WHY I BROUGHT ART TO NAOSHIMA - A JAPANESE BILLIONAIRE DISCUSSES HIS 'ART ISLANDS' AND PROPOSES A NEW CAPITALISM.
From Tokyo to the Seto Inland Sea
I spent most of my younger years in Tokyo, but returned to Okayama, where our company headquarters are located when I turned 40 because of my father’s sudden demise. This is when I started visiting Naoshima on a regular basis to continue my father’s venture of building a campsite for children on the island.
During my involvement in the project, I had the opportunity to deepen my ties with the island’s residents. Pursuing further my interest for cruises around the islands of the Seto Inland Sea; I developed a renewed appreciation for the history, culture and daily lives of the island residents while taking in the exquisite beauty of the Seto Inland Sea.
Today, many of the islands in the Seto Inland Sea are scarcely populated and perceived as remote places. On the other hand, they have also shielded Japan’s traditional spirit, way of life and virgin landscapes from rampaging modernization. You can observe these aspects here in the atmosphere of traditional wooden houses, in people’s behaviour, and in the ties that still exist between neighbours. In a sense, the islands’ residents lead a self-sufficient lifestyle intimately connected with nature.
The islands of the Seto Inland Sea supported Japan’s modernization effort and the post-war period of high economic growth, but they were also forced to bear more than their fair share of the negative burden of industrialization, despite being designated as Japan’s first national park. Refineries emitting sulfur dioxide were built on Naoshima and Teshima, and industrial waste was unlawfully dumped on the latter. These actions took a heavy toll on the local residents and on their natural environment. Oshima was furthermore cut off from society for many years after being designated as a treatment centre for sheltering leprosy patients.
Use What Exists to Create What Is to Be
Becoming deeply involved with the islands in the Seto Inland Sea, I found that my perspective on daily life and society developed while in Tokyo had taken a 180 degrees turn. I started to see “modernization” and “urbanization” as one and the same. Large cities like Tokyo felt somewhat like monstrous places where people are cut off from nature and feverishly pursue only their own desires. Urban society offers endless stimulation and excitement, tension and pleasure, while engulfing people in a whirlwind of competition. Today, cities are far from spiritually fulfilling places, instead urban dwellers show no interest for others around them. From a very young age, children are brain-washed and are thrown into an economy-driven competitive society, with no space to interact with nature.
Nobody would think of such circumstances as forming the basis of a good society. However, it takes tremendous courage to escape from life in the big city, which can seem like a bottomless pit. Even today, many young people from rural areas are drawn to cities by their irresistible pull. In the Seto Inland Sea region, young people have continuously set out for the cities, leaving only seniors behind on many islands. This has led to a continuing decline in the population of the islands. Considering the current state of large cities and the daily lives of people in the Seto Inland Sea region, I started having strong doubts about the premises of Japan’s modernization, namely that civilization advances through a process of creative destruction. Such a civilization expands by continuously creating new things at the expense of what already exists. I believe that we must switch to a civilization that achieves sustainable growth by “using what exists to create what is to be”. Unless we do so, we will be unable to refine and hand our culture down to future generations, and whatever we build will eventually be destroyed by our offsprings.
People Find Happiness in Good Communities
Considering the contradictions revealed by the problems faced by large cities in modern society and the current state of the islands of the Seto Inland Sea region, I became firmly convinced that the region could be transformed by establishing attractive contemporary art museums bearing a critical message towards modern society on the very islands where Japan’s primeval landscape still survives. I acted based on my convictions.
I found that young people started to visit Naoshima in large numbers to see contemporary art. During their visits, they sometimes noticed that rural areas have qualities that cities do not. I was astonished and delighted to see that local residents, especially the elderly, became increasingly vibrant and healthy as they interact with visitors. I also started to reflect on why people living in the cities are not truly happy at heart.
In cities, people work hard to obtain greater happiness than others in the name of “self-ac-tualization”. However, they cannot become truly happy with this approach. The reason is that human beings, by their very nature, cannot attain true happiness unless they live in a happy community. People living in cities are constantly frustrated and anxious because they are chasing only their own personal happiness and competing for this purpose.
According to a theory proposed by Abraham Maslow, a famous U.S. psychologist, human needs can be categorized into a hierarchy of five different levels, with the need for self-actual-ization at the top. Modernization in the U.S. was directed at creating a society that maximizes individual happiness, with an emphasis on the concept of “self-actualization”, a brand of financial capitalism where “Cash is King”, and the principle of “free competition”. Ultimately, this modernization produced a society marred by inequality. Some people now suggest that what Maslow really meant was that there are actually six levels of human needs, not five, with “creating a good community” at the top. However, Maslow had no choice but to remove the highest level because it evoked communism. This reflects the prevalence of McCarthyism, also known as the“ Red Scare” in the U.S. during the 1950s when Maslow was active. Where then can we find a happy community? Today, many people around the world believe that such a utopia does not exist in this life, but in heaven or paradise after they die. Can this, in fact, really be true? We do not know. After all, nobody has ever returned from afterlife to tell us that heaven is indeed wonderful.
