Saturday, March 28, 2009

Isaku's concerts and workshops

Taiko drummer and my son Isaku Kageyama has concerts coming up in April and May with his rock group Hybrid Soul.

2009/4/30 LIVE ( HYBRID SOUL)
"Mostly Minyo" at Shinjuku LIVE Takanoya
20:30 (Doors open at 20:00)
TEL: 03-5919-0228
5-2-3 Shinjuku Shinjuku-ku Tokyo 160-0022

2009/5/15 LIVE (HYBRID SOUL)
"Mostly Minyo" at Ekoda BUDDY
20:30 (Doors open at 20:00)
TEL: 03-3953-1152
1-77-8-B2 Asahigaoka Nerima-ku 177-0005

2009/5/29 LIVE (HYBRID SOUL)
"Mostly Minyo" at Roppongi EDGE
20:30 (Doors open at 20:00)
Roppongi EDGE
TEL: 03-3505-4561
5-18-21-B2F Roppongi Minato-ku 106-0032

"Mostly Minyo" at Daikanyama LOOP
20:30 (Doors open at 20:00)
Daikanyama LOOP
TEL: 03-6277-5032
13-12-B1 Hachiyama-cho Shibuya-ku 150-0035

He also offers bilingual taiko workshops:

2009/03/31 WORKSHOP
19:00 - 20:30
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space B2 Rehearsal Room
1-8-1 Nishi Ikebukuro Toshima-ku Tokyo 171-0021

2009/4/16 WORKSHOP
19:00 - 20:30
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space B2 Rehearsal Room
1-8-1 Nishi Ikebukuro Toshima-ku Tokyo 171-0021

2009/4/23 WORKSHOP
19:00 - 20:30
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space B2 Rehearsal Room
1-8-1 Nishi Ikebukuro Toshima-ku Tokyo 171-0021

Your first lesson is free if you say you saw this on his mom's blog!


Women like me probably feel they've all gone through their lives suffering some kind of discrimination for being female and for being non-white.
And now, I am starting to realize _ and maybe I am lucky for not having to see this earlier _ that I am going to encounter another reason for discrimination: Age!
I was naive: I thought that with age, women will be seen less sexually desirable as females, and that would help even out the score and lead to more equality.
No such thing.
Japan is a culture that worships youth, which is strange (or maybe not so strange) given that this is one of the most rapidly aging societies on earth.
In the US, youngsters get pushed around because they have no power, money or status.
And that's why we grew up saying: Don't trust anyone over 30.
Agism, it turns out, is just as ridiculous as discrimination on the basis of sex and race.
Age really has nothing to do with anything. But there seems to be a fear about the inability to keep up with the latest.
Appearance is another obvious factor.
Yuri Kageyama gains another battlefront!
Kimiko Date is making a comeback in tennis at 38.
Her husband, a racing driver, told her she may have always won up to now, but what she must learn now is that she must lose, sometimes to those who are younger than she is.
This struck me as very wise words.
That may sound like a contradiction, after all I said about agism, but it's not, really: We must learn to accept defeat, including defeat to those who are younger than us, because, after all, we're getting older, and statistically there are going to be more people who are younger than you, if you live longer.
(We never accept discrimination _ which is totally, totally different from defeat judged by performance, which is irrelevant to age per se.)
No one wins all the time _ age and experience are no guarantee for your win.
You win some and lose some.
And it's just as important to accept rightful defeat as it is to keep going at it to win.

