More from the Artists of Japan

by Aya Ogawa

in Advocacy,Global Citizenship

It’s been a few weeks since March 11 and neither coverage of the aftermath of the earthquake in Japan, nor of the tenuous state of the Fukushima nuclear reactors is gracing the homepage of The New York Times anymore. Yet the lives of the Japanese people are far from normal.

Closed down walkway at Narita airport, © Noriko Ogawa

I wanted to write a follow-up post to my first about the reactions to the natural disasters that gripped Japan representing the perspectives of several Tokyo-based artists. The initial shock may have worn off, but the crisis is not over. These artists are plagued by incisive questions about reconstruction of their country.

A beautifully written, insightful account of daily life in Tokyo following the earthquake is recorded by Tatsuo Fukutomi, Program Officer at The Saison Foundation, one of the major arts funders in Japan: March 13, March 14 – 18, March 19 – 27 and March 28 – April 3.

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Here is a translation of the April 2 blog post written by playwright/director Yoji Sakate:

On foreign websites you can easily find numerous simulations of how the radiation is leaking out to the rest of the world. The world already acknowledges that this nuclear disaster is of a global magnitude. It is Japan’s international responsibility to find a solution. The evening news reported that it would take 8 years to reach cold shutdown, 20 years to achieve full security of the facilities — these are far into the future. We have to be aware of the difference between the sighs of the Japanese, already dulled, and the stringent eyes of the world upon us. It is only now that the world will have sympathy for this devastation.

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Also, one of Sakate’s company members, Yorie Akiba, has been organizing donations and runs from Tokyo up to the northeast. Her blog (in Japanese and English) records her progress.

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I translated part of this email from Hiroshi Koike, artistic director of performance company Pappa TARAHUMARA:

We who live in Japan, the nation of earthquakes, ought to turn our ears towards Nature with much more humility in exploring alternate energy sources and building levees. Globalism is no rationale when dealing with Nature. We may be able to contain Nature to a certain extent, but we must not become arrogant. And this is not only about Japan. No matter where we live, man must be humble before Nature. We must completely obliterate the thought that we can get away with prioritizing economics and efficiency, that even if we turn Nature into our enemy, we’ll be able to sort if out later.

All of Japan will no doubt turn all of its energy towards rebuilding. But we must be careful not to tread the wrong path. We must not rebuild the same mistakes, but rather we should move in a different direction with a new sense of place and culture. Systems that only acknowledge “economic potential”, “standards”, and “globalism” are not sufficient — we must invent a new way.

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And Akane Nakamura of pre-cog emailed this:

What I perceive as the greatest question for the arts is that as a result of this natural disaster, Japan will now have to deal with a growing mistrust in nuclear power and the government. If eastern Japan cannot relate to western Japan, the operating system of ideologies in society and in politics will not change, and if Japan fails to change now, all faith in Japan will be lost. We will become a society in which the arts are not needed.

Here is an example. On March 15, we received a phone call at the office from the Agency of Cultural Affairs that went like this:

ACA: On the day of the earthquake, you had a performance and exhibition scheduled related to ACA-funding. Did they actually take place?


ACA: If there was no performance, you could not have used our granted funds that day, so when you submit your grant report to us, make sure you do not include any expenses associated for those events.

I nearly lost my mind. We were already looking at the lack of ticket income for that day — I just couldn’t believe this person’s lack of imagination, the complete lack of interest in our situation, I mean what was this one-sided declaration? Was this an appropriate decision coming from an organization devoted to the advancement of the arts? It would have been one thing had the ACA explained that those funds had to be redistributed to the victims of the disaster. If that had been the case I would have accepted the debt I would be facing. But this person was talking about a budget that had already been approved last year. In the face of this extraordinary circumstance, to apply the ordinary logic to trim down the amount of an already approved grant is an act of idiocy. We are in crisis mode. If government agencies are assuming the world will continue to operate on pre-earthquake logic, then essentially we who work in the arts have received a notice that in this state of crisis, the arts are not essential to the world. The absence of leadership and concepts in the current Japanese government, and its intolerance and shallow understanding, are crippling to the arts world.

I thought to myself, these are the things I can do: do everything I can to maintain the trust of arts-related people outside of Japan. Even if it means shouldering debt, as much as it is possible, we will tour our artists outside Japan. If we were to stop touring we would be losing yet another access point to the rest of the world.

At the same time, for those of us working with Japan as home base, we must heighten awareness amongst arts producers nationally, heighten awareness of common problems, and think together about how to build the future. We have no time to stop thinking. We must minimize the decline in performances and events. We must present a way for the arts to play a new vital role in society after the quake.

*note: the ACA later reversed their decision.

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It seems that the same thing is on everyone’s mind– that a fundamental, philosophical, ideological change is necessary in order to secure a healthy, conscious future for Japan and its arts. Where is art positioned in our society? How can we cultivate a culture that not only validates and celebrates art but also considers it a necessity? Crisis can instigate change. Whether the Japanese will be able to bring about that change is another question.

Posters for candidates running for Governor of Tokyo, election date April 11, 2011 © Noriko Ogawa

Here again are some possible ways to send your support:

The Northeast Japan Earthquake Restoration Fund

The Nippon Foundation / CANPAN Northeastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund

Second Harvest Japan

The Japan Society Earthquake Relief Fund