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Detail from a byobu, (painted folding screen room divider) on display at Japan Expo
Detail from a byobu, (painted folding screen room divider) on display at Japan Expo
Detail from a byobu, (painted folding screen room divider) on display at Japan Expo
Detail from a byobu, (painted folding screen room divider) on display at Japan Expo
U. S. - J A P A N
E X P O  2 0 0 1
The largest Japanese Cultural
event in North America

Photos and text by Mark Vallen
The US Japan Expo is held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The following report and photographs are about the 2001 Expo.
The 22nd Annual US Japan Expo was held on Nov. 24-25, 2001 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Thousands jammed the convention hall during those two remarkable days for the largest Japanese cultural event of its kind anywhere in North America. The crowds indulged in the talents and wares of many Japanese artists, performers, merchants, and entrepreneurs who came all the way to Los Angeles to participate in the event! On stage one could see artists ranging from the YOKO AWAYA KAI (a music conservatory that gives classical koto performance), to the internationally famous Jazz band, HIROSHIMA.

Those who attended the Expo were presented with a fantastic array of contemporary and traditional Japanese culture. There were presentations of ikebana (flower arrangement), live demonstrations of Aikido performed by the students of The Dojo (a local martial arts training center), and over 200 exhibitors offering everything from handcrafted tatami and ceramics to the latest in Japanese Motor Cars. A large part of the hall was devoted to the hottest new imports from Mazda, Honda, Isuzu, Nissan, Toyota, and other giants of the Japanese automotive industry.

Digital entertainment enthusiasts also had the opportunity to check out the very latest in game technologies from Japan. SQUARESOFT had a small pavilion where dozens of new and exciting digital games were premiered, but it was FINAL FANTASY X that had everyone's attention. The characters and environments in this newest game are unbelievably realistic!

Dancer from the Odori Kai
Dancer from the Odori Kai
Dancer from the Odori Kai
Dancer from the Odori Kai
Lion Dancer from the Odori Kai
Lion Dancer from the Odori Kai
Lion Dancer from the Odori Kai
Lion Dancer from the Odori Kai

For me, one of the most exciting moments of the Expo came with a performance by the ODORI KAI (Dance Society). Founded by master choreographer Kansei Fujima, the troupe featured many wonderful dancers like the one pictured directly above.

But the highlight of the presentation was a kabuki style dance featuring two dancers dressed as magnificent Lions. The duo, one dressed in white and the other in red (pictured at left), mesmerized the crowd with their regal appearance, stunning costumes, and obvious professionalism.

SONY had on display it's "digital companion"... AIBO, the robotic dog. AIBO is not a toy but a sophisticated computer on legs possessing the ability to interact with those around it. The digital dog comes with stereo microphone ears and voice recognition programing that allows it to hear and follow commands of "sit" "shake hands" and "dance" (AIBO recognizes 75 different words). Not only that, but Aibo has LED eyes that express emotions, a digital camera in it's nose that allows it to see the world (and snap pictures for it's master), and touch sensors on it's head, chin, back, and paws that respond to when petted. The mechanical mutt can even be programmed to read your e-mail (I'm not kidding!) AIBO costs around $2000, and already over 100,000 units have been sold worldwide! Future AIBO models will be even more sophisticated.
Aibo Robot Dog gets it's commands from a Human friend
Aibo Robot Dog gets it's commands from a Human friend
Traditional doll
Traditional doll
Part of the hall was set up as the Little Asakusa Marketplace. Asakusa, an ancient center of culture and business just outside of Tokyo, is still today renown for it's amazing traditional arts and crafts. 24 different shops and food vendors from Asakusa were on hand representing the Asakusa Specialized Shop Association. Vendors from Asakusa were peddling everything from regional bettara-zuke (pickles), nori (a type of seaweed harvested in Asakusa since 1300 A.D.), and kintaro-ame (candy imprinted with the faces of famous characters both modern and ancient). Ryusho is a candy shop that makes bekkou-ame, sculptural 3D creations that have earned them the title of art candymakers! Ryusho's lollypop-like creations feature portraits of Sailormoon, Ultraman, Pokemon, Doraemon, and others!
The refined and sophisticated ningyo (dolls) of master dollmaker, Tamaoki Kazuko were on display and I couldn't help but take a picture of one of her most gorgeous creations... a doll dressed in traditional Shinto Wedding kimono (pictured above).

Asakusa Edoya offered an incredible variety of craft items, from hand painted tako (paper kites) to the fanciful hand carved wood masks pictured at right.

Traditional Wood Masks
Traditional Wood Masks
There was so much to see and hear at the Expo that I can't begin to describe it all. No matter what your interest there was something there to intrigue you. Surely this is one of L.A.'s greatest cultural events, and you better not miss the next US - Japan Expo! See you there!
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