Japanese Culture in Slovenia
Many exchange programs have been carried out over the years between Japan and Slovenia in various aspects such as politics, economy, education, culture, sports etc.
Related to the field of education, we are happy that more than 200 Slovenian people, mainly students of Ljubljana University, study Japanese language, and exchange student programs are widely present and taken advantage of.
In the field of culture and sports many exchange programs have been carried out in Slovenia to promote Japanese culture such as tea ceremony, ikebana, calligraphy, literature, traditional performing arts and sports such as kendo, judo, karate, aikido, kyudo, winter sports etc.
One of the latest cultural projects was the event called “Summer Day of Japan”, which introduced different aspects of Japanese traditional and contemporary culture. The event was successfully held at Lake Zbilje in Medvode municipality on 24th of June 2012. Many volunteers and voluntary groups participated in the organization and implementation of the event. The groups have formed with the aim to enjoy and promote understanding of Japanese culture by local people in Slovenia. About 1,500 visitors attended the whole-day event.
“Summer Day of Japan”
Exchange between our two countries is also present between local cities and municipalities. Slovenj Gradec city has a sister-city relationship with Myoko city in Niigata prefecture in Japan. The two cities have been carrying out different types of exchange programs such as home stay for high school students and civic interactions for over 10 years. Ptuj, which is famous for “Kurentovanje” and Oga city in Akita prefecture of Japan are connected through winter festivals as they have similar folk customs. The Japanese folklore tradition called “Namahage” from Oga city was invited to participate in an event in Ptuj in February 2012. Idrija, the heritage site of mercury which was registered in UNESCO’s World Heritage site in 2012, and Minamata city in Kumamoto prefecture in Japan have proceeded with their cooperation by sharing knowledge of mercury contamination.
In 2012 Japan and Slovenia mark the 20th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations. For this occasion the Executive Committee of the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations was established in December 2011 with the purpose of deepening bilateral relations. Under its supervision the unified anniversary logo was produced, and projects related to the anniversary granted the use of the logo for promotion. Below are briefly mentioned some events organized as part of the 20th anniversary program.
In the field of education, “The 2nd international conference of the department of Asian and African studies” at Faculty of Arts of The University of Ljubljana was held between March 14th and 16th 2012. Many people in the fields of Japanese language and culture, communication, informatics, cultural studies, and language teaching from Japan and Central Europe attended the conference in order to exchange the latest findings and to discuss further cooperation among Japanese and European institutions.
“The 2nd Japanese Speech Contest” took place at Faculty of Arts of The University of Ljubljana on 21st April 2012. The purpose of the contest was to motivate people who study Japanese language and spread the interest to study Japanese language in Slovenia. 16 people participated in the contest and they each made an impassioned speech.
“The 2nd Alumni Association of Japanese studies students meeting” was also held on the same day. The association was established in 2009 with the purpose of creating a network of Slovenians who have studied in Japan and give them the opportunity to exchange views, ideas, knowledge and information. The association has 83 members who are a valuable asset as a bridge between Japan and Slovenia.
High-School for Catering and Tourism carried out the project “Sakura”. The project was started in September 2011 and was concluded with a public presentation on 7th June 2012. The project was done in the framework of the “Intercultural Dialogue” in order to bring Japan closer to students after the March 11 disaster. The idea for the project came from students as they wanted to support Japan or do something for Japanese people. Students have thus learned about the differences and similarities between Slovenia and Japan, and had experienced Japanese culture such as origami, ikebana, calligraphy, karate, and Japanese music. In the final presentation students performed what they had learned and served fusion cuisine prepared by them using Japanese ingredients. The final presentation included also some guests who have a deep knowledge of Japanese culture: Japanese dance performance, short lecture on tea ceremony, and performance on the Japanese instrument “Koto”.
“The international conference of “The Japanese Speech Contest” “The Alumni Association” “Sakura project”
the department of Asian and African studies”
Various projects were also implemented in the field of culture. “Wariki concert” was held at Ljubljana Puppet Theatre on 1st March. Wariki is a group peforming Japanese traditional dances and songs with Japanese traditional instruments such as taiko drums, shamisen, jokobue flute, koto and kokyu. They had performed in various cultural venues around the world and this was their 2nd time to perform in Slovenia. The aim of their performance this year was to express their respect for tangible and intangible cultural heritage which were lost by Great East Japan Earthquake in Tohoku region last year, and to express their determination to hand down such heritage to next generation.
