Vol. 5, No. 15 (November 10, 2009)
The opinions and materials contained herein do not necessarily represent the views or policies of the Government of Japan.

 

In this issue

1. His Majesty the Emperor of Japan Celebrates 20 Years on the Throne

2. 10 Days Left! Discover the Art of Japan's Industrial Revolution

3. Kirei-sabi: Beauty and Grace in the Enshu School of Tea

4. 2010 JET Application Deadline November 24th

 

 

 

His Majesty the Emperor of Japan Celebrates 20 Years on the Throne

(photo) The Emperor and Empress of Japan
Their Imperial Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan (© Imperial Household Agency of Japan)

-Embassy of Japan

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the ascension to the throne of His Majesty the Emperor of Japan. It follows on the heels of the 50th wedding anniversary of Their Majesties, celebrated in the spring.

In honor of these two joyous occasions, celebrations and special exhibits are taking place throughout the country. Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress have been deeply loved by the people these 20 years, not just in Japan, but around the world. In the spirit of this love and respect, the website of the Imperial Household Agency provides information to the public about The Imperial Family. In addition, in light of the anniversary, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is also pleased to provide more information about the activities of the Emperor and Empress. So, please go online to learn more.

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10 Days Left!
Discover the Art of Japan's Industrial Revolution

(photo) Print detail
Detail of sugoroku game, on display at the JICC through November 20th.

-Melissa Chasse
Embassy of Japan

Perhaps you heard about the JICC's current exhibit, The Art of Transformation: Illuminating Japan's Industrial Revolution with Nishiki-e Prints, on National Public Radio, or noticed it was mentioned as a top pick in the Washington Post Express' Fall Arts Guide. Running through November 20th, The Art of Transformation explores Japan's industrial foundations, laid at the turn of the 20th century, while shedding light on the historical and cultural context that allowed the once isolated, feudal society to skyrocket to the forefront of economic independence and modernization.

Featuring over fifty color woodblock reprints from the Shibusawa Memorial Foundation, the exhibit celebrates the centennial anniversary of the first large-scale business mission to the United States, led by Baron Eiichi Shibusawa in 1909. Each of the prints, on loan from the Japan Foundation in Toronto, captures the dynamic encounter of cultures that began when Commodore Perry's Black Ships anchored in Tokyo Bay in 1853, ending Japan's centuries of seclusion. The culture clash that ensued became a catalyst for change, propelling Japan along a course of rapid modernization still unrivaled today. This collection of vibrant, full-color prints creates a vivid impression of the nation's rebirth, revealing the foundations of Japan's modern infrastructure, manufacturing, and urbanization while describing the industrial revolution's impact on the everyday lives of the Japanese people.

Often mass-produced and distributed for the purpose of promoting, encouraging and advertising the Japanese government's goal of modernization, many of the nishiki-e on display feature a backdrop of prosperous, modern cities. In these visions of a new Japan, rows of imposing, geometric structures constructed of stone, brick, and concrete - the building blocks of a modern city - line up where traditional wooden facades once stood. Newly paved roads ushering people, goods and information all over the country are crowded with riders on horseback, horse-drawn carriages, steam-powered predecessors of the modern automobile and human-powered rickshaws. Trains chug along carefully laid lines of never-ending tracks while masses of people drawn to these bustling metropolises go about their daily lives, dressed in an assortment of traditional and western attire.

The differences between the neon-lit mega-cities of contemporary Japan and this earlier version are easily apparent, but it's the similarities - those seemingly constant threads that run through the fabric of Japanese society - that surprise. Views of Tokyo's famously posh Ginza district suggest that the broad avenues bordered by grand, western buildings have always been full of consumers eager to do business. Tokyo's Pride: Prosperity of Suiten-gu Shrine on Ningyo-cho Street proves that the fabled landmark has lost little in the way of popularity over the past century.

Many of the prints offer a humorous take on the battle between old and new that seemed to characterize the tremendous changes sweeping the archipelago. In Ascending and Descending Mt. Fuji (Kuniteru, 1865), each mountain climber represents a product and its price as going up or down. Tackling the sacred slopes of Japan's highest and most revered mountain was once considered a pilgrimage, an act of devotion to the spirits inhabiting the mountain. These caricatures of the Matsukata Deflation (1881-86) show the chaotic rise and fall in the cost of commodities. On the ascent, products like beans, bamboo and oil struggle against the difficult terrain as a new-fangled hot air balloon drifts effortless towards the summit. Some climbers slip or tumble head-first down the mountain side, while others hold their noses and laugh as a fellow pilgrim loses his lunch.

In Competition between Western and Eastern/Foreign and Domestic Amusements, the changing face of society is characterized as a comedic battle between traditional goods and services and their imported counterparts. Taking center stage, a Sumo-wrestling yokozuna sends a champion boxer soaring through the air, while in the foreground a stack of woodblock prints dressed in samurai armor battles a framed photograph wearing a dapper western suit.

A Samurai Trying to Do Business captures the ironic humor of the cultural sea change as samurai, who once refused to defile themselves with money and the work of the merchant class find themselves thrust into the world of commerce. If the humor of a well-mustachioed samurai working the books of a local snack shop is lost on most viewers, the graphic beauty of the Japanese calligraphy announcing the goods for sale is not.

