Ghetto

Su Grierson 25 January

From our mountain home looking towards Mt. Eide (Photo and permission Su Grierson

From our mountain home looking towards Mt. Eide (Photo and permission Su Grierson

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Report Number 3 from Su Grierson in Kitakata, Fukushima Province Japan.

Slowly, as we move around engaging with the locality and people and negotiate the difficulty of translation, we are gaining more insight into the aftermath of the Tsunami two years ago.

All the displaced and dispossessed people from the coastal disaster area are referred to as Refugees.

This term is general and has value in identifying them, but covers many differences that exist within that community. I have had no sense that the term is disparaging, but we were told that the initial intense sympathy that people held for them has been diminished as certain tensions have arisen.

There are Refugee camps in many areas in order to scatter the load on existing communities. The Refugees are housed in temporary purpose-built wooden houses (un-insulated as is common here) which they can occupy for up to 3 years. This deadline was put in place to discourage permanent ghetto-like clusters simply continuing indefinitely and to put pressure on the dispossessed to try and rebuild their lives. Many previous community groups are actually wanting to be resettled together in the areas they came from but this is mainly not possible as the land is not safe for re-building and there are insufficient large areas of free land to build new houses in any quantity. The issue seems to be unresolved.

We were told a little about the tensions that exist, and predictably money seems to be a major factor both between the Refugees themselves and between them and the rest of the community. As far as I can ascertain there were two types of compensation. Those living within the Nuclear disaster zones were paid compensation directly from the Nuclear industry and it was generally much higher than the Government payout to those who were affected only by the Tsunami. In addition, the nuclear payment was zoned by the proximity to the fallout area. Even though those living further away also lost everything and cannot return to their homes they received less. No one mentions whether exposure to the radiation is a factor or not. Likewise those who lost everything from the tsunami are receiving much less than those in the nuclear payout zone. It is not hard to see how tensions arise.

It seems this has been exacerbated by the fact that some of those receiving large payouts, who have never had so much money before, are not managing it wisely and some are buying fancy cars and living extravagantly and again that does not impress the local people and tests their degree of sympathy and support. It is human nature playing out predictably I think.

I am now on my third experience of Japanese traditional style accommodation – and yes, I can actually see the snow through the cracks in the single plank wooden wall! This is a large traditional house run by the owner as a B&B type accommodation. She and her elderly mother live in the (newer) building built alongside. This seems to be a common arrangement. As well as Yoshiko and myself there are also a Refugee couple staying here. He is very talkative but I am dependent on Yoshiko’s interpretation which she find quite challenging so I hope to piece together more of the story slowly as the days go by.

So far I have gathered that there has been a problem with the Government payout because the system is extremely bureaucratic and that many of the less educated or able people deal with the form filling. A system has been put in place to give individual interviews to help those with problems but some people even then cannot answer the complex questions about their history, income and lifestyle so they simply give up.

As for this couple they have moved 8 times in the 2 years, looking for a place to settle. He says he is looking for good water. When I asked why that was so important, thinking it might be something to do with rice growing or fishing, he explained that it was because good water was the source of life. In order to get good human life, good soil and a full eco-system (my word not his) there must be good life-giving water. The area we are in now Kitakata, he says has lots of bears which is good, but lower down the chain of animal and plant life it is missing many things. So it seems they will be off to location number 9 at some stage. At least he managed to get a job here doing night shift at a compost factory. I think he is 68 and took to farming when he retired as a plasterer and before that he worked in the nuclear plant. It would be good to chat with his wife when her talkative husband is not around but she does seem very shy at the moment. Who knows what effect such uncertainty and constant moving around, on top of the catastrophe itself might have had on her.

It is snowing hard again today and I must tell you about the way in which they clear the main roads. Down the centre of the roads where we might have ‘cats eyes’ there are little holes through which at appointed times little fountains of warm water (at least I was told they were warm but haven’t tested it) spray out onto the road. It washes away the snow most effectively without any need for the unpleasant salt that we spread with less efficiency. At our first accommodation the same system was used on the outside paths simply using hoses with holes. The country and side roads are partly cleared with snow ploughs and then every car uses winter tyres and everyone just drives on the packed snow base as normal.

