Sao Paulo, the Japanese cultural hub of Latin America

by

Special To The Japan Times

Marcello Dantas, a renowned Brazilian curator celebrated not only for producing exhibitions, but also involved in filmmaking and opera production, talks about Japan House Sao Paulo and his plans as its director of programming and chief curator.

In a nutshell, what is Japan House?

Japan House is a place to inspire people with the contemporary ideas that Japan has developed. Those ideas can be artistic, design-focused, architectural, technological, environmental, social, political or traditional. Our goal is to inspire change and improvement in the countries where we play a role, and to change the perception of how the Japanese people feel they are seen and understood abroad. We aim to present a Japan that is original, but at the same time rooted in the Japanese way of seeing the world.

What can people do at Japan House?

People will be able to visit exhibitions, eat at a good Japanese restaurant, learn about a craft, discuss current issues, buy Japanese things in a shop, encounter other minds that inspire them, read books that they normally will not easily have access to — or just simply have a good time.

Why London, L.A., and Sao Paulo — what qualities do these three cities share?

Sao Paulo has the greatest Japanese origin community of the three, but they all share a similar point of view of the Western mainstream world. These are cities where decisions are made, where creative communities thrive and where the world pays attention to what happens there. Each city has a different past history of understanding Japan. Brazil has the asset of over 120 years of a super-positive cultural, diplomatic and economical contact with Japan.

How similar or different will the three Japan House spaces be?

Each city location is very different and the cultural offerings and ways of engaging people are very different. However, all three Japan Houses are similar in size and are in prominent locations. They all have exhibitions, workshops, a restaurant and library spaces. The designs will also be radically different from one another.

What is the concept behind Kengo Kuma’s design for Japan House

Kengo Kuma is a true master. His museums are all architecturally unforgettable, beautiful and elegant. His use of wood, bamboo and other organic materials is brilliant and the attention to detail is surprising.

The key quality (of Japan House) is flexibility and transparency. Kuma proposed to surprise people not by blasting technology but by showing how Japanese ancient sukiya carpentry, washi paper and other techniques can be updated with contemporary design. His project also acknowledges the influence of a Brazilian construction element called cobogo, which he used in the side facade.

What kind of exhibitions are planned?

We will have six to eight a year. The first is “Bamboo — Histories of Japan.” It’s a survey about the stories and presence of bamboo in Japanese culture for thousands of years to the present. The exhibition themes that follow will include paper (showcasing Subtle), architecture (Kengo Kuma and Sou Fujimoto), gastronomy and agriculture (Yoshihiro Narisawa), art (Kohei Nawa), science and technology (Shunji Yamanaka and Mobility) and more.

How important is the food element?

Food is essential to Japanese identity and to the way Japan is seen in the world. We will have one restaurant and a tea-experience shop. Jun Sakamoto, the best Japanese chef in Brazil, will head the restaurant. We have presented his cuisine to the most discerning Japanese clients and they all felt he honors Japanese tradition and quality in a rare way.

Japan House Sao Paulo opens to the public May 6. Japan House London will unveil more details about its opening this month via social media (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @japanhouseldn). For more information about all three Japan House projects, visit www.japanhouse.jp.