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
It is known that Italy is the land of the beautiful form. Whether in fashion or furniture or automobiles – this much is known. What happens when beautiful Japanese simplicity contributes to the Italian idea as far back as 1963?
You were born and raised in Tokyo – you graduated from the City’s University of Arts, why did you choose a life in design?
At that time I wanted to follow an idealist thought, typical of youth. It seemed possible to me, through the design, to improve the quality of life in a democratic way, exploiting the power of industry and technology. Driven by a youthful sense of justice, I wanted to be useful to the social development. Operating in design seemed suitable to my sensitivity because combining my artistic attitude to my pragmatic side.
While working for Seiko you designed a set of clocks that were used at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, how did you feel about that at the time?
While attending the last university period, I won an important design contest, which brought me some job assignments like this. I was very proud of developing a project for the Tokyo Olympics. Unfortunately, however, once I nished it, I decided to leave for Italy, so I could not attend the great Olympics event.
In 1963 you moved to Italy – why did you choose this country?
When I was in Japan I often used to watch architecture and design magazines like
Casabella, Domus. The sensations that the images of the Italian magazines conveyed to me had an incomparable charm. So I decided that Italy was my destination.
You set up one of Italy’s rst studios for industrial design – what did you notice was the gap in the market?
When I arrived in Italy, I worked for the first 4 years at the Bonetto studio. There, I had a professional experience that allowed me to develop various aspects (improvement of my sensorial perception, search for authenticity ...). When I founded my own studio, I was able to express my vision about design, more focused on the social sense. My personal feelings and vision have been very important.
In 1982 you launched the very successful MH Way – what do you think was the key to the rare success you achieved as a design company?
After four years of activity with my design studio, so with quite a knowledge about the process around a new product development process, I founded MHWay. The key of its success has probably been my will to perceive the value of the project and follow it freely. There are always many doubts before nishing a project, but if despite everything your belief about it still wins, it’s worth trying.
Makio Hasuike & Co. is truly interdisciplinary – what is needed to deliver successfully in Architecture, Product and Communication design?
First, a vision of the future and tomorrow. A constant mix of input that stimulate my imagination and a deep research to understand what can make the environment and life better. In addition, it is necessary to be continuously updated with technology.
What would you say have been your design philosophies and approach?
Simplify and lighten. Be stimulated by new events and discoveries, and at the same time re ect on things that don’t change. Follow the instinct, what I like or not.
In over 40 years of working with leading Italian and International companies – what has been the key for you to staying ahead?
Everything is the result of the work done with companies and the good relationships grown with customers during collaborations.
“Directing an orchestra, a composition made of space and light, constraints and needs, dreams and visions. Whether for a unique occasion or for everyday purpose, architecture is an evolving idea.” Please explain more:
Situations, thoughts, possibilities ... nothing stops. Each project is a combination of many factors. There are not two that are the same. Each project is a unique opportunity.
Makio Hasuike & Co. has provided internship to some of today’s major design stars – what does your company look for in its design employees?
Each employee has different qualities. In general, they should be curious, should have the capacity to listen and analyze, should have patience and pay attention to their work. In addition, in recent years, the knowledge and the ability to use software has become important.
A LIFE IN DESIGN
Makio Hasuike was born on 20th January 1938 in Tokyo. Graduating from the Tokyo University of the Arts in 1962, Makio Hasuike began his professional career in Japan by working for one year with Seiko: he designed a set of clocks and timers for the Tokyo Olympic Games, held in 1964. In 1963 he established himself in Italy, working in different elds of industrial design. In 1968 he set up his own studio in Milan, one of the rst studios of Industrial Design in Italy. In 1982 he created MH Way, an experimental project aimed at conceiving and marketing some innovative products such as bags and briefcases. This thorough design activity directly confronted him with all the aspects connected with production and distribution. The company, still active today, is a rare example of a successful “design company”. In over 50 years of activity he has been collaborating with several Italian and international companies, in various elds, contributing to their success through design solutions that are innovative in terms of appearance and contents.
