What it means to be a woman of color _ A poem by Yuri Kageyama

photo by Naokazu Oinuma

What it means to be a woman of color _ A poem by Yuri Kageyama

It’s the John Coltrane quartet all in one

Spiritual like Jimmy Garrison’s bass

McCoy Tyner’s resonant chords

The smarts of Elvin, the Love Supreme of the saxophone:

We can be all things, and more, just to get a chance to show we can play


It’s the courage of the 442 all in one  

That integrity to raise one’s hand to serve

Even out of an arid desert “internment” camp,

Defying death, our Purple Hearts, wounds of body and soul:   

We work a hundred, thousand times harder to prove we are American


It’s Martin Luther King’s dream all in one

We may fall to an assassin’s hatred

Our honor smeared by fake allegations

But we still stand, for freedom, and forgive every one:

We still have that, in us, despite what you have done to us.  

Haiku March 27, 2021 and Sept. 20, 2021 by Yuri Kageyama

Haiku March 27, 2021 by Yuri Kageyama

Give Me That Power

To keep Dreaming My Dream if not just

To Live in My Dreams




Miniature Figure by Munenori Tamagawa

It was Dr. Martin Luther King, who said: “I have a dream,” those words that spoke years ago that powerful message and legacy of Black Lives Matter. Why has our dream as Asians in America so often and so long been lost? Called foreign, invisible, docile, cheap, expressionless, model minorities, we have been silenced, and we have sometimes turned willingly silent, out of fear and the desire to survive in that American conversation between white and Black. Our story has yet to be fully told, explored or studied, even dreamed.

Haiku Sept. 20, 2021 by Yuri Kageyama


jet skiおじさんぶっとばす


These days, I live by the Sumida River, which retains much of its Edo Period character. Some recent elements are jarring, such as the people on blaring jet skis that zip up and down the waters on weekends and holidays. The irony of the old pop music that was playing, “Aitakute” by Seiko Matsudo, juxtaposed with this alleged image of hip defiance, was a true Tokyo haiku moment for me.

Story of Miu 8

Story of Miu 7 is now Story of Miu 8 as a missed past entry 4 has been added:
first chapter of the Story of Miu.
Miu 2
Miu 3
Miu 4
Miu 5
Miu 6
Miu 7

