Friday, June 27, 2008

Daihachi Oguchi

Daihachi Oguchi, a pioneer in making taiko an international art form, especially among overseas Japanese communities, has died.
A big taiko event in his honor is being organized in Japan in August.
Details are upcoming.
The first time I saw Mr. Oguchi perform was in San Francisco in the 1970s with San Francisco Taiko Dojo.
He used to say there are two drums _ one on Earth and one in Heaven.
That's why the players trained in his style point their bachi sticks upward, reaching for the sky, in between beats.
He is probably up there now playing that heavenly drum.
It's a testament to the power of taiko and the commitment of Mr. Oguchi and others who have followed in his path to see how taiko has grown to be played all over the world _ as faraway as from the shrine in Nagano that's home to Oguchi's Osuwa Daiko as Brazil and Kuwait.
It's now simply taken for granted that taiko is modern music capable of delivering professional level performances and world-class artistic expression as much as jazz or the blues or hiphop.
Every taiko drummer in the world, including my son, owes so much to Mr. Oguchi.
In his art, vision and pure persona, Mr. Oguchi deserves the highest honors for what he has done for Japan's image in the international community _ inclusive, honorable, innovative and a lot of fun.
(More links to the Obit. )

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Amanojaku Taiko in Brazil

Video by someone who was at Amanojaku's June 19, 2008 concert in Brazil.
Thanks for the video!
Isaku's blog and entry from his end on the same concert.
The piece being performed is "Five Color Taiko," in which five players drum out music that is at once together and coherent in unison yet also individual, creative and unique, expressing the essence of the human spirit as interpreted by Amanojaku leader and composer Yoichi Watanabe.
Brazil, home to the biggest Japanese community outside Japan, is also home to a younthful and vibrant taiko culture.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Story of Miu 10

Story of Miu 9
List of links to previous Miu entries
Story of Miu 10
The Moon Stomp in Koenji is smaller than most American kitchens, and it really does have a kitchen, where sweet-smelling pizza and hot spicy curry are getting cooked up, but what's really cooking is the music.
Miu wanted me to come and hear her play with Yuga's band.
I'm trying not to expect too much, but I need not have worried.
Descend from the streets into that tiny smoke-filled club, packed with kids in hats and T-shirts, and the music there is so feel-good, giggles-provoking and harmonious Japanese-style it's like soaking in sudsy lukewarm tub water.
Admission is 2,500 yen for an all-you-can-eat meal-included evening of music.
Merrychan is a trio that performs original Japanese-language versions of Cuban and other Latin music.
Hearing Japanese sung and yelled in Latin fashion is somehow funnier than you'd think. Speak about identity crisis and parodying Japan's imitative modern music scene!
See how "Gerohaita! (He barfed!)" almost sounds Spanish? It's that wit in not taking oneself too seriously that makes these musicians rise above their otherwise proficient but pretty hunkydory (I mean, how could a bunch of Japanese kids beat Los Van Van?) musicianship to something unique, and something definitely entertaining.
No wonder the crowd (of about 30, half of them members of the other performing bands) is ecstatic.
Funyakotsu-ting was a geeky looking pudgy guy with glasses and a T-shirt with a picture of a donkey that said in English: "Bad Ass." He sang, narrated tales and even performed karaoke with a guitar.
A far cry from a demonstration of musical technique or artistic message, the almost-freak-show "otaku" performance still exudes a strange utterly disarming charm.
Several fans sat in the front row with multicolored light-sticks and swayed them in time to the music on one tune like they were at a Budokan rock concert.
Most straight-ahead but just as hippie-spiritied was Cigarette She Was, a folk/pop band led by guitar-strumming singer Teruyuki Kawabata. The groups were selling their CDs for something like 200 yen, the equivalent of $1.50.
Yuga plays kpanlogo in this band, his deep eyes _ those that Miu says look like those of an elephant _ buried in his long black hair as he plays with quiet concentration. He is sometimes so serious his upper lip seems to curl up in a haughty snarl.
Miu is so happy she can barely sit still as she jumps around, shaking a wooden stick covered with jangling bells.
I sit in one of the front seats surrounded by the cuddly noises and the warm smell of food and forget all thoughts.
It's a numbing feeling of thoughtless and humble satisfaction.
Who would have imagined that just a couple of months later Miu would break up with Yuga?
They are so young maybe it was to be expected.
She says it started with a quarrel about how to play a musical phrase in a rehearsal in their tiny apartment.
But when she shouted back, he slapped her then pushed her down on the tatami mat.
"I almost hit my head on the corner of his desk," Miu tells me, horrified.
She has to move out immediately, and so I have to go pick her up in our car.
Perhaps hoping to stop her from leaving, Yuga told her that he couldn't end the painful cycle of violence: He was beaten as a child while he was growing up.
His parent were very strict with him because he was an only child and they had such great hopes for him.
He was the kind of kid who couldn't even ask for a toy.
The parents would spank him and beat him and kick him and push him out, even in the winter, naked out into the backyard, although he screamed and stamped his little feet and cried as though his little lungs will tear into pieces.
But sometimes, when he feels that rage burn inside him, he is still that kid, and he can't stop himself when he wants it set things right and he must hit that person in front of him whom he loves so dearly yet who is acting in a way that he despises.
"It's totally messed up," Miu says. "He says he can't forgive his father, but I am not going to forgive him."
It is a sad end to a totally peaceful, hippie story of young love and brainlessly joyous music.
Or so I thought _ except that wasn't the end at all.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Photos by Takashi Itoh/Whisper Not
Yuri Kageyama
Teruyuki Kawabata
Winchester Nii Tete
Haruna Shimizu
Keiji Kubo
Yumi Miyagishima
Carl Freire
at the Pink Cow, Shibuya, Tokyo
June 8, 2008.