Makio Hasuike & Co. works in a wide range of design: from high technology instruments and tools to work and spare time accessories, from small and large household appliances to furniture and home accessories, from brand identity and packaging to Exhibition Design. Clients include 3M, BVLGARI, Chicco, Gaggia, Kohler, Lavazza, NEC, Nescafe, Panasonic, WMF and Villeroy & Boch. Its projects have obtained many prestigious prizes and acknowledgements, such as “Compasso d’oro”, “Macef”, “Triennale”, “Smau”, “Bio” (Ljubljana), “Design plus” (Frankfurt), “Design Preis” (Stuttgart), “Design Innovation” (Essen), and they continue to be displayed in permanent exhibitions like the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) of New York.
Makio Hasuike is one of the members of the founding committee of the Master in Strategic Design at the Polytechnic of Milan. In 2016 he received the Compasso d’Oro Lifetime Achievement Award.
7 Quotes from MAKIO HASUIKE
We meet Florian, the King of urbex (urban exploration) - that means the visiting and investigation of abandoned man-made structures.
What does urbex exactly or un-exactly mean to you and how did you get involved?
To me urbex is the greatest hobby in the world. I love doing research to find places, piecing little bits of information together. I love travelling to see other parts of Japan. While I could do without the sneaking into a location part, I love looking for interesting objects and angles. Running an urbex blog just adds to the experience, as I love writing articles without being restricted, except by my own limitations. And finally I love seeing / reading the reactions of people looking at my articles, often engaging in conversations, sometimes making new friends. It’s a very active hobby that challenges a large variety of skills. I think I’ve always been fascinated by the aesthetics of abandonment.
What do you feel in the moment when you are 'urbexing'?
Curiosity is what connects all locations, but more often than not it’s just the second or third layer. What I feel while exploring really depends on each individual location and factors like the weather, time restraints and whether I am exploring alone or with a friend. Some locations I connect with and feel 100% relaxed at, others I don’t even really want to enter. At some locations I could stay forever, others I want to leave as quickly as possible. So sometimes I feel relaxed, sometimes I feel anxious, sometimes
I feel relieved, sometimes I feel nervous, sometimes I feel proud, but most of the time
it’s a mix of emotions that can change from one second to another – especially when you think or know that you’ve heard something strange.
On your blog Abandoned Kansai you write with lots of details about your subject matter?
Of course it would be a lot easier and faster to just take a dozen of photos or two and put them online with a couple of basic information, like a (fake) name and maybe the year of abandonment. A lot of urbexers do it that way, including here in Japan. But when you see fascinating photos of an abandoned place, isn’t the rst question you ask yourself: “I wonder what happened there?” And that’s the same question I ask myself when I am exploring. What happened there while the place was buzzing with life – and what went wrong? More often than not it’s hard or even impossible to nd out more about a location. Because it didn’t have a major significance, because it was closed before the age of the internet, because nobody cared to keep the memories alive. So I do some research... On location I look for the last calendar that was put up, maybe plaques or some documents – and the real name of a place. That information
I use to do more research online. If I am lucky, I am able to tell fascinating stories but when I end up with no facts, I still try to make it informative. I write about owning a car in Japan after exploring an abandoned driving school, about relationships in Japan after visiting a deserted love hotel, about the Japanese health care system after exploring a desolate hospital. But whenever I can I make it all about the respective location.
How do you select the sites that you explore – what draws you to a location and not another?
There are actually several factors that in uence which locations I choose next. Generally I prefer abandoned theme parks and abandoned hospitals to abandoned hotels and abandoned restaurants. Since I am not into this for the thrills, I prefer my locations really abandoned – if a place has alarms, security or even just nosy neighbors it goes down to the bottom of the list. If I can go to a good place by myself or to a mediocre place with a friend, I usually take the location where I have company. If the weather to the north is rainy, but there’s sunshine in the south, I’ll head towards the “better” weather. (Though “bad” weather can contribute to the atmosphere) Easy access without having to jump a fence, climbing a steep slope or ghting through thick vegetation is another big plus, too. I also prefer rather unknown locations to famous ones, just because the feeling of exploring is much stronger and I don’t want to take the same photos two-dozen people before me have taken.
It seems to me that in these sites one can witness a battle - the resilience of nature in the face of human relentlessness?
