The 31st Report from Secretariat - EU・ジャパンフェスト日本委員会

The 31st Report from Secretariat

Shuji Kogi|Secretary General, EU-Japan Fest Japan Committee

With the support of the Japanese business community, EU-Japan Fest has been working as a partner of the European Capital of Culture (ECoC) for 31 years.  The ECoC is a long-lasting activity that builds on a long history of arts and culture and realises a vision for the future. With the advance of globalisation and information technology, art and culture can now be shared by people worldwide. Up to now, 32,000 Japanese artists and young people have participated in the EU-Japan Fest programs in the ECoC. Their subsequent activities have provided a variety of inspiration and influence to their respective regions and to the artists who followed them. Solidarity and action in grassroots arts and culture across borders have been sustained into the future.

In this report, I would like to follow some of the six key policies, the guiding principles of our activities.


Support the activities of young people with attention to their talents and personal qualities.

What is your dream for the future?

This is a question parents and teachers often pose to children. A dream is something that gives them hope for the future. Adults listen to the young people’s answers and nod in agreement. Many dreams fade away as they grow up, but some dreams become aspirations and then goals. What is needed then is understanding and supportive action from adults. Adults have real power everywhere in the real world. Step by step, in addition to encouragement and words of support, concrete help will bring the young people’s ‘goal’ closer to ‘realisation’.

Encouraging young people has always been fundamental to our work. Back in 1994, in the ECoC Lisbon, a programme inspired by history took place: in 1582, a delegation of four young boys, sent by the Japanese Catholic Daimyo (feudal lord), left Japan accompanied by Portuguese missionaries. They crossed the sea to seek an audience with the Pope at the Vatican. They rounded the far-off Cape of Good Hope and first set foot on the European continent in the church of San Roque in Lisbon. Exhausted after the three year long journey, the church fathers looked after the boys. Eventually, the boys regained their strength and left for Rome.

It was in this historical context that a spectacular programme was organised in the ECoC Lisbon. The programmes consisted of a Shomyo (Buddhist chanting) performance by 250 monks of the Buzan School of Shingon Buddhism, accompanied by a local Gregorian choir. Shomyo, like Gregorian chant, is an unaccompanied traditional music form, in which Buddhist sutras are chanted in melody. The church of Saint Roch, which once hosted those 4 brave, Japanese young pilgrims, was the venue for the event. An event where prayers from East and West transcended religious differences and took to the stage. The ECoC then decided that it should not only reflect on its history, but should be also committed to the present and the future in its future activities. In return for the visit of four boys from Japan 412 years ago, we wondered if it would be possible to send Portuguese boys to Japan and to organise an exchange between the boys of the two countries. What emerged was a youth football exchange programme. At the time, Japan was beginning its international bid for the World Cup, eight years away. However, although professional football was beginning to gain momentum in the country, there was little international exchange at the youth level. We felt that the presence of youngsters was important for the culture of football to take root in Japan. The idea was very timely.

Immediately, Vítor Constâncio, Chairman of the ECoC Lisbon, took action. He approached the Portuguese Football Association. It was decided that the Portuguese youth national team would be sent to Japan for a series of exchange matches. The matches took place over 18 days in August 1994, with six exciting games played in different parts of Japan. The final match was against the Japan Youth National Team. The programme became known as the ‘EU-Japan Youth Football Tournament’, and from that year onwards, the national youth teams from the host country of the ECoC visited Japan every year. It continued for 10 years until international youth football exchanges became common and more established in Japan. During this period, a total of 39 matches were played, attracting 136,500 spectators, with 3,042 players from Japan and Europe taking part. The youth football school held at the same time by coaches of European national teams was also a great success. A total of 5,805 Japanese boys participated at 43 different locations.

In those days, international matches against leading football nations were a dream for Japanese boys. Subsequently, their experience may have led, even slightly, to the international success of Japanese football: 80% of the Japanese team for the 2002 Japan-Korea Football World Cup attended the EU-Japan Youth Football Tournament. Needless to say, the success of this programme was made possible by the enthusiasm and hard work of football officials from Japan and other European countries. For the EU-Japan Fest, it was a source of pride knowing that from behind the scenes we were able to give a small boost.

