THERE can hardly be two more different countries than Slovakia and Japan: the former a landlocked tiny young republic in central Europe, the latter a constitutional monarchy on an archipelago in the Pacific with a population of almost 130 million people and a per capita GDP twice as high. But still and all, the two nations do have things in common and, if joint efforts continue as successfully as they have so far, the countries might discover further similarities, perhaps many more than they would have expected.
The domain of culture has always been the best bridge for nations to get closer to one another. With this in mind, the Japanese Embassy in Bratislava carefully prepares its cultural calendar every year, aiming to promote various aspects of Japanese life among Slovaks.
According to Masako Morishita, the embassy’s cultural attaché, Slovaks and Japanese already have a good foundation on which to build, as they are far less dissimilar than they may seem at first sight.
“Both nations, for example, greatly enjoy hiking: the relationship Slovaks hold towards nature in general strongly resembles the typical Japanese reverence for the environment,” she told The Slovak Spectator.
“Another common feature is the two peoples' love for dancing and singing, and not less interesting is the importance that both Slovaks and Japanese have ascribed to the cycle of the four seasons throughout their histories.”
Whether it is because of these common interests or for other reasons, Japanese cultural heritage enjoys considerable popularity in Slovakia. Over the past few months, the Embassy has organised a handful of successful events focusing on the best-known traditions that have become iconic trademarks of the Land of the Rising Sun.
In June, an exhibition of suiseki stones and bonsai trees took place in Bratislava; two months later, the capital hosted a traditional Enshu-style tea ceremony accompanied by a lecture on tea preparation; and at the end of September, a calligraphy workshop was held in the city.
But the embassy does not compose its events only according to these tried-and-true recipes: the attaché also wishes to familiarise Slovaks with lesser-known facets of her homeland, such as its pop culture or Japanese cuisine.
“When speaking about Japan, the locals usually think of judo, karate, bonsais or cartoons,” said Morishita. “There are, however, other interesting aspects of our country that are comparatively unfamiliar to Slovaks, and we therefore want, step by step, to make them better known.”
Faithful to these ideas, Japanese representatives to Slovakia also co-organised, for example, the Four Elements multimedia festival which was held in Banská Štiavnica in August, invited organist Ai Yoshida to perform in Bardejov, Humenné and Michalovce in September, and opened the doors of the embassy’s premises to the public at two soirées around Shogi and Go, popular Japanese board games, in October and November.
The latest and undoubtedly one of the most spectacular events was a performance by Edo’s Shinnai Joruri and Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo ensembles presenting Bunraku, traditional Japanese puppet theatre, held at the end of November in Bratislava.
From Morishita’s point of view, the greatest success of her cultural office is the fact that it has managed to team up with various local institutions.
“We have developed and strengthened our cooperation with several Slovak cultural institutions, such as the Bratislava Information and Cultural Centre, Comics Salon, the Slovak Origami Society, the Go Association and the Shogi Association over the past year,” she stated, adding that thanks to this, the events planned for the months to come are no less promising for enthusiasts of Japanese culture.
“To mention only a few, our fans can look forward to the embassy’s presence at the ITF Slovakia Tour tourism fair in Bratislava in January, to the Month of Japanese Culture in Košice in February, and to screenings of Japanese movies to be shown within the Bratislava AnimeSHOW festival in March,” she concluded.