Tuesday, January 29, 2008

One thousand drummers

Young Brazilian taiko drummers

One Thousand Taiko Drummers Celebrate Japan-Brazil Immigration 100th Anniversary

(TOKYO) – Amanojaku, one of the world’s most respected taiko ensembles, has been appointed by the Nippon Taiko Foundation to direct a performance by one thousand taiko drummers at Skol Arena Anhembi, Sao Paulo’s finest samba venue, on June 21.
Amanojaku will also hold a concert in the city. The performances celebrating the
100th anniversary of Japanese immigration to Brazil are the culmination of a bold and innovative five-year program.
The drummers, primarily Japanese-Brazilians in their teens and 20s, will perform “Kizuna (Bond)” co-composed by Amanojaku leader Yoichi Watanabe at the 500-meter samba venue.
“Playing taiko requires more than just technique,” says Mr. Watanabe, who is making his sixth trip to Brazil to help young Japanese-Brazilian men and women discover their roots, learn the value of hard work, perseverance and teamwork through the traditional Japanese art form.
Taiko has spread rapidly through the nation known for its love of percussion, and is now played by more than 60 groups.
The event is a moving testament to the success story of Japanese-Brazilians, who have risen through hard work, to become an integral part of a dynamic and booming country.
About Amanojaku - http://amanojaku.info
As one of the world’s most respected taiko ensembles, Amanojaku has toured more than 40 nations, including Thailand ('06), the United States ('05) and Brazil ('04). Amanojaku breathes the funk of Tokyo's cityscape, the multi-layered vibrations of the present and faraway sounds like swing and samba – all integrated with the Japaneseness of taiko.
About Yoichi Watanabe - http://amanojakuweblog.seesaa.net
Founder and leader of Amanojaku, Yoichi Watanabe, is one of taiko’s premier players and instructors. Mr. Watanabe’s influence on taiko is most recognizable through his compositions, which feature a distinctive modernity combined with traditional techniques.
For more music from Amanojaku can be found on the iTunes Music Store, Napster, eMusic.com and other online music distribution sites.
Contact Information
Isaku Kageyama
TEL: 03-3904-1745 FAX: 03-3904-9434
E-Mail: isaku.kageyama@amanojaku.info
Skype: ikageyama
MSN: ikageyama@hotmail.com

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Toyota vs. General Motors

All along, the 2007 Car Wars was running close.
Toyota told us 9.37 million vehicles in 2007 worldwide sales.
The company said it wasn't going to release numbers beyond that.
Then GM gave their number admirably down to the last car: 9,369,524.
Too close call.
It was only then Toyota gave us another digit _ 9.366 million, about 3,000 vehicles fewer than GM's.
I asked Toyota officials if they had waited for GM to release numbers.
Maybe they even wanted to release numbers that were smaller to avert a backlash from Americans upset that an industrial icon had been dethroned as the world's top automaker _ a title GM has held for 77 years.
This is the way Toyota sources tell it:
They thought another digit wouldn't be necessary because they had expected GM's sales numbers to be far above the rounded off 9.37 million.
They had gone on past differences between the numbers GM had given for global production vs. global sales. (Global sales tend to be bigger than global production for GM.)
Toyota was surprised to see how close GM's global sales tally was to their own, and so they felt they had to release the extra digit since reporters wouldn't stop asking.
By the way, Toyota is No. 1 in global vehicle production.
Production tends to be easier to keep track for manufacturers than sales, which must add up the count from dealers.
With the race virtually a tie, this means we'll keep watching the GM vs. Toyota numbers game all this year.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Why We Write 2

Writing is about filling a need among readers.
But sometimes writing goes beyond the market.
We write for the same reason, if there is a reason, we breathe, eat and procreate.
It is natural. It is part of life.
It is addressing an audience that is eternal.
I am suddenly struck by the idea that the writers and artists who are so dear to us as our definitions of life _ Van Gogh, T.S. Eliot, Chiyo Uno _ are dead.
How could they be dead and be so alive?
Death is so definitive and real, but why is it we cherish their works, their message, the stories of their lives as though we know them still?
When we, the lesser of us, die, we will be gone. This difference makes as little difference as death is certain.
No one writes to attain eternity in the memory of Humankind as a legacy.
We merely write to survive the day to day with all its madness, injustice and horror of the death that awaits.
We write because we live.

