Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Autobiography of Yoichi Watanabe 2

Isao Tokuhashi and I are working together in compiling an oral history of Yoichi Watanabe, the leader and founder of Tokyo taiko group Amanojaku.
Link to an earlier excerpt, and below another excerpt from the work-in-progress, "The Autobiography of Yoichi Watanabe _ as told to Isao Tokuhashi and Yuri Kageyama":

Most teachers set a two hour or three hour lesson and charge for those hours.
I don’t do that. When I teach a group, I teach from morning until night. That’s because we are going toward the same dream.
Maybe this makes me unprofessional. But I want to be moved. If the people I am involved with are passionate about the music, and they are moved, then I am moved. If I am dishonest to what I believe, I think people will see that.
And so I don’t think about the hours. It’s impossible to teach or create what I want in two or three hours.
The people who perform with me often break into tears. That’s when a teacher can feel truly fulfilled. That’s what I live for.
It’s the same if I go abroad. It gets very busy when I go to Brazil. There is no rest. We are going to lessons from morning until night. But some of the kids are waiting at the hotel for us to get back because they so much want to learn.
I believe that being a taiko drummer was the best job for me. But I also believe that it was a mission given to me by the heavens.
I needed to write a page in taiko history. I wanted to pave the way for those who come after me.
I needed to be able to teach with confidence or else my students won’t be able to play with confidence.
A professional performance is not a recital for friends.
A professional must be spiritually strong like an Olympic athlete undergoing Spartan training.
But without a relationship of trust, a teacher cannot make a student go through that kind of training. If you have not endured this kind of training, and become truly professional, you will be ignored in the professional world.
It all depends on the person. Some need to be scolded. Some need to be praised. Some pick it up without your having said a word, while others never get it even if you tell them many times.
I created the original music that is Amanojaku.
I never wavered. I was always going straight after that goal.
If the roots of a tree are rotten, then it will never flower. But if the roots are solid, the stem will grow strong.
While others paint in colorful oils, I am taking a sumi brush and painting to find my own way. Once I decided that, the rest was easy

winning and losing

In sports, career, dating and other games people play in life, there is always a winner and there is always a loser. Most people spend their time and energy trying to win because winning is crucial to basic needs like survival. The fight of life is about reducing abuse and getting ahead. But how deceiving life can be. It is not really about this kind of winning vs. losing at all. Each and every life holds potential for being a different kind of win that produces no losers at all. Think about the certainty of death and think about what you value the most _ what gives you truest and purest fulfillment. Life is about yourself _ and only yourself. This kind of winning is about winning for yourself. It is a win that cannot be handed to you. It is not being defined outside of yourself. People can win the game of life, hoarding riches and status and empty feel-goodness and turn out a total loser in finding the meaning of life. When you create that music, that poem, that story that feels just right, and when you feel so very close to the meaning of life in that moment, that is a win. When you find that love with no reason except that you love, whether it's for your lover, your child, your protege, your art, the people of the world, or all the generations of humankind that come after you, that is a win.

company you keep

I am so tickled proud to see my name right in-between Roberta Flack and Don Ayler in the list Eric Kamau Gravatt keeps on his Web page for collaborators.

Drumming in 2010

A HAPPY UPBEAT NEW YEAR with taiko drumming by Isaku Kageyama with Seijuro Sawada on shamisen _ all to House DJ-ing _ at the Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo during the countdown celebrations Dec. 31, 2009 and Jan. 1, 2010. Dancing, champagne, music and plenty of multicultural spirit to guide us through 2010.

Another video at this link.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

love over time

love over time
a poem by Yuri Kageyama

if you have to ask
it is not love
you would be there
right now
making that love
over time
if it is not
love now
if you can think
it is not love
life without your
giving that love
over time
into love

hey _ this poem is fit for a greeting card !
so perfectly timed: happy holidays.
not that i understand love at all.
but i do believe that if you can sit back and analyze if this or that relationship should or should not be pursued, well, that's not love.
love means there is no other way of thinking.
love means no choices.
you have to be with this person and there is no other way about it.
you want to give, no conditions attached, despite all the betrayals, disappointments, hardships and maybe even the realization the love was just an illusion and not real at all.
over all that time, what you did, what you chose to stand behind _
and that you _ are real.
that's not an illusion, right?
you are that person.
and all those years _ that history _ over which you lived life believing in that love, no one can take that away from you.
you earned it.
that's love.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Countdown Party

Seijuro Sawada, shamisen prodigy, will be collaborating with taiko drummer Isaku Kageyama in a multicultural Countdown Celebration at the Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo,
The Sanctuary 3F.
2-1-1 Nihonbashi Muromachi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Nearest Station: Mitsukoshimae.
Welcome in 2010 with taiko and shamisen performed by masters to DJ House and start the Year of the Tiger right.
Contact Isaku for reservations and discount admissions.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

learning about pride

as a parent, i have always tried to instill in my son pride in one's identity (race, culture, national origin).
but i don't think i was ever truly proud.
somewhere deep inside, there was that feeling of being a second-class citizen because i was not white/Anglo-Saxon/a Westerner/an american.
asserting one's pride is the mirror image of that feeling of inadequacy.
if you were really so proud, you wouldn't need to keep saying it.
the whole idea of having to say it over and over again means you aren't so sure and you aren't so proud.
watching my son grow up to be a taiko drummer has helped me learn what true pride in one's identity is.
because there is more to it than just telling yourself over and over that it's OK not to be white.
it is about seeking meaning in your life, pursuing a way of life, including everyday things like the place where you choose to live, the music you choose to listen to, the artists you emulate as your models.
taiko is all about being Japanese although it is a strong statement that holds appeal to the international audience in the same way that the music of Paganini or Mozart holds appeal to the international audience, including many Asians.
in that sense, i have never really been Japanese because my cultural references are Western _ rock 'n' roll, James Joyce, Biblical Salvation, Claude Monet.
there is nothing really wrong with this because being international is a good thing, and art is about transcending the confines of prejudices and boundaries of consciousness.
but watching my son grow up to pursue a Japanese form of music is helping me come to terms with the incompleteness and imperfections of my pride.
now i know, i was never really proud.
i was always ashamed and felt inadequate, even afraid.
i was never sure of what i was trying to pass on to future generations as pride.
or that was precisely why i was so determined to teach my son that pride.
but when i saw that pride staring back at me in my son and how beautiful and oh so Japanese taiko can be,
i was confronted with pride in its truest and purest that stem so deep from one's soul from someone so close to me that he is a part of me.
and so now that pride is mine.

Life is good


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

ego and egoism

Art is all about ego.
Even if you are the kind of artist who believes that only amateurish art is about self-expression and true art is about something else entirely, no one disagrees that art can stem only from the self that is the artist.
Most forms of selfishness as they play out in society are negative, often evil.
People want to save their own asses and want more money, status, privileges, at the cost of others, and so place themselves in career/society/hierarchy to feed that ego and that egotistical need.
This is the reality that is 99.99999 percent of reality.
This is the reality that I don't understand and never have understood.
It is not particularly interesting and certainly not satisfying.
Unfortunately, if we want to survive as human beings until death and support our family, we must deal with this torturous but undeniable 99.99999 percent of reality, since it IS 99.99999 percent _ if we count all the people who choose to be involved in this pursuit of career, money, status, etc. as valid values and goals vs. those who are interested in and satisfied by something else and become poets.
Poetry is a form of art that is as divorced from the worldly pursuits that make up 99.99999 percent of reality as things can get.
The ego takes center stage but in a way that is irrelevant from politicking, career advancement and mundane unbecoming unpoetic competition.
A poet is ego pure and simple and total and unafraid.
A poet exercises selfishness with a free conscience.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

survival of the fittest and the apex predator

in the animal kingdom, the strongest members of the species not only survive, they also get to mate or spawn and so they have the best chance to leave their genetic makeup and characteristics to future generations.
that is why females choose to have sex with powerful, rich, big, strong men.
in those Discovery Channel videos, male lions fight each other to decide on a winner that gets to mate.
in tuna, the males swim viciously over the eggs at the speed of a sportscar to spawn and so the strongest and fastest tuna get to leave their genes to legacy.
loser tuna are also swimming in the group and leaving their trails of sperm over the eggs but all too late because the eggs have already been fertilized by what the bigger and stronger male tuna spurted out.
and so it is forever the instinct for the female's own survival and her offspring/eggs and the survival of the species to seek out the strongest.
but the human being may be one species capable of reversing that.
what could be more inhumane than being the most powerful predator?
isn't it more desirable and attractive to be giving and humble, to sacrifice and accept honorable defeat instead of aggressively winning at someone else's cost?
why must we be tuna? or a lion?
why shouldn't being a loser be sexy?
to the enlightened liberated human female?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

AMANOJAKU Taiko at Sogetsu Hall in Tokyo

THE BEAT OF LEGACY - Dentou no Hibiki
AMANOJAKU Taiko Concert in Tokyo
TUE Dec. 8, 2009
Sogestsu Hall
7 p.m. (doors open 6:30 p.m.)

