*This article is not related to a religious organization.
I have met a great piece of art aggregated many Buddha images at Tokyo International Forum exhibition, and it was definitely sending me an irresistible power and some kind of message. Sen Nin Butsu (Millenary Buddha) Project is the art project that aggregates a thousand pieces of Buddha drawings from people in earthquake-stricken region. I interviewed the central figure who organizes this big project.
We, as artists, visit temporary housings in the region suffered from Great East Japan Earthquake continuously and instruct the people how to draw a Buddha in order to heal their hearts. We aim to gather a thousand pieces of Buddha charcoal drawings which were drawn by people in the earthquake-stricken region. This art will be exhibited in the museums so that it will be a symbol of contemporary Buddha in order to pass down the earthquake disaster in future ages. This is a contemporary art project which all the people in the earthquake-stricken region share the significant goal of “reconstruction of heart”.
The custom of Sen Nin Butsu (Millenary Buddha) that is well known for Sentai Senju Kannon Ryuzo at Sanju Sangendoin Kyoto, originated from the story that people used to pray and craved Sen Nin Butsu when there were famine and convulsion of nature in order to heal the spirits of the dead. This custom exists all over in Japan, and people bless for not to cause a natural disaster again.
After graduating the art university, I worked as a graphic designer and at an advertisement agency for a few years.
Since I wanted to be related to paintings, I became an art instructor at a consistent junior & high school located in Tokyo for 15 years. I started holding a painting class for adults at a café in my neighborhood once a month just for hobby in 2006. It was interesting for me to experience the high level required in teaching adults, and I officially started my art school in 2009.
A year after Great East Japan Earthquake, I met one of the employees at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu LLC. He has asked me whether we could do something for the people who stays inside of the temporary housings all the time in order to heal their hearts through painting. Since I am a painter, I think delivering joyance of drawings is better than anything else. Therefore, I sent a proposal of Sen Nin Butsu Project to Tohmatsu LLC.
We held our first workshop in 2012 at one of the space in the temporary housing. When I proposed this project to the region, there were pro/con arguments.
“We are still confusing.”
“It sounds too heavy to draw Buddha.”
In the actual workshop, we heard the following words from the people;
“My heart became calm as through drawing Buddha.”
“It is becoming like the face of my husband I lost in the earthquake.”
Since they were drawing along with some peaceful Buddha face samples, their face became peaceful as well. The workshop has a very positive atmosphere, and people enjoy drawings with an occasional touch of humor and a lot of chats.
I teach them with the same tone of my regular art class, but I try to enjoy communication or would like them to enjoy conversation rather than instructing difficult techniques. I intentionally talk about extra things and become conscious of “delivering the communication”. Some of the female stuff built up the close relationship with elderly people and laugh together.
First, I just would like everyone to feel the art simply as it is. A thousand pieces of Buddha drawn directly by the people in the earthquake-stricken region, which is the conglomerate of mental rust from these people, their self-portrait, and also their wish against Buddha. If you know these background of the art, you can gradually feel and think a variety of things.
Our goal is to make a symbol of “memory of the earthquake disaster”, which hopefully will be remained even after a hundred year. We call this thousand pieces of charcoal drawings “documentary drawings”. The lead roles are the people in the earthquake-stricken region. We are the artists, art instructors, photographers, designers, picture farmers, and web designers. We take the background role, but we intentionally show our names on a credit title like a documentary movie. We are sometimes criticized because volunteer activity is normally anonymous. However, we work as professional artists with our pride. That is why we put our names as well, and the art project is almost completed with high perfection level.
I especially appreciate for the artisans at Tokyo Mounting and Hanging Pictures Cultural Association, and their effort was truly the big part of this project.
From today’s interview and the reaction of the audience who saw the project, I learned that a social contribution through the art is very powerful. What would you like to do next?
It might be too heavy to use the word of “social contribution”, and I think art is rather closer to our life and something fun. It can enrich your spirit and release stress. Sometimes it even expands the communication with many people. I would like to think deeply the possibility of art as a professional artist and expand my work.
The count down to a thousand has already started!! If you would like to see the moment of accomplishment, please check the following link;
Sen Nin Butsu Project http://senninbutsu.com/
Art School “LUKANOSE” http://www.lukanose.com/
CEO Ms. Akiko Wakagi
Would you mind if I ask you how you have started your life on a wheelchair?
I have been on a wheelchair since I was seven. We were climbing up a wall made with blocks with other children one day. When I stepped on the wall, those blocks fell over me. It was an unexpected accident, and this wheelchair life has been already 30 years.
That is a very shocking accident. Would you tell me your life after school?
