Some people are Poison In sheer Presence Even from afar Some people are Garbage A stench of Gibberish Even from afar Some people are Ineffectual A blob hanger-on Even from afar Some people are Broken A Godzillion pieces Never whole again Some people are Forgotten Hidden unbleedingly silent Into the flesh of scars Some people are Music Wafting healing savory sweet Even from afar
A COLLABORATION OF VISUAL ART, THE SPOKEN WORD AND MUSIC THE VERY SPECIAL DAY
What: I read my poetry/story “The Very Special Day” while Munenori Tamagawa paints to guitar by Yuuichiro Ishii.
Where: Nagai Garou’s Tachikawa Gallery 1-25-24 Nishi Building 4 Fl Fujimicho Tachikawa, Tokyo TEL: 080‐9573‐5655
When: SAT Oct. 28, 2017 from 3 p.m. Reception party follows from 4:30 p.m ~ 6 p.m.
Who: Munenori Tamagawa, “the Basquiat of Japan,” has shown his work at the Seattle Art Fair, Tachikawa Art Brut and the streets of Tokyo, including Innokashira Park and the Shiodome Art Market.
Guitarist Yuuichiro Ishii, who studied recently at the Berklee College of Music on a prestigious scholarship, has performed with Fuyu, Mika Nakashima and Yusa, as well as my Yuricane spoken-word band.
Why: To celebrate the exhibition of Munenori Tamagawa’s recent works.
More What: Last year, Munenori Tamagawa and I created the children’s book THE VERY SPECIAL DAY, which brings together my story with his illustrations. More information on our evolving collaboration.
Artists make any day a very special day when we come together.
My prose poem “Dec. 12, 2012, The Very Special Day _ a Prose Poem” gets published in the October issue of KONCH magazine, an Ishmael Reed and Tennessee Reed publication. It is a story about the discrimination in Japan against Japanese Americans. It is also a story of survival. It is a story about defying discrimination. And I am in great company in this publication with the likes of Alejandro Murguia and Ishmael Hope.
Some people, when I ask them to sing along to my poem, don’t want to utter the dreaded words: “Little YELLOW Slut.” Good people don’t want to repeat derogatory phrases. But it’s OK. This is a Poem: saying it will make discrimination, racists and sexists, all evil thoughts go away _ like “oharai” by the shaman.
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.
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.
Poet and novelist Ishmael Reed once said he read to an audience two poems _ one by a Nobel laureate and another by one of his students _ and asked for a show of hands to guess which was by whom. Opinion was 50-50, which goes to show no one can tell on virtuosity. After all, a toilet seat becomes art supreme if Duchamp puts it in the backdrop of a fancy museum. Juxtaposing gems from the amateur with stuck up award-winners is a joy. It challenges status quo definitions of what is and what isn’t _ the basic purpose of art to start with. The unfortunate thing is: A toilet seat is just that _ a toilet seat, if there is no Duchamp and there is no museum. That’s why it is so difficult and risky to test such waters in art. But if and when you can pull it off, you will be able to create something unique, almost by definition, because most of what you see in art is about following what went before you and got the stamp of approval that it is indeed art and not just a toilet seat. I have written before about the live music scene in Tokyo. Watching the young musicians, who all have other jobs and boast absolutely no technical virtuosity as we know it in the West, made me wonder why that community existed and what it was about Japan that created that _ as well as what that meant as far as definitions of art. I called the phenomenon the Tokyo Flower Children. Virtuosity is obviously important in art. But I also realized it’s not as important as one may think, especially in this day and age when razzle-dazzle can be packaged, commercialized and bought with money (relatively affordable) like a Cirque de Soleil show (which isn’t really art at all _ at least the old-style circus had the elephants and the clowns). These peacefully wayward Japanese kids are products of an extremely rigid and conformist society that is rapidly unraveling and no longer promising success for all, even if you follow all the rules to the T and prove you will sacrifice individuality for the good of the team. They are rejecting the package. They have chosen to be artists. And to me, there is no doubt they are really artists. I must thank them for helping me realize that the most important thing about art is that sincerity. And they certainly have that. The choice. The courage to choose. The vision to see beyond what is being handed to them. That is what is being sought among the audience at Tokyo live-houses, who are for the most part just their peers. Art with a capital “A” is proving incapable of moving beyond the market and the galleries catering to the rich. Art must reach and be about real people. But whether this kind of art that throws virtuosity out the window can provide anything more than a psychologically therapeutic outlet for the participants remains to be seen. Look at me! (for technique) surely isn’t enough. But will anyone look if there is no virtuosity at all? Can you prove value beyond delivering slices-of-life samplings of anthropological curiosity? And isn’t thinking that you can mold virtuous art out of the everyday _ a la Duchamp _ the most arrogant approach to self-expression? But I don’t think it’s dishonest or incorrect. And arrogance, or at least confidence in what you believe, goes with the territory.
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.