It is not easy to define Ochacaffe’, the Cultural Association of Friendship between Italy and Japan. One could define it as a group of friends who meet to share their passion for Japanese culture, and that would be true. However one could also define it is an association, made up of hundreds of members, that organises events on a national level and provides Japanese language courses on a professional level, as well as coordinating tours and trips to Japan and many other things, and that would be true as well. You must have seen them at a fair or festival already! Ochacaffè has emerged from of a group of Japanese language teachers working at the Il Mulino Institute (a language school in Italy), which with the collaboration of its students and others passionate about the culture of the Land of the Rising Sun, have decided to organise events and presentations so as to make the Japanese world known to others. Within the association, there are many people who come and go: Japanese people who study Italian; those passionate about martial arts; those proud to be otaku, bonsaists, sushi lovers, cosplayers and language scholars; and many other categories as well. All one needs is a membership card to participate, while you can meet the Association simply by going to one of the many free demonstrations and exhibitions that they promote! The association’s first steps were taken in 2002, when it started organising its first language courses and presentations on Japanese culture. It has come a long way since then, and has achieved many of its goals, yet it doesn’t intend to stop there just yet. One only needs to look to the main events that the association has organised or has participated in, such as the festival del cinema ESTremamente Orientale, the Japan Palace at Lucca Comics & Games, and the Japan Expo in Paris or the World Cosplay Summit in Nagoya, to name but a few. One of its far greater tasks is the maintenance of its web site, www. cultura-giapponese.it, which aims to provide a window into the most beloved aspects of Japan, both modern and traditional. “I am happily surprised with all this interest that has been shown towards my Country” says Yoshie Nishioka, President of the Association. “I would never have guessed or imagined that so many Italians would want to gain such a profound knowledge of Japan. To also know that so many Japanese profoundly adore the Italian culture as well is such a beautiful thing, and thus facilitates our work in reciprocal presentation”. “Personally, I have studied the Italian language at the University of Osaka, my hometown. Yet the language wasn’t enough for me; I was passionate about your cinema, Italian cuisine, literature and the Renaissance arts. I came to Italy with the purpose of studying all of this in depth, first on vacation, then for a year, and then finally I decided to come and live here. When I arrived a few years ago, there was a lot of confusion in Italy: the people here didn’t know the difference between China and Japan, and many of them had never even tasted sushi or seen a Japanese film, and I wanted to do something to change that. Much has changed since.” “The main aim is an in-depth insight” continues Silvio Franceschinelli, secretary of the association. “Contrary to what Yoshie has said, when she arrived in Italy, she arrived with a suitcase full of knowledge and expectations about our country. When I went to Japan to live there, I knew very little, and my ideas were vague and confusing. I have discovered how little I knew on the subject of Italian culture, since I have never seen a Fellini film and I have never been to an opera house. The Japanese I met, however, knew and loved our artists, and that allowed me to re-discover them in a different light. In Japan I studied the language, but I also took lessons in the art of ikebana and taiko drums, I participated in tea ceremonies and saw exhibitions of bunraku and theatre noh. Since my return to Italy, the association has enabled me to further this knowledge and help those interested in going down the same path.” “We don’t teach all of these forms of art directly, as it would be impossible to master all of them at once”, they state together. “I teach the Japanese language and coordinate all the courses” adds Yoshie “but it is all down to the help of many people in the various fields of expertise, who manage to bring about so many of our activities. At times it all happens thanks to the Japanese who live in Italy and put their talents at our disposal, such as in the case of cooks who prepare delicious sashimi and sushi for the Sosushi chain of restaurants, or the masters of tea or ikebana. It’s just as frequent that Italians become experts of a Japanese art: Miriam Bendìa comes to mind, with her deep knowledge of the world of geishas, and the various masters of martial arts, as well as the European Academy of Manga that is located in Italy”. Silvio smiles: “…and let us not forget our great cosplayers, who have, more than once, excelled even in international competitions!” “The acquisition of the culture of a different nation is a never ending process. Yesterday, we took part in a tea ceremony performed by Master Murayama, who came from Japan only for this reason. He is 86 years old, has practiced the ceremony for more than 50 years and has been teaching it for at least 30 years, and despite all this, he told us that he still feels that he needs to improve himself in this art”. “There are many ways to get to know a culture, and certainly learning a language is one of its most important aspects; logically afterwards one must visit the place where it (the language) evolved and maybe even live there. To this purpose we do not limit ourselves to bringing the Japanese language and culture into Italy, but we do also take the time to allow Italians to travel to Japan. We organise customised sightseeing tours, give advice to those who ask for it, facilitate the process of a stay from a scholar’s perspective, and help those who want to go and live with a Japanese family for short periods from a few days to a few months.” In addition, Ochacaffè offers punctual, professional translation and interpretation services. Finally, the association assists those who wish to study in Japan with the preparation of official documents and language training, and offer the same support for the Japanese arriving in Italy, all thanks to the help of the Mulino Institute. For the Japanese who are interested in teaching their language, there is the possibility of a unique experience: an internship in Italy. As part of the internship Ochacaffè provides refresher courses for teachers who are interested in improving their knowledge of foreign language teaching techniques. On the whole, Yoshie and Silvio, but also Keiko, Miki, Eriko, Miriam, Claudio and many others, are at your disposal. All you have to do is write us, visit this web site or come and find us at the next event!