Director’s Message

April 12, 2017

The spring has been quite busy at JFT with the conclusion of the Legendary Loyalty exhibition and the immensely popular Japanese for Laughs: Japanese Rakugo Demonstration and performance by Yanagiya Sankyo.

Earlier in March we opened the exhibition Road of Light and Hope: National Treasures of Todai-ji Temple, Nara that features the beautiful photography of Miro Ito who will be coming to our centre for an artist talk on May 26.

Complementing the exhibition, we are screening documentary films, the Tenpyo Art Screening Series that examine a number of related subjects such as the ancient music of Gagaku and the seasonal fire festivals in Nara.

This spring, we continue to be busy with our Japanese language programs, including the 2nd and 3rd term of our Japanese Together course, as well as the meetings and seminars we organize for the Japanese language teachers. Our Japanese in Anime class will again pop-up at the Anime North convention at the end of May.

Also in May, we will also be part of the 2017 Toronto Comic Arts Festival and hosting in our event hall a special display that explores Gothic Lolita fashion and culture.

Our long time staff, Mariko Liliefeldt, Chief Librarian, celebrated her retirement at the end of March after being at the helm of the library for 22 years, since the early beginnings of our presence in Canada. We will miss her smile but she promises to visit us soon! The Library is now in the capable hands of our new Library Manager Ayumi Takai.

On a similar note, I have an announcement to make as well – I will be returning to Tokyo in order to assume a post at the Japan Foundation at the end of April, after an exciting and fulfilling 18 months here in Toronto.

During my tenure, I have been fortunate enough to have worked alongside and met many inspiring individuals and wonderful institutions.  Together, we were able to implement projects that enhance and deepen understanding between Japan and Canada.

Canada is truly a country of global citizens and through my experiences here, I have come to gain more insight into the importance of intercultural exchange and the true meaning of strength in diversity. I will cherish this Canadian characteristic as it is becoming increasingly necessary to navigate the global challenges of today and tomorrow.

I wish to convey my sincere appreciation and gratitude to my staff, collaborators, contributors and visitors to our centre who share a passion in the many programs and activities of the Japan Foundation, Toronto.

I hope our paths will cross again in the near future.

With warm regards and thanks,

Emi Iwanaga
Executive Director
The Japan Foundation, Toronto


December 15, 2016

November 18 marked the first anniversary of my arrival in Toronto. Despite some challenges, like the minor flood that put us in a temporary office for a few weeks last winter, it has been a busy, productive and rewarding year. Working flexibly around a theme of “Design,” we showcased a gamut of cultural artifacts introducing Japanese arts and culture: contemporary poster art, traditional ceramics, book design and ukiyo-e. Hundreds of guests came to watch documentary screenings on cuisine, horticulture and art in our event hall and seminar room. Still more joined us for lectures, panel discussions, library service, teachers’ workshops and Japanese language classes. As we get to know our new space and audience, we hope to continue serving you with more stimulating and surprising programming.

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) was held on the first Sunday of December. We dispatched our staff to test locations in Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver, where they oversaw the culmination of long hours of study for many industrious students. We are inspired by the initiative taken by these test takers to challenge themselves, and wish that all of them may achieve the results they hope for.

Our ukiyo-e exhibition, Legendary Loyalty: The 47 Ronin in Japanese Prints, presented in cooperation with the Stuart Jackson Gallery, continues until March 4. A long run, to be certain, but this exhibition is so packed with visual details and informative text, you will want to return for at least a second look, especially as your appreciation of the story deepens through our upcoming Chushingura lectures and film screenings. You will also have a chance to experience the art of Rakugo, a traditional form of comic storytelling dating back to the Edo period, when master storyteller Yanagiya Sankyo performs at the JCCC on Sunday, February 12.

The winter semester of Japanese Together, our language class, will begin in January. It’s not too late to join if you’re looking to brush up on your late beginner-level Japanese. We also have some fun themed classes coming up, including an intermediate-level conversation class related to one of our upcoming film screenings.

