Kids take artful approach to peace-building

Japanese and Korean students share drawings

by Natsume Watanabe

Kyodo

Despite the troubled relations between their countries, children in Japan and North Korea are joining hands again to promote peace using drawings.

Relief Campaign Committee for Children, Japan, a Tokyo-based nongovernmental organization, has been organizing exhibitions since 2001 featuring pictures drawn by children from Japan, North Korea and South Korea.

The 13th such event is slated to start in November.

“Repeated exchanges have led people in North Korea to speak to us about peace, a subject which they had avoided talking about,” said Shinji Yoneda, a representative of the exhibition’s organizing committee and director of the National Federation of UNESCO Associations in Japan, which supports the event.

At the end of August, 11-year-old An Inoue, a fifth-grader from Chuo Ward, Tokyo, visited Rungra Elementary School in central Pyongyang along with several students from pro-North Korean schools in Japan and members of the organization.

For the upcoming art exhibition, Inoue and a 10-year-old girl in the fourth grade at the Pyongyang school together drew a picture of a girl making a heart shape with her hands.

“Although we didn’t understand each other’s language, she helped me a lot and we were able to enjoy painting,” Inoue said.

Inoue and the girl smiled at each other and expressed a willingness to meet again.

During the visit, local students also made speeches about what they thought of a picture book about peace written by a Japanese author.

“I believe peace is something that enables all of us to have enough food and I want to join the Korean People’s Army to maintain peace,” said a 9-year-old boy in the third grade.

Yoneda stressed the importance of such exchanges.

“I want people to know that there are children who simply wish to become friends,” he said.

The Relief Campaign Committee for Children was launched in June 1996 by private groups in Japan, including the Japan International Volunteer Center, a year after massive floods had devastated North Korea, to deliver rice and other emergency food directly to North Korean people.

Yukiko Tsutsui, who engaged in those relief activities, and other members planned an art event to offer children in Japan and North Korea an opportunity to learn about each other because otherwise they would have no way of coming together, given the complete absence of diplomatic ties between their countries.

Schools in Pyongyang initially turned down the request to provide children’s pictures.

They wanted to know how the drawings would ultimately be used.

Even after the organization successfully brought back drawings to Japan, some Japanese visitors were suspicious, saying they had to wonder if they had actually been drawn by local children themselves as they were too good and looked quite similar to each other.

Such exhibitions used to be held in Pyongyang as well but have been canceled as Japanese-North Korean relations grew even worse following Pyongyang’s nuclear tests and missile launches, as well as other diplomatic problems.

Parents in North Korea were also opposed to the event on the grounds that pictures from Japan, a country that has imposed economic sanctions on their nation, should not be highlighted.

But some of them have changed their opinion and have become more cooperative over the last two or three years, according to the organization.

“I suppose that the parents’ impression of Japan must have been changed by their children,” said An Ok Bo, the principal of Rungra Elementary School.

For the last 12 exhibitions, a total of 3,600 children have contributed pictures.

The organization’s current goal is to resume the exhibition in Pyongyang and increase the number in Japan.

The 13th event is scheduled to be held from November through February in such places as Tokyo and Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, as well as Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, which suffered severely in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.