Why We Write

Even before I wrote those stories in fourth grade, now I remember: There was that essay in second grade about what we wanted to be when we grew up. Career orientation at a tender age. My essay was about how I wanted to be just like my mother when I grew up. I would look like her, cook and clean like her, and have a child just like me. Oppressed and devoid of ambition. But my teacher was moved. She took it as a statement of my filial love and respect. I got to skip third grade.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Taiko anyone?

If you've always been curious about what it's like to bang on those Japanese taiko drums, a one-day beginner's class is being offered by Amanojaku Saturday, March 29 2 p.m.-3:30 p.m. at Tokyo Geijutsu Gekijo, just outside Ikebukuro Station West exit in the basement rehearsal room.
5,000 yen (2,500 yen for elementary school children).
For the more ambitious, learn Bujin, Amanojaku's signature chudaiko tune, 4 p.m.-5:30 p.m., or the giant Odaiko from 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m. (both 7,500 yen; English speaking instructor _ my son Isaku _ on scene).
TEL: 03-3904-1745
email: taikoshudan@amanojaku.info

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Last Poets

Fathers of hiphop, the Last Poets are the archetype of great poetry with percussion.
Like the words of a shaman, poetry can be volatile and painful.
But poetry is about the hope for a better world where the divisions of race don't matter.
The message of "Little YELLOW Slut" is that the same roots of discrimination that create Fetishism are at the bottom of what causes war and hatred and violence.
Stay tuned for Poetic Justice in a Tokyo Sound.
I would like to preface the poem with a quote from Mahatma Ghandi.
Any suggestions?
"You must be the change you want to see in the world."
He reportedly also said: "I believe in equality for everyone, except reporters and photographers."

Story of Miu 8

Continued from Story of Miu 7.

