[From March Issue 2012]
The scars from the Great East Japan Earthquake are still deep in the devastated areas. After the earthquake, unique projects that look to the future were established by people from around the world from various walks of life.
The “Tohoku Kyushu Project” is an attempt to encourage the cultural revival of disaster hit areas. Part of this project is an art exhibition which is touring around Kyushu for a year, selling and exhibiting works made by Tohoku and Kyushu artists. Paintings, ceramics, sundry goods, clothing, music and a variety of other works are on sale. Though artists of the Tohoku area can exhibit items free of charge, participating Kyushu artists pay a handling charge to fund the project.
This project was first started by the Kyushu Creative Unit, TRAVEL FRONT. The group’s leader, NODA Tsuneo started the project after personally witnessing the difficulties in continuing with the arts in the Tohoku area. Not by relying on charity, but by encouraging trade, the program focuses on fostering long term cultural links between the artists of Tohoku and Kyushu.
The exhibition started out in Fukuoka in July 2011, continued on to Nagasaki in October, and Kagoshima in November. At each venue talk show events were held and, at the Fukuoka venue, approximately 1,500 people attended the event. Popular items from the exhibition include tenugui (traditional Japanese cloth hand towels) and smocks made from patterned fabrics of distinctive Tohoku design, and shoehorns made from used skateboards. Currently approximately 20 artists from Tohoku are participating in the exhibition.
Since Kyushu and Tohoku are geographically distant, interaction between the regions was rare and Tohoku artists were not well known in Kyushu. However, “Thanks to this project, some artists feel Tohoku and Kyushu have become closer,” says MIYAZAKI Yukiko of TRAVEL FRONT. The project is scheduled to continue until July 2012, and exhibits will be held once every two to three months in various venues around the Kyushu area.
Another project utilizes the new media of e-books. Available online, “You Are Here: Write for Tohoku” is a collection of articles written and edited in English by volunteer writers from around the world. All proceeds are donated to the devastated areas through the Japan Red Cross.
As e-books are not printed on paper, the whole production and publishing process took a mere three months. In addition, people all around the world are able to purchase the book and start reading it right away.
The writers, who have all lived in Japan, contributed a variety of articles about their experience of the country. The book contains short stories and poems with a Japanese theme. Humorous articles describe experiences, such as a first encounter with a bidet toilet, or working at a Japanese company. There is also an article about life in affected areas after the disaster by a writer who was one of the victims in Sendai. Readers around the world can catch a glimpse of Japanese culture and customs through these articles.
Annamarie SASAGAWA, a Canadian native currently living in Tokyo who has experience as a tour guide, began the project. Sasagawa has visited the Tohoku area numerous times with tour groups and on her personal travels. “As more and more overseas news outlets showed footage of the disaster in Tohoku, I worried that people overseas would only associate Tohoku and Japan with this terrible natural disaster, so I decided to publish an e-book,” she says.
Jeremy BOOTH, an American living in Japan who bought the e-book says, “I was able to learn and sympathize with the interesting experiences and hardships the non-natives living in Japan went through.” Conversely the book also serves as an introduction to native Japanese readers to the other side of Japan as seen through the eyes of foreigners. A Japanese version and a sequel are scheduled to be published.
A new large-scale project to rebuild the local agriculture in the devastated areas has been launched. The “Tohoku Cotton Project” aims to consistently produce and sell items made from raw cotton grown on tsunami stricken farms. Farmers, apparel manufacturers, fiber spinning firms and agricultural unions have cooperated to set up this project.
After the earthquake, the tsunami covered farmlands located in coastal regions of Eastern Japan in sea water, rendering them unfit for farming. Some regions were particularly affected: a thick layer of sludge covered the land and drainage facilities were destroyed. In these regions farmers are unable to extract salt out of the soil, a process that has to be carried out in order to continue cultivating rice. Companies witnessing the situation joined forces to start this project.
Raw cotton has a long history of being grown on drained land. Cotton can be grown on land which has such high saline concentrations that rice cannot be grown. In June 2011, cotton was planted in the Arahama area of Sendai City and Natori City both in Miyagi Prefecture. Agricultural work was done in cooperation with volunteers from all over Japan, locals and employees of participating companies.
Beautiful white flowers bloomed all over the cotton fields in August 2011. KOZATO Tsukasa of the Japanese Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives says, “The piles of sludge make it hard for the soil to retain nutrients. The cotton is very weak but we are relieved that flowers bloomed. It is all thanks to the local people and the volunteers from all over Japan.”
There are difficulties unique to cotton farming which are different from growing rice. During last autumn’s typhoon, disaster struck as a makeshift bank burst and the cotton fields were submerged in water. There was also damage caused by cotton worms, and the resulting crop was smaller than originally expected. Still, more companies are joining the movement and many people are looking forward to this new Tohoku brand cotton business. This spring, products will be sold at participating brand store and department stores.
Text: SHIBATA Rie