Wednesday, December 31, 2014


May your 2015 be filled with much Health and Happiness.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Thanks be

On this, my 39th birthday, I reflect on the incredible year this has been and am so very grateful for the help and encouragement of so many family members, friends and supporters.

For many years now, I have not wanted to celebrate my birthday, although I had not been able to articulate why that is until last year:
Today, I spent the day exactly how I had always wanted to: doing something that wasn't about me in a place where no one knew it was birthday.

As I put my thoughts about today into the words I wrote above, it clarified for me my feelings about birthdays: we have been put on this earth to do for others, and we are called to celebrate the gift of life that we have been given not by celebrating our own birth and receiving physical 'presents', but by celebrating that mystical exchange of grace that occurs when we use our 'presence', the life that we have been given, to do for others. (Full story "The more they take away, what remains only grows stronger" HERE).

As I did last December in my "2013 Year in Review" (HERE), I would like to reflect on some of the life-changing experiences I have had in 2014 and for which I am so very grateful.

January 2014
I traveled to India for the first time where 'A2-B-C' (website ENGLISH/ 日本語) was screened in the CMS Vatavaran Environment and Wildlife Film Festival in New Delhi, and where I wrote THIS story about the street children who were separated from the outdoor screening venue by a single sheet of cloth.
February 2014
After screening 'A2-B-C' in Texas' Thin Line Festival (STORY), I flew to Taiwan for a three-city screening tour.  One of the highlights was the amazing outdoor screening in Taipei's Liberty Square (PHOTOS).

March 2014
One of the busiest months for travel that I have had, March began with my participation in the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW)-organized congress "The Effects of Nuclear Disasters on the Natural Environment and Human Beings" in Germany (STORY), followed by an intense 48 hours of travel to Switzerland and back (STORY).  Marking the 3rd anniversary of the March 11 disaster back home in Japan (HERE), an article I wrote about the newly passed Secrecy Law was published to coincide with the anniversary (ARTICLE).  I also wrote an entry called How to "do" a film and World Tour (HERE) about how I had been able to continue my work in the face of so many challenges.  The month ended with a trip to the US for screenings of 'A2-B-C' in NYC and Bryn Mawr, as well as a visit with family (STORY). 

April 2014
In April, things started gearing up for the nation-wide release of 'A2-B-C' in Japan beginning with a preview screening for mass media followed by a Q&A led by Radio DJ and broadcaster Peter Barakan (STORY).
May 2014
In May, I traveled to Fukushima and posted THIS Video Message for Children's Day.  I sat for a series of interviews (HERE) ahead of the theatrical release of 'A2-B-C', and the film opened to a sell-out crowd (STORY).  After reflecting on this incredible journey in an entry called "The Very Beginning" the day after the opening (HERE), I flew to Edmonton, Canada, for the Global Visions Film Festival where two of my films were screened (STORY).  This was followed by a trip to Brazil, my first time in South America (STORY), where 'A2-B-C' was awarded THIS special recognition and where I met Bonkohara Kuniko, Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor and director of the Association of Hibakusha in Brasil (STORY).  On the way home to Japan, I made a stop-over in  I the US where I gave THIS talk outside Washington, DC.

June 2014
Arriving home in Japan, I went straight from the airport in Tokyo to the cinema where 'A2-B-C' was screening and where I was told that the initial three-week run for the film had been extended for an additional three weeks (STORY).  In preparation for the nation-wide release, I took part in THIS press junket; meanwhile, the 25th screening of 'A2-B-C' in an international film festival was held in Poland (STORY).  I then took part in the symposium "Deciphering Japan" at Tokyo University of the Arts (HERE) and the film and I were attacked in THIS online article.  The theatrical release of 'A2-B-C' in Tokyo ended with a sell-out crowd and with the film at #1 on the Cinema Today access ranking list (STORY).  June ended with screenings in Nagoya and Hiroshima (STORY), my participation in the academic conference Cultural Typhoon (INFO), and putting the finishing touches on my new film, '-1287' (INFO).

July 2014
Beginning with a screening at Tsukuba University (STORY),  private screenings of 'A2-B-C' continued (HERE), the domestic tour continued in Osaka and Kyoto (STORY), and I was invited to speak at the University of Kobe (STORY).  Private screenings were held in Kamakura (STORY) and the picturesque city of Matsumoto (PHOTOS), and the domestic tour continued in Kobe (STORY).