(Scene: A Kyoto-style restaurant on the 14th Floor of the Takashimaya Department Store in Shinjuku, Tokyo. The delicately shaped servings in modern geometric cups and plates line a wooden counter facing wall-to-wall glass that overlooks a noontime luscious view of Shinjuku Gyoen garden.)
Miu (Fingering traditional "tenugui" cotton towels the restaurant has given as napkins): Cool!
Me (Trying not to sound too curious): And so how's it going?
Miu: OK.
Me: You were telling me you picked up ... met someone, right, the other day? And so what's the latest news?
(Silence for several minutes; waiter from the other side of the counter brings cups of tea.)
Miu: Yes, there have been developments. He said we were supposed to meet at Alta in Shinjuku _ that was, I guess, last weekend _ to see a movie. But I didn't go.
Me: You didn't go.
Miu (Shaking head): But I did meet another guy. I went to a different club with some other friends, and there was this other guy.
Me: That's great.
Miu: Actually, I am building a database.
Me: What?
Miu: I figure you have to be scientific about this procedure. (Begins to explain hurriedly) My Japanese really improves, spending time with these guys. Free lessons! (Laughs.)
Me: And so how does the database work?
Miu: It's easy. You collect phone numbers. It must be harder for males but for females, you don't have to do much.
Me: And how many have you collected?
Miu: Lots. I haven't checked.
Me: Like 10? 20?
Miu (Giggling:) More like 100.
Me: Gosh. How can you possibly keep track?
Miu: That's the challenge. You have to take good notes _ oh, you'd know about that. How do you keep track of all the people you interview?
Me: I have to write down the person's characteristics on their meishi. Thank God Japanese are into their meishi.
Miu: What do you write?
Me: Like "did most of the talking," "said nothing," "glasses," "made joke about such and such." It's tough. They tend to be all male and old and wear dark suits.
Miu: Similar problem here. All male, young, eager to get into bed, very very boring!
But I write down what they said and stuff. And I can sometimes even take their photo with my cell phone. My cell phone has a better digital camera than my camera.
Me: At least, you are getting around and meeting a lot of people and learning about Japan. And no sense rushing into settling down with one person. Maybe I could have gotten someone better if I had held out, too. (Sighs)
Miu: Oh, don't say that. You have a great marriage.
Me: Thanks. So what do you do with all that information? You call one of them up randomly when you need to go out or something?
Miu: Something like that.
Me: Your generation _ there is so much technology available like SNS, e-mail, messaging, all that, to connect in so many ways maybe you don't feel like you've checked out all your options unless you build this ... database. (Miu shrugs as they eat with lacquered chopsticks soy-flavored grilled fish, chopped seaweed and daikon in vinegar sauce and miso soup with tofu.) The world was a simpler place when all you did was sit around at home and wait for a call on that fixed line.
Miu: You didn't do that, did you?
Me: Of course, I did. Everybody did. What if he calls and you're out? You'd miss that chance to go out with him, right?
Miu: How can you stand it?
Me: Right, it is quite oppressive, isn't it? (Pauses) Yes, you're right. The new technology is progress. But don't you feel that Japan is still stuck in the 1950s as far as images of women?
Miu: What do you mean?
Me: There aren't that many outlets for older women still, except maybe flamenco classes for housewives or something. We know studies say more women are working and some are even successful. We see them on TV. But the most desirable roles for women are defined as young and cute because it's the men who are behind the definitions. I mean, look at the U.S. presidential race. What a contrast.
Miu: But maybe Yuriko Koike will run for the LDP presidential race, and there you go: Japan's first female prime minister.
(Miu and Me laugh.)
Me: What comes to mind when you hear "obasan?" Nothing good, right?
Miu: No one wants to be called "obasan." That's like the worst derogatory thing in Japanese you can call a woman.
Me: There is "babaa."
(They laugh. Waiter brings dessert, a traditional rice-cake pastry with fruit and sweet black beans )
Have you noticed what word the sales people at Shibuya 109, the Kyoto "maiko" and night club hostesses use to refer to older women to avoid saying "obasan?"
Miu (Visibly curious): No, what?
(They sip tea.)
Me: "Oneesan."
Miu: Oneesan.
Me: Forever young _ although older. But I think this shows how society hasn't recognized the value of the female after women have gotten past their roles of reproduction.
Miu: Oh, wasn't there some minister who got in trouble for calling women "reproductive machines?"
Me: Exactly. That mentality. There are lots of women in their 30s and older who truly dread being called "obasan." If it hasn't happened already, then it could happen any second. Horrors!
Miu: Moment of metamorphosis. Society decrees you useless for preservation of the species.
Me: I like being obasan. I am proud of being obasan.
Miu: OK, obasan.
Me: Obasan is a title that you earn as a woman when you grow older and wiser and better. Sounds a bit like sour grapes, doesn't it? But I think I learned so much about womanhood _ maybe "personhood" _ through my motherhood _ or through my son, I guess, having a child.
Miu: That's wonderful.
Me: All the years my son was growing up, his friends who spoke Japanese would call me obasan. They would look at me with those big innocent eyes of theirs, trusting me because I was their friend's mother. It's respect I earned not only because of my relationship with my son but also my son's relationship with others. That's why I get to be obasan. It's real and very beautiful and full of dignity. Not some derogatory place in the hierarchy as defined by sexual desirability, work performance, whatever. It's deeper than all that.
Miu: It is. And it should be like that.
Me: Women should be proud of being obasan.
Miu: Of course.
Me: Obasan Power!
Miu: That's a good way to put it.
Me: But all you see in the Japanese media much of the time are obasan rushing to bargains, gossiping, taking flamenco lessons.
Miu: What's the solution?
Me: I'm not sure. Data show Japanese women are choosing not to get married and not to have children, even if they do by some miracle get married. (Looks into Miu's eyes.) I try to tell young women this every chance I get, but it's the most important experience in life to have a child, OK? No one really told me this. I was so lucky I did get married and have a child. The common wisdom back then was that women had to prove we could be just as good as men. And so worrying too much about marriage and children was seen as backward, something that women who weren't "liberated" (Holds up her hands to make quotation marks in the air with her fingers) did _ not women who wanted to make something of themselves and have careers.
Miu: I want a child. Maybe not now. But I want a baby someday.
Me: You will. You will. And you have plenty of time. To build databases and everything else.
Miu: This database I am building isn't about that though. I'm not sure what it's about. But I don't want to be trapped into someone just because he picks me out from the crowd. Why do I have to wait for some coincidental accident in the office elevator or some freakish event like in a TV drama to meet someone?
Me: Maybe old-style Japan was on to something when they had omiai. That's pretty orderly. So Japanese.
Miu: Then I wouldn't have to spend all this time on a database.
Me: Someday you will meet that special person _ that man who will throw that whole database out the window.
Miu (Silent then): How do you know?
Me: You'll know. You won't have to ask.
Miu: I will hear my heart go thump thump. Uh-oh, I think that's just the music blasting off at the club. I probably won't be able to hear it _ it's so loud in there (Laughs).

