Report by Secretariat “On conclusion of the 16th EU-Japan Fest”
Tokyo, 2009. Spring in all her glory. I stand transfixed amidst a riot of cherry blossoms, intoxicated with their consummate beauty. Why is it they move me so? Are they really any different from the flowers I’ve seen every spring for decades? When I learn from the conversations around me, however, that I am far from alone in my special regard for this year’s bloom, it brings me a secret relief.
We may have taken leave of our senses prior to the global crisis that got underway in the United States last autumn. This half-year has been one day after another of bad economic news, generally accompanied by the epithet “unprecedented” or “once in a hundred years”. The crash in share prices was a blow to the spirits even of people who own no shares, and the media took to the phrase “temp worker layoffs” as though the whole of Japan were teeming with a legion of unemployed. It was day after day of gloom.
And yet spring arrived with the cherry blossoms. In full bloom, these flowers are possessed with an absolute natural beauty that seems to overwhelm human beings. Hearts filled with joy at their breathtaking beauty, and at last smiling faces beamed all round.
People say that pessimism is a matter of mood and optimism a matter of will, and the saying is apt. Globalization has now advanced so far that action taken at the national level is of limited use in solving the many problems we face. All of us in the world need to realize that we are in this together and must confront our problems collectively. The crises of the previous centuries drove national egos in a headlong rush to protectionism, to nationalism and even to wars that spanned the globe. We have now gained lessons from history, however, and the outstanding technologies and wisdom mankind has developed since. This makes all the more unforgivable that we should sink needlessly into pessimism. This adversity, I believe, demands of us determination and courage. The challenge is not one for our political and business leaders alone, but one for each individual citizen. We are familiar with the stern calls for corporate social responsibility, but it seems to me time now for another sort of CSR – civic social responsibility. Our way to the future lies through all of us sharing an awareness of our responsibilities as citizens and working with determination and courage.
Without question, economic recovery is what we all hope for. With one eye on an economy that has over some ten years bounced back from the collapse of the bubble in Japan in the 1990s, however, one notes also the emergence over the same period of such social problems as the collapse of education and the increased incidence of suicide and bullying. Just what is economic recovery for, anyway? And what is happiness? It rather seems to me that these are the questions we need to revisit. To take the same path again is out of the question. The current crisis is a test set for us by history. We have been given the time and occasion to consider how human beings can live their lives in a way befitting, and I have no doubt that future generations will look at the year 2008 as a major turning point.
With this in mind, here follows the Secretariat report on the 16th EU-Japan Fest from a grass-roots perspective.
Sonya Keogh Calls for Good Cheer toTake Us Through the Global Recession
The Irish city of Cork is home to the mezzo-soprano Sonya Keogh, who serves as director of the Cork Children’s Chorus comprised of local schoolchildren. Underlying that work is the hope that through collective song the children of her community will overcome disparities in wealth, differences in skin color and the many other differences among them and join together in spirit.
The participation of a Japanese children’s music society in the International Festival of Music and Youth held at the Cultural Capital of Europe Cork 2005 led to the Cork Children’s Chorus engaging in joint projects, which remain ongoing, with various communities in Japan. It was Ms Keogh’s mediation that led to children from Japan, Britain and Ireland performing in the International Festival of Music and Youth at the Cultural Capital of Europe Liverpool in autumn 2008.
Something happened the other day. I placed an international phone call to Ms Keogh to discuss future activities. While the Cork Children’s Chorus does benefit from a government grant, it is but a small amount and the operation has been fundamentally self-supporting. When I expressed concern over how they were getting on in the downturn, the voice that replied over the line was as full of pluck as ever. “Recession? Yes, that’s right. But it’s the same everywhere, isn’t it? All we need is a piano, and then we can sing with spirit anytime.” And what she said next was extraordinary: “I’ve been having a marvelous time this recession.” Unfazed by how she’d caught me off guard with that, she continued, “I used to have to find someone to babysit when I went out, but now the neighbors all help each other out with it. Thanks to that, we talk to each other about our troubles more often now, and we encourage each other. And for a party I used to go and buy a cake from the most expensive pastry shop in town, but now I bake a pie with apples from my garden. Friends who never showed much interest in a pricey pastry are delighted by a handmade cake. It gives us so much more to talk about. It really has been a lot of fun lately.” Sensing her determination to match the bad times with courage, I realized that I had been forgetting what the important things are. It even seemed that Ms Keogh’s energy was enough on its own to dispel the pervasive pessimism.
