Address by the Commissioner for Cultural Affairs Seiichi Kondo in observing the Second Anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake

Monday, March 11, 2013

Two years have passed since that horrific day.

During the last two years, the news has gradually shifted on to topics such as dealing with harmful overreactions to radioactive contamination, the future of Japan's nuclear energy, and other major incidents having occurred after the March 11th calamity including the international financial crisis, political disputes with neighboring countries, and the Japanese hostage tragedy in Algeria. Although it may appear as the memory of March 11th has faded away, there is not a single moment in which March 11th has left us, and it should continue to be so 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 have 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, and the activities carried out by the Agency during the past two years in assisting to rebuild culture and the arts in the affected areas.

Actions for Recovery and Reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake ≪Initiatives the Agency for Cultural Affairs Has Taken to Date≫(304KB)

Of these activities, the Agency has particularly concentrated on researching underground conditions. If residents wish to move to higher ground and build new infrastructure, it is necessary to investigate if any important cultural properties remain buried underground. This is because there is always a possibility, like Sannaimaruyama Ruins in Aomori Prefecture unearthed during construction work, that major discoveries capable of rewriting Japanese history may be hidden underground. The Agency will carefully check that such research does not seriously hinder the process of rebuilding in Tohoku.

The Agency aims to swiftly implement this research while 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 other municipalities to dispatch specialists and experienced staff to help implement 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 such aforementioned measures since the pace of recovery could be adversely affected due to the pride and strong sense of responsibility of officers working on the ground. The magnitude of the disaster and the lack of staff in the municipalities may also affect the pace of recovery. A considerable number of authorizations have, therefore, been processed for transfers to the areas designated as important landscape in Matsushima.

During the past two years, the powerful role played by culture and arts in the process of recovery has been witnessed in several ways. As a result, many artists and architects have regained their confidence and are, even now, frequently participating in rebuilding the Tohoku area. Although it is impossible to know the entire picture through the occasional local reports we have seen, contributions by these individuals is greatly encouraging.

I sense, however, that that the power of culture and the arts is 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 which have ensued in the Tohoku district following the earthquake.

  1. (1) First of all, culture and the arts is an important way to express people's emotions 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. The hall was frighteningly quiet just before the start of the performance 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. The people who were deeply sympathetic 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 help the victims. I think this experience must have given them the courage and inspiration to take specific actions, such as through 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 festivals held for the victims living in shelters have helped to deliver the nation's message to these people.
  2. (2)Secondly, culture and the arts is effective in promoting communication and whole dialogue. The artist's expression has the power to inspire,give courage and hope. There were many accounts of people persevering in the disaster-stricken areas who regained the strength to stand up on their feet again by hearing a familiar tune in an evacuation center. All the while, these people did not forget to take their neighbors feelings into considerationknowing that the degree of pain and sadness varies from person to person.

    I have also heard that direct experience with culture and music helps people to better communicate their feelings with each other.
  3. (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 and helped them to regain themselves. One good example of this can be seen in the "soumanomaoi" in Fukushima Prefecture.
  4. (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. (5) Next is passing down Japanese wisdom on to future generations. Right after the earthquake, people in the disaster-stricken areas were full of compassion for each other. Their orderly manners were not something they learned in school, but were naturally transmitted through daily life. This may have been passed down through local gatherings or by an elderly's words. Local festivals which require cooperation by members of the community nurtures an individual's ability to restrain their personal desires through discipline. Working for the entire society will, thus, benefit the individual. Such experiences will instill confidence in individuals and give meaning to their lives.

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 my new year's message on January 4th, 2012. You will find, furthermore, that the traditional performing arts, ranging from the 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 betweenduty and compassion, loyalty and filial piety, and how we have survived 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 when handling an unprecedented problem. The value of cultural properties is not limited to historical and cultural elements. This means the Japanese soul will show 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 my closing remarks, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to those contributing to rebuilding in the disaster-stricken areas through cultural arts. I would especially 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 the government-sponsored Commemoration Anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake held at the National Theatre, various commemoration and charity events have been scheduled 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 for 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.

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