Artist, children make cute characters using disaster debris

Artist, children make cute characters using disaster debris

With cute, smiling faces, characters made out of debris from buildings destroyed in the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011, given such names as "Lady Heavy Makeup" and "Uncle Demon," help bring smiles to the faces of children in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, and people who see them.

Their creators are sculptor Tomo Inukai and students in Ishinomaki, a city severely hit in the disaster.

After the quake and tsunami destroyed the city, Inukai launched the Watanoha-Smile project using the debris to make works of art with the students, who took shelter at the Watanoha Primary School in the city.

He recently published a book about the project, titled "Watanoha Sumairu Egao ni Natta Garekitachi" (Watanoha-Smile: Recovery Art Objects Made by the Children of Ishinomaki), from Seigensha Art Publishing, Inc. The approximately 200 characters and the stories about them featured in the book must surely leave any who read it with a lasting impression.

"The works are filled with students' memories of trying to get on their feet again after the disaster," Inukai said. "So these works are very precious. I wanted to record them."

Inukai, a resident of neighbouring Yamagata Prefecture, has held workshops for children across the nation on how to make works of art using discarded objects.

At the invitation of a volunteer organisation, he visited the primary school in Ishinomaki three weeks after the disaster.

Seeing disaster survivors who couldn't eat or sleep sufficiently and piles of the debris that filled the school playground, he initially felt discouraged because he thought he could not give a workshop there.

Meanwhile, the children themselves had made a hideout with the debris. They also played baseball by collecting balls and sticks that could be used as bats from the debris. Inukai felt encouraged by the children and so began the project.

The children there yearned to play as they once had with their toys, now washed away in the tsunami.

When Inukai told them how to bond items together with adhesive, they were happy to use it to build things all day. Compared to workshops he had given in other places, children there made more works of higher quality, he said.

"They lost various things [in the disaster], so I thought their imagination and creativity had increased," Inukai said. "I felt I learned from them what it means to live."

With his help, the children managed to turn the debris, full of negative memories, into positive, brilliant characters-works that strikingly impress any who see them.

He has heard from many readers of the book that they were moved by the book, and an exhibition of these works has been held at about 30 locations nationwide.

Inukai still visits the Watanoha district once or twice a month as he "wants to see how the children have grown." He wants to be with the "Watanoha kids" for another 10 or 20 years.

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