GOD Loves Japan

By EWAN WHYTE

 

Daisuke Takeya’s God Loves Japan is a commemorative installation work honouring the memory of the devastating tsunami in north eastern Japan on March 11, 2011. The title of this piece is a response to Douglas Coupland’s God Hates Japan, a book which was published in Japanese in 2001. The novel has little English text in it. The novel’s characters are affected by the crash of Japan’s bubble economy of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Some of the characters are also affected by a 1995 gas attack on Tokyo’s subway system by a death cult.

At first, looking at this work, which was boldly presented just inside the entrance to the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto, Canada, it is as though the tsunami had just happened. It is a shrine to its devastation on a human scale. There are stairs leading up to a small room with the chaos of actual tsunami debris littering the floor and walls of the space and from inside it we can look out onto the rest of the work which is covered with debris from the tsunami. The respectful sensitivity in how children’s toys are displayed in this work adds to the overall emotional impact of this exhibit. There are a series of small showcases beside the stairs which have household items inside them on display. Small paper cranes which symbolize peace are above each showcase. Japanese magazines and books are scattered all over the floor, along with children’s toys and the clutter of small manufactured objects for human use. It gives a feeling that all of this manufactured stuff for throwaway use is just as temporary as human life itself. Perhaps it is easy to think of ourselves as permanent and important but how insignificant we are when we are faced with the indifferent power of the natural world. Its sudden changes we often interpret as violent indifference. There is also a sense that much of our consumable daily life stuff and occupations are trivial.

The coming to an end of the economic bubble and the end to such economic wealth in Japan where its economy threatened to be the world’s largest were followed by several murderous doomsday cults and natural disasters. It seemed to have reached a peak with the nuclear disaster at Fukushima and may give the impression that “God hates Japan”.  In spite of all of these difficult situations to overcome there is a constant revitalizing spirit in us as humans to overcome adversity even when it seems relentless. The outpouring of global emergency aid both technical and material for Japan after the tsunami was remarkable as was the Japanese character for recovery. It may make us think; perhaps Japan is not so hated after all.

 

Question:  Why did you do this art installation piece?

Daisuke Takeya [DT]: To raise awareness of Japan’s and other devastated areas around the globe’s long term needs of support, and to prevent a forgetting of this and other similar tragedies.

Q:  How did the tsunami affect you?

DT:  I was, by chance, awake in Toronto when the earthquake and tsunami happened. The striking live images coming in on TV and the Internet reminded me of 9.11 (I used to go to a graduate school in walking distance from the Twin Towers), and it made me want to act in a humanitarian way, rather than just being traumatized. I immediately organized a relief fundraiser ASHITA: Artists for Japanon March 29, 2011 to raise funds and awareness for Japan’s immediate needs. Artists from visual and media arts, music, dance, performance, and literature contributed their works.  Over 600 people attended and the event raised over 10,000 dollars. My sincere gratitude to all Canadians who have been supportive.

Q:  How difficult was it for you when you first visited the affected areas?

DT:  I was speechless. The whole scenery was just like a Hollywood movie set. It was hard for me to imagine that civilization was there just months ago. I felt that the recovery process would take years. I thought of what I could do to support, instead of focusing on my difficult feelings. I created a long-term recovery project based on children’s perspectives (because they will be the last witness of the incident after few decades) and travelled across four of the prefectures devastated by the tsunami, conducting children’s art workshop in temporary housings, orphanages, and community centres.

Q:  The use of actual objects from the tsunami is kind of haunting. How did you get the materials into Canada?

DT:  I put them in my suitcases respectfully.

Q:  There seems to be a widespread opinion in Japan and abroad that the Japanese government has downplayed the severity of the radiation crisis. What do you think of this?

DT:  Instead of thinking much of what has already happened, I think a lot about what needs to take place to get the healthy environment. The current political structure did not function fast enough, so I may suggest that Japan should look into the importance of provincial governments like in Canada.

Q:  Do you think many of those who have been severely affected have been forgotten by those who could help?

DT: Yes. People away from the area do not think and talk much about the incident anymore. [There are] so many issues all around the globe. Perhaps it is natural. My installation challenges this.

Q: What do you think about the Japanese government’s position in terms of possibly withholding information on the seriousness of the nuclear disaster from the public?

DT: I personally think it is insincere. Perhaps the current government has its agenda to fast forward and export the nuclear energy technology, and discussions on this can cause delays.

Q: What do you see in the character of the people who have survived the tsunami?

DT: Their continuing resilience is inspiring as is the resilience of so many in other cultures, places and times. This makes so many people respond to the healing power of art.

I am optimistic about the recovery of the disaster affected areas, however the situation has not changed since three years ago and it seems it has a long way to go.