Report on “Friends of Northeast Asia” – Cultural Exchange Children’s Art Exhibition in Saitama

[Original by Ikuru HORIUCHI, an intern on the “Korea Children Campaign” (the Relief Campaign Committee for Children, Japan), (April 28, 2022); Translated by E. Miyazaki /E. Yocom]

Hello! こんにちは (Konnichiwa) ! 안녕 (Anyon) ! 你好 (Nihao) !

My name is Ikuru, and I am an intern at the Korea Children Campaign. I would like to report on the Friends of Northeast Asia exhibition that was held in Saitama, which I visited on December 25, 2021.

About the Friends of Northeast Asia Exhibition

This art exhibition was first held in 2001 with the hope that the 21st century will be a century of peace between the countries of the Northeast Asia region. Since its inception in 2001, the event has become an opportunity for children from North and South Korea, China, and Japan to “meet” new friends through their drawings depicting their hopes and feelings on a common theme. The exhibition was held online for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but being unable to meet in person has inspired us even more to do our best to continue our efforts.

The Saitama Exhibition

The Saitama Exhibition was started by the mothers of the children who participated in the Friends of Northeast Asia exhibition held in Tokyo in 2003. It’s been a long but short 20 years or so since it’s begun, and the event has taken place annually since its inception. This was the 19th exhibition, held from December 24 to December 27, 2021. On display at this exhibition were the works of children that were featured in the Tokyo Exhibition, “The Future We Create,” held in June 2021, as well as the Lungta* artworks centered on the theme “Sending Our Hopes to the Sky.”

*Lungta, literally meaning “wind horse,” refers to a mythical horse, or the paper itself which depicts an image of a horse, that symbolizes a wish for peace and safe travels. Lungta are often depicted on five-colored prayer flags that are commonly seen in areas of Tibet.

Sending Our Hopes to the Sky

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible to gather with friends or to travel to see each other, the children instead wrote their wishes on the Lungta. “I want to see my friends!” “I want to eat yummy food with everyone!” “I want to help out my friend who’s been feeling down!” These are some of the wishes that the children entrusted the “wind horse” to carry into the sky for them.

The children wrote their wishes on the front of the Lungta, and the backside included their names and, in place of their age, their Chinese zodiac symbol. The Chinese zodiac is commonly used in East Asia, but I was surprised to learn that what we know of as the “boar” in Japan is referred to as the “pig” in Korea.

The Future We Create

What kind of future do the children of today envision, despite the ongoing pandemic? Since it is difficult to travel, our interns in each country sent in charming artworks and heartwarming messages from the children in their areas.

As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must remain careful about preventing the spread of the disease, and even domestic travel is still limited. Despite this, however, I find that this exhibition has helped children communicate and share their thoughts about the future, and ultimately stay connected.

This was my second visit to the Friends of Northeast Asia exhibition since I had been to the event in Tokyo in June, as well. Although a lot of the displayed artworks were the same, the atmosphere at this event was different, and the children’s drawings really caught my eye. Here are a few that left a strong impression on me.

Suyeon (Pyongyang)

My town is full of cherry blossoms. My house is in this town. I am so proud of my beautiful town. Please come and visit us!

Jaein (Seoul)

I hope COVID-19 will go away soon so that I can meet my friends from other countries. I drew a picture of friends from China, Korea, North Korea, the US, and Japan holding hands together. Let’s do our best!

Jinju (Seoul)

I want to travel by train with my North Korean friends.

Suyeon from Pyongyang invites us to visit her beautiful town, where the cherry blossoms bloom. Jaein from Seoul shared her wishes to see her friends again. Jinju, also from Seoul, wishes to take a trip by train with her friends in the North.

Despite COVID-19 making it difficult to hold hands and be with each other, the artworks displayed at the Friends of Northeast Asia exhibition showcased genuine feelings of friendship and depictions of children having fun.

As children grow older, they experience the complex emotions that come with learning about prejudice, discrimination, and the absurdities of the world, and it can become difficult to keep moving forward. These artworks reminded me of the days when I was a child and only thought about having fun and being with my friends, which made me realize how narrow-minded I have become. I realized that no matter what country you’re from, everyone feels the same joy and happiness when spending time with friends.

The Friends of Northeast Asia exhibition is held every year in Saitama, Tokyo, and Osaka, and each has its own unique atmosphere displaying the various works of children in the region. Please do visit and see the artworks for yourself!

About the Korea Children Campaign (Relief Campaign Committee for Children, Japan)

This network was created as an emergency relief fund following the natural disaster that struck The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in 1995. We initiated the cultural exchange children’s art exhibition Friends of Northeast Asia in collaboration with another NGO in 2001. We have also held an exchange program for university students from Japan and the DPRK since 2012, in which Japanese students and students of the Japanese Language Department at Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies exchange their opinions. The network is currently organized by AYUS (Network of Buddhists Volunteers on International Cooperation) and JVC, with the JVC’s Korea Project serving as the network’s official office since 2022.

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