For tickets, please email:
Featuring composer, Amanojaku leader and founder YOICHI WATANABE

Friday, November 27, 2009

Transcending age, sex and race

When we get old, very very old, so old we are covered with wrinkles and our skin is pale and our breasts shrivel and droop and an old man looks and smells no different from an old woman, do we finally and once and for all transcend the barriers of sex and race?
By succumbing to the all-unifying power of age and soon-to-come death, do we victoriously overcome the hurt of sex and the murder of race and the divisions we must inherit as legacy of mankind like the taint of original sin?
When we get up in morning and look at what looks back at us in the mirror, will we no longer fear society's taunts for how we look and for the petty but definitive prisons of groupings for which we stand and must represent?
Will we at last have the choice of being nothing and so be someone who will not be defined by sex and race, and it will no longer matter whether you are man or woman, black, white or yellow?

Miwa Yanagi is one of my favorite artists because she addresses those very inner thoughts that have always tormented me. She has young women enact how they see themselves as old ladies and takes their portraits. Elevator girls and Amazonian women are other images she evokes for her powerful message. Yanagi never loses her delicate sensitivity and raw energy. She faces those fears head-on while the rest of us cower in shame and self-destruction.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

hating weddings

I've never liked weddings. I find them frightening.
Weddings are a very expensive performance designed to present an image of a social category called "married couple" that is proper and desirable and safe.
People spend a lot of time planning this performance, putting together slide shows of their childhood, picking out a package of gifts of porcelain and other knickknacks no one wants (though some couples have gotten smarter and instead give a catalogue so guests can pick out what they want but there is really nothing in the catalogue you want either), lining up a list of people to give speeches (the boring ones by bosses and former teachers, the teary goofy ones by friends) or put on horrible amateur acts (that should stay in the karaoke box where they belong).
It is a transition into adulthood _ the straight life.
It is a capitulation to the social definitions of Husband, Wife, Marriage, Man, Woman, Life, Career, Success.
It is often an opportunity for a woman to be the star for once, defined by an alleged beauty in absurd formulaic outfits (white dress, red kimono, etc.) so people can sigh and say oooh, how pretty she is, with the understanding that as she ages she can never quite be as nice-to-look at (i.e., socially valuable) as she is on that blessed day.
To negate or even question any of these definitions of what happens at a wedding so carefully orchestrated at considerable costs would be totally un-Japanese.
Love or whatever it is that happens that culminates in marriage is highly individualistic, private and spiritual.
But you'd never know it from watching the couple descend from a gondola covered with fumes and walk around lighting candles at tables decked with weird flowers and funny food.
Weddings usually show where people are really at _ in the end _ even if they have claimed for years to be more liberated.
They may say they are doing it for their parents.
It is frightening because it means that in the end we can never win against all these definitions not only because they are so powerful as dictated by society, but because they are so close to people's deepest emotions and values (which what doing it for your parents means).
They are growing up.
They are getting married.
They are leaving me behind.

Monday, November 9, 2009


To All who will MoveThatPoem,
Thanks for this book and the spirit that it brings transcending borders of nations and cultures.
I have added my poem and pass the book along to Maku, a poet in South Korea, the best person to take MoveThatPoem to its next step on its journey.
I wish it well and to all that it encounters,
Yuri Kageyama
November 2009

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Autobiography of Yoichi Watanabe

Yoichi Watanabe, (photo by Naokazu Oinuma) leader of Tokyo taiko group Amanojaku, is relating his life history and his thoughts on taiko to Isao Tokuhashi and me.
It is a project that has just begun. And a lot of work still awaits.
But it fascinates me for what it promises to deliver in understanding of a great artist, an important era of post-war Japanese creativity and the conceptual and spiritual backbone of modern music called taiko.
Yoichi Watanabe founded Amanojaku in 1987.
But his story _ one man's journey in taiko _ began in the late 1960s, when he was about 10 years old.
He lived through the pioneering years of Tokyo-style taiko, playing with Sukeroku Daiko, founded in 1959 as this city's first professional kumi-daiko troupe.
An excerpt from "The Autobiography of Yoichi Watanabe _ as told to Isao Tokuhashi and Yuri Kageyama":

To be honest, I am not sure anyone would want to read a book about my life.
Besides, 10 years from now, my thoughts are bound to have changed, and I would need to write another book.
But I’ve always wanted to write down a certain philosophy on life that I have arrived at over the years in my own small way.
There is such a thing in life as the correct path _ a “seido.”
I am no different in having pursued what I thought was this correct path for me.
I have been doing it all my life.
I was in fourth grade when I decided I wanted to be a taiko drummer.
And I have never swerved from that path.
And it was just one path.
It was not an easy path, one filled with thorny bushes along the way.
But I have developed a way of looking at life through taiko.
And so this book is not a manual about how to play taiko.
Please look at a DVD or a read a manual textbook for that.
Everyone starts out with a dream, and then many people arrive at another way of life to make a living.
You may want to be a doctor or a pilot. But if you can’t realize that dream, you may have to settle on a more realistic job.
We are supposedly in the worst crisis in a century.
People are all working hard.
Perhaps they would be encouraged to find I have never gone far astray from my path over all these years.
I don’t have anything all that special to say.
It’s very ordinary. It’s no different from everyone else’s dreams.
If you keep yourself open, then you will realize your goal in all its depth and breadth.
That kind of spirit has been lost, this spirit I have strived to pursue all my life.
It’s human to seek the easy way, but I have stuck to the way even if it meant hardships.
If people tell me to go one way, then sometimes I question that and go counter-clockwise.
I have always been a rebel, an Amanojaku.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

food for thot

food for thot
a poem by Yuri Kageyama

japanese cars must be like sushi, tempura, kaiseki
the designer pontificates at a party
to add value and defy the challenge from hyundai of korea
like yakiniku korean barbecue and bibimbap

think of all the poor people in india
the nun swishing her black habit prays
the chicken soup swimming in the urn turns into urine and
the bread into styrofoam sponge in our throats

let's have a picnic here, mommy, OK?
my son plunks down in the grass
he eats boiled eggs, claiming his place in the japanese family,
believing they are delicious, the best in the world

when will my husband be able to eat again?
my mother asks the doctor, who answers, "never"
after brain surgery, tubes trickle paste through a hole in his stomach
he gurgles in mucus, his eyeballs batty with fright

Isaku takes a stand

It is so important for a person to take a stand for the music, or whatever else, he or she stands for.
And Isaku really took a stand _ literally on his cajon _ with Winchester Nii Tete and Cari at "The Beat Ahead" at Harajuku Crocodile in Tokyo.
Isaku Kageyama has been playing professionally for years in Amanojaku, the taiko troupe led by his master teacher Yoichi Watanabe, as well as other contexts.
Those situations often required the player to carry out the vision of the leader or pull the whole group together.
A lot of musical technique, hard work and dedication is involved in carrying that out.
But something different happened that night.
Isaku told his own story, holding his own with full accountability for what he stands for _ his own colors, his own music, his own view of the world.
It was a cathartic moment for my son _ and for me.
All the technique in the world doesn't make sense or take meaning without this sense of purpose.
And that's what makes it all _ the pursuit of technique, the years of hard work, the struggles of everyday life _ worth it: That real purpose.
It was stunning to see the transformation before me, although I knew all along someday it would happen.
I forgot to take photos.