Next, I would like to describe our music programme for the youth. Music is the world’s asset and common language. The programme, entitled ‘International Youth Concert’, began in 1999. Every year, musical groups of boys and girls from both countries stay with host families in the ECoC and Japan. They perform not only in concert halls, but also in various institutions. There are opportunities to perform in nursing homes, schools, homes for the disabled and some of for young terminally ill cancer patients. The youth of the choir feels the seriousness of the audience in the hall and begin to think about the meaning of music. Through this unforgettable experience, they learn about the realities of society, reaffirm the potential of music, and find lifelong friends.

Three junior choirs were invited to the ECoC in 2023. In May, the San-in Junior Chorus Little Phoenix from Yonago visited Kaunas (Lithuania), the ECoC for 2022. During their stay, they also performed at the memorial to Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara. Sugihara issued transit visas to Jews fleeing Nazi persecution just before the start of World War II, saving 5,000 lives. It was significant for the children to sing on this occasion of humanitarian history. The Little Phoenix was conducted by Reiko Hara. She has led this private choir for 51 years, even though local government support was not always available. It is not difficult to imagine that there have been many difficulties in continuing the activities, from securing a venue to fundraising. I would like to express my sincere respect for her efforts made over more than half a century to nurture the spiritual wellbeing and strength of children through choral activities.

In the same month, the Tokorozawa Fény Children’s Choir participated in the European Youth Music Festival in Veszprém, Hungary, the ECoC 2023. “Fény” means “light” in Hungarian. The choir was named in the hope that each child would shine in his or her own way through singing. Whilst based in Hungary as a student, the conductor Mrs. Sachiko Mager, studied the philosophy of Hungarian music educator Kodály Zoltán. She founded the choir after returning to Japan. In preparation for the choir’s participation in the festival in 2023, the children had been practising the Hungarian songs for the performance. I was able to be there when Fény arrived at Budapest Airport. Their Hungarian host families were waiting for them in the arrival hall. The Japanese children showed no signs of fatigue from the long flight and immediately expressed their gratitude by singing to them. At that moment, a circle of smiles spread around them. I felt the distance between the two sides quickly diminished, transcending the differences in race and history.

In September, Senda Pan Flute Choir from Hiroshima visited the 2022 ECoC Novi Sad (Serbia) and the 2023 ECoC Timişoara (Romania). The pan flute is a woodwind instrument and is said that was played by Paan, the pastoral god of Greek mythology. It is an instrument that was developed in Romania. Senda is the name of a primary school in Hiroshima, located near the centre of the atomic bomb dropped by the USA on 6 August 1945. Miraculously, a large Kaizukaibuki tree on the school grounds survived for more than 60 years after the war.  However, when the tree finally ran out of life, local residents discussed how to respect its soul and preserve it. As a result, 107 pan flutes were made from the tree. This choir sings while playing the pan flutes.

The first destination, Novi Sad, was the city bombed by NATO air forces during the Kosovo conflict in 1999. The bridge over the Danube was destroyed and many lives were lost. This September, many citizens attended an open-air concert held there. Many of the local leaders and adults were survivors of the bombing 24 years ago. The slides in the background of the performing choirs showed the Kaizukaibuki tree and an image of Hiroshima as it is today. When the joint performance with the local choir ended, the whole audience continued to give them a generous standing ovation. Many cheeks of them were wet with tears. For the people of Novi Sad, the memories of the war experience are still fresh in their minds. This must have reaffirmed the preciousness of peace. The children of Hiroshima must have received many messages from the faces of the audience they saw from the stage. Perhaps this experience will remind them of it in various situations when they grow up. I hope that they will in turn inspire the next generation of children.

The music festival in Kaunas was delayed by one year due to the pandemic. In 2022, Mr. Nobuyuki Hirano, Chairman of the 30th Operating Committee, also attended the festival. During his stay in Kaunas, Mr. Hirano had the opportunity to talk to various local people between scheduled programmes. He was interested in how the European Capital of Culture worked with local citizens and artists, and how it continued after the event. “This is truly a bottom-up initiative.” he said to me as he was leaving Kaunas.

