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Artist, folklorist use power of art to tackle issues in post-quake society, asahi, 3/31/14

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An artist and a folklorist are taking different approaches but with the same goal of using art to deal with social issues left in the aftermath of the Tohoku disaster three years ago.

One is based in the stricken area, while the other works from Tokyo.

They are asking what art is and what it can do for the areas and people devastated by Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami that struck on March 11, 2011.


Masato Nakamura, 51, is general director of the 3331 Arts Chiyoda cultural complex, which was remodeled from an old junior high school in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward.

Its many uses include providing a venue for self-organized exhibits, permanent galleries and a cafe.

But after strong jolts rocked the capital three years ago, Nakamura, who is also an artist and an associate professor at Tokyo University of the Arts, found another purpose: He allowed stranded commuters to stay at the facility.

He also gathered information about the disaster and shared it on a projector.

Nakamura immediately went to the disaster zone to find out how best to use the 3331 gallery for the survivors. He decided to help artists, architects and other creators based in the afflicted areas use the gallery to share information about their activities, convey their projects to Tokyo and pass them down to future generations.

He established a support platform called Wa Wa Project to publish a book featuring interviews with leaders of reconstruction efforts and photographs from the disaster zone.

The book was titled “Tsukurukoto ga Ikirukoto” (Making is Living) because he felt that “creative activities of those who were quick to recover have the power to change the society.”

Nakamura hosted an art exhibition of the same name at the 3331 gallery in March 2012. He also organized an art event and other activities in Taiwan and South Korea, while publishing a newspaper every other month to share and mutually exchange community information from Tohoku areas.

“I think activities of artists who can feel what will happen in the future are useful in disaster-hit areas,” Nakamura said.

Some artists needed three years to finally express their feelings about the earthquake and tsunami. But Nakamura is thinking of the earthquake disaster that is expected to hit the Tokyo metropolitan area in the near future.

“At times of crises, face-to-face relationships are our only options,” he said. “The thought of ‘is that person all right?’ leads to the first response. I think it is important for artists to visit areas on a regular basis and win the trust of local people.”

The artist said he feels angry and helpless when he sees people acting like the disaster has been forgotten or when private efforts are not respected by the bureaucracy.

“But we must come up with ideas and take actions to overcome it,” he said.

Nakamura hosted the 3.11 Movie Festival until March 30 at the 3331 gallery to show 32 disaster-related films. He said he wants to convey “the fact that this many movies were created” after the disaster.

(This article was written by Wakato Onishi, senior staff writer)


Norio Akasaka, a Gakushuin University professor, explained his ideas for the “Michinoku Art Junrei” (Michinoku art pilgrimage) project, describing it as “still in a delusional state.”

“Art events will be held every year at 11 locations in disaster-stricken areas, with people making visits to the venues like following a pilgrimage route,” Akasaka, 60, said. “If you continue doing so for eight years, (the venues will) serve as 88 ‘fudasho’ stops, and the monuments dedicated to the repose of the souls and regeneration will remain.”

Akasaka was referring to a pilgrimage practiced in Shikoku, the smallest of the four main islands of Japan, involving visits to 88 Buddhist temples associated with the monk Kukai (774-835).

Specializing in folklore, Akasaka has traveled across the Tohoku region as if guided by the spirits of his ancestors born in Fukushima Prefecture. The folklorist also advocates “Tohoku-gaku” (Tohoku study), a comprehensive regional research effort.

He felt closer to art after becoming an instructor at Tohoku University of Art and Design in Yamagata. Since around 2006, when he served as dean of the graduate school, Akasaka has been part of a small art event held at a “tojiba” hot spring facility used to cure wounds and illnesses in a mountainous area.

“As grad students worked on their projects while they interacted with people visiting the tojiba, young people in the local area were encouraged to conduct their own activities in a more active manner, and the landscape of the tojiba, which was at a low ebb, changed,” he said.

Since 2010, Akasaka, as director of the prefectural Fukushima Museum in Aizu-Wakamatsu, has hosted the annual Urushi Art Festival featuring lacquer art from the Aizu region in the prefecture.

Aizu-based lacquerware artisans and modern artists collaborate in the endeavor.

Convinced of art’s role in local areas, Akasaka was planning an extensive art event to tour Fukushima Prefecture, the northern Kanto region and Niigata Prefecture when the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami ravaged northeastern Japan.

In the disaster areas, especially Fukushima Prefecture, where the nuclear accident occurred, “there are serious splits and conflicts over reconstruction efforts and compensation. That is all the more reason why the uselessness and selflessness of art can become an advantage,” the professor said.

