The Art of Joy

A Franco-Japanese at Home in Tokyo

I am now living in Minatoku, Tokyo, Japan since August 2012 and there is too much to tell.   I have not even informed my friends abroad (nor many in Japan) of an address in Tokyo for the next four years nor of my presence, let alone had time to write or formally study Japanese.  I hope you will forgive me.

Perhaps all this to say that I am deeply moved and grateful to be here.

Forgive me for this absence.  It has taken me time to get settled and I have much to learn.

I  begin again on the spirit or soul of the Japanese with Ishinomaki, in Miyagi Prefecture (Tohoku).   I write about artists who through their work bring joy.  They are many.

Ishinomaki, Tohoku

The town was devastated by the tsunami on March 11th. NHK has mentioned that the water overcame 46 percent of the city’s land which is not difficult to imagine when one watches this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBtRIRiTJqA .

An article in the Huffington Post co-authored by Tokyo based Robert Michael Poole states that more than 3,000 residents died and about that many remain missing as of a year ago.

Not so Far Up North

We went up to Ishinomaki with my six-year-old daughter and many families from her school, TIS (Tokyo International School) as they had donated a Playground of Hope for the residents in a housing project.  We took the Shinkansen past Fukushima (the stop at Fukushima seemed a bit odd – a deserted feel) and continued up north to Sendai.  From there we took a 1 ½ hour bus ride.

TIS and the Playground of Hope

Thanks to a year of fundraising by TIS (Tokyo International School) students, teachers and parents, Bita Alu, a parent and friend, had selected the NGO It’s Not Just Mud and been in contact with Michael Anop and Jamie El-Banna.   The NGO is involved in several projects including building playgrounds, which bring a dash of color to temporary housing residences.   The NGO is efficient, and no frills attached.

When Temporary is Childhood

Jamie El-Banna, Bita Alu, Yamakami Katuyoshi

Jamie from It’s Not Just Mud explained to me that it was difficult for the parents in this temporary residence as there were no places for children to play and often local or national organizations have not responded thinking it not a necessity to build a playground as the housing is temporary.

And yet, temporary housing here is estimated to be five years—a good part of youth for a child.

A Playground for Kids or Adults?

Jamie pointed out to me an old man with his grandson who had watched the playground being built since the beginning of the week.  “He’s been here since the beginning,” Jamie says smiling.  “I keep telling the man, ‘It’s for the kids!’ but he always returns!”

Black and White with a Touch of Yellow

When we got off the bus, the cold wind (strong enough to blow off a door of a car if left open according to one resident) added to a feeling that there was no natural warmth here.   The trees which all had been destroyed by the tsunami created no front against the most chilling wind.

So when we approached the playground (and could only hear the cries and laughter of children) playing, the contrast with the scenery struck.  The black and white photo suddenly had a small dab of yellow.

Language Barriers

My daughter was a bit shy at first.  She clung to me and even the clown, Supa Gajin, had a little difficulty initially warming her up (although after he had great success).   And just as I was wondering what to do, a Japanese man from the town with the most expressive eyes came forward with his little dog, and suddenly the scenery had changed for her.  The little dog, this Japanese man, and my daughter became friends.   After a short while, my daughter played with the children in the playground.

I stood by and envied how children do not need to speak the same language.

A Place to Play

One resident told me that the children all went to different schools, and that to get to their schools they take different buses.  So the children, despite they live in the same housing unit, never play together.   Now they have a place to play and can make new friends.  Now the parents can sleep a bit better at night in rooms too small for play.

A Place for Everyone

Another old woman told me she felt useless.  That she could no longer clean clothes nor read given her age.  I told her I felt lucky when I was with older people.  There is a wisdom in age, that is more meaningful than any task we can accomplish.

Depression

A young man in his early twenties seemed lost and disoriented with nothing to do.  I saw he had lost all his teeth and wondered how that happened.  I went up to him and we spoke a bit.  I gave him some models I brought.   Something to occupy, one was of a Japanese temple — and that was the one he wanted.   Perhaps he was telling me discreetly that we have succeeded in building houses, but forgotten the human spirit.

Just Like Us

There was a very nice father smiling with his child.    A man with deep eyes, smart, and a feeling of warmth about him.  He was watching the clown Supra Gajin with his child in his lap.  He was just like us.  But his wife was not with him and he lived here.

A Smile One Can Not Forget

Katuyoshi Yamakami

There was a man who I did not speak to, but whose smile lit up the whole playground and miles around.  I am told his name is Yamakami Katuyoshi, and he is the head of the housing association we visited.