Speaking of those, we are excited to announce that we will be showing three films at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema to kick off the new year: Samurai Cat and Sue Mai and Sawa on January 8, and A Tale of Samurai Cooking on January 15. We will be heading to Hamilton and London for more screenings in February and March.

Finally, our year was made so much richer by our partnerships with other like-minded organizations and individuals, including the Embassy and Consulates-General of Japan in Canada, the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, the Canadian Association of Japanese Language Educators, the Japan Studies Association of Canada and so many more. We are especially grateful for the 100+ volunteers who generously give their time to support our exhibitions, library services, language classes and events.

On behalf of The Japan Foundation, Toronto, I wish you all a safe, warm winter and a joyous holiday season, and look forward another year of exchanging ideas and sharing our cultures and experiences.

Emi Iwanaga
Executive Director
The Japan Foundation, Toronto

October 13, 2016

Is 2016-2017 a Year of Design at JFT? It has been on my mind to have a programming theme, a thread that connects our events and exhibitions. After all, design is something that permeates all of our lives, whether or not we give any thought to it. This summer, we showed a series of films that looked at the various ways humans have adapted natural resources and processes to create modern horticulture and cuisine. This is an origin of what we think of as design- learning to cultivate rice, vegetables and a certain strain of mold that makes the perfect sake….and then using clay and fire to create bottles and cups that not only hold our food and drink, but look beautiful in our homes, like the pieces in this summer’s Yakishime exhibition.

Our current exhibition, Takashi Hiraide — Airpost Poetry Book Design for One from One, showcases innovative book design and mail art by bestselling author Takashi Hiraide. In his writing, bookbinding and design, he aspires to make the reader/viewer consider what it means to be a “book.” He will be with us on October 27 to share his philosophy, as well as giving talks at the International Festival of Authors.

In our fall film series, When the Mask…Becomes the Face!, humans redesign their identities, for better or worse. We are proud to be working with the Rendezvous with Madness Festival in presenting The Face of Another, and to host Mikiko Sasaki, a director whose first feature documentary, The Great Sasuke, will have its Canadian Premiere at The Revue Cinema on October 16.

On November 2, we will host a talk by one of Japan’s most famous designers, art director Kenya Hara. Among many other titles and accomplishments, Mr. Hara has served as Art Director of Muji since 2001, influencing the look of fashion and home décor around the world.

Can we weave the thread of “design” through our Japanese language classes? Well, once you master hiragana and katakana in our classes, you can start to explore the possibilities of Japanese typography! Learning the Japanese phonetic alphabets is a necessary first step in learning the language, and before you know it, you’ll be ready to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, which is held each December in Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver. (Don’t worry- registration for 2016 is now closed, so if you haven’t already signed up, you’re off the hook this year!)

We have also been keeping busy in the field of Japanese Studies and Intellectual Exchange. Last week, we had the honour of collaborating with the Japan Society in presenting a lecture on Abenomics by French economist and scholar, Professor Sébastien Lechevalier, who is also a recipient of a JF fellowship. And next week, I will attend the annual conference of the Japanese Studies Association of Canada (JSAC), an institution that will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2017.

If you are interested in learning more about Japan Foundation fellowships and programs, please take a look at our 2017-2018 Program Guidelines, which were recently posted online. And exhibitions, events and program deadlines may come and go, but our library is always here, containing all the resources you need to delve into Japanese culture, design-related or not.

Last but not least, in about one month, I will mark my first year as Executive Director of The Japan Foundation, Toronto. During this busy time, I have been grateful for the support and friendship of Chieko Kono, who has served as my deputy and Director of JFT since August 2013. It is with some sadness that I must announce that next month, Ms. Kono will return to Tokyo to assume a new role in the organization, but I have no doubt that her talent, leadership, humour and patience will be a marvellous asset to her next assignment! On behalf of all of our staff, I would like to express our warmest thanks and best wishes to Ms. Kono, who always has a smile and a kind word for everyone.

Once he has had a chance to settle in, we will introduce Masahiro Saito, who will be arriving from Tokyo next week to succeed Ms. Kono as my deputy and Director of JFT. We look forward to seeing you in Toronto, Mr. Saito!

