Temporary Accommodation

From Fukushima – Pt.7

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

I am now at Narita airport heading home with some final thoughts on my 10 week art residency in Fukushima province in Japan.

Blossom arrives in Tokyo.  Photo and permission Su Grierson

Blossom arrives in Tokyo. Photo and permission Su Grierson

After my previous blogs Chris Fremantle asked me what is ‘normal’ in Fukushima. Well, that depends on whether you are a displaced person living for the last two years in temporary accommodation without full time work or proper family life, or whether you are a local Fukushima resident.

Fukushima is a very large Province stretching more than halfway across the centre of Honshu, the main island of Japan, most of it being well away from the actual disaster area. For most people here, ‘normal’ is everyday life as it always has been, superficially not affected at all apart from the total downturn in the tourist industry and it’s related earnings issues. But underneath it there is a permanent change in their belief in their own National political and organisational systems and a much greater awareness of the fragility of life and of the value and importance of the environment. As a visitor you don’t access these feeling easily. The Japanese are not given to personal revelations so that when people do speak out you know their thoughts are important and deep.

Rice farming village.  Photo and permission Su Grierson

Rice farming village. Photo and permission Su Grierson

Recently we four artists were invited to a wine tasting by one of our English speaking supporters who owns a 7/11 convenience store and a wine store – which he admits to being mostly a hobby. Sitting in his warm and beautiful wine Kura and sampling great wines from around the world and a lovely meal produced by his wife, I eventually asked what his views were on the nuclear issue and the business pressure on Government to re-open the nuclear power stations. Surprisingly he said he had studied Nuclear Physics at University and that he had always supported Nuclear because although he understood the dangers he totally believed that his Government and the scientists would have fully evaluated all the important safety issues in implementing the programme. Now he has had to re-evaluate his position and has looked closely at the issues involved in expanding the use of fossil fuels. He now believes the long term danger to the planet is greater from fossil fuels. ‘What about renewables’ I asked and he admitted that in Japan this was hardly on the agenda and would take so long to get started that it seemed an unlikely way to solve their needs. He faces this as a personal dilemma that he like, I imagine, many millions more are wrestling with inside of their ‘normal’ everyday lives. But they feel helpless to influence things one way or the other.

Snow melting on rice fields.  Photo and permission Su Grierson

Snow melting on rice fields. Photo and permission Su Grierson

For the ‘refugees’ still without home and jobs, everyday life is filled with making origami, keeping their tiny homes in order, trying to get better compensation, undertaking part-time jobs if they are lucky and volunteering just to engage with their new communities and keep busy. For them I think ‘normal‘ is a dream for the future. They have no belief at all in a nuclear future.

In my last blog I mentioned that there was an electricity failure at the damaged Daiichi nuclear plant with a four day limit before critical heat was reached. The following day we learned that power had been restored. They still didn’t know the cause but suspected the main switchboard. The day after that, in keeping with their new commitment to transparency, they said that although they were still not certain of the cause they had found an electrocuted rat beside the main switchboard. I cannot think of words enough to make a further comment, but, I mean seriously, was it possible that a rat could gnaw through the cable of the electricity supply to a stricken nuclear plant cooling system – honestly?

So what are my personal feelings about Japan on this my most recent visit. As always, I see that the ability of the Japanese to set and run incredibly complex systems with amazing accuracy, like trains and luggage delivery systems is mind blowing.

Snow shoes with flip-up teeth. Photo and permission Su Grierson

Snow shoes with flip-up teeth. Photo and permission Su Grierson

Keeping the cones above snow level.  Photo and permission Su Grierson

Keeping the cones above snow level. Photo and permission Su Grierson

They have some of the most imaginative designs and systems imaginable, like the thermal water snow clearing systems I mentioned in an earlier blog, and the shoes that a technician at the Museum took off for me to photograph. They had tiny teeth in the heel that can be pulled out when walking on snow. These are just individual examples of the many small designs one comes across. But this is always countered by the opposite where at a personal level where no systems are in place: organisation and communication can fall apart with regular frustrating frequency. Another example would be the endless meetings I found so inconclusive and frustrating. These were explained to me as, ‘We are not trying to make decisions, we are just wanting to let everyone have their say – even if we ignore it later at least they feel they have been able to speak their mind.’ It is above all a country of contrasts.

Fukushima is also an area of beautiful landscape, with forested mountains, small villages and strong local culture, outstanding local produce and food and buildings.

