The Reason Why Living in Aomori
– Both of you are from out of Aomori, and then moved to Aomori. Why did you choose Aomori?
F: I was planning to build a resort somewhere in Japan which makes you healthier by staying in. I got acquainted with Mr. Masaki Otani, President of Hachinohe Gakuin University who is from Aomori, which was a part of the reason I picked Aomori as one of the candidate places for my project. My first visit to Aomori was in the beginning of December in 2008, which was the day it snowed the first time in the season. From Aomori airport I passed Hakkoda and went to South Hakkoda. It was so beautiful winter scenery. Everything including shops and signboards was covered with snow and… just white. I felt as if I was in Switzerland or in Canada. I saw some rocks in the Oirase stream, which were covered with snow like wearing the snow hats. I was raised in the southern area and was fascinated with the beauty of Aomori winter.
A: Since my wife’s hometown is Aomori, I used to visit Aomori a few times with my wife. I was working as an illustrator in Tokyo, but when you have internet, you can work anywhere. Gradually I started to think I want to leave Tokyo if I can do my job anywhere. Then I heard Towada Art Center was opened, aiming to liven up the town with art and citizens. I got interested in it. That was when I thought about moving to Aomori.
F: I feel the same way about the sense of stagnation in Tokyo. At that time I worked too much and had a health problem. I thought it would be good to move to the place I can hold my hope to make my dream come true. My viewpoint of choosing Aomori to break through the sense of stagnation is the same as Mr. Anzai.
– So Towada had something to make both of you feel “I’ll live here and will try my best”.
F: Actually I also visited Nagano and Izu, but I just couldn’t forget the winter scenery of my first visit to Aomori, and I chose Aomori.
Charms of Life in Aomori
– It’s been 5 years for both of you since you started to live in Aomori. What is attractive about Aomori or Towada?
A: Talking about livening up the town by art which motivated me to move to Towada, I feel I am accepted by people in Towada so much.
F: About livening up the regions and activation, Tokyo is also doing that kind of stuff, but it’s just too many people and too many activities and tend to be less represented. But in here, for many activities I can feel close and people often ask me to join them.
A: Although the invitations come only from the activities based on art, I’m getting the opportunities such as teaching illustrations. Gradually the environment is developing for my activities.
F: Maybe it is from Towada’s pioneering history, Towada has the ability of support, when you do something people always support you.
A: I think so too. The effects of various activities are permeating step by step with taking time.
F: Aomori is, in a good way and bad way, the slow life. The poet Keigetsu Omachi’s “Fuyugomori-cho” taught me that in northern winter time with severe cold, people soak in a hot bath, enjoy good sake with your close friends, and just let yourself go with the flow. Fuyugomori-cho is a travel essay in Taisho Era, and the ultimate slow life is written in it. Also, the way interacting with people is more courteous than Tokyo and I try to be the same way. When you have something to talk about, you don’t finish only by email, but you also call them or visit them. I want to follow their courteous behavior.
A: I agree with you. I think it is very respectable.
The Values of Aomori, and How to Refine Them
A: If I talk about it in relation to Aomori Brand, the values of Aomori for me are “time”, ”nature”, ”foods” and “people”.
F: Not like Shiretoko or Yakushima, the world natural heritage is located kind of near yourself. I think it has a big meaning. National parks such as Oirase-Towada and Tanesashi Beach are accessible. People in Aomori take it for granted that you can easily access to the nature such as world heritage or national parks. But generally it is such a great thing.
A: That’s true. When you live in the Tokyo metropolitan area, you have to drive for hours through a traffic jam to get to the untouched nature. You can feel comfortable just by a ride for shopping. I think it is special.
F: As for food, I was astonished with the freshness of fish. I thought I was enjoying delicious fish when I went out to eat in Tokyo. But once I had delicious fish in Aomori, I don’t know what I have been eating as delicious fish.
A: I used to feel that way. But the problem is, I got used to the deliciousness of fish in Aomori. I’m so blessed.
– When we hold “Aomori Brand Forum” in November 2014, Mr. Hidetoshi Nakata, a former footballer in the Japan national football team was the guest. He said “Aomori has a lot of great things, but people in Aomori take it for granted. More ideas will be needed to create new values for what you have”. Please tell us if you have something in mind in relation to Mr. Nakata’s point of view.
F: I think Mr. Nakata’s message means ”Be creative on how you tell the values”. I often feel sorry for the way local people say ”Thank you for coming to where there’s nothing special”. The impression will be much different if you say ”There’s untouched nature here” or “There is simplicity” instead of “Nothing”.
A: I talked to the farmers on business and generally they are humble. And when I try to say something good about them, they tend to refuse what I say by saying ”No, no. Not like that”. I had this kind of conversations in the various situations. I don’t mean to say stop being humble, but I feel they need to learn how to sell themselves.
F: I understand being modest is considered a virtue as Japanese, but if you try to change the way you speak not based on being virtuous, but based on giving people beneficial information with positive words, the way people perceive Aomori will change.
A: The impressions change by the way you choose words and how you are conscious about it. It needs some practice and you have to get used to it. Sometimes I get interviewed on business, and through explaining to others, I come to realize what I really was trying to do.
F: Yes I understand that.
A: I think I can say the same thing to Aomori Brand. You have to think over “What is Aomori Brand?” several times with everyone. It is very important. In the process of that, people can share the ways of thinking and the values.
To “Change the Future of Aomori”
– Please tell us what you will work on from now.
A: I will continue to work on doing the activities creating something new in the town through art. ”Umajin” is what I’ve been doing for 4 years as one of the projects. But it actually started by the request from Towada City Junior Chamber that they wanted something interesting to fundraise for the earthquake at the autumn festival. I got a hint from the history of Towada where used to be the leading place of producing horses in Japan, and has tradition and culture related to horses. The design expresses the integration of tradition and innovation. After the earthquake, the importance of ”kizuna(bond)”is being recalled. The activity using Umajin as a communication tool to connect people and people, and people and the region, and promoting Towada to the world through SNS and web were highly regarded, and received the GOOD DESIGN Award in 2014.
F: I heard that you attended the award ceremony held in Tokyo Midtown wearing Umajin.
A: Yes. My outfit on the award ceremony was just the same as today’s outfit. Umajin’s activity may look like we are joking, but it is a project aiming world peace. Umajin is the communication tool that you can enjoy interacting with people beyond age, gender and nationality.
F: So the concept is “Bokuno Tomodachi(my friend)”.
A: As I said when I talked about the reason moving to Aomori, Internet has a big effect. Now Aomori Brand is saying it will establish the value worldwide, and it is based on the premise of Aomori being connected to the world through internet. The more local region aspires globalization, the more it has to recognize its own value. When delving into local region, it is connected to the individual value. Based on that point of view, we will start a new project focusing on the individual called “Let’s play with Matsumoto” at Matsumoto Tea Shop. We will try some experiments to connect individual and individual. Matsumoto Tea Shop is an interesting space. Please visit there sometime.
F: I will keep doing grass-roots activities to promote the charms of Aomori, through inviting friends living outside of Aomori. I got an honorable opportunity publishing the book of Aomori apples through a senior magazine editor who is my acquaintance. I want to promote the value of foods from Aomori, to people all over the world as I want them to try Aomori produced cooking ingredients which people in Aomori enjoy in our daily lives. Also I’d like to create the chance to connect people and people by promoting the charms of life in Aomori and Aomori people from the stranger’s point of view living in Aomori.