I started working for general & human affairs department in one of the enterprises through the employment of person with disabilities. My theme was “What does it mean by working with disabilities?” in this era. I wanted to show “I can work like a full-fledged person”, but not “I cannot work because I am a disability person”. General enterprises tend to choose the assignment appropriate for the disability person, but I was not satisfied with the assignment they chose. Because I am completely normal except my feet. I was not happy about this as if they judge my work ability in a unilateral way without hearing from me directly.
To change the huge organization, it is impossible to accomplish only one person. Therefore, I started working with other departments so that they can recognize my ability. Sooner or later, I got many great feedbacks like “You can work more than I expected”. I even got several offers from other departments. However, it was too complicated to change general & human affairs department. We learn through the experience in our field of work and grow more. Therefore, I was not able to grow in the very limited same frame. In conclusion, I suffered from stress and decided to leave.
At the second company, I worked in the general affairs department and assisted hiring of new graduates. Since it was a very understandable company, they allowed me to set out a goal to be a generalist of general affairs department. I ended up being responsible for recruitment. I traveled all over Japan to visit schools. It was a lot of fun and there was a sense of fulfillment. Because of the marriage, I retired this company.
After the period of not being able to make up my mind, I started my own business related to recruitment and barrier-free. Many people are more interested in barrier-free business. After my divorce, I established LIEN corporation.
What is the main service of LIEN corporation?
I am consulting regarding barrier-free product &service development for the companies.
For example, our wheelchairs are custom-made. My wheelchair is made for exact size of my body. It is lightweight, has short handles, and it reduces burden even after a long ride. There are so many ideas and policy of disability people in the wheelchairs.
I have assisted a process of developing a wedding dress for a wheelchair. There are many issues when someone is in the wedding dress together with a wheelchair like a total balance and tangling the edge of the dress into a wheel. I felt uncomfortable when I saw a company putting a wedding dress over the wheelchair so that people would not recognize a wheelchair. I proposed coordinating a wheelchair to match with the wedding dress in this case.
There are the scenes when disability people cannot live exactly the same as healthy people do. However, it is possible to build a relationship to identify each other if we accept a little ingenuity rather than not rejecting from the beginning.
I think it is necessary for the companies to be related with you because there are many points that healthy people do not realize. What project are you working on currently?
I am developing an online research site called “emilink” （http://emilink.le-lien.co.jp/）.
When I was working at the first company as a new employee, there were many occasions to go out for a drink after work. We usually do not stay at the same place for a drink but go other places after an hour or so. Then it was difficult to find a place quickly where wheelchair person can easily get in. I wished there was a website where I could search an available place for both disability people and healthy people. That was the trigger to develop “emilink”, which is the website for everyone not vertically divided for each section like elderly people, disability people, and mother and children. I hope disability people would feel like going out more as through using this site and for the healthy people, I hope they would find out the points disability people see in their lives.
There are restaurants, beauty salons, and hotels on the website. For disability people, it is very time consuming to make a phone call to ask whether it is ok for them to have a wheelchair person. Moreover, we have to repeat this process to explain the condition of wheelchair people every time we make a reservation. It makes us easier to go out if there is a post of requirements to meet by the shops.
I go on a wheelchair and ask posting on the website at each store all by myself. Sometimes, they decline cold “We do not accept wheelchairs and baby strollers”.
Many of the stores only can think about making slopes and elevators. But it is necessary to accommodate a lavatory equipment, enough space, and assistance dog space. Since disability people have to use the elevator exit at the public transportation stations, the approximate time required to go to the store is different from the healthy people. Therefore, I research how long it takes from the nearest elevator exit to the store as well.
I would like to prepare an English version of the website for the Tokyo Olympic until four years later.
What do you think about the position in the company as for the disability people?
I think it is like a female stand point of view back in the old days. There are disability people who do only the miscellaneous tasks. On the other hand, some people are active in the front lines. There is a huge gap between.
What is the scene you feel uncomfortable living in your daily life?
There are many things and places nowadays but there are just a few choices for us compare to healthy people. There are only limited places for us to use.
I still face to the scene that I feel too difficult to get into the stores even though I actually go to the stores. I want to be treated like a normal person and see around the store with my own pace. But it is hard to tell this to the clerks.
Some clerks even show us the attitude of “Disability people are not our customers”. They are under the wrong impression that disability people do not purchase. I think if clerks treat us like normal customers, they will do just fine.
In Japan, normal people are not used to communicate with disability people in their daily life. It would be the big trigger to be a member of society if disability people go out more. However, I know how much energy they have to consume just to go to one store. I hope using “emilink” will reduce the burden.
I am hiring volunteer stuff who can research and sales with me to be able to gain more speed.
Can you send the last message to the audience?