15,000 Haiku Composers
Towards the end of January 2009 I had meetings scheduled in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, one of the three Baltic states. On arrival I found the airport blanketed in an eerie silence. When I inquired of airport staff whether there had been some sort of bad trouble, he replied disconsolately that many of the flights had been canceled as the national carrier had gone under just the day before. Lithuania would be no exception to the ravages of the global crisis. Driving into town, I could not help but be beset by anxiety over prospects for the many joint projects planned with Japan for the coming year. The apprehension haunted me that the country was hit harder than I had imagined in Japan.
Even in town I saw more than a few shops closed down during the daytime. When I met the local groups and artists that had been waiting to receive me, however, I realized that my concerns were groundless. “Spending on many things is certainly down, but concert and theatre ticket sales are actually up, you know. Even in this recession, we have a paradise of freedom now compared to our misery in Soviet times.,” one of the artists told me. Meanwhile, a grassroots exchange with a Japanese poet which began some years earlier had led, it seems, to the haiku form taking root here in Lithuania. At the end of the previous year a call went out for the general public to submit their compositions, and some 15,000 people responded. “The best of them are collected here,” said an elderly poet proudly brandishing a brand-new book hot off the press. Wherever did so many people find the will and the time to try their hand at haiku? I was struck again by how material satisfaction is by itself insufficient to attain the joy of living.
Community Revitalization Through Art: Who Is the Principal?
One program the Committee has supported and worked on these past ten years is the photography project “European Eyes on Japan/Japan Today”. The object is to depict in the raw the 47 prefectures of Japan from the different perspectives of European photographers. For people in local communities, the encounter with a European photographer provides an opportunity to discover things they had overlooked, to witness realities that, though visible, had gone unseen. Human relationships and living scenery that do not feature in newspaper reportage or television travelogues emerge from this ground-hugging work.
During the course of this program we have stumbled now and then in different parts of Japan on local projects underway with the slogan “Community Revitalization Through Art”. Visits to these local communities again and again reveal in due course a three-dimensional life-size reality not conceivable from preconceived notions and advance documentation. And while they likely have the same root as the town and village development movements extensively reported in the media, this newer cast of community revitalization through art has, to be sure, a more pleasant and inspiring ring to it.
Western France is one place considered to have achieved a dream so inspired. I refer to Nantes, a city driven to the brink of financial collapse by the decline of its local industry. It is also known for working in difficult circumstances to develop a long-term strategy and leveraging the combined efforts of the entire town to achieve “regeneration through art”. Nantes has now recovered so far as to achieve first rank as “the city where I would like to live” in France. Mr Bonnan, director of the city’s cultural agency, fiercely describes this effort of many years for regeneration as a “fight”.
What must not be overlooked, however, is that it was not a government office that was the principal in this regeneration, but volunteers working in local non-profit organizations. Their passion mobilized first outside artists and promoters, and then the faculties of government, swelling eventually into a movement not unlike a great wave. If there is something we can learn from the experience of Nantes, it is none other that the residents of the community were not dragged into action by central government or some external force, nor did they rely on someone else to save them: they acted spontaneously and with their own purpose.
The Economic Ripple Effect Monster
Large international events, in sport and conferencing as well as in the arts, have of late come to require high levels of funding. An example is the Olympics. The Charter itself still prescribes that “Olympism is a philosophy of life. Whether in individual or team events, competitions are between individual athletes and not between nations,” but this seems to be the thinking of a time long past. As things stand, attention focuses entirely on the economic ripple effect said to surpass three trillion yen.
