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Up-to-date and essential English tourist information about Nara for international visitors

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Nara Explorer is Nara's first and only English tourist magazine.

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People of Literature and Culture who Have Fallen in Love with Nara’s Charms

Nara-machiNara hosts a number of cultural heritage sites all round the city and prefecture: dignified shrines and temples, traditional arts and crafts, townscapes with old, traditional houses, idyllic country views… Beginning in 710, when it was selected as the Heijo-kyo national capital, Nara grew to become a center of culture, politics, art and crafts. People gathered in Nara from far and wide and the city flourished and grew prosperous.
Now, 1,300 years later, evidence of this cultural heritage is still thriving. Nara’s natural environment and deep cultural appreciation never ceased to attract people in the past and this attraction continues to this very day. Some admirers were born here and loved their hometown throughout their life. Others were seduced by Nara’s beauty and couldn’t help visiting this magical city again and again. What attracts people to Nara? What is the real beauty of this old city? And what does Nara offer to the world now?
Mushiko Mado WindowsFrom this Ancient City to the World: Nara International Film Festival 2010
To celebrate the 1,300th anniversary of the Heijo-kyo Capital in 2010, the Nara prefectural is now preparing a host of events and exhibitions to mark this special commemorative year. The Nara International Film Festival is one of those we can look forward to with great excitement. The advocate is Ms. Naomi Kawase, a film artist born and still based in Nara. Ms. Kawase won the Grand Prix award at the 60th Cannnes International Film Festival in 2007 with her feature film, “The Mourning Forest (Mogari no Mori)”. What led to her promotion of an international film festival here in Nara and what does she hope to share with the world through this festival?
Why did you decide to organize an international film festival in Nara?
After I was awarded the Grand Prix award at the Cannes International Film Festival in 2007, I received a lot of attention from around the world. This confirmed to me that Nara could be brought to the attention of the world through my films, and that hopefully people’s interest would be stirred enough to make them feel like visiting here. “The Mourning Forest” was shown in more than 30 countries. Naturally, there must be a number of people who wish to visit Nara and see for themselves the settings in the film. However, outside of Japan, few people know where Nara is or what it is like. Even though they may have liked the film and wish to visit, many may have no idea of how to even get here.
With this reality in mind, I believe that an international film festival could be a key motive for bringing people to Nara. At the same time, I think the film festival will invigorate the local young people. I can say this because of my experience in the past when I attended international film festivals overseas. Young people working in the film festival were always so active and vigorous regardless of the city or country. They were proud of being a host city for such an event.
What are the benefits of hosting an international film festival in Nara?
I think hosting an international film festival will bring a source of pride and honor to Nara’s local people for their hometown. We should not try to find or promote what we don’t have in Nara but should instead celebrate and share what is already here. This film festival can be a chance for Nara people to know more about Nara itself and to tell the world how wonderful and unique their whole culture is. Though it is billed as an international film festival, I don’t mean to organize a large-scale event. Rather, I would like to make it a chance for us to reconfirm Nara’s beauty and reflect it to the world.
Your films have received wide recognition amongst both domestic and international audiences and you often travel overseas. When you go abroad, how do you feel “Japan” and “Japanese culture” is perceived?
I have found that Japan is highly reputed for many aspects of its culture. I think foreigners still see Japan as a mysterious country in the Far East. Particularly for western people, the delicate and refined sense of beauty that exists in Japan or amongst Japanese people is something they regard highly and even long for. However, sadly, that unique sense of beauty is being lost here day by day.
Which place would you recommend to foreign tourists coming to Nara? What is special about them?
First of all, the Great Buddha at Todai-ji Temple is a must-see. Also, I would like foreign tourists to experience the “Area of Deity”. In other words, I hope they will visit the primitive forest of Mount Kasuga. Another hope is that they stay in Nara for more than just a few days and take the time to visit the southern part of Nara prefecture. There is so much remaining there where you can experience the history of 1,300 years ago.
