Exhibition 'Foam', by Kohei Nawa. The ephemeral sculpture took place in September, October and November 2017
Exhibition 'Foam', by Kohei Nawa. The ephemeral sculpture took place in September, October and November 2017

A Japan House is a place to learn more about contemporary Japanese culture in São Paulo. Close to subway stations and located on the symbolic avenue of the largest city in the country, the first Japan House in the world, which opened its doors for one year in Brazil in early May, has free admission.

Where a branch of Banco Bradesco used to be, today is the modern building designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. The site is one of three hubs planned by the Japanese government to spread Japanese culture outside of Japan. In December 2017, it was the turn of the city of Los Angeles to open its own Japan House. The next metropolis to gain a seat will be London, with opening scheduled for July 2018.

The institution arrived in São Paulo with the proposal of presenting to Brazilians a Japan that escapes stereotypes. Marcello Dantas, planning director and curator responsible for the Brazilian headquarters, commented in an interview journalist Pedro Bial the proposal, “It was an initiative by the Japanese government to think something different from what other countries were doing to spread their culture. And Japanese culture has a lot of specific things that you can't put in another context and it survives in the same way. A space had to be created. Part of the Japanese government's premise was: let's do this with country curators and managers. Let's get them to look at the culture of Japan and identify what there is in the culture of Japan that might be of use to their country.”

And it was through workshops, lectures, contemporary art exhibitions, gastronomic, audiovisual and Japanese artistic encounters that the institution brought the Brazilian public closer to the many Japanese cultural layers. Among the actions carried out, for example, the Japanese culture house brought one of the producers of Studio Ghibli, one of the most famous animation studios in the world, to talk to fans, and from which great feature-length animes such as Spirited Away, Grave of the Fireflies, Ponyo and My Friend Totoro.

In addition to the exhibitions, Japan House provides the public with a wide multimedia space, where it is possible to find books by Japanese authors, manga and content such as films and music. On June 19, the place should open a store by Muji, a Japanese chain of products related to decoration, furniture, stationery and even clothing.

The work of Marcello Dantas in the curatorship of Japan House chose to value bamboo, a very important grass for Japanese culture, from handicrafts to contemporary art. “I loved it [bamboo], first because we wanted to surprise the public with all this knowledge that Japan has and that we don't even know we have. Second, because an observation of Japanese culture and you see that bamboo is a material that is ubiquitous in Japanese culture, it is in the tea ceremony, it is in agriculture, in martial arts, in the visual arts”, explained the curator. 

Since its opening, Japan House has received around 769 thousand visitors. According to the institution's data, there were eight exhibitions and 45 workshops during the cultural center's first year of activity. In an interview with PáginaB, the president of Japan House, Angela Hirata, celebrated the results, “As Japan House São Paulo was the first in the world, we did not have much comparative parameters, in any case, the results were far above the most optimistic expectations. ”. According to her, only the first exhibition of the cultural center received an audience seven times larger than expected. “It was a happy surprise that signals the great receptivity of the public to our initiative”, she said. 

How was the decision made to bring Japan House to Brazil?

Thinking about the three cities, we can highlight as a pattern the long history of relations between Japan and these cities, in addition to their relevant positions, each in its respective country, as cultural and economic centers of great reach. Through an exchange that includes arts, science, gastronomy, technology, education, among others, we seek to broaden Brazilians' perception of 21st century Japan. The choice for São Paulo was motivated by the following reasons: it is in Brazil and, mostly in São Paulo, which has the largest population of Japanese origin outside Japan; the economic, social and human links between the two countries are strong and the image of Japan in Brazil is positive. São Paulo is also the main economic center of Latin America and an important center of artistic and cultural production.

When was the first Japan House founded and what were/are the institution's goals?

The first JAPAN HOUSE opened just over a year ago, on May 6, 2017, on Avenida Paulista, in São Paulo. Its aim is to present contemporary Japan through different facets. Considering this premise, JAPAN HOUSE São Paulo is a unique place in the city of São Paulo. It is a space where visitors can learn more about Japanese culture and modern art through exhibitions, lectures and workshops; enjoy modern architecture and good cuisine in a cafe and restaurant, as well as getting to know artists, brands and a bit of Japanese lifestyle in the two stores we have here, in addition to the library with more than 1900 books, which can be consulted freely.

In your opinion, what was the impact of Japan House on the city of SP?

I believe the impact is positive, as everyone benefits from yet another offer of free culture and leisure in the city and on Avenida Paulista, already consolidated as an important cultural corridor in the capital of São Paulo. As JAPAN HOUSE São Paulo was the first in the world, we didn't have many comparative parameters, in any case, the results were far above the most optimistic expectations. Using as an example only the visitation in the first year, we surpassed the initial proposal by seven times. It was a happy surprise, which signals the great receptivity of the public to our initiative.

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