Improvised Music from Japan / Otomo Yoshihide / Fukushima

Of Course I'm Torn:
"Project FUKUSHIMA!" Progress Report

Otomo Yoshihide
May 21, 2011

It goes without saying that I've got mixed feelings about gathering people and holding a festival in Fukushima where radiation levels are high. I'm really torn about it. And I haven't just been mulling this over all by myself. I've been discussing the matter with various people and still haven't reached a conclusion.

The radiation levels that have been released so far show that the central part of the city is around 1.5 microsieverts (μSv), and there are some elementary schoolyards that exceed 3 μSv. The level around Shiki no Sato (Village of Four Seasons) in the west side of the city where the festival is being planned is 0.3 μSv, but the levels are probably higher on the grass and there might also be "hot spots" of high radiation levels.

As to how to interpret these figures, Project FUKUSHIMA! will release an official statement as soon as possible based on actual measurements. So please read what I write below as my personal view on this matter at this point in time.

First of all, based on the assumption that the situation won't become worse than it is now, my view on this matter at this point is as follows:

"We'll be holding a festival in Fukushima on August 15. However, if you intend to come, check the radiation levels to decide for yourself whether or not you should do so. If you feel uneasy about it, please don't force yourself to come. Don't bring children from outside the prefecture."

Even though the content hasn't been disclosed since the "FUKUSHIMA!" festival was announced on May 8, it has already created a great sensation. Although I do sincerely appreciate the excitement on the one hand, I have mixed feelings about it on the other. As I said before, the matter of radiation levels is the greatest obstacle that looms over us. Should we really be gathering people in Fukushima? And the size of the venue can't accommodate more than 10,000 people, but more might come at this rate. When I consider all these factors, all I can say at this point is, "We'll hold a festival, but we urge you not to come," which is an extremely strange conclusion coming from the organizer of the festival.

Although the newspapers and TV news reported our project as something that "supports Fukushima," our intent isn't to hold that kind of an event. How do we face the exceedingly harsh reality of Fukushima? How should we live under these circumstances? These are the general themes of this project, so our purpose isn't to bring lots of cool musicians over to support Fukushima, or to create the impression of a recovering Fukushima or some such thing. The current state of affairs in Fukushima isn't that optimistic. What's happening there right now is inhumane, but it's also very difficult to understand. It's no exaggeration to say that the residents there are battling against such circumstances on a day-to-day basis.

The main pillars of Project FUKUSHIMA! include the Ustream TV station "DOMMUNE FUKUSHIMA!," the "School FUKUSHIMA! (tentative)" project that we're planning to start in July, and the online distribution site "DIY FUKUSHIMA!" starting soon for music and other works.

The main purpose of DOMMUNE FUKUSHIMA! is to prevent Fukushima from becoming isolated, and to transmit things from there. Its objective is to fully communicate the views of the people of Fukushima through independent media, based on what is currently happening there.

Meanwhile, I'm hoping that School FUKUSHIMA! will become a place where we can think, not necessarily just as teacher and students but all together, about how to interpret the current situation and how to live there, or about what kind of works can be created under these circumstances. If people have decided to live in Fukushima under these unprecedented circumstances, then it's necessary to figure out the best way to do so. If the area becomes inhabitable, then it's necessary to think about what to do next.

I'm also thinking about starting up a project that will organize summer camps for the children living in Fukushima to help them get away from radiation as much as possible.

And I'm hoping that DIY FUKUSHIMA! will become a place for presenting works that are born from these projects, and that it will also become a support site to raise funds.

These are all long-term projects that we're working on right now.

And the festival is the other important pillar. I think everyone, regardless of circumstances, still needs festivals. This includes those who have decided to stay, those who have decided to leave, and those who haven't been able to decide either way. Traditional festivals are good, of course. But for those of us who have grown up on alternative culture and not just through time-honored communities, alternative festivals are necessary too. And not only huge festivals, but also transient ones held on the weekends as well.

I'm also aware that there are views questioning why the people living in Fukushima don't evacuate or relocate. It's true that the current state of affairs is a harsh one to live in. I think that children especially should leave Fukushima even just for a while. But on the other hand, I also know that there are those who can't leave so easily. I have no intention of cheering on those who have made the decision to keep on living there under the circumstances. But if many people have decided to stay, it's necessary to create a place where we can join them in figuring out the best way of living there without turning away from the reality of the situation.

How can we make the right choices? I really don't know. But I do feel that we need a place to think about these things together without jumping to conclusions first. Not only with the people of Fukushima, but also with people from outside the prefecture, if possible. Such an outrageous situation is too cruel for the people of Fukushima to bear by themselves. Would it be possible for those of you who can manage to do so to share some of the burden and think together with us? This is the honest reason why I started up the Ustream TV station, want to set up a school and organize a festival. So while urging people not to come on the one hand, on the other (and I know this is contradictory but), I also want people from outside of Fukushima to come see what is going on and to think about it together with us.

Even as I write this, I'm still in two minds about this matter. Not only me, but our staff members are also probably wavering, too. I think we'll keep hesitating between actually going ahead with the festival or not until the very last moment, and we'll also be undecided about the content of the festival as well. Even so, I won't hide anything and I'll continue to write about everything including such indecisiveness here, because I'm sure there's a meaning in my doing so.

Just during these past 2 weeks alone, I've received tons of e-mail and phone calls from many of you. My inbox has exceeded its limit and I haven't been able to return my calls for days now. This shows the amount of interest you all have in this project, and I simply hope that we'll be able to channel this energy towards the right direction.

Translation by Mia Isozaki

Last updated: May 26, 2011