Friday, February 29, 2008

Cats galore 2

Cat by Mino.
More on the exhibit at Flew Gallery on through March 12.
Get off Sanguibashi Station on the Odakyu Line (two stops from Shinjuku), walk toward your left as you get out of the train station, and look down the alley behind the Seven-Eleven.

Cats galore

Masks, photos, miniatures, sculpture, prints and other artwork are on exhibit at a tiny house-turned-gallery, tucked away in an alley like a fairy-tale secret.
The theme: Cats.
Even the musicians performing at the opening are cats, wearing fuzzy head-gear complete with glowing LED eyes
Mino on reeds and trumpet, who made the giant cat heads, is one of the exhibiting artists.
I bought a figure he made of a Master Cat, posed in a welcoming gesture.
It has wires for whiskers and a disarmingly wise yet innocent look in its eyes.
Mino, who plays in a band called Kumonosu Quartet (not Kronos Quartet, mind you), seemed happy I bought his piece, though it was a bit hard to tell under the cat head with only his lips showing to play the instruments _ and talk.
"Do you like cats?" he asks, the obvious question to ask in this setting.
"Yes, I do," I said, relieved I can be honest and have what I think is the right answer.
"Have you ever had (katteta) a cat?"
"Yes, though I don't now." Still relatively relieved.
"What kind of cat?" he asks in his soft warm voice, not probing, just expressing proper interest.
"His name was Pyonta, and he was all black." Yes, he was a beautiful cat, and why hadn't I thought about Pyonta lately when a cat is so utterly important with all the fascinating features a cat possesses _ so childlike and self-centered and lost in its own world, yet so giving, shrewd, instinctual. So total. But I don't say those things.
"My cat is a tabby, and the name is Nyangoro," Mino offers with a smile. "There's no special reason for the name, except that it cries that way _ nyangoro."
We share a laugh.
"Do you like other animals? I also like dogs," I continue. "Some people say people who like cats don't like dogs, and people who like dogs don't like cats, but I like dogs and cats."
Lo, behold, we agree again: "I like dogs, too," Mino says.
The Kumonosu Quartet play at the Crocodile in Harajuku April 19.
Mino (at left in photo) has an exhibit at Gallery Yoyogi March 31-April 5.
Do you like cats?!?
Neko sukidesuka??!!

Nissan as Japan turning global?

Getting to watch high-profile people up close is one perk of our job as reporters.
This week, I did an interview with Carlos Ghosn, the chief executive of Nissan and Renault.
I can only observe Nissan as an outsider.
But Nissan has changed over the last decade in one key, obvious and simple way: The makeup of the people who work there is more diverse.
It's unclear whether that's going to just slow down decision-making, or prove a gem of an asset for an automaker trying to expand in emerging markets in a world and industry that are increasingly global.
It's a nice thought to think diversity produces winners.
But does it?
Toyota and Honda don't have diverse management.
But they're beating Nissan (profit, vehicle sales).
Obviously, a company's success is so complex there are many factors that ultimately determine what happens.
And the significance of promoting diversity is likely lost on both sides of the Pacific _ in the U.S., because diversity is so commonplace, and, in Japan, because diversity is so rare.
For some reason, it's charming to watch people from different nations talk English in heavy accents to make decisions at a big company.
Maybe it's a reminder of how corporations, even big ones, are in the end about the individual people who work there.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Story of Miu 8

Story of Miu 7 is now Story of Miu 8 as a missed past entry 4 has been added:
first chapter of the Story of Miu.
Miu 2
Miu 3
Miu 4
Miu 5
Miu 6
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).

