Monday, March 11, 2013

Two years have passed since that horrific day.

During these last two years, the news seems to have shifted to topics such as how to deal with harmful overreactions to radioactive contamination, the future of Japan’s nuclear energy, along with the major incidents which occurred after the March 11 calamity including international financial crisis, political disputes with neighboring countries, and the Japanese hostage tragedy in Algeria. On the surface, it may appear as though the memory of March 11th has faded away. When dealing with all of these issues, however, there is not a single moment in which March 11th has left us, and it should continue to be that way in the future.

At the graduation ceremony of the New National Theater’s three training schools in opera, ballet and drama held on Friday March 8, it was clear that March 11th held a big place in the hearts of all the trainees who had bold dreams for the future.

I would like to express my heartfelt condolences once again for all those still living lives of great inconvenience in the disaster-stricken areas. The Agency for Cultural Affairs pledges to take priority in supporting the rehabilitation of the Tohoku district.

Please refer to the following link for information on the measures taken by the Agency for damaged cultural properties and assets, along with the activities carried out by the Agency during the past two years in assisting to rebuild culture and the arts in the  affected areas.

Out of these activities, the Agency has paid particularl attention to the research of underground conditions. When residents wish to move to higher ground and build new infrastructure, it is obligatory to investigate if any important cultural properties remain buried underground. It is because there is always a possibility, like Sannaimaruyama Ruins in Aomori Prefecture that were found at the time of construction work, that major discoveries capable of rewriting Japanese history may still be hidden underground. The Agency will carefully make sure that such research will not seriously hinder the process of rebuilding the Tohoku district.

The Agency aims to swiftly carry out this research by taking a flexible approach and to also mobilize the participation of private organizations. As local municipalities are not fully equipped to solely take on this project, the Agency has asked to other municipalities dispatch specialists and experienced staff  to help conduct this research. In order to reduce administrative costs, furthermore, the Agency has transferred the right of authorization to the prefectures and cities.

The Agency has specifically taken the aforementioned measures as: the pace of recovery could be adversely affected due to pride and a strong sense of responsibility of officers on the ground that may hinder flexible approach. An unprecedented magnitude of the disaster, and the lack of staff in the municipalities may also affect the pace of recovery. As a result, a considerable number of authorizations have been processed for transfers to the areas designated as important landscape in Matsushima.

During the past two years, the power that cultural and the arts, including cultural properties and assets may have in the process of recovery has been witnessed in several ways. As a result, many artists including architects have regained their confidence and are, even now, frequently visiting to assist in rebuilding the Tohoku area. Although it is impossible to know the entire picture through the sporadic local reports we have seen up until now, the contribution by these individuals is greatly encouraging.

I sense that that the power of culture and the arts is, however, not sufficiently recognized by our society. I would hence like to take this opportunity to summarize my views on the power of culture and the arts based on what I have witnessed in relation to the events that have ensued in the Tohoku district following the earthquake.

(1) First of all, culture and the arts is an important way to express people’s emotion and prayers. Two weeks after the earthquake, as the entire nation was in a continuing state of jishuku, or self-restraint, I decided to go listen to a classical concert being held in the city. What I witnessed that day, was two-thousand people sitting in the audience becoming “one” with the orchestra’s intense performance of Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony. Just before the start of the performance, the hall was frighteningly quiet, as every single person’s thoughts were presumably with the pain and suffering of the victims of the disaster, and were all expressing their heartfelt sympathy.
After the performance, the teary-eyed audience appeared to be just a little more relieved. People must have felt that they were finally able to express their feelings for the victims of the disaster. While holding deep sympathy, the people must have been at a complete loss for words. The music, however, enabled them to partially relieve themselves from a sense of guilt and remorse for not being able to directly visit the area and or help the victims. I think this experience must have given them the courage and inspiration to take specific actions, such as donations and various assistance activities to help the March 11th victims.

Footages from charity events held outside the disaster-stricken areas along with the various art and music festivities held for the victims have living in shelters helped to deliver the nation’s message to these people.

