Bridges spoke with Hitoshi Suzuki, President of the Maison de la Culture du Japon à Paris about Japan – France relations, culture and more…
How would you describe the current relationship between Japan and France in terms of culture and people to people exchange?
Japan and France share a long history of cultural exchange, but I think it has never been as flourishing as it is today. The affection of the French for our culture is undeniable. More than 3 million people gathered for “Japonismes 2018”, an extensive cultural season showcasing Japanese culture in venues all around Paris and its neighboring areas, including our center, thus celebrating 160 years of friendship between our two countries. When I was a young correspondent, sent off to Paris in the early 90s by the NHK, I can assure you the general level of curiosity for Japan was not the same. Japanese culture is truly blooming in France now, and the scope of people’s interests is wide, ranging from pop culture like manga, anime, karaoke to our soul food like ramen or tonkatsu. Most of these words can even be found in the French dictionary! When one comic book out of two sold in France is a Japanese manga, it is safe to say that we are experiencing a “golden age” of Japanese culture in this country.
What role do you play in strengthening the relationship between the two countries?
Our main goal is to introduce our visitors to the diversity of Japanese culture. Our 7500m2 facility in the heart of Paris by the Eiffel tower allows us to host and organize a wide range of events, such as exhibitions, performing arts, cinema, conferences, or classes and workshops on Japanese language or different activities like Origami or Ikebana. We are driven by the strong belief that culture is both the best medium to establish dialogue and the strongest foundation to build mutual understanding on. In a time scarred by climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, social conflicts and economic inequalities, we try to address these global issues by presenting Japanese perspectives and by creating a place for intellectual exchange.
With France and Japan recovering from the pandemic, what are your hopes for the future of the relationship?
While COVID-19 has impeded the free movement of persons globally, thus preventing us from welcoming artists, performers or researchers from Japan, it was also an opportunity for us to experiment and create original digital content, such as a podcast (Miso Point), and YouTube content like tutorial videos (Les Tutos) and an online show (Le Studio). Until the global situation improves and our stage can host again the events our public in Paris is so fond of, and that are so essential in a time like ours when borders close one after the other, we will do our best to offer entertainment and a bridge to Japanese culture.
What message do you have for our readers regarding the future work of MCJP in Paris?
MCJP will celebrate its 25th birthday in 2022. We are a young institution, very enthusiastic about promoting Japanese culture here in Paris. We draw our strength from a unique cooperation between public (Japan Foundation) and private (“L’amicale au Japon” that includes around 70 companies) actors. We will keep on developing this ‘hybrid’ style and it is my duty to make the best use of what is the largest showcase for Japanese culture in Paris. Come and discover the MCJP when you are in Paris! As its President, I would be pleased to welcome the readers of Japan Times!