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EXCLUSIVE. Interview with Kogi Shuji, Eu Japan Fest

Hiroaki Umeda - Intensional Particle. Matera 2019 project "Quantum Danza" Hiroaki Umeda - Intensional Particle. Matera 2019 project "Quantum Danza" Photo by Matera 2019

We continue the interviews with the leading experts of European Capitals of culture, asking his opinion to the only person we know who was in relationship and visited all the European capitals of culture since 1993, Kogi Shuji, the Secretary General of Eu Japan Fest. This organization support programs of collaboration with all the Ecoc encouraging artists exchanges. Members of the EU Japan Fest Japan Committee are the main economic, financial and industrial realities of Japan.

Starting 30 years ago you have visited all the European capitals of culture, meeting people, representatives, mayors, artists. What kind of evolution you have seen in the programs of the cities?

In the past 30 years, the EU has grown from 12 countries to 27 members, creating a vast zone of peace on the European continent. And globalization has progressed rapidly in all fields. All of this has had a profound impact on the programs of the host cities of the European Capital of Culture. What is European culture today? It is quite difficult to define it. This is because traditional European culture is different from the culture of modern Europe. The latter is a culture that is shared by the whole world. If you are a great artist, you can come from all over the world, regardless of race or nationality, and be accepted into the program. I also think that the European Capital of Culture is the Schengen Agreement of culture. Artists will be questioned about the quality of their art, but their passports will not be checked. Therefore, I am convinced that the program of the European Capital of Culture has become more diverse and profound in the past 30 years.

Is the participation of citizens changed?

It has changed a lot. The number of candidate cities for the European Capital of Culture has been on the rise. From the selection stage, the ideas of the citizens are also considered as an important reference. Citizens are aware of the positive impact that past European Capitals of Culture have had on their cities. They hope that their future will be better because of hosting the European Capital of Culture. Against this background, citizens have become more interested in the programs of the Cultural Capital of Europe and have become actively involved. Volunteer activities by citizens have also become more popular. 

How the collaboration between Japanese artists and European is working? Do you feel difference from now and before?

Over the past 30 years, the number of people traveling between Japan and Europe has increased dramatically. It has become quite natural for artists to understand each other and to recognize common values. Differences in nationality and race are no obstacle to collaboration. I think it is a wonderful change to be able to share what we are both aiming for in our collaboration. The current corona disaster will surely be put to rest. I look forward to the day when we can visit each other again.

I have been in many Ecocs with you during the Eu Japan Fest Chairman visit: I was impressed by the truthfulness and simplicity of the relationships between artists, specially between the youngers. I think it depends on your policy which favors and pushes direct relationships. Is it true?

In today's world, the information revolution is advancing at an alarming rate, and the amount of information is far beyond the capacity of human beings to accept.

Moreover, much of the information includes fake news that is not reliable. Therefore, for us, we believe that through direct human-to-human contact, rather than through a plethora of uncertain information, we can gain a deeper understanding of many things, as well as mutual respect and admiration. Our role in the Cultural Capital of Europe is to encourage the development of direct relationships among many people.

Steve Green in the Ecocnews interview said that “the climate emergency should impact even more on Ecocs and cities….All future Ecocs should be assessed on how they are tackling the biggest crisis the planet is facing”. You have already visited the capitals of next years: do you see sensitivity in their programs to this issue?

I totally agree with his opinion. There are many actions we can take in response to the threat of destruction of the natural environment. As with pandemics, this is a global problem, a disaster that will befall people all over the world equally. Therefore, in recent years, many European Capitals of Culture have taken up this theme in their activities. However, I believe that there is an important condition for thinking about environmental problems and taking action to solve them. On the long road to solving problems, the most important thing is for people to trust each other in the process. From there, solidarity is born, cooperation is born, and small actions are accumulated to make progress.

I feel that Japanese people is particularly sensitive to the ecological matter (Fukushima is still alive in their memory). Do you see proposals on this field in the collaboration between Japanese and European artists?

Being sensitive to ecological issues is not limited to Japanese people, but also applies to Europeans. Having friends in the other country and staying there for a long time can lead to many discoveries, realizations, and ideas that can lead to new solutions and creations. I encourage European artists to come to Japan, because when they come to Japan, they will notice and think a lot about Europe from afar.

My suggestion is for more artists to stay and work in their countries for longer periods of time. I believe that what we would gain from this would have a great impact not only on ourselves but also on the people around us.

You didn’t stop during the pandemic and visited many European cities. How are they reacting to the difficulties due to the social crisis caused by the pandemic? Are their programs influenced?

During the pandemic, the exchange of artists and youth between Japan and Europe has become impossible. Our role is to connect people and encourage them to new creative activities. Therefore, I made frequent visits to Europe in order to prepare them to resume their exchanges as soon as the pandemic is over. There is a limit to what you can do with e-mail and zooming. I am convinced that there is so much to be gained from face-to-face exchanges. From their facial expressions and casual remarks, we could feel their passion and their individual thoughts.

I was able to learn a lot from the many friends who gathered at the Ecoc Family Meeting in Kaunas in September 2021, about how they faced the pandemic and continued their activities despite the difficulties. I realized that it is precisely because of the difficulties that music and various arts are needed. The pandemic has certainly accelerated the pace of digital transformation. Online, many artists continued their efforts to encourage the public. There have been examples of film festivals that would have attracted only a few thousand people before Corona, but were held online without an audience, and were viewed by millions around the world. By learning about Ecoc's activities online, the number of people who want to visit Ecoc after the end of the Corona will surely increase.

Franco Bianchini says that “there is a fundamental problem at EU level of not fully recognizing the potential of culture”. Do you feel that this happens also in your country? Can the example of Ecoc and the activity with Eu Japan Fest help to change the understanding of governments of the centrality of culture?

It is certain that politicians in our country are not interested in the potential of our culture. For politicians, the most important thing is to get elected in the next election. Therefore, rather than expecting much from politicians, it is important for citizens themselves to think seriously about the potential of culture. In this way, politicians will be more sensitive to the thoughts of the people who vote for them. Ecoc's activities are not only for the benefit of the EU. In this age of globalization, culture is a common property of the world, and we should cooperate with each other beyond the framework of nations. The success of Ecoc will surely make governments understand the importance of culture, and this will surely influence their cultural policies.

Many times, I have heard from you that the future is in our children’s hands and that we, as adults, have the power and the responsibility to push them forward. Do you think this is happening in the Ecoc’s programs?

Will our dreams ever come true? Many of our dreams do not come true. Because many people give up on their dreams. But when we give up on our dreams, they continue to exist in our minds forever. When children have dreams and aspirations, it is the role of adults to guide them to concrete goals. In the past, Japanese children have had many musical exchanges with local children in Ecoc as well. Friendships between children from both sides are nurtured not only through musical performances but also through homestays in the Ecos. There have been many cases children from Ecoc have come to Japan after this experience. Through these experiences, the children from both sides learn many things that will have a positive impact on their later lives. Also, every year, Japanese youths continue to volunteer with local youths in Ecoc. Nowadays, an international initiative called the International Volunteer Bridge has been created. It is led by Mayumi Taniguchi, a resident of Bucharest, and is a solidarity effort between Ecoc cities and Japanese volunteers.

Alberto Giordano

Alberto Giordano lived different lives crossing fields and places.

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