aizu-wakamatsu, art, asahi shinbun, cultural heritage

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

link to original article: http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/recovery/AJ201403310009

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.

OVERCOMING HELPLESSNESS

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)

FESTIVAL OF REPOSE, REGENERATION

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)

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About liz

from the u.s., recently moved from kobe to sendai, japan, researching community-based housing recovery after disaster.

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