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The Window of Teshima
(May 2017)

Posted on May 26, 2017

In the Inland Sea a piece of earth floats, one of thousands. It is, however, unique to itself. Teshima island nestles between Japan’s main islands of Honshu and Shikoku; its pockmarked paved roads allow a complete tour in under an hour by car, olive and mandarin orchards patchwork its hills, and traditional wooden homes line its hush, narrow alleys and roads.

Down one such alley is Teshima no Mado (豊島のまど、 The Window of Teshima). The entryway opens to a spacious room with walls of dark, unpolished wood and a high corrugated metal ceiling. Soft leather couches form two sitting areas from which customers can view items from the island covering the walls. Labels are carefully affixed alongside: “carrying a wooden rack on the back”; “crab cage”; “anchor”; “conger eel fishing”; “engine drive unit”; “scissors to cut the hair of sheep”; “a getting tool of Mamakani”.

Down the hallway, a room full of recording equipment displays the work of Syo Yoshihama: an Okinawan artist who came to Teshima periodically over three years to record natural sounds of the island. He created two tracks from these sounds alone: “Sounds of the Insects” and “Birds & Harbour”. The scores are mounted on the wall.

Aki Rika was born and raised on the island, and she runs Teshima no Mado out of her father’s house. The space is the very definition of multifunctional: art both old and new line the walls, a separate room is dedicated to music and sound engineering, Aki’s café service provides homemade food and drinks for locals and visitors, and the back rooms serve as her home. The place is creative to the core: as a gust of wind rushes by, old electric lights flicker on—a homemade project where nature becomes art.

Before she returned to Teshima, Aki first moved to Nagoya to study, then lived in Okinawa, followed by 16 years in Tokyo working in the art space. After 2000, governmental policy began to harness the power of arts projects to drive regional revitalisation across the country, and Aki’s focus began to shift to other cities and communities. She drew inspiration for her works from the lives of individuals, their environments and histories. Organically, this new focus for her creations birthed new introspection, leading her to see herself and her life differently. She decided to move back to Teshima, away from Tokyo where “everything was consumption,” to found Teshima no Mado.

“But I still shop online,” she smiles.

“It’s okay, everything in balance,” says Aki’s partner, Shirai Seiji.

In Teshima, Aki is an integral part of the community, where she can focus on her craft and also contribute to economic activity on the island. Aki runs the entire space on her own womanpower, and every bit of energy goes towards fostering artistic integrity and pursuit, cultivating an appreciation of tradition, exploring music and art, and bringing together individuals who share artistic values. It’s a challenge to draw the right people, but certainly not impossible. Teshima no Mado joins a collection of stellar museums that draw interest from around the world.

Though the Teshima community has been important to give her a place to open Teshima no Mado, Aki says it’s also crucial that a community is not too small—we must get out of our communities and see what else is out there to avoid becoming insular and comfortable only with what we find familiar. Running Teshima no Mado can be a challenge because the islanders are quite discerning about new people who come to stay. Aki is accepted here because she and her family have a long history on the island. But this would probably not be the case for someone else, an “outsider”. The individual him/herself is very important—Aki says that for projects like hers, numbers and social media are no good, these methods would trample over the project’s intent. It’s all about word of mouth to like-minded individuals who will fit in and deeply appreciate the Teshima community.

Tonight, Aki and Seiji are hosting an old artist friend for nabe (a Japanese fondue-style meal). Everyone sits in the living room on the heated carpeted floor. The wooden table is laden with heaps of veggies on steel trays: lettuce, shiitake, slices of beef, fish and more greens. The nabe pot shows decades of loving wear—Aki has owned it since her time in Nagoya. The clay has a golden tint impossible to replicate, creeping around the inner rim and up the flower-painted sides from the base.

The atmosphere is jovial, laid-back, two old friends meeting after years and years. Seiji is quieter, but he chimes in with a smile and always elicits laughs from Aki. He is a guitarist and sound engineer living in Takamatsu on Shikoku Island across the straight from Teshima. He travels wherever his work takes him, and stays with Aki more or less half the year in total. His presence is calming; a laid-back, kind, jovial feel. As Aki speaks to her friend, he plays with a chocolate wrapper, smiling softly.

When the nabe is finished, Aki turns on the heater as the conversation continues around art, politics, personal projects and the everyday normalcies and challenges of life. The interaction is sincere, generous, humble and vulnerable. Exploration and questions are valued over debate and pontificating.

And in this moment of human connection, it is easy to understand why Teshima no Mado is such a worthwhile endeavour.

1 Comment

  1. The atmosphere you bring to light is precious, borders on being private, a privilege to read about. It’s interesting how Aki left the town for her studies and lived away for a long time, only to return to her roots, where she obviously feels at home and free to enhance her artistic pursuits. The Teshima community values simplicity and it seems it is this which maintains it’s integrity. Thank you for a very interesting read!

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