His expectations for art, which can shed light on the hidden realities of disaster areas in unexpected ways and lead people to prayer and meditation, turned into the pilgrimage project.

Akasaka has been “sowing the seeds” for art events in various locations. Some parties have voiced their intentions to join the pilgrimage project.

“Antithetical to the (2002) Tokyo Olympics, which is a centralized ‘festival,’ we want to aim for a ‘festival of repose and regeneration’ that connects small, grass-roots events,” Akasaka said.

(This article was written by Kazumasa Nishioka, staff writer)

Iwaki mulls preserving Toyoma junior high as reminder of disaster, fukushima minpo, 3/30/2014

The Iwaki municipal government is considering preservation of the Toyoma Junior High School complex, which was damaged by tsunami in the Great East Japan Earthquake, as a reminder of the disaster for future generations. The local government unveiled the plan at a meeting of a group of local residents in Iwaki on March 29 to report a master plan for areas that include the Toyoma district. The city government will make a final decision on whether to preserve the school after hearing the opinions of local residents. An official of the Fukushima prefectural government said, “Although damaged by tsunami, it is technically possible to preserve the school without demolishing it.”

Under the city’s land readjustment project for post-disaster reconstruction, an open space for disaster prevention is scheduled to be set up in the school’s premises. As a result, the school is slated for relocation to a new building to be constructed close to Toyoma Elementary School.

In connection with the move, the local residents’ group had requested the Fukushima prefectural government and the Iwaki municipal office to preserve the damaged school building from the standpoint of disaster-prevention education. Based on the group’s request, the prefectural government conducted an on-site survey to check the feasibility of preserving the building. It determined through the survey that it is technically possible to use the school building as a disaster reminder without hampering its functions as a disaster-prevention open space.

Land secured for 3,741 units of nuclear disaster-related public housing, fukushima minpo, 3/29/2014

The Reconstruction Agency announced on March 28 that it has effectively secured land to build 3,741 homes in the first phase of a public housing project for people affected by the nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Of the total of 4,890 homes to be constructed in the project, land for the remaining 1,149 units in the second phase is expected to be secured by September, the agency said. The Fukushima prefectural government, which is in charge of implementing the housing project, will address problems in the bidding process, including unsuccessful tenders, and plans to complete building all units by September 2016.

In the disaster-related public housing project, the prefectural government selects sites for homes, which will be built using community revival subsidies provided by the agency to finance the project. The local government has already filed applications to build 2,591 houses and secured corresponding subsidies from the agency. By March 28, it had agreed with landowners of housing sites to build another 1,150 units and filed additional applications for a combined total of 3,741 units.

As for the 1,149 houses for the second phase, the prefectural government is set to agree shortly on deals with landowners in Fukushima and Iwaki cities over sites to accommodate 190 units. It is speeding up work to select sites for the remaining 959 units, and hopes to be able to secure necessary land by September.

English translation tells tales of 100 Miyagi tsunami survivors, japan times, 3/25/14

It was the inspiration and eagerness of Hitomi Nakanishi, an Australia-based Japanese scholar, that led to the publication of an English-language book with recollections and photos of the experiences of 100 survivors of the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami in and around Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture.

Nakanishi, 37, an assistant professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Canberra, told The Japan Times last week that she wanted as many people as possible around the globe to know about the book, which she believes will help prepare them if a disaster hits their own country.

The book is an English translation of the Japanese version, which was published in 2012 by Tokyo-based publisher Junposha Co.

The same publisher released the English version on March 10 to commemorate the third anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami.

The stories in “Surviving the 2011 Tsunami: 100 Testimonies of Ishinomaki Area Survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake” first ran in the Ishinomaki Kahoku newspaper from June 2011 to March 2012 in a series titled “My March 11.”

The newspaper is published daily by Sanriku Kahoku Shimpo Co., headquartered in Ishinomaki.

Nakanishi came across the Japanese book when she visited the newspaper publisher in summer 2012 during a tour of the tsunami-affected areas in Tohoku.

She was immediately struck by the astounding accounts of the tsunami that swept the coasts of Ishinomaki, Higashi Matsushima and Onagawa in Miyagi Prefecture, and soon came up with the idea of publishing the book in English.

“I asked via the Internet for volunteers who would translate Japanese into English, and soon managed to gather 26 volunteers — both Japanese and Australian,” she said.

Sixteen Australian volunteers — most of them English teachers that Nakanishi found with the help of the Japanese Embassy in Canberra — did the editing and proofreading.