More Haiku Again


rice paddies
you can see it
a desert horizon


At Hamanako
forgetting burying
beatings by my father


In the shadows
I am here! says

Recently, I was riding the bullet train and I noticed once again how so much of Japan was farmland encased by tree-covered mountains, village after village of rice paddies, places where you would expect the Fox to come out and enchant travelers like Japanese fairy tales.
This made me think about how you can't really see very far into the distance in Japan as you can in the US, where the horizon stretches a la "Easy Rider."
And I thought about how that creates a village mentality in Japan, both in the good sense and the bad, how Japanese must learn to cope with everyone-knowing-everyone's business like the rush-hour train and how that builds team work and common identity while discouraging meaningless ego trips, though sometimes at a cost to individualism.
So I was working on haiku about how you can't see the horizon in Japan.
But then I realized you should be able to see the invisible _ if you are a poet.
The poem refers to the contrast of East vs. West, and uses that to make a statement on how seeing beyond what is there is the redeeming value of art.
My second haiku came when I passed by Hamanako, a lake that connects with the Pacific Ocean in Shizuoka Prefecture.
My father grew up around this lake, and he knew its ins and outs for going fishing on rented boats, catching crab with nets, digging for clams.
My sister and I often spent our childhood around this lake.
The lake works as a symbol of my father who was very Japanese yet also very international _ like an inland lake or bay where you could sense in the sometimes quiet and other times powerful tide its deep connection with the expansive Pacific.
The poem is about how you want to forget parental abuse because all a child wants is love, and you realize as you get older that the abuse was not about hate but more about the mental problems the parent was undergoing as an adult.
But it is never possible to forget _ or totally forgive.
So I wrote that line to purposely fudge between forgetting to bury or forgetting and burying (especially in Japanese) because it's both.
My last poem is simple.
I noticed how flowers don't care if anyone is looking or not.
They bloom wherever they are, merely being true to their purpose of being.
And they are always beautiful, whether anyone is looking or not.
I'm not sure if I fully communicate that nuance in that poem. It's rather plain like a first-grader wrote it.
But that's what I like about that one.

Monday, March 23, 2009

My son's grandfathers

My son is lucky and should be proud in having in his grandfathers from both his maternal and paternal sides men who refused to fight on the wrong side of the war.
His Japanese grandfather made a point of majoring in aeronautics at Nagoya University because that was the only way he could avoid the draft.
He had studied English and loved baseball. He knew war with the U.S. was pointless and disastrous.
He married a woman who worked at a hospital that her parents ran, watching victims of air raids bleed to death in the hallways before they could get treatment.
When the emperor made his announcement of defeat over the radio, people crumbled on the ground and wept.
But my parents were just relieved.
When American soldiers stopped by the hospital, everyone was too afraid to go talk to them, and so my mother went and all they wanted were directions.
Everyone else carried around little pills they were going to swallow to choose suicide over rape and death at the hands of the Americans.
My son's Japanese American grandfather was in the 442 and fought in Europe in World War II.
He has a Purple Heart and many other medals for his bravery on the missions, including helping the liberation of Dachau.
It was a huge embarrassment for the US that while Japanese Americans were risking their lives in a war to end concentration camps in Germany, they were putting Japanese Americans, many of them families of the soldiers, in Internment camps in the American desert that were far less lethal but no less discriminatory or wrong.
My husband's father had to leave his wife in Minidoka Camp.
There has been no evidence of Japanese Americans having posed a security threat or engaged in any espionage or other crimes.
In 1988, President Reagan issued an apology from the American government, and every Japanese American who had been interned received a redress check.
The 442 is still the most highly decorated military unit in American history.

Another Robot

My story on the robotic "fashion model."
Yes, I did ask the scientists why of all possibilities they have to come up with a robot for entertainment _ the very jobs people want to keep for ourselves and can hope to express our human-ness.
Unfortunately, they said, the technology isn't good enough for robots to do work that humans don't want to do.
So make them do the work that people want to do?
Have no fear _ it's not good enough to take away any modeling jobs either.
People do it better.

More Haiku

So I have more:


spring morning
pink explodes
chiffon whirls



dead grandchild
a blurring thought lost in wrinkles
skin lotion's smell

Friday, March 20, 2009

Haiku Taxi

Recently, I ran into a cab driver who was a haiku poet.
He read me his haiku about Girls' Day dolls sitting in the darkness where the fragrance of peach blossoms was wafting.
He also said his best poems are the ones he thought were duds while those he thought came out well were never very good.
During our conversation, he also talked about how he gave gifts to his most loyal customers, who called him to pick them up all the time, including stained glass works his wife made.
His wife taught stained glass, and she could fix works her students left behind, saving on costs for those gifts.
I asked him to compose haiku then-and-there with the words, "stained glass."
He told me that even though "stained glass" in Japanese (su-te-n-do-gu-ra-su) is a phrase composed of seven syllables, you can make haiku that's seven-seven-five, not just five-seven-five, so that "stained glass" could be the first, or the second, line.
You learn something everyday, especially from cab drivers.
But he said groaning he couldn't think of haiku on stained glass offhand.
He felt shy, he confessed, about writing haiku whose subject matter involved his wife.
I told him to please come up with one until we meet again.
I have yet to run into him, but meanwhile I have written haiku inspired by stained glass!

