Friday, December 7, 2012


There is so much constantly going on in The Japan Foundation Toronto that when I first wrote this post trying to enlist everything we’ve done in the last two months, it ended up as a list of all the exhibits, lectures, screenings and talks. And because a list is not necessarily the most exciting form of narrative (with which Umberto Eco could disagree – see his The Infinity of Lists: The Infinity of Lists by Umberto Eco | Book review | Books | The Guardian ), I had to start the post all over again. This time I decided to choose an event in which I personally participated, so I could provide a first-hand report. As a Library Assistant I am not directly involved in most of the activities outside of the library, so let me tell you about one occasion at the end of September when I went to represent the Japan Foundation Toronto beyond the office walls.


ジャパンファウンデーション・トロント日本文化センターでは、次々にイベントが行われていますので、最初にこのブログを書き始めたときは、過去2か月の間にあった出来事、展示、講演会、映写会などの羅列に終わってしまいました。私が最近読んだウンベルト・エコーは否定するでしょうが、出来事の羅列は、読み手に取って面白いとは言い難いと思います。彼のThe Infinity of Listsを読んでみてください。そんなわけで、私は、このブログを最初から書き直すことにしました。



On the 23rd of September The Japan Foundation Toronto took part in the Word on the Street: National Book and Magazine Festival ( Toronto | The Word On The Street). The beauty of this annual event is that it is held outdoors, on the street around the big Queen’s Park in the heart of the University of Toronto downtown campus. The whole street is closed to traffic and occupied with booths by publishers, authors, or cultural organizations, with thousands of visitors strolling among them, checking out the latest books, meeting the writers, learning about new cultural places in town. Every organization tries its best to attract people to their tents, be it for example by offering hands-on experience, like our neighbor, The Nightwood Theatre, where visitors could try on actual costumes from their shows, or by featuring well-known persons, like the city’s biggest newspaper, Toronto Star, which organized panels with famous authors and intellectuals.


What were our attention-catching tactics? Well, we humans all like free stuff, so the first front were staff members and volunteers handing out gorgeous paper bags covered with photos of Japan, generously provided by the Japan National Tourism Organization. Hardly any passer-by could say no to that, so the next step was to ask if they’ve ever heard of the Japan Foundation, maybe they would like to learn more, we’re located downtown, just around the corner, and what we do is giving Torontonians a chance to enjoy Japanese culture, and so the introduction went, followed by more specific topics depending on each visitor’s interests. (Even if someone was not interested in listening to us and just walked away holding the pretty Japan paper bag, the task of promoting The Japan Foundation Toronto was accomplished because the bag was full of our colorful information flyers. Aren’t we clever! ^_- )


We talked to people who had been to Japan and were happy to share similar experience with our staff. We met youth passionate about manga and anime who were pleasantly surprised to discover that we carried over 2200 volumes of manga in our library. Yet other guests used the opportunity to practice their Japanese language skills on us, and we used it to invite them to attend our language workshops or come to the library and browse our extensive collection of Japanese language materials – both in English and in Japanese. A little TV in the corner of the table drew people’s attention to CD promotion music videos and was a good conversation starter to introduce our DVD collection or invite them to animation and movie screenings which we hold quite often.


We met some of our patrons, but also a lot of people who’ve never been to our center. From the questionnaires collected at the event (and everyone who filled one out could draw a prize, so we got quite many: 225 from an estimated 2065 people who came to or passed by our booth) we found out that 64% of the respondents have never been to the Japan Foundation Toronto, so we consider the event a success in spreading the word about the organization.


Aside of the free paper bags, books, movies and flyers’ displays, the center of attention in our booth was unarguably a robot baby seal (sic!), Paro-chan: Paro Therapeutic Robot. Designed and individually hand-made in Japan, this interactive robot is used as a therapeutic device, replacing a pet in facilities where patients cannot keep live animals. Under the snow-white fur and in whiskers it has built in touch sensors, its cute big black eyes conceal light sensors, and somewhere it the head it has microphones to record the outside sounds, a speaker in the mouth, and mechanical joints in the neck, eyelids, mouth, tail and fins. All this machinery is crafted in order to make the seal responsive to voice and touch, by emitting little cries and moving in certain fashion, and to actually “learn” the most often registered sound as its name, to give the owner an impression of a live creature. Once it changes the owner, you just press the “reset” button and your Paro (from the Japanese pronunciation of the English “personal robot”) becomes a tabula rasa again. We got a Paro for the Foundation as an attraction for those kinds of events, and as an example of high technology married with the “kawaii” aesthetics, which appeals to most widespread images of Japan that many people hold. Every once in a while we also showcase Paro in the library during Saturday openings – it always lies securely on a trained volunteer’s lap (you need to be careful around it since it’s such an advanced mechanism), surrounded by curious children and adults as well. To be honest with you, however, not everyone falls under the spell of Paro’s cuteness. In questionnaires from another event we found a comment, ‘I don’t get it, is it a dog?’ ^_-