more on YouTube

"The Beat Ahead" opened with a rock group led by Isaku's new collaborator Yuu Ishizuka, who hails from Oedo Sukeroku Taiko.
The closing segment was all taiko with Isaku and Yuu collaborating.
It was great to see drummers from different backgrounds share ideas and create new sounds _ something that surprisingly happens rarely in the world of taiko.
There is so much more to be explored.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Music at the Moon Stomp

From left to right: Isaku Kageyama, Winchester Nii Tete, Robby.
The "MoveThatPoem" poets from Spain read after the music at the Moon Stomp in Koenji Tokyo Sunday Oct. 11, 2009.
The music keeps getting stronger.
And the poetry _ read in their Spanish original by the poets, followed by English translations _ was a perfect way to end a multicultural evening.
Isaku plays with minyo musicians tomorrow night Monday, Oct. 12, 2009, at Takanoya in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

Move that poem


Today, I got "MoveThatPoem," one of just five books in the world, created by poets from Spain _ Miguel Jose Aniceto Bardisa, Rafel Llobet Deia, and Fco. Javier Barrera Barcelo (seen in photos reading at the Moon Stomp in Tokyo) _ for an experiment into poetry and mobility, to answer the question of what will happen to this book if it gets passed from poet to poet, crossing national boundaries, language and cultural differences, and to see what the power of connection of poetry does to the problems of physical space: "What has happened to the inner journey of the poet," the poets ask.
"The goal of the MoveThatPoem initiative is to make the poetic object, as the physical object of the project, travel as an independent entity and be transformed thanks to the individual recipient's interaction with it .... Why poetry? Because we believe that poetry is a universal concept present in all cultures. For this reason, the ultimate concept of the MoveThatPoem initiative does not include any attempt to deal with language barriers beyond the original work, but merely to create a poetic object capable of being understood above its formal level by any person who may have it in hand, a living object that can break out of the literary circles in which it has, on occasion, remained buried, a living object that is consolidated as a site of free expression for whomever so desires."
I will write a poem in this book and then pass it on, keeping in mind that the book wants to be set free in its world travels.
The journey the book takes will be documented on a special website called MoveThatPoem, which will be up by Oct. 30,
or through email:

Friday, October 9, 2009

Fear of death

If you ever panic about the impermanence of life, if you ever get worried about your job, your relationships, your future, if you fear death, the best way to put all that turmoil to rest is to reassure yourself that death will come _ surely, whether you worry or not, whether you try to stop it or not.
All of it will end _ surely.
Since you know this, you could conceivably go berserk and kill everyone you ever hated before you kill yourself.
This is one obvious scenario. And daily headlines tell us some people really do this, thinking they are justified.
OK and so why doesn't everybody go out and do this, since death comes oh so surely.
We want to leave this world a better place for those who are still alive, and this means that we don't really deep inside believe that death ends everything, though it comes, surely, as we know it.
There is something else that goes on forever.
Like our love for our children, including other people's children.
Simple things like the light of the stars, the taste of food in our mouths, a blade of grass, the scentless smell of the wind.
Simple things that are so forever complex.

Interviews with Isaku Kageyama on taiko

Isaku Kageyama, taiko drummer with Amanojaku, has an interview in the latest Metropolis, Tokyo's entertainment magazine.
He is interviewed in Japanese in Moonlix magazine, which has also interviewed Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yoko Ohno _ pretty good company.
Isaku is putting on a rare kind of show _ a collaboration of taiko drummers from two different schools _ with Yuu Ishizuka at the Crocodile near Harajuku, Tokyo, Thursday Oct. 22, 2009.
Also appearing that evening will be Winchester Nii Tete from Ghana, Chris Holland from Denver and others.

THU OCT. 22, 2009.
from 7:30 p.m.; doors open at 6 p.m.
Harajuku Crocodile
TEL: 03-3499-5205
ADDRESS: 6-18-8-B1 Jingu-mae Shibuya-ku Tokyo 150-0001.
3,000 yen for advance tickets, 3,500 yen at door.

Isaku performs with Winchester at the MOON STOMP in Koenji tomorrow night, SUN Oct. 11.
Starts 8 p.m., doors open 7 p.m.
A good deal at just 1,000 yen door charge.
The following day, MON Oct. 12, a national holiday in Japan, Isaku plays minyo (Japanese traditional folk music) at TAKANOYA in Shinjuku, Tokyo, with singing, shamisen and shakuhachi.
Starts 7 p.m., doors open 6:30 p.m.
Advance tickets 2,000 yen plus one drink at 600 yen.
At door 2,500 yen plus one drink at 600 yen.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mamako Yoneyama makes dishes fly for women

Long before working mothers became so accepted they're TV-drama heroines, there was a gathering of feminists in Tokyo, where pantomimist Mamako Yoneyama performed a piece on womanhood that ended with her hurling paper plates into the air,
luminous white circles flying like spaceships, one by one, from her hand toward us, gifts of strength and hope.
They were just pieces of paper after they fell to earth.
But Yoneyama, with her voice, movement, character and presence, made them undoubtedly artistic statements.
Maybe things have changed for the younger generation.
But back then, when I was juggling job and motherhood, I was treated as an anomaly to be despised, maybe someone who was abusing her child with neglect.
Kids would come up to my son and ask with a straight face: Do you have a mother?
So unused were they to the idea that a mom could possibly be working and couldn't be there to pick them up, volunteer with the PTA, gossip in school hallways, schmooze with teachers.
The image was unforgettable _ a woman tackling a humble stack of dishes _ transforming them with the beauty of movement, a whip of her delicate wrist, into a galaxy of light defying gravity.
After it was over, we gasped in a moment of joyous silence.
I want to read a poem and throw paper plates into the air _ line by line, in homage of Yoneyama.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The meaning of Google Books for a poet

Sometimes I get struck with irrational panic about what is going to happen to my poetry and stories after I'm dead.
Maybe I'm just worried about what's going to happen to me after I'm dead.
But I worry for the future of my poems.
The technology of Google Books has worked as an eye-opener about the uselessness and irrelevance of such worries about how writing, already obscure, may disappear and be forgotten.
Books are rapidly getting digitized _ including books sitting in some corner of a forsaken library.
Google Books has publications I had forgotten my works were in _ like "A Good Day to Die" and "Ally" _ a review in Ms. magazine of an anthology that has my work, a paper I wrote in college.
It is heartening, though it should be obvious: Once you've written something, it is forever.
I should have known this.
But it's reassuring to see the publications pop up as data in a simple search on your laptop.
Poetry is about the search for the eternal.
Poetry is about connecting with the human condition that is forever.
I am not afraid of death, although I tremble in utter fear of death.
I know I can play the moments in my life, over and over, like reels of a movie, like lines of a poem, like a Google Books search.
I can travel back and forth between now, to times distant that came long before, and back again to that unknown sleep that comes after death.
I can play those moments.
Each moment that is now is eternal, even after I'm gone.

Book party for Frank Spignese

There is a book party for Frank Spignese tomorrow night.
I wasn't going to miss it for the world anyway, but Frank has invited me to read. Thank you, Frank.
And congratulations on your book!!!

Where have all The Tokyo Flower Children gone?

