A little light in dark times

The lucky ones who were handed a visa for Curacao went on a major trip through the width of Russia, to end up on a ship in Vladivostok. After a few days of sailing, they entered the small Japanese port of Tsuruga. There they were welcomed by representatives of the Jewish community of Kobe, which escorted them to Kobe to give them a new home away from home. Thanks to the little lights of two men, they escaped the dark times of WW-II to enter in the light of the Japanese culture. This poem tries to put into words what these people must have felt upon arrival. It is one of the texts used in our exhibition in the Kanna Art Festival.

fleeing from terrorlight
fear in their veins
travelling into the unknown
escaping the horrors
by some simple empathy
insecure future
anxiety upon arrival
to find respect
in a simple bow
acknowledging them
as individuals
who’s lives do matter

Our personal viewfinder

Photographers always use a viewfinder to give us their view of the world. Although…, we yesterday visited an exhibition of a photographer who does without. Who shoots images from the ‘gut’ or for the proper word in photography jargon; takes hipshots.

It reminded us of being a metaphor of how we humans look at the world around us. We don’t see what is, but we see what we are. Our finders are focussed by our upbringing, the social cocon we live in and the media we read. Our viewfinder therefore only sees what we (our brains) know. Within our project, we can only hope that bringing back the human talent of empathy can help (re-)focus our personal viewfinders on what is really happening to other humans around us, instead of seeing an unfocussed blur…



Artists gifts

Here in Onishi, a number of houses are vacant. Left behind because of hope for a better future or simply because the owner passed over to another world. The funny thing is that this leads to a return ‘trickle’ of other people; the artists. Attracted by the cheap housing and the quiet rural countryside, they move from  expensive and busy Tokyo to here. Giving the little town a whole new influx of different energy.

artistsWe met a couple that decided to move to Onishi to find new grounds and inspiration. In this way rebuilding not only their own future but also do their part in rebuilding the town of Onishi. They found a really nice and affordable place, renovated it and are now happy living it. Although it is next to a small cemetery which is to our Western eyes a bit strange. However these cemeteries are to be found all over. Small scraps of land, often crammed in between housing developments. Just as normal as a field of rice.

Now the couple does workshops with the local kids and learn them to think beyond the box of rules and regulations provided by the Japanse society. Acquainting them with free-thinking and free-spirit.

Onishi, an ordinary town in the rural parts of Japan, just above Tokyo. Slowly but surely its population is decreasing as there is not a lot of future for the youngsters, leaving the old Japanese inhabitants behind. It is amazingly beautiful here; check out the image which is the view out of the artist residence to the towns ‘pyramid’ mountain.

Still it is a town decreasing in size. something that happens everywhere in Japan. In Onishi they figured that it would be promotionally very wise to start an Artist in Residence program for artists from abroad. It would give empty buildings a new meaning as well as a great impulse to the daily life in town. So Shiro Oni Studio was very much welcomed to start their program.

One of the cumulations of this program is the Kanna Fall Art Festival in the second half of September in the old sake-brewery, where the residents are mingled with local artists in a 10 days art festival. It means that we need to have build our exhibition by the 15th of September… That’s why we will go on our trip to Kobe coming Sunday to see what the Jews of Kaunas might have experienced when they arrived in late summer 1940. Almost the same time we are visiting, albeit 77 years later. We will keep you posted!

Our trip to Japan is the second leg of our project The Art of Empathy. To understand what the human talent of empathy can do to bridge the divides in our current society. When researching our trip, we came across a Japanse version of empathy; the concept of omoiyari. Omoiyari is empathy connected to an action. So you feel what the other person feels and act upon that feeling. To be able to you need to read the atmosphere of the situation. Something very true for Japan where reading the atmosphere of the group is crucial for understanding the situation.

Now we have spend almost two weeks in Japan, we can safely say that omoiyari is all around us. The way people in Onishi help out, are friendly towards each other and go -in our perception- out of their way to support us and the other residents is incredible. Waiting for the bus and being brought back home, walking the flea market and getting support in trading down the prices of the vendors, it all seems common to the Japanese people. Perhaps the fact that we are in a rural part of the country helps, but also our first days in Tokyo where we were shown around by colleague photographer, Koji Onaka, we never met before, is further proof of this concept.

Omoiyari does not help for the loneliness of people in the big city. Whether the city with its rush and run tempo prevent people from practicing omoiyari, we don’t know but to our western perceptions it is one of the coolest things to experience! Humans with attention for other humans build a very nice human society.

Tranquility as social glue

It has been a while since we have posted  about our Japanese adventures. The only excuse we can come up with is the weather…. it is so hot and humid in Onishi, that the normal tempo of life has gone done. A tempo of life which is already much lower than we are accustomed to in the West. Life here in rural Japan just takes its time. Whether it is because of the more agricultural roots, we don’t know but what we see is that the tempo of living simply drops to an all time low. Which is actually super!

Now you have finally the time to talk to your neighbour, while your are waiting for Mina to make your cafe latte. At Starbucks the average time for this is perhaps 1 minute, Mina makes it a work of art and takes 15 minutes, while at the same time keeping conversation going between the locals and us.

And we love it. The tranquility that comes with the attention for detail makes everything more intense and more valuable. All the food is a feast for the eye (and mouth) while having dinner is one big social experience. Interdependence and a we-focus is omnipresent in the Japanese culture and that is something of a relief for everybody who grew accustomed to the I-focus in our Western civilisation.