But one thing shines through and that is the people, their kindness, generosity and willingness to help and support each other and we visitors. The small acts of kindness that happen on an everyday level here in Fukushima are what I will carry away from this country: the restaurant owner whose excellent restaurant we had visited several times who turned up un-announced at lunchtime on the final day of our exhibition with his family and a large bowl of hot Japanese soup; the construction company owner who dropped his work to take my friend, visiting from Tokyo, and I up the mountain on a glorious sunny day because she said she wanted to go and he said he loved the place so much that he regarded it as his pleasure to show it to us.

Fukushima Aizu rice farming area.  Photo and permission Su Grierson

Fukushima Aizu rice farming area. Photo and permission Su Grierson

Yesterday Yoshiko l and left Kitakata and went to catch the bus for Tokyo an hour away at Aizu Wakamatsu bus station. We were driven there by the daughter of our host because she had a bigger car for our luggage. And as we sat in the waiting room a lady we recognised came to meet us. She was a Refugee from a local camp who had come to one of our talks and to our exhibition. She heard of our departure and walked to the station to say goodbye.  She gave us each a bottle of water for our journey and thanked us for coming and for making a difference. For an artist there can be no greater thanks.

—————————————————————————————–

Link to a video in which a Fukushima Town’s Sole Resident speaks out

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.
Go to EcoArtScotland

Powered by WPeMatico

Su Grierson 20th January

The heated table.  Photo and permission Su Grierson

The heated table. Photo and permission Su Grierson

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Day 1

The journey to Japan was good and easy.  Yoshiko Maruyama, the artist/ initiator of this project, was waiting for me at Narita airport.

The Japan Foundation wanted to meet me and receive my flight invoices and this meant an hour bus trip in the wrong direction into central Tokyo, but a smiling Mr Ohnishi met us, gave us lunch and towed my suitcase for me and after the formalities of paperwork he found us the correct train for our 3 hour journey up to Kitakata. He is promising to visit us in 10 days time to give us our generous fees and expenses.

I got a little closer to understanding why this project is being sponsored by the Japan Foundation and just what their hopes for it are. It seems there is a general desire of local and national government to counter the current negative images that accompany the word Fukushima internationally, as well as a desire to re-build the cultural activity of the area. Our impressions of our visit that we give to them and local people and also take home with us are just as important as any artwork we create here. They also talk of us conveying a positive image of the area to what they call the ‘Refugees’, in other words the survivors of the Tsunami who are living in temporary accommodation here that they must vacate after 3 years. I hope to find out more about that later.

I feel they see us as trailblazers initiating an artist’s residency in Fukushima that they hope others will then be willing to come to. It is refreshing that they and the other funders are happy to support a project without any clear idea of how it will proceed, instead just letting things fall into place as it goes along.

Day 2.

Yoshiko and I have now joined the two Norwegians, a sculptor and an architect and the first impression for all of us is the COLD, the second is of amazing scenery and buildings.

This is my seventh visit to Japan and I have never seen it look so stunning nor have I been so cold. We are staying in a traditional farmhouse style building with sliding walls with paper ‘glass’ on the inner side and glass on the outer wall (with a metre wide buffer zone between) none of which are tight fitting. There is absolutely no insulation and there is a general reluctance to use any electricity. This seems to stem partly from cost which is often mentioned – although the adjacent new part of the building does have solar panels on the roof (I haven’t yet had a chance to ask about that) – and also from a general attempt to reduce the use of electricity after their nuclear catastrophe. No one here seems to know how many of their nuclear plants have been re-opened.

As Margretha from Norway is an architect we have had long discussions about the nature of these building which seem to have been traditionally so unsuited to this climate, but then again they have also to withstand earthquakes and extremely hot and humid summers for which they seem perfectly adapted. We also don’t yet know the extent to which their approach to life was, and maybe still is, so different from our own age of ‘comfort’. The winters are cold so you just put on more clothes and don’t think about it. We are trying hard to do the same with varying degrees of success. The paraffin heaters and heated meal tables are a blessing. Our hostess has just produced some electric blankets – JOY.

The amount of fantastic food we are plied with also goes a long way to keeping out the cold. Today we have a ‘party’ to which all the funders and local supporters as well as Press will be coming. Tonight apparently we are moving to a mountain farm house for 4 days.

With endless outings being promised, we are wondering when there will be any time to make work for an exhibition in 4 weeks time.

Su Grierson

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.
Go to EcoArtScotland

Powered by WPeMatico