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Exploring a Japanese Fishing Village Through Art


Flags for the Village Festival in November 2021






TANUKI (The Tanuki is the Guardian Kami of Kitaushima)


Saichi Kitamura decorating the village for New Year 2021


Kitaushima Rocks - Stage Area for Outdoor Theatre Visible in background.


Nanami Fujisawa

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Lead Investigator: John Williams (Ext. 4155/

ICC Members:

  • John Williams (DES/ICC) – Arts Practice, Theater, Film  

  • Takeshi Ito (FLA/ICC) – Farming, Ecology, 

  • James Farrer (FLA/ICC) – Food, Sustainability


Other Participants:

  • Hazel Barron-Cooper, Artist, Newcastle University

  • Yasuhiro Yotsumoto – Poet.

  • Yu Iwasaki - Filmmaker

  • Atsuko Nakamura - Visual Artist,

  • Dr. Elisabeth Brun, Researcher / Artist
    (Scroll down to read more about these participants)


What can a village teach us?

What can we learn from a village that might help us change our ways of living and working to face the existential challenges posed by global warming? What can a rural community teach us about food consumption, meaningful existence and happiness? What can the village teach artists about reimagining our relationship with the environment and sustainable forms of social organization for the future? How can we present these ideas and findings through the “embodied knowledge” and “symbolic knowledge” of art?


This is an arts-practice based research project with outcomes that are of interest to the broader public. The “publications” envisaged are not only academic papers or presentations at conferences, but art works and art events that are open to the public, both on Sado Island and in Sophia University.


The two main strands of the research are to document the daily life (ecology, economy, culture, work) of Kitaushima, a small fishing village on Sado Island, and with this background to create art (theater, film, poetry, visual art, dance, music) within the village and at Sophia University that draws inspiration from the history and traditions of the community and place and shares the local knowledge with a broader public to address issues of regional evolution and sustainability. 


Working with artists (poets, actors, dancers, filmmakers, visual artists, musicians, performers), academics from Sophia and the villagers who live in Kitaushima, the project will preserve and draw inspiration from all aspects of life in a fishing village, to ask broader questions related to the relationship between humans and food, humans and the environment and humans and animals.  


Other theoretical questions focus one the artists working within the village over the next several years. How can art help us reimagine places and communities? How do artists think and work and can these creative thought processes help us change education and lifestyles?


I began visiting Kitaushima and documenting the daily lives of the people who live there in 2013. With a Priority Research Grant from Sophia University (2020 to 2022) I was able to complete a documentary film about the village and a fiction film that uses the legends and folklore of Kitaushima, blending this with local puppetry traditions. This project, Tabi, is a loose adaptation of Dylan Thomas’ famous radio play, Under Milk Wood, set in a small Welsh fishing village. The film connects my own childhood experience in Welsh villages with the village life in Sado.


I see this as the first step in a long-term project to build a relationship between the Sophia community (both professors and students) and artists and the community in Kitaushima and surrounding villages. This longer-term project would aim to create a “creative loop” that draws the wisdom from the village into the lives of the people who live and work in Sophia and also brings the creative energy of artists and young people to the village. In the longer term this could be developed into an “Imagination Center” within Sophia and in the village of Kitaushima, which would explore creative solutions to environmental issues.


From 2023 we will broaden and deepen the aims of this project, firstly by recording longer interviews with everyone who lives in Kitaushima, including people who were born there but have moved away from the village, and secondly by taking artists from different fields to make art works that explore aspects of Kitaushima (folklore, food, farming, fishing). With Takeshi Ito and James Farrer from the ICC I want to explore the ecology, farming and food culture of Kitaushima and create a digital record of the local knowledge in the form of an online archive of interviews and footage. With the artists and the residents of Kitaushima we aim to create art works that make local knowledge available to a broader public and inspire young people to spend time in the area and explore environmental issues. This research will run in tandem with a new class that we are teaching at Sophia, Meaningful Life. (


International Aspects of the Project:


Our project in Kitaushima will link with similar projects in Norway, Italy and Portugal to build a global network of “art villages” or villages where artists are working in and with local communities. The first project partner is Nyksund Reloaded. We are working with Dr. Elisabeth Brun, an artist/researcher at Oslo University. 

About the Other Participants

Hazel Barron- Cooper – Visual Artists/Researcher (Newcastle University)

Hazel Barron-Cooper is a visual artist from the North of England who is currently working on a similar arts project in the small village of Beltingham in Northumbria.


Yasuhiro Yotsumoto – Poet

Yasuhiro Yotsumoto is a poet, photographer and translator.


Atsuko Nakamura – Visual Artist

Atsuko Nakamura is a sculptor and visual artist who has a special interest in art that grows out of local communities’ culture and traditions and working with local people.


Dr. Elisabeth Brun – Researcher / Artist /Artistic director Nyksund Reloaded / Curator Egga - eche - on the edge - a northern art symposium

Elisabeth Brun (b. 1977, Northern Norway) is an artist, researcher and writer exploring questions of form, of mediation, of knowledge, of the relation between human/environment. Her work takes different forms such as films, installations and texts, engaging in dialogues between philosophy, the environmental humanities, architecture and visual art. 


Brun holds a PhD in Media Studies from the University of Oslo, 14 years of experience as a documentary filmmaker/ journalist (NRK) and a post-master in Art in Public Space from the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm.


The role of art and architecture in developing sustainable places in rural areas is of particular interest. She is the founder of the international artistic archive project Nyksund Reloaded, which re-actualises an international environmental project in the 1980-90s in the former fisher village of Nyksund, Northern Norway. The project is developed with Berlin-based artists. 


Her work has been screened internationally at festivals/ venues such as Oberhausen International Short Film Festival (DE), Vienna Shorts (AUT), Seattle Art Museum (US) and Montreal Festival du Nouveaux Cinéma (CA). Recent grants/awards include Kings College´s Ivan Juritz Prize for Creative Experiment 2020 Visual Arts, a special mention in the Emerging Artist Award at Mimesis Doc Fest and a Poetry by Video Artist Award at Cadence Video Poetry festival. 

External Funding


2023: The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation Grant for a symposium and screening events on contribution of art and artists to regional revitalisation in Japan.




Sophia University Institute of Comparative Culture Symposium

Supported by the Great Britain-Sasakawa Foundation Grant


Moderated by John Williams, Filmmaker and professor at Sophia University


Hazel Barron-Cooper (IN PERSON, TOKYO), Visual Artist

Mike Collier (ZOOM PRESENTATION), Artist, Writer, Curator

Elisabeth Brun (ZOOM PRESENTATION), Norwegian Artist

Atsuko Nakamura (ZOOM PRESENTATION), Sculptor and Visual Artist

December 7, 2023, 19:00-20:30 

Room 301, Building 10, Sophia University,

In Person and on Zoom (For Zoom information, please register.)

Please register from HERE

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