Bunraku/Poetry with Music

Bunraku is Poetry with Music at its Highest.
The singer is just about standing on his knees to groan, shriek and growl out the story from deep within his guts, his face growing redder with intensity.
The shamisen player adds just the right touches of bangs, strums and plings, working as much as staccato percussion as mood-evoking strings.
Then there are the puppets.
They add an unreal transcendental dimension as there's no pretense at hiding the existence of the puppeteers _ mostly very old men who look nothing like the dashing samurai or lovely princesses they play _ in full view on stage.
The men look amazingly beautiful and impeccably in control, barely changing their solemn expressions as they delicately manipulate the puppets, making it look easy, breathing in life to the lifeless puppets with their artistry.
The interview I did with puppet master Minosuke Yoshida is one of the most memorable profile pieces I ever did as a reporter.
The stunning thing about Bunraku artists is that most start at 6 years old or so and have made the art the center of their lives.
No wonder they exude that almost mystical quality.
I took the day off to catch Yoshida at the National Theater in "The Miracle at Tsubosaka Kannon Temple," first staged in 1879.
Yoshida plays a simple but selfless wife of a blind shamisen player, whose blindness is cured in their deaths because of the purity and sadness of their love.
Yoshida says the moment he loves is when a puppeteer picks up the puppet and it suddenly takes on life.
You'd have to be backstage as he was as an apprentice to catch that magical moment.
But if you've ever seen a puppet sitting on a stand, you'd know how boring and, well, doll-like the thing looks when it's not on a master's arm.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Meeting a ninja

Meeting a ninja isn't something that happens everyday.
But it's always uplifting to witness immersion in an endeavor for its unworldly intrinsic worth, not material gain, social status and other mundane purposes.
And the more unworldly the pursuit, and the more mysterious, self-effacing and secretive, like Ninjaism, that point becomes undeniable.
Real-life ninja Masayuki Waki is at a warehouse-like cafe in Kabukicho _ of all places _ to teach some tourists ninja techniques, including escaping grabs, turning somersaults and throwing star-shaped weapons.
He is patient and friendly and utterly professional.
I asked him what determines whether someone is a ninja.
But he said those kind of definitions don't apply to ninja.
Ninja is a way of life.
And so it's not like becoming a certified accountant or earning a judo black belt or graduating college.
It's more like taking the leap of faith.
A ninja could be sitting right next to you on the Yamate Line: The whole point of being a ninja is that it shouldn't be so obvious.
He says the evil-spirited assassin stereotype about ninja is false.
No one wants world peace more than ninja, he says.
Ninja also have the skills to save lives and help people.
And that could come in handy at any moment in life _ even on the Yamate Line.
Waki, 49, said he began learning ninja techniques two decades ago to use them on his job as a stuntman and fight-scene choreographer for movies and TV.
But he became totally captivated by the ninja world.
As a ninja should be, Waki is nimble on his feet, limber and quiet.
There is an airy quality about him that's a bit hard to explain, but I'd say Nordic skier Kenji Ogiwara also has that bird-like quality as though his bones were hollow and he can really fly.
Ninja are strong as an individual but not in an aggressive way of self-assertion so they also blend in with the crowd.
Very ninja-like!
Interest in ninja is bigger among foreigners, who are more in tune to the sensibilities/instinct of survival than are "heiwa boke" Japanese, according to Waki.
At a dojo where he trains, about two-thirds of would-be ninja are from abroad.
At the one-day lesson for tourists, he demonstrates how flipping a business card like a "shuriken" can make it travel across the air, while simply throwing it won't work.
He also notes jewelry and heels can serve as weapons.
And don't try to finish off your opponent.
That kind of overkill is just asking for trouble.
Just run!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Little Yellow Slut (with music)

Yuri Kageyama (poetry)
Teruyuki Kawabata (bongo, djembe, percussion)
Haruna Shimizu (kpanlogo drums, percussion)
Keiji Kubo (didgeridoo)

Recorded in Tokyo Feb. 16, 2008

A performance of poetry and music by the Tokyo Flower Children.