The Nara International Film Festival:
August 25-29, 2010 (temporary); both domestic and international film directors will be invited and many fine films will be screened (www.nara-iff.jp);
October 10: Pre-opening Event, “Film Foster Children”:
film screening, live-painting act by an artist, stage dialogue, music lives, craft work shops, food stands, etc. (all for children); visit Nara Explorer website for details.
Nara-machi Highlight
Mushiko Mado WindowsNaomi Kawase: Film Artist
Naomi Kawase was born in Nara, in 1969. Her first full-length theatrical film “Suzaku” won the Caméra d'Or (the top award for a first-time director) at the Cannes International Film Festival in 1997. She went on to win the Grand Prix award in 2007 at the same festival for her film “The Mourning Forest”.
“Suzaku” is the story of a family who live in the mountains of western Yoshino in the central southern part of Nara prefecture. The film delicately depicts the sentimental feelings of first love felt by the main character, Michiru, and the bonds that hold the family together. The mysterious beauty of mountainous Yoshino will surely capture your heart as you watch the film. To experience Yoshino’s secrets for yourself.
“The Mourning Forest” is a story about the relationship between an old man, Shigeki, who is suffering from dementia and a young female care-worker, Machiko. Both of them faced a sad family experience in the past and continue to suffer as a result. One of the pivotal scenes is when Shigeki and Machiko play hide-and-seek in a vast Japanese tea field. The setting for this scene can be found about 10km to the east of central Nara in the area where Nara’s famous Yamato-cha local tea is grown.
Another of Kawase’s films that features Nara is titled “Sharasojyu”. The story again focuses on one family and depicts their very typical daily life in Nara. You can stroll through the Naramachi area and visit the temple, narrow lanes and old townscapes that were used as the locations for the movie settings.
Kawase’s films trace the lives of common people in Nara and depict some of the unique cultural and natural environment that Nara can offer to the world. They are slow-paced rather than action packed like major Hollywood films yet they are sure to draw you into the character’s lives and surroundings and leave you with a strong impression. Be sure to watch her films and visit some of the settings. To know more about Naomi Kawase, visit her website: http://www.kawasenaomi.com
Shoki Guardian StatueNaoya Shiga: Novelist
Naoya Shiga (1883-1971) is one of the greatest modern Japanese novelists who lived and wrote during the early Showa period (1912-1988). Considered by some as a genius, Shiga greatly influenced many other novelists of those days.
Shiga changed his residence as many as 26 times during his life but his love for Nara seemed to be particularly strong. He moved here in 1925 and decided to have his house built in the Takabatake area. The house was completed in 1929 and he spent about 10 years there until eventually moving to Kamakura. After he left, however, it is known that he often expressed that he deeply missed Nara.
Surrounded by Mount Kasuga and Mount Wakakusa, the quiet and peaceful Takabatake area provided Shiga with a perfect environment to concentrate during his later years as a novelist. He set his writing room on the second floor from where he could enjoy a fine view of the surrounding mountains and he liked to walk in the large Japanese garden next to the house when he needed refreshment. His greatest masterpiece and his only full-length novel, “Anya Koro” or “Dark Night’s Passing”, (1937; also translated and published in English), was completed in this house. As the title implies, “Dark Night’s Passing” plunges deeply into the dark internal struggles of its characters and poignantly reflects Shiga’s concentrated and stoic attitude to novel writing.
The house includes a western style sunroom, living room, study, tea ceremony room and modern dining room. Naturally, Shiga’s friends, who were also renowned people of literature and culture (including Saneatsu Mushanokoji, Junichiro Tanizaki, etc.), often visited here to enjoy sharing their writings and philosophy. It was a gathering place for people who loved art and literature, and later, it came to be called Takabatake Salon.
The Former Residence of Naoya Shiga:Access: Take the city circular bus from JR or Kintetsu Nara Sta. and get off at Wariishi-cho. The house is about 5-min. walk from the bus stop; map A, D-5, pg 7; Open: 9:30-17:30 (entry until 17:00), closed Mon.; 350 yen; Tel: 0742-26-6490.
Migawari Saru Guardian MonkeyTaikichi Irie: Photographer
Taikichi Irie (1905-1992) was a photographer who devoted himself to capturing the essence of his native home, Nara, on film. Born in a neighborhood of Todai-ji Temple, he grew up surrounded by Nara’s serenity and culture. Though he learned photography and secured a job as a photographer in Osaka, he returned to his hometown in 1945 after his house in Osaka was burnt down by an air raid near the end of World War 2.
