Thursday, November 12, 2009

Peace Not War Japan’s Film/Live Music Festival Highlights Citizen Movements: Mt. Takao・Okinawa's Yanbaru Forest・ Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

Japanese singer UA, speaking from Takae Village, Yanbaru, Okinawa: "Yes, there are problems here...but these are actually reflections of what is occurring inside ourselves. We must remember that we have the power of dreams, since as we know, dreams can often be strong enough to change the world.”

The Kunitachi Peace Film and Live Music Festival, a three-night event organized by Peace Not War Japan, wrapped up last week at a small live music house in the western Tokyo town of Kunitachi. Held from November 1st-3rd, the festival featured a lineup of performers, speakers and documentary films to raise awareness and funds for peace-related issues in Japan and beyond.

The first night’s theme highlighted efforts to halt construction of a highway bypass tunnel through Mt. Takao, a popular nature spot located about one hour west of Tokyo. The evening featured two films: "Mt. Takao—24 Years of Memories" documenting the history of the dedicated citizen movement to protect the mountain from destruction; and “Little Goblin’s Wish”, a creative short film highlighting nature scenes from Mt. Takao. The second film featured musical accompaniment by Tengugakudan (“goblin band”), named after the long-nosed tengu goblins which Japanese folklore has long associated with the forests of Mt. Takao. The band, which played a set later that evening, also regularly performs at various festivals and events to raise awareness for the plight facing Mt. Takao. A video of the band performing at the Satsukimirai festival held in May 2008 at the Artcomplex Center of Tokyo is here.

Following the screenings, Masako Sakata from the eco-action group Kenju-no-kai spoke frankly about the environmental damage that threatens to worsen on Mt. Takao should the partially completed tunnel project continue. “When similar construction took place recently in another prefecture, the mountain started to gradually die off, along with many species of living creatures,” she lamented. “Since all mountains are connected,there is no doubt that the same thing will happen to Mt. Takao if the project proceeds.”

Tengakudan's lively set featured a belly dancer, a dancing tengu, a double bassist, a violinist, and a guitarist who doubled as a Tuvan throat singer. Between songs, lead singer Mocca echoed Sakata on the idea of connection amongst living beings:“I have only one message for those forces that seek to separate living things, whether they be national borders or mountain highways," she told the audience passionately: “We are all one and the same. And just as water flows, separates and then comes back together; so are we all meant to be connected as one—not divided by unnatural boundaries.”

With Tengugakudan’s soulful groove and the positive energies of the evening’s speakers energizing the crowd, the evening finished off with Sakata encouraging everyone present to get involved—no matter how intimidating they may find the idea of political action. “We recently had a visitor from southern India who told us he was part of a movement where tree huggers actually convinced construction workers to lay down their tools and go home,” she recounted. “With the same dedication, we can help save Mt. Takao.

The theme of the second evening was that of militarism—in particular, the Winter Soldier testimonies of Iraq Veterans Against the War members from the U.S. military. A screening was held of the documentary “Fuyu no heishi” ("Winter Soldier" in Japanese), which portrayed the testimonies of former soldiers regarding the atrocities that they committed against Iraqi civilians, as well as the criminal folly of the military system that had forced them into the war to begin with. The screening was followed by a Q and A session with director Junichi Tabo, a freelance journalist with experience reporting from Kuwait and Iraq during both recent wars. “When I brought two U.S. Iraqi war veterans to Japan in September for a nationwide speaking tour, they were absolutely floored by the fact that so many ordinary Japanese citizens showed up to hear them speak,” Tabo recounted.

Reggae singer Takeru, who performed the same evening with an extremely positive and laid-back groove, summed up the feelings of many: “I’ve heard unbelievable reports that many commanders in the U.S. army actually order their subordinates to engage in war games. When you consider the real-life suffering that war causes for everyone, however—the soldiers included—the situation is obviously anything but a game.”

A portion of the evening’s proceeds went toward the Collateral Repair Project (CRP), a grassroots-level project to support Iraqi refugees that was started by two women in the U.S. together with two displaced Iraqi women in Jordan. Communicating daily by e-mail, the team raises and then distributes funds to help less fortunate Iraqi refugees get back on their feet. “For Iraqis living on the edge, every unforeseen expense becomes a crisis,” explained CRP co-director Mary Madsen, who is based in Oregon in the United States. “We see emergencies every day regarding the basics of everyday living—food, heat, blankets, medical supplies, rent for those facing eviction, etc.—with the numbers growing, and each new case seeming worse than the last. If we can intercede in one crisis, even just once, it very often stops an escalation and compounding of events.” Funds raised from the Kunitachi event went toward purchasing a much-needed refrigerator for Haiyat, a widowed Iraqi refugee woman with six children. Further information on the CRP's activities and how to support Iraqi refugees is here.

The third and final night of the event was dedicated to the movement to protect the “Broccoli Forest” in the village of Takae in Okinawa’s Yanbaru region. Named for the lush greenery of the local trees, which actually resemble spears of broccoli, the forest is said to have one of the most diverse arrays of wildlife species in all of Japan. Nevertheless, the U.S. military plans to build helipads (a shortened term for helicopter landing pads) in the village, threatening the living beings and the natural lifestyle of those living there.

Kondo Ichiro of the citizen group Yuntaku Takae (which translates roughly to “relaxed chatting in Takae”, highlighting the region’s laid-back spirit), explained to the evening’s crowd that a lawsuit had been filed against the participants of the sit-in movement to protect the forest. As a result, the defendants were prohibited from any further organizing—including posting any details of the sit-in on their blog. “It is up to others to lend a hand to the movement, since our voice has been stifled at the source,” he explained to the audience. A link to information in English on the citizen movement to protect the village may be found here.
"Peace Takae" T-shirts and other goods for sale

Kondo’s talk was followed by a showing of the documentary film Kukuru, which portrays the citizen movement in Takae while focusing on a performance given in the village by famous Japanese singer UA.

Taking an interesting spiritual angle, UA commented: "Yes, there are problems here...but these are actually reflections of what is occurring inside outselves. We must remember that we have the power of dreams, since as we know, dreams can often be strong enough to change the world.”

The video also featured the clearly politicized voices of several local residents.“The danger we are facing here, which threatens to poison the environment for our children, is surrounding us—and yet nevertheless remains invisible,” said one woman. “And whether we’re talking about Takae, Henoko, or places as far away as Rwanda, it is all part of the same problematic system, in which we are all actually complicit without even realizing it.”

Another resident commented, “It is extremely painful to think that soldiers are being trained here to go and kill people in other nations.”

“We read in the paper one day about the ‘agreement’ between the Japanese and U.S. governments to build these helipads, but this was certainly no ‘agreement’ on our part,” said yet another local resident, echoing the deep sense of anger and betrayal on the part of many citizens in other areas of Okinawa regarding the issue of U.S. military bases in the prefecture.

A portion of proceeds from the events went toward supporting the work of Kenju-no-kai, the Collateral Repair Project, and Yuntaku Takae. Peace Not War Japan thanks all participating artists, who are listed here. PNWJ will continue combining music, dance and positive action for peace at the second annual Harukaze: Spring Love event, to be held next spring in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park. More information to follow!

- Kimberly Hughes

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