Little YELLOW Slut

You know her:
That Little YELLOW Slut, proudly gleefully
YELLOW-ly hanging on Big Master's arm,
War bride, geisha,
GI's home away from home,
Whore for last samurai,
Hula dancer with seaweed hair,
Yoko Ohno,
Akihabara cafe maid,
Hi-Hi Puffy Ami/Yumi,
Kawaiiii like keitai,
Back-up dancer for Gwen Stefani,
Your real-life Second Life avatar
Eager to deliver your freakiest fetish fantasies,
Disco queen, skirt up the crotch,
Fish-net stockings, bow-legged, anorexic, raisin nipples, tip-
Toeing Roppongi on
Stiletto heels.

Yessu, i spikku ingrishhu, i raikku gaijeeen, they kiss you,
hold your hand, open doors for me,
open legs for you, giggling pidgin, covering mouth,
so happy to be
Little YELLOW Slut.

Everybody's seen her:
That Little YELLOW Slut, waiting at
Home, cooking rice, the Japanese
Condoleezza Rice,
Smelling of sushi,
Breath and vagina,
Fish and vinegar,
Fermented rice,
Honored to be
Cleaning lady,
Flight attendant for Singapore Airlines,
Nurse maid, gardener,
Japan-expert's wife,
Mochi manga face,
Yodeling minyo,
Growling enka,
Sex toy, slant-eyes closed, licking, tasting, swallowing STD semen,
Every drop.

Yessu, i wanna baby who looohkuh gaijeen, double-fold eye, translucent skin, international school PTA,
maybe grow up to be fashion model, even joshi-ana,
not-not-not happy to be
Little YELLOW Slut.

I recognize her:
That Little YELLOW Slut, rejecting
Japanese, rejected by Japanese,
Empty inside,
They all look alike,
Faceless, hoping to forget, escape
To America,
Slant-eyed clitoris,
Adopted orphan,
Dream come true for pedophiles,
Serving sake, pouring tea, spilling honey,
Naturalized citizen,
Buying Gucci,
Docile doll,
Rag-doll, Miss Universe, manic harakiri depressive, rape victim, she is
You, she is me.

Hai, hai, eigo wakarimasen, worship Big Master for mind, matter, muscle, money, body size correlates to penis size,
waiting to be sexually harassed, so sorry, so many,
so sad to be
Little YELLOW Slut.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

One Thousand Drummers 2

Music critic and Billboard correspondent Steve McClure's article on 1,000 Taiko Drummers in Brazil ran in The Daily Yomiuri.
One of the drummers will be my son, Isaku Kageyama.

Wow! Busy!

Evidence of hard work:

Being Big in Japan

Some famous Americans are embarrassed to Be Big in Japan.
Read lack of taste, intelligence and technical finesse taken for granted with Being Big Elsewhere like Europe and the US of A.
Asians wear mousey dark suits, part their oily hair at the side, have buck teeth and dark glasses and sing karaoke and fight each other at bargains for designer items and stand in long lines for Broadway musicals, Sting concerts and Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
So Being Big in Japan is really Nowhere at all, except for the money obviously.
But Being Big Somewhere gets complex if you aren't part of the mainstream and must place yourself in such a way to get to the funding/reputation/Crumbs of the Pie that make those outside the mainstream acceptable to the mainstream under its standards.
Not caring about Being Big Anywhere is to be free of all that nonsense.
And then Japan _ like the California desert or what Europe was for Dexter Gordon or the bottom of the sea where dolphins play _ can offer relief.
I'm earning an honest living fortunately in a way that has something to do with writing and the public good.
And I do the right thing in my responsibilities to my family, my conscience and society.
When I have free time, I write poems.
I'm spending what time I have on Earth in a way that makes sense to me.
Wanting to Be Big is Very Small.