I wish you all a happy and healthy fall season, and look forward to seeing you at our events, in our gallery and around town.

Emi Iwanaga
Executive Director
The Japan Foundation, Toronto

July 26, 2016

We begin with exciting news: thanks to the generosity of Christie Digital Systems, we have installed a new, high-definition projector in our event hall. We are grateful to Christie for this marvellous gift, and look forward to resuming in-house programming of lectures, films and workshops.

For our inaugural event, our Japanese Studies and Intellectual Exchange (JSIE) department hosted two lectures by Hungarian ceramic artist and Japan Foundation Fellow Julia Nema. Dr. Nema spoke about our current exhibition, Yakishime- Earth Metamorphosis, which introduces a Japanese technique in which pottery is fired at a high temperature, resulting in a variety of unusual finishes. We were honoured by the attendance of the Hungarian Consul General, Stefania Szabó, at the lecture. The full-to-capacity audience included a number of Canadian ceramic artists, some of whom travelled for several hours to join us.

The yakishime exhibition includes a number of beautiful pieces designed for use at the dinner table, so we have programmed a complementary series of seven documentaries related to traditional Japanese horticulture and food preparation. Titled Designed by Nature, Refined by Tradition, the series includes films on heirloom vegetables, sake-making, and the origins of shoyu and dashi. All screenings are free and subtitled in English.

Our summer film programming continues on August 21 and 28 with free presentations of three classic musical films, which will be screened on 35mm at the historic Revue Cinema. Originally selected for the Japan Sings! series at the Japan Society, New York, the films will be introduced by series curator Prof. Michael Raine of the University of Western Ontario.

The Toronto Japanese Film Festival recently wrapped up its fifth edition, and we would like to congratulate the Grand Jury Prize winner, Mipo Oh’s Being Good, and the Kobayashi Audience Choice Award winner, Nobuhiro Doi’s Flying Colours. Congratulations also go to the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary, and to director Takashi Miike, who will receive their Lifetime Achievement Award. We are proud to see Japanese directors being honoured at Canadian festivals.

As you may know, summer is the season for matsuri (festivals), and this year we were lucky to have two traditional Japanese festivals in the Toronto area – the Natsu Matsuri and Bon Odori at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre on July 9, and the Mississauga Japan Festival on July 10! We also held a Japanese language class on the theme of matsuri to help get into the festival spirit.

On July 3, the summer Japanese Language Proficiency Test was held at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Our best wishes go out to the test-takers who diligently continued their studies well into the lazy days of summer! The next opportunity to take the test will be on December 4. We will post registration information on our website in September.

My colleague and I had the pleasure of attending the graduation ceremonies at the Toronto Japanese Language School and Nisshu Gakuin. There are many such opportunities for Japanese language studies in Toronto, including JFT’s own Japanese Together classes. And of course, you can always stop by our library to check out books, movies, learning materials and manga in Japanese and English.  We also offer support for teachers of the Japanese language, including our recent Summer Training Program, which was held in Edmonton in cooperation with Alberta Education.

We wish you all the best for a season of sunshine and relaxation, and hope to see you soon at JFT.

Emi Iwanaga
Executive Director
The Japan Foundation, Toronto

April 13, 2016
Reflecting on the Past/ Reflecting on the Future: Hyogo Aid ’95 Revisited

In 1995, the Japan Foundation, Toronto was reborn. What began as an office became a fully-fledged cultural centre, complete with a gallery for the exhibition of Japanese and Japan-related artworks.

And the exhibition that first graced our gallery walls at our original location in the Colonnade was Hyogo Aid ’95.

1995 was the year of the devastating Great Hanshin Earthquake in Kobe in which over six thousand lives were lost. The international community embraced the people of Japan, and we were overwhelmed by the kind thoughts of those in Canada and all over the world.

Many Japanese artists also showed their solidarity by contributing works of art in support of recovery efforts. Thus the Hyogo Aid ’95 project was born.

Now we find ourselves twenty years on in a new location, looking back on the many exhibitions and programs we have been able to present. Seeing the artwork in this collection on the gallery walls at the Japan Foundation, Toronto once again, I am reminded of the journey we have taken. A journey that has without a doubt been worthwhile.

