On October 18, Cai Guo-Qiang received the 2016 Japan Foundation Award in Tokyo, becoming the second artist after Ikuo Hirayama (1930 – 2009) to be honored with this award. Hundreds of distinguished guests attended the ceremony, including diplomats from 60 countries and 25 members of the Japanese House of Councilors. This year the Japan Foundation Award was also presented to Professor Susan J. Pharr (Edwin O. Reischauer Professor of Japanese Politics and Director, Program on U.S.—Japan Relations, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University) and to the institution Centro Brasileiro de Língua Japonesa (CBLJ) in Brazil.
The annual Japan Foundation Awards were created in 1973 by the Japan Foundation, an independent administrative institution under the supervision of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. With a 44-year history, the Awards comprise of a grant of 3 million yen. Over the years, they have been given to individuals as well as organizations that cultivate a mutual understanding and friendship between Japan and the world through academic, artistic, and other cultural endeavors. Previous notable Japanese recipients include Akira Kurosawa (1982), Seiji Ozawa (1988), Hayao Miyazaki (2005), and Haruki Murakami (2012).
The Japan Foundation devotes its attention to artists who contribute to promoting cultural exchange between Japan and other countries. On this occasion, the Foundation is recognizing Cai’s artistic practice around the globe, through which he creates works that integrate Eastern worldviews in dialogue with various regions including the Middle East and South America. Cai has always had a prominent presence in Japan. Since the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, he has sponsored the Iwaki Manbon Sakura Project. In 2015, his large-scale solo exhibition There and Back Again opened at the Yokohama Museum of Art, and more recently in March 2016, he initiated an collaborative project in which he invited craftsmen to build a wooden boat in the pond in front of Todaiji Temple in Nara, alluding to the possibility of Japan and China “sailing” with each other’s support. The Japan Foundation not only recognizes the artist’s efforts in connecting different regions and civilizations, but also honors his contribution to consolidating a global culture that transcends national boundaries and artistic practices.
The President of the Japan Foundation Hiroyasu Ando presented the Awards and the Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua attended the ceremony. In his reception speech, Cai stated:
“Every visit to Japan is a chance for me to think about the East, about Asia. In particular, the philosophical and artistic methodologies I’ve created with friends in Japan—methodologies that are multifaceted, harmonious, and coexist with nature in an East Asian context—have allowed me to move freely within different cultures, and create art in collaboration with different people.
I remember phoning Japanese costume designer Eiko Ishioka, inviting her to act as the director of costume design for the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony…To reassure her, I arranged for her office to be next to mine, so she only had to knock on the wall and I would be right over. I also asked my daughter, who speaks Japanese, to be her assistant, helping her out with her stay in China. The collaboration between Eiko Ishioka and the Chinese artists created the tremendous success of the Olympic opening ceremony.
A few years later, she passed away from an illness. Her husband told me that, in her final days, she had a picture of the ceremony director Zhang Yimou and myself up on the wall next to her bed.
Stories like the one I shared with Eiko Ishioka, as well as my experiences in Japan and throughout the world, all serve to prove how exchanges between individuals and cultures can transcend history, overcome political strife, and build a little bit of hope for the future.”