Turning Japanese

Being a character in a book is flattering if the writing happens to be as good as "Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a Sansei" by David Mura (1991: Anchor-Random).
Across the boulevard, a Japanese woman strode straight toward me, wearing a dark coat, a black skirt, a black jacket, black stockings and long silver earrings. Her hair was permed, her face small, oval, a dimple like mine on her right cheek. Her lipstick was bright coral.
"Are you David Mura?" she asked.
"How did you know me?"
"Well, you said you'd be wearing a black coat and carrying a black shoulder bag."
"I wondered if you could pick me out as an American."
In many ways, Yuri looked like most of the Japanese women around us, but she possessed a flash that somehow wasn't present in the others. Perhaps it was her lipstick, or the energy of her small frame. Young Japanese women seemed to fold into themselves when they greeted each other. It wasn't just the gesture of bowing, it was the way their bodies always seemed to be stepping backward as they talked or giggled. Yuri had looked me straight in the eye and thrust out her hand in greeting. Her eyes and smile carried a wry, suspicious air. "Be forewarned," they said. "Nothing gets past me." Certain minority women in America have this toughness, this unwillingness to waste time with bullshit. Sometimes it's strength, sometimes bitterness, sometimes both. With Yuri, I couldn't yet tell.
She suggested a tempura restaurant nearby. Walking among the Japanese crowds, we talked in English. But I didn't feel self-conscious as I sometimes did with Susie. Yuri and I both belonged, and did not; we shared a dual privilege. Even our clothing matched; I was also dressed in a black coat, black pants, white shirt.
The walls of the resturant and the booths were paneled in pine. There was a tatami room in back. We sat in a booth. Yuri ordered in Japanese. I wondered if it seemed strange to the waitresses that the woman was ordering, or that we were speaking English to each other. By this time, I could read enough kanji to get by on basic menus, and I could order for myself. Still, I was relieved to let Yuri order.


Nodding, she told me that many Sansei males she knew in San Francisco felt insecure about their sexuality _ they just didn't feel attractive.
"And then, of course, they see white boys picking up on the Asian women ..."
Still, Yuri didn't always feel sympathy for the Sansei males. Many of them held traditionally Japanese chauvinistic values. They often felt that Japanese women, with their daikon legs _ short and thick like a Japanese radish _ square hips, and small breasts, lacked the beauty ahd glamour of white women. I felt pangs of self-recognition, and yet I was also relieved to know other Sansei men had similar uncertainties about their identity.
As Yuri and I talked, I thought how ironic it was that I had had to come to Japan before I could learn how other Japanese-Americans in my generation were dealing with their background. Oh, I had read Japanese-American novels and poetry, but they sometimes felt distant, almost mythical, unconnected to my experience in the white Midwest. Certainly Yuri had her biases, but she didn't try to hide them. I felt an easy camaraderie with her. I knew she had praised my work in an article in San Francisco Poetry Flash. And something in our sensibilities resonoated with each other. I admired her willingness to speak out, to stand apart from the group.
The poems she showed me that afternoon confirmed that we were mining the same territory. It wasn't just that they dealt frankly with sexual matters, or that her father appeared to have a temper like my father's down to the occasional violence of his rages. No, there was a plunge beyond the acceptable and well-mannered, a sense of sexuality as destructive and violent, as representing a dark limit of human relations where rage reveals itself, a sense conveyed by images which left both the reader and the writer hovering on the edge of shame, anger, obsession.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Remembering Sachiko Yoshihara

As a poet, I have always been lucky although I was too young back then to know it.
Sachiko Yoshihara, a pioneer Japanese feminist poet who founded La Mer magazine, came to one of my readings, which was at a small dark pub.
She sat so beautiful and proud at the bar.
And she shouted: "Get her a bourbon," as soon as I finished reading one of my poems which had "Jack Daniels" in it.
"Your poetry is strong," she told me, looking straight into my eyes. "You are strong."
I was one of her kind, and I should never forget it or doubt it because Sachiko Yoshihara, who knows such things, having been there and done it first, is telling me that this is true.
She drank and drank at the bar, and later that night collapsed forward on to the counter, and fell asleep, all alone.
It's too late now, but how I wish I had talked to her more, hugged her and told her how strong and beautiful she and her poetry were, and how lucky I was to be bestowed that praise from a poet like her.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Hiromi Ito in English

