06/21/2010 08:40 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Our Visit to Japan

The Kennedy Center is fortunate to have the support of our International Committee on the Arts, a group of patrons from many countries who help to underwrite our international programming. This programming includes both the presentations of international artists and festivals at the Center and the training we offer to arts managers around the world.

Each year, the Committee holds a summit in a foreign country. This meeting allows us to discuss our international strategy, our current projects and the opportunities we see for the future. We also have an opportunity to experience the culture, history and, of course, food of the host nation. In past years, summits were held in Beijing, St. Petersburg, Rome, Paris, London and Buenos Aires. Next year we will visit Cape Town, South Africa.

This year the Committee met for one stimulating week in Tokyo and Kyoto. Our business meetings focused on our summer fellowship program that will bring 42 arts managers from 28 different nations to the Center this summer. The members of the Committee were particularly moved by a letter from a summer fellow from Nigeria who wrote of the murder and rape of hundreds in his city and the importance of art for the healing of his community. We also reviewed the numerous international presentations we are hosting at the Center this season and next including this season's VSA International Festival and next season's festival of India.

The Committee members also toured through each city visiting temples, museums, private art collections and historical monuments. We even attended the national championship sumo wrestling matches and the astonishing Tokyo fish market.

One of the highlights of each of these summits is an event that honors important artists from the host country. Previous honorees have included Valery Gergiev, Paloma Herrera, Julio Bocca, Trevor Nunn, Olivia de Havilland and Judi Dench. This year we honored four astonishing artists: architect Tadao Ando, violinist Midori, Kabuki actor Kanzaburo Nakamura and director Yukio Ninagawa.

What made this event special, apart from the remarkable artistry of each of the honorees, was that all four had participated in Kennedy Center programming. Kanzaburo Nakamura, who comes from a remarkably distinguished line of Kabuki actors, performed at the Center decades ago. Midori has been a frequent soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra and in recital. And both Tadao Ando and Yukio Ninagawa participated in our "JAPAN: culture + hyperculture" festival two years ago.

Because all four honorees had a relationship to the Kennedy Center, there was a lovely sense of family that developed that evening. The honorees were both gracious and self-effacing during their remarks. They all had great memories of working at the Center and appreciated the need for additional cultural exchange opportunities.

Needless to say, the members of our International Committee left Japan with a deep appreciation for the beauty and richness of Japanese culture and new motivation to continue to support the work the Kennedy Center does to use arts to educate our audiences about other people.