By Gabriel Ritter
Gabriel Ritter: You describe yourself as a “future artist.” Can you explain what this means?
Ichiro Endo: We are living in the present. So as people of the present day, as contemporary artists, I think it can’t be helped that we aim for the present. But I thought, I want to aim for the future, so I began calling myself a “future artist.” This title has somehow permeated and stuck with me ever since. However, the main point is the issue of having people today look toward the future. Hence, “future artist.”
GR: Do you see yourself as different from artists working in the present?
IE: Well, obviously I think we are all different, however I am very focused on how we should live now looking to the future. The idea of the future is very strong in both my artwork, and my activities. Maybe everyone thinks about the future, but because I’m so confident about it, I’m always thinking about it. I think it is so important that we think about the future now.
GR: How do you define the future in your art practice?
IE: In my activities, the future is not something special. Just like anyone else, the future is what is to come. If you go to bed tonight, tomorrow will come, and so will the future. When I say “the future,” I mean something we all can share. It’s something you can’t escape. Everyone expects that when you go to bed, tomorrow will be the future. It’s something very natural, something ordinary. This is what I mean when I say “the future,” but I also want to convey that it is essential.
GR: Your work is often very upbeat and optimistic. Is your vision of the future utopian?
IE: The future I imagine is very ordinary. I don’t have an especially bright and promising, utopic future in mind. Maybe it will never change, but I think it is important to preserve this idea of the future. While there is great progress and development in science and elsewhere, there are still things that are constant. It’s difficult, but I want to express that there are things that don’t change, and I am determined to make people aware of this so it can be preserved for the future. The future I imagine is ordinary and natural. I’m always saying “go for future,” and I’m asked if that is intended to be fanciful or utopic. It’s not make-believe. We are alive and moving toward the future. That is reality. It’s interesting, because just saying that on its own is not enough, so I have to yell it out loud.
GR: You live a very nomadic lifestyle, sleeping in your car and always traveling across the country. When did you decide on this lifestyle and what type of freedom does it allow you?
IE: I started about 5 years ago. Up until I wrote “Go for Future” on my van (Mirai-e-go), I was doing music and theater performance with a similar message. But because I wanted to convey my message to more people more easily, and I like driving, I wrote “Go for Future” in huge letters on my van thinking that that would be a way to get my message across to people as I drove around. At that time, I was still living in my room. However, having a van with the words “Go for Future” on it just sitting there in the parking lot was really strange. Since it had “Go for Future” written on it, it wasn’t progressing at all just sitting there quietly in the parking lot. It was actually very simple and straightforward, since it wasn’t progressing, it wasn’t “going to the future” at all. So I left my house, and began driving the “Mirai-e-go” van and haven’t stopped since. And now that everyone writes their dreams on the side of the van, I guess I can’t stop driving around. Their dreams are riding with me now, so I can’t stop. So I keep driving and living in the “Mirai-e-go.”
GR: So you’ve been living in your car all this time?
IE: Yes, from that time on I’ve been living a “parking lot lifestyle.” It’s very simple. And now that I’ve started, I have to keep going. (laughs) Because these dreams are very important, very essential for the world.
GR: Why do you think happiness is lacking in the world?
IE: You know, people are always showing off. It’s because of arrogance. But the world needs to be a happier place, and if we are a little more modest, we can relieve some of the sadness in the world. You know, money, weapons, and war are all connected. But what we need is more joy, people need to take that back.
GR: So do you think that without money people would be happier?
IE: Money is something so easy to understand. The value of money can be measured, so it’s easy to understand. That’s why its completely taken over the world. But real worth, for example you and I meeting again—there is no monetary value to that. That kind of value is something you have to feel with your heart. So obviously I think we rely a little too much on money, and if money were done away with, I definitely think things would be more enjoyable. Since money is often directly tied to one’s happiness, it would be difficult, but I think the world would be a more enjoyable place without it. Right now, those with money seem to be happy. Elsewhere in the world, it is really hard for those without money. So I think the world would be a happier place if we got rid of money. It’s a hard fight!
