2.The Project Begins
Ryoichi Wago, poet and recipient of the 4th Chuya Nakahara Award, and high-school Japanese teacher in Date City, adjacent to Fukushima City, was at his school office when the earthquake struck on March 11, 2011. The intensity of the earthquake in his home city of Fukushima City was 6 minus (Japan employs a scale of intensity in seismic events running from zero, in which the shaking is not perceptible to human beings, to seven, in which the force of the earthquake renders people immobile and most buildings sustain damage to the walls and windows). As vital utilities, such as power and gas, stopped operating in most of the city, and frequent aftershocks continued relentlessly, Wago began communicating via Twitter from his home, five days after the quake, driven by a sense that his home of Fukushima was in danger of “being obliterated.” His Shi no Tsubute (Stones of Poetry), words woven together almost every night, initially described the conditions at the evacuation centers in detail, eventually giving way to more abstract, poetry-like phrases.
Otomo was recording in a Tokyo studio, when the earthquake occurred. He frantically searched through blogs and tweets, trying to piece together what was really happening in Fukushima City, where he himself had spent his teen years, and his parents still lived. When he came across Wago’s Shi no Tsubute, Otomo felt as if his chest was being pierced, and fueled by Wago’s words, attempted to get in touch with him via Twitter. Wago, who had known about Otomo as a senior alumnus from his high school, responded immediately.
Michiro Endo, the other project co-founder, was in a plane headed for Kyushu for a live tour at 2:46 p.m. on March 11. After disembarking from the plane, only to learn that the earthquake and epicenter were close to his home town of Fukushima, Endo became glued to the television every free minute during his tour, giving up sleep in order to keep up with the information coming in about the nuclear power plant and his home area. Endo, who typically gives more than 100 live performances annually throughout Japan, met numerous fellow musicians during the course of his tour, who told him about the unfounded rumors about radiation concerns that were running rampant in Fukushima, and gradually came to harbor the desire to go to Fukushima to hold a free music festival. Endo contacted Otomo, who he knew to be an alumnus from the same high school, Fukushima High School, after him. When the two met in Tokyo, Endo confided in Otomo that he wanted to host a music festival on August 15. The date was important to Endo, because it was the day that the Second World War ended and the post-war period began. Post-war Japanese society, in its quest for prosperity, had built nuclear power plants, only to be completely devastated by the earthquake and power plant accident. By likening this crisis to the war, Endo was hoping to force everyone to seriously reassess the society that the Japanese people had created in the post-war years. During the conversation, Otomo held back from responding to Endo’s proposal to host a music festival, and suggested instead that they should come to a conclusion after paying a visit to Fukushima and getting a feel from the local people. One thing to note is that since graduating from high school and leaving Fukushima, neither man had ever really thought back about Fukushima. Despite that, they were now thinking about Fukushima more seriously than ever before, in a way that they had never even considered possible before.
In April, Otomo went to Fukushima City, where his parents resided, and met Wago for the first time to discuss Endo’s idea of hosting a summertime festival in Fukushima. As they continued to talk, both men, initially skeptical, began to lean towards supporting the idea.
During his first visit back to Fukushima, Otomo felt that his friends and acquaintances in Fukushima were bleeding from their hearts. I myself had the same impression when talking to my friends in Fukushima. Fukushima City is about 60 km northwest of the nuclear power plant, and although it was slowly coming to light that the radiation levels were relatively high for a location that far away, there was virtually no credible information available in terms of what that radiation reading meant, and if there was any impact to human health. Even as media reports and municipal publicity newsletters echoing government statements of “no immediate impact,” and “secure and safe,” were being circulated, people near the nuclear power plant were losing their beloved homes and land, forced into evacuation shelters, while in Fukushima City, a clear divide was emerging between people choosing to evacuate, mainly families with small children, and those who had no choice but to stay put, all creating extreme anxiety and frustration for the people of Fukushima as the days went by with mounting despair.
Given these circumstances, Otomo and other project members were not in the least bit confident about being able to hold the festival, despite the earlier decision to do so. Other ideas, some almost impossible to take seriously, emerged, including doing a live internet performance in lieu of an audience if a large festival could not be held, or doing a guerilla live performance with Endo and Otomo in front of Fukushima Station, and even began to take on an air of feasibility. Ultimately, the desire to tell the world what was happening in Fukushima, and to give FUKUSHIMA, a name now notorious, a positive image of new hope for the future, culminated in a project kick-off meeting on May 7, with more than 50 volunteers in attendance. On the following day, a press conference was held at a hotel in Fukushima City, featuring the three joint representatives, Endo, Otomo, and Wago, raising the flag on Project FUKUSHIMA!, accompanied by a declaration of action towards the goal of hosting the festival on August 15.
The following is an excerpt from the project declaration that Endo read at the press conference.
“Even as the crisis takes away homes, we would like to have Fukushima retain ties with the outside world, in order for Fukushima to hold onto hope for life, and to think of a future for Fukushima. That is why we need this festival. We need a forum for people to come together and communicate. Through this festival, we will share with the world what Fukushima is going through now, and what it will be in the future. We are determined to change FUKUSHIMA! into a positive word.”