"Relative deprivation" is a concept in sociology, which refers to the common phenomenon of people's dissatisfaction not being correlated to the reality of oppression, but instead to perceived oppression.
This means human nature is such that people are most dissatisfied when they think they should be getting better treatment.
And that could be when things are getting better _ not necessarily worse as might be expected _ because it's all about perceptions.
The plight of Japanese youngsters isn't all that bad compared to their counterparts in many other nations.
But their sense of relative deprivation is quite intense because social pressures for them to conform and to do good are quite high.
Many outside of Japan would be proud of having landed an assembly-line job.
If you are Japanese, it is less than perfect.
Being shut out of a white-collar lifetime employment job after completing a degree from a prestigious college is often an embarrassment not only for the youngster but the entire family.
"Freeter" is a label assigned to the despised when many Americans would be happy _ and proud _ to just have a job, any job, even a "keiyaku" or "haken" (i.e., not lifetime employment) job!
Imagine the stigma in Japan for being unemployed.
And the jobless rate is at a record high 5.7 percent (which wouldn't be a record at all in places like the U.S.)
Relative deprivation is seething in Japan.
Random crime to vent out frustrations is on the rise.
The existence of random crime may not be all that surprising in other big cities of the world.
Not so for Japan, which has long boasted a reputation for being crime-free (not that any nation is truly crime-free).
So no one is prepared for a stabbing spree in a commuter train station or a beating at night in a park.
In the U.S., if a nut goes berserk in public, he/she would be dead quite quickly.
The police would shoot him/her.
In Japan, we read reports of police who have been unable to track down the perpetrator, let alone arrest him/her.
In the U.S., homes have several locks. In Japan, people go out leaving their doors unlocked.
In the U.S., some citizens are armed, take self-defense lessons, carry mace or at least avoid walking alone in dark streets.
In Japan, hardly anyone does.
It is a rather dangerous situation, even if the numbers of the relatively deprived youngsters who end up turning to crime are still few.
Japan simply isn't prepared.
There is a sense of hostility in the air.
There is a sense the best times for Japan are over.
The Tokyo Flower Children may be wilting _ remnants of the good old times _ just as the American hippies were of the 1960s.
More on the Tokyo Flower Children.
(video above: Jounetsu wo Torimodosou by Teruyuki Kawabata of CigaretteSheWas translation by Yuri Kageyama, who reads with Haruna Shimizu, and additional music by Winchester Nii Tete, Keiji Kubo, Yumi Miyagishima and Carl Freire in the TOKYO FLOWER CHILDREN performance of Multicultural Poetry and Music at the Pink Cow, Tokyo, June 8, 2008.)

Friday, September 11, 2009

money for art 2

Hozumi Nakadaira (with Hybrid Soul guitarist Chris Young at a Tokyo gallery, which recently had a retrospective show) has been taking photos of jazz musicians for decades.
His photos of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and other legends are a documentation of history _ and gorgeous testaments to their art.
He was one of the few who had bothered to take their photos _ legends making history.
Only the musicians appreciated he was there, snapping away with so much creativity their moments of creativity.
That's amazing.
What's even more amazing, Nakadaira has never made any money off his photos.
Making giant prints for exhibits is very expensive.
He can't sell them because they don't fit in any homes.
He sells smaller prints at a fraction of their cost at a several hundred dollars a piece, or replica post cards at cheaper prices even I can afford.
They don't make up for what he has had to spend on travel to take photos at concerts and clubs around the world.
Nakadaira complains people don't understand photography is art.
They ask to borrow his negatives _ for free _ as though the fruit of hours of effort and talent and work of love is an accidental commodity at a push of a button that can be borrowed and returned.
Nakadaira runs a cafe called "Dug" in Tokyo, where he used to have concerts by musicians you wouldn't expect to hear up so close.
But he had to stop the performances. His neighbors didn't like "the noise."
He still doesn't expect to make money from his photos _ those photos he takes carefully on old-fashioned film, those photos that have become album covers of famous artists, some taken right at Dug, transformed in his photo to a dramatic backdrop that claims its rightful place in the history of art, no longer a tiny, dark basement cafe.
There is no money. But he won't stop.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Eric Kamau Gravatt with McCoy Tyner Trio

Eric Kamau Gravatt was in town with the McCoy Tyner Trio with Gerald Cannon for the Tokyo Jazz Festival over the weekend.
We thought it wasn't possible.
But Kamau sounds better than ever.
Strong music keeps getting stronger.
Thank you, Kamau.

From Yuri To Yuri

From Yuri To Yuri _ Japanese Womanhood Across Borders Of Time
A Contemporary Renku Poem (a work in progress)
By Yuri Matsueda and Yuri Kageyama.

take this knife
lay it down on a round table of
rotting wood
a child trapped in a body with
big pale breasts
a lipstick mouth
listen to the end
in silence
a frog with a tadpole tail
a tadpole with frog legs
too much
hope isn't good
you know what
to do
when things never change



hot roses vapored
became instant ash
left their reflection on his bones
highlighted in green
he is
as they say clean


to yuri from yuri
my solitary audience in blindness
i speak to you
our world sighs breathing in poem
a wilting whimper
a stabbing flash of sunflower
don't cry, don't die, don't lie
no one listens in deafness
but you speak to me
you are my solitary audience

preceding sections:



(1-6) _ where it all started, and which goes to show sometimes all you need is one person to connect with in a special way to create poetry.
Yuri and I are both women bilingual/bicultural poets/writers with what we feel is a special sensitivity.
It goes without saying we realize we are creating for a niche market. Just kidding.
It makes sense to us and that's what counts.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Bursts of myopic but weirdly proud hatred thrive on the Net under the guise of anonymity.
Words are spat out, and, oh, with such venom and total irresponsibility.
Even something as simple and powerless as a poem can touch the nerve of evil to expose an inner darkness.
They will fester in their own ignorance and be destroyed by their poison.
This is one kind of connection, as painful and depressing as it may be.
I have never thought that socializing at parties and dinners produces meaningful connections.
Connection happens when you create something with a musician, dancer, illustrator, someone who is as committed to a form of expression and a way of life as yourself.
I can breathe.
Everything fits.
Everything is going right.
We connect so perfectly with each other in a place where race, gender, age, nationality and other barriers don't matter.
Maybe there is no listener with whom to connect.
But that doesn't matter.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

"My Eyes Tokyo" interviews Isaku Kageyama

Photo by Naokazu Oinuma.

A podcast interview with Isaku Kageyama and his music by "My Eyes Tokyo," from Isao Tokuhashi.

"If I didn't play taiko, I don't know where I would be. I don't know what I would be doing right now. I might not be alive. I might be in jail."

Taiko gigs

Photo by Ryan Bruss.
OCT. 4, 2009
AMANOJAKU concert at Kuroiso Bunka Kaikan,
490 Kami Atsu-zaki Nasu Shiobara-shi Tochigi 325-0026.
For tickets, please call 0287-63-3219.
Doors open 1 p.m. Music starts 2 p.m.
2,000 yen (1,000 yen for students).

OCT. 12, 2009
MINYO "LIVE" at Shinjuku Takanoya. 03-5919-0228.
Isaku Kageyama (taiko) with Rie Sakamoto (song), Seiemon Sawada (shamisen), Yoshinori Kikuchi (shakuhachi).
5-2-3-B1 Shinjuku Shinjuku-ku Tokyo 160-0022.
Doors open 6:30 p.m. Music starts 7 p.m.
Advance tickets 2,000 yen; at the door 2,500 yen.
For reservations, email:

OCT. 17, 2009
AMANOJAKU at DECHIKONKA, annual festival in Ehime Prefecture.
Call Kihoku city hall at 0895-45-1111.
Starts 6 p.m.

OCT. 22, 2009
THE BEAT AHEAD _ Wadaiko "live" at Harajuku Crocodile.
Featuring Isaku Kageyama and Yuu Ishizuka on taikos with Winchester Nii Tete, Chris Holland and other guests.
Call The Crocodile at 03-3499-5205.
6-18-8-B1 Jingumae Shibuya-ku Tokyo 150-0001.
Doors open 6 p.m. Music starts 7:30 p.m.
Advance tickets 3,000 yen. At door 3,500 yen.
For reservations, email:

DEC. 8, 2009
Call Sogetsu Hall at 03-3408-1154.
7-2-21 Akasaka Minato-ku Tokyo 107-8505.
Doors open 6.30 p.m. Music starts 7 p.m.
For reservations, email:

JAN 10, 2010.
Kameari Lirio Hall 03-5680-2222.
Doors open 2 p.m. Music starts 2:30 p.m.
1,000 yen donation.

JAN. 15-FEB. 8
AMANOJAKU workshops in Brazil.