While I like the aesthetics of nature taking back human made structures, I don’t enjoy being on that battle eld as it is often much too hot and much too humid for my taste, especially in Japan. And don’t get me started on the fauna. Giant Asian Hornets, wild boars, swarms of mosquitos, venomous snakes and spiders, leeches – I’ve had contact with all of them, and never did I feel like: “Yes, this is so much better than sitting on my couch watching a movie while eating pizza!“ I love spending days in the countryside and wish I could live there, I enjoy the quiet of a remote abandoned place and the beauty of nature.
You mentioned on your site that there are 8 million empty homes in Japan and 3 million are abandoned – why is there such a high number of unused homes?
There are basically three factors in my opinion; the first two are facts, the last one is my experience. Japan has an extremely low birth rate and at the same time an extremely low immigration rate, which results in a decreasing population. People are getting older, but that only slows down the decrease and makes the second factor worse – the continuing urbanization. Young people move from the countryside to bigger cities and from bigger cities to large cities mainly to get a college degree – and then they stay there, because the jobs are there and they got used to certain conveniences. At the same time older people don’t have anybody anymore to take care of them, which means they leave their houses if for nothing else than medical treatment or assisted living, with the result of millions of empty homes. And then there is the “out of sight, out of mind“ attitude of Japanese society. If you don’t have a single responsible person and hold their feet to the fire, it’s most likely that your problem won’t be taken care of. A general problem of a country with a group mentality I guess – most people try to dodge responsibility in hope another person will take it.
You have visited Chernobyl and what is known as the Zone of Alienation – tell us about that experience?
It was mind-blowing. I am old enough to remember when the Chernobyl disaster hit
the news, and since I grew up in Germany, the radioactive cloud was heading our way. (Which is also why the town of Chernobyl, south of the power plant, is still inhabited by people who work in the zone, while the city of Pripyat, west of the plant, was evacuated.) A few years later in high school nuclear power was both a topic in German Literature as well as Social Studies, we even visited a nearby nuclear power plant in Germany as a eld trip. So shortly after I picked up urbex as a hobby, I went to the Zone of Alienation for two days, because it had (and still has) that typical urbex look, but a much higher historical relevance – which is why I consider that trip less urbex and more dark tourism. The Zone of Alienation is not abandoned, quite the opposite, it’s highly guarded. Sadly a lot of tourists there lacked the respect a place like that deserved – a couple of computer game nerds even wore camouflage gear as if they were heroes in a game set in Pripyat! Spending two days in Pripyat with a guide and a driver was an intense and highly recommended experience. I could tell anecdotes for hours, including how I spent the night in a container hotel in Chernobyl... Strangely enough I was just writing the second to last article about that trip for Abandoned Kansai, when the Tohoku earthquake of 2011 wiped out the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, just about 600 kilometers away from where I live.
You also visited North Korea – how did your visit come about?
I grew up in a country that had similar circumstances as there are on the Korean Peninsula now – Germany; fortunately on the western side. My family had no relatives in the eastern part, I was 13 years old when the country was reunited, and I was not particularly interested in politics, so I wasn’t aware of the significance of what was going on there. More than two decades later I finally had read up on things (including a few classes about Korean history at university) and thought it would be a good idea to visit the last somewhat communist / Marxist-Leninist state on earth after the Soviet union dissolved and both China and Cuba kinda softened in that regard. You know, to get a taste of both the German Democratic Republic and every dystopian novel I’ve ever read...
What are your 5 top abandoned sites and why do they make your top 5 list?
Nara Dreamland – a run-down theme park that was abandoned without a single ride,
a single arcade machine, a single paper clip being removed.
Tokushima Countryside Clinic – a countryside doctor’s private practice in excellent condition; closed in the 1980s, with handwritten patient files and interior dating back to the 1930s.
Wakayama Hospital – a medical cooperative that went bankrupt, leaving the elderly investors without their money and their medical support; still completely stocked. Japanese Sex Museum – a few years ago one of the few remaining hihokan treasure houses; eclectic adult collections, everything from phallic art to frivolous mechanical mini games.
Kejonuma Leisure Land – another nearly pristine abandoned theme park; much smaller than Nara Dreamland, but with a Ferris wheel and a driving range.
Credits - Abandoned Kansai