Japan: After the Wave

March 12, 2012  •  6 minute read

by Renata Petroni Director of NPN International Program Since 2010, NPN International Program has been building relationships with NPN/KAMS Exchange, a partnership with the Korea Arts Management Services (KAMS) and the Japan Connection, a partnership with the Japan Contemporary Dance Network (JCDN). Currently in their network-building phase, both partnerships follow the Performing Americas Program model of a systematic cultural exchange program based on reciprocity and knowledge building. These projects are developing the context for this exchange by creating strong connections and opportunities for all partners involved to travel to each others’ countries to investigate local cultures, the arts, and cultural policies. To this end, every year, NPN International Program supports trips to its partners’ countries. Following the JCDN partners’ trip to the NPN Annual Meeting in Tampa in December 2011, the U.S. curators — Yolanda Cursach of MCA Chicago and F. John Herbert of Legion Arts, Cedar Rapids, Iowa; joined by Jordan Peimer, Director of Programming at Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, MK Wegmann, NPN President and CEO, Renata Petroni, NPN International Program Director and Kyoko Yoshida, Executive Director of U.S./Japan Cultural Trade Network and consultant to the Japan Connection project — traveled to Yokohama from February 13 to 20 to attend T-PAM. They had multiple objectives: a work meeting with JCDN partners to discuss the next steps of the Japan Connection; participation in T-PAM sessions; seeing a wide range of performances; and a trip on February 16 organized by Norikazu Sato, Director of JCDN, to visit Sendai and Minami Sanriku, a fishing village in the Miyagi prefecture in the north of Japan. Launched as “Tokyo Performing Arts Market” (T-PAM) in 1995 with the objective of promoting Japanese artists internationally, T-PAM changed its focus in 2005, becoming an international platform for information exchange, networking, mutual learning and discussion. In 2011, T-PAM moved to Yokohama, changed the name from “Market” to “Meeting” and became “Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama,” while keeping the acronym “T-PAM” (www.tpam.or.jp). Yokohama was chosen for its proximity to Tokyo, economic advantages, manageability and because a great deal of capital has been invested in transforming this dormitory city into a cultural capital. The city’s officials and cultural institutions are an active partner of T-PAM together with the Japan Foundation. This year’s sessions and discussions revolved around the profound social, economic and psychological effects that the March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsunami and accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant have had on the Japanese population. Underlying fears about the future brought people to question their life choices and consider new perspectives. Artists and cultural workers, trying to cope with the senseless devastation and its unknown consequences, have been questioning their roles, philosophies and beliefs. T-PAM, through a series of workshops and discussions, provided them with a platform for reflection. In addition to the T-PAM sessions and a very enlightening and productive meeting with our JCDN partners, the U.S. participants enjoyed the amazing program which included performances presented by theaters in Tokyo, special selections performed in various spaces throughout Yokohama and surroundings, as well as showcases selected for T-PAM by three young curators, Akane Nakamura, producer and founder of NPO Drifters International and SNAC; Yukako Ogura, Director of AI.Hall; and Katsuhiro Ohira, Director of ST Spot. What impressed me most about our visit was just how different the work showcased in Yokohama was from what I have seen in other countries. There was an intangible quality—almost a self-consciousness—which appeared in a lot of the work. This was particularly prevalent in Yumi Osanai’s dance trio “Skybaum” seen at the Yokohama Dance Collection EX which mixed moments of scenographic beauty with singular quirky movement. Similarly, Yuuri Furuie’s “Japanese Room A,” also at Yokohama Dance Collection EX, mixed classical dance forms with costuming and design that brought to mind elements of anime. In contrast, Finnish choreographer Ervi Sirén showed “Kite” at Bank Art, a work-in-progress with local dancers; this collaborative work (another, almost opposite one is happening in Finland with a Japanese choreographer and Finnish dancers) allowed the movements of the Japanese bodies to be fore-grounded against the contemporary European formal structure. Language is of course an issue in performance, but the best work always transcends that. Especially exciting was the Tokyo-based theatre company FAIFAI’s (Japanese for Fun-Fun!) “Anton, Neko, Kuri” performed at Nihehi Works — a multi-level performance space and café. (To see video <http://faifai.tv/english/news/anton.php>) In this work there were three simultaneous texts, a spoken one in Japanese, a movement score, and projected English translation which worked together in very different and exciting ways to portray a community in a housing block that comes together around a sick cat—improbable, but the most thoroughly charming work of the week. Idiot Savant’s “After the Feigned Atomic Party,” performed inside the sanctuary of a Buddhist temple, presented a formal exploration of how the Japanese utilize techniques of devised theater. It was particularly interesting to speak with the director afterwards and discover his intentions in this work that mixed imagery from the holocaust with those of Japan’s 3/11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. — Jordan Peimer The last objective was the trip to northern Japan. The decision to visit the areas hit by the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami came about during our meeting with JCDN last October when MK Wegmann and F. John Herbert shared their experiences of the recovery efforts following Katrina in New Orleans and the flood in Cedar Rapids. Norizaku Sato, director of JCDN, thought it useful for MK and John to meet with members of organizations like Artslink, which coordinates artists’ recovery efforts on the sites hit by the earthquake and tsunami, and the Mediathèque in Sendai, which has created a website where the victims of the disaster can record their experiences. On February 16, we set off for Sendai with a certain trepidation as we did not know what to expect. After a three-hour train ride we were picked up by a representative of Artslink who drove us to Minami Sanriku, a fishing village in the Miyagi prefecture. What we saw took our breath away. The entire town center had been washed away by the 50-foot waves, leaving a wasteland punctuated by a few building skeletons that still stand as a ghostly reminders of the disaster. We were told that of the 20,000 inhabitants, 5,000 died or disappeared and most of the others have relocated to neighboring towns. As the Town Hall was destroyed with all its records, Minami Sanriku’s inhabitants can no longer retrieve their identity documents while the mayor and other surviving town officials had to relocate to trailers parked on tennis courts up on the hills. City officials have worked hard at relocating people and organizing teams to clean the hundreds of tons of debris while appealing to the central government to lend a helping hand to rebuild the city and its fishing industry so that the population can return home. In the meantime, to prevent the few residents who are still on-site from leaving the city, the local government and the contractor in charge of cleaning the debris have been hiring local people to help in this colossal task. The debris is sorted and collected into huge mountains but there is no place to put it. It’s a monumental challenge faced by communities along hundreds of miles of Japan’s battered northeastern coast. Town officials, who estimate it will cost about $27.4 million to remove the city’s debris, have plans to burn as much of it as possible and recycle what they can, but since Japan has little landfill space left, the rest may eventually be shipped overseas. Until the debris is disposed of, the towns cannot start re-building their communities and the people cannot move on with their lives. With a heavy heart, we drove back to Sendai, a large town of a million inhabitants located 100 km from the coast. Although the city was badly hit by the earthquake and tsunami, suffered tremendous damages and lost a great number of its people, we saw a vibrant town which had resumed its activities, including a rich cultural life. We visited a small gallery whose owner is very active in supporting local artists and teaching art in local schools, and the Mediathèque which is providing studio space to artists who have lost their homes and work places, as well as providing space for exhibits that bring the community together and include space to talk and share their experiences. Seeing the commitment and dedication of so many people in re-building their communities, while helping others get over their traumas, was inspiring, and in the words of our friend Jordan Peimer, “what we experienced in the north, both the destruction and the hope, will live with us always.”