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Shoko Kawamasa on Greece: ‘A country that has given me hope’

«I am an artist in Japan and I love Greece very much. I have been coming here nearly every year since 1974. I saw what happened in the fires and decided to help the country that I love. The proceeds from my current exhibition in Tokyo, which continues until the end of this month, are to go toward regenerating the forests,» was one message that arrived at this newspaper by e-mail a few days ago from Japanese artist Shoko Kawamasa. Kawamasa had been in contact with others who shared her affection for Greece and who had joined her in organizing an aid campaign titled «Under the Age-Old Tree,» with the support of the Greek Embassy in Tokyo and the Greek Tourism Bureau there. «It is wonderful to have had such a response from around the world in support of the fire victims. However, I believe that it is very important for the forest to be reborn because, without it, local society can’t be revived.» Last July she had spent time on the islands of Patmos, Samos, Lesvos and Hydra. Her first visit to the country was on December 6, 1974. «I didn’t expect to arrive there when I left my country a month earlier. I had gone by ship to the Soviet Union, took a train to Yugoslavia and then on to Vienna. It was there that I saw an Olympic Airways office. Kawamasa left the OA bureau with a ticket to Athens in her hand, not for an Olympic flight as they were on strike at the time, but on Austrian Airlines. She explained that her desire to visit the country stemmed from her discovery, while still at high school, of ancient Greek poetry. Arriving in Athens, however, she found things a little different to what she had expected. Two days before the referendum on whether to retain the monarchy, there were groups of people talking loudly on every street corner, she remembers. «When I arrived on Lesvos two days later, the new Greek Republic had been born,» she recalled. Since then she has been back several times, made many friends and discovered favorite places. Above all, she is passionately fond of Greek music. «I particularly like Haris Alexiou and George Dalaras. It is through their songs that I have learnt Greek,» she said in a telephone conversation with Kathimerini. Just two years ago she began learning to read and write the language, in a series of lessons on the island of Spetses. «Greece has given me two things – hope when I was 20 years old and a sense of eternity when I reached the age of 50. I have traveled a great deal but my heart still belongs to Greece,» she added. Athens is one of her favorite parts of the country, and she holds great affection for Greeks themselves, strangely enough, given the fact that Greeks never seem to be happy. «But there is no paradise on earth,» she replies. Kawamasa said that her initiative in support of reforestation is more a gesture of support. «I don’t want to make a big fuss about it, because I don’t know if we will manage to collect a lot of money,» she said, but agreed to allow us to write about it. She still cannot believe what has happened to the places she once visited. Help from a twin town The Municipality of Inazawa, central Japan, has made available the symbolic amount of 1 million yen (6,144 euros) to the fire victims of Ancient Olympia. The two towns were twinned in 1987 because of their common traditions of history, monuments and cultural treasures. Since then there have been exchanges of visits and cultural events, including the lighting of the Olympic flame. «It was with great sadness that we heard that Olympia and other parts of Greece had been struck by destructive wildfires, resulting in the loss of human lives and in damage to property. As a gesture of support for the reconstruction of the affected areas, the Municipality of Inazawa on September 20 sent the sum of 1 million yen to the Municipality of Ancient Olympia and asked its citizens to contribute toward providing further economic assistance,» said an announcement from Inazawa City Hall.