The Agency for Cultural Affairs designates artists and other cultural figures in a variety of areas, such as modern art, music, photography, dancing, calligraphy and anime, as “Japan Cultural Envoys” and dispatches them to numerous countries around the world. Japan Cultural Envoys stay for between one and twelve months in these countries and work to deepen international understanding of Japanese culture and build networks with overseas cultural figures through activities such as lectures and workshops. By 2016, the Agency for Cultural Affairs had dispatched a total of 128 individuals and 26 groups to more than 81 countries as Japan Cultural Envoys.
On 20 November 2017, Japan Cultural Envoy Forum 2017 was held at the United Nations University’s U Thant International Conference Hall in Tokyo, and Japan Cultural Envoys reported on their activities in numerous countries. The forum was moderated by actor Enoki Takaaki, and six people who were dispatched overseas in 2016 reported on their activities. In the first session, choreographer and dancer Yamada Un gave a dance performance as the opening act. Following this, Yamada, architect and artist Sano Fumihiko and Tosa Naoko, who is an artist and a professor at Kyoto University, reported on their activities. In the second session, Nihonbuyo dancer Fujima Rankoh gave a Japanese dance performance as the opening act. Next, Fujima, creative director Sato Kashiwa and comic storyteller Yanagiya Sankyo reported on their activities. Finally, Commissioner for Cultural Affairs Miyata Ryohei, Enoki and the six Japan Cultural Envoys held a panel discussion.
Yamada Un, Choreographer and Dancer
Yamada Un has extensive experience in gymnastics, ballet and butoh. She began her career as a choreographer in 1996 and as a solo dancer in 1998. In 2002, Yamada founded the contemporary dance company Co. Yamada Un, which gives dance performances in numerous countries including in Asia, the Middle East, the United States and Europe. Yamada not only collaborates in many different fields including music, art, literature, fashion and traditional performing arts, but also works as a choreographer for theatrical plays, opera and gymnasts.
As a Japan Cultural Envoy, Yamada undertook multiple activities from March to September 2017, including lectures, workshops and performances in 11 countries and 23 cities including Israel, Georgia, Estonia, Algeria, Spain, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and the United States. In Israel, Yamada jointly produced a dance with sixteen students of the Maslool Professional Dance Program, an educational organization for professional dancers, and gave a performance. In addition, she also presented a lecture entitled “Japan and Israel, physical cultural differences” at the Japanese Embassy in Israel. In Georgia, Yamada held a workshop for State Ballet of Georgia and V. Chabukiani Tbilisi Ballet Art State School. Yamada also appeared on TV and gave a dance performance. In Estonia, Co. Yamada Un gave a performance in Tallinn, the capital city. The tickets sold out, which is rare for contemporary Japanese dance events, so they gave additional performances.
Sano Fumihiko, Architect and Artist
Sano Fumihiko learned under the apprenticeship of Sukiya Daiku (carpenters who specialize in Japanese tea rooms, ryotei high-class Japanese style restaurants and cultural properties) at an engineering firm in Kyoto. In 2011, Sano founded Sano Fumihiko studio PHENOMENON. While preserving traditional Japanese culture, Sano aims to enhance it for the future and produces a range of works, such as architecture, art, product designs and installations.
As a Japan Cultural Envoy, Sano worked in 16 countries and more than 32 cities from August 2016 to May 2017, including Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, France, the Philippines, China and South Korea. Sano organized the project of creating a space using local materials, introducing local cultures with local people and holding a tea ceremony. In Brussels, Belgium, for an exhibition introducing Japanese culture, Sano produced an installation using scrap wood from construction sites and held a tea ceremony there. In Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Sano renovated a room of the Lloyd Hotel, a famous hotel, into a Japanese-style room using wood that was 100 to 300 years old. More than 500 people attended a tea ceremony held there. On Negros Island in the Philippines, Sano built a high-floored tea room using palm leaves and trees. The tea ceremony was attended by numerous people, including the mayor and people who had assisted with the construction of the tea room.
Tosa Naoko, Artist and Professor
Tosa Naoko creates visual arts connecting Japanese culture with state-of-the-art technologies. In recent years, Tosa has worked on “Invisible Nature,” a movie expression capturing nature using a high-speed camera.
