On-site Report

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Vol.14 Toward an Island-wide Museum: The Challenge of the Awajishima Art Center

by Yamaguchi Kuniko


Awaji Island and the Creation Myth of Japan

Bisected by the Kobe-Awaji-Naruto Expressway, which connects Honshu and Shikoku, Awaji Island (Hyogo Prefecture), the largest island in the Seto Inland Sea, is divided into three cities: Awaji, Sumoto, and Minami-Awaji. According to the Kojiki and the Nihon shoki, the deities Izanagi-no-mikoto and Izanami-no-mikoto stood on a "floating bridge of heaven" and stirred the blue waters of the sea with a "heavenly jeweled spear." When they lifted the spear, drops of salty water fell from its tip and solidified into an island. The deities descended onto the island, known as Onokoro-jima, and after taking a vow of marriage, began to create a country. The first thing they made was Awaji, and then after creating a number of other islands, they had completed the nation of Japan. As 2012 marks the 1,300th anniversary of the Kojiki, a number of classes and other events dealing with this creation myth are scheduled on Awaji.

Called a miketsukuni ("land of divine offerings") from ancient times to the Heian Period, Awaji provided provisions, primarily seafood, to the Imperial Household and Court. Cultivating an abundance of livestock, agriculture, and marine products, the fertile land was a treasure house of foodstuffs, and even today, Awaji enjoys the highest percentage of primary industries and a food self-sufficiency rate in excess of 100 percent.

In addition to making the island more accessible, the completion of the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge caused a sudden decrease in the working-age population (15-64 years old), but in recent years, there has been an increasing number of migrants and inquiries about old houses. What makes Awaji so attractive?


The Birth of the Awajishima Art Center (AAC)

In 2004, Typhoon Tokage struck the Japanese archipelago, causing a tremendous amount of damage on Awaji. A project to repair a vacant house that had been discovered in the wake of the disaster led in part to the launch of an NPO called the Awajishima Art Center (AAC). Dubbed the "Hinodetei" (Sunrise Pavilion), the house is still in the process of being renovated. In conjunction with various artists, the AAC submits proposals for activities in unused facilities in an effort to create a new sense of values. From 2005 to 2010, the group also participated in the Asahi Art Festival, which was jointly organized by NPOs and citizens' groups from around the country and Asahi Breweries. Based on a specific theme each year, a similar event, the Awajishima Art Festival, invites artists to collaborate with local artists using materials from the island. For the 2010 event, which focused on local lifestyles, the artist Tanotaiga stayed for an extended period on the island, and during the August heat wave, he created a pool called the "Private Public Pool" from the ruins of a park fountain.1 The work was open to the public for 20 days, attracting many local families and returning the park to prosperity. This is an example of how creative thinking can affect a community. Even without ample funding, it is possible to create something that attracts people. Artists have the ability to make these things happen.

By engaging in similar activities and transmitting information, the AAC functions as an antenna for tourists and new settlers to the area. The center has also increasingly been fielding questions about sightseeing spots and old houses.

Another project, called Nomadomura, which was launched in an abandoned school in 2009, has played an important role in organizing a variety of activities and conveying information about living on the island. The cafe in the facility has also been covered in a variety of magazines, bringing the site a considerable amount of attention, especially from younger people.



Serizawa Takashi, director of the Asahi Art Festival, contacted the ACC to see if they could help the filmmaker Werner Penzel, his wife, the photographer and filmmaker Mogi Ayako (whose producer also happens to be Serizawa), and their children to move to Awaji.2 The center was receptive to the idea and obtained permission to use an abandoned school in the Nagasawa district of Awaji City as a residence-cum-cafe as part of an ongoing effort to attract more tourism. In November 2009, the artists moved to the site.

The name of the facility is derived from the word "nomad." Though the idea of a nomad settling in a community might at first seem contradictory, the project is designed to create an open and fluid place which neither belongs to any one person nor is intended for profit and which is used by local residents and visitors from elsewhere in the country and the world.

Every weekend between March and December, the artists run the cafe. There is also a project to exhibit art in a yurt that are set up on the playground that has attracted the interest of young people from a wide range of regions, and every Saturday and Sunday, one sees cars with license plates from a variety of prefectures. Since the school was originally a symbol of the area, local people have also expressed a strong interest in the project. And with the help of influential collaborators like the head of the neighborhood association, a market offering local produce was launched in conjunction with residents last year.