Novi Sad and Timişoara were originally the host cities of the 2021 ECoC. In 2021, after a delay of two years, Mr. Shuzo Sumi, Chairman of the 29th Operating Committee, visited both cities with a choir from Hiroshima. Exhausted from the long journey and their immunity weakened by a period of isolation during the pandemic, all had a high fever. The air pollution in Serbia may have also played a part. In this situation, their host families spent day and night taking care of them as if they were their own children. Thanks to their warm care, the children recovered and were able to attend the concert three days later, giving the Novi Sad audience a moving gift. Mr. Sumi watched anxiously during the whole thing. I will never forget the look of heartfelt satisfaction on his face when the concert ended with a great success, amidst the emotional applause of the local audience. He seemed to be filled with relief that he had fulfilled one of his responsibilities as a committee chairman. The chairmen of the committee, Mr. Sumi and Mr. Hirano, both ran around raising funds, keeping in mind the importance of adults supporting the wishes of the young people. It was a moment they realised their efforts had paid off.

The other destination, Timişoara, was accessed by land. There were passport controls at the Serbian-Romanian border. The children got off the bus and crossed the border on foot. They must have been nervous about crossing the border, having never experienced such a process in the island nation of Japan. The children must have had a small taste of what is happening on the land-linked European continent. Timişoara has a history of being under the former rule of the Hungarian kings and the Habsburgs. Therefore, many citizens of the city speak Hungarian on a daily basis. The children of Hiroshima were kindly received by a Hungarian school choir. Catholic, Romanian Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim churches can be seen in the town centre square of Timişoara. It is truly a crossroads of cultures from east to west, north to south. Different religions, languages and cultures can be seen coexisting. If we learn from each other despite our many differences, society will be full of diversity. I hope that Japanese youth will think about their future from a global perspective as well.

I would also like to mention the choirs that visited Japan from Europe: in March 2024, the Detska Kitka Choir from Bulgaria arrived. They hosted Japanese children when the ECoC Plovdiv was held in 2019. They were originally scheduled to visit Japan the following year, 2020, however, it was postponed due to the pandemic. Later, when this choir launched a crowdfunding campaign for the war-affected people of Ukraine, the Japanese choir also supported it. The solidarity between the choirs continued. The Detska Kitka Choir was hosted by Fény from Tokorozawa and Little Phoenix from Yonago, who had interacted with them in Plovdiv four years ago. Most of the work from the preparatory stage to implementation was done by themselves. The host local civic community and local authorities also provided assistance.

The International Youth Concert initiative, which began as a programme of the European Capital of Culture, is now celebrating 25 years. One of the basic policies of our activities – to support activities directed towards the self-reliance of community residents and artists – is steadily being realised. I am convinced that if adults can overcome any inconvenience to support young people, their future will surely be more human and fulfilling.


Recognise the standing of and support artistic activities on which opinion remains unformed.

As mentioned above, 32,000 artists and young people have participated in EU-Japan Fest activities spanning 31 years. Most of the participants were selected through independent research and negotiations by the European Capital of Culture. During this process EU-Japan Fest has never been involved in the nomination or selection of artists, but only in providing support for research and travel.

On 28 March 2024, representatives of the 14 European Capitals of Culture between 2019 and 2028 held a presentation for artists in Tokyo. As the previous year, the event again began with an enthusiastic atmosphere. Each city aimed to acquire information on new artists.  Artists, on the other hand, had already registered their interest in being featured in the European Capital of Culture by inputting their details into our artist databank ‘Meet Up ECoC’. Contemporary artist Kaori Kato, who has been repeatedly invited to the ECoC, also took to the stage. She told the artists: “Don’t wait for opportunities. You have to make it yourself.” She spoke passionately from her own experience, particularly to those who have not yet had international exposure.

This year, architect Riken Yamamoto was awarded the Pritzker Prize, often referred to as “architecture’s Nobel”. The international prize, which is awarded each year to a living architect/s for significant achievement, was established by the Pritzker family of Chicago through their Hyatt Foundation in 1979. This is the ninth Japanese recipient of the prize, making it the country with the highest number of winners. Six of them, including Yamamoto, were architects who were also involved in the European Capital of Culture. He is an architect who has been questioning the nature of community. He was involved in a project for the regeneration of the area in Brussels, the ECoC 2000. All of the ECoC projects in which Japanese architects were involved were prepared over a period of five to ten years. Among the Japanese architects who have been involved with the European Capital of Culture, I would also like to introduce the award winners.


