated and sponsored the Kabuki performance. The following is an article by the President of the Society, Ambassador John Malott:

It was a real summer treat for the Nation's Capital when one of Japan's greatest actors, Nakamura Kanzaburo XVIII, and the Heisei Nakamura-za Kabuki troupe performed at the Warner Theatre on July 26. A very appreciative Washington audience gave the actors from Tokyo two standing ovations.

The performances were dazzling. Heisei Nakamura-za performed one of Kabuki's greatest works, Kanjincho, which tells the story of the legendary Benkei and his master, Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune. Nakamura Hashinosuke thrilled the audience as Benkei. It was special for Hashinosuke, too--it was the first time he performed this classic role, which he called "the role that all Kabuki actors aspire to perform," before a major audience.

After the intermission, Washington rollicked at the humorous Migawari Zazen, a comedy about a two-timing husband and his fearsome wife. Kanzaburo's great talent and physical, expressive humor--which I believe rival Charlie Chaplin's--were on full display. Kanzaburo's occasional use of English added to the fun.

The performances were sponsored by the Japan-America Society of Washington DC in celebration of its 50th anniversary, with great support from Ambassador Kato and the Embassy of Japan. Under the direction of Ms. Reiko Hirai, the Society took on the role of producer, making all arrangements for the performances in Washington, from shipping and hotels, to ticket sales and advertising, to renting the theatre and finding Japanese bento meals for the actors and stage crew. Rex Butler of the University of Maryland, the Society's favorite "Japanese daiku-san" (carpenter), built the hanamichi, and the special resonant Kabuki stage, the shosadai, came all the way from Los Angeles. At the theatre, the Society's bilingual volunteers served as cultural go-betweens for the American and Japanese crews.

As a Society, we saw the Kabuki troupe's visit to Washington not simply as a performance, but also as an educational opportunity. We created a special website that provided extensive information about Kabuki and the plays in both English and Japanese. The Kennedy Center plans to replicate this idea of a special educational website as it prepares for its month-long Japan Festival next February.

The Smithsonian Associates and the Japan Information and Culture Center both hosted major lectures on Kabuki by Professor Miyuki Yoshikami of the University of Maryland. Both lectures were well-attended and focused on the two plays, Kanjincho and Migawari Zazen.

We also had a chance to look for an answer to this question: American youth today love Japanese anime and manga, but how can we pull them more deeply into Japan and help them understand anime's cultural and social roots?

Few young Americans know about Kabuki, let alone have a chance to see this great traditional performing art. So Heisei Nakamura-za's visit was an opportunity to introduce Kabuki to a new generation.

We did that first at the Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival in April, when we encouraged Target, one of the Festival's sponsors, to feature Kabuki in its pavilion. Hundreds of young visitors (and their parents) colored their own Kabuki masks and then wore them around the Festival grounds.

Then on July 25, the day before the Kabuki performance at the Warner Theatre, the Embassy of Japan, with support from the Japan Commerce Association of Washington, invited 170 high school students and their teachers to watch the dress rehearsal. Ambassador and Mrs. Kato joined them, and both Kanzaburo and Hashinosuke came out to meet with the students and answer their questions.

I am certain that the Warner Theatre audience, for both the dress rehearsal and the actual performances, will never forget the Kabuki they saw in Washington. For all of us, too, bringing Heisei Nakamura-za to an American audience was an experience we will remember our whole lives.

 

 

The Dutch "Chiune Sugihara"*

-By Kyoji Komachi**
Former Ambassador of Japan to the Netherlands
(Translated by Masae Uyeda)

 

Jewish refugees from Poland outside the gates of the Japanese Consular Office, Kaunas, Lithuania, July 1940 (Photo by Setsuko Kikuchi; Courtesy of The Simon Wiesenthal Center Library & Archives)

 

In mid-April, I received an e-mail from a friend in Washington D.C. It recounted that April 15 was "Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah V'Hagvurah)" and that a ceremony was held near Washington, DC on April 17, at which Benjamin Fishoff, an 84-year old businessman from New York, made a commemorative speech. Mr. Fishoff is one of the Jewish Holocaust survivors who obtained a Japanese transit visa in 1940 issued by Consul Chiune Sugihara of the Japanese Consulate in Lithuania. Survivors who attended the ceremony universally praised Consul Sugihara's courage, calling the Japanese transit visas issued by him "Visas for Life." At the same time, along with the story of the Japanese consul, many people spoke about a Dutch diplomat who extended a helping hand to Jewish refugees in every possible way. When my friend informed me of this story, I felt the need to seek the reasons why the Dutch diplomat became involved in these events.