August 2014
My short film "Even the birds need to be loved" was screened publicly for the first time in New York (STORY), and I marked Hiroshima Day (August 6) at a screening of 'A2-B-C' in Tokyo (STORY).  Having finished my new film '-1287', I began preparing for the Asian Premier of that film (HERE), as well as the continuing screenings of 'A2-B-C' (which I wrote about HERE in an entry called "Snorting Doc").  Meanwhile, I was asked to moderate for the first time a press conference at the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan (STORY).

September 2014
The World Premier of '-1287' was announced (STORY), and the domestic screenings of 'A2-B-C' continued in Nagano, after which I had the adventure described in "Stick 'em up! Your money or your... freedom" (HERE).  At a screening in Oita, I was heard screaming "Fukushima is NOT a zoo!  And nuclear refugees are NOT animals.  They are people!” (detailed HERE).  The next day, apparently still in a confrontational mood, I could be heard hissing " If something terrible happens to them as a result of having spoken out, it will not be because of this film!  It will be because of people who think like you, Doctor," at another screening (story HERE).  At the end of the month, I met my dad in the UK for a little R&R and to visit family friends ahead of the UK premier of '-1287' (STORY and PHOTOS HERE).

October 2014
The World Premier of '-1287' took place in London's Raindance (photos HERE), and "Japan's Foreign Filmmakers: 'Weastern Cinema'', an article I wrote for the festival catalogue, was published (story  HERE, full article HERE).  Ahead of the Asian Premier of '-1287', articles about my work were published (HERE), and I made a quick trip to Singapore (just 36 hours!) to take part in the workshop “Exposure and Effect: Measuring safety, environment and life in Asia” (STORY).  The Asian Premier of '-1287' was held in the Taiwan International Documentary Festival at which really personal questions were asked at the first post-screening discussion (HERE) and where the second post-screening discussion lasted longer than the film (HERE)!  The month ended back in Japan with screenings of 'A2-B-C' in Chigasaki and Wakayama, along with some devastating news that really put things into perspective for me (STORY).

November 2014
The month began with screenings of 'A2-B-C' in Kyushu where I met a real live Samurai (!) (STORY), and I officially started my new job at the University of Tokyo (STORY).  I traveled to the US for screenings of two of my films in the Lake Champlain International Film Festival where I was honoured to receive THIS award.  This was followed by a screening of 'A2-B-C' at McGill University in Montreal, screenings back in Japan in Akiruno and Seto, and my continuing work at the university (STORY).

December 2014
Jordan.  In my first trip to the Middle East, I felt called to visit Petra, where I had an amazing experience (links to the 4-part story are HERE), followed by a screening of 'A2-B-C' in Amman (HERE).  Back in Japan, the film screened in Mie to a packed house after this strange coincidence on the train (STORY).


My last trip abroad this year has brought me to the US to be with family for the holidays. 

Today as I receive so many birthday wishes, I am grateful for the thoughts and prayers.  And yet I find that I continue to be uncomfortable with the marking of my birthday.  As a child grows up, there is a celebration of that new life, balanced with prayers for the child's continued health.  Yet now, as an adult, I struggle with receiving congratulations simply for having been born.  Rather, I believe, it is I who should convey this greeting, this thanks, this praise: thanks be to my parents who gave birth to me and raised me; thanks be to the family members and friends who give me strength; thanks be to the supporters who help make possible my continuing work, and thanks be to God.

Celebrating my 1st birthday with my sister, Amanda.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Out with a bang

This will be my last blog from an airport this year.  Just back from Jordan on Friday (STORY and PHOTOS HERE), on Sunday I traveled down to Mie Prefecture where the theatrical release of 'A2-B-C' (website ENGLISH/ 日本語) continued (more on that in a moment).  

Back to Tokyo bright and early yesterday morning, I worked half day, ran some errands and then attended a dear friend's Christmas concert in the evening.  It is now Tuesday afternoon, and I am on my way to America to visit family for Christmas.  When I have shared with people I am going to America over Christmas they have almost always said, "Oh, you're going home for Christmas", to which I have replied, "No, I'm going to America for Christmas, and then I'm coming back home to Japan."

