By Jave Yoshimoto
It was during spring break of 2011, when I was lying in bed with my fiancée that I first read the news: on March 11, Japan, the country that I once called home, was hit by an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 – one of the largest earthquakes in modern history. The quake triggered massive fires across different towns and prefectures, and the resulting tsunami washed away the lives of thousands; in an instant, their cars, homes, and families were lost to the sea. The final statistics were bone chilling: 20,000 people ultimately lost their lives, and over 100,000 lost their homes. I lay in my bed unable to sleep, concerned about my relatives who live 200 miles away in Tokyo; fortunately, I discovered that my family was among the lucky ones who were spared. Soon after that, images of the wreckage began pouring out onto the internet.
I was overwhelmed by all the pictures of people simply fighting to survive. I started saving these images, unsure of what to do with them.
Much like when Haiti suffered an earthquake the year before, many charities quickly popped up in the wake of the disaster, urging people to donate money to Japan. While I donated what I could, I felt that my donation was not enough. I am not a wealthy man, I thought; how could I possibly make a meaningful contribution to the relief efforts?
Art Students League of New York on 57th Street
After meditating for some time, I decided to use my personal talents to help the people of Japan. My reasoning was thus: in this internet age, people often forget the news as quickly as they learn it. To combat societal amnesia, I wanted to create a lasting memorial that would long honor the victims and survivors of the disaster. I wanted to reconnect with a society and a culture that I have been separated from, living here in America for so long. I wanted to honor the triumph of the human spirit over catastrophic tragedy; to showcase the bravery of heroes like the Fukushima 50 who risked terrifying radiation levels to assist others in nuclear danger zones. And perhaps most importantly, I wanted everyone who saw my memorial to feel empathy for the people of Japan, empathy that would turn into desire to help these people rebuild their lives.
On May 2, 2011, I embarked on my journey to create this memorial: a 30 foot long, 42 inch wide scroll painted in the style of Ukiyo-e woodblock prints. Over time as I was painting, however, I came to realize that simply creating this piece was not enough. I watched for months as bureaucratic red tape and other complications prevented the survivors in Japan from getting the assistance they needed to recover. So I decided that instead of simply painting my scroll and displaying it as a memorial, I would raise money by creating and selling prints of the scroll. The funds that I raised would then enable me to go to Japan and talk to the victims, see what they really need, and buy those items for them myself, thus circumventing the red tape.
With the scroll recently completed, the time has come to set this project fully into motion. I am hopeful that it will not be long before I can reach out and help rebuild the lives of many, in the land that I once called home. I also dream that with the success of this project, other artists will be inspired to find ways to create art that also creates change and literally contributes to helping people, whether as part of aid following natural disasters, or as part of programs advancing peace, education, and life saving resources.