San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Japanese Culture, Art Take the Spotlight

The eighth Semana Japonesa, or Japanese culture week, has a dazzling variety of events, concerts and workshops in store to celebrate 75 years of diplomatic relations between Japan and Costa Rica.

Events kicked off Aug. 23, with the big event, a two-day Japanese culture festival, set for this weekend. Extending beyond this core week, art and photography exhibits will run through September.

Organized by the Japanese Embassy since 2003, the many-faceted festival aims to show “the real Japan and not the stereotypical image of a remote Asian nation,” said Japanese Ambassador to Costa Rica Hidekazu Yamaguchi. “This is why we do something different every year, to show how multicolored Japan is, an amalgam of tradition, modernity, pop and Zen.”

This weekend’s program at the Juan Santamaría Museum in Alajuela, northwest of San José, begins with an inauguration Saturday at 11 a.m. Throughout two days, visitors can take in demonstrations of martial arts or an alternative fashion show, learn about and sample traditional Japanese dishes, and attend bonsai and contemporary photography exhibits. There will also be workshops, movie showings and, of course, karaoke.

ZenTica art exhibit

A live painting performance is planned for the Sept. 1 opening of “ZenTica” art exhibit, featuring acclaimed Japanese and Costa Rican artists. Photo courtesy of Stephen Johns

Those with a creative bent can pen some poetry for the second National Haiku Contest, organized by the embassy and the International Organization New Acropolis. Haikus are the ephemeral five-seven-five-syllable poems dating far back in Japanese culture. Entries will be accepted until Sept. 30.

One of Semana Japonesa’s biggest highlights undoubtedly will be the “ZenTica” art exhibit. Twenty acclaimed Japanese artists will showcase their works alongside 20 Costa Rican artists at the newly rebuilt, shimmering glass structure, Casa del Cuño, next to the old La Aduana in eastern San José’s Barrio La California.

Curator and fellow artist Stephen Johns has a long history of contact between both countries and has been instrumental in bringing many of the Japanese artists to Costa Rica for the exhibit’s inauguration on Sept. 1.

Suguru Hiraide sculpture

Sculptor Suguru Hiraide. Photo courtesy of Stephen Johns

“Both the Costa Rican and Japanese cultures are so different, yet in many ways similar,” Johns said. “They are vibrant with people living in geographically confined yet majestically beautiful lands … both incredibly rich with history and inspired by the 21st century and its new trends in the arts.”

This important cultural juxtaposition of Central American artists and their Asian counterparts promises to be a fascinating evening of live entertainment. In a unique live painting performance, artist Kazunobu Yanagi will create a huge four-meter-square painting in less than an hour, accompanied by dancers and musicians. As Yanagi completes his work, the dancers will fold the paper on which they perform into an imposing origami crane. The “ZenTica” opening will also feature traditional kagura dance and music – based around Shinto rituals – by the group Ukiha, and a solo recital by didgeridoo player Tetsuro Miyakawa.

For more information on the festival, call the Japanese embassy at 2232-1255 or visit

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