Cloth Letters Carry Words of Healing and Support Across the Ocean and back
by Linda Ohama
When a horrific tsunami and earthquake devastated much of the Tohoku Region of Japan on March 11, 2011, the world rallied around the survivors in a global outpouring of support. Despite a deluge of support, though, the area is still in the midst of a recovery effort that will take decades. Communities are still a long way from any sense of normalcy, kids are still going to temporary schools and families are still living in shelters.
In the wake of the disaster, Canadian artist and filmmaker Linda Ohama has led a remarkable Cloth Letter-making campaign to support the recovery effort in Japan. What started out small, in her own backyard, has evolved into something truly remarkable: the tour has traveled to 55 locations around Japan. From the fall of 2011 to April 2013, students from all over Japan have added their own ‘voices’ to these letters by creating their own.
A special exhibition at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo paid tribute to the Canadian roots of this remarkable campaign.
Having recently returned from Tohoku to recharge her batteries and spend time with her family, Linda is escorting the exhibit to various communities across North America, including Vancouver, where the cloth letters, until a few days ago, have been on display in various locations.
The Bulletin asked Linda for an update on the Cloth Letters project.
Sitting here in the middle of downtown Vancouver across from the Vancouver Art Gallery with a giant pendulum swinging back and forth over my head, the cloth letters shine in the sunlight that beams through the HSBC building’s glass windows.
Tourists from many parts of the world come in to look at the pendulum. Others come to the gallery to see the cloth letters exhibition.
Almost everyone walks around to look at the cloth letters. Some start reading the messages. Some take photographs of certain letters. Some leave their own messages on cloth, or in the guest book. The comments express how people everywhere can be inspired by these simple letters.
For me, it is still unreal that all the letters are finally back in Vancouver after two and a half years of growing bigger on the road. These cloth letters have traveled to over 50 locations in Japan already – many places in Tohoku and all over Japan – and they continue to travel as they have crossed back across the Pacific to exhibit across Canada and the US.
Vancouver is home for this project. The first cloth letter was made on March 12, 2011 as a response to the Tohoku disaster by my granddaughter, who was six years old at the time.
She asked, “How are the kids my age in Tohoku doing? Are they okay?”
I answered, “No. They are probably not okay.”
She wanted to do something for these kids in Japan, so I asked her, what would help her the most if she were in Tohoku right now.
Her response was: “A hug. If not from you, then someone.”
We decided that it was not possible to hug every child in Tohoku, so she made the first cloth letter message which is her expression of her hug to kids like her, who lived in Tohoku.
That is how it all began. And how it still continues.
In the July 8-20 exhibitions, new cloth letters have been made by people from around the world: Brazil, Japan, North West Territories, Dubai, Scotland, Spain, Greece……etc.
They express the wish of people everywhere. The dream of a safe, healthy and peaceful world to live in and share.
It is a message similar to the Kobe elementary children’s colourful cloth letter: that we all travel different roads in life and in different ways, but all our roads interconnect and join together.
After the Vancouver exhibition, a few of the plus 30 cloth letters from the Canada-Japan Cloth Letters have been invited to be part of the August 6 Peace Day celebrations in Hiroshima near the Atomic Dome and Peace Park. The exhibition will run from August 5-13, 2013 at the Sadako Museum location.
We are presently scheduling the Canada-USA exhibitions for the Cloth Letters with this launch and homecoming in Vancouver.
Anyone wanting to have the exhibition come to their location, please contact Linda Ohama (firstname.lastname@example.org) and check the Cloth Letter website at www.clothletters.com.
There is no cost involved as this is a grassroots project.
Mayors, cities, businesses, communities, universities, groups, galleries, governments, schools and many individuals have been the energy behind this project. In Japan, no money has ever changed hands except for shipping to the next venue, after the initial shipment was started. Since then, it runs itself with the help and support of many people. In Canada, the shipping costs will be handled by Canada Post.
We started with two cloth letters made by young Canadians from across Canada from Whitehorse, Montreal, Vancouver, Nanaimo, Peace River area, Toronto, Missisuaga, Halifax etc……Today, after Japan, we now have 30 plus cloth letters representing the voices of young people from Canada, Tohoku and across Japan.