UK and Ise: exchange with local artists
During their residency in Ise, the British artists visited many different parts of the city and engaged proactively in exchanges with local residents. In particular, they expressed a strong desire to share ideas with artists born and raised in Ise. Here we reflect on the discussions from that session, focusing on two topics which the UK artists seemed most intrigued by.
How do the Ise artists see Japan’s current situation and future?
Climate change is now a major topic globally, while the rapidly falling birthrate and ageing population are issues shared by Japan and the UK. What do creative practitioners think and how do they act in such a time? And how does the philosophy of Ise Jingu influence them? This was the context for questions about the current state and future of Japan directed at the creators from Ise.
Hakubun Sakamoto, a photographer who has been taking pictures of Ise Jingu and the festivals held in Ise for over 30 years, directly experiences the ways in which the issues of ageing and population decline are changing the face of the local area through his photography. Sakamoto’s photographs, which aim to faithfully record their subjects, can also be seen as a commentary on this situation.
Calligrapher Junichi Ito pointed out that in addition to the fall in the area’s population, the concentration of the population into cities is advancing the homogenisation of culture. He is committed to his own approach of going to a particular area in order to experience the local culture for himself when creating his works.
It was dancer Miyabi Kitamura who referred to the problems faced by young people. Speaking from her day-to-day experiences of interacting with children, she raised the issue of communication, saying “Young people who come to dance are only having conversations with other people through their mobile phones”. She told the participants how she aims to spread heart-to-heart dialogue through dance. She also mentioned the issue of isolation among older people, explaining how she hoped to energise them through a fashion show with senior citizens which she is currently planning.
Musician Seiko Nagaoka pointed out the dangers in the tendency for Japanese young people to be inward-looking, with little interest in the wider world. He emphasised the importance of building networks of individuals across national boundaries, introducing the Himemiko Project, on which he has been working for over 30 years, as an example. The project communicates the Japanese spirit to the world, in partnership with musicians and dancers active in the realms of music for Japanese traditional instruments, court music, Western classical music, and pop music. Everyone nodded in agreement at his statement that art and music have the potential to connect the world in a different way from politics.
Kosuke Yutani, an architect with experience of studying architecture in Switzerland, raised some of the issues concerning crafts people building with wood. The “pre-cut” method, in which timber is cut and processed in the factory based on the architectural plan, is the norm for contemporary wooden buildings while, on the other hand, the number of carpenters able to build a house using the traditional method known as tekizami (“cutting by hand”) is falling. One of the aims of the rebuilding that takes place at Ise Jingu every 20 years is said to be to pass on techniques: if such techniques are not used, they will die out. He emphasised that he and other members of the younger generation need to sound the alarm. Looking at the design of the Jingu from an architectural perspective, it is clear that our predecessors have a lot to teach us.
“The ceremonial rebuilding of the shrine every 20 years forms a kind of break between one period and the next.” Kiyomi Chigusa, a writer who has authored books on Ise and Ise Jingu, referred thus to the particular way in which time is measured in Ise. Each time that the rebuilding happens, a symbolic keyword is chosen: in 1993, it was “culture of the unadorned”, while in 2013, it was “ever young”. In a world which has come to place great importance on diversity, thinking about what the next keyword will be demonstrates the spirit of the age, she told participants.