(2) Secondly,  culture and the arts is effective in promoting communication and whole dialogue. The artist’s expression has the power to inspire people, and give them courage and hope. There were many reports of people persevering in the disaster-stricken areas who regained themselves and the strength to stand up on their feet again by hearing a familiar song in an evacuation center while also taking their neighbors sentiments into consideration ,knowing that the degree of sadness and pain varies from person to person.

I have also heard that direct experience with culture and music enabled people to better communicate their feelings with each other.

(3) Culture and the arts can connect, and revive a region. I heard many stories in which the revival of local traditional performing arts brought people who were dispersed among various evacuation centers back together again, and helped them to regain themselves. One good example of this can be seen in the “soumanomaoi” in Fukushima Prefecture.

(4) The economic benefits of culture and the arts must not be ignored. Hiraizumi is a good example of this. Hiraizumi was inscribed on the World Heritage List just three months after the disaster and it helped to revive the local economy through the surge of incoming tourists. According to a survey by the Cultural Economic Society, the production inducement effect of culture-related expenses was 1.59-1.88, which does not bare comparison with common public projects at 1.53-2.03. In addition, upon consideration that culture has a major positive effect on humans both in spirit and in building character, it can be said that cultural expenses are a profitable investment.

(5) Next is passing down Japanese thoughts and wisdom on to future generations. Right after the earthquake, people in the disaster-stricken areas were full of compassion with each other. Their orderly manners was not something they learned in school, but was unconsciously passed down to them in daily life.

This may have been transmitted through local gatherings, or by an elderly’s words. Local festivals which require everyone’s cooperation nurtures an individual’s ability to restrain their personal desires through discipline. Working for the entire society will in turn, benefit the individual. Such experiences will instill confidence in the individuals and give their life meaning.

Japanese traditional arts and cultural properties are also an expression of Japanese wisdom. The tsunami-ishi which indicates where a huge tsunami is capable of reaching is a good example of this. What the Sanmon gate of Tofukuji Temple tells us was mentioned in the new years message of January 4th,2012. You will find, furthermore, that the traditional perfoming arts, langing from local art of kagura sacred (Shinto) music and dance to the national arts of noh and kabuki either directly or metaphorically make reference to the way the Japanese have handled moral conflicts, such as between sense of duty and compassion, or between loyalty and filial piety , the way we have survived  and or the fierceness of mother nature.

Our forefathers have left us with various hints on how to deal with difficult situations when we are at a loss with handling an unprecedented problem. The value of cultural properties is not limited to historical and cultural elements. The means the Japanese soul shows us which path to take. Although it may seem that times have changed, we will always be Japanese.  We have been created within this country’s long history and climate. There is great meaning, therefore, to utilize government expenses to protect and restore cultural properties.

Through being in the presence of arts and culture on a daily basis, people will receive such strengths as I mentioned in (1) – (5).

In closing my remarks, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to those contributing to the rebuilding the disaster-stricken areas through cultural arts. I especially would like to thank the following members for their assistance which has made these outcomes possible; members of the Cultural Properties Rescue Project and the Cultural Properties Doctor Dispatch Project in their activities related to the rebuilding and revival of cultural properties across various areas implemented by relevant organizations of the Agency, various activities of the Arts and Culture Reconstruction Promotion Consortium, universities, research institutes and non-for-profit organizations for their assistance as well as domestic and international organizations who offered donations.

On March 11th this year, along with a Commemoration Anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake sponsored by the government held at the National Theatre, various commemoration and charity events are being held throughout the nation. The Agency for Cultural Affairs is also distributing proposals by the Cultural Policy Committee and holding a Reconstruction Promotion Consortium (outside at the Kasumi Terrace Square) introducing various on-site assistance activities in rebuilding cultural properties in the disaster-stricken areas through booths and panel exhibits.

I sincerely thank the warmness of all those participating in the long-term assistance needed by the people in disaster-stricken areas.

Let us continue to persevere together to rebuild the Tohoku district and revive Japan once again.

Photo Page 3
2nd Year Commemoration Anniversary Event of the Great East Japan Earthquake
(MEXT, March 11, 2013)

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(Agency for Cultural Affairs)