Foreign diplomats capture Japan through lens of camera


Photographs taken by foreign diplomats showing unique features of Japan will be shown at an exhibition opening Thursday in Tokyo and later in November in Osaka.

The exhibition is expected to be one of the biggest of its kind in the world, showcasing 92 pictures by 57 diplomats, including U.S. Ambassador Howard Baker, Russian Ambassador Alexander Panov and Luxembourg Ambassador Michele Pranchere-Tomassini.

Two photos, one by Baker and the other by Pierre Gramegna, Pranchere-Tomassini’s predecessor, have won the grand prize for the event, titled “Faces of Japan through Diplomats’ Eyes.”

Baker’s entry captures two cranes dancing on a snow-covered Hokkaido plain. A shot by Panov features a bride and groom in a rickshaw with relatives beside them wearing kimono and modern wedding attire.

Former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, head of the eight-member screening panel, hailed Gramegna’s work for its combination of “tradition and modernity” representing various aspects of Japan, organizers said.

The photograph features a modern teenage girl, a conservative-looking elderly woman and a young geisha in a kimono traversing a street outside Shibuya Station in Tokyo.

Event organizer Pranchere-Tomassini said Gramegna presented the picture as a parting gift before completing a six-year assignment in Tokyo in mid-August.

“All participants, including my predecessor, express a personal view of Japan without any political connotation,” Pranchere-Tomassini said. “I believe visitors will find new features of Japanese society of today and the past.”

She said the participants represent 26 countries from around the world and the event will provide visitors with an opportunity to see Japan captured by people from different cultural and social backgrounds.

The event was set up on Gramegna’s initiative in 1998. This year’s event is the fifth under the present formula.

The first exhibition was held in Tokyo, with only about 50 works presented by diplomats primarily from Europe. Each year the event has expanded, with participants now representing all continents.

Since the departure of Gramegna, now the director of the International Economic Affairs Department of Luxembourg’s Foreign Ministry, Panov has led the project as the head of the event’s executive committee.

“Gramegna, an avid photographer, was an active envoy,” said Goro Kuramochi, a Tokyo-based artistic director who has been involved in the project from the start. “He took the lead in uniting diplomats under one common feature.”

Kuramochi, the president of photographic agency G.I.P. Tokyo and a member of the screening committee, said the event attracted more than 800 submissions this year. Ninety-two were chosen to go on display.

“Photography is a powerful universal language,” he said. “The Diplomats’ Eyes project is growing and I hope the event will promote further understanding between the diplomatic community and the Japanese public.”

In Tokyo, the exhibition will run from Thursday through Nov. 4 at Mikimoto Hall in Ginza. In Osaka it will run from Nov. 26 to Dec. 4 at International House, Osaka, in Tennoji Ward.

Since last year, the Luxembourg Embassy in Tokyo has run the Web site www.luxem with all of the photographs since the first exhibition, with information in both Japanese and English.