A Taste of Japan 

Japanese culture is endlessly complex and fascinating. It is especially interesting if you approach it as an American, with this country's penchant for rugged individualism and loud, disposable sensibilities. The two cultures are so different, they are amazing when taken together. Once you get past the ridiculous stereotypes attached to most things non-Western, you will find that Japanese culture is delicate and sophisticated, with a taste for the absurd.

For example, Japanese people have the coolest take on Christmas. They call Santa "Annual Gift Man." According to one version of the holiday, Christmas is about a guy who gave presents to little kids until someone nailed him to a cross. This, of course, made everyone really sad, so they started a holiday to memorialize the event.

This holiday season, you can get a taste of Japanese culture right here in Northeast Ohio. Michael Gould and Chieko Iwasaki will appear at Kent State University's Murphy Auditorium on December 4 for an evening of Japanese stories, music, and contemporary fashions. The auditorium is part of the Kent State Fashion Museum.

Chieko Iwasaki plays the koto (a harp-like Japanese zither). She began to study the instrument at the age of 5 in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. After showing early promise, she went on to study with renowned master teachers. Chieko became well-known for combining disciplined techniques with contemporary compositions. She now lives in Connecticut, where she records modern and classical compositions.

Michael Gould began studying the shakuhachi (a traditional Japanese flute) in 1982 in Kyoto. He is one of only a dozen non-native Japanese to ever obtain the rank of "Dai Shihan" (Grand Master) on the instrument. Gould is the founder of Chikuzen Studios, a school for the study of shakuhachi in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He also teaches Zen Buddhism and gives lectures on the origins of the shakuhachi in Japanese culture.

The collaboration between Gould and Iwasaki crosses cultural and age boundaries. While adults will appreciate their music and stories, the performance is also suitable for children. And, yes, the stories will be in English.

The music and story performance is being presented in conjunction with the museum's exhibition on Japanese fashions, Japanese by Design -- a collection that features 50 works by three contemporary designers. Tickets are $8 for adults, $3 for children. Proceeds will benefit the museum's endowment fund. -- Mike Hovancsek

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