“The 12th high school students’ Haiku contest” award ceremony took place at Cankarjev dom on 17th April. Around 130 students from 40 high schools that participated in the competition attended the ceremony, in which best haikus were announced and read.
“Japanese Film Festival 2012” took place at Slovenska Kinoteka in Ljubljana from 12th to 16th June. 8 different Japanese films from 1930s to contemporary production were screened. Through the films visitors were able to discover many different cultural aspects of Japan and see differences and changes in each decade from these films.
“Japanese food workshop” in Bled was held on 24th April. The workshop was led by Mr. Shingo Ozawa, a private chef at the Residence of the Ambassador of Japan. 16 chefs from hotels in Bled area participated. They learned how to treat and cook Japanese ingredients, especially for typical Japanese breakfast and lunch. The aim of the workshop was to make Slovenian chefs more familiar with Japanese cuisine, deepen their understanding and knowledge of it, and encourage them to serve Japanese cuisine more often. In addition to the workshop we organized a lecture and discussion about trends in Japanese tourism and expectations of Japanese tourists.
In terms of food culture of daily life, an increasing number of Japanese ingredients can be seen in Slovenian supermarkets. Two Japanese restaurants in Ljubljana are popular among both local and Japanese people in Slovenia. Newest Japanese restaurant opened in Maribor in July.
Regarding civic exchange event, Japanese people living in Slovenia visited Brda for a cultural exchange on 9th June. Japanese participants performed two Japanese songs, offered Japanese sushi and demonstrated how to write Slovenian names in Japanese characters. Ambassador Ishigure and Mayor Mužič planted a cherry there to commemorate the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations.
“Wariki concert” “Japanese Film Festival ” “Japanese food workshop” “Planting 20th anniversary tree”
Now we introduce up-coming events of the 20th anniversary from September 2012. As part of the “European Capital of Culture 2012” the internationally renowned contemporary Butoh dance group Sankai Juku will perform “Tobari” on 22nd and 23rd September in Maribor National Theatre. The group has been touring worldwide since 1980 and has visited more than 700 cities in 43 countries.
On 28th and 29th September the Embassy is organizing the “Anime event” in Maribor in Ljubljana to introduce Japanese pop culture to Slovenian people. An animation producer from Japan will have a lecture of the present situation of Japanese animation, which will be followed by a discussion with anime fans in Slovenia, and accompanied by an exhibition.
Further 20th anniversary events are planned until the end of the year, including the ceremony of 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Slovenia on 12th October, the interchange program of sister cities between “Slovenj Gradec” and “Myoko” in mid of October, “Japan Week” in Ljubljana and Maribor in November, which will include the photo exhibition “World Heritage sites in Japan”, screening Japanese films, lecture of Japanese language, introducing sightseeing sites in Japan, and workshop of origami and calligraphy. The information about these events will be announced on Embassy’s website.
For further information for those who are interested in knowing or learning about Japan, we introduce some programs. Japan is welcoming people from all over the world to visit and discover its different aspects. Japan also gives students the opportunity to study at Japanese Universities, and offers support programs for cultural and intellectual exchange.
For those international students who would like to study at Japanese universities the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) offers different scholarships (MEXT Scholarship) for undergraduate and graduate levels. Depending on the desired field and level of study international students can be awarded scholarship for the complete study cycle, ranging from 5 years onward. Special scholarships are available for Japanese studies students. Calls for application are published on the Embassy’s website, as well as additional information and links to useful resources.
