Japanese philanthropist Haruhisa Handa, who is a professional in many fields, including calligraphy, art, music, noh dramas and literature, as well as business, held a solo exhibition of his artworks, including paintings, pottery and Japanese calligraphy, in Tokyo from March 18 to 21.
The exhibition has been held annually for the past 22 years to mark Handa’s birthday on March 18. People visit the exhibitions and opening ceremonies — this year’s edition was attended by prominent guests, such as the winner of this year’s Miss Japan competition — to celebrate the occasion, but Handa is not doing this to be celebrated. When he turned 50, he could not help but feel his energy level gradually dropping with age. He started the annual birthday exhibition to give himself a challenging task, a reason to keep pushing himself to go higher and deeper in his creative endeavors.
The exhibition, which was held at TOC Gotanda Messe in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward, featured 150 works, including 80 past pieces selected by art critics and 20 of his latest works. “I have just brought in the six most recently finished pieces, which don’t even have frames yet,” Handa said during the opening ceremony.
He took up sho (Japanese calligraphy) in high school, but stopped after some time and did not resume lessons until he was 35, when he also started painting. Just as he wears many hats, Handa has tried different types of painting from Japanese and Buddhist to ink and Western-style painting, producing nearly 3,500 works.
Handa’s motivation went way beyond just keeping up with the annual birthday exhibition, and he entered a doctorate course at Tsinghua University’s Academy of Arts & Design in China at the age of 52 to pursue his study of art. In his commentary for this year’s exhibition, he wrote that all of his Chinese professors were both calligraphers and painters at the same time, which may have added inspiration to Handa’s free and magnanimous style. Conversely, Handa’s way of decomposing conventional styles or mixing them using the bold simplification unique to Japanese art or the bright colors of Western art often impressed his professors.
Prior to the exhibition, Handa, who is also a baritone singer, held a birthday performance titled “Sakura Fubuki Concert” (“Cherry Blossom Shower Concert”) on March 16. The concert included soprano Hiroko Onuki, a 30-piece orchestra and an eight-member band performing songs such as “The Music of the Night” from “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Heavy Rotation” by J-pop idol group AKB48, and Handa’s own original pieces. It was Handa’s fifth concert at the prestigious Nippon Budokan Hall in central Tokyo, following a six-year break.
Earlier in March, he held a classical music concert celebrating the Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival) with eight soloists, including himself, in front of an orchestra at the Westin Tokyo.
Handa has many faces in the field of performing arts. He is a singer, composer and actor with a master’s degree from Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, as well as degrees in arts and music from other universities in Japan and abroad. He has released 112 CDs and 45 DVDs and runs his own opera and theater company.
Handa is not only a player in various art fields, but is also an enthusiastic supporter of music, theater, visual arts and art education. He is chairman of the International Foundation for Arts and Culture, a nonprofit organization based in Tokyo that now has branches in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom to support and deliver art activities across the world. He is also a chairman and an advisor to several other art-related organizations.
On the philanthropic front, Handa is the chairman of Worldwide Support for Development, a nonprofit organization that promotes international cooperation to provide necessary social welfare and support especially in developing countries.
He also believes in the power of sports in achieving world peace. He is the honorary president of the International Blind Golf Association, which supports blind golfers and their tournaments globally. There is also the International Sports Promotion Society, a charity founded and chaired by Handa that supports various sport organizations and events in Japan and abroad.
Some of the charity organizations Handa engages in have already made announcements about upcoming events they will be organizing or supporting, including a golf tournament scheduled to take place in Ibaraki Prefecture in April, as if to realize what he said in the opening ceremony of his birthday exhibition: “It feels very long when you are doing something new and thrilling. To make this year feel long, I am going to try yet new things based on what I have experienced until today. This is the key to feeling satisfied that you lived a long life.”
At the end of the ceremony, he also provided some advice, encouraging his guests to never stop doing new things: “Do not retire. Do not prepare for your own death, because you will die if you are ready to.”