Saturday, March 29, 2008

Hiromichi Sakamoto

Hiromichi Sakamoto killed a cello today.
In a tent set up in a Tokyo park, he stuck his cello into a fire and played it as it got engulfed in flames.
He had to dodge a fiery burst that shot up from the instrument, scorching his big hair.
Sakamoto then hung the burning cello by a chain from the ceiling, letting it dangle, Jesus being crucified, gloriously dying for our sins, sending the pungent smell of charring resin and smoke into our throats.
It was both strangely comical and painfully sad to witness.
Before, throughout the two-hour performance, Sakamoto brutalized the instrument with a vehemence, scraping it, banging it, scribbling with a pencil on it.
He took a drill and graced its metal parts, sending sparks that made aerial patterns in the dark.
In defacing the instrument, we reject culture/lifestyle/instrument, as well as the basic presumption that we must follow social standards/rules/views.
Sakamoto's performance piece, which also includes modern dance, poetry readings, singing and video, gives a startling voice to the confrontation of the previous generation by the younger generation of Japan today.
You are great, oh, Father, one singer who read and played the guitar Michiro Endo bellowed in a scratchy voice.
You built this nation, worked hard to give us a better life, built this utopia, but we now have no utopia, the song said.
In the same vein, the reading by singer/novelist Mieko Kawakami was about why you can't pee in the bathtub.
Who are you, mother? she asked. Did you come here so you could tell us not to pee in the tub.
The disenchantment is clear with what the past has so dutifully and properly prepared for today.
Shattered is the stereotype of the lethargic, uncommitted youth of today, who just want to be "freeters."
Instead, the youngsters are telling the older generation: "You fucked up."
In Japan, it's the 1960s/1970s generation of America questioning the 1950s parents' generation all over again, except it's happening now.
We don't want the affluence, the meaninglessness, the dos and don'ts you have built for us, they are saying.
We are left without our own culture, being fed the imitative forms of an alien Western art.
There is no chance for a better life by definition because modernization is over.
And there's no point in putting up a fight, anyway.
There is only the void.
And so the cello must die.
Sitting in the tent packed with 300 people, I am present in a historic moment in contemporary Japanese art, something people will talk about years from today.
It is so Japanese to feel so acutely the dilemma of the individual vs. society, while sensing the nearness of death that wakes up the urgency and reality of living in every breath we take.
At the end of the piece, the tent behind the stage opens, revealing the landscape of the park at night.
The performers are lined up, looking at us solemnly, a quiet reminder that we, who witnessed the cello die, gasping, teary-eyed, intrigued, guilt-ridden, are partners in crime, caught in this tiny unreal space and moment _ maybe just for now, maybe forever _ separated from the everyday outside world.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Toyota opens a shopping mall

Talk about desperately seeking buyers.
Toyota is opening a giant shopping mall in Yokohama with 220 stores and restaurants, including Uniqlo, Wolfgang Puck's and pastry stores, to be there where people hang out _ not wait for people to come to dealerships.
The scenario is that you introduce the idea of buying a car to people who are shopping.
Japan auto sales are falling lately to 27 year lows.
Analysts say people _ especially young people _ don't want a car, even if they get one for free!
Kids who grew up in a more affluent Japan don't covet the same status-symbol items their parents did.
Manufacturers have been struggling in recent years with the challenge of developing models that meet young people's lifestyle needs.
Maybe one day there'll be a hit car every Japanese is going to want _ like an iPod or a cell phone.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Story of Miu 9

