March 21 - June 14, 2015
HAKONIWA Project - to touch & to be touched -

Solo Exhibition at Museum of Northwest Art, LaConner, WA

Opening Reception: Saturday March 21, 2015, 2PM - 5PM
Artist Presentation: Saturday April 4, 2015, 1PM - 2PM

An experimental and interactive project based on Jungian Sandplay Therapy, known as Hakoniwa therapy. It is an action-oriented and artistic psychotherapy practiced mostly in Japan and the West where patients create their own world by placing miniature figures in a sandbox.

I’ve been inspired by its significant use of nonverbal communication, concrete activity, and a holistic perspective. This project has been in my mind for several years, and I am pleased to debut HAKONIWA Project at the Museum of Northwest Art in March 2015.




Hakoniwa (hä ko ne wä) is a Japanese word meaning boxed or miniature garden. Its origin was derived from China in the seventh century from a scale model for designing gardens. During the Edo period (1603–1868), it became popular to provide an aesthetically pleasing miniature landscape for display and contemplation.

Hakoniwa also refers to Sandplay therapy, which is hands-on psychological work. It is a therapeutic technique that facilitates the psyche’s natural capacity for healing. British pediatrician Margaret Lowenfeld is widely regarded as the first person to utilize the sand tray for  therapeutic use in 1929, and it was further developed by Dora Kalff, a Jungian therapist in Switzerland in the 1950s and ‘60s. In 1965, Hayao Kawai, a notable Japanese Jungian psychologist, introduced the Sandplay therapy concept to Japanese psychology, and named it Hakoniwa therapy.

This therapy is an action-oriented, artistic psychotherapy practiced mostly in Japan and the West. In a ‘free and protected’ space provided by the analyst, the client creates a concrete manifestation of his or her imagined world using sand, water, and miniature objects. In this way Sandplay helps honoring and illuminating the client’s internal symbolic world and provides a place for its expression within a safe container - the tray filled with sand. In contrast to most Western psychotherapies, which emphasize verbal and direct expression or linear and cause-effect thinking, Hakoniwa makes significant use of nonverbal communication, concrete activity, and a holistic perspective. 


I first learned about Hakoniwa therapy about twenty-five years ago when I was still living in Tokyo, through the book “Psychology of Image” written by Hayao Kawai. With my many interests in the various aspects of psychology, therapy, or art and healing, Hakoniwa therapy has kept coming back to me as inspiration for an art project.

During my month-long art residency in the beautiful country side of Wyoming in 2009, I had the opportunity to revisit and develop the idea of the HAKONIWA Project. Assisted by a fellow artist who happened to be a certified American sign language interpreter, I started integrating human hands as important elements to be used in the sand box installation as a symbolic metaphor of nonverbal yet visual communication.

Looking back on my art career of the past fifteen years, March 11, 2011 was a critical turning point for me. On that day an earthquake and tsunami hit Fukushima, Japan, causing the worst nuclear disaster in human history. This tragedy was a trigger that led me to reconfirm why I make art, and to recognize the immeasurable power of healing associated with art-making. This is reflected in many of my recent projects, such as Echo at Satsop, Himawari Project, and One Thousand Questions

It is my pleasure to debut HAKONIWA Project at the Museum of Northwest Art. For this exhibit, I will bring three sand boxes to the gallery space for visitors to experience my interpretation of Hakoniwa therapy. The inside of the boxes are painted bright blue, representing ocean and sky, and are filled with fine white sand. There are many items on the shelves throughout the gallery, and visitors are encouraged to freely place any of them in the sand boxes to play, as if creating their own stories or world within.

Many of the items are drawings of hands. Some of them represent letters and numbers from sign language. Some are expressive hand forms seen in traditional Hawaiian and Balinese dancing and performance while others are characteristic hand gestures from Christianity and Buddhism.

In addition to the hand figures, there are additional objects with drawings of symbols, signs, and other visual vocabulary often associated with dream interpretation.

Etsuko Ichikawa

February 2015




In Hakoniwa Project, Etsuko Ichikawa builds upon previous themes in her work of historical trauma and disaster to explore the idea of healing through the transformation of artifacts associated with Sandplay, a non-verbal interactive form of play therapy. 

While traditional Hakoniwa therapeutic settings use a variety of small props, such as animal figures or human forms, to aid individuals in the construction of an interior world, Ichikawa’s miniature sand garden uses portable sketches of human hands attached to wooden dowels. Gestural drawings reveal the letters of the English alphabet in American Sign Language. Yet each articulation suggests more – a thumb and ring finger lightly pressed together form a circle that resemble a Buddhist mudra. Fingers clasped into a knocking posture, or loose fist, suggest a greeting. A forefinger points off into the distance to an object or destination beyond reach. The artist also revisits forms and concepts from her previous work – pyrograph paper river stones, evocative of the Zen garden at Ryoan-ji Temple in Kyoto, transform into play objects, alongside glass spheres sandblasted with dream imagery.

Ichikawa’s playground invites viewers to go deeper within, to engage in the creative act of inventing a new world where wholeness and renewal are possible. Through the restorative gesture, the artist draws upon subconscious knowledge to highlight notions of connectedness, in a project that calls forth an intimate tenderness.

Shin Yu Pai

Exhibition Writer


Exhibit Statement PDF
Museum of Northwest Art Website