Most foreign culture centres around Yangon are found in villas or large houses, with security guards and guest to greet visitors. The Japan Culture House, which opened to the public on August 31, is in a small house in Bahan township, decorated with traditional Japanese tatami mats where guests can nap, recline, read or watch any number of Japanese animations available.
The Japan Culture House opened to promote a cultural exchange between Japan and Myanmar and is sponsored by the Japan Foundation Asia Center and the Myanmar Association of Japan Alumni (MAJA).
“We opened the culture house not only to people studying Japanese language, but for anyone interested to visit,” said Japan Culture House program officer Chinatsu Hyodo. Ms Hyodo, who is fluent in Myanmar language, also goes by the name Aye Thidar. She studied Myanmar language and literature at the Yangon University of Foreign Language in 1996 and Myanmar art and music at the National University of Arts and Culture in 2004.
“I’ve heard from my friends that they were afraid of visiting other foreign institutes like the French Institute for example because they are Asian. I don’t want people to feel that way when they come here,” Ms Hyodo said, striving to cultivate a comfortable environment. “That’s why I brought the tatami, to make people feel at home here.”
The culture house features of vast library of books on business, art, and culture in Japanese, English, and Myanmar. The library is also home to a number of Japanese cartoons, manga series, anime movies, otaku magazines – quite popular among Myanmar’s youth – as well as a selection of magazines, newspapers and journals.
Additionally, the house offers Japanese TV stations such as NHK and an animation collection from the internationally renowned Studio Ghibli. For children and elders alike, the house has Kendama and Igo (also known as the Go!), traditional Japanese toys and games for all to enjoy.
“Visitors can get together and play with our monthly programs such as Japanese quiz or karaoke,” she said. “And sometime soon we’re planning to bring a famous Burmese star and a Japanese star to meet up, exchange culture, and produce something new.”
Ms Hyodo is also a bit of a star herself, playing a role in a TV show every Friday from 5-6pm on MWD television channel.
The Japan Culture House is open to all with free entrance every day from 10am to 6pm, except Tuesdays and Gazette holidays and on weekends from 9am to 5:30pm.
Check out the Japan Culture House Facebook page to stay up to date on all of their public programs, or to suggest any books, movies, or programs you would like to see.
The Japan Culture House is located at R-322B, second floor, Building-C, Pearl Condo, Kabar Aye Pagoda Road in Bahan township.