The Dutch diplomat, Jan Zwartendijk, was posthumously awarded the Yad Vashem medal for "Righteous Among the Nations" by the Israeli government in 1997, 21 years after his death. This is the best-known award established in relation to the Holocaust. Chiune Sugihara received this award in 1985 while he was still alive. Mr. Zwartendijk was originally a businessman who worked for the Philips Company before the war. In 1939, he became Philips's director of radio assembly plants in Lithuania. However, after Germany's occupation of the Netherlands in June 1940, the assembly plants were no longer able to obtain component parts from their home country and their operations were forced to shut down. Mr. Zwartendijk held the concurrent post as the honorary Dutch consul in Kaunas, the capital city of Lithuania at that time, because he had been selected to replace the former honorary consul, a Nazi sympathizer, who was relieved of his post in May 1940. Mr. Zwartendijk was awarded the Yad Vashem medal for the part he played in the rescue of about 2,100 Jewish families, in total of approximately 6,000 persons, who were trying to escape from the Soviet Union via Siberia. He had issued the necessary documents with the permission of L.P.J. De Decker, the Dutch ambassador stationed in Riga, the capital of Latvia, who also had jurisdiction over the neighboring country of Lithuania. During the fall and winter of 1939, Lithuania was a place where many Polish Jews, persecuted by the Nazis, gathered to seek help. This was the same time when Anne Frank and her family applied for entrance visas to the United States from Amsterdam, but learned that there was a waiting list of about 300,000 persons seeking such visas. Many of the Jewish refugees who escaped to Lithuania wished to eventually emigrate to either the United States or Palestine, where the establishment of a Jewish state was in progress.

However, nothing turned out the way they had hoped. On June 15, 1940, the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania in accordance with Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, of which the general public at that time had no advance knowledge. On August 4, Lithuania was forced to become one of the Soviet republics. The Soviet secret police (NKVD) pressed the Jewish refugees who had escaped from Poland to obtain Soviet citizenship. However, many Jewish refugees refused, because they were afraid of ending their hopes of returning home. The secret police then threatened to exile them to Siberia as "unreliable elements." Moreover, the Germans had occupied the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France around the same time. This meant there would be no early end to the war in the Western Europe. Soviet authorities finally ordered all foreign diplomatic consulates in Lithuania to close by August 25, 1940. It would be the fate of all Jewish refugees to be trapped in Soviet-controlled Lithuania unless they obtained Soviet exit visas. Many refugees hoped to eventually go to the United States or to British-controlled Palestine. However both countries placed strict restrictions on immigration. As recently revealed, Anne Frank's family was unable to obtain permission to immigrate to the United States and also was unsuccessful in seeking refuge in Cuba. This resulted in them choosing to live in hiding in the Netherlands. With the escape route from Lithuania to Western Europe shut down, another escape route was sought, by crossing Siberia to Japan and, from there, across the Pacific to somewhere in the Americas. The Dutch became the refugees' savior, providing this route thanks to their colonial possessions in the Caribbean and the South Atlantic, at places like Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles. The idea of escaping from the Soviet Union by issuing visas for entrance to Curacao in the Dutch West-Indies emerged. According to Dutch media reports, the person who came up with this idea first was Nathan Gutwirth, a Dutch Jewish student. He asked Consul Zwartendijk to issue visas to go to Dutch Curacao.

Dutch Ambassador De Decker received Honorary Consul Zwartendijk's request, and authorized him to issue permits declaring that an "entrance visa" is not required for the admission of Jewish refugees to the above-stated Dutch colonial islands. Consul Zwartendijk decided to intentionally not mention in the permits that the actual decision to admit such refugees was the prerogative of the colonial governors and P.A. Kasteel, the Governor in Curacao, had exclusive authority to do so. It is said that Consul Zwartendijk never actively talked about the details of his courageous decision to flout the legal accuracy of the permits after the war, saying he acted just out of his respect for human dignity. His brave decision made it possible to establish a route to the Dutch territories around South America through Siberia and Japan. It would work as long as Japanese transit visas, which were required by Soviet authorities, were obtained. However, the route was established strictly as an excuse to leave the Soviet Union. Word spread among the Jewish refugees that Gutwirth managed to obtain the first entrance permit to Curacao, and people rushed to the Dutch consulate in Kaunas asking for the same permits.

It goes without saying that Consul Sugihara responded. However, the problems did not end there for the Jewish refugees. Overcoming numerous hardships, the Jewish refugees who obtained both Japanese transit visas and purported entrance visas to Dutch Curacao finally arrived at Kobe, Japan via Vladivostok in December 1940. Now, they had to find a country in which they could actually settle, instead of Dutch Curacao. They visited the consulates of the U.S. and other countries in a desperate effort to obtain visas, but the results were not successful. As mentioned previously, many Jewish people, including Anne Frank's family, applied for U.S. visas, but the visas were not always successful. The refugees relied heavily on support from the Jewish community of Kobe, where the Dutch consul also actively helped them. Dutch consul N.A.J. de Voogd also issued documents, just like Consul Zwartendijk in Lithuania, declaring that an entrance visa was not required for 200 Jewish refugees--who arrived at Tsuruga Port in Fukui, Japan without proper visas--to enter the Dutch West-Indies. These documents helped convince the Japanese authorities to allow these refugees to stay temporarily in Kobe. The Polish Ambassador in Tokyo also made a great effort to obtain visas for the refugees to enter places such as British territories.