He works freely and given his work is a full time job I wondered how he managed to feed himself or his family.  Yamakumi’s smile was infectious, it never came off his face, not once.

Men with a spirit like this can change Japan.

When A Smile Lasts

There was a man, a clown, who I met, an artist by the name of Gaetano Totaro, who is known as SupaGaijin the smile ambassador.   I had heard of him before from my son’s school BST (through Helen O’Brien who runs BTT Bridge to Tohoku) and has done wonders with children.

BTT has supported the smile ambassador’s work in Tohoku by helping him pay expenses (he gives his own time freely).  Unlike many others who first came to this region, Gaetano returned over and over building a relationship with children – a lasting smile.

A Clown who Doesn’t Clown Around

This clown who was trained at Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey’s Clown College had a way of bridging barriers amongst children.  By using familiar objects such as an umbrella, which could be found even in temporary housing, he encouraged children to use their imagination and to begin a road to recovery.

Kids watching Gaetano Totaro Supagaijin Ishinomaki

I thought, I want to do something with this clown, this artist of great imagination.

When we departed, my daughter had made a new Japanese friend — a girl with the greatest smile.   The two girls didn’t want to separate.  As soon as my daughter got in the bus, she opened the window.  The Japanese girl ran to the bus and through that small window, the two girls held hands.   Surely, they were not saying goodbye.

There is nothing Fun about surviving and yet Joy

I am told that there is a difference in Japan between “tanoshimu” and “yorokobu.”  The laughter–a deep kind– that lasts—is of the latter. It is caused not by fleeting entertainment, but by the deep smile of a Mr. Yamakami and by true friendship offered to us so freely by the Japanese we met in Ishinomaki.  We have much to learn from you.

Thank you.  We will return.

 

 

 

 

A VIDEO OF OUR VISIT ISHINOMAKI

 

 

Kenzaburo Oe “Japan, the Ambiguous, and Myself”

Kenzaburo Oe, “Japan, the Ambiguous, and Myself,” Gallimard, 1995.  BOOK REVIEW

Kenzaburo Oe Nobel Prize LiteratureThis book contains the speech by Kenzaburo Oe given on the occasion of the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature 1994 and other essays that ask important questions of Japan and Japanese artists.

For the purpose of artists working together to incite Japan’s imagination on a new Japan, see the About section of this website.

What follows in this blog entry are thoughts and questions for Japanese artists and citizens that stem from Kenzaburo Oe’s book “Japan the Ambiguous, and Myself,” and from thinking about a new philosophy in face of crisis with Dr. Paul Briot.  All opinions are errors are mine.

The questions in this review concern the soul of Japan as defined by Murasaki shikibu (and not Japanese nationalists), the “ambiguity” of that soul and Japan’s capacity to use the March 11th disaster for fundamental change.

Reflection & Question 1:  Can we use March 11th to envision a Japan with the comprehension, sensitivity and imagination of Murasaki shikibu?

If I understand correctly Kenzaburo Oe’s book, “Japan, the ambiguous, and myself,”  in 1945 Japan did not utilize the crisis to define itself it a large humanist sense—in the same manner that the noted woman writer Murasaki shikibu, the author of “The Tale of Genji,” might have inspired us to do so by her work.

The soul of Japan, a term originally used by Murasaki shikibu, was instead utilized by Japanese nationalists during WWII as a vulgar slogan of war, and forgot its initial vast definition formulated by this great lady of Japanese literature.  Comprehension, sensitivity and imagination have not yet taken root in our world still today.  Is it not the moment now, one year after the March 11th crisis to accomplish what we Japanese did not know how to do in 1945?

Reflection & Question 2 :  If knowledge is critical to create a new Japan, is there a knowledge which stands above technology, efficiency or even the great classics of Chinese writings?

Kenzaburo Oe Nobel Prize LiteratureIn Kenzaburo Oe’s book , « Japan, the ambiguous, and myself, » he explains that without « knowledge,” the Japanese soul could not function.  He mentions that the Japanese have throughout history at times inspired themselves with a Chinese knowledge, and at times from a knowledge emanating from the West.  They have nevertheless not come any closer to their own soul as a result.

I agree, however, I wonder if the Japanese direction remains ambiguous in part, because we Japanese have not yet understood the definition of knowledge itself?

Is there not a knowledge that is above technology, above efficiency or even the great classics of Chinese writings?  I cannot help but wonder if the definition we are looking for is not simply a comprehension or knowledge of ourselves and the meaning of life.  A basic knowledge:  that the Japanese and all human beings share a common humanity and a recognition that we Japanese must act with full understanding of this knowledge.