The Japan Foundation
For individuals, associations, and organizations interested in introducing Japanese culture to Slovenian citizens the Japan Foundation offers programs that support exchanges between Japan and other countries. The Japan Foundation was established in 1972 as a special legal entity to engage in international cultural exchange and, was subsequently reorganized as an independent administrative institution in October 2003. The Japan Foundation consists of a head office located in Tokyo, a branch office in Kyoto, two Japanese-language institutes (Urawa and Kansai), and 22 overseas offices situated in 21 countries. The purpose of the Japan Foundation is "to contribute to a better international environment, and to the maintenance and development of harmonious foreign relationships with Japan, through deepening other nations' understanding of Japan, promoting better mutual understanding among nations, encouraging friendship and goodwill among the peoples of the world, and contributing to the world in culture and other fields through the efficient and comprehensive implementation of international cultural exchange activities."
The Japan Foundation offers programs and carries out activities in the following three major categories: 1) Art and Cultural Exchange (visual arts, performing arts, and audio-visual arts, publications); 2) Japanese-Language Education Overseas (dispatching specialists to overseas Japanese educational organizations and training local Japanese-language teachers); and 3) Japanese Studies Overseas and Intellectual Exchange.
Each program within these categories supports international exchange activities by individuals and organizations. The Japan Foundation also plans and stages events, and provides on-going support for universities and other organizations overseas. Provision of information obtained through research is another activity of the Japan Foundation. Different deadlines apply to different programs. For specific deadlines please refer to the Japan Foundation Program Guidelines accessible via the Embassy’s website.
In addition to that, the Embassy is executing educational publicity activities at schools in Slovenia, joined under the title “Horizons of the Rising Sun”.
Horizons of the Rising Sun
For elementary and secondary schools in Slovenia the Embassy is offering different lectures and workshops on Japan, joined under the title »Horizons of the Rising Sun«. The school program was commenced in autumn 2010 and was in its initial form directed towards high school students. Due to the high interest in the program and positive responses the Embassy decided to offer a slightly modified and adjusted program also to higher primary school levels. In cooperation with external lecturers and presenters the Embassy invites schools to embark on a journey through different aspects of Japan, including culture, history, martial arts and many more. The length of the lecture or workshop, and the topic are adjusted to school's preferences and thus coordinated with each school individually.
Since the introduction around 30 schools participated in the program.
CONTEMPORARY JAPANESE CULTURE
All over the world, people are focusing their attention on contemporary Japanese culture. From the 1990s onwards, in manga, anime, gaming, art, architecture, design, literature, and fashion there was a burst of cultural energy among the population at large. This has now blossomed into contemporary Japanese popular culture whose influence is reverberating around the globe and continuing to fascinate many people, mostly the young generation.
So what are the elements that constitute contemporary Japanese culture? Japan certainly absorbed culture from mainland Asia in ancient and mediaeval times. In modern times Japan absorbed culture from the West, and in the post-WWII era particularly from the USA. But Japanese contemporary culture was not simply absorbing elements from other cultures but was also interpreting them from a unique perspective, then re-shaping them into a new style and fusing them with something completely different. It is a culture in which the old and the new co-exist.
Manga and anime
Nowadays, the term “manga” is used worldwide to refer to Japanese cartoons, as distinct from American comics or French bandes dessinées. Likewise, the term “anime” refers to Japan-produced animation as opposed to Disney cartoons or animation produced elsewhere.
The foundations of modern Japanese manga and anime were first laid in 1959, with the simultaneous publication of comics for young people, and then in 1963 with the commencement of TV broadcasting. Since then, the intimate relationship between manga and anime has developed, and even today over 60% of the animated cartoons produced are based on manga. Manga-related publishing of various kinds currently accounts for roughly 40% of the total Japanese publishing market. Manga are frequently used as original scripts not only for anime but also novels and TV dramas, and they often form the nucleus of media content.
In the 1980s, adults started to show an interest in manga and anime, which until then had been for children, leading to the launch of manga magazines for male adults. Similarly, a number of women’s magazines were also launched in the 1970s and 1980s, adding to the series of girls’ comics. The market then underwent further subdivision into targeted categories, from infants to small children, girls, teenagers, businessmen, young women and housewives, each of them being offered a full line-up of magazines and products.
