Cultural Diversity: Japanese Influence

jasa[1]For years, Alabama has attracted Japanese industry. This is evident by the fact that Japanese-affiliated companies have invested $3.439 billion in Alabama, where 117 Japanese-affiliated companies operate (as of January 2012). These companies together employ 14,024 workers. Some major Japanese firms in Alabama are Honda Manufacturing of Alabama, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama, Rheem Manufacturing, Daikin America, Inc., and JVC America, Inc. Alabama’s exports to Japan in 2011 amounted to $716 million, making Japan its 5th largest export market.  In 2012, 22 Japanese companies in Alabama either expanded or were new to Alabama.

Because of this major influence, organizations like The Japan America Society of Alabama were founded.  JASA’s ongoing mission is “to provide an avenue for the people of Alabama and the Japanese people residing in Alabama to promote friendly  personal and professional relationships – all to increase a better understanding of each other’s people’s and customs,” says Tamara Morya, Executive Director of JASA. “Through programs responsive to social, economic and political needs, Alabamians are afforded the opportunity to examine and learn from experiences and achievements of both nations.”

Several opportunities exist for Alabamians to explore some of the Japanese culture exist throughout the state. The Alabama Bonsai Society (ABS) is made up of dedicated bonsai enthusiasts from across the state of Alabama in general and in particular the greater Birmingham area. There is also the Azalea City Bonsai Society in Mobile, AL.

The Birmingham Botanical Gardens Japanese Gardens was designed by Mr. Masaji “Buffy” Morai, and officially opened in 1967. They have been one of BBG’s most popular features since then. Largely through the hard work and guidance of volunteer Doug Moore, major modifications to a large part of the gardens were finalized in 1993 when the Japanese government gave it the title of Japanese Cultural Center. That important designation was made because Mr. Kazunori Tago, of Maibashi, Japan, one of the finest miyadaiku, or Japanese temple and shrine builders, created a traditional teahouse here.  You might also want to attend the annual Sakura Festival in March, featuring a tea ceremony, tours of the Japanese Gardens and the teahouse, Japanese dance demonstrations, an ikebana (“way of flowers”) exhibit, and sword demonstrations.

A Sakura Festival is held in Tuscaloosa in March, while the Daikin Company in Decatur hosts an annual event in May in celebration of the company’s Japanese heritage. The Daikin Festival is held at the Morgan County Fairgrounds and features live entertainment, hot-air balloon rides, and Japanese cultural art displays.

If you’d like to experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, the Chado Urasenke Tankokai Birmingham Association might be for you. Drawn together by diverse interests in Japanese culture, this association has been gathering at Toshin-an teahouse in Birmingham, AL since 1999 to study chado, the “way of tea.”

In the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Asian Collection hails from China, Japan, Korea, India, and Southeast Asia, and features outstanding examples of Buddhist and Hindu art, lacquer ware, ceramics, paintings, prints, and sculpture. Highlights include Jomon period pottery from Japan.

We have a fantastic learning opportunity here in Alabama. Clearly, there are many ways for Alabamians to explore authentic Japanese culture without having to travel half-way around the world. Encourage yourself and others to take advantage of these learning opportunities that aren’t available in many other states.