Reflection and Question 3:   What is the nature of a “Japanese soul”?

Murasaki shikibuMurasaki shikibu spoke of a Japanese soul to designate a Japanese specificity or something common to the Japanese.  In effect, although nations can be considered fictions or constructions of man and history, they each have their own energy or creativity; an imagination inspired by a collection of individuals.  Each nation has its own specificity, which needs not be eliminated nor made to resemble all other people nor all other nations.  In this sense our specificity if kept both noble and tolerant is a strength to inspire and share freely with others.

Kenzaburo Oe in this book says this well when he says that the understanding of a Japanese soul as defined by Murasaki shikibu has nothing fanatic or intolerant.  Rather it is both “gentle and human”; it comes from certitude of men capable of doubting.”  But we Japanese went astray.  During World War II those who tried to define a Japanese specificity contented themselves with the definition of a traditional culture whose center was the emperor.  No one could question such a sun, embodied by the emperor, and defined by the militarists themselves.

I cannot help but wonder if there was not a time in Japanese history where the sun itself was above even the Emperor?  The Emperor and most Japanese, agreeing that the sun is humanist, would encourage each of us to question a tolerant sun in full freedom.

And if the sun encourages us to question itself, if it embodies full freedom, who is anyone to speak for the sun or for each other?  I believe that Japan today is ready for a tolerant and humanist sun; its own “Hikari” a light capable both of inspiring, doubting and transforming.

Japan Heart of Sun

To envision a humanist sun, I would like here to quote and encourage artists to discuss and interpret artistic propositions by Paul Briot found in Le rayonnant…un art vers l’Infini…?   Here are two beautiful ones, there are of course many possible others.

FACES OF SUNS

A field of sunflowers, moving sculptures.  The flowers converse, look after one another, bow in all directions.  Eyelids of suns.  Us.

–Paul Briot, 2004, Editions Caractères, Collections : Cahiers & Cahiers

MASKED SUNS

Noble suns move forward masked.  At rare intervals, their veils part, announcing radical changes.  Time, the intermittent revolutionary.

–Paul Briot, 2004, Editions Caractères, Collections : Cahiers & Cahiers

Reflection et Question 4 :  Will the healing power of art transform Japan from within?

In Kenzaburo Oe’s book, he states that he believes in the curious power of the healing of art.  His writing is art, an art that inspires.  In the letter Dr. Paul Briot and I have written entitled Letter to Japanese friends, we too think that art heals and transforms.  That is that art can share an experience which words cannot.   I have put on this site artistic propositions to encourage artists to interpret them and propose their own, ones that can be shared freely with all the Japanese.

My question to artists is how can artists inspire more comprehension, compassion, liberation, and realization through their art?  Can we the Japanese, with as strong tradition of inner art, create a radiant art that inspires and transforms as Dr. Paul Briot suggests?   In Kenzaburo Oe’s future novel, will such an imagination succeed in having us go out once again to see the stars?   When will we go out and experience this together?

Reflection and Question 5 :  Is there such a thing as a moral sun?

Natsume Soseki Kenzaburo Oe mentions Natsume Soseki’ book « And Then » written in 1909.  He tells us how Daisuke, the main character, evokes the difficulty of finding an equilibrium between a “vital desire” (such as the endless desire for the consumption of goods) and a “moral desire.”

In the novel, Daisuke believed that Japan could first grow by responding to its vital desire, an economy equivalent to that of the West, and only in this manner afterwards acquire a moral desire.  After 1945 this was the path taken by Japan, but today after the “accident” of Fukushima Kenzaburo Oe seems to suggest by his activism and words that we are indeed asking ourselves the same questions as 1945.

I think that we Japanese can exit from an ambiguous Japan and create a new one, and in so doing, come nearer to our own soul as described by Murasaki-shikibu.  For this to occur, one path may be for artists and citizens to experience this moral force through transformative art that lifts us far above March 11th.

How will Japanese artists help define the nature of a Japanese soul, as possibly intended by the great work of Murasaki shikibu?  How will the Japanese people experience such art and use this crisis to transform their country from within and inspire us all?

End Note

I read the book in French but comment and quote here in English.  All errors are mine.  I am not yet able to read the original texts in Japanese.  As such I remain limited, I ask to be corrected and quoted only in English to avoid any misunderstandings. Japanese themselves, with a knowledge far beyond mine, can engage in a more profound discussion.  Indeed, I have much to learn from many.

