Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tokyo Flower Children 5

Winchester Nii Tete hails from a famous family of drummers in Ghana. And Tokyo is so lucky to have him.
His playing is energetic, joyous, dignified, virtuous.
Behind him is Teruyuki Kawabata, leader of Cigarette She Was , a composer/lyricist who plays the guitar, percussion and other instruments.
On his right is Keiji Kubo, a language expert who totally respects aboriginal culture, and plays the bass/didgeridoo.
On Winchester's left is Haruna Shimizu, also with Cigarette She Was, who someday wants to have her own cafe-on-wheels.
I get in a lecture mood when I hang out with such talented pure-spirited people.
I have told Winchester he has beautiful eyes.
I have told Teruyuki his "Jounetsu wo torimodosou" is a great song.
I have told Keiji his girlfriend Akiko is "KawaYUUUUUI!"
And so, at the Pit Inn in Shinjuku, the other night, I told Haruna she must stick with the man she chooses to love because loving someone isn't about weighing the pro's and con's to get a good deal.
Too many Japanese women are still waiting for that deal _ like they are prizes to be won.
Love is not something you receive from someone else. It is all and only about your Self.
It's a lifelong battle _ like Art and Life.
Love endures through tick and thin, through sickness and health, through the good times and the bad.

Tokyo Flower Children 4
Tokyo Flower Children 2
Tokyo Flower Children
Tokyo Flower Children 3

Friday, April 18, 2008

Tadanori Yokoo

Dreams blend with reality like time warps in a collage of bathers, samurai, phallic symbols, milk-spurting breasts, waterfalls, ukiyoe prints and half-born babies in a voluminous retrospective of Tadanori Yokoo's prolific career at Setagaya Museum.
Images jump from postwar Japan(schoolchildren, Mishima) to Hollywood (kissing blondes), then India and other faraway places as quickly and as unexpectedly as the workings of a genius artist's mind.
In the same way, mediums keep shifting _ pasted photos, oils, silkscreen, Plexiglas.
The usual demarcations of history, geography, references and dimension are no longer relevant.
Even canvases get shredded.
Themes are repeated, over and over, as colors change from ocean-blue to reproductive red on towering canvases.
We enter Yokoo's mind, stepping into a world of magic and mystery that is probably where we end up when we die and also where we were small and unknowing before we were born _ the primordial that lurks like a hallucinatory flash behind a mirror, or behind our own image in the mirror, hiding behind our backs, or caught around a corner or beneath the water's surface or embedded inside a hidden wall:

Michelangelo is /blue dolphins jumping are /a couple dancing inside a skull is /a portrait of Pablo Picasso is /crossroads in the darkness getting shot by a film crew are /faces wearing sunglasses are /a photo of a cat's face /is a screaming salivating woman who is posing at the same spot Mona Lisa was painted.

Things crumble like sand.
And that face or that thing from another century pops up in our consciousness as it always belonged there, as reminders of our finite lives and our connection to the eternal.
Almost 70, Yokoo is voraciously young, curious and evolving like a child.
He stands quiet, ever charming in a tux, his signature curly head held high, as he greets guests at the museum reception, surrounded by chattering dignitaries/celebrities.
What is refreshing is that he thinks big _ real big, on the scale of the Pyramids, grandeur of the galaxies, the insight of a divinity.
That same "bigness" is present in his physically small works, down to the tiniest pencil sketches.
Yokoo is big.
Yokoo is not timid.
And Yokoo is persistent.
One moment, you see a work from the 1960s, a fluorescent depiction of a woman in bondage, and you think: He is at his prime; he can't possibly top this.
But then there's another, and yet another, and yes, another, from the 1990s, maybe just this year, all equally strong and different, yet retaining the voice that is so defiantly Yokoo.
I interviewed Yokoo when I was a reporter at The Japan Times.
I went to his studio filled with knickknacks from all over the world _ figures and artifacts.
What's this? What's that?
Everything looked like art in his studio. I was probably picking up ashtrays with wonderment.
Why do you keep asking what is this? what is this? he said with a smile.
Yokoo later told me he enjoyed my articles.
You don't know anything about art, he said, but you write what you feel, and that's what I want my works to evoke in people.
It's a nice thing to say to a writer.
As I leave the museum, I return to the world, suddenly equipped with a new eye.
Everything looks different as though the objects are part of Yokoo's paintings, just making cameo appearances in the landscape before me, to remind me that everything is as much salvation as it is illusion.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Ecological Fur

