As the world holds its breath in anticipation for the upcoming 2020 Olympics, the Japan Cultural Expo is in full swing as it showcases its own impressive collection of Japan's brilliant artistic and cultural heritage.

Presenting the overarching theme of "Humanity and Nature", the Agency for Cultural Affairs and the Japan Arts Council have, in collaboration with various private and public-sector organizations, put together a multi-year showcase of Japan's finest. Over 10,000 years of Japan's performing arts, music, literature, cuisine, design, fine arts, and fashion, is on display. This ambitious initiative brings attention to the diverse, multicultural aspects of Japan's artistic and cultural resources, and also shines a spotlight on areas recovering from natural disaster.

Foreigners and native residents alike are invited to discover, explore, and deepen their understanding of Japanese arts and culture. From the first time Japan tourist to the diehard Japanophile, there's something for everyone to sink their teeth into at the Japan Cultural Expo.

Of its diverse roster of events throughout the year, here are a few to wet your appetite:

Make Your Own Japanese Knife with a Certified Sword-smith

Certified Japanese sword-smith, Fusataro Asano forging a knife at Asano Kajiya

The mythology of Japanese katana sword-making may seem like it is reserved for movies and storybooks. But at Asano Kajiya, you have a chance to take home your own handmade Japanese knife! Under the friendly guidance of certified Japanese sword-smith, Fusataro Asano, you can spend the day getting hands-on experience on the ancient art of blade making in Japan.

Since establishing his practice in Gifu prefecture in 2004, Asano has been sharing his knowledge to the outside world, leading workshops and demonstrations in Canada, USA and Switzerland. In 2015, he opened his workshop to invite visitors to take part in a unique forging experience that otherwise would have been hidden behind closed doors.

Learn how the time honoured tradition of samurai katana sword-making has been preserved within the form of Japanese knives. Spend the day forging your iron in the heat of smouldering pine charcoal. Listen, as the sizzle of ember-red metal is quenched in water. Feel the steam rise to your face like it did with past sword-makers. And at the end of the day, you will have your own piece of sword-smithing history to take home with you.

This hands-on experience runs all throughout the year, and inquiries can be made through Asano's website at Asano Kajiya.

UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Special Exhibition "The World of Traditional Performing Arts - Kabuki, Bunraku, Noh and Kyogen, Gagaku, Kumi-odori"

Puppeteer Kanjro Kiritake performs a scene from "OkuniwaKitsunebi" ("Foxfires in the Inner Garden") in the Bunraku play "Honchou Nijushiko" ("Twenty-Four Examples of Filial Piety"). Photo is a reproduction stage image

If the world of Japanese traditional performing arts seems elusive and mysterious to you, you're not the only one who feels that way. Luckily, you have the chance to widen your knowledge of five forms that have been honored with the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status; Kabuki, Bunraku, Nogaku (Noh and Kyōgen), Gagaku, and Kumiodori, all under one roof.

At the Tokyo National Museum, five separate stages have been constructed for each of the performing art traditions. On the Kabuki stage, you can virtually put on the kumadori stage makeup to turn into a Kabuki actor, or watch the rare video footage of a kabuki performance from 1899. Try wielding the Bunraku puppet, which is, as you can imagine, much harder than it looks. Feel the wooden touch of a Noh mask against your face or laugh along with the comedy of a Kyōgen performance. Admire the vivid colors of the Okinawan traditional bingata costume of Kumiodori, or watch in amazement as performers strike a massive 5-meter tall dadaiko drums during a Gagaku musical performance.

Left: Noh mask "Hannya"; Right: Kabuki "Michiyuki Hatsune no Tabi" in "Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura" (Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees)

At this unique exhibition, you have the opportunity to watch, listen and touch all five performing arts. Watch live performances by professional actors in their respective fields. Interact with the props, masks, dolls, costumes and instruments at a hands-on exhibition. Browse through a collection of video and photography for an in-depth reveal of the nuances between all five performing arts. Leave with an expanded understanding of the subtleties between all Japanese traditional performing arts.

The exhibition runs until May 24th at the Tokyo National Museum. Learn more at the Official website.

Timeless Conversations 2020: Voices from Japanese Art of the Past and Present

Top: KATSUSHIKA Hokusai, The Grate Wave off Kanagawa from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, Edo Period (19th century), Kuboso Memorial Museum of Arts, Izumi; Bottom: SHIRIAGARI Kotobuki, The Earth as Seen from the Sun from the series Nearly 36 Somewhat Ridiculous Views, 2017, Collection of the artist

Put the artwork of an artist at the forefront of the contemporary art scene next to a classical masterpiece from Japan's past, and you might be surprised to find more similarities between the two than you would expect. At the Timeless Conversations 2020 exhibition in the National Art Center of Tokyo, that's exactly what they are doing.

In this large-scale exhibit, each of the eight works by contemporary artists, photographers and architects, are individually paired with examples of Japan's classical art history, of wooden sculptures, ink paintings, wood block prints, Japanese swords, and more. From the juxtapositions, the exhibition endeavors to create a compelling dialogue on how nature and culture play an important role in the Japanese artistic mindset throughout the centuries.

