Our monthly online newsletter,"L'ESPACE".
L'ESPACE is a diverse French word that means place,area,cosmos,and gap.
- To Deepen Mutual Understanding between People from All around the World through Cultural Exchange -
In Close Up this month we introduce International Artists Center (IAC). The origin of IAC's activities is a dance drama to pray for peace presented nearly 70 years ago by dance enthusiasts who were victims of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. In time, the organization evolved to offer a variety of international exchange opportunities and now organizes numerous cultural exchange events in cooperation with embassies. Sixty years have now passed since the founding of the precursor organization in 1960, and what has not changed in the intervening years is the strong conviction that the first step toward peace is mutual understanding between people through interaction. On this occasion we spoke with Ms. Terumi Kanaya, the Director-General, and Mr. Satoru Kawasaki, the Director and Deputy Secretary-General, on the history and present activities of IAC.
Please tell us what led to the establishment of the IAC.
The origin of IAC activities is the dance drama "No More Hiroshimas" brought out in 1952 by people from dance theaters who had experienced the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Eventually, they came to think that they should go one step further than appealing the tragedy of the atomic bombing through this dance drama, and they founded the International Dance Institute, the precursor to IAC, to promote peace in a constructive way through dance performances. The organization constructed a center to serve as a base of activities in Akasaka on a national land offered by the Ministry of Finance, and activities initiated in 1960. Requesting the cultural attachés of embassies---who can facilitate cultural exchanges---to become honorary advisors, the organization received the cooperation and support of numerous embassies and arranged various training courses and workshops, mainly dance. Subsequently embassies asked the organization to present non-dance related artistic exchanges of various kinds as well, and as a consequence in 1962 the name was changed to International Artists Center (IAC) to reflect our wider range of activities.
Is it true that even after the name change, cultural exchanges featuring dance remained IAC's principal activity?
Yes. In addition to promoting cultural exchange by inviting world-renowned artists in different fields to offer workshops and performances, we attempted to adapt the folkloric entertainment of Japan's many regions into theatrical pieces. We studied folkloric performances from all over the country, such as rice planting and harvest dances, the Kagura (Shinto music and dance), and the Bon Festival dances, so as to adapt them into theatrical presentations which were later performed both in and out of the country by the IAC's Japanese Folkloric Art Dance Troupe. Beginning with Expo 1967 in Montreal, performances were presented overseas in 154 cities in 49 countries. Unfortunately, in 1990 the organization was involved in a dispute over the national land in Akasaka and lost its base of operations. It encountered difficulties to find space to practice and the activities of the troupe were suspended. Furthermore, the third Director-General, Hideo Kimura, one of the creators of No More Hiroshimas and a pillar of the IAC, died in 2000. We discussed whether or not to continue with our activities. However, steadied by individuals supporting the continuation of the IAC, in 2006 the organization transitioned to become an incorporated non-profit organization and has continued its activities.
Were there any changes to the activities of the organization after the transition to an incorporated non-profit organization?
Before incorporation IAC’s activities mainly focused on promoting cross cultural exchanges between artists from all around the world and offering stage opportunities to professional artists. After incorporation we began to organize experience-based events in which any person could participate and socialize to deepen their international understanding. The most popular events are those organized in cooperation with embassies, such as "Learning Culture through Food" and "Join Us for Tea at the Embassy". Our longstanding association with many embassies since the founding of IAC proved very helpful. Currently, IAC individual members helping with the activities are those who are interested in the cultures of different countries and enthusiastically participate in cultural exchange events. "Join Us for Tea at the Embassy" frequently fills up only a few hours after it is announced, and some prospective members have said, "I wanted to become a member and pay the annual fee of 6,000 yen in order to secure my seat at tea parties at embassies."
Could you talk more about "Join Us for Tea at the Embassy"?
Participants meet at an embassy or the official residence of an ambassador, and after a diplomat makes a presentation about their country, people socialize while enjoying its finest teas, pastries, alcoholic drinks etc. It is a popular event as participants can learn about the cultures of different countries without leaving Japan. Some participants say they feel a connection and have the desire to visit the country which they knew almost nothing about. To date we have visited the embassies of more than 30 countries. One of IAC's strengths is to have strong liaisons with the embassies of countries with which the Japanese have little familiarity, especially countries which gained independence after the dissolution of the USSR. Our organization established contacts and have worked with these countries since they first opened embassies in Japan, as at the time this coincided with IAC's efforts to obtain the cooperation of embassies to host events. It was under these circumstances that the "Learning Culture through Food" and "Join Us for Tea at the Embassy" began, borne from the desire that the greater public become familiar with countries they don't know through food---something which most people have an interest in. The embassies have been very cooperative in these events as they serve to promote their country.
Do you also organize events to experience the Japanese tea ceremony?
This event is called “Learning Chaji (tea ceremony) and Kaiseki (seasonal refreshments) with the Ambassador”, in which we invite the ambassador and his wife to a tea gathering to show our appreciation for the "Join Us for Tea at the Embassy" they hosted. There are a few tea gatherings where not only can one learn about the flow and ways of the tea ceremony, but also learn details in English about the hanging scrolls and flowers decorating the room and about the pastry of the day. During Kaiseki (seasonal refreshments) they enjoy seasonal dishes as a Japanese cultural experience. On one occasion, the ambassador of Bulgaria in Japan and his wife were so moved by the tea gathering that they asked us to offer the experience again to the Bulgarian Diet delegation coming to Japan.
What is the current situation surrounding dance events, the origin of IAC activities?
For a long time this activity was practically stopped, but it has been coming back in the last 2 or 3 years. Last year we had the opportunity to produce “Matsuri in JAPAN”, a project organized by Minato City to present Japan’s traditional culture. On the day of the event the group, ODORI JAPAN---founded under the initiative of a woman who was once a member of the Japanese Folkloric Art Dance Troupe---performed entertainment from Japan's festivals before an audience that filled the venue. Because we offered explanations in English, there were many international attendees, and in the workshop we offered in the second part of the event, people from various countries reveled together in the steps of the Awa Dance. Dance performance is the origin of IAC activities and an intangible treasure for us. Even though it is a real headache to cover the costs of performances, we'd like to refocus on activities featuring dance through ODORI JAPAN.
Are there other activities you would like to undertake in the future?
Presently IAC activities are held mainly in Tokyo, but we'd like to extend them to other regions. In addition to staging ODORI JAPAN events in other prefectures, we would like to use the know-how we acquired over the years to offer support to local municipalities with international exchanges. Especially this year, Tokyo will host the Olympics and Paralympics. But I guess many municipalities don't know what they can offer as host towns. We would be glad to help them with anything so that the greatest number of people in outlying prefectures can experience the joys of international exchange.
The Republic of Armenia, a leading country in the sport of wrestling, and Minamiaizu-machi in Fukushima Prefecture with a high school famous for wrestling, is an example of a matchmaking we have provided. Minamiaizu-machi will host Armenia and both plan to continue the relationship after the Olympics. We hope to continue supporting them in any way we can. The first step toward peace is to know one another through international exchanges. IAC activities began from the desire to never repeat the tragedy of Hiroshima. We would like to continue our activities with the belief that understanding different cultures will prevent wars. “See the World, Experience the Cultures” is the slogan of the IAC.
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