A Different Picture of Japan

Posted on by Lauren Moss

With news of the tragic events in Japan on the forefront of global consciousness, there seems to be an endless influx of footage, stories, and images of the unimaginable devastation resulting from the natural disasters still besieging large parts of this beautiful country. 


Potemkin by Casagrande + RintalaIt's created an opportunity to take a step back, put things in perspective, and determine how we, as a society, can address crises, whether it be in terms of logistics and communications, preparedness and planning, or regulations and life safety.  In fact, numerous articles have already been published discussing the effectiveness of Japan's seismic building standards and comprehensive evacuation and public alert systems that likely saved thousands of lives on Friday.

Indeed, there are countless lessons to be learned from the Sendai earthquake and tsunami, and the international dialogue has already begun among researchers, scientists, and policy-makers.  However, instead of discussing infrastructure, building codes, or alternative energy sources today, I thought it might be worthwhile to look at the natural and built environment from another perspective, and take a cue from Japan with regard to sustainability in a social and cultural context. 


When news of the devastation arrived, the gravity of the situation struck with force, and many of us watched as this highly developed and advanced society confronted its worst disaster in modern history.  In addition to the tangible losses, there are also implications for this culturally-rich island country whose support for the arts, tradition, and social initiatives have been of less immediate concern.  One program in particular that  that came to mind was the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial, the world's largest public art festival, occurring every three years in the Niigata Prefecture. 


Stone Forest by Kees OuwensThe event consists of hundreds of artworks installed in public fields, abandoned buildings and forests, aimed at reviving local and international interest and tourism, as well as promoting public art in this otherwise economically depressed, rural region with an aging demographic.  The convergence of public art, economic revitalization, and social equity issues reflects a critical component of the Triple Bottom Line, as valued cultural institutions are essential for a truly sustainable future.  This festival, which engages visitors with the natural environment in new and innovative ways, does just that, in addition to providing a venue for emerging contemporary artistic talent.


minna-no-kusamura by Takeshi Saito + Kiyotaka KurosaArtists collaborate with local communities to address environment, context and placemaking through artistic interpretation.  Works include both permanent and temporary outdoor installations, transformations of abandoned homes and schools, and the creation of context-specific gathering spaces that celebrate the beauty of the natural landscape throughout the 760 square km site.


Song of Wind by Yasuyuki Wantanabe


Snow in Snow by Takenori Miyamoto + Hiromi SenoSo, as we continue to follow this news story and consider Japan's future, it's also worthwhile to celebrate the social and cultural legacy of this beautiful country and remember its value in creating a sustainable future from all perspectives:  environmental, economic and cultural...


For Lots of Lost Windows by Utsumi Akiko