Story of Miu 6 with links at end to previous chapters.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Story of Miu 7

Suddenly, strangely, Miu feels power turn on like a tungsten flame inside her _ maybe that hot spot in between her breasts. And her breath turns a bit quicker, warmer.
As a young Asian female, she never feels power anywhere else _ at high school, at shopping malls, at summer jobs, even at home, she has long grown used to her role that is not to challenge but to accept and approve.
But in that dingy darkness of that Tokyo club, she _ and others like her _ have truer deeper powers.
The heads turn, their eyes shiny like those of hungry animals in a cave sniffing for prey.
She knows all she has to do is return that look to have them do whatever she wants _ get off their chairs in a scamper, rushing to her at her beck and call: "Hi, are you alone?" "What's your name?" "Do you want a drink?"
It is merely up to her whim to choose which of those young men will be that lucky one.
She doesn't want the easy ones. She doesn't want the obviously handsome ones.
Being so easy and so obvious, such a catch does not speak to the heights of her powers.
That's not the kind of entertainment she is looking for on this night out on the town with her girlfriends _ her shoulder-length hair neatly rolled like Cinderella's, her skinny legs showing flesh, stockingless, beneath her short patent-black boots, her clutch bag covered with Swarovski crystals.
The man must be worthy of all this work and investment and taste, she thinks, laughing to herself.
And the man, naturally, must have that undiscovered look.
Shy, quiet and impeccably innocent, downcast eyes hiding under soft bangs, he doesn't know how beautiful or how bestial he can be, until he meets her, she muses.
She doesn't have any specific characteristic in mind _ he doesn't have to be tall, dark, smart, rich _ he can be anything and everything as long as he has that something special that makes her feel powerful not only over him but over everyone else who has looked down upon her for being Asian, young and female and has forgotten to credit her with the intelligence, insight and passion of choosing how to live life.
He must look at her as his all in that moment when they exchange glances and he approaches her and they dance, moving their hips in time to that deafening beat, and he must believe, as she does, that they have known each other from the beginning of time.
Which one is that special man? She scans the scene, taking her time, going from one dirty room to another, balancing herself carefully on the spiral metallic staircase on golden stiletto heels.
When she sees him, it can't be more definite or fatalistic.
She walks up to him, standing, looking bored, so undistinguished and so plain and so unknowing by the giant speakers blasting with noise, so one-way is this selection, hers and not his.
He may even be there, waiting for his girlfriend, or he is drinking away his disappointment because his girlfriend has chosen to go somewhere else, or luckier still, he has just broken up and isn't quite ready to look for someone new.
This is important: That she picks him, not the other way around.
She reaches up to his neck, pulls his face down gently, as though she needs to whisper an urgent question.
He accommodates, not too eager, just because he is trying to be nice to someone who may have a question, and as he faces her, she puts her mouth to his, forcing her tongue through his cold lips, and their tongues merge as one in the best kept secret in that club, that night, that city, that universe.
Her mind goes blank. And all she sees is that soft black one-ness inside her head, swirling, and she feels happy as though the games people play and the question of who is powerful no longer matter.

Continued from Story of Miu 6.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

What's up lately on the reporting front

Of the stories I've done lately, including those about the Japanese prime minister , big-name automakers and developments in the technology sector, the two stirring up interest:
Hello Kitty products for men
Robot Guitar
Thanks Hello Kitty fans.
Thanks guitar fans.