GR: Do you feel there is a political dimension to your work?
IE: I do not intentionally make political work, but I think they are naturally connected. Willingly or not, they become political. The reason being, my work is very socially conscious. It is socially conscious, and because I express that, I feel a political aspect appears in the work.
GR: Do you think you will go into politics eventually?
IE: If what I am doing now happens to be art, then I will continue doing that. Given my current direction, I think it is unlikely I will go into politics. Whether it’s art-related, whether its political, educational, philosophical, or theoretical, whatever I am doing now is what is most necessary. I’m not doing this because it’s art, but after thinking about everything, this is what is most needed now, so that’s why I’m doing it. Right now I’m working in art, and it feels natural and fairly open. But I’m not doing this for art’s sake, I’m doing it more generally. That’s why I won’t change direction, and plan to keep doing what I’m doing.
GR: Recently you started the “Go for Future Bus Project,” and I hear you want to take it worldwide. Can you tell us a little about that?
IE: With the “Go for Future World Project” I want to go around the world on my bus. Now that I have a bus, I can simply take more people around, and carry more dreams. Especially since the Tohoku earthquake, it’s been essential to take more people around and carry more dreams with me. To get this done, I now have this big bus that I drive around. And next will be a world tour! This kind of activity is not essential just for Japan, but is needed all over the world. So the next project is going to be a world tour.
GR: For example, when you went to India, how was your message received?
IE: It was great! People in India were all shouting “Go for future! Go for Future!” Even better than Japan.
GR: Why do you think that was the case?
IE: Maybe, in Japan, the United States, and Europe there is an abundance of excess. We are surrounded by things that are unnecessary. This somehow covers up what is pure, our core. But in India, many people live modestly working in the fields, and are close with family and friends. That’s why they understand my message.
GR: But if you go on a world tour, what response do you expect elsewhere, not just in places like India?
IE: I enjoy all the various responses. Look, when I first started in Japan five years ago, people were surprised and I got a very cool response—lots of cold stares. But I kept going, and gradually the response has changed. Now everyone waves their hands when I drive by. It’s really changed.
GR: Is it because you are more well known now?
IE: Five years ago I started on my own, but that has all changed. It’s become much stronger. Of course it’s not just due to my efforts alone, but everyone who participates and shares in the project. In American and Europe, maybe at first there will be a cool response, but that will just make me try harder looking for ways to spread my message.
GR: But in a country like the United States that is so spread out, this process might take a very long time to catch on.
IE: It will. This will not be something that happens in five to ten years, but more like fifty or sixty years. Maybe the next generation, my children and grandchildren will have to continue it.
GR: So you’re not talking about an individual project necessarily, you’re talking about a movement.
IE: It is not an individual work. The “Go for Future” van/bus is not my work alone. Everyone’s dreams are riding with me, all of Japan is riding with me. It’s much more social and public than that.
GR: So when does a work go from being yours to being “social?”
IE: It is when people start writing their hopes and dreams on the van. After collecting these dreams, it’s not something I hold onto myself, I’m just the driver.
GR: So at that point, you must feel a lot of responsibility, right?
IE: It’s a huge responsibility! (laughs) That’s why I must do my best. It is my role to carry these dreams. It’s a heavy responsibility, but because they are dreams, I have to keep moving.
GR: So for you, the dream is to continue the project?
IE: My dream of getting a bus for the project was granted. Next is the world tour.
GR: What is your message for those affected by the Tohoku earthquake?
IE: My personal message to those people affected by the earthquake is that I am not running away from this. Everyone is trying their best in this desperate situation, and we can’t run away from it, instead, we need to move forward. Of course there are people who have committed suicide, and there is an increasing feeling of hopelessness, but on the whole, people are moving forward. So, my message is: I’m not running away either.
GR: So do you think people want to run away from the situation in Tohoku?
IE: After the earthquake, I think the urge to run away was felt by everyone. If you actually wanted to escape, there is always that option, but those living in Tohoko didn’t have anywhere to go. Also, since they were born in that area and have lived there their whole life, they have a lot of pride in their hometown. So rather than running, everyone is working on rebuilding. So likewise, I could escape the situation by going abroad, but as long as there’s something for me to do, I won’t run away.