APRIL 18, 2010.
AMANOJAKU concert at TOKYO FM Hall.
Doors open 5:30 p.m. Music starts 6 p.m.
Tokyo FM Hall 03-3221-0080.
1-7 Kojimachi Chiyoda-ku Tokyo 102-0080.
For reservations, email:

Saturday, August 29, 2009

rocket scientist

rocket scientist
a poem by Yuri Kageyama

people sometimes laugh when they learn
my father was a rocket scientist
my father was also a child-beater
this is not a laughing matter
people think abusers are alcoholic degenerates,
unemployed high-school dropouts or drug addicts
who swing their wives around the room
clutching their hair and beating them
and beat the kid while at it
but my father needed to get violent because
he was under stress on his job
he worked for the Apollo program
you know the one when Armstrong the astronaut talks about
the one giant leap for mankind
he was one of the first Japanese who got to work for NASA
that's why I have a bit of a Southern accent
when I say words like: "you all" or "Alabama" or "NASA"
his office was at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama
everyone in my school worked for the military or for NASA
we still have an autographed photo of von Braun
when we got back to Japan,
he was on TV to talk about our trip to the moon
I wasn't that proud but my mother was proud
I was more scared about saying the wrong thing and setting him off
it was mysterious _ I never figured it out
one moment, he was joking, so witty and sharp
just like a rocket scientist
a jolly roly-poly guy
but he would change
and I would feel a fat whack against my head
it would get so infinitely dark before my eyes
inside my cavernous buzzing head
like I was swimming and spinning into outer space
and I would see tiny sparkling stars
he didn't drink or do drugs
he was a rocket scientist
when I got older and got the nerve
I asked him why he had done that
what was he thinking?
I wanted to know
and he said he didn't know
he helped us get to the moon but
the rocket scientist didn't know
he couldn't remember why he hit me at all

money for art

This is what I heard from a dancer.
But the biggest stars of Tokyo Butoh troupe Dairakudakan, not just the student dancers, don't ever get paid to perform.
Instead, they must bring in money from outside jobs to a pool of funds that has been set up to support the group's performances and other artistic activities.
So they are paying to dance _ never mind worrying about getting paid to perform.
The question has already been answered.
You dance to dance. That's it.
The dance is separate from livelihood _ which must be dealt with outside of dance.
That's why I think Dairakudan performers exude that absolute confidence.
They look at us with disdain because they know they are pure and we are not.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Talking Taiko _ the Movie

Yoichi Watanabe, master taiko drummer, shows his stuff at Bon Odori _ as he does each and every year (with Daisuke Watanabe and Isaku Kageyama of Watanabe-led Amanojaku).
Bon Odori
Conneting with the past
And all that went before us
Connecting with the future
And all that awaits
A poetic moment
Being a poet is seeing so much more in the everyday.
Bon Odori is the closing scene of "Talking Taiko," a movie I'm working on with Japanese director and film-maker Yoshiaki Tago.
He's doing his stuff on a Shibuya pedestrian walkway _ another place where we are finding a poetic moment.

trailer on YouTube

Do we write to live or live to write?
Do we write to remember or do we write to forget?
Do we write to remember or do we write to be remembered?
Do we write so we don't kill or do we write so we don't kill ourselves?
Do we make movies to live or live to make movies?
Do we make music to live or live to make music?
Do we write to live or live to write?
Do we live?
Do we live?
Do we live?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Amanojaku at Astro Hall

Amanojaku led by master drummer and composer Yoichi Watanabe did their "live" concert at Astro Hall in Harajuku THU Aug 20.
The stage was so small their pieces like "Dotou" and "Bujin" got a different, bit cramped, look.
But the music was as forceful and fascinating as always.
And it's great Amanojaku is taking stage in a place like Harajuku.
You certainly got a close up look.
Chris Holland, from Denver Taiko, made his professional debut with Amanojaku and got a great strong sound on his odaiko solo.
Go Chris!
Amanojaku will be at a Bon Odori _ Japan's native dance festival for the homecoming of ancestral spirits.
So if you want to get down and dance and have fun, hop on the Seibu Ikebukuro Line to Minami Tanaka Danchi (housing projects) in Nerima Ward.
Get off at Nerima Takanodai station and follow the drumbeat.
Thank the Japanese gods for another summer that's over.

FRI Aug. 21 and SAT Aug. 22

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Noticing accents

I'd come home from international school, excited I had made a friend. I was puzzled one of the first questions my mother would ask was: What nationality is she? I had to think hard for an answer. I hadn't thought to ask. But she wouldn't stop probing: What color of hair does she have? Does she speak Japanese? What is her last name?
In hindsight, now that I am an adult, this sounds unbelievable. But I often couldn't remember what color hair she had _ maybe it was brownish? black? The most important thing _ the only thing that mattered, and I was maybe 10 years old, 8? _ was that I had found this person who for some reason liked me and was now my friend. Why didn't adults understand that this was what I wanted to talk about, not what nationality she was, or what color of eyes she had so we could figure out what nationality she was?
This may sound bizarre. But many people who attended international schools at a young age have the same experience. Of course, we knew that people came in different sizes and colors and had different preferences for what they liked to eat or do. But it was a mixed up blur of so many ways to distinguish people _ the tone of their voice, their laugh, their skills in coming up with games _ that big words like the Philippines, Iran, America, China, Zambia, whatever, were just tongue-twister that didn't seem half as interesting as the other, more fun ways to tell kids apart.
This is not as bizarre as it sounds. Scientists have found that Japanese babies learn very quickly not to pay attention to the difference between Rs and Ls. That doesn't matter in the Japanese language. For the same reason languages must be acquired early, a child learns what to pay attention to and what not to notice. The world is such a buzz of information, how we discriminate must be learned.
The innocent world, however transient or artificial, where nationality doesn't matter, felt so comfortable that when I learned it wasn't real _ or encountered cases when I had to finally face up to the fact that it wasn't ever real _ it was painful. It was more painful because I had gotten a taste of that innocent world. If I hadn't, I'd probably have accepted it with a shrug, the same way I wouldn't know the difference between Rs and Ls. I can roll my Rs like a salsa singer.
In Japan, a nation that prides itself on being homogeneous and harmonious, horror stories abound of children of Chinese or Korean ancestry routinely being harassed by Japanese, stalked daily, beaten, taunted. And they aren't even a different race.
Once acquired, the art of discrimination is something people thrive on, "ijime" that engrosses the masses.
I don't know why being discriminated for race or ethnicity or sex hurts so much more than being discriminated for performance or personal choices, even looks, another genetically determined feature. But it does. It makes me feel so vulnerable, as though I have been stripped naked, and I can't fight back. In Sociology, we learn race and sex are what we call "master traits." That means other qualities a person may acquire, such as education or career experience, can never ever ever override what is predetermined about that person by race and sex. It is more important in society that someone is black or yellow or white or that someone is male or female than that person happens to be an astronaut or a gangster. Can you imagine that? To me, that is ridiculously bizarre. I want everyone to learn from that child who rushes back to tell her mother she just found a friend _ never mind what nationality she is.

Isaku gets interviewed

Photo by Naokazu Oinuma.

Isaku gets interviewed on his views on music, identity and the art of AMANOJAKU taiko in Isao Tokuhashi's "My Eyes Tokyo." A Podcast is in the works.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Literature, music and dance Aug. 23 at GAMUSO

A message from organizer David Hoenigman:
Please don't forget PAINT YOUR TEETH vol. 4
Sunday, Aug. 23rd.
Gamuso in Asagaya.
6:30 door opens
opens with IN MINOTAUR!!! going on at 6:45PM.
still only 1,000 yen ! (including 1 drink so really only 500 yen)

DEFEKTRETTS no boys allowed incarnation of junk machine sound pioneers DEFEKTRO: one dj and two noise makers.

David F. Hoenigman reads from his antinovel in progress "Squeal For Joy"
with a slide show featuring artwork by Yasutoshi Yoshida.

Yuri Kageyama has collaborated with musicians, dancers and visual artists in performances of her poetry. She has read with Ishmael Reed and Shuntaro Tanikawa among many others.

Kei Kunihiro death metal crooner and Internet sensation. 435,540 views and counting!

LIVING ASTRO the Joe Meek adoring rock/sample/synth mutant pop duo.