Japanese Art & Culture, Japanese Artists

Japanese Art & Culture to define a New Japan from Crisis

The purpose of this site is to stir the imagination and examine current views of Japanese artists in a variety of fields (Japanese writers, Japanese composers, Japanese sculptors, Japanese painters, Japanese historians, Japanese intellectuals, Japanese poets, Japanese architects, Japanese film producers, Japanese choreographers and others) on using the 2011 Tohoku earthquake to define a New Japan.   The objective is to explore a Japanese understanding, philosophy or existential experience in face of natural and man-made crisis (the earthquake, tsunami & the Japan nuclear power plant).  Together, we wish to define a vision for Japan in positive terms that can lead to greater comprehension, compassion, liberation and realization.

Murasaki shikibu

Japanese Art & Culture can Stir New Vision of Humanity

The website presents a letter to the Japanese people with a vision of how artists and individual citizens could together define a new vision for Japan.  It will include a commentary on artists, works, or individuals who are moving Japan in a positive direction.  In the future, we will also post interviews with key individuals in Japanese art, culture, and society who wish to discuss a positive vision for Japan and incite both the old and young to act.  We will include examples of artistic propositions to be interpreted freely by Japanese artists which could incite the imagination of the Japanese.  Finally, to help individual Japanese citizens use the crisis as a means for greater comprehension, compassion, liberation and realization, we will post articles about a psychology of crisis, balance and  building meaning in our everyday lives.

A Call to the Japanese and to Each Other : The World’s Most Valuable Asset in a Time of Crisis

Efforts by the Japanese to use crisis as an opportunity to define itself in positive terms could inspire other nations in a difficult international context to ask important questions during their own economic, natural, or man-made crisis– each with respect to their own traditions, culture and specificity.  In that sense, the articles on this site has relevance to other countries or continents such as the U.S. or Europe which also face crisis.  How individuals and societies collectively chose to respond to crisis and emerge beyond a previous understanding can and should be explored together.

Opinions Mentioned on the Website

All errors are mine and I ask indulgence.  The website is the first step in an investigation to explore a possible philosophy or understanding in the face of crisis, and is by no means conclusive.  Each individual who is interviewed on this site is not responsible for the views of all others on this site nor does that individual embrace a common philosophy or message.  Likewise, commentaries posted on this site are the sole opinion of the author of each article.  Dr. Paul Briot and I can have different opinions and unless stated in this blog that we sign something together,  the opinion is mine.  There are of course many other valid perspectives to be considered.  Differences of opinions are encouraged.  Naturally, the response of a few individuals does not constitute the whole.  And yet, it may be sufficient to stir the imagination.

About the Author of the Blog, Leiko Ishizuka

Copyright © 2012 Nathalie Leiko Ishizuka

Nathalie Leiko Ishizuka reserves the right to be recognised as the author of her writings contained in this blog, under copyright law.

 

Letter to the Japanese

The World’s Most Valuable Asset in a Time of Crisis

Letter to Japanese Friends

Dr. Paul Briot and I (Nathalie Leiko Ishizuka) believe that to rebuild Japan will require a magnificent and strong morale made of comprehension, of compassion, beauty and all the pacific values of the great Japanese culture.  In that respect, Japanese artists, writers, thinkers and the youth have an essential task to realize.

It is with great modesty that Paul and I wish to address in the months to come a letter to our Japanese friends and in so doing share our own optimism for Japan.  We believe that Japan thanks to this crisis will rise again.  Not uniquely in an economic or political sense, but in a morale, aesthetic, existential or spiritual sense.

Should the Japanese collectively, and individually, emerge from this crisis with greater comprehension, compassion, liberation, and realization they could initiate changes in society far beyond a previous balance.

If successful, the Japanese could go as far as stiring the imagination of other nations on how to face and successfully overcome natural and man-made crisis, each freely with respect to their own culture, specificity and individual differences.

Brief Background Description of Authors of the Letter:

Paul Briot

Paul Briot, Ph.d in Philosophy, Professor at the Faculty of Comparative Religion, Antwerp (F.V.G.), Belgium.  Author of poetic essays, articles and books on the subject of the utilization of crisis, sincerity, artistic creation, and the clarity of objectives.  Recent books include Le rayonnant…un art vers l’Infini…?  (The Radiant…An Art towards the Infinite?) 2004, Editions Caractères, Collections : Cahiers & Cahiers.  La Structuration de l’existence, (The Structure of Existence) Charleroi, Editions du Centre universitaires (Cunic), 1989.