Likewise with the G8 Summit held in Japan every eight years, local authorities around the country vie tenaciously for the right to host the event. It was in this context that the Hokkaido town of Toyako, which selected as the summit’s host last year, was reported to be on the brink of financial collapse, with headlines announcing a “Second Yubari”. Despite massive outlays proclaiming a “cultural message to the world”, strict counter-terrorism measures hindered efforts to draw tourists in the run-up to the summit, and afterwards the town went unmentioned in reportage and seems to be in decline. Moreover, the long-planned museum to commemorate the summit is scheduled to open in April 2009, but its deficit is burgeoning with no end in sight. A town may enjoy a tremendous rally with the brief moment of media exposure that such an event and its attendant VIP’s, including heads of state and government, bring, but all it is left with afterwards are useless public buildings and a swollen debt. As one Big Event after another jostles for its own moment in the sun, it is plain that public interest only thins away like an ebbing tide.
Supposing we had been carried away and ignored the basic question as to the point of holding the Olympics and the G8 summits in the first place, the compensation for doing so indeed large. And without question the bill will be presented to local residents. Likewise, the succession of “international exchange events” and “year-round programs” concocted in government circles are ephemeral things, and if they scorn the long-term perspective, such debates may properly disregard our views.
Who Then Is to Stand up for Culture and the Arts?
The global crisis that assailed the world over the latter half of last year has reminded us of the New Deal policies with which the American government engaged a global crisis in the previous century. That government followed up its massive efforts to boost employment with policies promoting culture and the arts on a grand scale. Large numbers of artists found employment in New Deal programs, and their work in drama, music, fine arts, literature and photography resulted in a trove of splendid work, a little-known piece of history profited and energized society. After the urgent task of job creation, these policies engaged with the fundamental issue of identifying the wellsprings of the life force.
And now, some seventy years on, it is not government grants or corporate philanthropy that support culture and the arts in the contemporary United States, but civil society that accounts for 85 % of such support. That numerous world-class universities, museums and theaters operate with the private backing of individuals points up the rude health of America’s culture of many strata.
Meanwhile, Japanese governments and local authorities have poured massive sums into culture and arts budgets over the post-war years. Not least among these are the expenditures for construction of the profusion of public culture centers, said to run to even as much as nine trillion yen. There is no denying that the role played in promotion of the arts in Japan by the public bodies that failed to develop a rigorous system of public grants and to train experts has been an extremely fragile one. Even as we work to extract ourselves from our current crisis of public finance, in thinking about the future of culture and the arts in this country I believe that as citizens we have already learned that it is not prudent to rely on the government or public bodies or to continue to entrust them to play the leading role in the promotion of the arts. We should not in fact require the American example to have confidence that we are well equal to the challenge of serving as the principals in rallying culture and the arts. Now more than ever it is time for civil society to seek greater autonomy, to regard the world as its stage and play a broader role.
Since its establishment, the EU-Japan Fest Japan Committee has provided consistent support activities in Japan and the various countries of Europe that have as their objective the independence of artists and citizens. Sixteen years on the scant 20 programs provided with our support at the 1st EU-Japan Fest in 1993 have grown to over 600 at the 16th EU-Japan Fest. One may say that the endurance of these activities is entirely due to the support of far-seeing private companies. What is common to corporate activities characterized by excellence is – in addition to a firm determination – creativity, inventiveness and untiring effort. It goes without saying that it is such an attitude that is ever more stringently required even in culture and the arts, fields of endeavor whose benefits are not immediately apparent. And while the current global crisis may be an unforeseen calamity, there is a glimmer of hope for the future in our reconfirmation that so many strong ties do exist across national borders.
Incessant international conflict makes it now plainer than ever that the invisible barriers that exist between countries, between peoples, between civilizations cannot be brought down or overcome through mere force of arms or economic might. The Asian circumstances of Japan too are ones of growing tension. It thus behooves us all the more to pay renewed attention to how the countries of Europe, for which the Great War of half a century past was equally a calamity, overcame numerous difficulties and setbacks in their historic work building a magnificent zone of peace with a membership of 27 countries.
The arts recognize neither border nor nationality, neither winners nor losers. If art is not superficial but rather appeals to the human spirit, it will be capable of achieving something.
It is my conviction that the many projects, programs and activities described in this report indicate that while artistic efforts and the efforts of private citizens may be scant and meager, they are not impotent.
“World peace cannot be safeguarded withoutthe making of creative efforts proportionateto the dangers which threaten it.”
For an united Europe, the “Declaration of 9 May 1950” was made by Robert Schuman on 9 May 1950 before the French Assembly.