Overview (Photo: Japan Cultural Expo)
- 6 min read

The Future of the Japan Cultural Expo

How Japan is celebrating its traditional arts in innovative ways

The Japan Cultural Expo is a nationwide celebration of Japan’s art and culture covering traditional and contemporary art exhibitions, performing arts, and arts festivals that display the beauty of Japan.

The inter-agency project, launched in the fervent build-up to Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, has drawn on public- and private-sector support to deliver a multi-year programme of events and activities, spearheaded by the Agency for Cultural Affairs and the Japan Arts Council.

Under the umbrella concept of ‘Humanity & Nature in Japan’—symbolising Japan’s deep connection and integration with the natural world—the Japan Cultural Expo has been on a mission to celebrate Japan’s heritage both across the country and around the world.

It has been doing this through a series of programs across 8 different themes spanning Japan’s prehistoric Jōmon age to the present day. These include: art and cultural treasures, performing arts, media arts, lifestyle arts, literary arts, and music, food culture and nature, design and fashion, inclusive society and coexistence of cultures, disaster recovery.

As well as reignite people’s interest in what makes the arts special, the expo has strived to bring people closer to experiencing them like never before — holding exclusive, intimate performances and venue tours that put a spotlight on interactive performance techniques and artefacts (a world away from reading about them on a museum panel).

Going virtual

Main Square
Main Square (Photo: Japan Cultural Expo)

For all of the Japan Cultural Expo’s ambitions, it has been no stranger to Covid-19 and our pandemic environment. While certain events may have been scaled back or adapted, the expo’s determination to reach new audiences has only increased.

With audiences around the world unable to enter Japan since early 2020, the initial version of Japan Cultural Expo VIRTUAL PLATFORM was launched in the summer of 2021, at a key moment to help bring Japan’s cultural assets to millions of people around the world (many stuck in lockdown).

The VIRTUAL PLATFORM incorporates the feel of a physical art expo venue into a virtual space, allowing visitors to explore a multi-storey venue and consume online digital content — across video, images, text and VR content.

Water Museum
Water Museum (Photo: Japan Cultural Expo)

With this platform, the world of Japan’s culture was made available to the fingertips — for free and around the world, with only a smartphone or any Internet-connected device needed to enter.

In a recent interview, Junko Kawamura, Japan Arts Council President, explained to us, "we do prefer visitors to have real, genuine experiences but that has to come with safety as well, so we tried to come up with an idea to offer a place for virtual experience.”

In an age where interest in digital art has skyrocketed thanks to NFT and blockchain, this digital-first art initiative comes at the right time for Japan, where there is massive interest in this space and all the innovations that take place.

Excitingly, the VIRTUAL PLATFORM is being refreshed from February 24, 2022, in an upgrade that Kawamura-san suggests will help “visitors to participate and experience even more.”

Wood Art Theater
Wood Art Theater (Photo: Japan Cultural Expo)

The new version will see users take control of an avatar, able to freely move through the entire virtual art space (unlike the point-based navigation points from before). Community aspects will see your player avatar visible to others, with interactive abilities such as ‘liking’ now available to the player for an added social dimension. The virtual world is being expanded itself too, with 3 brand new areas to explore.

Online Tour
Online Tour (Photo: Japan Cultural Expo)

Visit the Japan Cultural Expo VIRTUAL PLATFORM today to explore for yourself.

An Audience with Junko Kawamura

"We’re hoping that as many people as possible will enjoy Japanese culture at Japan Cultural Expo" Junko Kawamura in Tokyo
"We’re hoping that as many people as possible will enjoy Japanese culture at Japan Cultural Expo" Junko Kawamura in Tokyo (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

In anticipation of the VIRTUAL PLATFORM refresh, Japan Travel sat down with Junko Kawamura, Japan Arts Council President, to talk more about the expo.

It becomes apparent three core characteristics lie at the heart of each expo sub-project, with the VIRTUAL PLATFORM a perfect example of this.

To help both Japanese people themselves rediscover their own culture but also children and those less interested, Kawamura-san explains, “in addition to simply watching and enjoying arts or performing arts, we also try to feature participation or ‘experiencing’ type of projects.” The VIRTUAL PLATFORM breaks down barriers to accessing Japan’s arts, but also allows visitors to get ‘closer’ than before.

About the other characteristics, she continues: “We’re trying to increase programs where facility for performers from different areas can collaborate together.” We learn these ‘collaborations across time’ included exhibiting ukiyo-e alongside manga, or a projection-mapping event set to a Kabuki backdrop — but it’s clear the VIRTUAL PLATFORM is the most evolved example of this yet.

Third, and finally, Kawamura-san explains, “we have been trying to come up with ideas to attract Japanese and non-Japanese people to non-urban areas of Japan.” While Tokyo and Kyoto may already be famous places to visit, the expo has always tried to unlock Japan’s hidden gems away from these cultural centers. Besides promoting heritage amongst Japan’s rural areas, the VIRTUAL PLATFORM achieves this too — both by being a ‘new’ environment of its own making, but also realising this rural setting, like the aforementioned Forest Village, in a new creative way.

"We’re hoping that culture and art will heal all of us and also you can enjoy virtual communication and connection" Junko Kawamura
"We’re hoping that culture and art will heal all of us and also you can enjoy virtual communication and connection" Junko Kawamura (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

In closing, we discuss the challenges of Covid, with Kawamura-san giving fans of Japanese culture waiting to enter Japan a final message,

“Because of the existing restrictions of Covid we cannot meet each other, but we’re hoping that culture and art will heal all of us and also you can enjoy virtual communication and connection while praying for the situation to become under control.”

In summary

The Japan Cultural Expo’s slogan is ‘Art moves us all’ and, through the VIRTUAL PLATFORM, there is hope we will be moved. No matter where you live in the world, you can have access to and witness a spectrum of Japanese culture in the comfort of your own home.

Read more about the Japan Cultural Expo or try the VIRTUAL PLATFORM for yourself.

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Sleiman Azizi 5 months ago
Change is the key. Innovation is imagination. Nice work.
Justin Velgus 5 months ago
Thanks for this! This is great info. I am happy to see such a beautiful virtual component.
Bonson Lam 5 months ago
It is so true that culture and art will heal all of us, as we drink from this fountain of beauty and wisdom, and share our learnings and blessings. I will definitely share this message with others.