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Try out Kaekko and Discussion

April 10, 2010 / Review

Event Report - Try out Kaekko and Discussion
Saturday 3rd April 2010
Artist: Hiroshi Fuji

Firstly you may ask what is Kaekko? Kaekko is many things to many people but fundamentally it is a method of exchange and communication between children by swapping their old unwanted toys for somebody else's. Based on an alternative currency, participants can earn points depending on the number and type of toys they bring to the Kaekko space and then they can use these points to buy other toys that they like. This activity was initiated by artist Hiroshi Fuji in Fukuoka in 2000 as a means engaging children in the neighbourhood in creative activity. Since its initiation this activity has spread throughout the country inspiring individuals and organizations to host their own interpretations of Kaekko.

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Fuji has been commissioned by 3331 Arts Chiyoda to realize a Kaekko based project over a period of 5 years at the centre itself. In the foyer of 3331 "Kaeru Station" will be established as a permanent space for Kaekko activities, creating a point of contact for members of the local neighbourhood and developing dialogues between them. The Kaekko try out and discussion was designed to introduce the concept of Kaekko and to examine its future possibilities. Many children from the local area attended the event eagerly carrying their old toys for exchange and diving into the piles of Kaekko toys, rummaging for a new treasure. The discussion brought together university students, Kaekko volunteers, NPOs, events organizers, community project participants and other interested persons from not only Tokyo but also Ibaraki, Chiba and Yamanashi.

The discussion began with an introduction by Fuji as to the origins and development of Kaekko. When the project first started just a space was provided for people to exchange their toys, a free open space where participants were able to creatively experiment within their own structures. The space was intended to become a lived space part of everyday life and social engagement in the neighbourhood. An early example of the creation of such a space was established in a shopping street, consisting of mainly shuttered, disused stores. Fuji and a group of children worked together to clean and renew some of these spaces creating Kaekko shops in the area.

A permanent space which the participants can mould together has been of particular emphasis in Fuji's efforts to promote Kaekko, but at the same time temporary events such as Kaekko Bazaar and various workshops bring a large number of people together and create an excitement which has the ability to animate the activity of Kaekko and extend its practices.

In Fuji's own engagement of Kaekko in a workshop form, he has stressed that his approach is not one of a typical educational structure, he does not aim to teach anything to the participants, but again to offer a framework in which participants can pursue their own imagination. Those coming to the workshop with the preconceived idea that they will be formerly taught something may be at first disappointed, but are encouraged to discover, through the freedom of experimentation and self-expression, something new which they can teach themselves.

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He provided a number of examples of successful exchanges which have bridged between the contexts of the arts and community. He recently participated in Aquapolis Osaka festival where a Kaeru station was set up and through a series of workshops large scale sculptures of dinosaurs were created from toy parts. An event held at Art Tower Mito in 2008 "Kaekko Forum" also provided a key opportunity for discussion between artists, NPOs, Kaekko organizers and Kaekko participants. As the movement has spread through the country how have Hiroshi Fuji and his partner Yoko Fuji been able to manage such an extensive project? In truth it is an impossible task, Yoko admitting that she is regularly invited to facilitate Kaekko events throughout the country, but she does not have the time to join all of these. They are happy to provide information about Kaekko but ask that interested parties take on the activity themselves and find their own methods and resources for facilitating such projects. They very much encourage a grassroots approach to Kaekko which has been taken on by NPOs and PTAs and they hope to promote this independent community based method further.

A number of the discussion participants were already active in promoting and facilitating Kaekko. One member of a voluntary group has been engaged in Kaekko for over 7 years in Yamanashi and has particularly focused on the environmental message of Kaekko. Kaekko promotes the importance of re-using and recycling, which are fundamental in our current environmental condition. This led to a discussion upon the various different agenda's which Kaekko can be put to. This includes not only environmental issues, but also education, cultural exchange and most importantly play. To bring such agendas into the activity of Kaekko is seen as a valid practice but it requires a sensitive balance between fun and a deeper understanding of the message itself. Another aspect of Kaekko is its alternative economic model which introduces children to notions of currency, exchange and other economic principles. This model creates an important structure for Kaekko engagement - toys are valued and you may only exchange up to the value of points collected making the system fair, but also giving it a form of reality close to the economic exchanges of the commercial world which add to the competitiveness and fun of Kaekko.

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With the wealth of experience present among the discussion group how could this be focused towards the future development of Kaekko and specifically the form it may take at 3331 Arts Chiyoda? A key asset of Kaekko is its flexibility, being able to adapt to the specific context in which it is facilitated. In the case of the 3331 Kaeru Station this is also applicable. The neighbourhood has a specific demographic, with a larger population of middle-aged and senior citizens as opposed to children, so an important function of Kaeru Station would be to welcome older people as well as children. A further area to consider would be the form of facilities which the Kaeru Station would provide, the materials, tools, toys which would be made available to visitors and what set of rules would be appropriate for maintaining a smooth running of the space, some of the principles and logistics of which were discussed here.

Another key necessity of the Kaeru Station is to provide information about the Kaekko movement, the network of people involved and how to facilitate their own activities. Some Kaekko facilitators have produced leaflets instructing on the principles of the activity and also a Kaekko map which provides an overview of key centres around the country which are involved in Kaekko. It was also suggested that some form of archive could also be established in conjunction with Kaeru Station, which could document the activities of these various centres and the development of the Kaekko movement.

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In order to energize the space and offer new ideas and approaches to Kaekko, workshops are highly encouraged. 3331 Arts Chiyoda is a unique hub for young artists and their creativity can contribute to the evolution of the space through workshops and associated events. Furthermore it was suggested that once or twice a year the Kaeru Station should be part of festival events, which need not be specifically concentrated upon Kaekko, but could consist of a local festival which Kaekko could play a part in. This would provide a focal point for the Kaeru Station, encouraging the participation of wider groups of people and broadening its appeal. The main task of the 3331 Kaeru Station is to address the involvement of the local community and to provide a space in which they may feel comfortable entering while at the same time being creatively challenged. There is clear excitement at the future potentials of Kaekko, with many already devoted to its cause or curious to become a part of it. With such high interest we can be confident of the success of 3331 Kaeru Station.

The event ended with the Kaekko auction, always a highlight of Kaekko events, where children can bid their points against each other for popular toys. The event became quite heated as 5 children bid for the prize of a miniature steam engine (with real smoke!), won by the highest bidder of 10 points.

Emma Ota

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