For the past three years, the Japanese Embassy in Costa Rica, along with the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, has been organizing Japan Week, a week-long festivity encompassing various cultural activities offered free of charge to the public.
Last year, Costa Ricans had a chance to learn about ikebana, or the Japanese art of flower arranging. Turnout was also generous for the tea ceremony demonstration and the martial arts show.
This year’s Japan week, set for Nov. 4 to11, will be inaugurated personally by Japanese Ambassador to Costa Rica Yoshihiko Sumi, with a classical concert to be held tomorrow at the Costa Rican Art Museum.A classical musician by training, Sumi will be playing the piano accompanied by renowned Costa Rican violinist María Lourdes Lobo. The duo will perform sonatas by Beethoven and Brahms, complemented by a piece by Japanese composer Yasuji Kiyose.
“We chose a work by Kiyose because he is a pioneer in adapting Japanese melodies to Western instruments,” the ambassador explains.
“His ability to fit Oriental tunes and scales into a Western framework is much appreciated in Japan. I feel it is important to introduce this composer outside of Japan, especially in Costa Rica, where many people love classical music and show interest in Japanese music.”
Though a diplomat with a background in engineering and economics, Sumi feels right at home onstage. The multitalented ambassador has performed in various public concerts, both here and in Japan. Last year, he played with the Costa Rican National Symphonic Orchestra (OSN) to a full house.
“Working with the OSN and its director, Chosei Komatsu, was an unforgettable experience,” Sumi recalls. “I was a bit nervous at first, but everyone was very patient with me.
“As a boy I always dreamt of playing with an orchestra, so I was also very excited. I used to play solo but now I enjoy creating harmony in groups.”
“I am fortunate to be able to play with Sra. Lobo this year,” he adds. “She is a very talented musician who has won the Young Soloists Competition twice. She has a busy international career, playing violin in Chile, the United States, Colombia and here. I’m lucky she even has time to play with me.”
The ambassador credits his maternal grandmother for introducing him to classical music at the age of 4. He started formal musical training three years later. Sumi remembers being teased by his classmates for spending too much time practicing the piano.
“Boys my age called me ‘girly’ because piano lessons were seen as a mostly female occupation,” he says. “While they played ball outside, I spent most of my free time on the piano. But I didn’t mind the teasing because music was a passion for me then. It still is.”
Sumi met his wife Mutsuko through a mutual interest in classical music. They met in church,where he played the organ and she sang. More than 30 years after their first encounter, the couple still enjoys singing and playing music together.
Nowadays, no matter how busy he is, Sumi finds time for piano practice. He jokes that after his wife, the piano is his other lifelong partner without which he cannot live.
He plays at least an hour a day; before a concert, he puts in three to four hours a day.
“Preparing for a concert takes a lot of effort and time,” he says. “But since I enjoy the music and it relaxes me, I don’t see it as hard work. It’s more like hard play to me.”
Besides the classical concert, organizers of Japan Week promise many more activities.
Crowd pleasers such as martial arts, ikebana and bonsai demonstrations will be back.
New on the program this year will be a lecture on contemporary Japanese literature given by María Elena Carballo, Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports.
Other new activities offered this year include an exhibition of Japanese dolls, an exhibition of woodprints by Japanese artist Taizi Harada and Japanese cooking classes.
Most activities will be held at the American Mall in San Pedro, east of San José.
Others will take place at the University of Costa Rica in San Pedro, the Calderón
GuardiaMuseum in the eastern San José neighborhood of Barrio Escalante and the National Gallery in San José’s Children’s Museum. See the Calendar pages for a complete schedule, or direct inquiries to Natsue Kaneko at the Japanese Embassy, telephone 232-1255.