There is nothing like visiting my family's home for Christmas, and I am so grateful to be able to do so this year.  But it is just that: my family's home, not mine.

Meeting many nuclear refugees living in temporary housing over the past three years has taught me so many things: you can make home where you are, despite the often difficult circumstances.  And more than a physical house, what is important in life is Health, Family, Love.

'A2-B-C' was screened over the weekend at the Shintomiza Theatre (INFO), with more than 80 years of history as a cinema and decades more as a Kubuki theatre, in Ise City, Mie Prefecture.  Roughly three hours by train from Tokyo, I took a Shinkansen bullet train to Nagoya and then transferred to the "kintetsu" rail, with its old-fashioned cars that arrive at the gorgeous pre-war station building in Ise.

With an hour and a half on the train from Nagoya to Ise, I opened up my computer, plugged in my earphones, put on some music and started catching up on some of the dozens of e-mails I had fallen behind on while in Jordan.  At some point, the junior high school student sitting next to me got off the train, and I moved over from the aisle to the window seat where I feel there is more privacy.  A few stops later, a man boarded the crowded train and sat next down next to me.  Immersed in my work, I didn't pay much attention to him until I felt him staring at me.  Assuming that he just wasn't used to seeing "foreigners", I ignored him until he blatantly started staring at my computer screen.  Just as I started to lift my head to give him a look that I hoped would discourage him from staring at me any longer, he said something that sounded an awful lot like "Are you Ian?"  Taking out my earphones, I then clearly heard him repeat his question, this time adding my full name.  "Are you Ian Thomas Ash?".

Replying yes, he put his hand into his jacket pocket and pulled out the ticket stub for the previous night's screening of my film.  "My name is Kuno," he said, reaching out to shake my hand as he continued, "Thank you for your film."

It turns out Mr. Kuno is an organizing member of the citizen's groups that asked the Shintomiza Theatre to program "A2-B-C".  In addition to helping the theatre with advertising, they also volunteered during the screening.  Arriving at the theatre, several of the volunteers where out front wearing bright orange jackets and directing the cars in the parking lot.  The screening was sold out, and Mr. Mizuno, the theatre owner, told me they had set up folding chairs in the back to accommodate more people.  Later, after the screening, Mr. Mizuno told me that this was the best weekend for the theatre all year.

Just before entering the cinema for the post-screening discussion, I was surprised to find out that tickets to hear me speak were sold separately from the film ticket (!) which to my knowledge has never been done before.  I always feel a great responsibility to fairly and accurately represent the people who appear in my film when I speak, but now I suddenly felt a strange responsibility to give    over a hundred paying customers their money's worth (!).

Despite slight jet-lag (or perhaps it was just simply being tired), the discussion went smoothly and lasted over an hour.  Although it generally takes me a few minutes to warm up, once I get going, my adrenaline really starts pumping and I can get quite excited.

When the topic of the secrecy law came up (INFO), by some strange coincidence, the mic I was using suddenly started crackling and then went completely dead.  Dropping the mic, I screamed at the top of my lungs, "IF THEY ARE TRYING TO MAKE ME QUIET, THEY WILL ONLY SUCCEED IN MAKING ME LOUDER!!!" to great laughter and applause.

And now my flight is being announced, so I shall end this entry here.

Thank you all so very much for your support and encouragement.  This has indeed been the most incredible year for which I am so very grateful.

In Peace,
Tokyo, Japan

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Royal Treatment

The Middle Eastern Premier of 'A2-B-C' (website ENGLISH/ 日本語) was held last night in Amman during the Uranium Film Festival Jordan Edition (INFO).  Sponsored by the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Foundation, in cooperation with the Royal Film Commission of Jordan and the Goethe Institut, the selected films were curated from the program of the main festival which was held in Rio de Janiero in May of this year.  It was wonderful to see Marcia Gomes de Oliveira, Uranium FF Executive Director, and Norbert G. Suchanek, Festival General Director, after having first meet them in Brazil (STORY). 

