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Supporting Japan-related programs in European Capitals of Culture

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[Vol.32] Secretariat Report

On the occasion of finishing all programs of 18th EU-Japan Fest (Jan. 2010 - Mar. 2011), Secretary General Mr. Shuji Kogi wrote an essay.

Shuji Kogi

Secretary General

Introduction “Who are you?”

We come into this world, but at the same time we are condemned to die. From the moment we are given birth, we start our journey to death. It is because our life is not eternal, we can treasure every moment of our life.
A religious leader of India tells a story that I would like to share with you.

A woman was on her deathbed. Suddenly, she felt carried up to heaven and set before a hearing.
A voice asked, “Who are you?”
“I am the mayor’s wife,” she replied.
“I didn’t ask who you were married to but who are you?”
“I am a schoolteacher.”
“I didn’t ask for your profession but who are you?”
“I am a person of fortune.”
“I didn’t ask if you were wealthy, but who are you?”
“I am a mother of four children.”
“I didn’t ask how many children you had but who are you?”
“I’m a Christian.”
“I didn’t enquire after your religion. I asked who are you?”
“I am somebody who went to church every day and helped the poor and needy.”
“I didn’t ask what you did: but who are you?”
And so it went on. The woman had nothing else to say. The voice quietly tells her: “Return to earth and learn who you are.” She recovered from her illness and she was alive again.

Whether we live through hard times or good times, regardless of being conscious or unconscious, as long as we live, we must all come up against this same question. “Who are you?”

March 11th, 2011 14:46

A major earthquake hit Japan. This day and time will hold a place in the pages of history. The earthquake triggered extremely destructive tsunami along the Pacific coast of eastern Japan. The tsunami destroyed wide areas of cities in eastern Japan, and the terrible power of nature beyond our imagination left us petrified. Without mercy, we were faced with the absolute power of nature. Nature gives us the blessing, but also to the other extreme, destruction.

The people in the Disaster Areas

In 1993, EU-Japan Fest Japan Committee was established with the purpose of assisting and supporting Japanese artists and associations who were called on to Antwerp, Belgium, European Capital of Culture. Over 18 years we have taken part in various cultural exchange experiences with Japanese-European artists. But this major earthquake led me to take a pause to realize the tight bond we have created with these people. Immediately after the earthquake, our way of communication was cut off and information was unreliable, but soon the things began to unfold. To our relief, we were able to find that many people we have spent memorable times with in Tohoku were safe and well. But soon, we learned that they were in the midst of rescue efforts themselves. For the people in the quake-hit areas, they were confronted with the difficult challenges to survive each day.

The people in Tohoku

Watching the news, I felt myself really helpless before the devastation. We called Tokyo office of all four prefectures of Tohoku but unless the relief supplies were large quantities at the same time, they would not accept them. In fact, the local government accepted the supplies, but they can’t get around to restore it, or even deliver it to the places in need. Local government’s systems are not always based on the premise of these kinds of natural disasters, so it should surprise no one that it became dysfunctional. From what we had heard from our friends from the disaster areas, the evacuation shelters were full of people, and every supply was short of stock. 3 days after the earthquake, we heard from Yumiko Endo, Oku-Aizu Shobo of Fukushima. As we spoke, I came to realize what we hear and see on the news was only a small portion of the terrible reality in Tohoku. There were hundreds and thousands of ways to report the number of disaster victims. The journalism that played out in the media, politician’s accusations that focused on the trivial, and laying the blame on each other all seemed like a poor-quality tabloid show. The things that were happening in the Tohoku almost seemed as if it was in another world.
Fortunately, the Aizu area was able to avoid catastrophic damage of the earthquake; this area began accepting mass evacuation of the people from Pacific coast of eastern Japan. From Ms. Endo, we learned about the activities of “Utsukushima NPO network”, an association formed by over 400 citizen groups in Fukushima. “Utsukushima NPO network” has helped places that were out of the government involvement’s reach; schools that have become evacuation shelters, and searching through houses for those who were left behind during the time of earthquake. Aizu, where Ms. Endo practiced her relief activity, played an important role as to help and support the disaster areas like Iwaki City. We were greatly surprised by the tight bond and action that the network consisted by the groups usually work for art, education and welfare shows.