Mikiro Sasaki once told me that as a poet I was "Hiromi Ito in English."
He meant it as a compliment, the way he always has, so much like a poet, to-the-point short-on-words observations.
He probably doesn't remember having said this any more than he remembers me or my poems.
Some years back, when Ito was far less famous than she is today, though she was already a star, I translated some of her poems in English while I was still living in San Francisco.
She loved my translations and she asked for more although I ran out of time and never followed through with what could have been a very interesting collaboration.
My poem is in one poetry anthology Ito is in:
"other side river," California: Stone Bridge Press, 1995.
I also had an opportunity to chat with Ito at a cofee shop when I came to live in Japan.
She told me that her menstrual periods would begin right before or during her poetry readings even though she wasn't due for that cycle.
Then she said, "Yuri-san you're the first person I've told this to who didn't act surprised."
Well, I just thought it made perfect sense.
Poetry is so erotic, hormones, lightning nerve shots, thought/speech going haywire, your uterus would want to bleed out of cycle, naturally.
She also told me she was afraid of Shuntaro Tanikawa's eyes _ they have that flicker from inside of someone who is trying to take, she said, visibly shivering.
Like all artists, Tanikawa is the kind of person who never stops being curious, and perhaps that energetic ego-centric desire was what repulsed Ito.
Ito also talked about how she couldn't eat properly when she loved a man.
Food/sex/womanhood/reproduction/desire/ are all wrapped in one.
It is true, when you stop to think about it, eating, having sex, living day by day make utterly no sense and are rather grotesque and terrible.
When you stop too long to think about it, like after you come off an illness, it takes such an extra conscious effort to carry out the act of eating _ lift the fork, stab the mush, cut, carry to mouth, open mouth, close, open/close, open/close, swallow.
And imagining what's happening to the food once it hits your blood-curdling feces-filled organs is nothing but a childhood nightmare.

Saturday, February 9, 2008


It was with a chuckle shaking his brawny body that Kenji Nakagami told me _ as though he was letting me in on a good secret _ writers aren't "normal" ("futsu") people.
"Don't you believe what he says," he said of another writer, Haruki Murakami. "He is a writer _ not a normal person."
The idea that writers may not be "normal" wasn't something I had thought about until then.
And he said it with a conviction that also had not occurred to me: That it's better to be abnormal.
Normalcy wasn't desirable.
It was boring.
It was ordinary.
Perhaps in the West, standing out from the crowd is considered a virtue.
But in Japan, being different is a stigma.
I had never wanted to be different, and I was always sad I could never blend in anywhere _ not being white in the U.S., being too Americanized among Japanese.
Abnormality is a special place to be, Nakagami was saying, waving his big glove-like hand in a Tokyo alley after our interview, smiling, totally not normal, totally unique, totally disarming, totally convincing, forever caught in that photo-shot moment, in my mind, more than 15 years after his death.
Hailing from the proud Buraku, his works have more in common with the multicultural works of America in an intense and mysterious way than with what we are accustomed to identifying with Japanese fiction.
If we were happily normal, maybe we would never have become writers.
And maybe we aren't really writers at all.
Just rejected because of our abnormalities, doomed to the darkness that makes us crazy and furious in crawling out to that blinding ideal with our writing.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Naked Summer

A movie about a summer dance workshop led by Dairakudakan.

