Category Archives: Culture

The Aomori Nebuta Festival kicks off this weekend

One of Japan’s biggest summer festivals has kicked off in the northeastern city of Aomori.

The Aomori Nebuta Festival is known for its spectacular floats that parade through the city.

The floats, called “Nebuta”, carry huge illuminated paper lanterns shaped like legendary heroes and ancient warriors.

The parade started on Saturday night with 15 floats, each about 5 meters high and 10 meters wide. They were accompanied by dancers known as “Haneto” wearing matching traditional summer kimonos.

Prince Katsura, cousin of Emperor Akihito, dead at 66

Prince Katsura, a cousin of Emperor Akihito, died of acute heart failure at a Tokyo hospital at 10:55 a.m. Sunday, the Imperial Household Agency said. He was 66.

The prince was taken to the University of Tokyo Hospital in a critical condition earlier in the day, the agency said.
He has been in and out of hospital in recent years due to illnesses such as blood poisoning and possible infectious diseases since suffering an acute subdural hematoma, a condition in which blood gathers around or inside the brain, in 1988.

Japan Emperor’s New Years Message

Japan’s Emperor Akihito released his New Year’s message on Wednesday. He reveals deep concern for people affected by the 2011 disaster.

The Emperor cited those who cannot return home due to radioactive contamination. He also mentions evacuees spending the severe winter in temporary housing.

The Emperor says many Japanese have faced difficulties and hardships in 2013. He hopes people will help each other. He adds that Japanese should work with others around the world to pursue peace and a better future.

The Emperor and Empress plan to work on strengthening relations between Japan and other nations this year.

Vietnam’s head of state will visit Japan in March. Arrangements are being made for US President Barack Obama to come to Japan in April.

The Emperor and Empress and other Imperial family members will make a New Years appearance before well-wishers at the Imperial Palace on Thursday.

Read the rest of the story: Emperor expresses concern about disaster victims.

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visiting Yasukuni WW2 shrine

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is to visit a controversial shrine to World War Two dead, local media report.

The visit later in the day to Tokyo’s Yasukuni memorial comes one year after Mr Abe took office.

The move is likely to further inflame already tense relations with neighbouring China and South Korea.

The shrine honours several convicted Japanese war criminals. Beijing and Seoul see it as a symbol of Tokyo’s war-time aggression.

This will be the first visit to Yasukuni by a serving prime minister since 2006.

Read the rest of the story: Japan PM Abe to visit Yasukuni WW2 shrine.

Japan’s Emperor Akihito is 80

Japan’s Emperor Akihito, marking his 80th birthday Monday, expressed gratitude to people working hard on the country’s development.

Speaking at a press conference, the Emperor said he is “happy to spend every day with a sense of gratitude” to those who have been so far supporting Japan and are now working in various ways for the country’s improvement and development.

He said what strikes him most over the past 80 years is World War II. The tremendous loss of lives is “very painful,” he said, while expressing gratitude to those who worked hard for postwar reconstruction.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=JillY-4DJBA

Jane Austen was Japanese?

We all react differently to Jane Austen’s books: some of us love them, obsess, and some think she just wrote really unrealistic love stories. Japan, however, developed a unique relationship with the famous writer. Unlike her fellow countrymen’s ambivalence about her talents, Austen was welcomed during the early Meiji Restoration period. Early Japanese scholars and authors believed Austen depicted her works so accurately that she must had been highly regarded in her time. Unbeknownst to them was the fact that Austen was largely unrecognized as a writer during her life; it was not until 1817 that her works amassed a larger readership building the path for what would later be dubbed Austenmania.

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Japan was partially closed off under the Shogun rule until 1868 when it became open to Westerners again. Besides making its ports accessible, Japanese officials decided that the country needed to integrate Western ideas, customs, and business models. The campaign was meant to foster creativity and revive the country’s culture that had not contributed to the world ever since it exiled foreigners. Japan even expunged all foreign influence by relocating any Non-Japanese to Dejima, a 130-acre artificial island built in 1634 in Nagasaki. It sounds unlikely that Japanese during the Meiji restoration would even undertake translating or reading Austen’s works; after all, her focus centers on marriages, family dynamics, and social constrictions. How could the newly engaged Japan connect with these scenarios? The time frame between Jane Austen’s death in 1817 to Japan reopening its ports in 1868 is also another point that potentially could had stilted her fame from germinating as her works could had been lost, forgotten, or never been introduced to any eminent university in Japan.