See the parallels between the traditional motifs of flower-and-bird paintings, with the serene, everyday photographs by Rinko Kawauchi. See how manga artist Shiriagari Kotobuki mimics and parodies prints by Edo print-master Hokusai. Notice how Buddhist statues jeweled with jade eyes glimmers within the glistening glass structure of architect Tsuyoshi Tane. Observe how the Japanese sword synonymous with war-time Japan offsets the message of natural co-existence in Tomoko Konoike's immense surrealist installations.

Within this timeless conversation, determine for yourself how the classics transcended time and infused into the contemporary aesthetics of Japanese arts today.

The event runs until June 1st, 2020. Learn more about the participating artists on the Timeless Conservations 2020 website.

Washoku: Nature and Culture in Japanese Cuisine - More Delicious with More Knowledge

Main visual for the Washoku exhibition

Washoku, or traditional Japanese cuisine, has garnered a passionate fan base from all over the world. Its presentation, preservation techniques, and regional ingredients weave a telling story of the idiosyncratic ways people lived their lives within the confines of the offerings of the surrounding land.

In fact, washoku represents the characteristics of a region so distinctly that it was granted UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status in 2013.

In the first ever large-scale washoku exhibition at the National Museum of Nature and Science, you can take an in-depth look at the evolution of washoku, from historical records dating back to the prehistoric Jomon period to its present-day recognition and fame. Guide yourself through a beautiful display of illustrations and high-definition images of the archipelago's natural bounty, such as the seasonal delicacies of mushrooms, edible wild plants, and vegetables. Learn the importance of seafood in the lives of the Japanese people and browse through over 250 marine food specimens - such as fish, crustaceans, seaweed, and shellfish - that Japanese people have been eating since ancient times.

Scene from Photo Exhibition 2

The exhibition's interactive media art is a major attraction - you can interact with the digital art displays for a heightened learning experience of the world of washoku and its close ties to specific regions, climates, and seasons. Peer into the future of washoku cuisine, as Japan's advancements in food technologies unveil a series of high-tech devices that automatically mix seasonings, or smartphone-activated rice cookers. With travel to Mars in mind, these new, ingenious methods of preserving food are finding their way into food preservation for space travel.

Take a comprehensive look at the symbiotic relationship between the landscape of Japan and its people and learn how this has been integral in nurturing the evolution of washoku.

The Expo runs until June 14th, 2020, at the National Museum of Nature and Science. To learn more, visit the Washoku 2020 website. (Period: Opening date to be decided - June 14, 2020 (Sunday)

Meiji Jingu Forest Festival of Art

To mark the first centennial anniversary of Meiji Jingu in 2020, the Meiji Jingu Forest Festival of Art will hold a comprehensive major art festival first time in the history of the shrine. With the theme of 'Celebrate, Pray, Create', the Jingu's surrounding 700,000 square meter cedar forest will host various performances, revitalization projects, and art exhibitions throughout the year.

The first of three main headliners of the festival begins with an outdoor sculpture exhibition on March 20th within the Jingu's sacred cedar forest. From June 6th, a series of traditional folding fans, partition screens, hanging scrolls, and folding screens created by contemporary artists will be exhibited in the Meiji Shrine Museum, designed by Kengo Kuma. And from July 15th, modern and contemporary sculptures will be shown at the Japan's important cultural properties, Homotsuden Treasure Museum.

Kohei Nawa "White Deer (Oshika)", 2017, mixed media, 632.5 x 448.5 x 438.0 cm (c) Reborn-Art Festival 2017; Photo: Keiko Watanabe (Pontic Design Office)
Left: Misa Funai "Peak in the forest, a mountain hole" 2013, stainless steel, iron, 90 cm in diameter, Rokko Meetart-Rokkosan Hotel; Right: Atsuhiko Misawa "Animal 2012-01" 2012, camphor, oil painting, 131 x 76 x 292cm; Photo: Atsuhiko Misawa (c) Atsuhiko Misawa, Courtesy of Nishimura Gallery

Located within the dense metropolis city of Tokyo, Meiji Jingu may not be the oldest, but it certainly is one of the most visited religious sites in all of Japan. The Meiji Jingu was founded in 1920 to commemorate the progressively-minded Emperor Meiji and his equally liberal wife, Empress Shoken. After their deaths, young volunteers from all over Japan came together to honor their past Emperor's virtues by hand-planting 10,000 cedar trees around the Jingu to turn into the tranquil forest that we can see today. The forest is the physical manifestation of the spirit of support within the Japanese people. Now, a 100 years later, it has become the venue to an event that means to showcase this spirit and how it can be sustained for years to come.

Learn more of the full schedule of events and performances at the Meiji Jingu Forest Festival of Art website.

In Conclusion

Become a student of Japan's fascinating cultural and artistic history, and discover for yourself how nature and humanity runs through the veins of Japan's heritage of creativity.

Visit the Japan Cultural Expo for its full year schedule of events.