(Scene: A Kyoto-style restaurant on the 14th Floor of the Takashimaya Department Store in Shinjuku, Tokyo. The delicately shaped servings in modern geometric cups and plates line a wooden counter facing wall-to-wall glass that overlooks a noontime luscious view of Shinjuku Gyoen garden.)
Miu (Fingering traditional “tenugui” cotton towels the restaurant has given as napkins): Cool!
Me (Trying not to sound too curious): And so how’s it going?
Miu: OK.
Me: You were telling me you picked up … met someone, right, the other day? And so what’s the latest news?
(Silence for several minutes; waiter from the other side of the counter brings cups of tea.)
Miu: Yes, there have been developments. He said we were supposed to meet at Alta in Shinjuku _ that was, I guess, last weekend _ to see a movie. But I didn’t go.
Me: You didn’t go.
Miu (Shaking head): But I did meet another guy. I went to a different club with some other friends, and there was this other guy.
Me: That’s great.
Miu: Actually, I am building a database.
Me: What?
Miu: I figure you have to be scientific about this procedure. (Begins to explain hurriedly) My Japanese really improves, spending time with these guys. Free lessons! (Laughs.)
Me: And so how does the database work?
Miu: It’s easy. You collect phone numbers. It must be harder for males but for females, you don’t have to do much.
Me: And how many have you collected?
Miu: Lots. I haven’t checked.
Me: Like 10? 20?
Miu (Giggling:) More like 100.
Me: Gosh. How can you possibly keep track?
Miu: That’s the challenge. You have to take good notes _ oh, you’d know about that. How do you keep track of all the people you interview?
Me: I have to write down the person’s characteristics on their meishi. Thank God Japanese are into their meishi.
Miu: What do you write?
Me: Like “did most of the talking,” “said nothing,” “glasses,” “made joke about such and such.” It’s tough. They tend to be all male and old and wear dark suits.
Miu: Similar problem here. All male, young, eager to get into bed, very very boring!
But I write down what they said and stuff. And I can sometimes even take their photo with my cell phone. My cell phone has a better digital camera than my camera.
Me: At least, you are getting around and meeting a lot of people and learning about Japan. And no sense rushing into settling down with one person. Maybe I could have gotten someone better if I had held out, too. (Sighs)
Miu: Oh, don’t say that. You have a great marriage.
Me: Thanks. So what do you do with all that information? You call one of them up randomly when you need to go out or something?
Miu: Something like that.
Me: Your generation _ there is so much technology available like SNS, e-mail, messaging, all that, to connect in so many ways maybe you don’t feel like you’ve checked out all your options unless you build this … database. (Miu shrugs as they eat with lacquered chopsticks soy-flavored grilled fish, chopped seaweed and daikon in vinegar sauce and miso soup with tofu.) The world was a simpler place when all you did was sit around at home and wait for a call on that fixed line.
Miu: You didn’t do that, did you?
Me: Of course, I did. Everybody did. What if he calls and you’re out? You’d miss that chance to go out with him, right?
Miu: How can you stand it?
Me: Right, it is quite oppressive, isn’t it? (Pauses) Yes, you’re right. The new technology is progress. But don’t you feel that Japan is still stuck in the 1950s as far as images of women?
Miu: What do you mean?
Me: There aren’t that many outlets for older women still, except maybe flamenco classes for housewives or something. We know studies say more women are working and some are even successful. We see them on TV. But the most desirable roles for women are defined as young and cute because it’s the men who are behind the definitions. I mean, look at the U.S. presidential race. What a contrast.
Miu: But maybe Yuriko Koike will run for the LDP presidential race, and there you go: Japan’s first female prime minister.
(Miu and Me laugh.)
Me: What comes to mind when you hear “obasan?” Nothing good, right?
Miu: No one wants to be called “obasan.” That’s like the worst derogatory thing in Japanese you can call a woman.
Me: There is “babaa.”
(They laugh. Waiter brings dessert, a traditional rice-cake pastry with fruit and sweet black beans )
Have you noticed what word the sales people at Shibuya 109, the Kyoto “maiko” and night club hostesses use to refer to older women to avoid saying “obasan?”
Miu (Visibly curious): No, what?
(They sip tea.)
Me: “Oneesan.”
Miu: Oneesan.
Me: Forever young _ although older. But I think this shows how society hasn’t recognized the value of the female after women have gotten past their roles of reproduction.
Miu: Oh, wasn’t there some minister who got in trouble for calling women “reproductive machines?”
Me: Exactly. That mentality. There are lots of women in their 30s and older who truly dread being called “obasan.” If it hasn’t happened already, then it could happen any second. Horrors!
Miu: Moment of metamorphosis. Society decrees you useless for preservation of the species.
Me: I like being obasan. I am proud of being obasan.
Miu: OK, obasan.
Me: Obasan is a title that you earn as a woman when you grow older and wiser and better. Sounds a bit like sour grapes, doesn’t it? But I think I learned so much about womanhood _ maybe “personhood” _ through my motherhood _ or through my son, I guess, having a child.
Miu: That’s wonderful.
Me: All the years my son was growing up, his friends who spoke Japanese would call me obasan. They would look at me with those big innocent eyes of theirs, trusting me because I was their friend’s mother. It’s respect I earned not only because of my relationship with my son but also my son’s relationship with others. That’s why I get to be obasan. It’s real and very beautiful and full of dignity. Not some derogatory place in the hierarchy as defined by sexual desirability, work performance, whatever. It’s deeper than all that.
Miu: It is. And it should be like that.
Me: Women should be proud of being obasan.
Miu: Of course.
Me: Obasan Power!
Miu: That’s a good way to put it.
Me: But all you see in the Japanese media much of the time are obasan rushing to bargains, gossiping, taking flamenco lessons.
Miu: What’s the solution?
Me: I’m not sure. Data show Japanese women are choosing not to get married and not to have children, even if they do by some miracle get married. (Looks into Miu’s eyes.) I try to tell young women this every chance I get, but it’s the most important experience in life to have a child, OK? No one really told me this. I was so lucky I did get married and have a child. The common wisdom back then was that women had to prove we could be just as good as men. And so worrying too much about marriage and children was seen as backward, something that women who weren’t “liberated” (Holds up her hands to make quotation marks in the air with her fingers) did _ not women who wanted to make something of themselves and have careers.
Miu: I want a child. Maybe not now. But I want a baby someday.
Me: You will. You will. And you have plenty of time. To build databases and everything else.
Miu: This database I am building isn’t about that though. I’m not sure what it’s about. But I don’t want to be trapped into someone just because he picks me out from the crowd. Why do I have to wait for some coincidental accident in the office elevator or some freakish event like in a TV drama to meet someone?
Me: Maybe old-style Japan was on to something when they had omiai. That’s pretty orderly. So Japanese.
Miu: Then I wouldn’t have to spend all this time on a database.
Me: Someday you will meet that special person _ that man who will throw that whole database out the window.
Miu (Silent then): How do you know?
Me: You’ll know. You won’t have to ask.
Miu: I will hear my heart go thump thump. Uh-oh, I think that’s just the music blasting off at the club. I probably won’t be able to hear it _ it’s so loud in there (Laughs).