SHIT _ slapdash assembly of area experimental musicians on a burning ferris wheel: OWKMJ, Taishin Inoue, Ezra Woolnough and many others.

see you there!

photo by Annette Dorfman

Jellyfish in Monterey
photo by Annette Dorfman.

write it down

write it down
a poem by Yuri Kageyama

write it down
sumi strokes on rice paper
sway over incense
fold origami style and
tie on a tree
write it down
beatings by your father
betrayal by your lover
rapes by your neighbor
scorn from your enemy
write it down
not to remember for legacy
but to purge and purify
not notes for later but
simply to forget
write it down

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Neoteny Japan

Bejeweled gourds and intricately decorated dolls from Mayu Kikuchi make for yet another but superbly whimsical statement in Japanese neoteny art.
I asked her why so much of Japanese art looks this way, and she says that's so established these days, that's what sells and what art teachers steer you toward.
"Before, I used to do more grotesque pieces, like a knife stabbing the head," she motions with her hand toward her forehead, smiling, "and then things are spurting out."
She and her mother were selling her lovingly handmade works at an annual summer craft fair in Shiodome, Tokyo.
She has huge dolls, characters from strange tales in her mind, modern-day versions of Bunraku puppets.
Those weren't for sale because they had taken so long to make, said Kikuchi, 25.
Other works weren't quite so priceless.
And so one of her cloth fish and "kokeshi" madames now hang in our living room, swimming with joy and doubt about where they stand in the world of universal art.


Isaku Kageyama of Amanojaku collaborates with Yuu Ishizuka formerly of Oedo Sukeroku in a rare concert that brings together different taiko schools _ and, while at it, forges an innovative "beat ahead" sound in Japanese percussion.
OCT. 22 Thursday at Crocodile in Harajuku, Tokyo 7 p.m. (doors open 6:30 p.m.)
advance tickets: 3,000 yen. at door: 3,500 yen.
Also featuring: Winchester Nii Tete, Chris Holland, Azn Steez, Bachi Atari.
Map to Crocodile
B1 New Sekiguchi Building
6-18-8 Jingumae Shibuya-ku Tokyo
TEL: 03-3499-5205
For tickets:

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Taiko Quizz

A quizz for taiko-drummers from Isaku Kageyama (found on the Amanojaku Hozonkai Web page):


意気揚々とやぐらに上がったが、途中で音が取れなくなってしまい、焦る気持ちとは裏腹にどんどんズレていく。 踊り手がこちらを見ている! ヤバイ!

カッコよく盆太鼓が打てるように8月2日、9日は滝野川で17:00-21:30まで盆踊りの稽古をします。 稽古では次のポイントなどをやりますので奮ってご参加ください。

1. 炭坑節が裏に返るところは?

A) Aメロの4小節目 B)Bメロの4小節目 C)炭坑節は裏に返らない D)炭坑節って何だっけ?

2. 八木節の1バースは何小節?

A) 8小節 B)12小節 C)16小節 D)八木節は小説とかそう言う問題ではない

3. 郡上踊りのテンポは?

A) 55bpm B)65bpm C)75bpm D)85bpm

4. 相馬盆唄や北海盆唄など「盆唄」のテンポは大体95bpm。 これは洋楽のどのジャンルと一緒?

A) ロック B)ジャズ C)R&B/ヒップホップ D)レゲェ


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Amanojaku Taiko and Sumida River Hanabi

AMANOJAKU plays on a TV show about the annual Sumida River fireworks airing 7 p.m.-8:54 p.m. for a collaboration between Taiko and Hanabi.
Video found on YouTube showing (from left to right) Mayumi Kawana, Isaku Kageyama, Hiromi Ogawa the drummers of AMANOJAKU, led by Yoichi Watanabe.

Amanojaku LIVE at Harajuku Astro Hall

AMANOJAKU Tokyo's Top-Level Taiko
Harajuku ASTRO Hall
THU Aug. 20 7:30 p.m. (Admision starts 7 p.m.)
Advance tickets (includes one drink)
4,000 yen; at door 4,500 yen.
For more information, please call Amanojaku: 03-3904-1745.
Ticket Pia P-code: 330-019
Lawson Ticket L-code: 79754.

Amanojaku, led by master drummer Yoichi Watanabe, concocts an emotional and explosive experience of sound, pitting the best of taiko tradition with global ethnic rhythms and modern composition for a distinct World Music narrative that explores Japanese soul.
Amanojaku teaches taiko in the U.S., Brazil, Asia and Europe, and leads workshops and performs in festivals throughout Japan.
Last year, it led the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Japanese immigration to Brazil in a performance of 1,000 drummers at the samba venue.
Hiromi Ogawa and Mayumi Kawana are founding members of Amanojaku and the best women's duet taiko drummers in the world. They debunk any old-fashioned stereotypes the West may have about Japanese women, inspiring awe with their sheer brute strength and creative integrity.
Also appearing are Daisuke Watanabe, Hiromi Sekine, Chris Holland (from Denver Taiko) and Isaku Kageyama.

My WORD RIOT interview

David Hoenigman, host of the Aug. 23 PAINT YOUR TEETH, interviewed me for WORD RIOT.

Yuri Kageyama is a poet, writer and journalist in Tokyo. She has a book of poetry - "Peeling" (I. Reed Press). Her works have appeared in many literary publications, including "Y'Bird," "Pow Wow: Charting the Fault Lines in the American Experience - Short Fiction from Then to Now," "San Francisco Stories," "On a Bed of Rice," "Breaking Silence: an Anthology of Asian American Poets," "Greenfield Review," "Beyond Rice," "River Styx," "Other Side River," "Yellow Silk," "Stories We Hold Secret," "MultiAmerica," "Echoes From Gold Mountain" and "Obras." She has read with Ishmael Reed, Shuntaro Tanikawa, Geraldine Kudaka, Victor Hernandez Cruz, Russel Baba, Seamus Heaney, Shozu Ben, Al Robles, Winchester Nii Tete, Eric Kamau Gravatt, Yumi Miyagishima, Yuri Matsueda and other artists. Her son Isaku Kageyama is a professional "taiko" drummer with Tokyo-based Amanojaku, led by Yoichi Watanabe. "A Back Alley Asian American Love Story, of Sorts," a film by Niccolo Caldararo of Kageyama's short story, was shown at the San Francisco and New York Asian American film festivals, and won awards at the 1986 Palo Alto Film Festival, 1987 Ann Arbor Film Festival and 1988 Onion City Film Festival. Yoshiaki Tago is now making a film of Kageyama's readings with music, set to be completed later this year. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Cornell University, and holds an M.A. in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley.

David Hoenigman: How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?

Yuri Kageyama: I was born in Japan and went to the U.S. for the first time with my parents when I was 6. I didn't speak a word of English and didn't say a single word for a year in elementary school. But I had mysteriously picked up English during this period of silence - though I can't explain how that happened. I also spent a part of my high-school years in the U.S., again with my parents. While I lived in Japan, my parents sent me to international schools because they wanted me to be a scientist and thought English would be a useful tool. Although I have long had mixed feelings about my bilingual/bicultural upbringing, which had made me both emotionally and socially marginal, if not an outcast, I am now more at peace with it and am now trying to see it as an asset. I love Japanese writers and their sensibilities but I also love the English language. It is powerful not only because it has such a large audience but also because it is the kind of language that forces the writer to be direct and speak in a universal way and be strong as an individual. I also often write about musicians because they are good vehicles to explore themes of self-expression, cultural identity and eroticism that are central to my works.

DH: What Japanese writers do you love?

YK: Shuntaro Tanikawa, Kenji Nakagami, Hiromi Ito, Mieko Kawakami, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Kenji Miyazawa.

DH: I enjoyed your poem "Cecil Taylor". What other musicians have you written about?

YK: I have written about musicians who are my friends and relations in San Francisco and Tokyo, and characters based on such people. One of my recent poems was inspired by the music of Winchester Nii Tete, a percussionist from Ghana with whom I have been collaborating on performance pieces of poetry with music.

DH: When and why did you begin writing?