Metamorphosis is probably the most exciting event to witness, and that's exactly what happens in "The Naked Summer," a film that documents what happens to about 30 youngsters who take a Butoh dance workshop led by Akaji Maro of Dairakudakan in Hakuba, Nagano Prefecture, in 2003.
They jog, cook meals, giggle.
But something extraordinary is about to happen.
Exercises in Butoh are designed to teach the novice the methodology of the dance by confronting those Butoh moments of existence.
Tatsumi Hijikata, the founder of Butoh, is supposed to have said that Butoh is the dance of a corpse.
Students of Butoh were told, as the legend goes, to become a horse, or become a dog, or feel as though their body were covered with ants, and question why your head should be on top of your neck, to achieve the slow, tense and jagged movements that characterize Butoh _ the self-proclaimed antithesis to Western dance.
Watching the youngsters tackle the assignments is fascinating:
_ Feel the space around your body, touching every fingertip, air moving like gel.
_ Sense a tragic accidental moment, even something minor striking, like a splinter piercing your foot.
_ Run and keep laughing.
_ Walk slowly, sliding your feet across the ground, while keeping your head level.
They practice and practice with a passion that's laughable in its purity. They grimace, stretching and squeezing their facial muscles. They squirm on the floor like worms. They flap their arms, bend their bodies repeatedly, they do lifts until their backs hurt. They collapse on the floor in exhaustion.
But in the act of doing, zenlike, they become Butoh dancers.
The weeklong workshop culminates in an evening performance at an outdoor theater.
When the boys get their heads and eyebrows shaved off, the transformation is almost complete.
The youngsters cut cloth, using patterns, and sew bikini panties _ the sole items of costuming.
By the time they nervously don makeup, painting their bodies with gold paint, they are already strangers, animals from hell trapped in sinewy bodies of Buddhas.
The movie juxtaposes footage of the professional troupe's performances with scenes from the workshop.
And that's an eye-opener.
Having watched the novices struggle akwwardly with the simplest Butoh moves that we have seen so often performed effortlessly by the professionals, we now appreciate with more intensity the experienced dancers' chiseled bodies and controlled movements.
Maro's body at 60 has never been so stunningly beautiful as we watch him smile, crack jokes, lecture and gaze on with wisdom at those who are trying to take up this legacy of Japanese postwar art.
We know he knows he is running out of time to leave that understanding to the young, and we witness Maro's recognition of his inevitable death and his sense of urgency.
We are also struck by how unique, definitive and awesome Butoh is as an art form and how it is relevant to the world today and the future these youngsters inherit.
Still, the movie, directed by Kenji Okabe, intentionally doesn't bother to give the participants' names, backgrounds.
They are blurs of faces.
They came and they lived a week as Butoh dancers and they will never be the same.
That's the story this movie wants to tell.
A regular documentary might have gone back, asking some of them for a reaction, demonstrating their return to the everyday.
Instead, the movie simply shows another summer has come _ jogging and exercising under the sunlight is another batch of kids who has come to be reborn as Butoh dancers.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

People Who Know Pain

The World is divided bet-
Ween two kinds of People
The Winners and the Losers
The Takers and the Givers
The Famous and the Forgotten
The Loved and the Unloved _
Those who don't care and

People who know Pain
People who know Pain

when your tongue rolls, the
tips of my nipples, piercing
knife of betrayal

Vincent Van Gogh
John Coltrane
Garcia Marquez
Toulouse Lautrec
Billie Holliday
Richard Wright
Kenji Miyazawa

People who know Pain
People who know Pain

baby foxes dance,
leaving paw marks in the snow,
fairy tale of joy

Hermit, victim,
Outcast, untouched,
They travel faceless
Shadows on the subway
Mute, unconnected,
Unknowing of their own Pain

People who know Pain
People who know Pain

bitter memories grow
a cancer pomegranate
bleeding and rotting

I'd rather shelter that Pain alone
A powerless nobody,
Ashamed, shunned,
Stench of insignificance,
Laughing the idiot's laugh,
Running forgotten errands,
Dying before living like other

People who know Pain
People who know Pain

a zillion light years
the planet pulsates timeless
soundless universe

I'd never be that superior someone who
Conquers, fornicates, lynches,
Deposits paychecks, plans careers, gives advice,
Forms opinions, writes reviews,
Weighs pros and cons, wins awards,
Attends receptions, discriminates,
Never knowing, shrugging off, how painful

People's Pain can be
People's Pain can be