Returning to Amman on Tuesday, the opening day of the festival, after an amazing time in Petra (STORY), there were meetings with the festival sponsors and interviews along with many wonderful meals and Arabic Coffee breaks in between.
One of the highlights was a tour of the Royal Film Commission (WEBSITE) by Communication and Culture Manager Nada Doumani.  Housed in two gorgeous buildings, the facilities include a DVD library, filming equipment and editing suites, ALL of which can be used by independent filmmakers for FREE!!!  Also on site are trendy cafe and an outdoor screening space with stadium seating.

The screening of 'A2-B-C' last night was held before a small, but engaged audience.  The post-screening discussion focused on Jordan's nuclear future; Jordan is currently one of the countries receiving Japan's attention as a possible place to which it hopes to export its nuclear technology.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Petra, Part 3 of 3: Khalid, the Cave Man

Turning around and heading down from the High Place of Sacrifice (STORY), I passed a sunbathing cat toward the well-beaten path that would take me back to the base of the Treasury, the place where my day had begun and now would end.

I had heard there was another way down, "the not easy way", one with spectacular views of the Theatre and Treasury from above.  When I asked a young woman selling tea at the top of the main path heading down, she said "you'll never find it on your own".  Taking that as a challenge, I headed in the direction of what seemed to be the most "not easy way".  Several minutes off the path, a man on a horse tried to point me back in the direction of the main path down.  When I told me I was looking for "the not easy way" down, the one with the better view, he said "you'll never find it.  And it isn't safe to go on your own."  Calling out to a young man on a donkey passing by, he said, "My friend will take you, but just to the place where you can see the Theatre."  The young man tied his donkey to a tree, mumbling "so he doesn't run away", as he laughed.  "Follow me."

He introduced himself as Khalid but said his nickname is "Cave Man".  When I asked why, he said, "because we are Bedouin.  We live in the caves here" and told me that there are still 25 families that live in the caves, making money guiding tourists, but otherwise living pastoral lives.

Khalid asked if I had been given an Arabic name, and when I said no, he said, "You will be Audi.  Like the car," and laughed.

As we walked, I touched the patterned pink stone on my right until the cries of a herd of passing goats drew my attention to the pink valley down below.

"Look!" Khalid said, pointing across the valley.  "The Two Obelisks."

Arriving at a hut on the edge of the cliff where Khalid's friend was drinking tea, he sat down and pointed into the valley where the grandeur of the Theatre hewn into the rock could be seen far below us.

After a few moments of discussion, Khalid agreed to take me to the place overlooking the Treasury and then "the not easy way down".   Leading the way up the side of the rock and across a stone ledge, he warned me to be careful of my head on the low overhanging rock.  "You have good shoes for climbing" he said, turning around and looking down at my boots even as he continued to walk across the narrow ledge.  I looked down to my left into the valley below: one misstep on the smooth pink rock and that would be it.  Khalid, having reached the other side, had stopped talking and was watching my every step.  As I walked along the edge ducking my head as he had warned, I must have arched my back as my backpack scraped the rock above me.  Khalid scuttled over with the balance of mountain goat, having been born and raised on these rocks, and though the narrow ledge was barely wide enough for one of us, he stepped between me and the edge and held his hands out.  I felt safe with him there, although had I slipped and fallen, Khalid could not have saved the both of us from tumbling down into the valley below.  How could he have felt so protective of me, someone he had just met, trusting both me and my boots enough to place himself between me certain death?

"You made it", he said, motioning for my camera.  "Smile!"

Climbing back down the rock on the other side, we followed a dried-up stream bed that Khalid said will flood with the winter rains that will begin to fall any day.  

"One more rock to climb", he said, pointing up.

Twenty minutes later we arrived at the top where Khalid approached the edge and knelt down.  I joined him on the ledge overlooking the Treasury.  And we sat in silence.

"Now, 'the not easy way down'," Khalid said, his eyes shining as he pointed toward the gorge leading straight down to the base of the Treasury.  Not only would I have never attempted such a descent on my own, it never would have even occurred to me to try, and yet now, with Khalid leading the way, it never even occurred to me that I couldn't. 

After sliding down a particularly steep rock and worried that it was going to get in my way, Khalid looked up and said "give me your bag."

"I can handle it," I said, bracing my hands on the rocks on either side as I prepared to slide down.  "How old are you anyway?" I blurted out.  

"Twenty.  Almost twenty."

"Well, I'm almost forty, but I can still carry my own bag," I laughed.

