Three years ago the Fukushima region of Japan was devastated by the harrowing combination of an earthquake, a tsunami and ultimately a full blown nuclear reactor meltdown. Over 350,000 people were evacuated to temporary housing and as of Fall of 2014, over 90,000 have yet to locate a permanent home.

Temporary housing was primarily designed to last less than a year and hundreds of small pop-up villages housed those that had lost everything.  As this story initially unfolded we wanted to be present in the region to use Tape Art to give people an opportunity to claim their new spaces, draw together to unite their new communities and work with the children who had been forced to move to new schools.  Three years later, the need still very much exists and we were fortunate enough to work with our partners at GE in Tokyo, through their volunteer outreach programs, to coordinate a visit there.



We traveled to the city of Ishinomaki in the Miyagi Prefecture, where one of the temporary housing area named Mangoku Ura has been built on what used to be the baseball field for the elementary school across the street. The baseball backstop still stands at one corner of the complex. We meet with the community leader in the one building they have deemed for social gatherings, for tea and introductions.  We will draw our mural on this building.

We head outside to look at the walls, and decide to work on the side of the structure facing the parking lot. The leader suggests that we draw something reflective of Ishinomaki’s long history as a fishing city. We are a little surprised at the request considering the sea is the very reason this population is living in temporary housing, but the leader explains that the sea is still the foundation of life in Ishinomaki as it is for a lot of northern Japan.

We asked if there was any sort of mythic creature in Japanese culture that would represent both the bounty and dangers of the sea, much like the folkloric stature of the whale in the northeastern United States. There are a bounty of fishes that they depend on for their fishing economy, but not one that symbolizes all of it.  Barring this we decide to represent the balance of the sea and the land as a submerged forest scene in which a humans meet fish that float between the trees.

We start the mural in the late afternoon on Tuesday, our first task being to fill the wall in blue to represent the underwater space and to make a higher visual impact on the cluttered surface of the wall.


A woman and her two children, residents in the temporary housing, stand in as the models for the three figures in the scene, and a small group of children joins us drawing sea creatures until the sun begins to go down.



We draw late into the night, long after we can see our breath from the cold. After a short retreat to sleep, wereturn again early the next morning to finish off the fish and the trees. One fish is turned transparent by the touch of a small girl, its revealed skeleton giving it a lightly ominous character despite its calm pose. The motif of animals drawn with their skeletons superimposed within their silhouettes is one that we have been experimenting with recently.


The following day we had an opportunity to work with 45 students at Wabuchi Elementary School in yet another deeply affected region outside of Ishinomaki City.  It appears that almost everyone can share a harrowing story of loss from the tsunami. This school not only remained in tact but increased its population to account for the new students who were absorbed into their community.  The theme for their drawing was the animals of Africa. They split the large meeting space into three ecosystems, water, jungle and plains and then evenly dispersed themselves throughout the room.


Below: A group of students wrap up some details on a group of trees overlooking two watering holes. One hole has a hippo and i the other you can see the head of a crocodile, a fish and a bird.



We then went and did a small drawing in another location – Maya Child Care Center.  The drawing was of a group of adults having a tug-o-war contest with a group of children. Standing in the middle of the rope is a single swan, taking in the scene. As the drawing was being wrapped up a group of sixty pre-school children came out to inspect the mural.  They requested a bunny and a cat and ooohed and awed in unison at it took form.  Below you see them huddled around a small piece of paper to behold the world’s fastest tape squirrel.




Back at the Mangokuura we have to wrap up the mural before it gets dark.  Throughout the day a few elderly residents join us in drawing.  At first they help with filling in color fields and quickly graduate to mass producing the leaves that get placed on all the trees.



In total the drawing took around 12 hours over two days to complete. The drawing is all theirs now with the understanding that they can remove it at any time.  They were left a cache of tape to make any repairs to it if they decide to leave it up for a long time. In the end though, they will hopefully soon find housing and this work and all the residents their, will leave this location forever.