“freehand (adj.) : done manually without the aid of instruments such as rulers”
“freehanded (adj.) : openhanded, generous, especially without money”
— Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 2004
What is the book about?
The book “freehand revolution” describes “The process of making your own spaces and lifestyles”. It is produced by people with “freehand” manner. These people have made their own places, constructed relationships with local people and struggled to create their own lifestyles in the cities of Japan and abroad. We focus on the motivations that “freehand people” have, what they are thinking about and trying to achieve, how they approach and maintain their activities, and what kind of inspiration and influences they have had on or received from from local people; the difficulties they have experienced, what kind of future they see ahead of them. The book will employ both concrete text and also visual communication.
Though there are many thousands of books written about “community development” or “community design”, hardly any are written from the perspective of “What should we do to start making our own spaces and lifestyles when having nothing?”. Most books written by professionals with backgrounds in business, real estate, city planning and architecture are simply not useful to non-professional people, even though they are the majority in a city, and often the ones that take practical action. The book “freehand revolution” gives hints for those people who are trying to do something or create something in urban space. It addresses not only “successful experiences”, but also problems or issues and limitations to the activities. With this approach we hope the book will be useful for the following:
- People who are interested in and want to take action on issues such as mass production, mass consumption, unequal or disconnected society and environmental problems as part of their own life and by their own hands, especially young people who live in big cities and who have doubts about their current lifestyle.
- People who have realized the limitations of urban revitalization projects led by local governments, big companies or outsiders involved in real estate, art, architecture or design, and who are willing to think about and act on community development projects involving residents with a bottom-up approach.
What kind of book is it?
1. About the action “Das Japanische Haus” in Leipzig
The trigger of “freehand revolution” was “Das Japanische Haus (The Japanese House)” which was established in the city of Leipzig, Germany in 2011. “Das Japanische Haus” was started by three people from Japan who were given access to a vacant space close to the city center for free use. They began to develop their own space with their own hands. This circle of people and activities has gradually spread, and nowadays over a hundred people from the neighborhood with various hometowns, nationalities, ages and professions meet and socialize there every week. It grew as a “house” where various goods and things are created.
Now, 5-years after the opening, we document the meanings, know-how, pleasure and difficulties of making an open space through the experiences of “freehand” people who came from abroad and had almost no resources from both text and visual perspectives. Here you can see some of the content…
Vacant space is usually regarded as a problem in post-industrial cities. Leipzig, which used to be known as a “shrinking city”, still has many vacant houses and lots. In a district like Volkmarsdorf, where „Das Japanische Haus“ is located, the proportion of vacant houses at the had reached almost 50% by the beginning of the 2000s. A citizen’s initiative “HausHalten e.V.” was therefore established to protect the vacant buildings from damage and decay. This initiated an activity to create an intermediary between the owners of the vacant houses and users who want to utilize the space. This in turn has led to the birth of various sociocultural movements encompassing art, culture, child care, food, immigration/refugee support, etc., all based in the former vacant spaces. We at “Das Japanische Haus” are one such example. Thanks to “HausHelten e.V.” we have a space that we can use for free, enabling us to start our activities without large financial backers or connections.
Though Leipzig has declined since the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989), the population has started to increase again since 2000, and now has the highest population growth rate of any city in Germany. The number of young people in their twenties and thirties is increasing particularly rapidly, and a baby boom is occurring. Sociocultural activities by the local people are an important factor in attracting people to Leipzig and making districts attractive to live in. Instead of vacant spaces being a “problem” they can be turned into an “opportunity” to entice new people and activities to the city. We can learn from Leipzig, these spaces form a platform or the infrastructure for social movements.
As newcomers to Leipzig, first we needed a space to be the foundation of our daily life. After we got access to a vacant space, we made the place “our house” where we could spend time enjoyably ourselves. In the process of this, friends and acquaintances who supported us frequently visited, and the social circle expanded. Gradually our haus became a house for all.