Story of Miu 7

Suddenly, strangely, Miu feels power turn on like a tungsten flame inside her _ maybe that hot spot in between her breasts. And her breath turns a bit quicker, warmer.
As a young Asian female, she never feels power anywhere else _ at high school, at shopping malls, at summer jobs, even at home, she has long grown used to her role that is not to challenge but to accept and approve.
But in that dingy darkness of that Tokyo club, she _ and others like her _ have truer deeper powers.
The heads turn, their eyes shiny like those of hungry animals in a cave sniffing for prey.
She knows all she has to do is return that look to have them do whatever she wants _ get off their chairs in a scamper, rushing to her at her beck and call: “Hi, are you alone?” “What’s your name?” “Do you want a drink?”
It is merely up to her whim to choose which of those young men will be that lucky one.
She doesn’t want the easy ones. She doesn’t want the obviously handsome ones.
Being so easy and so obvious, such a catch does not speak to the heights of her powers.
That’s not the kind of entertainment she is looking for on this night out on the town with her girlfriends _ her shoulder-length hair neatly rolled like Cinderella’s, her skinny legs showing flesh, stockingless, beneath her short patent-black boots, her clutch bag covered with Swarovski crystals.
The man must be worthy of all this work and investment and taste, she thinks, laughing to herself.
And the man, naturally, must have that undiscovered look.
Shy, quiet and impeccably innocent, downcast eyes hiding under soft bangs, he doesn’t know how beautiful or how bestial he can be, until he meets her, she muses.
She doesn’t have any specific characteristic in mind _ he doesn’t have to be tall, dark, smart, rich _ he can be anything and everything as long as he has that something special that makes her feel powerful not only over him but over everyone else who has looked down upon her for being Asian, young and female and has forgotten to credit her with the intelligence, insight and passion of choosing how to live life.
He must look at her as his all in that moment when they exchange glances and he approaches her and they dance, moving their hips in time to that deafening beat, and he must believe, as she does, that they have known each other from the beginning of time.
Which one is that special man? She scans the scene, taking her time, going from one dirty room to another, balancing herself carefully on the spiral metallic staircase on golden stiletto heels.
When she sees him, it can’t be more definite or fatalistic.
She walks up to him, standing, looking bored, so undistinguished and so plain and so unknowing by the giant speakers blasting with noise, so one-way is this selection, hers and not his.
He may even be there, waiting for his girlfriend, or he is drinking away his disappointment because his girlfriend has chosen to go somewhere else, or luckier still, he has just broken up and isn’t quite ready to look for someone new.
This is important: That she picks him, not the other way around.
She reaches up to his neck, pulls his face down gently, as though she needs to whisper an urgent question.
He accommodates, not too eager, just because he is trying to be nice to someone who may have a question, and as he faces her, she puts her mouth to his, forcing her tongue through his cold lips, and their tongues merge as one in the best kept secret in that club, that night, that city, that universe.
Her mind goes blank. And all she sees is that soft black one-ness inside her head, swirling, and she feels happy as though the games people play and the question of who is powerful no longer matter.

Continued from Story of Miu 6.