As a result of the efforts of these diplomats, about 500 Jewish refugees were able to leave for the United States by the summer of 1941. Some managed to get visas for current or former British territories, such as Canada. The rest of the 1,000 refugees were sent to Shanghai, China from Kobe at the end of October 1941 and they greeted the end of the war there. This dramatic story ends happily here. The tremendous role played by the honorary Dutch consul in these events, who was known as "Mr. Philips Radio" and named as the "Angel of Curacao" by Jewish refugees at that time, should be of particular note.

It is believed that Chiune Sugihara and Jan Zwartendijk never met each other in person and that the telephone was the only means of contact between them. According to the homepage of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Mr. Zwartendijk said after the war, "he (Consul Sugihara) requested several times by telephone not to issue the visas so fast. He could not keep up with the speed that the Dutch visas were being processed, and the street (in front of his office) was full of waiting people." However, as people familiar with the situation said, Consul Sugihara made a desperate effort, catching up in the end with the Dutch consul issuing the documents.

For more information about Chiune Sugihara, please see:
http://www.chiunesugihara100.com/

*Translator's Note: Chiune Sughihara is also known to many non-Japanese persons as Sempo Sugihara.

**Kyoji Komachi is a former Ambassador of Japan to the Kingdom of the Netherlands. He has also served as the Deputy Vice-Minister and the Director-General of the European Affairs Bureau at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo. His past posts also include tours at the Embassies of Japan in the U.S. and the Russian Federation, as well as the Consul-General of Japan in London.

 

 

Cross-Cultural Anime:
Tekkonkinkreet

-By Val Penascino
(Embassy of Japan)

A screenshot from Tekkonkinkreet, with Shiro (left) and Kuro (right)

On June 28, the Japan Information and Culture Center hosted the Washington DC premier of a new animated film from Japan, Tekkonkinkreet. The movie played to a packed house and featured a discussion and question-and-answer session with the director, Michael Arias, and writer, Anthony Weintraub, following the film.

Although the film is created completely in Japan and based on a Japanese comic book by Taiyou Matsumoto, the director and writer of the film are both Americans. Director Michael Arias has lived in Japan for the past 13 years and has a family there. He has been a part of the anime production community in Japan for quite some time and was able to enlist the help of the members of many prominent studios to bring Tekkonkinkreet to life. Although working in Japan would seem daunting, Mr. Arias's fluency in Japanese coupled with his knowledge of the anime industry made it a much easier task.

Writer Anthony Weintraub is an old college friend of Mr. Arias's. Mr. Weintraub was shown the manga version of Tekkonkinkreet by Mr. Arias a number of years ago. He immediately became a fan of Taiyou Matsumoto's work. The two friends discussed the possibility of turning Tekkonkinkreet into a movie. Mr. Weintraub's limited Japanese ability was a hindrance, but he was able to locate the French and English translations of the manga and worked from those to create an English script. This script was then translated back into Japanese and used for the making of the film.

Released in 2006 in Japan, Tekkonkinkreet was also released in the U.S. last month, on a small number of screens in New York and Los Angeles. According to the director, the movie was not made with American audiences in mind. He does not see his movie as an outsider's desire to break into the anime industry. Mr. Arias describes the anime community in Japan as very tight-knit, and he considers himself to be just another member who happened to make this film.

Tekkonkinkreet focuses on the lives of two young orphans, Shiro and Kuro. The boys live in an abandoned car and are notorious with the police, Yakuza and rival gangs for their fierce efforts to defend their hometown, Takara-machi, from those they fear will hurt it. A mysterious outsider comes to town with ambitious plans to tear it down and build an amusement park. He sees the boys as a nuisance and enlists the help of some superhuman assassins. The boys soon find themselves in a battle where they need to fight not only for their lives, but also for their friendship.

The film is an excellent adaptation of a wonderful comic book. The artwork and visual design of the film are superb. Tekkonkinkreet is not a film to be missed. I hope that if another opportunity to see the film arises, you will not pass it up.

For more information, please see the official websites of the film:
http://www.sonypictures.com/homevideo/tekkonkinkreet/ (U.S.)
http://www.tekkon.net/ (Japan)

To subscribe to Japan Now, the Embassy's e-newsletter,
please click here to fill out our online form.