“We’re Gonna Go Learn in Tohoku!!”- how it started, what was thought, what was felt.

Since after the earthquake and until now, JCDN has set up a matching website as a recovery aid project by dance artists at the title “Sending dance to strengthen the hearts and spirits in earthquake-stricken areas! Relieving Hearts by Relieving Bodies.” We received support from the Bloomberg Company, went with many artists to the earthquake--stricken areas and have been doing activities such as body-work for 2 years.

However, what I thought while going to these areas was that the artists go to do something- they go with the thought that they want to give strength to people in earthquake-stricken areas, they want to help, but this means that the people participating there become the receivers. I think that was the only way for the period shortly after the earthquake, but since about 2 years had passed, I thought it was possible to make people in the earthquake-stricken areas the main actors, and have people, including outside artists, go to learn Tohoku’s culture and folk performing arts. I thought that through that, a new relationship could be born, the people of earthquake-stricken areas could be the focus, and we could go on and make new culture.

As one way of doing this, instead of the artists attitudes of “let’s go and do what we can do,” we started the “We’re gonna go and learn in Tohoko!” to go and “learn” the culture and local folk performing arts in Tohoku since August of last year.

For our first try, we accepted volunteers to dance with us, visited 6 areas that suffered from the earthquake, and learned the “Bon Odori” that is held in these areas. We met many people from each region. By dancing the “Bon Odori” together, finally, it felt like we had gone to encounter them as fellow people, rather than going there to try to do something for them.

This artist-in-residence project held in the earthquake-stricken areas by the Ministry of Culture is pinpointed as the second try of the “We’re Gonna Go and Learn” endeavor. I thought that we could experience local folk performing arts through an international viewpoint by having a foreign artist residing in the earthquake-stricken areas for one month, and that we could start a new movement on an international scale through this encounter.

In this one month, there were so many new encounters, and so many things were gained that they cannot all be written down. I will raise just 5 points.

1) What I thought was the largest thing was that the idea of going to give aid had receded, and instead we could encounter the interesting people of Tohoku and feel like we were making something together with them from our curiosity and pure interest in their local folk performing arts and the people themselves. Approximately 2 years after the earthquake, something that a local person said left a deep impression on me- “It is necessary for us to stand on our own feet already, it’s better now if nothing comes from outside.” Like this statement we finally did not go there to give aid, and this project became the impetus for us to be able to go to Tohoko and make something together with the people there.

2) The next point, specifically, was being able to meet with Mr. Chikara Furumizu, the chairman of the Kanazu style Urahama Shishi Odori Association of Okirai, Funato City. Learning Tohoku’s local folk performing arts, which I thought would be difficult in reality, was made possible by meeting Mr. Furumizu. By meeting Mr. Furumizu, we learned not only local folk performing arts but also the deep sentiments behind them. Through this we could feel how precious and very important local folk performing arts are for Japan, even though these arts had felt unknowable to us until then.
Also, it seems like we could encounter locations for future residencies for foreign and Japanese artists to be able to learn local folk performing arts and create their next art works. The local folk performing arts studio that was washed away in the tsunami will be rebuilt in June of this year, and Mr. Furumizu hopes to widely open the studio as an international culture and folk performing arts exchange center. In accordance with Mr. Furumizu’s idea, I am thinking that I want to make this studio one base for our operations from now on. Please help in whatever way possible, as we are currently accepting donations for the studio’s reconstruction.

Urahama Folk Performing Arts & Folklore Hall, Reconstruction Fundraising WebPage▶

3) We were able to make 3 films navigated by resident artist Cecilia, introducing the local culture and folk performing arts of the earthquake-stricken areas. We are currently making English subtitles. Until now there have been no English films or sites introducing Tohoku’s local folk performing arts (except for perhaps a tourist advertisement with one picture and a simplified explanation). Therefore, I think that by transmitting these films all over the world, it will make an impetus for interested people from all over the world to visit Tohoku. Especially, I think that by watching Cecilia learn them, these arts will become more familiar for people from foreign countries.

4) The next point is being able to meet trustworthy local coordinators- these were Ofunato’s “Minna no Shirushi” (LLC) and Kesennuma’s “Kirakukai.” Until now, many of our activities had finished after only one try due to not being able to meet coordinators in the earthquake-stricken areas, but this time we were able to have continuous activities since we became able to think and talk over the next steps with local coordinators who had the same intentions as us.

5) Lastly, we were able to see a specific direction for relief efforts through culture and art aimed towards the future through this residency. By talking with people from local folk performing arts, we heard that even though local folk performing arts serve as a spiritual support for each region, there is a lack of successors and the challenge of how to continue these arts. By developing this “We’re Gonna Go and Learn Project” and holding an international festival, people from foreign countries will come and visit Tohoku. I think that someday people from foreign countries or regions all over Japan will go to Tohoku to learn local folk performing arts from earthquake-stricken areas in the same way as Japanese people go to learn arts like traditional Balinese dancing or Hawaiian dance.

Finally, I think that the phrase “Relief Aid through Culture and the Performing Arts” is not through “Culture and Performing Arts” that come from outside the region, but from everyone valuing the culture and performing arts that are in Tohoku and enhancing those activities. I hope that people from within and outside Japan, with one folk performing art as their motivation, will visit the earthquake-stricken areas and make it their second home.

(NPO JCDN Norikazu Sato)