One of the subjects in the book, 35-year-old Yukako Sasaki, vividly describes how, pregnant and with just days to go before her due date, she climbed the stairs to the third floor of her sister’s house — worried all the while that her water might break and she would suddenly give birth. With her niece, she spent the night in the house while down below muddy floodwaters shattered the front door and inundated the first floor.

“After a sleepless night, the piled-up cars and the people who had most likely lost their lives were visible from the window. I could tell that something really awful had happened, but if I looked outside, my pains would appear so I waited inside the storage room to be rescued,” Sasaki is quoted as saying in the book.

She gave birth to a boy six days later.

Another survivor, Masayoshi Kotono, 49, recalls: “Houses and cars being washed away by the tsunami, raging with fire, were now coming toward me. I would rather drown than be burned to death, I said to myself and jumped into the water. It was perhaps this desperate decision that determined my fate.

“No matter how hard I tried to swim, I was swept back to the hillside again and again by the force of the waves. I couldn’t reach the building. Just when I felt the muscles in my arms and legs had reached their limits, I grabbed on to some rubble that just happened to come floating toward me. I was washed away several hundred meters and then managed to crawl onto a house I had landed on by chance,” he said in his testimony.

Nakanishi cited two reasons for seeing her book project through.

For one thing, she believed that people around the world could use it to prepare for a possible disaster.

“One can find many tips in the book on how the Japanese prepare for a disaster in daily life on a personal level — such as which route to take and where to evacuate, how one can cooperate with the neighbors, etc.,” she said.

“This is very useful for the people of the world to know — especially for people that live in areas that may be prone to natural disasters like the earthquake and tsunami. They can apply the knowledge and information from what is written in this book. It’s important to let them know how important, and how much difference it will make for each person to prepare for a disaster.”

Secondly, Nakanishi said, she thinks the knowledge and experience contained in the book can also be useful in the field of urban planning. For example, “even with a 5-cm water level difference, some towns were washed away, and some weren’t,” she said.

“In the 2011 tsunami, water came from different parts of the ocean in a complex form. I think this can be sample material to investigate further about landscape and urban planning,” she added.

Mina Nishisaka, 35, a volunteer translator based in Tokyo, said that she couldn’t stop crying when she translated the stories.

“The stories were so vivid that I had to stop typing many times — just thinking about the horrific experiences the survivors had to go through,” she said.

“For those of us who did not actually experience the Tohoku disaster, the horrific scenes we witnessed that day (on TV and other sources) are not as vivid as they were three years ago. People tend to forget, and sometimes that is one way to move on, but this book reminds me that we must not forget the lives lost and the precious lessons we learned from this tragic disaster.”

She added that giving the stories an English voice “allows these lessons to be shared all over the world.”

“Keeping the voices of the tsunami survivors alive is one of the most important things we can do to save lives when and if another disaster should strike,” she said.

Another volunteer translator, Motoko Kimura, 35, said that not only does the book provide a good lesson about the tsunami disaster that many can learn from, but each story also tells the reader about “the value of human lives, human dignity amidst despair, and the courage and spirit of cooperation among the victims at the time of the disaster.”

“It’s often difficult for Japanese information to reach the world due to the language barrier — especially such things as the truth of the March 11 disaster,” she said.

“I hope that as many people as possible from abroad — including those who live in Japan, those from countries that have earthquakes, and countries that are now trying to recover from war or a disaster — to take a look at the book.”

Project leader Nakanishi said that disaster prevention and reduction are being emphasized today, and that it’s important “to learn from the disasters that already happened, and prepare ourselves for the future.”

“In this book, there are so many photos and maps, and the words of the survivors,” Nakanishi said. “I think it’s a very rare piece of publication. I would like lots of libraries around the world to possess the book and use it as valuable information in the years to come.”

Fishery Group to Accept TEPCO Groundwater Releases into Sea, jiji press, 3/24/14

Fukushima, March 24 (Jiji Press)–A fishery association in Fukushima Prefecture has agreed to accept releases of groundwater uncontaminated by radioactive substances into the ocean at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s stricken nuclear power plant, officials said Monday.
The association plans to accept such releases on condition that TEPCO strengthens its groundwater radiation checks. The association is also demanding compensation from TEPCO for possible losses stemming from rumors about fishery product safety.
Hiroyuki Sato, head of the association, said after a meeting that the group has taken a painful decision because TEPCO faces a lack of space for tanks to store contaminated water at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
Releases of groundwater into the sea before it is contaminated are considered key to dealing with increasing volumes of water contaminated with radioactive substances from damaged reactors at the plant.
Another fishery association in the northeastern prefecture has already signaled its readiness to accept such groundwater releases.


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