YK: I have been a writer as long as I remember. It was a natural part of my everyday life like breathing or eating. As a child, I made up stories. Reading books and writing took on more importance as a way to cope with difficulties, a way to vent out emotions. I am not sure if this makes for good writing, but it is true I sometimes feel I may have killed myself (or killed someone else!) if I hadn't had writing. My parents had a hard time paying tuition for the international schools and couldn't afford dance or drawing lessons. To write, all you needed was a piece of paper and a pencil. And the whole world was there to explore. These days, my writing has allowed me to connect with artists of many genres in collaborations. I am working on a film about my poetry with Japanese director Yoshiaki Tago, and I do readings with African percussionist Winchester Nii Tete. In April, I read at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York with Eric Kamau Gravatt, an American traps drummer who tours with McCoy Tyner, and a Japanese couple on their honeymoon. The event was in celebration of an anthology of American fiction called "Pow-Wow," edited by Ishmael Reed with Carla Blank (DaCapo Press), which came out earlier this year. My short story "The Father and the Son" is part of that book. Ishmael is going to publish one of the poems I read there "Little YELLOW Slut" in his online magazine Konch this summer.

DH: How exactly will you (and Yoshiaki Tago) make a film about your poetry?

YK: We are filming my readings, my son's concerts of taiko and other footage of everyday life in Tokyo to make a poetic statement on film. We are out to say what life means, what death means, what cultural identity means, what womanhood/motherhood (manhood/fatherhood) means _ all that. Tago is a very talented filmmaker and so much of the logistics rest with him, and I don't know what's going on. But my poems always play visuals reel-like in my mind so I already have a feeling for what the movie should look like. Maybe I am not good at making friends in the normal way. But I think I connect very well with some artists of various genres, even people who are very different from me in background. My work and I personally thrive on these connections. One thing leads to the other, really, and the relationships I have forged with Tago, Winchester and many others are just as valid and meaningful as, if not more so than, the friendships that normal people have.

DH: I loved "The Father and the Son". I found something about it very comforting, though before reading it I hadn't realized I was in need of comfort. Does that make any sense to you?

YK: Thank you! What a nice thing to say. I don't think the purpose of creative writing is the same as a pretty painting hanging in an office building. In that sense, it isn't out to appease. But if a story can give true spiritual comfort, that's the ultimate. Poets are shamans. We are purging this world of evil and pain and pumping in some good poetic energy through the magic of the word because we are in touch with the eternal and the extraordinary.

DH: Is there a message in your work that you want readers to grasp?

YK: I am one of the few writers in the world who is a Japanese woman writing in English about the experiences of being Japanese in Japan and America. The world is increasingly global, and being multicultural is more accepted. I don't have a message per se. I am writing because that is what I was born to do. I am always thinking about my writing, and life - every day, every moment - takes on more meaning for me if I am doing that. Nisei writer Toshio Mori once told me that as a writer you live life, and then you live it again when you write about it. So it is doubly difficult, time-consuming and heart-wrenching. But it is also a way to celebrate and feel love and everything else more intensely. That is basic to all writing (art) - not just multicultural writing. I don't aim for multicultural writing. I aim for good and honest writing always. It just happens to be multicultural because that is who I am. My son Isaku Kageyama, who was born in San Francisco and is also bilingual/bicultural, is a professional "taiko" (Japanese drumming) player with Amanojaku, led by Yoichi Watanabe, in Tokyo. A traps drummer who was a friend happened to be in Japan studying taiko and so Isaku started learning taiko when he was 6. He now goes to teach taiko to Japanese Americans in Brazil, and performs all over, not just the U.S., but also China, Dubai, India. It's exciting. I am proud of what I have achieved as a mother and don't have qualms about taking some credit! Having a son who is an artist helps me keep going in my art. It gives me courage because as a mother I must practice what I teach and I have to show by example like all mothers. But I am starting to realize these days that it is my son who has helped me and given me so much, although all the while I thought I was helping him. The musicians I've met lately are all his friends, and friends of his friends. What goes around comes around. And so trying to be a good writer starts with trying to be a good person. If we can't love the people around us, we can't hope to save this world. That sounds like a platitude and I can't express it any better, but it is very important.

DH: What projects are you currently working on?

YK: I have several short stories in various publications starting from the late 1970s to this year. (Links to the anthologies available from amazon are below:

On a Bed of Rice
San Francisco Stories-Short Fiction by Bay Area Writers-Premier Issue
The Stories We Hold Secret: Tales of Women's Spiritual Development
Pow-Wow: Charting the Fault Lines in the American Experience - Short Fiction from Then to Now

There are more that got published over the years that aren't available on amazon. )

I feel they are still good stories. I am looking for a publisher that will put them out as a compilation in a book. So if anyone is interested, please let me know.

About the author:
David F. Hoenigman is the author of Burn Your Belongings.

© 2009 Word Riot

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My 2 sons

Like any mother, I am proud of my son Isaku.
But I am just as proud of Winchester Nii Tete, who is kind enough to say I'm his mom in Japan since his real mother is so far away in Ghana.
I cannot do much more than just be there and enjoy the music and feel my life change.
Winchester and Isaku come from two traditions that would seem miles apart.
Yet they come together to create good music.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Amanojaku in Dubai

Found on YouTube scenes of Amanojaku performing in Dubai in February as part of "FIESTA Japanese Food Night" at the Grand Millennium hotel.

An apology in Japan

"I want an apology from the police and prosecutors," was what Toshikazu Sugaya, 62, said after winning freedom from what DNA tests proved had been an unjustified 17-year imprisonment in a murder he did not commit.
Slim and soft-spoken, Sugaya looks more like a gentle grandfather than any stereotype of a murderer of a 4-year-old girl.
He is drawing an outburst of public empathy in Japan, a nation where nearly 100 percent of criminal trials end in convictions but Sugaya is just the first retrial case in 22 years.
Since 1992, more than 215 people in the U.S. have been exonerated, including 16 who were at one time serving death sentences, according to the Innocence Project.
For federal cases, the wrongfully convicted can seek compensation of $100,000 a year for each year of incarceration for those on death row, and $50,000 a year for each year in prison for those not on death row, the non-profit legal clinic says.
But for state cases, half of the states have no compensation statutes.
In Japan, Sugaya, for now, wants an apology _ at least one clear vindication in this culture where a heartfelt apology can get bigger than life.
To make it even more profoundly Japanese, he also demanded the authorities apologize to the dead.
His parents died while he was in prison.
He will visit their grave, and he would like the police and prosecutors to also go and offer their apologies, he said on nationally televised news.
Sugaya, a kindergarten bus driver, had been sentenced to life in prison in 1993.
What struck him the most about the city landscape after he got out were all those stores, Sugaya said, while not being sure exactly what they were.
"This shouldn't be dismissed as a mistake," he said. "I want my life back."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Reading the air

The idea of "reading the air" sounds absurd.
But Japanese talk about it and do it all the time _ the art of staying so in tune to social expectations that one fits in perfectly without ever being told anything at all.
It's all in the air, to be detected, if you are a proper Japanese.
There is no need for blatant threats, punishment, policing, even instructions.
The person who starts laughing when everyone is solemn, the person who says the wrong kind of joke, the person who doesn't get the joke, the person who is wearing the wrong shoes, the person who doesn't get it, the person who thinks the party is happening when everyone else wants it to end _ those are people who fail to read the air.
They are out of it, no way a proper Japanese, possibly criminally insane, surely a loser because he or she hasn't learned the art of reading the air _ what's invisible but everywhere and so so so necessary if one wants to survive, what's so plainly obvious to those who are aware of that waft, that scent, that billow in the air around us, but otherwise goes over the unknowing's heads like a gust of a thoughtless clueless wind.
Reading the air is crucial in this society that thrives on conformity and is ruthlessly cruel in setting boundaries on who is "in" and "out," seeking to protect its comfortable insularity from the challenges of individualism, assessment by performance and self-expression.
Its rules are so thorough, governing every detail of everyday life, the psyche of its participants, so subtle in its nuances, like a tea-ceremony dance, that no one can really create a manual comprehensible to the humble outsider.
So read the air, my friend, read the air.
There is even a sociological/demographic twist.
Japan is one of the most rapidly aging societies in the world, meaning that the birth rate has been so low here (partly because of the role of women, partly because child-care services are inadequate, partly because education costs are so high) for so long the numbers of old people are massive compared to the dwindling numbers of children and young adults.
This has reinforced air-reading.
A kid born in Japan finds him/herself in a world dominated by lots of adults well versed in air-reading.
This is a society where children by definition are a minority, possibly an endangered species.
They are outnumbered.
Pressures on them to read the air are enormous.
And they learn fast.
They figure out how to get over with the more numerous and more powerful elderly.
The young as defiant, carefree, dangerous _ not so in Japan.
Instead, they focus their energies on reading the air, on not doing the weird wrong wild thing, to win their untroubled place in the Adult Establishment.
Air-reading is so crucial chastising people for their inability to read the air is part of the modern Japanese colloquial lexicon.
Being labeled "kooki yomenai (unable to read the air)," like "nerd" or "wimp," is utterly uncool.
As in most such sweeping social trends, there's a backlash, even in Japan.
Those who refuse to read the air are now being seen as brave achievers _ but only if they are true undeniable winners like Kosuke Kitajima, the Gold Medal Olympian swimmer.
"Kooki nanka yomuna!" he declares in an ad for a burger chain.
Don't you go around reading the air!
Having the privilege of not having to run around reading airs, and not having to worry about the consequences, is the ultimate that proves you have truly risen to the top in Japan.