Photos by Mr. Takashi Itoh/WHISPER NOT


This kind of peace-loving Tokyo indies music scene is what inspired my latest short story "The Father and the Son," which will be in an anthology of American multicultural fiction edited by the McCarthy "Genius" Award-winning poet and novelist Ishmael Reed and avant-garde dancer Carla Blank.
"Pow-wow: American Short Fiction from Then to Now" can be pre-ordered from, and I already ordered mine!
"Jounetsu wo Torimodosou" is written by Teruyuki Kawabata, the guy singing with his guitar in the video.
His beautiful fiancee Haruna Shimizu and I start it off with a reading and are joined by Winchester Nii Tete, Yumi Miyagishima, Keiji Kubo and Carl Freire _ who took part in the June 8,2008 TOKYO FLOWER CHILDREN event of multicultural poetry and music.
The other pieces that evening:
"SuperMom: A Poem for All Working Women With Children" with Winchester, a reading of "Ikiru," "Little Yellow Slut," "People Who Know Pain" with Shima, "Loving Younger Men" and other works.
(Earlier Tokyo Flower Children postings)
Remembering Soul

we leave without saying a word
people will understand

yesterday’s sunset burns in our memory
but tonight we remember soul

forever tucked in that pocket of our soul
we will forget the days of tears and fears

remember, remember,
in this pocket of our soul
we don’t need to cry

dalalalilah, dalalalilah, dalalalilah

just look at the sun and the sky
we don’t need to fit in

we don’t need to cry
we don’t need to cry

Saturday, June 21, 2008

From One Drummer to a Thousand Drummers

My son Isaku Kageyama is in Sao Paulo now as part of the centenary celebrations of Japanese immigration in Brazil _ home to the biggest Japanese population outside Japan.
Taiko drumming group Amanojaku, which takes traditional festival sounds to deliver modern concert-level music, got a standing ovation for their performance there earlier this week.
The English language Asahi did a story about the trip.
This is from Isaku on his blog:

Today was one of the biggest concerts of my life, and a day that I will never forget. When we finished playing and the audience jumped up and started clapping - I thought all our work in Brazil over the past 5 years had truly been worthwhile.

I saw a number of familiar faces in the audience, and it gave me the energy I needed.

