Friday, April 27, 2007

My son and taiko

Photo by Naokazu Oinuma: Isaku Kageyama of Amanojaku.
Every parent should have a stage to boast about their child/ren.
I got to do it recently with an AP article for our online service for young readers asap.
It was a special writing/reporting experience, and I learned a lot about my son.
Music is a way of expressing/exploring identity.
For Isaku, taiko is an important way he can feel comfortable about being marginal _ never being quite all Japanese or all American.
It's all the same in the end.
Art helps us cope with pain.
But it also links with Something larger than life.
Isaku's bilingual blog
Amanojaku's DVD of a recent concert went on sale earlier this year. To get yours, contact Isaku at:

The power of Amanojaku lies in the composing by the group's founder, leader and creative force Yoichi Watanabe.
Every Watanabe tune is a narrative _ a trickling stream turning into dashing ocean waves, a dirgelike tune that's a testament of parental love, a samurai flashing his/her sword in determined battle.
Watanabe's storytelling is effective because taiko is not only dramatic but also based on nuance _ a feeling in reverberations _ and evocative of sounds from nature and other universal associations.
Watanabe also has that genius sensibility in matching rhythm patterns with truly "kakkoii" moves that are so Japanese.
He also juxtaposes Japanese rhythms with standard Latin beats in intelligent ways so it never becomes gimmicky.
I love that moment when the drummers, one by one, tap out a Latin rhythm in a transition section of "Dotou."
At the end of that segment, when the drummers flick their drumstick against the circular side of their taiko, and then OOOMPH! dive right into a groove, it just feels soooo good, like something jerking your insides probably where your intestines attach to the bottom of your stomach.
You just have to be there.
I've been to their concert so many times, but I still wait for that moment.
Amanojaku on YouTube

Taiko is for the Japanese what conga is for Latin culture, djembe is for African music and traps drumming is for American jazz.

What one Brazilian youngster has to say about what taiko means to him:
Bruno Takao Murakami, a 23-year-old third-generation Japanese-Brazilian, who has been studying with Amanojaku for nearly two years, says taiko has helped him feel proud of his Japanese ancestry.
"Isaku sensei is one of the best teachers I've ever had," he says. "I like his spirit and the way he looks at taiko."

Toyota on road to No. 1

Numbers for the first quarter show that Toyota beat General Motors in global vehicle quarterly sales for the first time ever.
That's a milestone for the Japanese automaker.
And the odds are something like 9-1 that Toyota will do that for the whole year.
The contest is already won in profitability.
Toyota is rolling in cash while GM is losing money the last couple of years.
GM has been the world's No. 1 automaker _ i.e., in number of vehicles produced globally per year _ for 76 years.
This past week was earnings time for Japanese automakers _ Nissan and Honda.
Toyota reports earnings in May.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Race and crime _ and reporting on race and crime

When an American racial minority commits a crime, race is an important fact, if not the most significant fact.
When a member of the racial majority commits a crime, race is incidental.
This is something that has to be said, although many people don't like to say it for fears of being perceived as defending the crime or worse yet the criminal.
This is not about putting the blame on racism to defend the crime/criminal.
Obviously there are far more people who have been victims of racism all their lives and DON'T kill.
It is to the credit of all members of racial minorities who have gotten beyond racism and managed not to end up criminals.
But is this being understood?
Not if every time, race becomes the big focus of a crime, and that's being taken for granted as a matter of fact.
And isn't that, after all, the mentality that perpetuates that kind of crime in the first place?
Why isn't that being addressed today?

More than 40 years ago, it has all been said in Alex Haley's interview with Miles Davis.

Statement from the Asian American Journalists Association

Asking the media to avoid mentioning race in a story may be unrealistic.
Asking the media to mention race in the proper way (with the proper perspective) may be just as unrealistic.
But it's not asking too much to ask the media to avoid the assumption that race is somehow an important aspect of the suspect that led to the crime.
The media should also avoid using wording that plays upon such public assumptions.
Some of the language on broadcast news is appalling.
The sad thing is that the people who are speaking don't even get it.
If we all tried to be more sensitive, then this wouldn't even be an issue.
Such standards for sensitivity should be higher for journalists than for the general public.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Japanese Automakers 2

A couple of stories about new technology at Japanese automakers:
Nissan and hybrid technology.
Toyota and telematics technology.

Flower Children 4

Image from Loic Bizel's Fashion in Japan .
My story from 2004.

