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Having the world’s spotlight during the Olympics was the perfect opportunity for the Japan Cultural Expo to showcase the richness of Japan’s diverse cultural manifestations. But the pandemic happened, forcing to cancel, postpone or scale-back what was aiming to be a very ambitious collective effort to promote local arts and crafts to an international audience. One year later, the need to transcend physical limits has created a small opportunity to go beyond the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. 

If international visitors cannot come to Japan, then Japan Cultural Expo VIRTUAL PLATFORM will take advantage of the Internet and today’s available technology to bring the heart of Japan to worldwide audiences. While many of the contents were already online, a unified platform is very convenient for potential audiences to easily access this collection. Hours of learning and exploration for enthusiasts of Japanese culture worldwide at the tip of our fingertips!

image of the virtual gallery for the Japan Cultural Expo
The platform consists of an easy to navigate virtual gallery|Photo courtesy of Japan Arts Council

The platform is a completely virtual venue launched on August 17th and is 100% free to access. Following the leitmotiv of Humanity and Nature in Japan, history and innovation meet the challenges of tradition becoming a thing of the past for new generations. Old traditional crafts face the danger of disappearance due to a lack of generational renovation. This way, the VIRTUAL PLATFORM is also a vehicle of cultural awareness expansion that’s also setting its sights on local audiences. 

Current Highlights of the Japan Cultural Expo VIRTUAL PLATFORM

45 projects both past and ongoing have been included in the launch, granting us access to a wide array of disciplines, covering history from the Jomon period until now. Some exhibitions are permanent, while some others have limited access depending on the schedule. These are some of the most interesting examples of what’s in store for all of us:

Historical Treasures from Japan’s Jomon Period

Niigata’s Prefectural Museum of History has an outstanding collection of archeological pieces of Japan’s prehistory, known as the Jomon Period (14,000–300 BCE). The exhibitions include a deep look at Niigata’s history as well life-size recreations of scenes of daily life in Jomon culture, which can be experienced through a virtual tour. This can be found on the virtual platform’s floor A, room S1.

The Art of Crafting Beauty from Nature

Kōgei means literally “craft.” But here, we’re talking about pieces more akin to art, bringing exceptional beauty to daily objects such as eating utensils and decorative creations. The exhibition features, among other things, the recording of last year’s Online Symposium, gathering discussions from artists and scholars around the themes of nature, utility, and international recognition within the context of artistic creation. There’s also a VR exhibition that grants full online virtual access to Tokyo’s Hyōkeikan Gallery, where the actual exhibition took place last year. This can be found on the virtual platform’s floor B, room S6.

Traditional Japanese Performing Arts 

The fascinating beauty of Japan’s famous and beloved theatrical arts have their space as well, through a selection of clips belonging to several Kabuki, Bunraku or Noh performances held on Tokyo’s National Theatre, showcasing the variety and complexity of these centuries-old arts. The picks are complemented by dedicated educational links to learn more about the crafts, as well as additional samples of traditional Japanese music. Available on floor B, room S4.

National Theatre in Japan, a show of kabuki, Moon, Snow and Flowers
Moon, Snow and Flowers – Performing Arts Celebrating the Natural Beauty of Japan at the National Theatre.|Photo courtesy of Japan Arts Council

Where Art Intersects with Nature 

With humanity and nature as recurring themes, the exhibition also focuses on our relationship with nature through art in the sacred forest of Meiji Jingu and shared experiences with National Parks and Horseback Archery, known in Japanese as Yabusame. Japanese culture prides itself in its deeply rooted-in-nature aesthetics, so this section emphasizes said ties with the underlying theme of sustainability. These arts and crafts cannot be sustained if the links with nature become severed. Available on floor A, room N1.

white deer at the Meiji Jingu statue
Meiji Jingu Forest Festival of Art Kohei Nawa《White Deer (Meiji Jingu)》2020. |© Kioku Keizo

What’s in Store for the Future of the Platform?

The Japan Cultural Expo, launched in conjunction with the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, has only just begun. With eyes set on Osaka’s World Expo scheduled for 2025, the exhibitions since the platform’s August 17th service launch marked the beginning of more than 240 displays, with both permanent and limited-time exhibitions on display for this open-ended project. The organizers will continue to expand the platform and also aim to include interactive activities between users and organizers.

Sample image of future plans for the virtual platform for the Japan Cultural Expo
Image with a portrayal of the platform’s intended features after autumn|Photo courtesy of Japan Arts Council

After autumn, in addition to the distribution of online tours and stage performances, the site is expected to expand as a space where nature and cities of Japan depicted in 3DCG (3D computer graphics) can coexist. Site functionality is expected to increase to include features such as the option of creating virtual avatars to participate in live streaming sessions. So stay tuned for the next scheduled exhibitions!

Toshiko Sakurai

Toshiko Sakurai

I shoot (with my camera!), therefore I am. I paint with light and try to put letters together to the best of my abilities. I arrived in Tokyo from Barcelona the autumn of 2017 and since then I've devoted myself to capture the city corners while riding my bicycle. When I'm not carrying my camera, I'm usually defying the culinary ortodoxy mixing styles from everywhere I've ever lived.

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