Of course there were a number of imperfections, but we managed to pull through. The imperfections were primarily in relation to tempo and lack of responding properly to minor mistakes.

Generally speaking, good rehearsals are designed to iron out mistakes so that they don't happen in the first place - but they also give players an opportunity to anticipate the types of mistakes so that they can respond to them in a timely and appropriate manner.

The gig is now history, and now we will focus on Saturday's Sennin Daiko, and the big gigs we have coming up back in Japan.

CONCERTS in Japan:

Wed., August 13, 2008 19:00 (Doors open at 18:30)
Thu., August 14, 2008 14:00 (Doors open at 13:30)
Nerima Bunka Center
AMANOJAKU TAIKO DRUMMERS with Kyosuke Suzuki (yokobue flute) and Katsunari Sawada (shamisen)
Advance Tickets: JPY 4000, Door Tickets: JPY 4500
Ticket Pia -  P-Code: 293-971
TEL: 0570-02-9999
Amanojaku -
TEL: 03-3904-1745 FAX: 03-3904-9434

SAPPORO, Hokkaido
July 13, 2008 at 12:30 (Doors open at 12:00)
12th Nippon Taiko Festival
AMANOJAKU appears with other guest taiko groups including Osuwa Daiko.
Sapporo Education and Culture Hall
Advance Tickets JPY 2500, Door Tickets JPY 3000
Ticket Sales: Ticket Pia TEL 0570-02-9999+Pコード(290-857)
Contact: Nippon Taiko Foundation TEL 03-6229-5577

OHAMA, Yamagata Prefecture
July 27, 2008 at 18:00 (Doors open 17:00)
AMANOJAKU appears with Osuwa Daiko, Oedo Sukeroko Taiko, Chichibu Yatai Bayashi, Choshi Hanedaiko and others.
Kan Nihon-kai Taiko Festival
Ohama Seashore Stage
Advance Tickets JPY 2000, Door Tickets 2500
Contact: Kan Nihon-kai Taiko Festival Organization Office TEL 0234-26-0381

KURASHIKI, Okayama Prefecture
August 3, 2008 at 18:30
Starring AMANOJAKU with local groups in 3rd Japan Taiko Festival
Kurashiki TIVOLI Park “Plaenen Stage”
Just get an admission ticket to TIVOLI Park!
Contact: Kurashi TIVOLI Park Information Center TEL 086-434-1111

Contact Isaku at Amanojaku 03-3904-1745 or email:

And search for "amanojaku" on iTunes Music Store, Napster,, and other online music distributors.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Ben's Cafe SUN June 29 & SUN Nov. 30

Winchester Nii Tete, Yumi Miyagishima and I are going to the reading at Ben's Cafe in Takadanobaba Sunday, June 29, 7 p.m.
They both played in our TOKYO FLOWER CHILDREN reading the other day at the Pink Cow.
But we will be doing new material.
So please come if you're in town and have time.
Ben's Cafe readings take place only when there's a fifth Sunday in a month.
They are usually devoted to prose. But on June 29 _ anything goes!
Looking way ahead, I am also on schedule to read _ prose, this time _ on another fifth Sunday, Nov. 30.


by Yuri Kageyama
Reading at the Pink Cow in Tokyo June 8,2008.

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.

SuperMom with Winchester Nii Tete

SuperMom: A Poem for All Working Women With Children

Poetry by Yuri Kageyama
Kpanlogo by Winchester Nii Tete
Performance at the Pink Cow in Tokyo
June 8, 2008

