About Spirit of ‘North’


“Is there a shared spirituality amongst groups of people who live in northern regions of the globe, outside of race and nationality?”

With this question as the driving force, our project Spirit of ‘North’has continued to explore the spirituality of northern peoples by creating a platform for artists from Tohoku (the northern region of Japan)(1) and from other northern regions of the world to interact with each other and exchange ideas.

This project was initiated soon after the Great East Japan Earthquake hit Tohoku in 2011. The earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear-power-plant disaster that ravaged the land also uncovered the fact that much of Tohoku culture remained unknown or misunderstood by the outside world. It acted as a catalyst to raise the following question: what is at the heart of Tohoku identity? Located at the ‘margin of the nation’, the cultural narrative of Tohoku people has been written by the Japanese central government, with many preconceived notions. For the people of Tohoku, who lost loved ones and hometowns in the 2011 disaster, re-exploring our cultural identity on our own terms is a crucial process towards healing.


Spirit of ‘North’facilitates interactions between thepeople of Tohokuand other northern areas of the world to examine a northern spirituality that resonates among us all. Beyond lifting the spirits of Tohoku peopleafter the disaster, our project aspires to create a global network through which northerners from across the world, and anyone who is drawn to the north, can collaboratively build a ‘northern philosophy’. Our project aims to bring together diverse artistic languages of different northern communities and add these regional expressions to the global artistic discourse. Moreover, the project hopes to bridge art and other humanities fields in an attempt to investigate regionality and universality.

Since the project began, wehave invited artists from Northern Europe and the Tohoku region and produced nine exhibitions in the traditional warehouse district in Fukushima prefecture and at theTokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. We invited the participating artists to stay in the Aizu area of Fukushima prefecture to immerse themselves in the local environment, spend time with community members and create works based on their experience for these exhibitions. During their stay, we also organised field trips and group discussions with artists and cultural experts. These activities aided in creating a dialogue between Tohoku and Northern European artists to share and examine spirituality in their respective cultures, including oral traditions and kinship to nature. This exchange has allowed the participating northerners to see both commonality and differences between each other’s cultures, leading to an affirmation of their own unique cultural identity and a simultaneous appreciation of a common humanity that surpasses borders.

Through the project, it has become apparent that animistic spirituality is inherent in the Tohoku culture. This Tohoku spirituality is characterised by ‘a reverence for the invisible sacred presence’, ‘primordial connections with animals, forests and the cosmos’, and a belief that ‘all living things are equal’. These spiritual beliefs were held by the indigenous people of Tohoku, referred to as the Emishi (2), and have manifested in many ways in the Tohoku arts throughout history from Shishi-Odrori(traditional ‘deer’ dance for the repose of souls)(3)to the work of renowned 20th-century poet and author, MIYAZAWA Kenji(4). Similar spiritual practices can be observed in Ainu culture, further north of Tohoku, and is also common among other northernpeoples of the world. Furthermore, I believe that the northern spirit can resonate with anyone who shares the northern sentiment. Thus ‘North’ in the project title does not merely indicate the direction or region but posits ‘North’ as a metaphor for a spiritual dimension.


Artist, Representative of Spirit of “North” Executive Committee

1. The Tohoku Region is located in the northeastern part of Japan. It consists of six prefectures including Fukushima.
2. The Emishi were an indigenous people who lived in the Tohoku region until around the 9th century.  The name “Emishi” was given by the central government.
3. Shishi-odori is a traditional dance that imitates the movements of a deer, which has been passed down in the Tohoku region.
4. MIYAZAWA Kenji (1896–1993) was a poet and children’s book author from Tohoku.
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(Translated by ARTOKA Translation and Writing  (Yuria Okamura & Natalie Hegert)


Spirit of “North” Executive Committee

IGARASHI Keita, INOMATA Masae, KANEOYA Takeshi, KURODA Ayako, SAKASHITA Shojiro, NAMAE Keikyu, BABA Yukiko, HIRUKAWA Yasuhiro, HOSHI Kouichi, MARUYAMA Tokio, MARUYAMA Yoshiko, SAITO Tomo, MUTO Hiroki, YABE Yoshihiro