Story of Miu 3

I haven’t written about Miu since April.
Recently we had dinner at an Indian restaurant in Shiodome, where Japanese bellydancers came sashaying out (to the yelps of suit-clad salarymen sitting at another table) right in the middle of dessert.
Miu and I discussed sexual fetishes and how race comes into play although we weren’t exactly sure what it meant.
“Pocahontas. Suzy Wong. Thomas Jefferson’s slave,” Miu, 16, said pensively.
“Nonwhite women are so used to feeling honored to be seen sexually desirable by the Opposite Sex at large but especially the white male.”
The pasty stomachs of the dancers rolled around to the music as bells jangled and eyelashes fluttered.
“Does India even have bellydancing?” she asked exasperated.
Miu tells me she has made an important decision.
“I am never going to open up my legs to another white male ever,” she announced.
“Race should not matter, but we are all products of history, and what we do can’t be taken out of context of what people did before us because that’s what’s going on in people’s heads.”
I showed her a poem I wrote a long time ago. It was written tongue-in-cheek but she says the idea is disgusting, politically incorrect on so many fronts.

an ode to the Caucasian male

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

“I’m going to find me a boyfriend in Tokyo who is like Bruce Lee,” Miu said.
First of all, Bruce Lee is from Hong Kong.
And I didn’t even have the heart to tell her that Bruce Lee married a white woman, and supposedly wasn’t 100 percent Asian himself.
It is sad, though.
Miu told me there was a guy she dated back in the U.S. who explained to her matter of fact that he had discovered Asian women had softer skin than did other races _ as though that was supposed to be a compliment.

Story of Miu 2

More from Miu: What I remember about him is the smell of his breath, like candy gone sour, when he said, putting his lips close to my ear: “I found another girlfriend where I moved. She is Japanese. But I don’t like her the way I like you.” I was still in elementary school, and so I didn’t quite analyze what it was about Asian women or about that boy that could be behind this penchant for the yellow race. He was too young to have seen old G.I. World War II movies, or looked up books on geisha or Suzy Wong. But I was the symbol of beauty for this person. He followed me home from school, offering me a bouquet of buttercups he’d picked from the lawn. He caught my arm and we tumble together on the grass in simulated intercourse, male body on top of female body, his breath over my breath. Secretly I hated him. This tall lanky male of sweet-and-sour breath, Dennis the Menace, straw hair, pale freckles, blue of his eyes that seem to connect to the sky above the buttercups _ the markings of the race that’s so Dick and Spot, Hollywood, Marvel Comics, the evening news, rock ‘n’ roll. I told him to stay away. But he wouldn’t stop as though he couldn’t believe an Asian he had picked could possibly not like him. I was a target, a thing, not allowed to have thoughts on my own.

Story of Miu 1.

Story of Miu

Miu, 16, likes living in Tokyo because as a Japanese American she never felt she fit in her surroundings quite as well when she was growing up in the Washington D.C. suburbs, the only Asian in her class, although there were a few other Asians in her school whom she avoided the best she could, so embarrassing was it to be reminded of how she looked, how she stuck out _ the straight black hair, the almond slant gook eyes, dark, not blue and airy like the others. And the pale yellow sallowness of her skin, almost a khaki tone, sand of the desert, dried fruit rinds, not translucent and crystalline like a Botticelli painting, like the others. Miu used to sit in the foggy mist of the bathroom, scrubbing her arms in the tub, hoping/praying to turn white. Here in Tokyo, her skin turns suddenly a normal color. It caught even herself by surprise. If she wears her Ne-net clothes, and sits crossing a frail booted leg on the sidewalk-railing of Harajuku, lazily watching the street peddlers and Costume-Play teen-agers, she knows she blends in. So perfectly. She doesn’t even need to keep her mouth shut. She studied Japanese in high school so actually she can speak Japanese quite well, as long as she keeps her sentences short and simple. Boys even try to pick her up, as though she is any other Japanese girl waiting for such advances, honey milling inside sweet, pungent but colorless. Back in the U.S., the boys who bothered to desire her were those with a fetish for Asian women. It was sadly obvious. They were the ones with a string of Asian girlfriends, one after the other, and in her neighborhood that required some searching. When for whatever reason, they broke up, she’d find out he had hooked up with yet another Asian girl. Being Asian was a brand. A categorization you could never escape, especially in how you attracted the opposite sex. Dating Asians was out of the question, Miu says, because there were only two or three Asian males for miles on around, and they were always fat or ugly, or had a white girlfriend. Miu made a point to come out to Tokyo just to get away. Her story continues….