SuperMom is the Mother in "The Terminator," fearless, sinewy, a mother like no other.
SuperMom risks her life to save her child.
SuperMom risks her life to save the world.
SuperMom _ the mother of all mothers.
SuperMom, Mother, Mama, Imamin, Okaasan!
SuperMom is never found in kitchens barefoot and wears boots to march to work.
SuperMom doesn't make obento.
SuperMom shops at Ichi-Maru-Kyu.
SuperMom _ the mother of invention.
SuperMom, Mother, Mama, Imamin, Okaasan!
SuperMom doesn't gossip with other moms but makes her own money, pays tuition and buys you sneakers.
SuperMom doesn't aspire to be on the cover of Nikkei Woman.
SuperMom just minds her keep.
SuperMom _ a motherfucking worker.
SuperMom, Mother, Mama, Imamin, Okaasan!
SuperMom endures, her womb red and heavy and big and open, wrenching out babies and seaweed and stench.
SuperMom spurts out curdled milk like a fountain in the desert.
SuperMom is the origin of origins.
SuperMom _ the bottom of the sea.
SuperMom, Mother, Mama, Imamin, Okaasan!
SuperMom teaches the primordial instinct of nurturing the species, the legacy of creation, the courage of the Artist.
SuperMom shows by example.
SuperMom leaves the message that nothing counts except Who You Are.
SuperMom _ the bottom of the earth.
SuperMom, Mother, Mama, Imamin, Okaasan!

Friday, June 6, 2008

YO! It's tomorrow night in Tokyo _ be there or be square

Images from Photos by Memo Vasquez and hi_bana. Poster design by teruyuki kawabata.

SUNDAY JUNE 8, 2008 8 p.m.

Poet YURI KAGEYAMA presents
An Evening of Multicultural Poetry and Music
at The Pink Cow, in Tokyo.

Little YELLOW Slut with Teruyuki Kawabata, Haruna Shimizu and Keiji Kubo
Loving Younger Men
an ode to the Caucasian male with Carl Freire
Cecil Taylor
People Who Know Pain with Yumi Miyagishima
SuperMom with Winchester Nii Tete
Excerpt from “The Father and the Son,” short story to be published in “Pow-wow:
American Short Fiction from Then to Now,” Da Capo Press (Perseus Books).

Jounetsu wo Torimodosou Music/Lyrics/Guitar/Song by Teruyuki Kawabata, translation
by Yuri Kageyama Performance by All

Poet YURI KAGEYAMA’s works have appeared in many literary publications, including “Y’Bird,” “Greenfield Review,” “On a Bed of Rice,” “Other Side River” and “Stories We Hold Secret.” She has a book of poems, “Peeling” (I. Reed Books).

Music maker, designer and self-proclaimed “shy and wagamama only child,” TERUYUKI KAWABATA leads CigaretteSheWas, one of Japan’s greatest indies bands. The group has a new CD album later this year.

Master percussionist WINCHESTER NII TETE hails from the honorable Addy-Amo-Boye families of drummers of Ghana. He plays with the Ghana national troupe, Sachi Hayasaka, Yoshio Harada and Takasitar.

HARUNA SHIMIZU of CigaretteSheWas fell in love with Ghana’s kpanlogo drum while she was in college. She has kept at it as freely as her spirit moves her.

KEIJI KUBO, who plays didgeridoo and bass, is a linguist and student. He has total respect for aboriginal culture and cultural integrity.

Violinist YUMI MIYAGISHIMA plays with CigaretteSheWas, Kyosuke Koizumi, Binary Scale, The little witch and other groups.

CARL FREIRE is an American writer, translator and musician.

DEEJAY C. GEEZ from St. Louis has been living in Japan since 2006. His super soul music and dope true-school hip hop starts 7 p.m.
Poetry and music 8 p.m.
Doors open 5 p.m.
Free admission.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

People Who Know Pain

Reading with violinist Yumi Miyagishima at What the Dickens in Tokyo.
The Japanese use the expression "hitono itami wo wakaru/shiru" often, which means "knowing people's pain."
It's part of being a conformist society that the quality of being able to understand how others feel is valued.
But often this becomes another way of making people feel small and unaccepted because it's a way to define what's correct/not correct in a very narrow way.
I wrote this thinking partly about that, but also about the poem by Kenji Miyazawa about that character whom no one would see as a hero _ in Japan or the U.S. _ who is never after societal recognition, carrying on always _ rain or shine _ but the way Miyazawa put it in those memorable first lines: "undefeated neither by rain nor wind ..." Miyazawa is one of Japan's biggest literery figures. But as with many works in Japanese, English translations don't/can't do justice to his greatness.

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,
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