Ganbare Tohoku!

As I heard many stories about the struggles of Tohoku, I was overwhelmed with passion and energy within. Isn’t there something, anything we could do? The earthquake blocked the main roads; so transporting relief supplies stood no chance of getting there. However, after much exchange of communication with the local people, a ray of hope came into light. We learned that, the roads on the eastern pacific coast were closed off, but if we carried supplies from Niigata (the prefecture that is located on the coastline of Sea of Japan Coast), we could deliver supplies up to the border of the prefecture. Immediately I contacted the delegate of NPO Cosmo Yume-butai and a sculptor, Kentaro Sato who lives just a few kilometers from the border of the prefecture. He too, was looking and willing to do anything to help. The first 12 boxes sent from Tokyo were delivered to Toyomi from Tokyo on March 15th. Also, Mr. Sato drove a 2 ton truck into Aizu relief shelter. Within 20 hours after deployment, relief goods were in the hands of the disaster victims. From that day on, relief supplies from our concerned friends from all over Japan were collected and delivered to severely damaged cities like Iwaki and Higashi Matsushima city in Miyagi by Mr. Sato in Aga town in Niigata. It was wonderful to see many of our friends caring and wanting to help. Before long, we named this grass-roots movement from volunteers all over Japan as “Ganbare Tohoku!” (Tohoku hang in there, hold tough!) We sealed all the boxes of supplies with this message.
If we were the victims of this earthquake, would we be able to hold tough like them? For the people have lost their homes, photos, – everything, but still trying to live their every day life at it’s best; I’m not certain whether these words were the right words. But “Ganbre Tohoku” was the first words that came out as I prayed for their safety.
Here, I will share some words from Helen Keller, who suffered triple handicaps (can’t see, can’t hear and can’t speak). Her fight against tremendous hardships encouraged many people. Her strong will and way of life seemed to coincide with the people who are now continuing their sleepless relief activities.

Believe, when you are most unhappy,
that there is something for you to do in the world.
So long as you can sweeten another’s pain,
life is not in vain.

-Helen Keller

Together with the relief supplies carried the “thoughts and hope” for the people in Tohoku. And from the people in Tohoku, we received courage through their fight against this hardship. I am certain that as long as the people in Tohoku continue to move on with a strong will, they will find a way for recovery, and before long, everyone in Japan will feel the energy.

We question again. Can Art save the World?

In the early 1990s, when Yugoslavia was in the middle civil war, artists from European countries united in order to aid theatrical activities. Among these artists were those from Antwerp Belgium, which was the European capital of culture in 1993. The extent of the role by the art during the war is unknown. However, it is unimaginable the courage actors must have given to the citizens by continuing theater and questioning the meaning of life. In addition, the events after 1929, Great Depression should be mentioned. While the very existence of the country was in danger, the U.S government proposed a dynamic public project known as the New Deal Act. Although large amounts of taxpayers’ money were used in this act, it did not lead to economic recovery. The fragile situation of this time was illustrated by the announcement made by President Franklin D Roosevelt, in which he said, “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clothed, ill-nourished.” Six years later, still facing high unemployment rate of 20%, the government proposed a second New Deal Act. Instead of giving money as welfare, they produced public project jobs for the unemployed. As a result, more than three million unemployed were saved.
The dynamic Art Cultural Policy carried out during this time is not well known in Japan. In this policy, artist from wide range including theater, music, art and literature were employed. As a result, every week about five thousand concerts were held with millions of audience as well as more than one thousand theatrical stages with more than one million audiences. Also, about 30,000 pieces of art were created. Even at this time of depression, many lectures on art were given all around the country and attracted growing number of art lovers.
The role of art culture in supporting the time of difficulty in America was immeasurably great. This surely invigorated the lives of the citizens, which led to the nourishment of United States after World War.
Today, although the United States has many problems, it also has some of the world’s greatest universities, theaters and museum that enhances education, culture and art. The fact that these facilities are funded by contribution from the citizens makes us realize the importance of the power of the citizens.
From this historical fact in which art supported the rebuilding of the country from a crisis, we have many lessons to learn.