GR: What do you feel is the artist’s role in the aftermath of such a disaster? Do you feel a responsibility to help those affected by the Tohoku earthquake?
IE: I don’t feel a responsibility to help the victims as an artist, but rather as a human being. I feel a responsibility first as a human being to help and support them. After that, whatever tools I can use—art, painting, etc.—will hopefully bring them a different enjoyment and other possibilities.
GR: What can art do in a situation like this?
IE: Art is so broad, so I think there are many things art can do. But the idea of art is very abstract. In Japanese, the word for art [bijutsu] literally translates as “beautiful technique.” True bijutsu, I don’t know whether it’s “art” or not, is what we as artists must strive for. “True beautiful technique.” If it’s not sincere, then it’s no good. It must be true, but that’s why it’s difficult.
GR: For you, what is true art then?
IE: That’s a good question. Said very simply, it’s life. It’s being alive. That’s what is real, and that’s what I am trying to convey. We are alive. We are not alone. I am really trying to convey that we are all alive. That is what I intend to do with art.
GR: Recently you went to Ofunato in Iwate Prefecture—an area badly damaged by the earthquake/tsunami—to organize the “Yappeshi Festival.” Can you tell me a bit about your thinking behind this event?
IE: The Yappeshi Festival was a huge challenge. To put on a festival in those conditions was a challenge not just for me, but for the people of that area. But people came from near and far to help out. In the end, I think this challenge was essential for the people of Ofunato, and to encourage the people of Tohoku forward. I think we have to challenge ourselves during this difficult time. Some from the outside will complain, “how can you think of organizing a festival at a time like this?” Everyone has suspended their activities throughout the country, for example concerts in Tokyo have been cancelled along with art events. So to start a new festival in Tohoku now was a huge challenge. But a lot of courage was born from that challenge because everyone came together. It wasn’t just me, it was everyone. And it wasn’t just a single event, it is still continuing. It has already been held a second time, and soon there will be a third festival! Because of the initial challenge, now it is advancing step by step and generating lots of courage among the community.
GR: As an artist, what do you see as the biggest obstacle to Japan’s recovery?
IE: (long pause…) There are many obstacles on a daily basis. There is the challenge to open shops again, and without money, for many this will be impossible. And many people lost their houses in the tsunami, so there it is a challenge for them to return home. And on a much smaller scale, it is a challenge for people to see their friends and family. I think there are many challenges overall. But as an artist, in terms of how to make the world a happier place and why there is so much unhappiness, as I said before, people’s arrogance and need to show off are obstacles as well. What we need now is for people to work together. Now, with so many different genres and communities this has become very difficult, but it must be done. I think the current situation in which people are not working together is a major obstacle. For example, when I took the “Mirai-e-go” bus to a kindergarten, the children wrote “we have to work together” on the bus as their hope for the future. And that is so true. The children already know what needs to be done, but if we as adults can’t create a situation in which we can all work together, then I think we are the obstacle. I want the whole country to work together. When we become adults, there are problems with money, problems of pride and reputation, and being able to work together becomes more and more difficult. This is the current situation in Japan.
Ichiro Endo was born in Shizuoka, Japan. He travels across the country in his car named the “Mirai-e-go” (GO FOR FUTURE vehicle) on which he encourages people to write down their hopes and dreams. In addition to painting, performance, and video work, his activities include being a musician, DJ, and designer (Tamagawa Casual). Recent exhibitions include For Love, Peace and the Future (2010) at Art Tower Mito, Japan, TWIST and SHOUT: Contemporary Art from Japan (2009) at BACC, Bangkok, and Mixed Bathing World: Beppu Contemporary Art Festival (2009) in Oita, Japan. Following the March 11 earthquake/tsunami, the artist has begun organizing projects in the disaster-stricken Tohoku region, including the Yappeshi Festival and the GO FOR FUTURE Bus project in which he transports people between Yokohama, Shibuya, and the cities of Ishinomaki and Ofunato.