It's real fur.
But Chie Imai has added recycled polyester as fabric to a few of her 2008-2009 collection items to make it luxury fur with a green conscience.
My story.
Two women were sitting across the table from me during the show.
One of them said with a giggle: "This fur costs 20 million yen. You can buy an apartment with that."
Then the other said: "You cannot buy an apartment with 20 million yen."
Imai says global warming has hurt the demand for fur, although sales are growing in new markets like Russia and China.
And so she has also come up with "seasonless fur" products.
She showed me a short jacket of white lacey fabric with white fur trim that she said can be worn in air-conditioned places even in the summer.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Cecil Taylor

Cecil Taylor's fingers are genius crazed mice, appearing and disappearing, light speed flashes of moments. Cecil himself, his shirted back, trickling sweat, then soaked wet, is a giant uncaged animal, arching, crouching, sometimes lovingly, but most of the time viciously, from the right side of the grand piano, where crystal clear sparkles of notes are triangularly cornered stars falling upon keyboards, all the way to the left hand side, groaning heavily with the growls emanating from the dark piano, now breathing so deeply with life. His unpredictable colors unbelievable originate from a hidden almost perverse yet ultimate, space of soul, outside any
reality. That penetrate, fill your wholeness, that has already forgotten to resist. Concentrated muscle tense that is relaxing, freeing in the numbed hypnosis of his drugging power. Drinks lie untouched on the night club tables. Ears become one. And all other music, all other sound, all other thought can suicidally stop in shame before Cecil. When he rests, and he doesn't rest, he releases you to sigh in lyrics of relief, the beauty of jazz rhythms, only to thrust you back into the irregularly regulated chords he hears. Till you hear his hands, parting seas, red and black, back and forth. The mad jerkings of perpetual tears choked confusion in your chest are muted in an overwhelmed one-ness of peace. You are tiny, fantasy-filled, merely deformity caught in the immatured evolutionnary stages, but you are ecstatic to have stayed alive long enough to experience what you just experienced. So that the world is no longer a void. But an eternal feeling blanketing cities, skies, machines and

From Yuri Kageyama, "Peeling," Berkeley, Calif: I. Reed Press, 1988.
First published in Oro Madre.

an ode to the Caucasian male

Poetry by Yuri Kageyama.
Guitar and music arrangement by Carl Freire.
Recorded in Green Village Studios, Tokyo, April 13, 2008.
"an Ode to the Caucasian male," from Yuri Kageyama, "Peeling," Berkeley, Calif: I. Reed Press, 1988.
First published in "Women Talking, Women Listening."

an ode to the Caucasian male

white man
white man
with the silky blond hair
the emerald-blue eyes
and the cool million dollar grin
I won't mind being a Suzy Wong for you.
I'm tired of the laundry-men
and the dirty restaurant cooks
who can only smell of won ton soup
and talk about chowmein
they don't have the powers,
the style you do
seems you've got to be white
to really be a man
the long sleek legs
with the acid rock walk
in the hot tight pants
where the warm prick dwells
it's okay
you see only the race in me
just a stereotype, not my personality
it's okay
cuz, white man
you have
to give.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Rei Sato at Kaikai Kiki Gallery

Rei Sato is one of Japan's brilliant young artists who are part of Kaikai Kiki, the studio of Takashi Murakami.
Her whimsical lyrical works take the pop manga style of the Murakami School, defiant, maddeningly vibrant, so hardened and cynical, a step further, perhaps, in a more serene and introverted direction.
They give a view of the world of a child fingerpainting fish, the happy sun, girls with quizzical expressions and weedlike flowers, sometimes on fabric, sometimes on enlarged photos that are lazy snapshots, like those taken on cell phones, purposely making no assertions whatsoever except in seeing, recording and being.
A makeshift cafe at the gallery _ low coffee tables, muted lighting, a guitarist sending bubbly sounds through electronic equipment, hushed conversations _ also included a book shelf filled with knickknacks: fuzzy stuffed animals, figures, plastic watches, books, a half-filled pot of herb tea, tawdry memorabilia, everyday items that give glimpses into the artist's mind.
Making your way toward the back, ducking hanging beads and pieces of cloth of different colors, you see that the works become more and more like scribbles, pencil drawings of tiny girls, forgotten notes, scrawled on bits of paper, fragments of thoughts, mischievous markings on newspaper. And in the very back next to old posters of Japanese movies are graphic art from Yumeji Takehisa and the words:
"I want to be a poet."