無料の紙袋、展示した本、映画、チラシなどの他に、ブースで一番注目を浴びたのはなんといってもロボットあざらしのパロちゃんです。日本でデザインされ、ひとつひとつ職人の手で作られたこの対話型ロボットは、セラピー治療用の装置として使われており、動物を飼えない施設などでペット代わりに使われています。まず、真っ白な毛皮の中と髭に、タッチセンサーが組み込まれています。さらに、真っ黒な大きな可愛らしい目には光に反応するセンサー、頭の中には外部の音声を録音するマイクが内蔵され、口にはスピーカー、そして首、まぶた、口、しっぽ、ひれなどが機械的に動く仕組みになっています。このようにすべての装置が、声やタッチに反応するように設計されており、小さな鳴き声をあげたり、愛嬌のある動きをしてみたり、たくさん使われる音を自分の名前として覚えることもできる学習能力もあるので、飼い主にとっては実際に生き物を飼っているような気分を味わえるわけです。もし持ち主が変わる場合には、ただリセットボタンを押すだけで、あなたのパロちゃんは元通り!といった具合です。(ちなみに、この名前“パロ”は英語のPersonal Robotを日本語読みした時の頭文字からきています。) パロちゃんを用いることで、イベントに訪れる子供たちの気を引くことができますし、ハイテクと“かわいい”美学を融合させたこのロボットは、広く知られている日本のイメージと一致し、たくさんの人たちの心をつかむことができます。時々、図書館の土曜オープンの際にもパロちゃんを披露することもありますが、その時はいつも好奇心旺盛な子供たちや大人たちの注目を集めます。(もちろんその際には、パロちゃんの取り扱い方をよく理解しているボランティアの膝に座らせ、高度な仕組みを持つこのロボットに万が一のことがないように十分に気を付けています。)とはいっても、正直にいえば、全員が全員パロちゃんの魅力にはまるわけではありません。実際にあったアンケートのひとつに、「何がいいのがわからない、これは犬か?」という意見もありました^_-

Participating in shows and festivals is an effective way to raise awareness about the Japan Foundation Toronto and its activities, and this is why we often get involved in such undertakings. Another large-scale event where the Japan Foundation Toronto was present was The Fan Expo Canada (Fan Expo Canada - August 23-26, 2012) at the end of August 2012, and in the meantime we’ve been showing up at many smaller events featuring Japan, like the University of Toronto’s Japan Day in November, or a large bank’s multicultural day last summer, where we represented Japan. Setting up a booth and spending a day or even the whole weekend at an event is a lot of work, but I believe that face-to-face contact with our existing and potential patrons allows us to present the Foundation as an organization with a human face, and to express personal commitment of its staff and volunteers. And speaking of volunteers, I would like to thank everyone who helped us at the Word on the Street and every other awesome person out of over 200 volunteers who are working with us right now. We would not be able to do all these things without you. Domo arigato!


Pictures | 写真


Early morning preparations for the festival. We installed our booth in one of the tents like these.



The library staff member Ayumi, holding the Japan paper bags.



The volunteer Jesse, showing the display materials and flyers to a visitor.



The volunteer Maria, receiving a filled out questionnaire from a visitor, bravely enduring the early autumn chill in a Japanese high school uniform. The costume was a part of our attention-catching tactics and we are really grateful to the volunteers that they agreed to wear them. Really.



Another volunteer, Helen (on the right) was also kind enough to dress up for the event. Here posing with the Chief Librarian Mariko Liliefeldt in the middle and Sachi, the library staff member who got a fancy to try a uniform herself too.



The volunteer Danielle is holding Paro-chan, at the moment “feeding” on electricity through its cute pink pacifier. Danielle genuinely loves Paro and for this reason it’s usually her who takes care of him.



When it’s not Danielle, the Program Officer Kate looks after the baby seal robot. In her left hand you can see a clicker counter – this is how we counted the attendance.



The Administrative Assistant Hisayo is talking to visitors. The lady in red is apparently happy with the paper bag and one of our promo materials.



Here again Maria, Hisayo and Mariko keeping an eye on the baby seal, Paro-chan.


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