About the Pen-tomo Project

The pen-tomoproject started with the hope of finding people who are currently living in Japan but have their roots overseas. This projectis inspired by the ways in which pen friends communicate with each other. Pen friends are people who may not have met in person and/or have different cultural backgrounds, but who are developing mutual understanding through exchanging letters, sometimes across the seas. The process of cultivating such friendships can create possibilities for the participants to closely imagine each other’s lives. From this viewpoint, we are proceeding with the pen-tomo project.

This project has been launched by artist Haji Oh upon receiving an invitation from the nonprofit organization, Artfull-action (Arts and Culture Promotion Plan Promotion Business, Koganei-shi). 

In the Pen-tomo Project phase 1, “Correspondence– Depicting Our Imaginary Landscapes,”four women living in Japan who were originally from Thailand, Hong Kong, China and Peru (of Japanese descent) participatedas pen friends. Since February 2020, they have exchanged letters with Haji Oh about the memories of their grandmothers. 

We are now in phase 2, “Grandmother’s Life, Tracing the Passage of Memories,” in which we pass on the notebooks made, based on the materials gathered in phase 1 of the project. 

We are currently looking for participants who are interested in writing about memories of their grandmother’s lifein the notebooks. 

September 2020

Border Crossings / Pen-tomo Project

Border Crossing / Pen-tomo Project “Grandmother’s Life, Tracing the Passage of Memories”

Koganei Artfull Action! ( Arts and Culture Promotion Plan Promotion Business, Koganei-City) is conducting a Border Crossing / Pen-tomo Project with citizens by inviting artist Haji Oh. In this project, the artist and four people from overseas have been communicating with each other over their memories of “grandmother’s life.” As a work based on this memory, a notebook was born that spelled out the memories of each grandmother. This notebook, delivered from Australia, was written / drawn by people of various generations and regions who traveled around Japan and wrote / drawn “memories about grandmothers.” Along with this note, we will exhibit each cross-border for of citizens who have been working together on the pen-tomo project. ( reference from Artful Action website)

Date and Time: 2020/11/13-12/6, (Holiday: Monday and Tuesday) 12:00-18:00

Place: Koganei Art Spot Chateau 2F ( 2F 6-5-3 Honcho, Koganei, Tokyo)

Participants: Haji Oh / Sachiko Nozawa / Mizuha Fukushima / Haruka Moriyama / Kanako Tasei (press officer) 

Organized by: Tokyo Koganei City / Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture Arts Council Tokyo / NPO Artful Action

*Held while restricting admission and hearing about health condition to prevent the spread of new coronavirus infection I will.

*Contents are subjected to change

* This project is being implemented as part of the “arts and Culture Promotion Plan Promotion Business, Koganei-City” and the Arts Council Tokyo “Art Point Plan.”

Phase.1 Correspondence

Depicting Our Imaginary Landscapes

‘Pen-tomo’ (pen friend) means someone with whom you regularly exchange letters. Pen friends sometimes build up trust through correspondence and experience close intimacy even if they have never met. When writing a letter, we think about the recipient as we express our thoughts. The words thus chosen resemble a narrative told in everyday language.

The Pen-tomo Project was started in the hope of finding immigrants living in Koganei and other areas around Tokyo. Through their letters I hear their stories and ask them to share their memories of landscapes which they have known. First, I prepared a theme, ‘grandmother’s life: clothing, food and housing’ for our correspondence.

I have created artwork related to the memories of my grandmother who migrated from Jeju Island to Osaka. This experience made me realize that the concept of ‘grandmother’would allow us to access a more vivid imagination of the past, which also leads to the possibility of opening up our imagination to others.

Memory is not static, it constantly transforms itself within the passing flow of time and presents itself as a dynamic relation. […] Remembering is a process of confirming one’s deep relationship to the world and eventually leads us to the core of creation. (Toshiharu Ito*)

The letter becomes a medium for conveying the voices of immigrants in Japan who with their diverse backgrounds have experienced many transformations in their daily lives. The ‘true’ scenery imagined through their memories, the sceneries their letters make us see, will help us unravel the mentally-constructed past and draw our own imaginary landscapes.

*Machi wa Kioku de dekiteiru[The City is Comprisd of memories: An Art Project that Creates New Memory], Osaka, Breaker Project 2011-2013, 2014, p.30

Border Crossings: Discovering What Lies Beyond Borders + The Pen-tomo Project – Depicting Our Imaginary Landscapes

Production: Artfull-action, Non-profit organization

Published: June 20 2020

Publisher: Arts Council Tokyo, Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture 


Phase.2 The Notebooks

“Grandmother’s Life, Tracing the Passage of Memories”

We will launch an activity to pass on the notebooks through which people can share memories of their grandmothers. As you look inside, you’ll find letters written by my pen friends, four women living in Japan who were originally from Thailand, Hong Kong, China and Peru (of Japanese descent), about the memories of their grandmothers. The notebooks also include my artwork “The Passage of Imaginary Landscape,” in which the landscapes I imagined by reading the letters written by my pen friends and the sceneries I have seen in the past are collaged using cyanotype technique. The notebooks will travel between people and the recipients will be invited to add the memories of their grandmothers. 

*‘Grandmother’ does not necessarily mean your relative but may refer to an older woman. 

* The notebooks will eventually be displayed at the exhibition “Pen-tomo Border Crossing Project” (Koganei Art Spot Chateau 2F, scheduled in November, 2020). 

If you are interested, please apply with the form here, or contact us by e-mail, fax or mail.

Letter from Kayin

” The Passage of Imaginary Landscape”, 2020

  • If participants wish to write in languages other than Japanese, we will add the translated Japanese text later.
  • Each notebook is named after the pen friends, Wi, Jianhua, Kayin and Monika. They are going to be passed on via different routes.
  • The notebooks will be passed on by coordinators.
  • The notebooks will be sent by Letter Pack (Japan Post) which will be provided by coordinators.

We are looking for participants, who can write about their memories of their grandmothers in one of the four notebooks.

If you are interested, please apply with the form here, or contact us by e-mail, fax or mail.

※Due to the impact of covid-19, our telephone line is less attended than usual. Please leave a message on our answering machine.

Artfull-action, Non-profit organization

Koganei chateau 2F, 6-5-3, Honcho, Koganeishi, Tokyo, 184-0004

TEL/FAX: 050-3627-9531 (Mon-Fri 10:00-17:00)

EMAIL: mail@artfullaction.net

Please apply with the form here