When I was in fourth grade, I became obsessed with short story writing in which the narrator becomes something other than human _ like Soseki Natsume's "I Am a Cat."
It's a great exercise: all the stories that are possible by taking on the persona of an animal, a pen on someone's table, a toy.
My teacher was so impressed with my output that she made her whole class write stories taking this approach.
What a great teacher.
I only remember one storyline from the "masterpieces" I churned out as a fourth grader.
I was a cherry blossom who floated from Japan to the U.S. over the Pacific Ocean, enduring storms, pirates, whales and other dangers.
And somehow I manage to bury myself as a sakura seed in the soil to become a tree on the Potomac River.
The rest is history: The first cherry tree in the U.S. multiplies to become the rows and rows of blossoms lining the Washington D.C. river today.
This is preposterous scientifically (but doesn't the flower contain the seeds?).
But it shows that even then I was a self-proclaimed cultural ambassador, hoping to bridge the East/West divide.

Monday, January 7, 2008

I am a Journalist 3

Having integrity means that the reporter must watch his/her actions as an individual and not stray from the Path.
Ever since I was a child, I liked to write and read. The characters and stories in the books I read were more real than the real life around me.
I could have possibly chosen another career _ as long as writing was involved _ but what appealed the most about being a reporter was the honesty/integrity/selflessness of the job.
I've always wanted to live life/make a living with the assurance I was doing the Right Thing.
In that sense, journalism provides a logical solution.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

I am a Journalist 2

The integrity of the reporter has always been important.
But as our industry enters financial difficulties, the raison d'etre of journalism is inevitably going to be questioned.
We have to answer the question: Why do we need news stories?
What does news offer that's not in video games, social networking, movie downloads, blogs?
Reporting has to be about a lot of things _ delivering information accurately and quickly, making complex faraway stories easy to understand, engaging readers in an entertaining meaningful way, etc.
But the bottom line is: Reporters serve the public good by getting the truth out.
That's why reporters must have integrity.
We can't hope to have any credibility if we are not good people with principles in our everyday lives.
This is where being a Poet/Journalist sees no conflict.
Poets speak the Truth. Poets pursue Goodness. Art is Life.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Tyner's Drummer 2

Eric Kamau Gravatt during his recent trip to Tokyo.

McCoy Tyner's drummer

Eric Kamau Gravatt has been a longtime family friend from his days in the San Francisco/Bay Area.
He was in Japan recently with McCoy Tyner, and so since I spent some time with him anyway, I wrote a story (more links to video at the bottom).
Another link to the story.
It is amazing how after all these years, he is still the same.
Greatness never changes.

I am a Journalist

It's been almost a year since I started this blog.
"I am a Poet."
That's what I wrote in one of my early entries.
Today, as we enter a new year (it's about midnight in Tokyo Jan. 1, 2008 turning to Jan. 2, 2008 as I write this)
I want to say this:
I am a Journalist.
What you do everyday is what defines who you are.
This blog made me realize the importance of my writing outside my everyday reporting on the job.
But it also made me realize more than ever how much I believe in reporting.
I want to do my best to contribute what I can, given my background and my talent.
This blog gave me an outlet that was so close at hand yet so public and intimate at the same time, and helped me reconnect with poets and creative writers.
But it helped my job as well: People gave me ideas for stories and feedback for the writing I did on my job.
I am after all the same Person.
And in the end, it is about Writing _ not just the Craft but what's involved as Personal Belief/Conviction/All its Mystery/the Fun of it.
Journalism is changing rapidly, with everything becoming faster, niche and direct.
But I believe that ultimately the person/writer behind the journalism is going to become more important than ever.
Of course, we must deliver on the accuracy, speed and context.
But we must also have _ for the lack of a better word _ character.
And I'm not talking about reporters' reading the news on TV with authoritative voices.
Accountability, credibility, integrity, creativity _ the human side of the writer/journalist is going to count in the end to our readers.
Otherwise, all they would have would be the headlines/press releases/blurbs.
What other than the writer makes one news story different from another story?