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Cultural Interview
Dekiru, Manga and Shockheaded Peter
The Japan Foundation, Budapest encourages cultural collaboration by organizing programs and making contributions to various festivals and exhibitions in the fields of film, dance, theater, literature and photography.
Réka A. Francisck
Diplomacy&Trade online | November 9, 2012

The Japan Foundation was established in Tokyo in 1972 as a special legal entity, a kind of arm’s length organization of the Japanese government, to engage in international cultural exchange. From October 1, 2003, it has been operating as a special status independent administrative organization: its resources may be complemented by donations from the private sector apart from the central budget.

The Japan Foundation consists of a head office located in Tokyo, a branch office in Kyoto, two Japanese-language institutes (Saitama and Osaka), and 22 overseas offices located in 21 countries, including Hungary. “Overall, 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, and contributing to the world in culture and other fields,” says the Director of the Budapest office, Emi Iwanaga.

"The Budapest office was established in 1991 following a Japanese-Hungarian intergovernmental decision, as the thirteenth office the Japan Foundation's global network," she tells Diplomacy and Trade. "Its activities cover not only Hungary but 12 of the countries of the Central and East European (CEE) region as well, thanks to its great central European location."

According to her, the Japan Foundation, Budapest is meant to take Hungarian-Japanese cultural relations to a greater depth by carrying out the programs the Japan Foundation launches each year all over the world: offering opportunities in the field of Arts and Cultural Exchange, Japanese-Language Education Overseas, and Japanese Studies and Intellectual Exchange. The Budapest office also organizes and supports programs and events independent from those of the programs of the Tokyo headquarters.

At the Budapest office, located downtown, close to Oktogon at Aradi utca, the foundation runs a library, conducts Japanese language courses, hosts lectures and smaller exhibitions, while outside of the office they conduct film showings, collaborate with arts institutions in holding larger travelling exhibits, and work with secondary schools and institutes of higher education as well. "We foster strong relations with Örökmozgó, the Ludwig Museum, and Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE); we are honored to work in partnership with EUNIC-Hungary, through which the Japan Foundation, Budapest will participate in the Language Cocktail Bar traditionally organized by EUNIC in September," Iwanaga adds.

"The programs we organize attempt to introduce diverse aspects of Japan, through international exchange in several different fields of culture and Japanese studies." Upcoming programs, organized by the foundation include a seminar on woodblock prints incorporating digital technology on October 12 (Puskin Mozi), a performance by Gotanndadan, a contemporary theatre company from Tokyo on November 3-4 (Nemzeti Színház), a culinary lecture demonstration on rice cooking and the culture of Niigata in December and different literary talks, concerts, and Japanese film clubs.

Iwanaga and her seven colleagues endeavor to serve the needs of a large audience, including those up to 1,000 Japanese currently living in Hungary, as, according to her, Hungarians are increasingly interested in a broad spectrum of Japanese culture and language. The Japan Hungary Friendship Association and its regional branches are also active in developing this interest.

Learning via Manga

The director notes that the 'Manga Dömping', a festival focusing on the popular Manga culture, was a huge success in Budapest. Organized in March 7-9 , 2012, the fest included workshops for Hungarian Manga artists and presentations by experts and scholars from Kyoto Seika University which hosts the Kyoto International Manga Museum.

An e-learning website was also introduced by the foundation to offer a fun way to learn Japanese expressions through anime. According to the director, the Japan Foundation, Budapest considers promoting the Japanese language as a primary way to enhance the understanding of Japanese culture and further cultural exchange between Japan and Hungary.

The Budapest office serves as a central hub for Japanese language education in Hungary, organizing the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, providing resources and training possibilities for teachers. Working closely with the Hungarian Association of Japanese Language Teachers (MJOT), it also coordinated the creation of a new, up-to-date Japanese textbook for future Hungarian learners of the language. Iwanaga speaks highly of the first part of this two-volume series, which came out last year as a co-production between the publisher Nemzeti Tankönyvkiadó Zrt. and the Japan Foundation, Budapest.

The project was also sponsored by Japanese firms such as ITOCHU Corporation, Sumitomo Chemical Co. Ltd, Suzuki Motor Corporation, and Toyota Motor Corporation, to name just a few. Entitled 'Dekiru 1', the textbook was written for beginners, who wish to learn the Japanese language in a practical and efficient way, while getting a glimpse of today's Japan. "The publication won the Most Beautiful Book 2012 prize in the text book category this summer.

The second volume, 'Dekiru 2' is about to come off the press in time for the new semester. I'm sure that both students and teachers will feel comfortable with the natural, real-world grammar and vocabulary," the director notes, adding that in fact, this textbook is a result of a multi-year program that started with a Joint Statement signed by the Prime Ministers of Hungary and Japan in Tokyo, in October 2004, in order to enhance dialogue between prominent representatives of both countries from various fields of society.


