Exchange groups continue activities despite Japan-China turmoil

September 20, 2012


Even with the news filled with coverage of anti-Japanese protests across China, artist Teruaki Ogura decided to proceed with an exhibition at the art museum of the Japan-China Friendship Center in Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward from Sept. 19.

Half of the 40 or so works are of Japanese landscapes, with the other half of Chinese landscapes.

"I never imagined the protests would become this bad," Ogura, an ink wash painting artist, said of the raging turmoil across China. "I was a bit worried."

The recent controversy over the Senkaku Islands and the often violent protests in China have led to a number of cancellations of tours to China and events for bilateral exchanges.

But Ogura is one of a number of individuals and groups that have refused to halt grass-roots activities between the two nations, arguing that the private sector has to do whatever it can because of the difficult political and diplomatic situation.

Ogura held an exhibition in Shanghai earlier this month ahead of the one in Tokyo. While that was before the start of anti-Japanese protests, sentiment toward Japan in Shanghai had begun to worsen with talk about Japan nationalizing the Senkakus, which are called the Diaoyu Islands in China.

Security was very tight at the opening ceremony in Shanghai, and there were few smiles among the organizers. However, those who came to see the exhibition approached Ogura with smiles and asked for his autograph.

He said he had tears in his eyes when he thought that art could overcome history and national borders.

On Sept. 16, as protests spread throughout China, often violently, a group of about 30 Japanese and Chinese gathered at Nishi-Ikebukuro park in Tokyo. The event was a weekly Sunday gathering organized by Duan Yuezhong, 54, a Chinese editor in chief at The Duan Press, a publisher of books on China-Japan relations.

Members, ranging from homemakers, college students and senior citizens, learn about language and culture. Since the sessions began in 2007, a total of 256 have been held.

On Sept. 16, group members discussed how the Senkakus issue could be resolved peacefully.

"Looking at only newspapers and television, feelings of hatred will only deepen because there is a prevalence of boorish Chinese," Duan said. "Mutual understanding can only deepen through direct dialogue between people."

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the normalization of relations between Japan and China.

Some events can trace their roots back to that normalization.

A volunteer group of Japanese college students and company workers has been showing Chinese movies at an almost monthly pace since 1973. The group plans to proceed with the scheduled screening on Sept. 22 of a movie titled "Postmen in the Mountains" in English.

The group head, Yuji Shimizu, 54, said, "Suddenly canceling something just because something occurred in China is very irresponsible."

The Tokyo metropolitan Japan-China friendship association has also been continuing with exchange events for more than 30 years.

In October, about 30 members will travel to Beijing. The individual in charge in China said, "The situation should have quieted down by October. You don't have to worry."

The head of the association, Ken Kataoka, said, "We visited China even during the Tiananmen Square incident and in 2005 when anti-Japanese protests turned violent. There will be no change in the relationship of trust. It is important to continue with exchanges."

A group that was established after the Great East Japan Earthquake to promote exchange between Chinese students in Japan and Japanese college students is also planning to hold an event in October in Shanghai to meet with local college students.

"Protests are naturally frightening," said the group's leader, Naoki Anzai, 32. "But, we feel that for the sake of the future, we should not cut the ties of exchange at this time."

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He Huiqun teaches a Chinese-language class on Sept. 19 in Tokyo. She said her students have continued to attend classes as usual. (Ryota Goto)

He Huiqun teaches a Chinese-language class on Sept. 19 in Tokyo. She said her students have continued to attend classes as usual. (Ryota Goto)

  • He Huiqun teaches a Chinese-language class on Sept. 19 in Tokyo. She said her students have continued to attend classes as usual. (Ryota Goto)
  • Every Sunday, a group of Japanese and Chinese gather at Nishi-Ikebukuro park in Tokyo. They learn about the language and culture of China and Japan. (Provided by Duan Yuezhong)

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