An interview with the Japanese-German Center Berlin (JDZB)
New Normal as Momentum for Further Cultural Promotion and TransformationNovember 06th, 2020
On the 6th of November, we invited a great team of the cultural department of Japanese-German Center Berlin (JDZB) online to discuss the further promotion of the German-Japanese cultural relations as well as how to cope with the current pandemic in the cultural field.
Could you briefly give us an introduction to your work at the JDZB?
We are working at the cultural department at the JDZB, which is a non-profit organization founded in 1985 by two heads of the governments; Germany and Japan, with a support of the city state of Berlin. Our main activities of JDZB are to hold conferences, provide Japanese language courses, library services and several exchange programs. The cultural department is mainly in charge of several events like readings, exhibitions every two or three months, and various kinds of concerts. All of our events are open to the public and free of charge.
I am very intrigued by your different events and projects and it seems to be going great with the concept of promoting cultural exchange between Japan and Germany. Could you introduce us to some of your events?
I would like to talk about the current exhibition titled “Silent Shadows” (September 25, 2020 - January 29, 2021), which unfortunately has to be closed temporarily due to the new lockdown that started on the 2nd of November. We invited two artists, one from Japan and the other from Germany. We hold this kind of dialog exhibitions three times a year to promote German-Japanese art exchange. Our purpose of this kind of dialogue exhibition is to surprise visitors by not always showing what they expect to see but also introducing various forms of art from traditional one to modern one. You can visit JDZB’s Youtube channel and enjoy a short film about this exhibition.
Beside this exhibition, we are currently preparing a very interesting project with a title of “Mauerspiel” (Overcoming barriers) under the pandemic circumstances. We were originally planning to do it on stage, and there was a wall symbolizing the division between a Japanese and German performer, representing the language and cultural barrier that both of them have to break through during the play. It is kind of like a performance of play. Since cultural events are not possible for the time being, we are trying to put this play on zoom conference and upload it to our YouTube Channel. It is an interesting way of portraying a barrier between two people because we are physically apart. The concept of the play has changed but we still did encapsulate all the questions we would have asked in a physical play as well. It is a very interesting and great opportunity for the JDZB to try to conduct events online and to make it more accessible to enjoy our activities everywhere. This event shows how we can use chances the pandemic gives to us. It will be held on the 15th and 16th of December. Registration is possible on the website www.jdzb.de. It is also breaking through barriers between artists and audience because using digital formats, we can have artists interact with the audience participating through zoom conference chat. It is an interesting way of playing with barriers, trying to break through communication barriers happening online while it is going to be also a big challenge, since this is the first time for the cultural department to conduct events online.
Under the current COVID-19 pandemic, many cultural events were cancelled. It seems like JDZB has been trying to keep the events alive even by means of online conference as well as hybrid forms of conducting events. Could you tell us more specifically how you adapted to the situation and, if any, what some other ways to promote culture are?
It is the combination of the current situation with COVID-19 and the problems we are facing, combines with our cultural aims we try to fulfill. Of course, we try to provide interesting cultural programs and activities which sometimes do not meet the expectations the audience might have in their minds. It is important to provide traditional and authentic forms of Japanese culture such as Shakuhachi music or Kabuki and No performances, which most people in Germany do not have much chances to enjoy. We try not just to fulfill these clichés each time, but also offer contemporary formats of exhibitions that we mentioned in a previous question. Furthermore, although we have superb expertise and technical equipment to break through a language barrier existing physically, utilizing them will be very difficult in a combination with the COVID-19 situation, because we have to think about how to shift this kind of translation into the digital world. A lot of preparation has to be done beforehand, but what we are trying to do right now is to include simultaneous translation in zoom meetings. At the same time, we as the cultural department have an advantage compared to other departments, because what we provide as our events are culture and arts that do not require any language assistance to enjoy. Now the next challenge is how to provide music online in pure form and with a very high quality of sound and visuals. Of course we have all of these specific challenges to overcome because we are the cultural department. We also have to meet general challenges coming with digitalizing and in a digital age, so for example, we have to be very careful about data security whenever we use anything online, and we have to keep that in mind to follow the strict regulations concerning data security. There is also the problem of overflowing contents since everyone in the pandemic is going online. What we can do is to think about how we can make every content unique as the audience has never seen before.
The rapid digital adoption is driven by COVID-19. What is your future perspective on this digital transformation when it comes to organize events after the pandemic?
We wish to continue with online events as well even after the pandemic, so that the possibility of getting participants from both Japan and Germany at the same time will still be given. Regarding concerts, however, we will probably return to analog formats, because we see more disadvantages than advantages of having them online. For concerts, it is very important to be in a place together with other people, which many people are missing at this moment. Therefore, we have to decide from time to time, what should be conducted online, hybrid or analog, and this will be our new normal after the pandemic.
2020 is about to end with all the new challenges and obstacles. And next year will mark the 160th anniversary of the establishment of German-Japanese diplomatic relations. How do you expect the future relations between German and Japan specifically in the cultural field?
We would continue our work to provide further interesting formats of events for those in Germany and Japan by making use of online formats. We hope this will broaden the relationship between Japan and Germany over the very wide distance. Thanks to the possibilities of digitalization and the know-how that we gained during the pandemic, we are able to get closer to each other than ever before. For the 160th anniversary, we are planning several events, and it will be our aim for the next 10-20 years to provide new formats of cultural exchange especially for young people. There is so much fascination for Japanese culture for Germany and vice versa, and therefore, among the young generation, the exchange between Japan and Germany will further increase in the future.