France celebrates Japan culture with Japonismes 2018 festival

Japanese sculptor Kohei Nawa has installed a monumental hanging gold throne at the Louvre museum in Paris as part of Japonismes 2018.
Japanese sculptor Kohei Nawa has installed a monumental hanging gold throne at the Louvre museum in Paris as part of Japonismes 2018.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS • The largest celebration of Japanese culture ever to take place outside the country began last weekend in France.

The eight-month-long festival Japonismes 2018 features everything from prehistoric art to what the organisers bill as the first virtual-reality concert staged in Europe.

"It's the largest extravaganza of its kind ever held outside Japan," said its director Korehito Masuda.

Paris' most famous sites become windows to Japanese culture during the festival. The Eiffel Tower will be lit up in the colours of the Japanese flag for the first time in September, while artist Kohei Nawa has installed a monumental hanging gold throne in the pyramid of the Louvre museum until November.

Other events across France aim to show the immense global influence of the Land of the Rising Sun.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Japanese culture has influenced generations of French artists from Monet and the Impressionists to the present.

France is the biggest overseas market for Japanese manga comics.

"The French, more than all of the other nations, know Japanese culture best," said Mr Masuda.

Another highlight of the season, whose €30 million (S$47.8 million) budget is being entirely met by Tokyo, is the "first virtual-reality concert" in Europe. Hatsune Miku, which translates literally as "the first sound of the future", is a 3D virtual singer.

Miku has already won hearts and filled stadiums in Asia and North America with her manga-influenced style, and will take the stage in Paris in December.

"We wanted to show the continuity of Japanese tradition up to the present day through the integration of traditional art and technology," Mr Masuda said.

An interactive child-friendly exhibition in Paris immerses visitors in a wonderland of samurai and the bucolic Japanese countryside created by film-maker Hayao Miyazaki for his animated classics like My Neighbour Totoro (1988), Spirited Away (2001) and Howl's Moving Castle (2004), juxtaposed against a 11m-high virtual waterfall which moves in step with visitors' feet.

Japanese cinema also comes under the spotlight, with a retrospective for the country's best known female director, Naomi Kawase, famed for her documentary Embracing (1992), about her search for her father who abandoned her as a child.

The high-profile events are a part of Japan's cultural offensive against the rising star of neighbouring China, which is making major strides to modernise its artistic output.

France competed against Russia and Spain to host the season, winning out, the organisers said, because of its obsession with all things Japanese.

The festival, subtitled Souls In Synergy, seeks to strengthen the cultural ties between France and Japan as the two nations celebrate 160 years of diplomatic relations.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2018, with the headline 'France celebrates all things Japanese'. Print Edition | Subscribe