stained glass
nudging color into light
my wife's fingers

stained glass
hikari wo someru
tsuma no yubi

So KOOL at the Guggenheim

The first time I met Suzushi Hanayagi, she was in a wheelchair in a home for the elderly, a frail woman with gray hair, who muttered, grunted and smiled, appearing sweetly lost in her own strange world, happily munching on chocolate-covered cookies shaped like mushrooms that her grandson playfully handed her.
During the 1960s, Suzushi Hanayagi _ who looks more robust, determined and focused in the bespectacled shots I have seen of her past _ ventured alone to New York, in a rather unusual act of courage for a Japanese woman of her generation, armed with training in Hanayagi-school and other traditional dance to forge a new form of modern dance with American collaborators.
One of them was Carla Blank, whom I have known for years. When Blank was in Japan about five years ago, she went to visit Suzushi. She was worried. The changes were already starting to show in her friend.
Last year, Carla was back in Japan again, this time with Robert Wilson, to film Suzushi Hanayagi for a Guggenheim Museum performance piece.
I was there, mainly to see Carla and to meet Suzushi whom I had heard so much about.
I have to be honest: I was depressed.
If she had ever been a dynamic artist, I couldn't see a shadow of that in the old woman sitting so innocently in the wheelchair, savoring her cookies, nodding agreement, or approval, to nothing in particular, as though she didn't have a care in the world.
In her prime, Suzushi choreographed pieces for Wilson, performed with Carla in Judson Church and worked with Merce Cunningham, Anna Halprin and Martha Graham. Back in Japan, she performed in avant-garde spaces in Tokyo like Shibuya Jean Jean, but often did classical pieces as a top student for revered dancers like Han Takehara and Yachiyo Inoue.
Suzushi saw dance as part of everyday life, like an extension of her breathing, walking, mothering, all the things she did as a Japanese woman. I would have loved to see the performance piece she did with her toddler son. To her, the barrier that divided art and life held no meaning.
Carla says Suzushi had kept detailed journals of her dance ideas. No one can find those diaries today. So much of her legacy has been lost like wisps and whims maybe still there somewhere in Suzushi's mind but strangers like me can no longer hope to grasp as concepts.
Carla Blank and Robert Wilson are piecing it all together in homage of this great but largely forgotten Japanese artist, tracking down dance footage, recreating her choreography, translating her words.
"KOOL _ Dancing in My Mind," it's called.
"She is still so full of life, isn't she?" a solidly upbeat Wilson said after visiting Suzushi in the home.
I didn't know what to say. I mumbled something like: "I am happy you are able to say that."
But, of course.
Art can only be what the artist perceives and then communicates.
It's not there until the artist perceives it for you.
And he could see it because he was there and he was part of it and he is an artist.
I have to go and see what Robert Wilson has created with Carla Blank at the Guggenheim for us to see _ a multimedia portrait of the real Suzushi Hanayagi and her Dance.
The piece is not just a documentation of this woman and her work.
It is about what binds people together over time, cultures, fading memories, sickness and aging.
It is about how an artist must see beyond what's there.
It is about how life, artistic productivity and our time with those we love must end _ and about how they never really end.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Reviews on Pow-Wow

My short story "The Father and the Son" is among the works in this book.
(Updated with more reviews)

Publishers Weekly says: "Reed’s selections will draw readers into American cities, suburbs, prairies and mountains with vivid, precise, at times documentary description and bold, personal questions of American identity and purpose."

David Ulin of the Los Angeles Times says in his review that Pow-Wow is "big, diverse, messy, all over the place _ just like American literature itself."

A review from INFODAD.COM:
"This is not a book for those seeking uplift – although a close reading of its Contributors section indicates that there are more positive things in America than these individual writers choose to observe."
To which Ishmael Reed comments:
"Thanks. The title of my next anthology will be 'Don't Worry, Be Happy.' "

The Buffalo News makes the book its March editor's pick. "I don’t think there’s been anyone remotely like him as an anthologist," Jeff Simon writes of Reed. "It’s there, it seems to me, that his service to literature has been irreplaceable."

Alan Caruba includes it in his March picks, describing the book this way: "A multicultural anthology, it includes a diverse group of writers sharing stories that ultimately transcend race, religions, gender and class."

In a review in Library Journal, Gene Shaw highly recommends the book. "The United States of the 21st Century is an ocean of stories and peoples, made up of a variety of races, religions, classes, genders, languages, cultures and sexual preferences," he comments.

"Booklist," published by the American Library Association says the writers in the book address "what makes American life so vital and contradictory, so cruel and so cherished." Donna Seaman says Reed and Blank have picked "molten and magical tales that dramatically explore the consequences of our attitudes toward race, ethnicity, gender, class, and sexuality."