Continued from previous Story of Miu entries.
The "plop plop plop" of electronic waterdrops sound from my cell phone, the ringtone I've set so I know it's e-mail from Miu.
On the subject column, an animation icon of a glittering pink heart bounces around.
"It's him!" her message reads, a little ominously.
I press the tiny keyboard quickly with my thumb for an immediate reply: "Who he?"
It turns out she recently joined a world-music band with African drums, guitar, keyboards, traps drumming and singing that she was introduced to by a friend in high school.
Miu is learning how to play the kpanlogo with this group.
But more importantly, she has met someone.
He is the band leader Yuga. He's 21, and so a few years older than Miu.
This is what Miu says, a bit breathless on the phone, when I call her in the evening after I get home from work:
He has the most beautiful dark eyes like those of a wise elephant.
He write songs about being free, being in love and never forgetting the passion for life.
And what is fascinating about him is that he is not interested in money, status or careers, Miu says.
He works for a Tokyo that is contracted out to create ringtones for mobile phones.
And this is apparently a lucrative business because every tune on the Japanese pop charts has to be programmed into a ringtone.
But there's special software to do it so it's pretty easy, leaving Yuga a lot of time to work on his art, like composing, writing lyrics, collaborating with illustrators, rehearsing for performances and working on sound engineering on recordings.
Some of his songs are movie scores because the trend for some of the most mainstream Japanese movies lately is to use indies soundtracks.
As I gather from what Miu tells me, this person has never been abroad and doesn't understand any English.
He doesn't even have a passport, Miu says with a giggle, as though that only adds to his charm of being someone totally genuine whom only she has discovered.
He speaks with a slight accent of the Sea of Japan, which makes the speaker's tone softer than the Tokyo dialect, as though that person is somehow in perpetual doubt.
The shifts in intonation are similar to the speaking style of Korean actors that older Japanese women are so crazy about, like "Yon-sama," Miu says, to her, another profound observation.
Not that I like Yon-sama at all, Miu adds with a laugh.
He calls me "MEEEH-you-san," it sounds so sexy!
There isn't much point in contesting her observations.
I know Miu is in no mood to be challenged about any of them, anyway.
I am invited next weekend to what's called "raibu," short for "live performance," meaning a concert, where I will have an opportunity to meet Yuga.
But I am more happy for her than worried.
I can tell from the sound of her voice that she is literally floating, so euphoric is she about Yuga's existence.
Miu is way too young to start growing cynical about relationships.
She deserves to have, for once, this feeling of being so in love your feet don't quite touch the ground.

Poetry at What the Dickens

The first Sunday of every month is poetry night at What the Dickens in Ebisu 4 p.m. - 7 p.m.
We plan to read "Little Yellow Slut," a reworked/improved version Sunday April 6.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Mieko Kawakami

Akutagawa Award winning writer Mieko Kawakami wrote about my interviewing her in her blog March 20.
And so I am writing about interviewing her in my blog.
My article about her talks about how her blog got her discovered as a writer.
Her work is cleverly crafted, and her Osaka dialect gives her a distinct voice that is poetic and dense.
Her next book is going to take a male character, quite a break from her "The Breast and the Egg," which focuses on the relationships and internal dilemmas of women.
The young man is cockeyed, defining the sometimes dubious relationship he has with the world around him.
People he encounters are never sure where he is looking, no matter that, to him, he is looking them right in the eye.
Kawakami used to be cockeyed as a child and had that surgically corrected.
Kawakami got married recently with a music producer.
But she isn't much interested in and probably won't be having children because birth control is so fool-proof lately.
She even questions the meaning of sex when reproduction isn't even a practical possibility.
She may write about eroticism and sexual relations in the future, but not now, she said.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

From Shuntaro Tanikawa To Shuji Terayama

The video mail exchange between the two famous Japanese poets is a YT upload from Eigagogo in Portugal.
Their styles are so different.
But the love they have for each other is beyond any doubt.
The relationship you see through their works is strangely more moving than the individual works.
This sounds corny and pedantic, but I can't think of any other way to put it: Art ultimately is about love.
Not just love for someone, but love for life, love for what comes after your life, love for the absolute, love for your art, love for that something that goes beyond the finite, love for the spiritual, love for god.
Maybe that's not even love, and it's something else.
But I can't think of a better word, right now.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Fashion and oppression

