It’s hard to write about art when so many people are suffering. In Sendai, only about 300 kilometres from where I live in Tokyo, thousands of people have died and entire communities have been swept away by the tsunami. The earthquake and the tsunami have been called the worst disaster Japan has faced since World War II. At this time, I can’t imagine anything worse anywhere.
Turn on the TV here and you see horror of biblical proportions—footage of the earthquake and the tsunami that resulted in so many deaths and coverage of all of the people who have lost their homes, their lives and their communities.
There’s no panic here in Tokyo, but there’s still a cloud of worry and fear that continues to hang over everyone. In part, it’s a concern of whether we’ll soon have a nuclear disaster to deal with or whether Tokyo will be the next target of a major earthquake. Many people are leaving. Some of my Japanese friends are going with their families to places further from the Fukushima nuclear plant, like Kobe and Osaka.
Meanwhile many non-Japanese who came here for business or holiday have returned to their own countries (or are planning to soon). But it’s not an easy decision for some to leave when friends are still here. One of my friends who recently went home to Australia wrote to tell me she cried the entire flight from Tokyo to Sydney.
For those who are in Japan, there also seems to be a general feeling of exhaustion from talking only about last week's earthquake and tsunami, while being hit with aftershock after aftershock since. People stay in their homes, restaurants close early and there’s less than half of the usual number of people on the streets.
When you see people outside and listen to their conversations, you immediately notice that their discussions are different from before. You don’t even have to know the language to know the difference. Understandably, there's no laughter. And the conversations are short. No one wants to talk about it anymore. But it’s not denial. It’s exhaustion and fear. It’s as if talking about it will make it more real.
There continue to be shortages of essentials like rice, eggs and milk and there are long lines at the gas pumps. Many stores remain closed.
We’ve kept the gallery open most days. It’s a big open space—larger than most people’s homes and with a comfortable sitting area. It’s a place for those working in the area and living in the surrounding apartments to visit when they want to escape and relax.
When I look at the art in the gallery and in our home, I'm now even more aware of the power of art and its ability to soothe, comfort and heal us. Art has the potential to bring us to another world and help us forget what may be troubling us. Our troubles and worries don’t go away, but we can temporarily escape from them and restore our energy.
This is another time where I know what it means to appreciate art, when I recognize why we need art. The art in our homes and offices—the paintings, the sculpture, the ceramics, the prints, the posters and the children’s drawings we may have posted on the refrigerator, help us in times like these and can have a healing and calming effect on us all.