Because the houses are largely un-insulated and without central heating, and anyway many people are giving up using electricity, the rooms, including our new studio spaces, are heated with ‘paraffin’ heaters (well I am not sure exactly what form of oil it is but it smells like that). Most of them are also plugged into the power supply for control. They do heat up very quickly but cut out when they reach temperature and then the cold comes back all to rapidly so it is difficult to get a comfortable even temperature.

The artists on the project with me, in addition to Yoshiko Maruyama, who is an installation artist and the originator of this project, are a sculptor, Vigdis Haugtroe, and Margrethe Aas, an architect/landscape architect working on City Planning, both from Norway. You can see more images of the project from our various Facebook pages and about us from our websites:

http://www.facebook.com/facingnorthjapan

http://www.facebook.com/SeishinNoKitae

www.facebook.com/su.grierson.9

http://haugtroe.com/

http://members.jcom.home.ne.jp/maryoshi/index-e.html

www.sugrierson.com

Until next time from snowy Kitakata. Su 

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.
It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.
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Are green blogs failing to convince?

Commenting on the possiblity of creating a new .eco domain, Al Gore said this week:

We fully support Dot Eco LLC in its efforts to secure the .eco top level domain through the ICANN application process and look forward to working with Dot Eco LLC to promote .eco. This is a truly exciting opportunity for the environmental movement and for the internet as a whole.

Exciting? Really? Really?

Like Matthias Merkel Hess, who occasionally wrings his hands with regret at calling his admirable site, Eco Art Blog, I inwardly cringe at the word. Here at Arts & Ecology we are always pleased that we never fell for the single-syllable option, keeping the subtler, more powerful term “ecology”, with its implicit sense of connectedness. Why having it as a suffix creates anything more than an internet ghetto, I don’t understand.

Anyway, to the point. Meaghan O’Neill, the woman behind Treehugger.com and Planetgreen.com is perkily bullish about the future of green blogs in general, writing in an article in last week’s Guardian. In an age in which conventional media are shedding staff as fast as they can, she believes that blogs can and should take over the role of reporting on environmental issues:

Anecdotally speaking, the audience for green content appears to still be growing, even as budgets for green media outlets are cut.

If you look at what she says with web2.0 spectacles on, things look rosy. Green bloggers have formed a community which educates and reinvigorates itself. As Abi Silvester of hippyshopper.com says in a comment on O’Neill’s article:

One element of blogging that’s particularly relevant here is that as bloggers we treat the issues as a basis for dialogue rather than presenting them as facts in the way that mainstream media tends to do… I do understand why some are uncomfortable with the idea of unqualified bloggers spurious scientific “facts”on the environment or any other topic, but so is any blogger worth his or her salt. In my experience, the blogs that gain credibility and respect are those that don’t set themselves up as “experts” but as interested parties that want to get involved and explore solutions creatively. There’s really no better place to do that than online at the moment.

Which is why green blogs are failing to change minds. Web2.0 is a great thing. But it’s not an end in itself. .

O’Neill says her faith that growing green audiences is “anecdotal”. Silvester too is a fan of the anectotal: “In my experience, the blogs that gain crediblity are those that don’t set themselves up as ‘experts’,” she says .

We don’t really have to prove ourselves right because we have the moral highground. A community that talks hihg-mindedly to itself is of value, but not when faced by an opposing community of sceptics which is, frankly, making all the running. In fact, as the barbed comments below O’Neill’s article show, climate deniers retain a much more powerful voice on the internet given their relatively small numbers, and green bloggers don’t appear to be able to do anything to dent that. Last month, to the horror of green bloggers everywhere, the climate-sceptic blog wattsupwiththat.com was nominated Best Science Blog of 2008 by the Best Blog Awards, to the delight of denier-trolls everhwhere.

The thing is, if blogs are going to replace the mainstream media, they must start assuming their authority. And that means finding more ways to do old-fashioned research and reporting – what the old mainstream media regarded as its central role. Moral highground is cheap. A reputation for accuracy is much harder to come by. That’s happening, but still so slowly.

The web is, as we are so often told, only 5,000 days old.

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