Japanese students in Tokyo University were presented works by Flaubert and Zola and the social and existential ideas of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky that by the time Lafcadio Hearn, an early English literature professor at Tokyo University in 1896, gave lectures on Jane Austen’s “genius” Japanese students resisted him. They thought Austen works were outdated, trivial. Hearn also had his own reservations about introducing the Pride & Prejudice author to Japan, voicing: “I am not sure whether you [the Japanese] could like Austen or not. . . [T]he kind of life described, the suffering and the follies described, would probably seem very strange to most of you.” Hearn was obvious in signaling out that Japanese readers would not understand the nuances around marriages, proposals, and courtships because that was not the culture they followed. Austen’s descrition can muzzle any audience from understanding what is important because some relative background about the time period is needed to notice undertoned jokes. For example, in Emma, Jane Fairfax (the impoverished Miss Bates’s niece whom Emma dislikes) and her aunts arrive after the other guests have dined because they are impoverished gentry, but Emma can dine first as she is gentry. In other words, Emma is the cool lead in the lunch table and no one else can sit until she sits down. Not knowing the social customs, however, did not prevent Japanese readers from engaging with Austen’s wit.

Hearn campaigned for Jane Austen’s canonization in Japan, but it was Natsume Sōseki’s (夏目漱石) that established Japan’s love for her works. Sōseki had a tremendous impact on Japanese culture that he was honored by being printed on Japan’s currency until 2004. Sōseki considered Austen’s writing superior that of any “advanced writer,” declaring she captured reality’s undertone beauty. Sōseki fell for Austen’s writing because it mirrored his idea that nature (that is everyday life) must be presented to readers objectively rather than in florid banter and psychological runoffs. He nurtured Austen’s image in Japan and even based the literary ideal of 側転 きょうし (follow Heaven, forsake the self) on Austen’s novels.

Nogami Toyoichirō (野上 とよいちろう), under Sōseki’s tutelage, translated Pride & Prejudice (高慢と偏見) for a Japanese audience in 1926. Toyoichirō’s wife, who went under the pen name Yaeko Nagomi, proofread her husband’s translations because she read the original English version under Sōseki’s supervision and guidance. During the Meiji restoration, however, some Japanese worried that Western beliefs and customs were dominating their culture, suppressing Japanese from creating a new powerful identity. But Austen’s novels connected with Japanese readers because her works revolved on decision, using sense and logic, and finding happiness by keeping to one’s morals. At the time, the West was courting Japan similar to Mr. Wickham’s flirtations with Elizabeth Bennet: accepting a hasty proposal would only hinder Japan from contributing to the world. Possibly, it was this contrast between Austen’s novels and what the Japanese felt at the time that made her works popular. Yaeko Nagomi (やエコ 和み), for example, was so enamored with Austen’s writing style that she mimicked it for her novel, マチコ (Machiko). She wrote in her journal: “Every time I read [Pride & Prejudice], I admire it more than before…this is, indeed, a novel true to nature…I had hoped that the quality of my next novel would match at least that of Austen… If I reached such a level of accomplishment, I would surely congratulate myself.”

Machiko tells the story of a modern Japanese Elizabeth Bennet, Machiko, who must decide whether to marry the cultural industrialist Kawai (Mr. Darcy) whom she “judg[es] to be incapable of distinguishing” his friends from his enemies or the revolutionary activist Seki (Mr. Wickham), who “attracts her strongly both ideologically and physically.” Machiko, however, unlike Pride and Prejudice, uses the industrial Japan in the throes of economic crisis and workers’ militancy as the main background that propels Machiko to decide between being a industrialist or a revolutionary. Yaeko’s Machiko is one of the earliest spinoffs of Jane Austen’s work in Japan. The second was Kurahashi Yumiko’s 夢の浮橋 (The Bridge of Dreams, 1971) where she fused the Austen story with classical Japanese narratives.