As a Japan Cultural Envoy, Tosa visited eight countries from October 2016 to April 2017, including the United Kingdom, the United States, South Korea, the Philippines and New Zealand. In London, the United Kingdom, Tosa held an exhibition entitled “Looking for Japan” at County Hall, an old government building in London. Through this exhibition, Tosa displayed her art works including a digital photograph focusing on a tree that is about 200 years old at the oldest Zen Temple, Kennin-ji, in Kyoto. In addition, in New York, the United States, her work titled “Sound of Ikebana (Spring),” a movie using a high-speed camera to capture scenes in which pigments of various colors fly due to the vibrations of sounds from a speaker, was displayed for three minutes from 11:57 p.m. every evening on sixty electronic billboards at Times Square for one month from April 2017. In addition, Tosa also held exhibitions and lectures in Singapore, New Zealand and the Philippines.
Fujima Rankoh, Nihonbuyo Dancer
Fujima Rankoh is a dancer of nihonbuyo, a traditional Japanese dance, and is the successor to the Fujimas that have passed down Japanese dance since the Edo period (1603–1867). Fujima was taught to dance by his grandmother and mother from the age of five years. Fujima is committed to passing down classical works that have been passed from generation to generation by the Fujimas and popularizing nihonbuyo, and instructs dancers and undertakes dance performance activities.
As a Japan Cultural Envoy, Fujima performed dances and held workshops in 10 countries and 14 cities from March to July 2017, including the United States, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Hungary and Russia. In the programs, Fujima gives dance performances of “Yamagaeri” wearing a costume and a wig and “Miyako-dori” not wearing a special costume. Fujima always includes a commentary before dance performance in theaters. He explains that in performing nihonbuyo, although he is a man, he performs the part of a woman and that he expresses waves, a sake bottle and a pipe using a fan. In Kiev, Ukraine, Fujima created a stage performance using Pictures of an Exhibition composed by Mussorgsky in a collaboration between nihonbuyo and ballet with students of the Kiev State Ballet School where Terada Nobuhiro is the artistic director. Fujima gave a performance at the Great Gate of Kiev, an historic site that was the motif of the song.
Sato Kashiwa, Creative Director
After working for Hakuhodo Inc., a leading advertising agency, Sato Kashiwa founded the creative studio SAMURAI in 2000. Sato has worked on the branding of Uniqlo, a leading apparel company, and Seven Eleven, a major convenience store, the design of a symbol design for the National Art Center, Tokyo, and the creative direction of Imabari Towel, a specialty of Ehime Prefecture.
As a Japan Cultural Envoy, Sato gave lectures on “iconic branding” from March to April 2017 in New York, the United States, in London, the United Kingdom, and in Paris, France. Iconic branding means creating icons from everything, such as logos, products, spaces and architectures, and creating brands. In his lectures, Sato introduced the examples of Uniqlo, Imabari Towel, the performance given to announce a kabuki actor’s succession and Arita yaki, traditional porcelain from Arita, which he directed himself. At Japan Store Isetan Mitsukoshi Paris, Sato exhibited porcelain from the “DISSIMILAR” series that he created in collaboration with Arita yaki craftsmen and gave explanations for a gallery tour.
Yanagiya Sankyo, Comic Storyteller
Rakugo is a traditional Japanese talk show in which a rakugo performer tells a funny story using gestures. Yanagiya Sankyo underwent an apprenticeship as a rakugo performer in 1967. Yanagiya not only gives performances in many parts of the country, but also nurtures successors. In addition, Yanagiya also carries out activities to help foreigners learning Japanese to deepen their understanding of the Japanese language and culture through rakugo in foreign countries. In 2014, Yanagiya was awarded the Japan Foundation Award.
As a Japan Cultural Envoy, Yanagiya gave rakugo performances and rakugo instruction to students learning Japanese and the general public from February to March 2017, mainly at universities including the University of Toronto in Canada, Boston University, Harvard University, the University of Michigan and Purdue University in the United States. Yanagiya minimized the use of subtitles in his performances. This is because he thought that if he used a lot of subtitles, the audience would focus on the subtitles and would not be able to concentrate on the rakugo performances and words. In fact, according to Yanagiya, even audience members who do not understand the Japanese language laugh at the same time as Japanese people. Through his workshops, Yanagiya gave instruction in methods of expression, such as how to speak and use gestures, for Japanese short stories that university and high school students who participated in the workshops learned by heart. Each participant performed in front of the audience before the start of Yanagiya’s performance.
SAWAJI Osamu, The Japan Journal