Naoshima: an Island of Smiling Seniors
I have seen the seniors of Naoshima become increasingly vibrant and healthy by developing an appreciation for contemporary art and interacting with young people visiting their island. As a result, I now define a happy community as one that is filled with smiling seniors, who are masters of life. No matter what kind of life they may have led, seniors are masters of life. They should become happier as they grow older.
If these masters of life are cheerful, even if their physical strength and memory may be slightly weakened, it means that young people can hope for their own futures to be bright, despite the existential anxieties they may have. This is similar to the phenomenon of mother-child interaction, where a baby smiles when her mother smiles. The smiles of seniors also make younger people smile.
For these reasons, I believe that Naoshima is today the happiest community on earth. The island is now visited by numerous people both from Japan and abroad. I would like visitors to the islands to meet the local residents. I would like to expand this experience of a utopian community in the here and now to other islands in the Setouchi region. Of course, I do not want to create communities that are just replicas of Naoshima, but to build communities that make the most of each island’s unique culture and individual features together with the island residents and volunteers. I know of no medium better suited to this purpose than contemporary art. I believe that contemporary art has the power to awaken people and transform regions. In this view, and with the cooperation of Mr.Fram Kitagawa, the director of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, which I also support, we have launched the Setouchi Triennale.
Proposing a New Perspective on Civilization From the Seto Inland Sea
I have strongly criticized today’s large cities by stating that: “modernization and urbanization are one and the same”. However, I have no intention of completely disavowing modernization and urbanization. It is true that cities give people a feeling of freedom and are attractive spaces in their own right. I have high hopes that Japan will develop more cities that respect each region’s unique history and culture, rather than simply imitating Tokyo.
I want to connect these sorts of cities with unique, nature-rich islands through the medium of contemporary art, which bears a message for modern society. In doing so, it is my wish to foster mutual interaction between urban and rural areas, the elderly and the young, men and women, and residents and visitors. By discovering each other’s qualities, I believe that both sides can develop a sound mutual understanding and acceptance.
I believe that this process will have a positive impact on people living in cities, and will help reviving regions with declining populations. I hope that this will help to shape a society with well-balanced values that can make the most of the diverse, rich cultural tapestry of regional areas. I would like to propose a new perspective on civilization for the 21st century — one of “using what exists to create what is to be” — from the Seto Inland Sea to the rest of the world.
Public Interest Capitalism
I am neither a philanthropist nor a critic. I am a regional entrepreneur. I know that corporations are the main engines behind the creation of almost all wealth in society. However, the ambitions of Benesse Holdings, Inc. are diametrically opposed to the financial capitalism that has taken the global economy to the brink of collapse in the past. What this means is that money is not the sole purpose of economic activity. I often express this notion by saying: “The economy should be a servant to culture.” People cannot attain spiritual fulfllment through economic activity alone.
I believe that if economic prosperity is made the only objective, then people will ultimately become unhappy. I believe that the economy exists to create good communities where people can find happiness ̶ a society filled with smiling, happy seniors. To make this goal a reality, I am proposing a new management concept called public interest capitalism. Under this concept, corporations will establish foundations with the clear goal of promoting culture and regional community development. These foundations will be made major shareholders of the corporations. Funded by dividends stemming from their shareholding of the corporations, the foundations will in turn provide a systematic contribution to society. I would like to communicate this approach, the implementation and results of public interest capitalism to the world. To articulate a new partnership between culture and corporations and to promote this new approach to the world, one that highlights community revitalization and the creation of a utopia here and now through the medium of art, hand-in-hand with public interest capitalism. This is one of the significances of the Setouchi Triennale.
Okayama native, graduated from Waseda University, Faculty of Science and Engineering. Joined Fukutake Publishing (now Benesse Holdings) in 1973, appointed Representative Director in 1986, Chairman and CEO in 2007. Serves as Executive Adviser to the company since 2014. Has spearheaded the Inland Sea renaissance around Naoshima, Teshima and Inujima focused on art, architecture and nature for more than 25 years through Benesse Art Site Naoshima projects. In 2004, established
the Naoshima Fukutake Art Museum Foundation (now Fukutake Foundation), opened the Chichu Art Museum on Naoshima and was named honorary citizen of Naoshima. General Producer of the Setouchi Triennale.Distinguished with many awards, including the Minister of Education Award for Fine Arts (2008), AIJ Appreciation Prize (2010), JIA Grand Prix (2011), and Montblanc de la Culture Arts Patronage Award (2012).
About Benesse Art Site Naoshima
“Benesse Art Site Naoshima”is the collective name for all art-related activities conducted by Benesse Holdings, Inc. and Fukutake Foundation on the islands of Naoshima and Teshima in Kagawa Prefecture and on Inujima Island in Okayama Prefecture. Our fundamental aim is to create significant spaces by bringing contemporary art and architecture in resonance with the pristine nature of the Seto Inland Sea, a landscape with a rich cultural and historical fabric. Through contacts with art and nature, sceneries and inhabitants of the Seto Inland Sea region, we seek to inspire visitors to reflect on the meaning of Benesse’s motto – Well-Being. In all our on-going activities, we are committed to foster a relationship of mutual growth between art and the region, aiming to make a positive contribution to the local communities.
Fid out more about Naoshima: www.benesse-artsite.jp