On March 24, 2016 at 6am, I jumped off the plane at Haneda airport in Tokyo with no job, alone and with no friends and I barely spoke any Japanese. My luggage was lost somewhere in Beijing and I had to traverse the metro with my carry-on and dying cellphone. It was raining, and my loafers squished under my feet. I made my way to pick up my keys to the sharehouse I booked two months ago.
Now I’m teaching English, as most foreigners do if they can’t speak the language or have any other kind of skill sets. That or recruiting. My situation is slightly different though, but not unique. Nothing about me is Japanese, except my face and my passport. So, mentally I am a foreigner. Physically and legally, I am a native.
I know that I am not the only one in this predicament, but its an experience without much attention unless you are actively searching for it. Google searches will dump similar stories and gripes as this. But it’s rare to find someone, in person, who has willingly put themselves in this limbo.
As I write, at this moment, it is July 22, 2016 at 6:20pm. Four months have passed by, masked in various moments of triumph, confusion, embarrassment, and more confusion. At first I was convinced I never actually arrived at Haneda, but instead was somehow warped into Bowie’s Labrynth. Anything you thought you knew, it’s the opposite. It’s barely an exaggeration. For example if you need a place to smoke, go inside. Smoke in hallways, small rooms, cafe’s but don’t smoke outside or on the street.
This story is in the process of growing and continuing, so I will put this timestamp of 1:37 March 12, 2017, and leave a quick note to say that I will complete this written section. Notes and images are scribbled across scraps of paper and evernote, so I will be collecting and updating. Until then…
Three hand stitched hoods adorn mannequin heads that align the stairway at HERE‘s gallery space. The Japanese patchwork textiles are vibrant, and welcome visitors to the exhibition. They are designed with blocks of brightly colored pink, orange, and red floral patterns. However, the purpose of these elaborate hoods represent a darker purpose. They are called BOSAI-Hood, and were common in Japan during WWII to protect civilians from falling debris during air raids. They were also made to prevent one’s head from catching on fire, and distributed as ‘disaster-preventing’ gear. They provide security for the wearer in the midst of an uncontrollable and dangerous event.
“The artists question the helpless human actions often used to protect against the power of both natural and man-made disasters…What makes us prepared for unforeseen crisis? Are we ever going to be ready?”
In Case of Emergency is a collaborative show that examines the current state of Fukushima, 5 years after the disaster. Motomimi is the tailor of these BOSAI-Hoods, an artist and costume designer from Fukushima, Japan. She Currently works and lives in NYC and is moves back and fourth between the US and Japan as she works on projects to aid for Japans recovery. She collaborates with her husband, SEN Tadatoshi, a photographer who uses his lens to investigate the environmental and societal impacts of nuclear waste, and raise questions about the future of the Fukushima area. aricoco, who is also the curator of this exhibition who has silkscreened images of hazmat suits and gas masks. Together these three artists are aligned, wearing Motomimi’s BOSAI-Hood (top image)
As you continue through the gallery, at the end of the staircase, is large illustration (above) by Motomimi that has become the identity of ‘In Case of Emergency’. A glassy eyed, doll-like figure gleams up from the center of the poster past the viewer. She is protected by the Bosai that shields her from the chaotic events around her. The iconic image of Godzilla is seen in the background as he attacks New York, and the Statue of Liberty is wrapped in vines on the left. A cloud is erupting from behind the figure, as volcanic ash or the explosion of the atom bomb. Biohazard symbols have replaced traditional Japanese styled patterns, mixed in with modern manga-styled illustration. Years of living and working in NYC may have influenced her work, as this illustration bridges New York and Japan. The only thing separating the girl in the center, is her BOSAI-Hood, the item which seems to connect Japan’s history of destructive events.
Motomimi’s playful style is present throughout her work, juxtaposing the danger of radiation and natural disaster. Above, she uses mixed media to illustrate what different types of radiation looks like, in various environments. There is enough room on these canvases that allows space for the spectator to use their imagination to visualize radiation. For example, the image above right are the affects in the ocean. The glimmering threads of fabric could be radioactive sea anemone, and a decrepit fish below. Much of the fear surrounding radiation is caused because it is an invisible enemy. On these canvases, Motomimi makes it identifiable. She imagines what it would be like, if people could see it around us, and if it would change our fears if we knew how to avoid it.
She describes radiation by illustrating different levels found in everyday life. Motomimi shows that we all have radiation in our lives in some way or degree, and that it is not only prevalent around Fukushima. Each circle (or space doughnut) explains where radiation can be found including amounts in in bananas, an atom bomb, fuel in space rockets, artificial pace makers, and even levels from September 11th.
SEN’s photographs capture the superficially peaceful scenes of horrifying contaminated sites that still haunt the entire nation.
A seemingly innocent photograph becomes alarming once the viewer recognizes the towers of black bags hidden behind hills and vegetation. Sen’s photography focuses on Motomimi’s hometown, Iwaki City. It is located 20 miles from Fukushima Daiichi Nucelar Power Plants. The first image was taken by SEN in Iitate Village in Fukushima, and shows the clean-up process the village is undergoing. Currently, it is uninhabitable and has not been reopened to it’s residents, who are still relocated to ‘temporary’ housing throughout Japan.
In Iwaki City, some families try to resume normal lives. The children depicted in “Message”, the second photo above, wear Motomimi’s BOSAI-Hood. The girl is Motomimi’s niece. SEN has described them as “Six year old Fukushima Children” because they are growing up with the threat of radiation and were babies when the tsunami hit.
“Relationship” subtly displays black bags that contain radioactive soil, and how it has been piled and integrated into the landscape. It’s contents cannot be destroyed, and only contained to prevent it from spreading further. The bags are the only source of physical evidence of the invisible enemy. Although there has been no clear solution of how to dispose of this waste, Japan still plans to move residents back to the area within the next few years.
aricoco’s video takes place at HERE, where the group demonstrate what to do in the event of an earthquake. aricoco is an interdisciplinary artist from Tokyo, Japan and currently working in Brookyln, NYC. She uses various materials including fabric, paper, vinyl, plastic, video and performance to create her art
Gasmask for Wife is a silkscreened print displaying a cutout for a gasmask. The instructions are easy to follow, and any one can do it at home. The gasmask is a symbol of urgency, but the pink floral design makes it more acceptable in daily life. Radiation and pollution is becoming a common acceptance in people’s lives, so masks like these are quick and easy to produce and distribute. There is irony that the kit is made of paper, because it emphasizes that a mask (not even a real one) will solve the issue of pollution. You can view more prints listed on her website here and here.
SEN, Motomimi and aricoco continue to make work documenting and bringing attention to the issue through their personal experiences. In Case of Emergency is on display for New York audiences HERE gallery from March 10 – April 30th. For more information on the show, please visit: http://here.org/shows/detail/1755/. While global attention has died down, the situation in Fukushima is still severe. With no clear solution to clean up, many Japanese are displaced without their families, homes and communities. These three artists use their art to bridge their two homes, New York City and Japan.
There are many options for those who want to support victims of Fukushima. Motomimi suggests that relief money should be sent to a local child healthcare center in Fukushima, and other local organizations of people who suffer from diseases such as thyroid cancer caused by radioactivity such as Iwaki Radiation Measuring Center. Although Fukushima cannot be undone, she advocates that it is a important responsibility to spread awareness to prevent it from happening again.
They have also made a calendar called, “Fukushima After…”. It displays all photographs from his Fukushima series. All proceeds are donated to support victims of the tsunami. Click this link to visit their ETSY store.