After his return, he noticed the preciousness of Nara’s cultural properties and thus began to tour the old temples with his camera. This marked the beginning of how Irie became passionately engaged in his photography around Nara. He also met Naoya Shiga around this time and often visited Shiga’s Takabatake Salon to meet and discuss with other artists and cultural people.
His focus was always on Nara’s sublime beauty. He took photos of temples, shrines, Buddhist statues, nature and people. Never compromising, he always fully confronted the object he was photographing and didn’t take any photos until he truly sensed it was the time to shoot. Irie took a countless number of photos of Nara during his long life and after he passed away, about 80,000 of his works were donated to Nara City and a memorial museum was constructed in the Takabatake area, surrounded by fields and mountains.
Irie Taikichi Memorial Museum of Photography, Nara City
Special Autumn Exhibition: until Sept. 27: Toshodai-ji Temple: Irie’s photo works featuring Toshodai-ji Temple (founded in 759; World Heritage Site) a place he regularly visited to photograph temple buildings, Buddhist statues and monks continually for 50 years. Oct. 3-Dec. 23: Love Letters from the Manyoshu: Manyoshu is Japan’s ancient poem anthology compiled in the 7th-8th century. Visitors can see how Japanese people in those days expressed their romantic heart reflected through the natural scenes in Irie’s photographs.
Access: take the city circular bus from JR or Kintetsu Nara Sta. and get off at Wariishi-cho. The museum is about 10-min. walk to the east from the bus stop; Open: 9:30-17:00 (entry until 16:30), closed Mon., Sept. 28-Oct. 2; 500 yen; Tel: 0742-22-9811; http://www1.kcn.ne.jp/~naracmp/index.html.
Migawari Saru Guardian MonkeyKenkichi Tomimoto: Potter
Kenkichi Tomimoto (1886-1963) was a pottery artist and was designated as Japan’s first Human National Treasure in 1955. Born into a rich landholder family in Ando village near Horyu-ji Temple, he loved and learned about painting since he was a child. Later, he studied at university in Tokyo and majored in architecture and interior design. As a result of coming to know about the philosophy of William Morris, he decided to study in London in 1908.
Upon his return from London in 1911, he met Bernard Leach and they soon established a firm friendship. Leach was devoted to pottery and due to his influence Tomimoto’s interest in this art form also began to grow. The more he learned about pottery, the more impassioned he became and after constructing a kiln in the backyard of his house he soon became absorbed in this work.
Tomimoto gradually developed his unique techniques along with his philosophy of art and pottery and continued to create works for many years. An outstanding characteristic of his work is the hand painted patterns. They are in a geometric style, as if painted by a machine, but as one looks more closely, you will find clear signs of hand painting with no perfectly straight lines or identical patterns. Tomimoto pursued his creation of a myriad of original patterns that only he could imagine for about fifty years. He created not only aesthetically beautiful and expensive works but also paid a high regard to the importance of “daily tools”, in other words, pottery for everyone’s every day use.
The Tomimoto Kenkichi Memoriam Museum is located in the rural Ikaruga area near Horyu-ji Temple. Here, in Tomimoto’s quiet former residence, you can take as much time as you like to appreciate the diverse and sublime styles of his pottery. The old house and storehouse (used as a gallery) are themselves are like a museum where you can feel the life of Tomimoto still today.
Kenkichi Tomimoto Memorial Museum
Access: about 2 km from JR Horyuji Sta.; public bus service available; take #76 and get off at Higashi Ando stop. The museum is a 5-min. walk from the bus stop; Open: 10:00-17:00; closed Tues., Dec. 21-Jan.4; Tel: 0743-57-3300.
Migawari Saru Guardian MonkeyNatsunosuke Mise: Japanese painter
Natsunosuke Mise, born in Nara in 1973, is regarded as one of the most outstanding and remarkable Japanese young artists in recent years. He has received many prizes, including the VOCA Prize, in March 2009, known as an important venue that gives a lift to the careers of young artists. Mise’s works are created in Japanese ink (sumi) and whiting on Japanese paper. His motifs are Japanese mountains, clouds, houses and Nara's Big Buddha, all familiar landscapes in his life, and UFOs, Nessie and other personal favorite mysterious items.
His landscapes are formed on the Japanese paper by chance, with bits of paper torn off in the shape of small mountains, brush flip splashed on the wall. Onto this landscape, he further draws and sticks pieces of his memory, like a multiplication of his imagination. For more information about Mise’s work, visit his website: http://natsunosuke.com/ or contact Imura Art Gallery: http://www.imuraartgallery.com

Spring 2010

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