Love for clothes, jewelery, makeup is generally relegated to the female sex in most societies.
Girls, not boys, love dolls, dress up and play house.
Men usually belittle shopping, vanity, fashion.
It is a common definition by society that such pursuits are deemed frivolous and motivated by women's need to appeal to men.
And so having women obsess with dresses, hairdos and other self-adornment is to see women exactly where society wants to put them.
That's why girls do cute things.
Makeup isn't war face-paint.
A fashion plate isn't a plate of armor.
Sex appeal isn't territoriality.
The quest for beauty has turned into commercialized consumer marketing to push products for profit.
And the victims are women, who have been taught by their upbringing to seek the material goods that make them attractive/desirable/acceptable, the right dress, the right makeup, the right shoes.
When did the love for pretty things become so twisted?
Fashion should be a form of wearable art, fabric sculpted into a message, a way of self-expression.
Why do we need to feel that we cannot be free unless we wear no makeup and walk around in power suits and view fashion as a man would?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Writing vs. writing

Many years ago, when I'd just started working at a new office as a reporter, I got a call from Shozu Ben.
I found this great job for you, he says, teaching English at a school.
It's perfect for you.
He can't believed I'm not taking the job.
He can't comprehend why a poet would take a full-time reporting job.
What about time for poetry _ real writing?
Why? he asks puzzled, maybe exasperated, even disgusted.
He probably thought I was ungrateful.
Now that I think back, it was so sweet of him.
I had just met him once at a reading.
He also probably thought I was very misguided.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Poetry 2

When you cut your finger against the end of a piece of paper, and it hurts and the blood spurts out, you remember blood, lots of it, curdling red ink with a sweaty smell, is rushing around your body, all of it, brain, eyeballs, cell tissue, spine, toes, your heart is pumping like quivering red rubber and your lungs are going in and out, in and out.
When you stop to think about it, you want to scream and you almost forget how to breathe.
People who believe in Reincarnation say it would be a waste of lives to have so many people alive and then die and so god must recycle all those lives.
It is nothing short of a miracle we continue to live everyday despite all the deaths everyday. And each one of us is dying gradually everyday.
But for the most part, we don't get shot, we don't get run over, we don't crash, we don't get a deadly disease, we don't get stabbed, beaten to death, crushed in an earthquake, commit suicide, and we live live live live.
And each day adds to the next day and pretty soon we are old but still we live and we don't think about the blood circulating or the each and every breath we take or the fact that we have averted death for the moment.
We are alive.
But we could at any moment take a long silver needle and poke it in our eye, blinding ourselves in blinding rage.
We could jump into the wind from the station platform as the train glides in with a rattle, although the mirror is there to remind us how ghostly we look and make us think again how foolish this act is that we are contemplating to die this moment instead of the next moment when we do get shot or get cancer or our hearts stop or our lungs fail.
When my mother was dying of pancreas cancer, I finally could smell death, that unmistakable smell that stays inside your nostrils for hours, maybe even a day, after you left her hospice room.
She lost so much weight she looked like a bird, her nose pointed like a beak in a mummified face.
She was curled up in the bed, her arms clasped into herself like a scrawny embryonic bird, and her beady eyes were expressionless, unmoving, staring into your eyes, and she wouldn't close them as though she seemed to know you were her daughter and these were the final moments, and you just wanted her to close them so you could leave that room and forget.
She couldn't even speak then.
When she could still move, when she was at the hospital, where other patients were getting treatment but she was just a burden on the nurses and they wanted her to move to the hospice, she would grow delirious on pain-killers and start walking around the hallways naked, announcing she had to leave now because Otoosama _ her husband, my father _ had come to get her.
He was dead.
Before that, when she was still undergoing tests, and she had always instructed us that she never wanted to know it, if she ever got cancer, and so we couldn't tell her, she said to me: "I wasn't a very good mother, was I?"
This was a very important conversation. But I brush it off. I didn't want to talk about this, did I? because then wouldn't we be talking about her death?
"I watch you and June, how you think about and interact with your children," she said. June is my sister. "And I realize I wasn't a good parent. I know this watching how the both of you are as parents."
She went on matter of fact to explain that it was because of her childhood. My grandfather, her father, was a big believer in education and sent all his children, even the daughters, unusual for those times in Japan, to urban schools. My mother was second from the youngest so she was barely in elementary school when she got sent to live away from home with her older sisters and brothers to go to good schools. She grew up not knowing the intimacy of a relationship between a mother and her children, she said.
She didn't have to apologize, but she showed she changed and came to a realization, although maybe a sad one, in the last few days of her life.
I called my sister up on the train back from the hospital. "June, she is going to die," I said, breathless more from excitement than from sadness. She is dying but she is evolving. This was a fantastic discovery for me. But what she was saying was so profound she had to be dying. Really dying. I wish I could be more like the characters in the movies and have responded appropriately to what should have been a cathartic moment. I should have hugged her, a moment of reconciliation before the moment of death. You are so wonderful for teaching me how people keep evolving til the last moment of life.
No, you are not a bad parent at all. This is the best gift you have given me as a parent. I have learned the lesson of death although I still can't understand how we manage to keep living day by day, lungs breathing and heart beating and you feel so faraway and I can't remember barely anything else about you.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


