THE YEAR 2013 represented a milestone for Japan and Slovakia, being the 20th anniversary of Slovak-Japanese diplomatic ties. To mark the event and solidify those ties, the Japanese Embassy to Slovakia promoted a range of cultural events in Slovakia, which have spilled over into 2014 for the V4 plus Japan Exchange Year.

“At the Visegrad Group plus Japan Summit Meeting, held in Warsaw in June 2013, the prime ministers of the V4 plus Japan agreed to designate 2014 as the V4 plus Japan Exchange Year with a view to further strengthening their close ties and promoting people-to-people exchanges in various fields, such as culture, trade and tourism, jointly by the governments and the private sector,” the culture section of the Embassy of Japan to Slovakia informed The Slovak Spectator.

It added that on the occasion of V4 + Japan Exchange Year, the Japanese Embassy is organising various commemorative cultural events throughout the year, introducing Slovaks to as many aspects of Japanese culture as possible by organising concerts of Japanese music and other performances.

For example, participants of the Day of Friendship between Slovakia and Japan organised, in cooperation with the city of Bratislava in January 2013, a rich programme to mark the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Slovakia and Japan.

“Compared to previous years, this year we put a bigger focus on Japanese cuisine,” the Japanese Embassy wrote. “Traditional Japanese cuisine, such as sushi, is gaining popularity among the Slovak people year by year, and in addition, we are pleased that the traditional Japanese cuisine ‘Washoku’ was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list last December. At this opportunity, we try to get the Slovak people to learn more about the enchantment of Japan’s culinary culture by organising various events related to Japanese meals, including traditional Japanese rice wine, sake”.

The sake event took place on March 19-20 at the Radisson Blu Carlton Hotel, with an expert lecture on sake by Keisuke Irie, followed by a tasting with commentary by Akihiro Nemoto, whose family has a 400-year tradition producing the beverage.

“We would like to mention also the first speech contest in the Japanese language in Slovakia, which we organised in cooperation with Comenius University and Prešov University in May 2013,” the embassy wrote.

Japanese cultural events were not all relegated to the capital: in 2013, Košice became the European Capital of Culture, and this helped shift the focus of events to the east.

“Last year people in Košice had many occasions to enjoy various Japan-related events, such as a performance of Japanese drums, Taiko; a performance of traditional Japanese comic theatre, Kyogen; a classical music performance by Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, and many more,” the Embassy of Japan informed, adding that, of course, it also participated and organised a performance of the traditional Japanese theatre Noh in cooperation with Košice 2013. Other events in Košice included the photo exhibition European Eyes on Japan / Japan Today, and a lecture and workshop of Aikidó in April and a Japanese film festival in February rounded out the events in Košice.

Summer 2014 events were enhanced by an exhibition of Japanese dolls at the Slovak National Museum. Dolls, both traditional and modern, are an inseparable part of Japanese culture and family life.
Dance, both traditional and modern, is an important Japanese export. In September 2013, the Souke Kanzayki Ryu troupe, representing one of the oldest dance schools in the country, in the performance of Nihon Buyo (i.e. Japanese dance) presented Jiutamai, a less dynamic but more elegant dance style, accompanied by live music.

In February, dancer Sumako Koseki performed her new piece Metamorphose at the Elledanse theatre and school. Koseki dances and teaches – also in Bratislava – the Butoh style of Japanese dance, which is a modern answer to more traditional styles.

But the year is far from over, and Japanese initiatives continue, as the embassy announced: “In September, a special concert of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, in which a renowned Japanese violinist is going to perform, will be organised by the Slovak Philharmonic and Panaso-nic Concerts, under the patronage of the Embassy of Japan. October is the Month of Japanese Culture, in which we will organise, for example, a lecture on Japanese cuisine; a screening of Hafu, a documentary film about people with one parent who is Japanese and the other who is of another nationality; and a performance of traditional dances from the Ryukyu Islands, etc. In November, we are planning a performance of dance with puppets in Košice.”

Japanese culture is already fairly well known in Slovakia, and the language is taught at Comenius Unive-rsity and Prešov University, as well as in various private language schools, but “we are sure that through our events during the V4+Japan Exchange Year, Slovak people have been getting more familiar with Japanese culture and Japan itself”, the Embassy summed up.