Nathalie Leiko Ishizuka

Nathalie Ishizuka studied Japanese at Keio University, M.A.L.D. Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy (administered in cooperation with Harvard), M.B.A. from HEC, Paris.  Her 240 page summa cum laude thesis on Article 9 of the 1946 Japanese Constitution and UN peacekeeping received written praise from Colonel Charles Kades, one of the Constitution’s founding fathers.  Ishizuka currently writes on the use of crisis as an opportunity to build individual and national health for the Positive Mental Health Foundation. She is also the author of this blog inviting Japanese artists and citizens to imagine a new Japan.

 

Japanese Art & Artists

Japanese Art & Artists: What will the works of Japanese Artists Invite us to Dream About?

 

beyondourbest

Can Japan Go Beyond a Previous Best?  (Artist, Nathalie Ishizuka)

If certain artistic masterpieces can be understood from the aspect of wisdom, what do the works of Japanese artists invite us to dream about?   How did the Japan tsunami, the Japan earthquake, and the Japan nuclear meltdown change Japan?  Are we about to discover something more important than technology and economic efficiency as the central motor of our civilization?  This section of the site will analyze or comment on the works of artists who inspire.

 

 

Artistic Propositions

Artistic Propositions

We will include here examples of artistic propositions to be interpreted freely by Japanese artists which could incite the imagination of the Japanese. We encourage artists to make new suggestions.  We suggest that any ideas used be appropriately cited to the authors to empower and continue to inspire.  We encourage all artists to tell us about any interpretations so we can share their work with others.

paulbriotbook

Paul Briot Le Rayonnant..un art vers l’Infini… 2004, 2017. Published by Caracteres, France.

Examples of propositions for artists to interpret freely (painting, sculpting, dance, multi-media or other) are included here from Paul Briot.  They are published in, Le rayonnant…un art vers l’Infini…? (The Radiant…An Art towards the Infinite…?) 2004, 2017 Editions Caractères, Collections : Cahiers & Cahiers

FACES OF SUNS

A field of sunflowers, moving sculptures.  The flowers converse, look after one another, bow in all directions.  Eyelids of suns.  Us.

–Paul Briot, Le rayonnant…un art vers l’Infini…?

A PURPLE CLOUD

A purple cloud condenses into a rain of ideas.

–Paul Briot, Le rayonnant…un art vers l’Infini…?

 

Ready Made Links to Beyond Our Best
A blog on Re-inventing Ourselves Silently: Body, Mind and Spirit
http://www.beyondourbest.com

Japanese Art & Culture, Japanese Artists

Japanese Art & Culture to define a New Japan from Crisis

The purpose of this site is to stir the imagination and examine current views of Japanese artists in a variety of fields (Japanese writers, Japanese composers, Japanese sculptors, Japanese painters, Japanese historians, Japanese intellectuals, Japanese poets, Japanese architects, Japanese film producers, Japanese choreographers and others) on using the 2011 Tohoku earthquake to define a New Japan.   The objective is to explore a Japanese understanding, philosophy or existential experience in face of natural and man-made crisis (the earthquake, tsunami & the Japan nuclear power plant).  Together, we wish to define a vision for Japan in positive terms that can lead to greater comprehension, compassion, liberation and realization.

Japanese Art & Culture can Stir New Vision of Humanity

The website presents a letter to the Japanese people with a vision of how artists and individual citizens could together define a new vision for Japan.  It will include a commentary on artists, works, or individuals who are moving Japan in a positive direction.

Snapseed 8

Cosmic Brilliance by Saiso Shimada

In the future, we will also post interviews with key individuals in Japanese art, culture, and society who wish to discuss a positive vision for Japan and incite both the old and young to act.  We will include examples of artistic propositions to be interpreted freely by Japanese artists which could incite the imagination of the Japanese.  Finally, to help individual Japanese citizens use the crisis as a means for greater comprehension, compassion, liberation and realization, we will post articles about a psychology of crisis, balance and  building meaning in our everyday lives.

A Call to the Japanese and to Each Other : The World’s Most Valuable Asset in a Time of Crisis

Efforts by the Japanese to use crisis as an opportunity to define itself in positive terms could inspire other nations in a difficult international context to ask important questions during their own economic, natural, or man-made crisis– each with respect to their own traditions, culture and specificity.  In that sense, the articles on this site has relevance to other countries or continents such as the U.S. or Europe which also face crisis.  How individuals and societies collectively chose to respond to crisis and emerge beyond a previous understanding can and should be explored together.

 

Copyright © 2012 Nathalie Leiko Ishizuka

Nathalie Leiko Ishizuka reserves the right to be recognised as the author of her writings contained in this blog, under copyright law.