"Then throw me your camera."

Reaching the half-way point of our descent, Khalid observed, "The way of the water is steep."  Swinging off a tree branch growing defiantly out the rock, he let go, and dropped down onto the hard, pink rock below.  "Come on!" he called, looking up at me.  I took a deep breath, grabbed the branch and landed next to him with a thud.  "You made it!"

Turning around and looking up at the gorge, it was hard to believe that we had just climbed down from the top.  Stepping through broken rocks and around a barrier, we passed an "Off Limits" sign that warned tourists that not only was this was a falling rock zone that was dangerous but that it was illegal to attempt to climb up the gorge.

Stepping into the main plaza in front of the Treasury, four Park Guards taking a coffee break noticed us just as we noticed them.  "Keep walking, " Khalid ordered.  Successfully walking past them, Khalid turned around just as one of the Guards stepped into my path and stopped me.  Still holding his coffee, the Guard used the cup to motion toward the sign we had just passed.  "Did you see that sign?  It is illegal to climb up those rocks," he said sternly.

"Yes, I'm sorry, sir," I said.  "But there was no sign at the top saying we couldn't climb down."  

He cracked a smile.  "Yes, well, I suppose that's true."

The Guard rejoined his colleagues, and I walked over to Khalid.  "I thought I was in trouble."

"Not when you're with me," Khalid said confidently.  I thanked him for guiding me and for showing me a part of his world.  "Please," he said, "Tell your friends Jordan is safe."

"I will."

We shook hands, and as I turned around to head back through As-Siq, the narrow gorge that leads the way in, and out, of the Ancient City of Petra, Khalid called to me.  "The next time, you will stay with my family and me in the cave."

"It would be an honour."
--- END --

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Petra, Part 2 of 3: The Church, a Dead End and the High Place of Sacrifice

Leaving the Monastery (STORY) and climbing back down the mountain, I headed for the Three Churches of Petra.

Reaching the bottom, I took the high road leading to the Church Complex.  Looking back and across the Colonnaded Street was an amazing view of the Great Temple Complex (25 BC- 100 AD).  Passing it while walking on the Colonnaded Street earlier in the morning on the way to the Monastery, it had not made much of an impression on me; but here, looking at it from a distance, I felt was really seeing it for the first.

Another example of distancing one's self from something in order to really experience it.

Great Temple Complex from the Colonnaded Street

Great Temple Complex from the high road leading to the Three Churches
The Church Complex of Petra (375-600 AD) consists of three churches, Petra Church, Blue Chapel and Ridge Church.  It would seem that this is not one of the main points of interest in Petra, for although I passed a handful of tourists on the way, not one interrupted my time here, despite spending an hour in the complex.
The preserved mosaic floor of Petra Church
The altar floor of Petra Church
Blue Chapel
Ridge Church
Heading back down and again crossing the Colonnaded Street, I climbed the steps heading past the ruins of the Al-Habis Fortress on the way to the High Place of Sacrifice.  Getting a bit lost without a detailed map or very many posted signs, there would sometimes be a painted arrow on a rock presumably pointing in the right direction.  When all else failed, I sat down on a rock for a drink of water and waited for a man on a horse or a donkey who would kindly show me the way.

A man on a horse called out directions to me from afar
The Renaissance Tomb
The Soldier's Tomb (200 BC- 200 AD)
The Garden Hall (200 BC- 200 AD)
At one point I was sure I had reached a dead end.  I sat down on a rock and contemplated turning around and retracing my steps over the last hour to find the path to the High Place of Sacrifice.  As I rested, I heard the sound of a bell coming up from behind me.  A man barking out orders to his goat appeared and where I had been sure there was no way out of the cul-de-sac of solid rock we were in, the goat started to head up a set of stairs hidden behind a rock.

Patience.  There is always a path forward, though it may be hidden.

I finished my water and followed them.

What I had thought was a dead end.
The man and goat who revealed the stairs headed up to the top.
What had looked like a flat rock from a distance...
...contained a set of stairs.
Reaching the High Place of Sacrifice (200 BC- 200 AD) an hour later, again when I thought I could not go any further, an arrow on a rock showed the way.

You must approach the ledge to see that there is a way forward just beyond it.

To be continued...