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In the forest that surrounds Oike (big lake) in Tokamachi-shi (city), Niigata-ken (prefecture), stands an abandoned elementary school that is now home to the world's largest collection of Indian and Nepalese Mithila art.
Mithila Museum director Hasegawa Tokio has created a cosmic space where artand nature coexist in harmony.

THESE days it's harder and harder to get a feeling of reality, of ourselves living in the universe," begins Hasegawa Tokio, when asked how he came to open the remote Mithila Museum. "After a long journey looking for places where the cosmic essence is dense and the moon is beautiful, finally I was led to here. I call this place the Cosmic Forest.

"Unfortunately the developers came to the Cosmic Forest as well. Wanting to keep as much of the forest intact as possible, I opened this museum, in May 1982. The most important exhibit here is that solid, apparently plastic moon that comes every night to light our pitch-black sky. Through this museum I would like to introduce people to art and culture that communicates deeply with nature; we will need this in the twenty-first century."

The heart of the little museum in the Cosmic Forest is its collection of Mithila paintings. More often called Madhubani paintings in India, the style has been painted for 3,000 years by the women of Mithila, an area that extends from Bihar State in India to the Nepalese plains. The museum's collection of about 1,500 pieces includes many collected in India and others painted in Oike by invited artists. Also exhibited are paintings by the Warli Adivashi and Pardhan Adivashi peoples, and the terra-cotta collection of the Meithei Adivashi aborigines in Manipur State.


Born on 13 August ("a Friday") 1948 in downtown Tokyo, a 16th-generation Edo (now Tokyo) native, by the early 1960s Hasegawa was already predicting that the spiritual culture of the East would become a fortress against materialism. In 1965, when he was still in high school, he was deeply moved by a concert by saxophonist John Coltrane. "Jazz is a contact point between Western and African cultures. I felt that nothing could touch the heart more deeply than Coltrane's music," he says. He took a part-time job just to buy a tenor saxophone.

These were the days when Beatle-mania was intoxicating the world. The Beatles performed in Tokyo in 1966, but to Hasegawa the band "sounded light. I was looking for something more spiritual, something much stronger."
With seven friends Hasegawa formed a band called the Taj Mahal Travelers toplay improvised music fusing rock, jazz, and other modern styles with an Oriental flavor. Above all else, the band valued"improvisation in time with the cosmic pulse." In 1971 the band made a year-long tour of Europe. Hasegawa recalls, "My senses seemed to grow sharper because

of my lack of understanding of foreign languages. I came to feel very strongly things that I'd taken for granted before, like the wind blowing constantly around me, my life with the sun and the moon, my destiny to return to the soil at last. This was a journey in which I opened myself up more to the universe."
After the tour he discovered Oike and the abandoned school, and thought about reviving the school as a place that would help people realize their "selves in the universe." Then a young man named Noguchi Yasushi, just returned from a trip to India, came to Hasegawa, saying, "I want to show you these paintings."

"I'd heard of Mithila paintings, but never seen the real thing. I was struck by the overflowing cosmic senses that filled these hard-to-describe primi-tive works."


Wanting to share these wonderful paintings with local people, Hasegawa planned a full-scale exhibition of Mithila paintings to celebrate the opening of his museum. Hasegawa found a true jewel shining among the 150-odd paintings that Noguchi painstakingly collected and brought to Japan. He named the piece Lion Eating A Young Moon (pictured) and used it for the exhibition poster.

It was created by the acclaimed Mithila painter Ganga Devi, who was introduced as "India's energy comparable to Tagore in the post-Tagore India" by the late Pupul Jayakar, former advisor to the Indian Prime Minister on cultural heritage. Hasegawa invited her to the opening and asked her to paint a mural. Devi could not make the opening, but accepted Hasegawa's invitation in September 1982. She completed a round piece 1.8 meters in diameter, entitled Krishna and Radha during her stay in Oike. She also worked for two years on another large piece, Life from Birth to Death (pictured). She sent this painting to Hasegawa, writing that she wanted to "deliver her work to the Mithila Museum, the world's only museum of the Mithila paintings."

Over time, Hasegawa made more than 10 trips to the Madhubani region to collect Mithila paintings. "I was afraid that Mithila paintings might disappear in the same way ukiyo-e did in Japan," he says.

Every year Hasegawa invites Mithila and Warli artists to Oike, and his continuing effort has built the world's largest collection of Mithila paintings.
In 1998 he gave successful Mithila exhibitions in Tokyo and many cities across Japan, and won the Japan Foundation Prize for the Promotion of Community-Based Cultural Exchange. In January 1999 Hasegawa turned Tokamachi-shi's shopping street into an art museum, overseeing a hugely successful three-month experiment in "street museum."

Yumemakura Baku, one of Japan's most popular science-fiction writers, tells of another fateful encounter with Lion Eating A Young Moon: "Standing on the squeaky wooden floor in that dark room, I was frozen in fascination. The title Lion Eating A Young Moon conveyed a sweet, enigmatic, mysterious, and beautiful image. The fresh wordingc something mystical throbbed within this phrase.At that moment I was convinced that I must write a story with that title. It was a meeting with destiny."
For the next decade Yumemakura worked on the story, stumbling many times and often frustrated. It was eventually published as a serial in a science fiction magazine from 1986 to 1988, and when published as a voluminous novel in 1989 it won the Japan Science Fiction Grand Prix.


This past September and October, Hasegawa produced a Japan tour for Dagar
Vani, a highly skilled classical singer who carries on centuries of Indian tradition. "While he's proud of his family's 600-year history, Dagar's music is not old at all. Always present in his music is the philosophy of becoming one with nature, and it's been practiced and improved for 600 years.

The same can be said about the moon. I don't know when the moon was born, but it is neither new nor old. We look at the same moon that people in ancient times saw. Nature never ages. That's why effort to become one with nature always has the same kind of freshness as avant-garde art." "I've been working on this for nearly 30 years. At last I'm seeing a strong chance that my effort is being accepted by society. I'll continue offering suggestions from nature's viewpoint rather than from humanity's," says Hasegawa, a broad smile on his "moon-tanned" face.