Japan Week ran from March 6 until March 8 at Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central Terminal. The Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) hosted the three-day event that showcased vendors associated with Japanese travel and transportation as well as food and drink.
Nori Akashi, JNTO’s Public Relations Manager, says that visitors to the JNTO booth asked most often about traveling to Tokyo and Kyoto. This year she and her co-workers also fielded questions about Okinawa, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.
Increased tourism to Japan is generally the goal of Japan Week, but passersby at Grand Central Terminal received more than a handful of travel brochures. They also received a history lesson.
“This is a very special year because this year’s event features Japan from one hundred years ago,” says Akashi. “We have a very close relationship with Japanese travel company JTB, who also has a almost one hundred years of history . . . JTB helped the Jewish evacuation during the war.”
JTB presented the incredible story of Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat stationed in Lithuania just before World War II. At great risk to his career and to his life, Sugihara issued visas to Jewish refugees fleeing persecution by the Nazis, allowing them to enter Tsuruga, a port city in Japan. Because Sugihara followed his conscience, he saved thousands of lives. After James Barron wrote about Sugihara in The New York Times, there was increased traffic to the JTB booth, where visitors could read more about Sugihara and learn about JTB’s special package tour that follows the route of the Jewish evacuees to Japan.
Japan Week also screened Transit to Freedom, a documentary short about Sugihara by the New York Film Academy.
What did Tokyo look like more than one hundred years ago? Fuji TV’s Time Trip View iPad application took visitors to recreated scenes of Nihonbashi in Tokyo during the Edo (c. 1603-1867) and Meiji (1868-1912) Eras. Fuji TV’s computer graphics department developed the technology with museums and schools in mind.
Food and drink were on the minds of visitors of Japan Week. Food vendors Go! Go! Curry!, Ramen-Ya, and SobaKoh sold various dishes that have a 100-year history in Japan. From the Kanazawa curry to kanimeshi (crab meat over rice), it was clear that sushi is not considered comfort food by the Japanese.
For the third year in a row, there was a sake pop-up bar operated by several of the city’s most notable sake sommeliers, including Timothy Sullivan of UrbanSake.com, Chizuko Niikawa-Helton of Sake Discoveries, Toshi Koizumi of Wasan, Chris Johnson of Sake Ninja Consulting, and Hiromi Iuchi and Keita Akaboshi of Kuramoto US.
Many people associate Japan with innovative design, which was on display at the TAKUMI JAPAN booth. A project supported by the Japanese government, TAKUMI JAPAN gives global exposure to micro-, small-, and medium-sized business in Japan.
Tatsuo Kawakami, General Manager of the International Business Promotion Department, Consulting and International Business Division of Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting, says that the number of visitors at the booth was “more than we expected,” adding that they reacted to the types of materials used, especially the wooden computer keyboard by Yamaguchi Craft Ltd., one of the most popular products on display.
“New Yorkers are very keen to the kinds of things like paper and wood,” says Kawakami. “And also designs. They are not interested in very decorative ones. They’d rather see very simple designs. That is very, very impressive to us.”
In a way Japan Week was a microcosm of Her Excellency Tomomi Inada’s Cool Japan initiative, although it was not directly affiliated with it. As the Minister in charge of Japan’s initiative to introduce all of the things that are cool about Japan to the world, Minister Inada previously outlined her goals at Japan Society. Her Excellency would look at the efforts of Japan Week, with its emphasis on travel, transportation, food, drink, and design, and think, “That’s cool.”
For more photos of Japan Week at Grand Central Terminal, please visit JapanCulture•NYC’s Flickr set.