The human relations in “Das Japanische Haus” are therefore neither those found in a commercial facility, such as a customer and a shop, nor a company, such as employer and employee. Through acting, eating and talking together the human relationships are fostered and “Das Japanische Haus” is maintained by that network. Rather than consciously having this as an objective, it is an example how such a place can be created through a natural progression.
Our logo represents two persons who are snuggling down and relaxing. This shows, that we want to create the place, which is like our own “house” both for us and visitors.
Twice a week, “Das Japanische Haus” offers the “Kitchen for All“. The principle is very simple: people get together, cook together and eat together. It started in 2014 and around 100 people now gather every week. An important point of this event is that we open our space to all people living in the city, regardless of nationality, religion, economic circumstances, language ability, etc. We do not set a fixed price for the food but the party has been financed, since the beginning, through donations based on the idea “pay as much as you can/want”. All foods we offer are vegan (no animal ingredients) so that everyone can enjoy it regardless of religion or dietary principles.
We prepare the meals with local people, every time working together. For people who have just moved to Leipzig and have no friends there or for foreigners who have difficulty with the language, cooking together provides an ideal opportunity to meet and communicate with other people, and form a community through group work. We have provided cuisines from around the world including Europe, Africa, the Middle East, East Asia, etc. with the help of people from the countries in those regions.
Because we provide food and drink for free for those participating, children from the neighborhood or those who have economic difficulties can also join us without concern. Recently, foreigners, especially refugees, have increasingly been helping us with preparing the meals, sometimes becoming a head chef when cooking dishes from their own countries. Instead of just being treated as “guests” who have been accepted to enter Germany, in the “Kitchen for All” event they can become the “hosts” for other people. It is not easy to cook for more than 100 guests, but it can be an opportunity to introduce their own country’s food/culture, and everyone who has cooked in this way has been highly motivated. As the proverb says “We have eaten off the same trencher―lived under the same roof”. Through a very simple thing like cooking and eating together, people become connected beyond their position, nationality and language differences.
“A place open to all people” is one of the key principles in organizing “Das Japanische Haus”. Because we do not take an admission fee or membership fee and all events are held on a donation basis, people of various race, religion, nationality, social class and age can visit us and enjoy cooking, exhibitions, workshops and symposia. Every time new people come, exciting and unexpected encounters occur. At the same time, however, this means we have to deal with so-called “free-riders”, who visit only to get “free” food, or people who get drunk, or people on drugs – harassment, theft, and even violence can sometimes occur.
The “Eisenbahn Street” which the “Das Japanische Haus” faces has been characterized by mass media as a ‘dangerous street’ because of the frequent incidence of drug or gang-related issues. The percentage of non-German residents is about 40% in this area, and poverty is a serious problem. In such circumstances, “Das Japanische Haus” is neither a public space controlled by government, nor a welfare facility supported by tax. While it is our own decision, that our space is open to all, we have to deal with these issues and problems and figure out how we should do so. “We are open to all” sounds easy and nice, but the reality is that we are always exposed to the stress associated with having to handle these difficult issues.
The reason why, in spite of these difficulties, we continue to open this space for all is simply because “it is fun”. For example, if you see them often, you may also get to see a nice and interesting side of a visitor who is usually drunk. Or sometimes it is just the experience of hearing from people with loneliness or difficulties in speaking out that “it’s nice to be here”. The arranged event itself is not important. We are opening our space because we want it to be a place where such moments can happen.
Generally speaking, when we say “Japan House,” people understand it is a “center for disseminating Japanese culture.” This is not entirely wrong, however none of us is specialized in Japanese traditional cooking, tea ceremony, martial arts, traditional dance and not even particularly familiar with manga and animation. So, we are all amateurs as “traditional Japan” staffing is concerned. Those who come to us expecting “typical Japanese culture” will probably be disappointed.