Arata Isozaki (Thessaloniki 1997), Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa – SANAA (Stockholm 1998), Toyo Ito (Brugge 2002), Shigeru Ban (Cork 2005)

They are now already world-renowned architects. It is worth pointing out that when they were first approached by the European Capital of Culture, they were still relatively unknown. The ECoC recognised and selected these talents, whose reputations had not yet been established.

There are many other artists and organisations whose talents were discovered early on by European curators in many fields, and who have subsequently gone on to international success. Due to limited space, I am not able to introduce all of them, so I would like to mention some of the names here.

In art: Yayoi Kusama, Chiharu Shiota, Yoshitomo Nara, Makoto Aida. In performing arts and music: Sankai Juku, Tadashi Suzuki, Saburo Teshigawara, Kaori Ito, Hiroaki Umeda, Ryoji Ikeda, YAMATO (Japanese drummers group).  Yoko Tawada in literature, Tomoko Sawada in photography, and Hiroshi Ishiguro in robotics. There is no end to the list.  Their subsequent success proves that an activity that society did not immediately take an interest in and that had not yet been evaluated had great potential. That is an encouraging reminder to the next generation of artists.

Support the formation of global networks in culture and the arts and joint efforts undertaken in their context.

Since its establishment in 1993, EU-Japan Fest has worked with 54 European Capitals of Culture. A total of 31 countries have hosted the event, including 27 EU member countries and non-member countries: Turkey, the UK, Norway and Serbia. Initially, the number of participating countries was limited. It has since expanded to now attract artists from more than 100 countries and regions in the context of the development of information technology and globalisation. The ECoC has also become a long-lasting activity, from the preparatory stage to ongoing activities after the year of the event. Art and culture have no borders. The European Capital of Culture is not about the nationality of the artists but about their talent and creativity for the future.

In 2023, more than 100 European and Japanese curators and artists came and went for research and negotiation purposes. Some of their reports are also included in this report. The fact that both regions are closely linked to local and global initiatives shows great promise for the construction of global networks in the future. Important information is not only available on the internet. Rather, the importance lies in the human relationships that are established through direct dialogue between people by visiting the sites of cultural activities.

Last October, a four-day meeting was held in Tartu (Estonia), European Capital of Culture 2024, bringing together past and future European Capital of Culture representatives. Saori Hakoda, Programme Director of our committee, was also invited. During this ECoC family meeting, issues on the site of activities and future network strengthening were discussed. Tartu is a city 40 km from the Russian border. In the current international circumstances, the significance of actions to deepen human bonds and global solidarity is reaffirmed as extremely important.


Support activities that preserve traditional culture, as well as activities that extend it.

“There is no such thing as patriotic art and patriotic science. Both art and science belong […] to the whole world, and can be furthered only by a free and general interchange of ideas among contemporaries […]”

– Goethe


Martial arts originating in Japan, have spread to many countries around the world. Currently, the martial arts population in Japan is estimated at 2.5 million, while worldwide it exceeds 50 million. I met the mayor of Bourges (France), the European Capital of Culture 2028 two months ago.  He told me that he has been practising jujutsu for many years and already holds a black belt. In the midst of his daily business, jujutsu has led him to deepen his spirituality. Today, we are entering an era in which traditional cultures are crossing borders, spreading, taking root and deepening in the world. Even in the European Capital of Culture, the number of activities that look at traditional Japanese culture and try to take on the challenges for the future has been increasing year by year. I would like to introduce two examples from among many.

In a ceramics project as part of the European Capital of Culture Veszprém, Hungarian and Japanese ceramic artists created a production that deepened each other’s traditional culture. The theme was ‘Sado’ ( Japanese tea ceremony ). It was very interesting to see the essence of Sado (tea ceremony) seen through the eyes of Hungarians, interpreted in a tea bowl work. The programme will be continued in the ECoC Bad Ischl-Salzkammergut, in autumn 2024 together with Hungarian and Japanese ceramic artists.