Let’s talk about present Japan. Three weeks after the earthquake, Takao Nakamura, an actor of a marionette theater company “Hitomiza”, whom we have had many opportunities to work with, called and told us that he was headed to Kesennuma for a performance. Kesennuma is one of the cities that were severely damaged by the tsunami. They received a call saying that the children in the relief shelter wanted to see a theatrical performance. Hitomiza has frequently visited this city in tours. Mr. Nakamura decided to do a one man play. The disaster area was in short in supplies and didn’t need excess people. He filled the truck with the requested supplies and headed to Kesennuma. In Kesennuma, visited five shelters, delivered supplies, and held marionette performances. When I asked him about the situation in Kesennuma, he said, “The children watched my performance, cheered and broke into fits of laughter. I think got more than I gave. I was encouraged.” There are many artists who want to go and heal the victim’s hearts, but many times can’t. Like the case with Mr.Nakamura, as long as anyone calls on for it, art has a major role in nourishment for the soul. Art is not given. It comes from our soul, the desire from deep within the mind, the yearning gives art its shape. It is said that values and morals are formed during the young stage of a human life. The children’s memory of seeing Mr. Nakamura’s marionette play during their prolonged life in the shelter will never be forgotten.

 

From retrieving to reviving, what supports it?

Wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.

(Old Spanish Proverb)

In 2004, 5 million people were devastated by the earthquake in the Ocean off Sumatra. The largest a mount of donations and donated supplies were sent to them. However, these reactions, which came from the goodness of the heart, resulted in an unexpected confusion at the sight of the catastrophe. At one point, there was an international competition of the amount of donation and spread the confusion. A French controversialist Jacques Attali suggested in his book Une Brève Histoire De L’avenir, “The government development aid in the 20th century only led the wealthy nations wealthier, and poor nations more indigent.” It is true that the donations of money and supplies are necessary after a catastrophe. However, in order for the supports to be used efficiently, there need to be a system for accepting them. The goodness of the heart cannot be a one way traffic. A while after the catastrophe, the goal shifts from survival to living an every day life. At this point the philosophical question becomes “what is living an every day life? What does it mean to be alive?” The strong will and determination of the survivors and their internal energy becomes important. In order to maintain this will and determination, a local leader is necessary. Also we envision in our future as we move forward, taking one step at a time is important. Insightfulness, discretion, love, trust independence, emotions and uniqueness are required for this road for rebuilding.

For the hopeful future

“The worth of a State, in the long run, is the worth of the individuals composing it.”

From “On Liberty” by John Stuart Mill

Japan has survived World War II, made a miraculous recovery and became one of the biggest economical powerhouse. However in recent years, hidden behind material wealth, spiritual poverty has been spreading. For a long time, the number of suicide has been more than 30,000 per year. This number is well above the number of deaths caused by the recent earthquake. What have we gained and lost during the 60 years after the war?

Couple of years ago, a leader in the financial world said, “Mr. Kogi, the people of Japan will not realize unless they are burned down again.” He was worried that the economic flourishment had led to the spiritual deterioration. It is important that our recovery includes not only material wealth but also spiritual wealth as well. After the recent earthquake, we face important crossroad. How we get over this tragedy, how we rebuild “new” Japan, this historical approach depends on each one of us. Now, our allies all over the world looking over our actions.

“Ganbare Tohoku!!!” (The message urges Tohoku “to hang in there, to hold tough”.)
“Ganbare Japan!!!”

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