However, that does not mean that “Japan” does not play any role in “Das Japanische Haus”. It is clearly stated that “Das Japanische Haus” is organized by Japanese nationals, who come from far away from Germany, but that our space is easily accessible not only to Germans but also people from other countries and regions. It is symbolic that people from over 70 different countries have visited us so far. This should be related to the familiarity that we are all the same “foreigner” in Germany and helped by the peaceful image of “Japan”.
On the other hand, “Das Japanische Haus” is connected to German society as a community center for the area. By “utilizing” the neutral image of “Japan” in Europe, “Das Japanische Haus” has a role in connecting the German society with foreigners including immigrants and refugees.
“Das Japanische Haus” has invited researchers, architects, artists, and students from Japan to Leipzig every autumn since 2012, and organizes an “urban in-between space workshop” to facilitate research about the city of Leipzig and community activities, spatial proposal and practice. In 2014, we participated in the “Renovation School” in Kokura, Japan for the first time and held a festival for experiencing the urban spaces with families and children. The theme of all these events and workshops is to practice and to share the experience of bottom-up town management, which is realized by local people using their own ideas and creating with their own hands.
Since 2015, in collaboration with the administration and other local groups in Leipzig, we are organizing the “Free Space Festival” every autumn in the Leipzig East district. Due to the rapid increase in the population in recent years, real estate speculation has been ongoing in Leipzig. This phenomenon of so-called “gentrification”, evicts the underclasses and non-profit activities from a district. The rent of “Das Japanische Haus” is also expected to rise in the future. If this were to happen, we would not be able to afford it and it would be difficult to continue our non-profit oriented actions. One very important theme of “Freespace Festival” is; how we keep and maintain the space for the diverse people regardless of social classes or nationalities.
In this way, we will connect the local practices of other German cities and cities globally and we will build a platform for grassroots activities to learn from each other and stimulate each other based on our experiences in Leipzig.
2. Exchange program for site-based activities in Tottori and Leipzig
Tottori, the least populous prefecture of Japan, is the forefront of “freehand revolution” in Japan. A lot of young people are developing various activities such as art, bookstores, agriculture and guesthouses, in the “Learning by doing” spirit. Many interesting relationships between local people who have lived there for several generations and young people as a newcomers have developed. These relations, bridging age and gender, have produced lively changes in Tottori. This time we will focus on the towns of Shikano, which used to be a castle town and has a population of 4,000 people, and Matsuzaki, which used to be a Spa town, with 1,200 people.
In March 2017, a group connected with “Das Japanische Haus” in Leipzig will visit Tottori. They will interact with local people who are making place and acting at the local sites, and hold a workshop together with them related to art, handicrafts and food, named “freehand revolution 2017@Tottori”. The group will produce documentation that includes workshop reports, interviews with key persons, dialog, and a report on “issues and possibilities of making place and lifestyle”.
3. Specific methodologies to start “freehand revolution”
Leipzig and Tottori, these two cities may seem to have little in common. However, there is a crucial similarity in that “people who are living there are creating their own lifestyles and spaces for themselves, and taking action in forming a network”. Through these activities we can get a lot of useful ideas on how to build the “freehand revolution”…
- If you doubt your lifestyle, “Freehand” is a possibility and even a pleasant way to get something started,.
- Do not try to do it alone. Find like-minded friends who complement one’s own specialties. Rely on people you can rely on.
- Find a space for your activity. Possibilities also exist in the countryside or small towns. Pay attention to the local “heritage”.
- Don’t aim too high at the beginning. Start a small action and find a place where you feel comfortable.
- Open your place to others. If you interact with different kinds of people, your community will become wider and more exiting.
- Make a movement to change the current society using your spreading network! Yes, this is “freehand revolution!”
We will produce a visual book that includes not only texts, but also lots of photos, illustrations and mangas that inform you about the atmosphere of where things have happened. In particular, we will make it comprehensible by visualizing analyses and ideas. The concept of its design is “collage”. Through each place, each writer, each artist, various points of view will be expressed in different designs.
We are planning to try to crowd-fund. We would appreciate it if you could support and cooperate with us!!