Another example is the new approach to Kyogen, the traditional Japanese comical drama. It has often been featured in previous European Capitals of Culture. The origin of this traditional culture dates back to the 8th century. Kyogen is based on the everyday life and anecdotes of ordinary people. It is a theatrical art form that presents a comical portrayal of the human condition and the absurdities of society through laughter. Ondrej Hybl from the Czech Republic became completely fascinated by Kyogen when he attended a workshop with Kyogen master Shigeyama Shime 25 years ago. He has been practising Kyogen ever since. One day, a Japanese textbook production company asked him to use his experience to contribute an essay about the depth of traditional Japanese culture for a high school English textbook. The content of the 10-page piece was filled with a deep love for Kyogen rooted in Czech society.


Art and culture that transcends divisions and continues through the ages.

Art and culture have defended their existence, sometimes with suppleness, sometimes with perseverance. I have found a piece of cultural activity that symbolises exactly this. It is Nova Gorica (Slovenia) and Gorizia (Italy) – the European Capital of Culture 2025, jointly preparing to host the festival. The two cities, which have a history of 1000 years and are located in northern Italy, were divided by war after World War II: in 1947, the eastern part became the territory of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia by Tito and the city was named Nova Gorica. A wall was built on the border between Nova Gorica and Gorizia in Italy on the western side.  The Cold War played out even in such a provincial city. However, the political division did not last long, as the region’s long history had created a single cultural sphere. In 1961, the walls built between the west and east sides were removed. People in the area were able to travel freely between the two sides. I was surprised by this historical fact: 1961 was a time when the conflict between the capitalist and liberal West with the USA as its ally, and the communist and socialist East with the Soviet Union, was increasingly severe. The Yugoslavia led by Tito who was a member of the socialist camp, although it was somewhat distanced from the Soviets.

Thus, the regions that shared an artistic culture were once again able to bring people back to each other and regain a sense of well-being. There may have been many factors behind how this was possible in the context of the ongoing Cold War conflict between East and West. However, the bonds of art and culture survived the political conflict. More to the point, 1961 was the year in which the construction of the Berlin Wall began. It became a symbol of the Cold War. Considering that the Berlin Wall continued to divide East and West until its fall in 1989, the case of Nova Gorica and Gorizia is a remarkable exception. It can be seen as a triumph of artistic and cultural solidarity.

During a visit to Nova Gorica last year, the mayor told me a really interesting story. His grandfather was born in 1905 and passed away in 1997. What was surprising was that he had 10 passports in his 92 years of life, i.e. the ruler of the region changed 10 times in his lifetime. His last years were under the rule of Slovenia, Yugoslavia until 1992, Nazi by Hitler during World War II and, further back, Mussolini of the Italian National Fascist Party. Despite the turbulent political environment, the artistic culture of the region remained unchanged and continued to resonate like a bass note throughout his 92-year life. It is a reminder that even in the stormy sea, deep below the surface of the ocean, the quiet and abundant bounty of nature continues to exist. Art and culture are given a long life, more than any nation, and passed on from generation to generation.


The role of citizens.

International treaties are upheld when they are convenient for the stronger countries. However, history has proven that when inconveniences arise, they can lead to failure. The European continent has been at war repeatedly. Now there is a vast zone of peace called the EU. It is universally acknowledged that mutual aggression is no longer considered possible within the 27 member countries. It is an integration driven by strong political leadership as a result of deep reflection on the tragic history of repeated wars. However, we must not forget the major role played by citizens in this context. One example is the Franco-German Youth Office. It is initiated under the Franco-German friendship treaty (Élysée Treaty) of 1963 between French President de Gaulle and West German Chancellor Adenauer. 200,000 young people from both countries, aged between three and thirty, are exchanged annually. More than 10 million youths have participated to date. The accumulation of these activities has removed prejudices and misunderstandings between the two countries. A strong network of trust has grown and driven European integration. The hope entrusted to the youth of both countries for the next generation has blossomed beautifully over more than half a century. The program is further deepening, evolving and exchanges between Muslim migrants in France and Turkish migrants in Germany have also begun. They have developed into a multi-layered cultural activity. There are micro areas that politicians overlook from a macro perspective. Neighbours must bond with each other in their daily lives. The strong will and action of the citizens, together with politics, have resulted in a peaceful society known as the European Union.



Humans have lived in nature from prehistoric times to the present day. Where once we were threatened by ravenous beasts, today we live in a jungle of vast amounts of information. AI may become a threat to humanity in the future. That is why art, culture and philosophy are indispensable for living like human beings. What is truly important is invisible. We can only feel it in our hearts.