Mobile Fashion

Xavel is the company behind the Tokyo Girls Collection fashion show and mobile/PC sites for electronic shopping that showcase some of Japan's biggest brands _ fashion houses puzzling to anyone other than young Japanese women with names like Deicy, Titty, Cecil McBee, Spiral Girl.
The shows, which attract thousands of people, work more like catalog shopping.
The people can order clothes right then and there as the models prance on the runway before their eyes.
It's a great business idea.
And these women are certainly having fun.
Whether their energy and goodwill can be channeled into something other than just-looking-good remains to be seen.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Little Yellow Slut "live" version

Poetry reading at What the Dickens in Tokyo Sunday April 6.
Little Yellow Slut (previous studio version)

Poetry by Yuri Kageyama.
Music composition/arrangement, djembe, percussions by Teruyuki Kawabata (Cigarette She Was).
Kplango by Haruna Shimizu.
Didgeridoo by Keiji Kubo.

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, April 5, 2008

Exchange on the Toyota Prius

Did Toyota's Prius get Japanese government money?
That question has stirred up some talk.
It started with a Business Week report, which quotes a former Toyota executive as saying that it did.
That comment was just one line at the end of a long article.
But a person I got to know through blogging pointed it out.
So naturally I had to at least try and ask Toyota.
That produced this article.
Reaction was instantaneous:
Just some above and there's a lot more, including the response from Toyota U.S. on its official blog, and a response from Business Week.
And another.
For me, it was this reaction that got me thinking I should get busy and find out, producing this story.
Also on Prius online.
The account with updates on this blog, and this one.
Topping it all, perhaps, in potential controversy is this.

Friday, April 4, 2008


Poetry 2 entry reworked:

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.
My mother is dying of pancreas cancer, and I can finally smell death, that unmistakable stench that sticks inside your nostrils for hours, maybe even a day, trailing you from the hospice room.
She has lost so much weight she looks like a bird, her nose pointed like a beak in a mummified face.
She lies curled up in the bed, her arms clasped into herself, a scrawny embryonic chick in a nest, and her beady eyes are expressionless, unmoving, staring into your eyes, and she won't close them because she knows you are her daughter and these may be the last moments, and she needs to look, but you just want her to close her eyes so you can leave and forget.
She couldn't even speak then.
When she could still move, when she was at the hospital, not the hospice, where patients are getting treatment to live, she was just a burden on the nurses and they want her to move to a hospice, she would grow delirious on pain-killers and start walking around the hallways naked, announcing: She must leave now because Otoosama _ her husband, my father _ has arrived to get her.
My father is dead.
Before that, when she was still undergoing tests, and she had always instructed us she never wanted to know it, if she ever got cancer, and so we couldn't tell her, she says to me: "I wasn't a very good mother, was I?"
This is a very important conversation.
But I brush it off. I don't want to talk about this, do I? because then wouldn't we be talking about her death?
"I watch you and your sister, how the both of you think about and interact with your children," she says. "And I realize I wasn't a good parent. I know this watching the both of you as parents."
She goes on, matter of fact, 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 was sent to live away from home with her sisters and brothers to go to good schools.
And so she grew up never knowing the intimacy of a relationship between a mother and child.
She doesn't have to apologize. And I should reach out and hug her, but all I remember is how she never stopped him, her husband, my father, when he beat me, how I had to cower, never apologizing, and all she did was sit quietly and pray and be patient and believe the anger will pass like a typhoon, leaving behind just tiny purple bruise marks on sallow skin, as sanity returns to the Ph. D. in engineering, professor, salaryman, head of the household, and all would be well.
He needs a break from work, it is stressful, he needs to go the family beach villa.
She has already made arrangement, and I must go with him, the ever faithful daughter, because he can't go alone.
"It can't be me. It must be you," she says, as though this is decided, ironing the white shirts and folding them on top of each other on the tatami mat.
She doesn't tell me until years later. She worried about me every day, praying he wasn't beating me.
He didn't beat me. We took turns rowing a wooden boat. We went fishing til our fingers smelled like worms. We lowered cages into the water with fish heads, and drew them up to find crabs entangled with each other.
But I can't forgive, not just yet, though no one has to apologize.
I call my sister on the train back from the hospital.
"She is going to die," I say, breathless, more from excitement than from sadness. She is dying but she is realizing and she is changing.
What she is saying is so profound she had to be dying. Really dying.
It should have been like the movies.
I should have forgiven her, a moment of reconciliation before the moment of death.
You are a good mother.
Remember all the Ryunosuke Akutagawa stories you read to me in the kitchen, but you told me the stories I wrote, secretly, in big block letters in a worn out notebook were petty and would never amount to anything?
Remember how you wanted to go back to school for your Master's degree, but you had to cook and clean and you gave up?
Remember how you won awards with those elaborate sumi calligraphy on rice paper, painting ancient words no one could read?
Remember how you sat naked in the bath tub, thinking your solitary thoughts, and you hated your husband, my father, because he bought you the wrong-size ring in an overseas business trip?
Today, you taught me how people keep evolving til the last moment of life.
No, you are not a bad mother at all.
This is the best gift you have given me.
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.