A cultural bridge to Ukraine
Osaka author promoting exchanges between Slav country
Hoping to build
a cultural bridge between Japan and the Ukraine, Motohiro Ono, head of the
Japan-Ukraine Cultural Relations Society, recently published a book on his
yearlong stay in the Slav country, which is largely unfamiliar to people in
Japan, after quitting his job at a publishing company.
Ono of Yao,
Osaka Prefecture, who studied Russian literature at Tenri University, said, "I
hope through my book I can fill the gap between Ukrainians, who have a great
love and respect for Japan, and Japanese, who know little about the Ukraine."
His book "Ukuraina
Maru Kajiri" (Tasting the Whole Ukraine) describes his experiences in the
country between January 2005 and January 2006.
may think of the fatal accident at the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl in April
1986. Others may think of the Orange Revolution, which resulted in Viktor
Yushchenko's victory in the 2004 presidential election" he said.
"Or many may
think of the country's soccer team, which reached the quarterfinals in the
recent World Cup in Germany under its captain and great striker Andriy
ordinary Japanese know virtually nothing about the country," Ono said, adding
that in contrast Ukrainians love Japan and its culture.
Sushi is very
popular in the country, although Ukrainians do not eat that much fish. Ono said:
"I was surprised to learn there are more than 50 sushi restaurants just in Kiev.
There are some in Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Odessa and other cities." The number
is surprising given that only about 140 Japanese reside in the country,
according to Foreign Ministry data.
Fish for sushi
is imported from the United States, and the rice is grown in California and
Egypt. Among the sushi bars there, he found that the food was generally good.
occasionally asked for advice by restaurant owners," Ono said. "I told one
restaurant that it would be better to cook the rice softer."
He saw women
wearing lacquer-coated chopsticks in their hair, and many young people wearing
Ono, Japanese novels are also appreciated by Ukrainians, and those of Yasunari
Kawabata, Soseki Natsume and other major Japanese writers were translated more
than a half century ago. He said, "In addition, in recent years, works by
younger novelists, such as Ryu Murakami, Haruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto,
have been translated into Ukrainian."
and manga are popular among teens around the world, and Ukraine is no exception,
according to Ono. There is an anime and manga fan organization called Crystal
Power, which was established in 1997. Ono was invited to their events during his
stay in the country and asked to become an adviser.
mostly girls in their late teens, sang anime songs in Japanese at their cosplay
(dressing up) events, although they weren't capable of having a conversation in
Japanese," he said.
determined not only to learn about the country but also to provide more
opportunities for Ukrainians to learn Japanese culture. So he organized Japanese
cultural events there by taking advantage of the personal network he built while
working at a publishing company.
In July 2005,
with the help of a Ukrainian expert in Japanese culture, he held a traditional
tea ceremony in Kiev by inviting a teacher of the Omote-senke school from Japan,
who is a friend of Ono's mother.
About 30 people
participated in the event, asking questions about the state of mind of Japanese
when they drink tea and whether they are uncomfortable when in seiza (kneeling
with the back erect).
pianist Akiko Sakakibara in the same month and guitarist Moriyoshi Kuwata to
hold concerts in October. In November, a rakugo event was also organized with
help of Hayashiya Somejaku and Katsura Ayame.
November and early December, Ono invited Shozo Shimamoto, one of key figures of
the Gutai contemporary art movement in the 1950s and 1960s, to organize an art
At the event
held in Kiev, Shimamoto carried out such art performances as smashing glass
bottles containing pigment directly onto canvases and nyotaku, in which a nude
woman painted in ink lies down on a sheet of Japanese paper, leaving a print of
January, he took part in Japanese Culture Week, including lectures and the
introduction of Japanese foods.
Ono said that
these events attracted the attention of ordinary Ukrainians as well as the local
media, "I was happy to see that many people are interested in Japan."
He was also
invited to an hour-long national radio show to talk about Japanese foods.
interested in Russia and the Ukraine because his father studied Russian at a
reading Russian literature, especially Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novels," Ono said.
His interests in Russian literature led him to Tenri University, where he
studied the Russian language.
graduating from the university, he continued studying in the country. While
working for a publishing firm, he headed a group studying Russian and Slavic
He learned that
Kievan Rus', a state established in ninth century in Kiev, is the root of the
three modern East Slavic nations: Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.
approached 35, he felt it was his last chance to set out on a journey to satisfy
his interests. "So I made up my mind to live in the Ukraine and work for better
relationships between the two countries," Ono said.
He quit his job
and headed for the country in January last year. He was helped by Prof. Ivan
Bondarenko at National Taras Shevchenko University of Kiev, who had been an
associate professor of Tenri University, to prepare for the trip and during his
all 24 Ukrainian states, he was given a warm welcome by locals, and they
frequently offered him hospitality at their homes, although they had just met.
are very friendly and love Japan and Japanese very much because they believe we
have a sophisticated culture. However, the Japanese people's knowledge about the
Ukraine is very limited. So I hope I can help Japanese get a better
understanding of the country through my book," Ono said.
He has been
busy giving lectures about his yearlong experience since returning from the
country in January.
about 55 hours of footage on a digital video camera during his stay and is now
working to produce a film on the country, which he expects to complete this
his own publishing firm, Dniepr Publishing, which is named after a river running
through central Ukraine and loved by locals as the mother river.
Ono's book "Ukuraina
Maru Kajiri," published by Dniepr Publishing, is available for 525 yen at
Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer (Jul. 20, 2006)
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