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Japanese Foster Youth Mural Installed at UW

By David Yamaguchi
The North American Post

On August 4, the UW School of Social Work held a reception commemorating the installation of a new mural in their main hallway. It is by Nagoya-based Japanese artist Tomoyuki Washio. His artwork gained the prominent space because of the stories it tells of four Japanese foster youth behind the project. The mural illustrates their life journeys. They followed him to Seattle and spent two weeks before the gathering painting within his lines.

Completed mural Dancing in the Moonlight in the main hallway of the UW School of Social Work It depicts the lives of five Japanese foster youth A rain drenched forest at left transitions to a bright future but only if the wandering youth can find their way there
Artist Tomoyuki Washio Profile NHK World Behind the Artists Hand <a href=httpswww3nhkorjpnhkworldenondemandvideo5003188 target= blank rel=noopener>httpswww3nhkorjpnhkworldenondemandvideo5003188<a> 25 min free streaming

At the reception, among various speakers who took the podium, three of the visiting youth who did so especially touched the hearts of all present. All made special efforts to deliver their remarks in English.

Amu’s parents divorced when she was one. Her mother raised her thereafter, but became violent owing to stress, which she blamed on her daughter. Then, she decided to die, but told a teacher. She was taken into a shelter as an abuse case, then hosted by a foster family, whom she acted out against. She thought “she would always be alone” until she felt the warmth of foster care organizations including International Foster Care Alliance (IFCA), the lead sponsor of the mural project.

“I am alive today because of everyone who has supported me.”
She thanked Washio-san for his great art.

Kaho experienced violence, yet kept a notebook of her life goals, so she wouldn’t forget them.

Norika was institutionalized at age 9 after her mother’s death. She lost touch with her biological family.
Resilience to her is “like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. … Every piece is a part of herself, the good and the bad.”

Nana also participated, but wasn’t able to come to Seattle. Her story was read by Shiho, an amazing lickety-split simultaneous translator from Tokyo who accompanied the young travelers.
“One of the things I found was difficult was thinking about the future. I felt like I was in the forest. I wondered how I could make money in the future. Through all of this, my high school teacher was shining like a spirit. He suggested I needed to go on to higher education.
“I deserved it,” he said to me.
“Now I’m studying to be a doctor in medical school…”

In explaining the mural, Washio stated that he began by interviewing the youth. After hearing their stories, he could not decline participating in the mural project.

Four participating youth from left Ryusei Amu Kaho and Norika The mural is based largely on the life stories of the latter three
Mural details depict the hilly lonely road they have traveled and the many eyes they have felt watching them Floating chairs represent the dining room furniture they never had safe places to discuss their uncertain futures with parents

The project’s goals were to provide an opportunity for Japanese foster youth to participate in an international mural project. Until now, earlier youth have written essays and made videos; however, a mural had always been an IFCA dream. Unlike in the U.S., Japanese foster youth are generally housed in institutional settings and thus have fewer opportunities for self-expression.

The mural will be on display for one year at the School of Social Work, after which it seeks a new home. The department is the former site of the Nikkei SYNKOA House (4101 15th Avenue NE),** near the Henry Art Gallery.

IFCA is headquartered in Seattle and serves foster youth/alumni, foster parents and child-welfare professionals. Founded in 2012, to date it has hosted 90 youth from Japan. It would be the logical first-contact for potential future hosts of the mural.

In addition to IFCA, other local organizations participated in the project, notably the Mockingbird Society, a Seattle-area foster-youth support group, and of course the School of Social Work, represented by Associate Professor Emiko Tajima.

info@ifcaseattle.org (Miho Awazu, Executive Director, 206-661-8225)

* Acrylic on medium density overlay (MDO) weatherproof plywood. Washio’s behind-the-scenes notes on the making of the mural are at: https://liverary-mag.com/column/104922.html

**Kenichi Sato, “What is the UW Nikkei Alumni Association?,” napost.com (Oct. 2022).

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David Yamaguchi has written for the NAP since 2006, at first as a volunteer, then as a paid freelancer (2016-2020),then as a staff writer/editor (2020-2023). He is presently executive director of the Japan-America Society of the State of Washington (JASSW).