Japan's industrial revolution progressed at an unimaginable pace, but in order to take its place among the world's modern industrial countries, strong international relations were indispensable. Baron Eiichi Shibusawa, known as the father of Japanese capitalism, understood this long before many of his contemporaries. Photographs and articles documenting the Japanese Commercial Commission's trip to the United States one hundred years ago are also on display. The mission made news around the U.S. as Baron Shibusawa and more than 50 of Japan's most prominent business leaders met with such influential Americans as President Taft, Thomas Edison, and James Hill, the Henry Ford of the railroad.

Today, the Shibusawa mission has become a powerful symbol of nongovernmental diplomacy and Japan and the U.S. remain key partners in the world economy. Their strong economic partnership has been essential to Japan's transformation into the world's second largest economy, an economy that the nishiki-e on display were already beginning to hint at one hundred years earlier.

The Art of Transformation: Illuminating Japan's Industrial Revolution with Nishiki-e Prints will be on display until November 20th. Don't miss it!

 

 

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Kirei-sabi: Beauty and Grace in the Enshu School of Tea

(photo) Grand Master Soujitsu Kobori, Ambassador and Mrs. Fujisaki
Grand Master Soujitsu Kobori serves tea to Ambassador and Mrs. Fujisaki in the Yuyuan Tea Room at the Ambassador's Residence.

-Matthew Cantele
Embassy of Japan

"Sen-ri-dou-fu" read the calligraphy composed by Grand Master Soujitsu Kobori for the evening tea ceremony. The 13th master of the Enshu School of Tea explained that this four character compound conveys the meaning that although we may be separated by a long distance, we feel the same wind. Master Kobori then went on to elaborate on the significance of this theme, explaining how despite the physical or cultural barriers between us, we are united as common members of humanity. This was just one example of many sage lessons imparted on those fortunate enough to attend an October 26th tea demonstration by the Grand Master and a particularly appropriate theme for the Japan Information & Culture Center (JICC), Embassy of Japan.

The essence of the Enshu School of Tea is said to be kirei-sabi which is a concept coined by the founder of the school, Enshu Kobori. While many of our readers may be familiar with the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, kirei-sabi places more of an emphasis on grace and beauty over the rustic spirituality traditionally associated with wabi. Even in the provisional tea room of the JICC auditorium, this concentration on the aesthetic aspects of the tea ceremony was apparent as Master Kobori worked atop a 4.5 tatami mat platform with hanging scroll and tea flowers in the background.

As with the hanging scroll, every object present during the tea ceremony has a purpose and the tea flowers, or chabana, are no exception. As the 13th Grand Master explained, flowers are the only living things in the tea room and this natural beauty is one of the highlights of the ceremony. Because the flower is impermanent and will soon fade, every ceremony is a unique, once in a lifetime experience. This concept is known as "ichi-go-ichi-e" and is closely associated with the tea ceremony and particularly the most influential figure of the Japanese way of tea, Sen no Rikyu.

Sen no Rikyu is credited with perfecting the modern Japanese tea ceremony in the 16th century and establishing these four perennial principles: wa, harmony between those at the tea ceremony and their surroundings; kei, mutual respect among the hosts and guests; sei, a pure mind and spirit; and jaku, tranquility or calmness achieved through adherence to these principles. After his death, Sen no Rikyu was succeeded by one of his favorite pupils, Furuta Oribe, who in turn later gave instruction to the founder of the Enshu line, Kobori Enshu.

In addition to further refining the art of tea, Kobori Enshu was an adept administrator, architect, poet, and calligrapher. Because of his many talents, this renowned polymath has often been referred to as the Leonardo da Vinci of Japan. It was thus a great honor for the JICC to host the 13th master of the Kobori Enshu lineage and it was a special night indeed for several fortunate guests.

The first 25 people to queue for the event received VIP treatment and were escorted to their seats prior to general admission. Following the presentation, these lucky individuals were served tea from the same matcha (ground tea leaves) used earlier in the day to serve Ambassador Fujisaki during a private ceremony at his residence. Those unfamiliar with the tea ceremony were likely surprised upon receiving a warm chawan filled with the thick frothy matcha green tea. This particular form of tea is quite different from the green tea sold in stores throughout the US and is a rare treat even in Japan.

Green tea is typically made from tea leaves steeped in hot water and produces a mild flavored light tea. Matcha, on the other hand, is made from tea leaves that are ground up and whisked into hot water. This results in a stronger tea with a consistency closer to that of a cappuccino. The differences between matcha and regular green tea do not however stop there; it has also been shown that due to the ingestion of the tea leaves, matcha green tea has a much higher nutritional and antioxidant value than regular green tea. It is no wonder then that the health benefits of green tea were being extolled as far back as 1211 in How to Stay Healthy by Drinking Tea by the Zen Monk Eisai.

While it was certainly a privilege to witness the ritual serving of matcha as performed by Master Kobori, you need not be in the company of a tea master to enjoy the pleasures of green tea. In Japan, green tea is casually served at the workplace, to friends and family, and as a drink following a hearty meal. And even without the ritual of the tea ceremony, taking time out of our hectic schedules to savor a cup of green tea can provide an invaluable opportunity for reflection and therapeutic contemplation. So whether you are located in DC or Tokyo, in the spirit of sen-ri-dou-fu , we invite you to hold your own "tea ceremony" and enjoy the many benefits of this wonderful tradition.

 

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2010 JET Application Deadline November 24th

 

JET Program logo
 

-Embassy of Japan

Are you planning on, or in the process of, applying to the 2010 Japan Exchange and Teaching Program? Don't forget - the application deadline is November 24th. That's just around the corner! Remember, this is the date by which your application must be received, regardless of any postmark date. For further information, please check the JET Program's United States homepage.

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