Isaku gets taiko rocking with Hybrid Soul

HYBRID SOUL brings together the West and the East/minyo tunes with rock/jazz fusion with Isaku Kageyama on taiko, Pat Glynn on bass and Chris Young on guitar.
And their music keeps getting better and better as evident at Roppongi Edge in Tokyo May 29, 2009.
They play again at the Daikanyama Loop June 4, 2009 _ their last performance for this series that began in April.
They will be starting up another round of concerts later this year, where they will present their further evolution.
Among the songs they play: "Yagi Bushi," "Tanko Bushi," "Soran Bushi," "Nikata Bushi," "Hachijo" _ and "Dear Prudence."
It's moving to see how these men, who happen to be living in Tokyo and love music, have come together.
Meeting one another halfway, they have created something that's positive _ a new sound that's fun, intelligent, tasteful.
It is moving because everyone knows that kind of understanding is what this divided world needs.
The music isn't smug or insular. It is sincere and unafraid. It doesn't pander. And it doesn't pretend to be anything that it is not, or even really know what it is yet.

A stamp of approval from Ishmael Reed

Photo by Tennessee Reed.
In New York with Ishmael Reed, Carla Blank, Wajahat Ali, the actors of Ali's play "The Domestic Crusaders," and Rome Neal, artistic director of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.

Our reading at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York is getting approval from the best _ poet and novelist Ishmael Reed officially declared "a genius" as a MacArthur Award recipient.
Please read his May 27, 2009 column in the San Francisco Chronicle called "City Brights," written by Bay Area luminaries.

YURI KAGEYAMA has a book of poems "Peeling" (I. Reed Press). Her works are in many literary anthologies _ "Y'Bird," "Pow Wow," "San Francisco Stories," "On a Bed of Rice," "Breaking Silence: an Anthology of Asian American Poets," "Greenfield Review," "Beyond Rice," "River Styx," "Other Side River," "Yellow Silk," "Stories We Hold Secret," "MultiAmerica," "Obras." She has read with Ishmael Reed, Shuntaro Tanikawa, Geraldine Kudaka, Victor Hernandez Cruz, Russel Baba, Seamus Heaney, Shozu Ben, Al Robles, Winchester Nii Tete, Keiji Kubo, Yumi Miyagishima. Her son Isaku Kageyama is a "taiko" drummer in Amanojaku in Tokyo. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Cornell University, and has an M.A. from the University of California, Berkeley.

ERIC KAMAU GRAVATT has played with Freddie Hubbard, Albert Ayler, The District of Columbia Youth Symphony, Roberta Flack, Horiuchi Makoto, Sonny Fortune, Jackie McLean, Charles Mingus, Donald Byrd, Carlos Valdez, Booker Irvin, Woody Shaw, Kenny Dorham, Blue Mitchell, Hank Mobley, Kikuchi Masabumi, The Milwaukee Symphony, Jimmy Heath, Donny Hathaway, Sam Rivers, Khalid Yasin, Andrew White, Tony Hymas, Paquito D'Rivera, George Mraz, Ravi Coltrane, Stanley Clarke, Pharoah Saunders, The McCoy Tyner Big Band, Gary Bartz, Bobby Hutcherson, James Carter, Terrance Blanchard, Wallace Roney, Donald Harrison, Charnett Moffett. He tours with his own band Source Code and with McCoy Tyner. Wayne Shorter calls him "The Weather Report drummer who was the all-around hippest one."

TERUYUKI and HARUNA KAWABATA are on their honeymoon. Their band Cigarette She Was performs at the numerous "live houses" in Tokyo. Their hippie-like music scene is part of what inspired YURI to write her story in "Pow-Wow" _ "The Father and the Son." They have been performing poetry together with other Tokyo musicians, including Winchester Nii Tete, a percussionist from Ghana, under YURI's project called The Tokyo Flower Children. Haruna fell in love with not only Teru but also the kpanlogo, a drum from Ghana, during college. The couple also work on films, CDs and posters, and are often featured in art festivals in Japan. Teru also makes cell-phone music downloads, and Haruna works at a major Japanese coffee-shop chain.


a poem by Yuri Kageyama

when people bad-mouth us
sneering in French
assumptions are being made of us
a yellow face is non-literati,
good at math, grunts only pidgin
assumptions are being made of us
we are followers, never leaders,
happy to be hired
assumptions are being made of us
sidekick in "Heroes," never the hero
Kato like Tonto
assumptions are being made of us
we do dishes
we do blow-jobs
assumptions are being made of us
trying hard to be liked, blend in,
do better than the best
assumptions are being made of us
digging with a scalpel
make our slant eyes round
assumptions are being made of us
sneaky and un-scru-pu-lous
prove our loyalty by "going for broke"
assumptions are being made of us

Friday, May 22, 2009

Yoshiaki Tago Film-maker

Film-maker Yoshiaki Tago in his Tokyo office.
Tago and I are working on a film together.
Surprisingly, it's only recently (after reminding from an email from writer and choreographer Carla Blank) that I've realized this is another cross-cultural collaboration that's always been my life/work/identity.
I have a very good feeling about our work in progress.
I love Tago's sensibilities. He is a Japanese film-maker. And that means a certain language, a way of seeing and telling a story.
But we are struggling to connect a divide (gender, generation, genre, cultural reference).
Sometimes we are frustrated because we don't understand what's so obvious to the other.
By being forced to articulate what my poetry is for me, I am learning how my works connect to the past, to music, to the marginality of being caught in between the U.S. and Japan, to sexuality, to my son and his music _ all the things that are so close to me I sometimes forget or choose to forget what they mean.
Certainly, I don't want to talk about them _ in conversational prose.
After all, that's why the scars and tears and shame are all so carefully packaged _ and over so many years since my childhood in my poetry and stories.
To put it another way: If I had become someone who wrote in the Japanese language, I would certainly have become a different kind of person.
I write in English. I am an American minority writer.
I don't want to give the wrong impression.
Tago and I get along great: We both don't like "Elephant Man," or even "The Ballad of Narayama" (though Tago was educated in the school of director Shohei Imamura).
And we both love Kihachi Okamoto.
If that's not enough to keep us going, nothing is.

Film-maker Yoshiaki Tago in his Tokyo office.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

poem RE poet

poem Re poet
a poem by Yuri Kageyama

ninja lost in the commuter train
the voice in the urban wilderness
shaman moaning an improvised chant
the word that kills
the thought that heals
being a poet is being told to take a bungee jump
and the rope is "Made in Japan-town"
feeling that fetal taiko-drum beat vibrating from deep within
all the way from my shuddering lips
to my dew-dropping labia folds _ majora and minora
the word that kills
the thought that heals
i don't feel safe:
will the music survive?
standing and sitting and walking and jogging
no different from anybody else
but transforming the everyday into the eternal
adding meaning to the meaningless
connecting with the dead like a radio show
seeing outer space
in the here and now
there is no choice
but alone
being a poet
it just happens
the word that kills
the thought that heals

From Yuri To Yuri (continued)

From Yuri To Yuri _ Japanese Womanhood Across Borders Of Time
A Contemporary Renku Poem (a work in progress)

Yuri Matsueda and I have been taking turns, going back and worth, to build a narrative epic poem.
The section below, our latest, is by Yuri Matsueda.
My segment that preceded it is haiku.
All this follows our previous poems.
Our collaboration continues.





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