The foreign view of Japanese art has tended to focus on traditional aspects, as represented by Japonisme. However, exhibits at the Venice Biennale Aperto 1998 by artists including Tatsuo Miyajima and Yasumasa Morimura have spurred interest in contemporary Japanese art as well. Takashi Murakami has exerted a major impact on the USA and European art scenes with his concept of Superflat, developed from Japan’s pop culture. Characterised by traditional Japanese art's lack of depth – the works are flar, ignoring Western perspective techniques – Superflat is two-dimensional and planar, drawing on styles common to contemporary anime and manga. He has produced exhibitions featuring not only his own works but also those of Japanese artists from the late 19th century to the present day and incorporating manga, anime, shokugan (Japanese giveaway candy toys) and fashion. While stretching the boundaries of art in this way, he has expanded into producing marketable works.
Japan’s contemporary art scene encompasses a broad range of artists working in different media. They include pop-culture figures Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara, photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto and painter Hiroshi Senju, whose works deal with seasonal change in the natural world and the artist’s own sensibilities, and Tatsuo Miyajima and Yasumasa Morimura, who make seemingly casual yet clever use of the latest technology.
Modern Japanese literature used to be divided into two broad genres: the “pure” – art for art’s sake; and the “popular” – easily accessible works with an emphasis on entertainment. Into the “pure” category fell conceptual works dealing with politics and ideology or refined aesthetics, such as those by Junichiro Tanizaki and Yasunari Kawabata. Their globally renowned novels often express a Japanese sense of beauty based on the notion, from mediaeval times, of life as being transient and evanescent.
However, the pure/popular distinction started to break down in the latter half of the 20th century, and today it is virtually impossible to place a novel firmly in one genre or another. The classifications of the literary world seem to mirror the vague divisions between “high culture” and “sub-culture” evident elsewhere in contemporary culture. This trend is also discernible in novelistic techniques, as pure literature adopts devices such as fantasy, fable and science fiction that would once have been almost inconceivable in this genre. In addition, globalisation has caught up with Japan’s literary scene, giving rise to a large number of novels that either do not emphasise or transcend the traditional lyric qualities of Japanese literature. These developments suggest that Japanese literature has for the first time taken on a global flavour.
Among the most renowned Japanese writers are Haruki Murakami, Natsuo Kirino, Yoko Ogawa, and Miyuki Miyabe.
Traditional Japanese architecture is characterized by wooden single-storey structures. The traditional structure has not changed during recorded history, remaining intact after Buddhist architecture entered Japan from China and the Korean Peninsula in the mid-6th century. Even shrine architecture – widely regarded as having been stimulated by Buddhist architecture – retains the typical wooden single-storey structure.
Wooden construction basically combines posts and beams. If a large building is involved, the structure spreads on its horizontal axis by joining single-storey rooms. Although a massive structure is typically dark inside and is thus not always suited to some human activities, Japanese architectural methods cleverly allow light and breeze to penetrate: by opening to the outside, they link a building’s interior with its garden.
Japanese architecture is also characterized by large, imposing roofs. Although crowning imposing buildings with suitably impressive roofs is widespread across Asia, the trend developed in Japan not because of climate (high temperatures and humidity) but to represent a building’s existence symbolically.
Japanese dwellings were basically single-storey until the mid-19th century, when the influence of Western architecture saw Japanese start to live in two-storey and taller houses. This change also spurred architects to emphasize façades. The modern architectural movement in early-20th century Europe turned a new spotlight on Japanese architecture and its horizontal focus. European architecture had traditionally stressed the vertical axis through façades, but modernism marked the beginning of a twin vertical/horizontal development. Japan’s horizontal axis was an awakening for the West.
One of the most significant architects of the 20th century, Kenzo Tange (1913-2005), combined traditional Japanese architecture with modernism, using a traditional composition of columns and beams as if creating an abstract painting. His designs brought Japanese architecture’s aversion to room divisions directly into modern architecture. Successors such as Fumihiko Maki, Arata Isozaki, Kisho Kurokawa and Yoshio Taniguchi designed buildings using horizontal and vertical axes as simple geometrical structural elements, thus fusing traditional Japanese with modern architecture. Today the succeeding generation of Toyo Ito and Tadao Ando continues to take Japanese architecture in new directions.
We hope that through our activities we have encouraged Slovenian people to be much more interest in Japan, and deepened relations between our two countries. For more information about the Embassy’s events please visit our website at http://www.si.emb-japan.go.jp/index.html.