Kizuna – a way of healing

Photo by Annie Hong

Yoriko Gillard has always used art as a way to deal with pain or anxiety. She will be presenting Creative Practices as Healing Aids for Human Suffering at Capilano University on March 28. As an only child, Gillard lived with the fear of losing her mother who had a heart condition and other health problems to overcome.

I behaved ‘normally’ in front of her, other friends and teachers, but when it came to art – when I could really express my feelings – I could express it in my art. I had this tool to heal. I could concentrate my anxiety and sadness into that. Once I did that, I was okay,” says Gillard, a Japanese instructor at Capilano University and a UBC PhD candidate.

Learning to cope

Drawing on the Japanese concept of Kizuna, Gillard uses the bond between humans and nature as a tool for healing.

Kizuna is a Japanese word [that means] ‘bond’ in English. I would interpret it as a ‘human to human and human to nature connection.’ The word kizuna became a symbol of these connections and was embraced in Japan after the Great East Japan Earthquake tragedy that occurred on March 11, 2011,” she says.

Gillard first came to Vancouver in 1995 from Gifu, Japan, as a student and traveled between the two countries before starting to focus more on creative things in 2005. She says in Gifu, the environment helps people to think creatively; nature isn’t detached but serves as an inspiration.

“In Gifu, [we] are strong supporters of the arts, we appreciate anything creative in society and all areas of art,” says Gillard who is a poet, artist, educational researcher and teacher.

While working on her Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of British Columbia, she says she endured obstacles with people saying her (visual art) wasn’t the right fit or was “too Japanese.”

“I was really shocked going to UBC, a diverse place, [to discover] that they were not more accepting in areas such as film and the visual arts – they were against each other,” says Gillard.

Gillard says she felt something had to be done to cultivate change so she gathered people together, approached the department and formed a student body, the Visual Arts Students Association of UBC where she served as president from 2010 to 2011. The student body published monthly newsletters and had events to connect film, music and theatre students.

“That really gave the department an idea of how students can come together and work as a collective,” says Gillard

Documentary spurred change

Yoriko Gillard, Japanese instructor at Capilano University. | Photo courtesy of Capilano University

A documentary by Vancouver independent filmmaker Lisa Ohama, Obachaan’s Garden, caused her to want to ignite change. Gillard believes Obachaan’s Garden is very important in understanding what happened to Japanese-Canadians during the war, internment and after the war.

“I had heard about it but wasn’t very aware of the voice I had,” says Gillard. “My teacher encouraged me to miss my class to see the film, and the film changed my perspective to have a voice and help others going through hardships.”

Gillard was at UBC during the 2011 Japanese earthquake and says she almost quit school.

“I was broken when the tragedy hit and I wanted to return to Japan to volunteer to help with charity,” says Gillard.

Through Ohama, Gillard found out about Tonari Gumi, a Japanese-Canadian volunteer community centre. She says there were over 40 people there, including artists and students, and it was a place of brainstorming and sharing of feelings.

“I realized that day, this is my destiny,” says Gillard when witnessing not only Japanese people but Canadians come together like that. “What can I do for other people?”

For Gillard some things can’t be helped, like the 2011 Earthquake, but people have to move on.

“Since the tragedy, Japanese people have been using the word kizuna more to express their sincere care for others. I have been inspired by this phenomenon and have been using the word kizuna to gather people outside Japan to heal together by sharing stories of hardships. This is what I will talk about,” says Gillard.

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