In Japan, it was not until 1950 that Iwanami, a prestigious publishing house, made available a second Pride & Prejudice translation by Akira Tomita. This particular translator saw the book as an educational novel and “the best social novel in the world.” Though Japanese admired Austen’s works and satirical voice, they also made dialogue changes to fit verbal expressions that a Japanese audience would understand better. These translations were commercially successful because they maintained Austen’s witty spirit without changing the entire novel’s flow or adding any archaic language.

The history of Austen’s translated adaptations is important because it let’s us see that even though we are different ethnicities, culturally we value similar customs: morality, justice, and marriage.. Japan made Austen Japanese because her works connected with their literary and cultural beliefs. It was her early admirers and translators that initiated her fame that had it not been for them she would had remained unknown in Japan. Today it seems unrealistic for someone to not know Austen. Japan made her their own, Spain the same, and Americans too, nurturing new readerships and even greater devotees.

Hiroshi Yamauchi, who turned Nintendo into a Video Game Powerhouse, Dies at 85

Hiroshi Yamauchi, who transformed his great-grandfather’s playing-card company, Nintendo, into a global video game powerhouse, died on Thursday in Kyoto, Japan. He was 85.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, the company said.

Mr. Yamauchi, who led Nintendo from 1949 to 2002, was Japan’s most unlikely high-tech success story. Named president of the family business at 22, he steered Nintendo into board games, light-emitting toy guns and baseball pitching machines – fruitless forays that he later attributed to a “lack of imagination” – before the company arrived at arcade games.

Its Donkey Kong and the original Mario Bros. became hits and gave rise to Nintendo’s wildly successful home video game business.

The Nintendo Entertainment System, a console first released in Japan in 1983 as “Famicom,” unseated early leaders in the video game industry, selling more than 60 million units thanks to shrewd marketing, close attention to product quality and a crop of games based on unlikely yet endearing characters that soon became household names.

Read the rest of the story: Hiroshi Yamauchi, Who Steered Nintendo to Dominance, Dies at 85

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=XPuR3o66ztc

2020 Olympic Games to be hosted by Tokyo

Tokyo will host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics after being picked ahead of Istanbul and Madrid following a vote in Buenos Aires.

The Japanese city has been selected to stage the most prestigious event in sport by a secret ballot among International Olympic Committee IOC members, with the result revealed in the capital of Argentina on Saturday.

Tokyo previously held the Olympic Games in 1964, while Istanbul and Madrid were striving to host the event for the first time.

Read the rest of the story: Tokyo to host 2020 Olympic Games.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=MQzcMfndus4

Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki Retires from Anime

Leading Japanese animation film director Hayao Miyazaki will retire from movie production, it was learned Sunday.

According to participants in the ongoing Venice International Film Festival, Studio Ghibli Inc. President Koji Hoshino told a press conference in the Italian city that Miyazaki, 72, will retire with the latest full-length film, “The Wind Rises” (Kaze Tachinu), released on July 20. The movie, which features the chief engineer of the Zero fighter plane used in World War II, has become a box office hit drawing an audience of over 6.49 million as of last Monday.

After producing the “Future Boy Conan” (Mirai Shonen Konan) television animation series in the late 1970s, Miyazaki started his career as a movie director with “Lupin the Third: Castle of Cagliostro.” Later, he launched Studio Ghibli and released many animated features.

With Ghibli, Miyazaki helmed the feature films Laputa: Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Porco Rosso, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo, and finally, The Wind Rises. He also co-produced Takahata’s directorial efforts and directed smaller projects such as the “experimental film” On Your Mark and Ghibli Museum Shorts such as Mei and the Kitten Bus and Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess.

Spirited Away remains the highest earning film ever at the Japanese box office, 12 years after it opened in 2001. It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Film in 2003.

Conductor Seiji Ozawa applauded by Japan’s Emperor and Empress

The Japanese Emperor and Empress have applauded a performance of conductor Seiji Ozawa at a concert in Matsumoto City, central Japan.

The imperial couple enjoyed the performance of Maruice Ravel’s opera “The Child and the Magic Spells” conducted by Ozawa at the annual Saito Kinen Festival Matsumoto on Friday evening.

This marks Ozawa’s full return to musical activities. It was his first appearance on the stage since January last year.