An increasing global interest in Japanese culture, economy and politics has resulted in a shift in Japan’s place in the world, says Hitoshi Abe, director of the Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies in the UCLA International Institute. With this in mind, the Terasaki Center, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, is hosting nearly a dozen events that aim to further engage the public in the study of Japan and inspire a closer academic exploration of the island nation.
“As you all know, the conditions in Japan have radically changed,” Abe told a crowd of 60 guests who gathered on the Fowler Terrace on Jan. 20 to celebrate the Center’s 20-year milestone and the Chinese New Year. The evening featured a sushi bar, a musical performance by Osaka-born koto artist Yukiko Matsuyama, who shared the stage with Shakira at the 2011 Latin American Grammy Awards, and a sake barrel breaking ceremony performed by UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, Dr. Paul Terasaki, for whom the center is named, Herb Kawahara, a Nikkei Bruins alumnus and a long-time supporter of the center, Donald McCallum, a UCLA Japanese art history professor, and Mariko Bird, the center’s former assistant director.
“Lots of people are really looking forward to finding a new way of situating Japan in a new global context, and we really think this is a good opportunity for people at UCLA to take a leap and to propose new visions of Japan,” Abe told guests.
In an interview following the formal presentations, he explained that Japan has long been revered as an “economic animal,” often viewed by outsiders in an outdated, historical context, with culture being generally overlooked entirely. “Now culturally, it’s blossoming,” he said. “I’m not sure if Japan changed, or the world changed, but we have to really start to rethink what Japan is and how we should situate Japan in a new global context. To do that you have to step beyond academia, engage the outside world, deepen the academic thinking and connect more with those in Japan to exchange ideas and opinions.”
The “New Visions of Japan” events, which run until June 2012, begin Feb. 6 with a screening of “Ashes to Honey,” which will be followed by a discussion on the search for sustainable energy future with filmmaker Hitomi Kamanaka and UC Santa Cruz nuclear expert Daniel Hirsch. The event runs from 3-7 p.m. in the UCLA Faculty Center California Room.
The Center will also host a colloquium examining “Japan in the World” at the Nibei Center in West Los Angeles on Mar. 2. “Japan for better or for worse lives in increasingly interesting times in the region,” said event organizer Professor Mike Thies, adding that experts will share their ideas on foreign affairs in a round-table format with no prepared papers.
On March 10, the Center will pay homage to the victims and survivors of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami with “Moving Forward: Life After the Great East Japan Earthquake” symposium and reception. A related art exhibit featuring a series of large-scale photographs, short articles and videos, the exhibition focuses on the stories of those recovering in the Tohoku region, which was hardest hit by the disaster, will be mounted at the Fowler Museum March 4 to April 15.
The keystone event, the inaugural New Visions of Japan Annual Forum, is scheduled for June 1-2. Day one of the forum will open with a private discussion among numerous directors from Japanese centers across the United States and leaders in the local Japanese/Japanese American community. The public opening will begin with a series of lectures discussing the topic of the new political and economic relationship between the United States and Japan with featured speaker Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye from 3- 6 p.m. in the Fowler Auditorium. The second day of the forum will feature three influential speakers in the fields of business and popular culture.
Created in 1991, the Terasaki Center is known for teaching, research and outreach in the area of Japanese studies. According to Douglas Erber, president of the Japan America Society of Southern California, the Terasaki Center has been a steadfast partner with his organization since the Center’s very beginning. In fact, its founder, Professor Fred Notehelfer, a historian of Japanese studies at UCLA, served on the board of directors of the Japan America Society for nearly three decades.
“We’re very enthusiastic to support the 20th anniversary event of the Center,” said Erber, referring to the Center’s impact on the local Japanese community as “incredible.”
“There’s so much fire power here at UCLA among all the different schools, including anthropology, history, arts and culture, and the Japanese studies program here is one of the best. The exchanges that UCLA has with Waseda University and other universities in Japan are very powerful.”
For a full schedule of upcoming film screenings, symposiums, exhibits and forums, go to http://www.international.ucla.edu/japan/news/.