In Search of a New Tokyo Commons

If Francis Fukuyama and his ilk were to be believed, the era of -isms was supposed to be over and we would all be living in a paradise of liberal democracy. Things, as we now know, didn’t quite turn out that way. Like a zombie hydra, the -ism is back with a vengeance. Faced with all these variant extremes clashing together violently on the screens of our televisions and mobile devices, what can ordinary citizens do? I would like to suggest we take some hope in the renewed interest in the commons that we are seeing around the globe. The commons refers to the shared resources accessible to each and every member of society, whether that be digital resources like the Internet, cultural and intellectual assets like books and libraries, or natural resources such as water, air and land. The Occupy movement sprung up around the world in September 2011 in protest at the way the finance industry and banks had been bailed out with taxpayers’ money, despite having destroyed the global economy, and allowed to continue their rule over “the 99%”. They spoke to the new anger of the Millennials, who were waking up to the realisation that they would never experience anything like the future comforts that their parents’ generation enjoyed. Occupy started in New York, but the people who took over Zuccotti Park were far from the first of their breed. A short glance at history will reveal countless earlier examples. In fact, according to thinkers like David Harvey and Henri Lefebvre, the most vital and effective use of the commons can be found in cities – and these can become revolutionary movements. But Tokyo is not like most cities. Why is the commons in Tokyo so elusive? One tempting answer perhaps lies in what Donald Richie … Continue reading In Search of a New Tokyo Commons


Art that Shapes Dissensus, and Its Experimentation and Demonstration

The debate about what the arts contribute to society may well have picked up pace in the UK in the second half of the 1990s under the New Labour government with the aim of securing more public funding, but in Japan it was the Fukushima nuclear disaster, which was sparked by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, that proved a major opportunity to share this inquiry. While in the former case, the debate gave a boost to socially engaged art dealing with concrete issues in society, for the latter an urgent feeling of helplessness propelled not only artists but many people working in the arts to examine social problems more than ever before. In fact, Japan was already engulfed by a wide range of social problems, including depopulation in rural regions, an aging population combined with a declining birth rate, the economic crisis, energy problems, and irregular employment. But the exposure to such an immense disaster led to works of art that both introspectively attempted to locate these social problems and examine our society as well as works of art that interpreted social problems and re-examined them historically, in addition to endeavors to uncover social connections in the art of the past. On the other hand, we have also seen the relaxation of the ban against arms exports under Yoshihiko Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan government and the nationalization of the disputed Senkaku Islands (Diaoyutai Islands), as well as, especially after Shinzo Abe returned to power, a shift further to the right in regards to foreign and security policy, resulting in a conspicuous rise in nationalism. Conservatives have been the constant critics of postwar democracy in Japan, and the revival of things such as the family and sense of community that they say have been lost due to postwar … Continue reading Art that Shapes Dissensus, and Its Experimentation and Demonstration