By Rebecca Chen, Research Intern, East-West Center in Washington. She is a graduate student at Georgetown University.
Note: this article originally appeared in the East-West Center’s Asia Matters for America/America Matters for Asia initiative on January 9, 2018.
The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) launched a permanent Japanese art gallery in early November. The collection features both traditional and contemporary works. According to museum director Salvador Salort-Pons, the contrast between new and old demonstrates that Japanese art is an ongoing tradition. The exhibit provides context to objects by placing them in their original settings such as tea rooms, domestic rooms, and temples, and seeks to explore how the works can impact space to inspire both stillness and movement in the viewer. One of the pieces featured is a lacquered sculpture of a Rakan, or disciple of the Buddha, another is a sixteenth-century Samurai helmet. It also features digital components, such as an interactive tea ceremony table and a short film of traditional Noh Theater produced in collaboration with Tokyo’s Kanze Kyukokai Theater. The Japan Business Society of Detroit, which also organized a Japan Cultural Developmentprogram at the DIA to promote friendship between the US and Japan, contributed $3.2 million toward the gallery.
The gallery is the latest example of the enduring connection between Michigan and Japan. Michigan and Shiga prefecture forged a fruitful sister state/prefecture relationship in 1968, and today there are twenty-seven cities in Michigan that maintain sister city relationships with Japan. The relationship has fostered numerous cultural exchanges, including an annual Japan festival held in Novi, MI. In 2015, the Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids opened a Japanese garden modeled on the gardens found in Shiga.
Gerald Ford, a Michigan native, was the first US president to visit Japan in 1974, when he promoted the US-Japan alliance and economic ties. Japan is a leading foreign investor in Michigan, and five hundred Japanese companies have created 40,000 jobs for Michigan’s economy. Many of Michigan’s schools have excellent Japanese language programs – more than 2,000 university and community college students and more than 4,000 K-12 students in the state are enrolled in the study of Japanese language. Japanese students contribute $12 million per year to Michigan’s economy.