Thoughts from Today:
Flower Children by definition don't want to hurt other people.
They choose jobs with that in mind.
Besides obvious choices like becoming musicians and joining the Peace Corps, some career choices are more common than others among Flower Children:
Firemen because they save lives.
Paramedics because they save lives.
Schoolteachers because they help kids become better people.
Journalists because we try to tell the world the "truth" and help people make up their own minds about what's right and wrong.
At one point, big-name companies like manufacturers also attracted engineers and other people who wanted to make things like cars and jet engines to help make this world a better place.
But somewhere along the way, getting jobs at big-name companies became an ends in itself for many Japanese.
The message was: Study hard to get in the best university possible, where a job with a big-name company will be guaranteed by your junior year.
That's why we need Flower Children today in Japan.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Japanese automakers

At a time when Detroit's Big Three are closing plants and slashing jobs to revive their ailing business, their Japanese counterparts are busy opening plants in Japan for the first time in decades.
My AP story and another link , and another.
Toyota named Jim Press, an American, as its first foreigner on its board of directors. Another link That's a move apparently meant to avert a backlash for the surging sales of the Toyota Yaris and other Japanese imports in the U.S.
_ a theme that's explored in my other story.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Story of Miu 2

More from Miu: What I remember about him is the smell of his breath, like candy gone sour, when he said, putting his lips close to my ear: "I found another girlfriend where I moved. She is Japanese. But I don't like her the way I like you." I was still in elementary school, and so I didn't quite analyze what it was about Asian women or about that boy that could be behind this penchant for the yellow race. He was too young to have seen old G.I. World War II movies, or looked up books on geisha or Suzy Wong. But I was the symbol of beauty for this person. He followed me home from school, offering me a bouquet of buttercups he'd picked from the lawn. He caught my arm and we tumble together on the grass in simulated intercourse, male body on top of female body, his breath over my breath. Secretly I hated him. This tall lanky male of sweet-and-sour breath, Dennis the Menace, straw hair, pale freckles, blue of his eyes that seem to connect to the sky above the buttercups _ the markings of the race that's so Dick and Spot, Hollywood, Marvel Comics, the evening news, rock 'n' roll. I told him to stay away. But he wouldn't stop as though he couldn't believe an Asian he had picked could possibly not like him. I was a target, a thing, not allowed to have thoughts on my own.

Story of Miu 1.

Story of Miu

Miu, 16, likes living in Tokyo because as a Japanese American she never felt she fit in her surroundings quite as well when she was growing up in the Washington D.C. suburbs, the only Asian in her class, although there were a few other Asians in her school whom she avoided the best she could, so embarrassing was it to be reminded of how she looked, how she stuck out _ the straight black hair, the almond slant gook eyes, dark, not blue and airy like the others. And the pale yellow sallowness of her skin, almost a khaki tone, sand of the desert, dried fruit rinds, not translucent and crystalline like a Botticelli painting, like the others. Miu used to sit in the foggy mist of the bathroom, scrubbing her arms in the tub, hoping/praying to turn white. Here in Tokyo, her skin turns suddenly a normal color. It caught even herself by surprise. If she wears her Ne-net clothes, and sits crossing a frail booted leg on the sidewalk-railing of Harajuku, lazily watching the street peddlers and Costume-Play teen-agers, she knows she blends in. So perfectly. She doesn't even need to keep her mouth shut. She studied Japanese in high school so actually she can speak Japanese quite well, as long as she keeps her sentences short and simple. Boys even try to pick her up, as though she is any other Japanese girl waiting for such advances, honey milling inside sweet, pungent but colorless. Back in the U.S., the boys who bothered to desire her were those with a fetish for Asian women. It was sadly obvious. They were the ones with a string of Asian girlfriends, one after the other, and in her neighborhood that required some searching. When for whatever reason, they broke up, she'd find out he had hooked up with yet another Asian girl. Being Asian was a brand. A categorization you could never escape, especially in how you attracted the opposite sex. Dating Asians was out of the question, Miu says, because there were only two or three Asian males for miles on around, and they were always fat or ugly, or had a white girlfriend. Miu made a point to come out to Tokyo just to get away. Her story continues....

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Food for thought

Food is symbolic of life. I've been a food writer in recent weeks with a story about Krispy Kreme and another about American beef . Seiyu, Wal-Mart's Japan unit, is the first major Japanese retailer to start selling American beef after a three year hiatus caused by the mad cow scare. My premise is that chains selling fattening food like Krispy Kreme are gaining acceptance in Japan as the nation grows fatter and get used to greasy and rich food like chocolate, ice cream and doughnuts. What kind of a relationship is more like Krispy Kreme vs. whole wheat bread? What is a staple in life and what is just junk?