A huge contemporary art exhibition, entitled “Akasaka Art Flower 08”, was held from September 10th to October 13th, 2008 in Akasaka, Tokyo, Japan. (Website). The artwork by many Japanese modern artists was displayed in various places in Akasaka, Tokyo – such as shopping streets, a shrine, at the sites where an elementary school and a library used to be, and so on.
The participating artists for this show were: Satoru Aoyama, Yusuke Asai, Yosuke Amemiya, Tatsu Oozu, Mitsuhiro Ikeda, Tstsu Ooza, Tsuyoshi Ozawa, Yoko Ono, Yayoi Kusama, Mitsunori Kurashige, Nobuhiro Shimura, Takako Susai, Soju Tao + Okame Pro, Noboru Tsubaki, Tochka, Takahumi Hara, Paramodel, HOTOTZUKI (KamixSasu), Shoko Matsumiya
Related to this comprehensive art exhibition, the works by Yoko Ono were presented at a very interesting site, a very famous, old Japanese shrine called “Akasaka Hikawa Jinja”.
“Akasaka Hikawa Jinja” is a Shinto shrine, which enshrines a god named Susanoo, and is located in Akasaka, Tokyo, Japan. The history of this shrine is very old and, according to the archival documents, its original buildings were constructed in 1730 at the command of the Eighth Shogun, Yoshimune Tokugawa.
“Akasaka Hikawa Jinja”, Akasaka, Tokyo, Japan
At a shrine, the border between the three-dimensional world, which is our world, and the fourth or further dimensional world, where gods and spirits reside, is ambiguous and indistinct. People come to shrines not only for worshiping and appreciating the god, but also for offering prayers and making wishes. Therefore, this shrine is a perfect setting for displaying Ono’s artworks, which themselves have a lot to do with “prayer” and “wish”.
Born in Tokyo in 1933, currently living in New York City.
Nengan no Ki
Wish Tree for Peace
Riverbed cross the riverbed
SKY TV for Hikawa Jinja
EX It (Sound Piece)
Ex It (Sound Piece)
At the compound of Akasaka Hikawa Shrine, there is a ginkgo tree which is 400 years old and grows branches and leaves splendidly even now, although it has a huge hole in its trunk as a result of an air bombing during World War II. “Wish Tree”, a project to wish for peace which has been conducted since 1996, will be placed around this ginkgo tree. After the spectators write their wishes on white pieces of paper and tie them onto the branches, the messages will be sent to Ono and will be stored in the
In addition to this, four pieces of artwork with the theme of universal existence, such as sky, stones, sound, and soil, will be displayed, as if they are melting into the solemn shrine. Through the imagination of the spectators, the works will speak quietly about a world that is far away, beyond time and space.
Because of the regular festival at Akasaka Hikawa Shrine on September 14th and 15th, only “SKY TV”, “EX It”, and “Wish Tree”, works by Yoko Ono, will be displayed. In the meantime, the display of “Riverbed” and “Three Mounds” will be shown, starting September 17th, ’08.
For this show, Ono presented five natural and fundamental elements in her works:
“Sky”, “Trees”, “Stones”, “Soil”, and “Sound”.
SKY TV for Hikawa Jinja
1966 / 2008
TV, Camera, handwritten text (ink on paper)
Ono’s video installation work, “SKY TV for Hikawa Jinja”, was placed close to the Honden, which is the sanctuary where the Kami (god) is enshrined. “SKY TV” was conceived by Ono for bringing the sky into an apartment that she was living in in New York City in 1966, and it airs only a live image of the sky. The piece of the sky reflected on the TV screen changes its appearance slowly but steadily, depending on the intensity of the color or light, and the presence of clouds or wind that day.
Wish Tree for Peace
1996 / 2008
Dogwoods, Japanese maples, wish tags on strings, table and handwritten text
(ink on paper)
For Ono’s “Wish Tree for Peace” installation, several dogwoods and Japanese maple trees were placed around a huge ginkgo tree. This ginkgo tree is believed to be more than 400 years old and recorded as one of the oldest ginkgo trees in Japan. This ginkgo tree, which is also known as a living fossil, amazingly still produces new branches and leaves. It also has a hole through its trunk which was caused during a bombing raid in World War II. As a double reminder of peace, Ono’s “Wish Tree for Peace” was put next to the ginkgo tree, and spectators were asked to write their own wishes on a piece of paper and tie it onto the “Wish Tree”.
Make a wish.
Write it down on a piece of paper.
Fold it and tie it around a branch of a Wish Tree.
Ask your friends to do the same.
Until the branches are covered wish wishes.
