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The Japan Foundation

Friday, 09 January 2015 12:37

It may not be completely obvious from street level, but nestled into 131 Bloor St. W. (after a very short escalator ride to the second floor) you’ll find a bright and airy architectural space that shares Japanese arts and culture not only with the Japanese community but the rest of the GTA’s many nationalities. It’s called The Japan Foundation. They hold art exhibitions, screen films, host lectures, and offer language classes year-round (those language courses include thematic classes catering to sports journalism, travel, and reading manga, among others – manga are the hugely popular Japanese comic books). Their on-site art gallery has shows featuring work by Canadian and Japanese artists, and what might be the centerpiece of this space is the on-site lending library – it’s expansive, comfortable, and carries a ton of books, DVDs, and CDs related to Japanese culture (in English and French as well as Japanese). The collection covers music, film, literature, history, the daily papers, and of course, manga. And if you go at the right time, you may even meet The Japan Foundation’s responsive robotic baby seal.

But The Japan Foundation isn’t just a cultural resource. It’s a place for newcomers to build a sense of community or for people who’ve been here longer to reconnect to some literature, film, or music from home. And it’s also vital to people who aren’t Japanese – part of the Foundation’s objective is building friendships, sharing traditions, and creating dialogue. I asked Kate Scullin of the Foundation about this element of cultural exchange:

The Japan Foundation often has events off-site, too. On January 18th and 25th, they take Japan to Hamilton - you can see a few films at the Hamilton Public Library that capture elements of everyday life in Japan. My pick would be The God of Ramen, a documentary about a food that’s become a cultural institution, and a man that became famous by preparing it. You probably know what ramen is by now – the noodle dish that’s usually served in broth with a selection of toppings. Toronto’s seen more than a few delicious ramen restaurants open over the past couple of years.

Here’s Kate on the ramen phenomenon:

But this doc’s about a particular ramen restaurant in Japan and the culture of admiration and affection that’s developed around the man who runs it. Kate tells me more:

All of the films at the Hamilton Public Library are free, and they’re in Japanese with English subtitles. And check for updates on Cinema Kabuki, which will also be presented off-site, this time in Toronto. Cinema Kabuki takes live theatrical productions of kabuki, a traditional form of Japanese theatre and dance, and broadcasts them in HD, so they’re beautiful and convey the atmosphere of actually attending a kabuki performance. But honestly, if you’re in the Bloor St. corridor, I’d go visit The Foundation itself at 131 Bloor West. It’s a comforting way to warm up on one of these freezing afternoons, and the current exhibition of prints is on at the art gallery until January 31st.

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