"Following this meeting, a Japan-Hungary Cooperation Forum was established, which submitted recommendations to both Prime Ministers from Co-chairman Hiromasa Yonekura to Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and from Co-chairman Dr. Szilveszter E. Vizi to Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány respectively. It was stated that, among other recommendations, as Japanese language education in Hungary continues to form an important basis of the bilateral relationship, the implementation of a special assistance program for Japanese language education in Hungary be introduced. On the other hand, the Hungarian side should also support to the establishment of a Hungarian cultural and information center located in Japan," Iwanaga explains.

She points out that 2009 was an especially important year as it marked the 140th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between Hungary and Japan, and also the 50th anniversary of the restoration of relations. Throughout the year, a large number of cultural programs took place in both countries. On the invitation of the Japan Foundation, Hungarian author Péter Esterházy visited Tokyo and Osaka and gave lectures, while in Hungary, the famous Japanese puppet theater group Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo and the Japanese drum group Yo-Soro performed on stage, to name just a few.

More books
The Japan Foundation owns a substantial set of literature related to Japanese culture in its Hungarian branch and library which now exceeds 10,000 books. The primary purpose is to serve the interests of the general public interested in Japanese society and culture. A wide range of subjects from the classical Japanese literature to the presently popular manga books is included as well as Hungarian secondary literature about Japan. The holdings also feature Japanese language materials. As for books in foreign languages, English and some French, German, and works in other European languages are available.

"In addition to our grant program that offers support for translation and publication of books pertaining to Japan in Hungarian, we try to make available new materials as well as the earlier ones. At the moment, there are already a number of rarities in the protected material section," the director notes, adding that most of the books are free to borrow, while works not to be lent are available for use in the reading-room. "The library has subscriptions to two Japanese dailies and many Japanese magazines and periodicals." The director also points out that a number of traveling sets, mainly photo exhibition sets may be borrowed from the Japan Foundation, Budapest, such as 'The World Heritage of Japan', 'The Daily Lives of the Japanese', 'Contemporary Japanese Architecture', 'Kyoto', 'The Dolls of Japan' and 'Japanese Kites and Tops'.

In addition to promoting and organizing cultural events, lectures and language courses, the Japan Foundation, Budapest is very active in screening applications and reading proposals for the number of grants the foundation offers every year. "Grants of the Japan Foundation, Budapest Office fall into three main categories, covering different aspects of Japan Foundation's activities: Arts and Cultural Exchange, Japanese-Language Education, Japanese Studies and Intellectual Exchange. There is also a Local Project Support program," the director notes.

The latter is designed to give limited assistance to those who are planning projects related mainly to achieving collaborative efforts in culture and arts, and the promotion of Japanese studies in Hungary or other Central and Eastern European countries during the Japanese fiscal year 2012-2013 (April 2012 to March 2013). "We are still accepting applications for this year, in addition to, for instance, the Performing Arts Japan Program for Europe (PAJ Europe).

Not via these grants, but we gave assistance to project which is happening as we speak: Budapest's Örkény Theatre is currently in Tokyo to perform the music-theatre piece, Shockheaded Peter at the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre."(see more in box) "I'm optimistic that Japanese will fall in love with this piece, and the troupe, and, indirectly, feel closer to the arts and culture of Hungary."

LIGHT UP NIPPON Messages to Japan
Fireworks in Japan are deemed important not only because of their
beauty, according to tradition, they also repose the spirits of the
deceased and ward off bad luck - they serve as a prayer for those
lost. At the homepage of the LIGHT UP NIPPON project, everyone has the
chance to send a message and a virtual firework of their own design to
Japan in memory of the first anniversary of the 2011 March 11
disaster. Many from Hungary have posted their specially designed
fireworks and message of condolence to the people of the Tohoku area.

Örkény Theatre Travels to Japan
Budapest's Örkény István Theatre took its production of Shockheaded Peter to the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre in September. The troupe will perform the piece ten times at the theatre which reopened on September 1, after a more than one-year renovation. Metropolitan Theatre's Executive Producer Minako Naito said the Örkény Theatre was invited to bring the piece to Tokyo on the initiative of TMT's Artistic Director, playwright, director and actor Hideki Noda, who saw the troupe perform in Seoul. The piece impressed Noda to such a degree that he visited the Örkény Theatre in Budapest. Shockheaded Peter, adapted into Hungarian by Lajos Parti Nagy and directed by Tamás Ascher, premiered in 2009. It is based on the German children's classic Der Struwwelpeter (1845), by Heinrich Hoffmann.

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