“Wish Tree” was inspired by Ono’s childhood memories at Japanese shrines and temples. People traditionally buy “Omikuji”, which are random fortunes written on strips of paper, and tie them up onto a tree after they’ve read them. Ono’s “Wish Tree” has finally came home to a Japanese shrine where the idea was conceived.
cross the riverbed
1996 / 2008
Stones, handwritten text (ink on paper)
For Ono’s work, “Riverbed – cross the riverbed”, many stones were placed on the ground at the compound of the shrine, close to the “Wish Tree for Peace”. All types of stones were gathered and lined up in serpentine fashion.
When Ono presented her work, “Riverbed”, at Palacio de Sastago, Zaragoza, Spain, for her show, “YOKO ONO EBRO”, from February 21st to April 30th, 2000, the following text accompanied the presentation:
In Buddhist Scripture, you cross the river of Sanzu
(three destinations) to get to heaven or hell.
“Sanzu no kawa (The Sanzu River)” means “River of Three Crossings” in English. “Sanzu no kawa” is a religious belief based on a Japanese Buddhist Scripture. Many Japanese people believe that after people die and are on their way to the after-life, they will have to cross the river, and there are three crossing points. These points are a bridge, a ford, and a place of deep water. In other words, these are the spots where the dead will be judged based on their acts during their lifetimes. Those who performed good acts in terms of karma in their lifetimes can cross over the bridge and reach the realm of Nirvana without any difficulty. Nirvana is the world which is filled with peace. On the other hand, those who committed both good and bad must cross the ford over the river, which is knee-deep. Those who committed tremendous amounts of evil must cross the deep river which flows violently and is infested with serpents.
Ono, who was inspired by the story of “The Sanzu River”, displayed this surrealistic scenario by only showing stones which represent the flow of the river.
Conversely, the river also looked as if the water had dried up and only the stones at the bottom remain.
Since there is no water or hindrance, the task to “cross the riverbed”, as the subtitle of this work indicates, seems to imply it is an easy task to get to Nirvana .
Similarly, it may not be that difficult to create Nirvana in our earthly existence; just as simple as crossing the riverbed. In Nirvana, it is said that what you envision immediately comes to be. All you have to do is imagine it. How can we start creating Nirvana on Earth, then? Simply, “IMAGINE PEACE”. You will find yourself surrounded with peace.
Because of the regular festival at Akasaka Hikawa Shrine on September 14th and 15th, the display of “Riverbed” and “Three Mounds” started on September 17th, ’08.
1999 / 2008
Earth, handwritten text (ink on paper)
At another location on the grounds of the shrine, Ono’s work entitled “Three Mounds” was displayed.
This work consisted of nothing but three mounds of piled soil, including pebbles, leaves, and dirt. All of them were the same height, approximately one foot high.
In front of each mound, there was a white piece of paper with Yoko Ono’s handwritten text in Japanese. It was as if each mound had its own name. There were three pieces of paper, the left one, the middle one, and the right one, placed on the ground. It reads in English as follows:
These cities in Japan, “Nagasaki”, “Hiroshima”, and “Okinawa”, which were written on white pieces of paper, have something in common: they were all causalities of World War II. As we all know, the Atomic Bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and Okinawa, the southern-most island of Japan, was the place where the American Army launched its invasion on Japan during the war.
Considering the history of each city, these mounds appear to be telling a story of destruction and resurrection. The cities, which were then in their prosperity, were reduced to ashes due to the inhumane acts in the name of war. Then, they proclaimed their rebirth by gathering the pieces left behind.
“Ex-It (Sound Piece)”
“Ex-It (Sound Piece)”
Ono’s last work for this show was “Ex It (Sound Piece)”. Normally, the installation for “Ex It” consists of 100 coffins – sixty for men, thirty for women, and ten for children – with trees growing out of the holes cut in the top of each coffin. Also, in the background, you can hear the sound of birds continually chirping. Although a specific area of the shrine, which was a path in front of the Honden (which enshrines the god) was set up for the “Ex It” presentation, only the sound of chirping birds was used and the coffins with tress were nowhere in sight.
Bodies of the deceased are cremated, and are no longer buried in Japan. Therefore, the presentation of Ono’s “Ex It”, which is a tree growing out of a coffin, does not necessarily suit the modern funeral procedure in Japan any more.
However, the sound of chirping birds was still audible throughout the installation, as if to proclaim the birth of new lives.
For the “Akasaka Art Flower 08” project, Yoko Ono presented everyday matters that surround us – “Sky”, “Trees”, “Stones”, “Soil”, and “Sound” – and shed new light onto them for us to see – a new perspective.
If you follow Ono’s guidance through her work, you might see, hear and feel as never before.
Photographer: Erin Sanchez
Copyrights: Mikihiko Hori
Report and English translations by Mikihiko Hori