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.

Or in other words; small birdshop. Yes, this is our studio for the next 6 weeks of working on our project “The art of empathy”. Today we took the bikes and cycled through town to fuel up on our coffee and started to redo the studio to our ideas and needs. The results we love! It felt strangely inspiring to be there and to think of all the things we want to do in the upcoming days/weeks.

One thing strikes us in our first four days in Japan; the super-friendliness of the Japanese people. Obviously not all of them are open to the idea of foreigners, but those who are make all the effort to provide a warm welcome. Whether this is the concept of omoiyari is for us to find out. W’ll keep you posted!

This week we received the wonderful news that our project is going into stage 2 via an artist in residence in Japan. The lovely people of Shiro Oni Studio have invited us to be their guest from the 16th of August right until the 26 of September when our residency will end with an exhibition. Shiri Ono Studio is situated just a little trip north-west from Tokyo and is -believe in luck or not- in the same area where mr Shiguhara spent the last days of his life. We will be part of the community of Onishi where we will life together we some other artists in the old brewery in the peaceful, rural parts of Japan.

We are very enthusiastic about this prospect and feel equally privileged that this project will continu from its beautiful start in Kaunas. We will off course keep you posted on all things happening!