Gossa Walking Museum

A variety of projects have emerged to provide a foundation for artists' lives. The Gossa Walking Museum is one of these, and it is also part of the Awaji Environmental Island of the Future Project, which is being promoted by Hyogo Prefecture. In the aim of creating something that will ultimately encompass the entire island, the project began in the Gossa district of Awaji City, an area which had received attention in the past after the ruins of a Yayoi Period ironware factory were unearthed there. With the AAC as a producer and Serizawa and Penzel as directors, the project received the cooperation of local people and the government, and began by implementing a three-year plan in 2011. As the museum's name suggests, the facility focuses on the activity of "walking." Helping residents discover a variety of resources related to nature, history, production, and traditional culture, which are the real treasures of the island, the project aims to create a renewed awareness of Awaji's appeal with the help of both Japanese and foreign artists. These efforts include field surveys and workshops for residents.


The Awaji Environmental Island of the Future Project

Hyogo Prefecture has designated a regional reactivation zone on Awaji in order to implement a comprehensive plan to maintain energy supplies, agriculture, and living environments. The island was selected as a model to help find solutions to some of the problems currently facing Japan, and it is hoped that this will also improve the rate of energy and food self-sufficiency, and deal with problems such as the low birth rate and aging society to realize a better quality of life. The Awaji Environmental Island of the Future Project was formally recognized by the prime minister on December 22, 2011. The objective is to create a regional society that sustains a lifestyle based on energy and agriculture. Some aspects of the program, designed to maintain living conditions, call for the creation of an island-wide museum and the Walking Museum. Some types of traditional Japanese culture, such as Awaji-based puppet drama, was already receiving governmental support, but art-based town planning in which the government and art NPOs join forces was rare on the island, so there is much anticipation regarding this new model.


A Variety of Art Sites

The Awaji Oiso Artyama is an art museum that was opened by Awaji native and Western-style painter Oishi Kakuya and his wife Shoko in 2004 in an area near their home that lies between the beautiful mountains and the sea. The facility, handmade by over 200 volunteers, brings epeat visitors from the city who attracted by the idea of making things and desire a soothing space.

Meanwhile, the Awaji Art University Project, started by Okamoto Junichi, who returned to his hometown of Awaji in 2009, organizes art and culture-related workshops and events unlike those found at a regular university to invigorate the cultural side of local life. As with Nomadomura, the AAC arranged for Okamoto to use a classroom at the former Tsuna High School, located inside Kansai University of Nursing and Health Services, as a studio-cum-exhibition space. Recently, the artist has begun a self-sufficiency project closely related to his own lifestyle, and provides information on many aspects of local life including art, agriculture, ceramics, and house-building.

In addition, in the city of Sumoto, there are facilities such as the Sumoto Shimin Kobo, which contains a gallery and work space to help explore various possibilities. The site is jointly managed by the government and the AAC, and there is also the Yamakatsu Kobo, the studio of the cutting-edge media artist Yamaguchi Katsuhiro. Although the latter is not open to the public, the studio contains a number of art works, which will hopefully be accessible at some point in the future. There are more and more artist-run sites on the island. Many of these are overseen by people who have made a U-turn or I-turn to Awaji as the drawing power of the island has grown in recent years.


Cococalamura: The Potential of Awaji

It is notable that many art projects on Awaji are supported by a sizable contribution from corporate sponsors. The participation of companies is extremely helpful in gaining local trust.

In April 2011, the temporary employment agency Pasona Group, which has pledged equal support for agriculture and art, began implementing a farming program on the island. Linking art with agriculture and regional production, the program, called Cococalamura, was designed to reactivate the area and help artists become self-reliant. Over 150 artists were hired in a five-phase recruitment drive, and there are plans to increase that number to 200. In half-day shifts, participants learn agricultural and other commercial skills, and receive a monthly salary of 100,000 yen and a place to live. Guaranteeing the artists' basic needs allows them to spend the remainder of their time on their work. If such a system was adopted more widely, it would probably lessen the need for part-time jobs and make people's lives more meaningful. That, at least, is the expectation. The only problem at present is that the program is based on an emergency-employment system that runs from one to two years. Once this period ends, however, there is no way of guaranteeing the artists' livelihood. Whether they decide to remain on the island will depend largely on how local residents respond to the project.

Awaji has begun to invite migrants with great promise to the island. In cooperation with trends in other regions, the area is now hosting creative activities. In 2011, an art curriculum was established at the nursing university, and jobs have also been provided for artists. The potential for a rich life in which people rediscover forgotten values or find new ones is bringing vitality to the region.

To continue to make Awaji an appealing place, it is important that young people in particular covet a new lifestyle based on art and work. To make the most of these special zones, it is necessary to create an area of knowledge and implement a creative and vigorous style of life without relying on existing jobs. This is a task for everyone who lives on Awaji.

(English translation by Christopher Stephens)


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