Japanese artist Akiko Miyashita makes art a lif e and a home in Oaxaca
By Askari Mateos Original Print Publication: July, 2007
Akiko Miyashita has lived in Oaxaca since 1991. Besides removing her shoes when entering the house Akiko preserves many other Japanese traditions, such as eating foods like green tea, rice, and wasabi, and valuing responsibility, respect, hard work, and contact with the water; she washes her hands and face a few times a day. “Japanese people like water so much. My father used to say that Japan is the rainiest country in the world because it’s a volcanic island. But for reasons of climate change I am not sure about that anymore,” she says.
Akiko Miyashita, artist
Akiko was born in Gifu, located in the south-central portion of the island. She studied art in Nagoya and her last five years in Japan were dedicated to improving her graphic abilities.
“One day I met [Japanese print maker] Shinzaburo Takeda, when he had an exhibition in Nagoya. He told me I should go to Oaxaca, where he was living and teaching art at the Escuela de Bellas Artes. So I took intensive Spanish classes and I came to study art for two years. But the language was still difficult for me”.
When Akiko arrived in Oaxaca there was less tourism than there is now. “I am not against development, but when I arrived at Oaxaca’s Historical Center the only people you found there were local families. That traditional atmosphere was a unique thing.”
Akiko married Mexican artist Fernando Sandoval and the couple decided to move to Japan. One year later, however, they returned to Oaxaca, to live in the San Felipe neighborhood. “Japanese cities are not like Oaxaca. It’s harder to have as comfortable a life as the one I have here; it is not easy to live as an artist. Oaxaca is warm, family oriented, and the time seems to go slower. It reminds me of my childhood in Gifu, the rice fields, and little automobile traffic. Now that city is different. It has been developed and it’s now like the rest of Japan. But many changes are taking place in this city too; the Historical Center has become very commercial and people are moving out to live in the small towns nearby.”
She remembers that the first time she arrived in Oaxaca, the mixture of the wind, the dust and the heat made her feel far away from Japan. She was also struck by the inequalities in education, economics and culture. But the biggest impression came later. “After living here for a year and a half I traveled by train from Oaxaca to Mexico City to receive my parents who had come to visit me. From the train I saw landscapes different from Oaxaca and Puebla, and I saw a whole town built with cardboard and plastic. That was the hardest image I have ever seen in Mexico. I asked myself who lives here and why?”
She has had to face rejection by some local people, and has endured abuses like being overcharged for taxis or fruit and vegetables in markets. Recently, she has experienced prejudice for being a divorced woman. But “there are some people who have become more open,” she says. “People in Japan are more isolated because they have such organized lives and services. Technology has developed so fast that contact with others is no longer possible.” These are the things Akiko appreciates most about Mexico: traditions, family values, and friendship.
“The thing I miss the most about Japan is rain, water” —because Oaxaca has such a dry climate— “but also the sensation of belonging to a place. Nevertheless, when I’m in Japan I miss being a foreigner living in Oaxaca. I have Japanese blood but my attitude is Mexican.”
Only when the social or political problems seem too difficult or the water is scarce does she thinks about the possibility of returning to Japan. “But I am still here, with my two beautiful daughters María Nana and Sofía Yukari, and my art is going well.”
She’s become a paper installation artist, using centuries-old Japanese paper-making techniques. “You can see the Oaxaqueño influence in my art in my drawings, the landscapes of small towns and local people. Definitely, Mexico has had a great influence on me, it has changed my life.”