Held across the country in the years before and after the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, Junko Kawamura, president of Japan Arts Council, is confident that the Japan Cultural Expo will offer a great opportunity for people from Japan and abroad to appreciate and learn about the blessing of nature found in traditional food, clothing, housing and arts that have endured since ancient times.
The expo, co-organized by the Japan Arts Council and the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan, is themed “Humanity and Nature in Japan” and consists of hundreds of programs, broadly covering history, life and culture from the prehistoric Jomon Period (circa 10,000 B.C. to circa 300 B.C.) to the present.
“I hope Japan’s view of nature and the attitude of respecting all living things will be shared globally,” Kawamura said in an interview at her office located inside the National Theatre’s complex.
Kawamura expressed hope that through the various programs at the expo, international audiences and visitors will witness both tangible and intangible skills that have supported the life and culture of Japanese through traditional methods of expression, as well as modern presentations inspired by tradition.
Describing Japan as an island country with diverse geographic features that include mountains, forests, rivers and seas, Kawamura said that the country is blessed with abundant nature that evolves with the changing of the seasons.
“The four seasons are alive in our i-shoku-ju (clothing, food and housing). For example, we put away the clothes for one season and take out the ones for the next season. Even with today’s Westernized ways of living, Japanese ways of doing things like that are still alive,” she said.
One of the programs that illustrates Japan’s traditional clothing culture is an exhibition titled “Kimono: Fashioning Identities” starting on April 14 at the Tokyo National Museum.
Kawamura explained that Japan’s seasons and nature are also alive in many of Japan’s artworks.
“For example, there are works of folding screens that express the continuation of the seasons. In theatrical performances, there are often small flowers used as symbolic stage props, so that audiences will instantly share the understanding of which season the scene is unfolding in,” Kawamura said. Take, for example, how animals and plants are depicted in the way that they also have emotions and characters like humans do in many works of art. “These expressions come from the sense of awe we have for everything that exists,” she said.
Regarding the field of washoku, Japan’s culinary culture that has been designated a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, there will be an exhibition that aims to facilitate scientific understanding of washoku at the National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo.
To learn about modern and traditional architectures in Japan, Tokyo exhibitions featuring two major Japanese architects, Kenzo Tange and Kengo Kuma, are scheduled to start in July. One of Tange’s most notable works is the Yoyogi National Gymnasium that served as one of the venues for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Kuma, one of Japan’s leading architects, and his team designed the new National Stadium for the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“There are also exhibitions showcasing Japanese architecture held concurrently in three locations in Tokyo. These exhibitions feature buildings from the Asuka Period (552 to 645) to today, designed in the way that match the characteristics of Japan’s nature,” said Kawamura.
Many architectural models will be presented to better describe the historical progress of architectural technology. Not only the Japanese tradition and skills in wooden architecture, but repair and restoration techniques are focuses of these exhibits. Such traditional architectural craftsmanship has also been nominated for addition to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
Kawamura stressed that those programs are a result of a multitude of efforts and ideas developed to help visitors, especially those from overseas, understand Japanese tradition and culture.
“Offering hands-on experience is one of the ways to help people enjoy exhibits and performances from their own viewpoint,” said Kawamura.
In one of last year’s events titled “Experience Japanese Culture: Samurai Mania! Explore Japanese Armor at the Tokyo National Museum,” a full-sized and weighted replica of armor was available for visitors to try on. A noh theater workshop allowed participants to actually play a traditional Japanese musical instrument such as shoulder drum or learn part of a song from a play.
This year, an interactive exhibition titled “The World of Traditional Performing Arts : Kabuki, Bunraku, Noh, and Kyogen, Gagaku, Kumi-odori” is scheduled to take place from late March until May 24 in Ueno. It will exhibit these five different disciplines of Japanese performing arts, all recognized by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.
Unlike typical exhibitions showcasing stage props and costumes, “People can actually try kumadori, kabuki-style makeup on using digital art technology. You can also see the back of the bunraku stage to learn how puppeteers manipulate puppets,” she said.
“These kinds of events are being held throughout Japan from Okinawa to Hokkaido. I hope that people also visit various regions and interact with regional cultures as well,” she said.
In Hokkaido, a series of programs related to Ainu people and culture are to be held at the Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park, a new museum featuring Ainu indigenous people in Hokkaido scheduled to open in Shiraoi, Hokkaido, on April 24, as well as other locations across the prefecture.
Designed to demonstrate both the diversity and universality of Japanese culture, Kawamura pointed out that the Japan Cultural Expo is a platform for the country to introduce the way its people have interacted with nature and its history of sustainable living to the world.
“Imagine how our ancestors lived with nature. What is it like to coexist with nature rather than just pursuing efficiency? The respect for the nature includes the respect for other humans,” Kawamura said, expressing hope that the expo may trigger such thoughts in people, making a positive impact in the global conversation.