The reading of "Loving Younger Men" was at What the Dickens in Ebisu, where a crowd of very warm, enthusiastic and supportive poets, I found out, gathers for readings once a month.
I had to redo the first few lines elsewhere. Oh, well.
"Loving Younger Men" was first published in "Beyond Rice," a collaboration between American poets and visual artists, edited by Lorna Dee Cervantes and Geraldine Kudaka in 1979: Noro Press.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Loving Younger Men

Loving Younger Men

Only the bodies of young men aroused her;
the pure innocence in their wide dark eyes,
the wild still animal strength in their muscles,
the smoothness of their skin, so shiny, stretched
out over their boy-like shoulders, flat stomachs,
abdominals rippling gently, their thick thighs
that could thrust forever into the night, their
soft moist lips, where their tonges, so delicious,
dwelt, which darted against, into her vagina,
making her moan with joy, forgetting everything,
which felt so strong against her own tongue at one
moment, yet another, seemed to melt like caramel
in the back of her throat,
their dry fingers, that touched her in the most
unexpected and expecting spots,
their penises, half-covered by their black curls,
seemed smaller, less developed, less threatening,
yet as their shoulders strangely widened
when they held her, their penises filled her,
pointed against her deepest uterine insides,
hurting her with a pleasurable pain, as though
she could sense with her hand, their movements
from outside her belly. Her father beat her as a girl.
She ran from him, crying, please don't hit me! please
don't hit me! No, rather she stood defiant, silent,
silent tears drunk down her chest, till he, in anger
or fear,
slapped her again and again, once so hard she was
swung across the room, once on her left ear so
that she could not hear for three weeks. She
frequented bars, searching for young men who desired
her. She sat alone drinking. She preferred
the pretty effeminate types _ perfectly featured,
a Michelangelo creation, island faces with coral eyes,
faces of unknown tribal child-princes. To escape
her family, she eloped at sixteen, with an alchoholic.
who tortured her every night, binding her with ropes,
sticking his penis into her mouth until she choked,
hitting her face into bruises, kicking her in
the stomach, aborting her child, his child.
The young boys' heads, she would hold, after orgasm,
rocking them in her arms. She would kiss the side of their
tanned necks, breathe in the ocean scent of their hair,
lick their ear lobes and inside their ears. When they
fell asleep, sprawled like a puppy upon her sheets,
their mouths open, she would lie awake watching,
watching, watching, admiring their bodies, how so
aesthetically formed, balanced, textured. What
she enjoyed the most was their fondling her breasts,
suckling, massaging the flesh, flicking the tongue
against the nipple, biting, sucking till her nipples
were red-hot for days. She could come just by this,
without penetration.
When she is alone, she cries. In the dark, she reaches
upwards, into the air, grabbing nothing.