The Matsushiro Contemporary Art Festival began on the occasion of the World Cup games hosted jointly by the Republic of Korea and Japan, in 2002.In June of that year I started a Contemporary Art Public Workshop.
The subtitle of the workshop is “location art”. That is to say, it is site specific art where one is trying to bring forth, in the world of art, the historicalness of a certain location, and memories of the people nearby, etc. The location selected as the subject of the workshop is the Matsushiro Daihonei, a historic site from the Second World War, in Matsushiro-machi, Nagano-shi.
As you may know, the Matsushiro Daihonei is a large underground shelter built towards the end of the Second World War, when, in preparation for defeat, a group of Japanese Army officers decided to build it as a safe refuge for the evacuation of the emperor and major Japanese government functions, in order to carry out the final decisive battle for the country. Many Korean laborers were forcibly brought here for this construction work, and while we know that many died, the actual circumstances remain unknown. The Matsushiro Contemporary Art Festival looks towards this vague and distant world, and calls out in a quiet voice.
Our actions seek to raise, once again to the surface, the Daihonei, which seemed fated to become ever more weathered, and bring it to the forefront of our awareness.
Information on Matsushiro
Matsushiro-machi, is located in southeastern Nagano. Although it has the word “machi” (town) in its name, local citizens simply call it Matsushiro. It is located across the Chikuma River on the opposite bank from Nagano City. Kawanakajima, a famous historic battlefield, lies at the center of the river.
Starting from Nagano City, passing by an historic battlefield and crossing the Matsushiro-Ohashi Bridge, a rice ball-shaped mountain is visible ahead. This is Minakamiyama Mountain. Such a flat-topped, triangular-shaped mountain is sometimes referred to as a Japanese pyramid. On the right, looms Maizuruyama Mountain. Further to the south is the Saijosan Mountain, once occupied by the troops of the powerful warlord, Kenshin Uesugi. Between Maizuruyama Mountain and Saijosan Mountain, there lies an elephant tassel shaped mountain known as Zouzan Mountain. Zouzan, Minakami, Maizuru. Who could imagine that under the three serene mountains lies a 10 km-long cave and a huge network of tunnels? Matsushiro-machi is indeed a very peaceful town.
So why did someone excavate several kilometers of gigantic caves? What drove them to do it?
In the year 19th of Showa, 1944 on the western calendar, the Great East Asia War (World War II) was coming to an end. Okinawa, lying directly under the nose of the mainland, had been conquered. But then something unimaginable happened. Yes, the terrible conflict moved to Japan’s mainland. All one hundred million Japanese rose in revolt, and resolved to fight until the last man was standing. In this day and age, this idea seems to be unbelievable madness, but it wasn’t at that time. All of Japan was swirling with madness. It was common sense to fight to the bitter end (or so it seemed in my eyes.
Given this conviction, an excellent officer thought, “The emperor’s safety must be our highest priority.” According to a guidebook published by the committee of Matsushiro-Daihonnei (the Matsushiro Headquarters), Army Major Masataka Ida, who originally proposed building the tunnel, explains why he chose the Matsushiro site as below:
(1) It was located in the mainland’s most vast land, with an airport nearby.
(2) It featured hard bedrock that could withstand 10 tons of bombing, making it suitable for an underground fortification.
(3) It was surrounded by mountains, with a vast area suitable for construction.
(4) There was a relatively large number of laborer available.
(5) The local citizens were somewhat naive, and secretive.
(6) The name of the local area, Shinshu, refers to the gods, lending a certain regal aura.
Be that as it may, plans were made for the previously inconceivable gigantic underground excavation in this quiet town of Matsushiro, ostensibly to construct an underground warehouse. The work began on November 1, 1944. This may also have been a play on words linking an auspicious day and the numbers of the date. Also, at 11:11, the rumble of the first torpedo shook the air.
On the same day, at 11:11 a.m. the rumble of the first torpedo to be fired on Japan’s mainland shook the air.
