I was at Mori Art Museum in Tokyo the other day to see an exhibition of works by contemporary artist Makoto Aida.
Wow! I was blown away.
The exhibits are grotesque, nonsensical and extremely provocative. I thought of coming again with my two kids (an elementary school first-grader and a second-grader).
But maybe that's not a good idea.
I mean, Aida's art is probably the most unedifying and risque thing I could ever expose my kids' young minds to.
One painting shows cute schoolgirls committing "seppuku" ritual self-disembowelment, and another a blender filled to the brim with naked schoolgirls.
In a series of paintings on the theme of the Pacific War, Japanese fighter planes are seen bombing New York City.
Other subjects include cockroaches and a pile of vomit. Aida himself even appears, in a video, as a drunken Osama bin Laden, blathering and jabbering before the camera.
I believe these pieces represent Aida's struggle with the present. I also sense his adamant refusal to let any of them be worshipped as works of art. Well, to that, I say: Good!
A large painting titled "Ash Color Mountains" shows mountains of corpses of Japanese salarymen. Studying it closely, I felt an inexplicable sense of unease. I asked myself what Aida could be trying to communicate--even though I knew it was pointless to ask.
When an artist depicts with great realism something that can't possibly exist in reality, you begin to feel as if reality itself is bogus. I wonder if that's what the power of art does to you.
I say this because politics, which ought to be about the real world more than anything else, has lately begun to feel to me as if it belongs in the world of art.
One of the finest works of art now available is a draft of the revised Constitution of Japan, published by the Liberal Democratic Party in spring 2012. Written by the party's headquarters for the promotion of revision to the Constitution, the draft could actually become our amended Constitution proper, since Shinzo Abe, who became prime minister in December, is the group's top adviser.
The preamble is so badly written that it makes me cringe and want to ruthlessly edit it. But I also believe this is exactly how the writers want it to read.
They appear to be particularly averse to the fundamental human rights guaranteed by the current Constitution.
Article 12 of the LDP version is titled "Duties of the People." It reads: "The people must recognize that their freedoms and rights are accompanied by responsibilities and duties. The people must never act against the public benefit and public order."
But the current Article 12 declares: "The freedoms and rights guaranteed to the people by this Constitution shall be maintained by the constant endeavor of the people, who shall refrain from any abuse of these freedoms and rights and shall always be responsible for utilizing them for the public welfare."
It's pretty clear that the LDP's revisionists want very much to curtail our present rights and freedoms. And their favorite expression is "the public benefit and public order," which they repeat liberally.
I get the message--that anything that runs counter to "the public benefit and public order" is verboten. Does that mean if I criticize the government in this column, it would constitute "going against the public order"? Could my column be banned for it? Wow!
No, that couldn't happen because the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression.
Right? What? I'm wrong? Oh my, freedom of expression doesn't exist anymore under the revised Constitution. I see!
The LDP's revised Constitution preserves Article 21 of the current Constitution, which provides, "Freedom of assembly and association as well as speech, press and all other forms of expression are guaranteed." However, the LDP version adds a rider that says, "Regardless of the above provision, any activity that aims to harm the public benefit and public order, or any association formed for that purpose, is unacceptable."
Some members of the revising group aroused controversy when they stated that sovereignty does not rest with the people, and that the theory of natural human rights is collectively refuted by the group.
This would certainly match the underlying spirit of their version of the Constitution. But the text is so over the top that the writers can't possibly be serious. So here's my theory: They could only mean it as a work of art, created to catch people's attention, to scandalize them thoroughly--and shake them awake.
Phew. Enough of this art talk. It's too complicated. Let me switch to something that's easier to understand.
Asteion magazine, published by the Suntory Foundation, ran a special feature in 2012 titled "Democracy for Better or Worse."
It features a host of contributors, including John Dunn, Shigeki Uno and Mamoru Sorai. They discuss a wide range of subjects, but my impression is that they are basically all on the same wavelength.
Dunn, whose contribution is titled "Cutting Democracy Down to Size," maintains that democracy is in grave crisis today, even though it is itself a great system that "faces no surviving rival as a form of government which might now rule any population legitimately for any length of time."
Ahead of the Lower House election on Dec. 16, 2012, I heard many people bemoan the choices available.
"I just haven't got anyone or any party I really want to vote for," they would cry.
I believe the contributors, too, must have heard their anguished words.
In "Recovering Our Balance: Clues from France," Uno argues that communism used to be democracy's opponent. The implication is that in the past, democracy's enemy always existed outside the system.
Today, however, "enemies of democracy lie within it": xenophobic nationalism turns foreigners and immigrants into the enemies.
Democracy was supposed to have been created in the first place to ensure equality for all, but inequality has grown since then, and people have become "strangely tolerant of extreme inequality." Why? Will democracy ever outgrow this situation?
If we truly cannot come up with a better system than democracy, then I suppose it's up to us to try our hardest to make it work.
One thing I strongly urge everyone to do: Read the Constitution.
No, no, not the LDP version, which is a piece of modern art that's just too fatiguing to discuss.
I mean the Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador.
The highlight of this Constitution is Article 71, which is titled "Rights of Nature." It reads: "Nature, or Pacha Mama, where life is reproduced and occurs, has the right to integral respect for its existence and for the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes."
This provision bans the arbitrary over-harvesting of Mother Nature's blessings. How lucky are Ecuador's plants and trees.
The time may come--and I fervently pray it won't--when the rights of Ecuador's plants and trees are better protected by their Constitution than the rights and freedoms of the Japanese people.
Come to think of it, the Constitution of Ecuador is also a soothing work of art that is kind to people and nature.
* * *
Genichiro Takahashi is a novelist and professor of literature at Meiji Gakuin University. He was born in 1951.
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