I hope that people would not seal their possibilities by themselves. It is too good to leave as it is without challenging because you have disabilities or children. I kept breaking my shell and challenging something new and here I am now. When I think about 10 years later, I wanted to grow more. That motivated me to step out of my shell. If you are afraid of the first step, think about the world waiting for you. It would change your life.
Kobayashi Building Material Plate Limited.
Tokyo Metal Plate Association
CEO, The first class metal plate technician
Mr. Shigeru Kobayashi
The sound of hammer is echoing under the summer blue sky at Tokyo Daijingu from the early morning. Mr. Kobayashi sheathes a roof with shiny copper plates. “I made that roof over there on the wedding center entrance just for one night for a long time ago.” He told me a lot of his stories in the shrine with sound of wind bell on the back.
I met you at Highlights of Japanese Manufacturing Technology and Traditional Craftworks Festival held in Tokyo International Forum in August. I saw you working on the door case with beautiful shiny copper plates. It was amazing to see all the processes were proceeded by just your hands not a machine. Also none of the nails were shown on the surface of the door case.
What made you to get involved into this field?
I am originally from Aizu, Fukushima, grew up in the farmer family. My house had thatched roof which you do not see often nowadays. I was the middle one out of five siblings, so I did not have a job there like the oldest brother who succeeded a family business. Therefore, I came to Tokyo to learn a trade. I was trained under my master in Ohta-ku for five years and worked extra one year to thank him. I had only two days off from work in a month during the training period.
After starting my own business, I of course did not have any clients at the beginning. Therefore, I went out for a drink to find clients. The work will not come to you if you stay at home. I started building up tight relationships so that both I and my clients can trust each other. We talk honestly without telling a lie when we are drinking.
As for the well-known locations, I made a place for votive picture of horse in Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Bid Thunder Mountain in Tokyo Disneyland, and a gate of Kamakura. I also did a repair work on Tokyo station. It is not allowed by the regulation for me to climb up higher than two meters because of my age, but there is no young workman who has enough skill, so I climbed a high place on own my responsibility.
Therefore, I want more youth to brush up their techniques, so I am teaching at the training school. There are about 20 students under 8 teachers. There is just one national test in a year, but you need more than ten years of operational experience. It is important to acquire beautiful visual aspects together with exact dimensions.
I always tell my students who are on their 20s to have confidence to remain technique to the next generation. I am going to teach some students from the overseas next year, and mostly they are from Vietnam and Myanmar. They want to get certified on national test so that they can bring back technique to their home country. There are many workmen who want to teach, but there are just a few young people who want to learn.
There is nothing that I cannot make as a roof with any kind of materials like stones, copper plates, and thatch.
But there are not so many houses left in Japan where these materials can be applied. I worked on the roof of Koga house in Kamakura which became a restaurant now. http://kamakura-koga.com/
Koga house is one of the three famous European style buildings.
As through hearing your story, I was able to understand your background and the changes in construction of Japan. When was the most laborious time in your life?
I do not feel like laboriousness for all the things in the past. There was a time when I fell off from the roof at the age of 24, and I was hospitalized. My fiancée left me and that was a bitter experience, but that was all about it.
I often hear from young generation that they had a hard time when they were working as a trainee, but I did not feel the same. I was able to learn a lot of skill and technique while I certainly step up more, and there is nothing better than this. If you feel like you are experiencing something laborious, you need more training.
Where can we see your work in our daily life?
There are still a few old houses like Tuskiji which have my work on the roofs or door cases. But the total number of old houses is in decline. Not only declining number of workmen who have enough skill and knowledge but also declining the number of houses or buildings which incorporate these traditional our works are the reason.
When there was the Great East Japan Earthquake, we went to Fukushima to build up temporary housings. We also wanted to go to help in Kumamoto this year after the big earthquake, but it was a little too far for us.
One of my clients in Tokyo asked me some work in Miyajuma for his family because he trusted me. I think it is very important to build up a trustworthy relationship if you want to get a decent work.
When you work with the metal plates, how do you feel?
It is a lot of fun because I can design on my own and make a frame with a lot of freedom.
Honestly speaking, I might have many mistakes but I can fix these without known by anyone. It is such a shame to use ready-made products. I have a high pride in making all the necessary parts myself and finish the work.
I measure the construction site and check the condition, then I put the parts together so that visual appearance is beautiful as if there are straight lines following the metal plates. For example, this roof has seven tiers. This number came from the Japanese custom of “7, 5, 3” which represents good fortune.
If you do not enjoy what you do as for work, it does not last for a long time. Therefore, it is important to have a confidence and motivation to undertake the task. I think it is not a problem to make a mistake as long as you can fix it.