The construction proceeded at great human cost, with a large number of lives lost, especially those of Korean forced laborers. Due to the rush to complete the construc-tion, a vast number of Korean civilians were drafted in what amounted to mass abduction, since this was a time when Japan had control over Korea. Freight trains would arrive silently and secretly in the middle of the night at Matsushiro Station, discharging huge numbers of Koreans with only the barest necessities. They would flood out as the iron doors of the train were opened, while Japanese soldiers equipped with bayonets dragged them off to the camps located near the underground tunnel construction site. Just imagining such a scenario, like something from a movie, is heart wrenching.
In recent times, in observation of this terrible episode in Japanese history, an annual memorial gathering is held on the north side of the Zouzan Mountain underground dugout site, where a Peace Memorial is to be constructed in the future. It will be sponsored by an incorporated nonprofit organization, the Matsushiro-Daihonnei Memorial Hall. (Please refer to pertinent materials for reference on construction, since space is limited here.)
Then, 57 years and 7 months after the tragic events mentioned above, in June of 2002, the World Cup soccer compeition was co-hosted by Japan and Korea. It offered a great opportunity to think once again about the relationship between Japan and Korea.
I, too, thought about the formerly alarming Daihonei, still located nearby in Matsushiro, in relation to the modern art world, and related it to the world as we know it today.
About Hitoshi Kimura’s “HA-NE (Wing) Project”
’s “HA-NE (Wing) Project” makes use of the wing shape of the folded paper crane, familiar to all Japanese people from their childhood days. This iconic origami shape has become a common form in mainstream art. Bringing the paper crane concept to the world of art may cause a sense of incongruity, somewhat like bringing an ordinary pebble to keep company with diamonds.
Ordinary everyday forms are often undervalued in this way.
However, Kimura considers another aspect of this ubiquitous Japanese symbol—the world of prayer. Originally the paper crane had nothing to do with prayer until a young Japanese atomic-bomb victim tied the two together. The girl, Sadako Sasaki, survived the bombing in Hiroshima, only to fall ill
with radiation sickness some years later. While in hospital, she set about making one thousand paper cranes as a form of prayer for the recovery of those fighting similar diseases. Therefore, the sad shadow of the atomic bomb hovers behind the notion of folding and stringing a thousand paper cranes, called “senbatsuru” in Japanese. In a sense, this reminds us of another A-bomb victim, Godzilla, although the two diverged in different directions.
Even before this project, Kimura has been interested in indigenous Japanese forms of prayer.
Before the “HA-NE (Wing) Project,” he created installations featuring enormous metal shrine tiles or tea ceremony cups. Emerging from this interest in forms of prayer born of Japanese society, his work has evolved into the present “Wing Project.” In it, he attempts to lift the world of everyday life into another dimension by separating one of the wings of the paper crane from its body. The “Wing Project” is based on the concept of the wing of a paper crane and its body rearranged into a pair configuration, but sometimes a wing alone suffices to express the theme. In his more recent works, Kimura places a wing-shaped object into a shape suggestive of a Japanese bowl.
The “Wing Project” embodies two concepts. One is the name of the works themselves. The other refers to the audience participation aspect incorporated into this form. Regarding the latter, the actual folded paper crane can be said to have come first, but Kimura’s method involves having ordinary people assist in the arrangement, working with the artist, using the elements of the bowl and the wing. The results are then placed in certain meaningful locations determined by the artist and then recording them. The locations vary, but they are generally ones of historical significance such as those related to past wars.
One such location was the Matsushiro Headquarters, a network of tunnels in Nagano City intended to have been used to house communications during WWII. Kimura seems to have dedicated himself to putting human traces onto the backdrop of war, and to preserving the memories of those who have disappeared like morning mist, having put their lives to the torch in the everyday world. He also seems to use the atmosphere of Japanese society of those times, producing chords which are then woven into a distant melody.
Kimura also evidences his interest in the tendency of Japanese society to avoid confronting its postwar problems, addressing them only vaguely. He not only recognizes the clumsy Japanese pro-pensity to avoid self-condemnation, but has also begun to wonder whether this is entirely negative, or whether it is a manifestation of a certain fundamental national character trait, inborn and developed over time. What might that be? Is it still evident in the collective mentality today? Kimura says he wants to explore and ponder this “something” by means of his “Wing Project.”
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