Healing images: Artists create messages of hope for Japan

“May a thousand cranes” is 9×12, painted with ink on rice paper. © Annette Makino 2011

“May a thousand cranes” is 9×12, painted with ink on rice paper. © Annette Makino 2011

By Heather Shelton
Times-Standard
Eureka, California
March 26, 2016

“May a thousand cranes
spread their wings over Japan
Bringing hope and healing.”

This brief prayer, coupled with vee of cranes flying over a red sun, was artist Annette Makino’s way of honoring and remembering the many thousands affected by the catastrophic earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident that devastated northeastern Japan five years ago this month.

“The crane is a powerful symbol in Japanese culture, representing longevity and good luck as well as peace and hope,” said Makino, who completed the painting on rice paper a few days after the unforgettable events of March 11, 2011.

Makino — who resides in Arcata — has close ties to the island nation. Her husband, semi-retired Humboldt State University Professor Paul Blank, recently returned from Japan, where he chaperoned Northcoast Preparatory and Performing Arts Academy students on a trip to Hiroshima, Kyoto and Tokyo. And Makino herself lived in Takasaki, Japan, with her family at her grandparents’ home for several months when she was 8 years old. She has also visited the country twice in recent years.

“My Japanese father lived in Japan and I visited him and our other relatives there,” she said. “Later, my sisters and I returned for his funeral and then did some traveling around the country.”

Makino says her childhood stay in Takasaki was formative. Her grandparents lived in a traditional Japanese home, with tatami mats on the floors, rice paper screens separating rooms, low tables and futons that were stashed during the day and rolled out at night. Her grandfather had a special tearoom connected to the main house where he spent a lot of time meditating, and both her grandparents practiced Shinto and Buddhism.

“The kitchen was the only modern room in the house,” Makino said. “It had a Western-height table and chairs and a small television where we children watched mystifying Japanese soap operas. Sometimes our Japanese cousins came to visit and taught us origami, the art of folding paper.”

To be immersed in the culture, spirituality and aesthetics at such a young age proved a powerful experience, Makino said, noting it permeates her life and art.

“Only in returning to Japan as an adult have I understood how deeply my temperament, creative expression and values reflect traditional Japanese culture,” she said.

Today, her artwork draws from several Japanese traditions. Inspired by a style of painting called haiga, in which art is combined with haiku, Makino often includes this traditional form of Japanese poetry — as well as other poignant or playful words — in her creative pieces.

“I’ve been honored that my haiku have won awards and gotten selected for haiku anthologies and the leading haiku journals,” said Makino, who also pulls from several Japanese practices when creating the imagery in her work.

“First, I draw on the ancient technique of brush painting, where you grind an ink stick in an ink stone with water to make ink, then apply it to rice paper using bamboo brushes,” she said. “This is very difficult to do well, and can take decades to master. I’m not trying to create those kinds of traditional paintings, but I’ve adapted the tools and techniques from that medium for my art.

“Finally, I have learned from the Japanese custom of exchanging etegami, hand-painted postcards with a few heartfelt words that are mailed to friends. These typically involve bold, outlined images that spill over the edges of the postcard,” she said.

“when someone you love” depicts a scene from the Arcata Marsh. Annette Makino wrote the words in response to the loss of her father four years ago. The painting was done in February 2016 with sumi ink and Japanese watercolors on watercolor paper with some digital collage. It is available as a sympathy card. © Annette Makino 2016

“when someone you love” depicts a scene from the Arcata Marsh. Annette Makino wrote the words in response to the loss of her father four years ago. The painting was done in February 2016 with sumi ink and Japanese watercolors on watercolor paper with some digital collage. It is available as a sympathy card. © Annette Makino 2016

“when someone you love” depicts a scene from the Arcata Marsh. Annette Makino wrote the words in response to the loss of her father four years ago. The painting was done in February 2016 with sumi ink and Japanese watercolors on watercolor paper with some digital collage. It is available as a sympathy card. © Annette Makino 2016

To celebrate the fifth anniversary of her art business, Makino Studios, Makino and her family — including husband Paul, daughter Maya and son Gabriel — are taking a three-week trip to Japan this summer, where the artist will not only visit family, but also further hone her creative skills.

“We will visit my Japanese relatives in Tokyo, probably spend a few days walking one of the ancient pilgrimage trails, soak in some hot springs, visit temples and art museums and eat lots of sushi and udon noodles. We four all love Japanese cuisine,” she said. “Though it’s fairly remote, I also hope to visit the 300-year-old Makino sake factory run by my relatives, with its own Makino temple.

“In addition,” she said, “I am on a mission to find a certain kind of narrow, supple bamboo brush that I bought in Tokyo in 2012 and have not been able to find anywhere since. It’s my favorite brush and I use it for all the writing in my pieces, but it’s wearing out. And, I also need to buy more Japanese watercolors, or gansai paints. They have a deeper, more intense, color than Western watercolor paints.”

ANOTHER ARTIST’S STORY

Makino’s friend and fellow local artist Amy Uyeki has close connections to Japan, too, and in her artwork has also paid tribute to those impacted by the devastating events of March 2011.

Uyeki illustrated the 2015 book, “The Extraordinary Voyage of Kamome: A Tsunami Boat Comes Homes,” written by HSU professor Lori Dengler and Amya Miller, director of global public relations in Rikuzentakata, Japan. Uyeki was also on hand earlier this month when Dengler gave a keynote address at the Tokyo National Museum on the earthquake, tsunami and Kamome boat story.

The children’s book tells the true story of a small boat washed out to sea during the tsunami. Over time, the vessel traveled from Rikuzentakata to the Crescent City shore. Del Norte High School students raised funds to make sure the boat got back home to the coastal Japanese town, and made friendships with Rikuzentakata residents along the way.

“The writing on the boat Kamome — the key factor in its identification — was made by a mutual friend of ours, Kumi Watanabe Schock,” Uyeki said. “When Lori was looking for an artist to illustrate the book, Kumi suggested she contact me, as she was quite familiar with my artwork.”

Uyeki says she was incredibly touched by this true story, and felt honored to be a part of the project.

“For many years since the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, I’ve wanted to help in some way, but couldn’t find the means other than sending condolences and donations,” she said. “Using my images to tell this story about hope and kindness and resiliency was something I could contribute — and Lori’s mission of disaster preparedness and talking to children so they are armed with the proper steps (a section that is added in the back of the book) fit perfectly — a teachable moment.”

Uyeki did plenty of research as she did the illustrations, working from photographs, videos, books, the Internet and a personal tour of the panga boat housed at the weather station on Woodley Island, courtesy of Troy Nicolini.

“I wanted to portray things accurately, but also to show my own style, which has been influenced by Japanese art,” said Uyeki who, with her trip earlier this month, has traveled to Japan — like Makino — three times over the years.

“This (was) our longest trip — 2½ weeks,” Uyeki said. “Our other trips were limited to visiting friends and family, but this trip gave me and my husband, Rees Hughes, the opportunity to visit Rikuzentakata, where the boat is from and the area that suffered much damage and many casualties.”

She added: “I’m still processing the experience of seeing the devastated areas and the enormous task that the community and Japan has taken to rebuild Rikuzentakata and the region. We also visited Hiroshima … and the parallels between the devastation and the resiliency of the human spirit were not lost on us.”