Sometimes it is too hard to explain the certain skill just with drawing a picture or plan. It is necessary for us to learn at the construction site while moving some parts of our body and put information in our brain.
If I were much younger, I would have been to the overseas to acquire technique.
I want to learn the skill of using thick copper plate from the workmen in Asian countries.
Wherever I go, I cannot stop looking at roofs. From the lines of the roof, I can tell how much technique the workman has. From next week, I am working on the temple called “Daiganji” in Chiba. It is such a precious thing to be able to touch many historical and valued architectural structures.
I worry about losing workmen who have proficient skill of metal plates. What do you think necessary to work on in the future?
I do not have pupils currently, but throughout teaching at the training school, my skill will be carried on to the next generation. We need more places where this traditional technique would be applied. It is important to save traditional culture in the way everyone can understand its’ value unlike modern style apartments.
I need to educate next generation in case of the time when I can no longer work on the site. Fortunately, I have been invited by some places as an instructor. As long as I am healthy and stand with my own legs, I want to keep working in the construction site. Therefore, I will devote myself as an instructor after retiring from active duty.
I sometimes teach at the public school for children just for fun. We made a nameplate for a house or traced a picture on a copper plate. If children truly enjoy something from the bottom of their hart, they will remember the moment of what they have experienced. Then it might lead them to be workmen in the future. Having a playful mind is the key to last something for a long time.
Mr. Tomotsugu Nakamura
Can you tell me your background and the reason to become a space artist?
I am from Amagasaki-city, Hyogo prefecture. After graduating college, I had worked as a manager at the clothing company and experienced VMD and buying. After leaving this company, I worked under Mr. Satoshi Kawamoto, a plant artist who runs “Green Fingers” (ten shops both in Japan and New York). When he first announced the open spot for the assistant through the Instagram, I immediately made a phone call and run to meet him. Because of him, I was able to be involved into the plants so I sincerely appreciate it.
Honestly speaking, I was more interested in his way of life and sensibility rather than plants for the first period. As through the training under him as an assistant, I was very impressed to see the changes with plants in the space. It even motivated me to make something myself.
Later, I went to the plants school and observed biology in the uninhabited island. Then I chose to create my own business. Now I am mainly creating something based on the message form the space using the technique of installation with plants and flowers, decorating space and gardens.
What is the difference between installation and landscape gardening as for the way to show to the audience?
There is no difference in two things regarding the way to display.
However, you can enjoy the changes of time course in the landscape gardening. On the other hand, it becomes more important to enjoy the moment of surprise and strong impact on the installation. Since it is only a limited time, I always think about how much impression I can deliver for just once.
I always start from hearing form the customers when I start making a piece. The ideal total output is about 120%, and the repartition is 100% from the client and the lest of 20% from me. I can provide even more surprise with my essence based on the opinions from the clients.
What point do you care about when you hear from the clients?
I think it is very important to understand the background when I create something. Why do you want to make this? What is possible to do with this piece? Who and how do you want them to feel? I enjoy providing happiness to the audience through my art.
How do you feel when you are working with plants around you?
I sincerely appreciate for the plants which make possible for me to express myself. So it is more like thanking them rather than just use as a tool. There are many types and characters of plants and flowers, and I strongly feel adding and arranging my skill as an artist on their lives to make them stand out.
What is your benchmark as for a beauty?
Perhaps something goes right to my heart? Or it might be something leading to the beauty after fighting myself. I think the benchmarks are different depending on the people, but for me, it is a splash or exciting feeling as if running into my heart.
Moreover, it might be the time when I was able to understand artist’s negative feeling like struggle and arduousness through the art.
How do you understand Japanese art?
There are many talented artists in Japan. However, their ability including me of publicity and directing a message to the public is still weak compare to the overseas. It is important to connect with the people to continue working as an artist.
I visited Matsumoto to see the flower producers. There are no occasions to recognize flower producers’ face at all in our life. I have listened to their thoughts and visited their greenhouses. Their personalities were definitely in each flower and greenhouse. I would like to deliver their thoughts with flowers to the audience.
How would you like to incorporate with your art after understanding producers’ thoughts?
I would like to add additional explanations when audience asked me about my piece.
Audience: “Why do you choose this color and flower?”
I: “Because of producer’s thought ・・・”
In this way, the art itself will be able to have stories behind and audience will enjoy the piece.
How do you enjoy plants and flowers in your daily life?
I display some plants in my room and give flowers as a present.
I want make people around me happy.
What would you like to challenge next?
I want to create more smiles in people. It would be best if people glance at my piece and smile or it could be a topic of conversations. If I shall describe myself just one word, “honesty”. I would like to continue facing to all the things and people with honest mind.