I am delighted to welcome you to our new gallery space, and hope that you will be inspired by the images you see to reflect not only on the past, but on the future as well.

Emi Iwanaga
Executive Director
Japan Foundation, Toronto

Sadly echoing Hyogo’s disaster, earlier this month the Kumamoto region of Japan suffered another devastating earthquake. While our appreciation goes out to those in the international community who have offered their well-wishes and support, our deepest sympathies go out to those who have suffered tragic losses.  

Emi_Iwanaga2March 29, 2016

It seems like only yesterday that I arrived in Canada to succeed Takashi Ishida as the Executive Director of The Japan Foundation, Toronto, but somehow, a whole season has passed in a flash. Snow has been replaced by the first green snowdrop shoots, and time has barely stood still long enough for me to collect my thoughts.

The transition from my previous post as the Executive Director of The Japan Foundation, Budapest took me far afield: back to Japan, and then a whirlwind tour of Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. I have had the pleasure of meeting many friends and colleagues of JFT, and I look forward to getting to know even more of you as I continue to get to know Toronto and Canada.

In January, flooding in our building led to the unexpected, extended closure of our cultural centre, and we have been overwhelmed by support and concern from our friends and visitors. On behalf of The Japan Foundation, Toronto, thank you for your kind wishes, encouragement and patience during the closure.

We are eager to resume our activities at 2 Bloor Street East, and I am happy to announce that we will be opening to the public again soon. The Library will reopen on Monday, April 4 (so you can rest assured that this is not an April Fool’s Day joke!), and we will have lots of new materials for you to catch up on in the coming months. Please check our website for hours and additional opening dates.

My first month in Canada kicked off with the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, held yearly in Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton on the first Sunday of December. The test results are now available online for test takers, and I hope all those who challenged themselves this year received the scores they hoped for. For those who are raring to take another shot at it before next December, the test is also held in Edmonton in July, with registration open until April 8th.

This past weekend, I had the privilege of serving as a judge at the 27th Canada National Japanese Speech Contest. It is inspiring to see the students’ hard work come to fruition at such a high level of competition, and I was deeply impressed by the participants’ communication skills.

For those who are interested in studying Japanese, we have expanded our class offerings, with term-based courses using the Japan Foundation’s Marugoto textbook, and special events, such as our popular travel and holiday-themed classes. We also have a wide variety of Japanese language textbooks available for loan at our Library.

Despite the unexpected inconvenience of the closure, we kept busy this winter, getting out and about to carry on with our activities at various alternative venues. We hosted a series of lectures, in Toronto and other cities, on far-reaching topics including the Chushingura legend in the arts, urban planning for ‘smart’ cities, and the work of celebrated Japanese architect Manabu Chiba. In addition, we launched our Travel Lecture Series with two evenings of cross-cultural exchange related to travel writing and special interest tourism. We are grateful to the many hosting and co-sponsoring organizations, too numerous to name, that worked with us to realize these events.

Our annual film screenings at the Bloor Cinema were held in January, and we experienced our highest attendance numbers to date. I have no doubt that our promotional partnerships with the Toronto Japanese Language School, the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, and the Reel Asian International Film Festival were a large factor in the success of this year’s screenings. We also visited Hamilton, holding screenings at the Hamilton Public Library and the Hamilton Dialogues.

Cinema Kabuki returned to the TIFF Bell Lightbox in February, drawing long-time fans and new converts to enjoy four kabuki plays in high-definition surround sound. This was a marvellous opportunity to meet members of the community with a strong interest in Japanese arts and culture. As has become a tradition, many dressed up for the occasion, brightening up the chilly mornings with colourful interpretations of classic and contemporary kimono dressing.

We will be announcing more programming in the coming weeks, so please check our website or subscribe to our email newsletter for updates. In the meantime, I wish you a warm and peaceful spring season, and look forward to seeing you soon.


Emi Iwanaga
Executive Director
The Japan Foundation, Toronto

interview with Emi Iwanaga in Nikkei Voice
interview with Emi Iwanaga in E-Nikka