And this review accuses the book of misplaced anger and inadequate quality control.
And this is Ishmael Reed's comment on that:
"Your reviewer not only misrepresents my anthology,but Affirmative Action as well. According to the U.S.Department of Labor, Affirmative Action benefits whites the most. The guy is a literary shock jock."

And this from January Magazine: "Pow Wow is an important book."

POW-WOW: Charting the Fault Lines in the American Experience _ Short Fiction From Then to Now, edited by Ishmael Reed with Carla Blank. Da Capo Press, January 2009.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The process as an end

Photo by Ryan Bruss.

Japanese culture values process _ not just results.
It is not a pragmatic culture.
And so how you do something is as important as what gets done.
Art forms like tea ceremony are a good example of this way of thinking.
Appearance is all. Doing becomes dance.
The special envelope you use in Japan to mail cash to people has an envelope inside an envelope and you must fold it in three ways like origami almost and stamp it from the top with your seal where the top fold meets the bottom fold to show that it hasn't been tampered with.
Then you write down on a piece of paper the amount of money that you have placed in the envelope.
No one checks whether this amount is factual.
In any other country, people would be writing whatever they want and complaining to the Post Office that their money got stolen.
I don't know if Japan ever has this problem or why they seem to assume that this elaborate folding ritual ensures money won't get ripped off.
Wearing a kimono feels a bit like this envelope process.
The way a kimono is a painful folding-wrapping-binding process is an eye-opener on how ascetic Japanese culture historically was.
It is such restrictive clothing not only to put on _ but also just to wear.
Moving around in it, even sitting in it, are challenging tasks that kill your back.
And I was sitting in a Western-style chair.
To imagine what it might have been like to sit for hours in that thing on a tatami floor with your knees folded underneath yourself is astounding.
The demands kimono makes on the human body applied to men as well as to women _ like samurai we see in Kurosawa movies.
Kimono requires the wearer to be really strong and have controlled posture like a Musashi.
Kimono to me shows the importance of process in Japanese culture.

What's in a Face?

The robot by Hiroshi Kobayashi at Tokyo University of Science is just a face.
It sits on top of a mannequin body and attempts to duplicate emotional expressions as communicated on the human face.
Motors pull back at rubber skin, mostly around the eyes and mouth.
It is strange-looking and makes you stop and wonder what a face is all about.
Of course, we don't like to admit we are vain and spend a lot of time and effort worrying about what we look like.
Looks aren't everything, we say, what counts is the person _ inside.
But the truth is: Isn't it after all looks that people notice first, and why we are attracted to a person?
If we didn't care about appearances, then there would be no movie stars and fashion models and other people who make a career out of looking beautiful.
Mr. Kobayashi, who is an expert on the meaning of the face, says animals don't communicate with their face though they may show their teeth or snarl.
Facial communication is one quality that makes human beings different from animals, he says.
That shows the face is important in human existence.
It's the No. 1 tool in communication.
And it makes us human.
He also says all facial communication except smiling is negative.
The others are sadness, disgust, fear, anger, surprise.
I suggested there may be other unsmiling expressions that aren't exactly negative like a sense of pathos, despair about the human condition, nostalgia, belief in the eternal, etc.
But he was quite firm that only smiling is positive.
In a column running this month in The Nikkei, actress Kyoko Kagawa recalled director Yasujiro Ozu once told her not to smile so much.
As an up-and-coming actress, she was constantly being told by everyone else to smile _ even when she didn't even feel much like smiling.
"People don't smile only when they're happy. Sometimes they smile because they are sad," Ozu was quoted as saying.
It is true that when people get their photos taken, they like to smile.
Say cheese!
And if you get your photo taken off-guard, your photo ends up making you look like an idiot.
It's very difficult to get a portrait that's nice without smiling, which probably means that people perceive the positive message of the smile, no matter how contrived it may be.
Robot scientists tell me it is important to justify the social benefits of their research.
I suggested to Mr. Kobayashi that his research could be beneficial for people who may have had their faces damaged by burns or war, to restore their faces so they can communicate with people using the robot face.
He said he had never thought about it.
I thought it was a great idea and a way that his research could help people, but he didn't appear too convinced.

Best of both worlds

YouTube is a great way for people to connect and this is a clip from Christylez Bacon _ someone I've never met except through YouTube but is obviosuly brilliant!
Bringing together two different cultures _ eg., the West and the East or classical and hip-hop _ is one natural way of saying something new.
Sometimes it works.
And sometimes it doesn't.
There's no simple answer to why one kind of hybrid might work while others don't.
And it is harder than you think because you have to be in command of both genres that you are working in to make the best of both worlds.