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.

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


The Giant Drum

“Tamashii no Hibiki” (“Soul Beat”) by taiko master Yoichi Watanabe (right in above photo), leader of Amanojaku, is a truly beautiful “odaiko” (big taiko) piece.
It is storytelling in percussion _ the talking drum _ at its height Japanese-style.
The video (in the link below) shows how my son Isaku Kageyama played it as a guest at the Tokyo International Taiko Contest.
He won a couple of contests himself with this piece, starting with the 2000 Mount Fuji contest when he became the youngest player at 18 to ever win the honors.
Please go to the site below, scroll down and download “Soul Beat.”
It takes a while but I think it’s worth the wait.
Video, though, never quite does taiko justice because of the physical sensation of taiko that goes beyond just hearing it _ imagine the walls, your blood veins, the insides of your brain and all the spaces of air around you shaking.

Suzushi Hanayagi

La Femme à la cafetière
Uploaded by iVoltR

Suzushi Hanayagi in Robert Wilson’s “La Femme à la Cafetière” from 1989.
His homage KOOL with Carla Blank opens at the Guggenheim Museum later this month.

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.

Dance by DAIRAKUDAKAN’s Akaji Maro

Maro in “Symphony M.” Photo by Nobuyoshi Araki.

The four suit-clad cynical undertakers perpetually wait for death with their scrutinizing flashlights.
The followers, their naked bodies painted in white, twisted red cords of umbilical cords dangling from their heads, crack their whips in merciless sadism.
And the troupe’s leader Maro Akaji _ the corpse, the mother, the imbecile _
softly fluttering his sinewy arms in the dark silence like a deformed but beautiful swan, confronts his own death and the legacy of Butoh in his “Symphony M.”
The work, his first piece centered around his solos in seven years, had a four-day run this month at Setagaya Public Theater in Tokyo.)
DAIRAKUDAKAN pieces are often filled with kitsch references to pop culture and everyday life.
The latest work is more stark, almost devoid of the usual musical score.
Stomps, the hiss of falling sand and the breaths of the dancers are what we hear.
At the opening, a rope that looks like a chain of fossilized bones and a mirror are the only props.
Often, Maro, 65, leaves much of the dancing to the younger members, and makes his appearance to mainly deliver his presence _ his energy and his message.
In this piece, he dances.
And what a dance it is _ in one moment, writhing on the floor in a painful muscular tension that defies disease and death a la Hijikata, in another, sputtering nonsensical lines as he shuffles from one dancer to another examining their poses in befuddlement.
Ultimately, the piece is all about the relationship of the artist with the future _ Maro’s complex but totally honest relationship with his dancers _ not just the dancers who accompanied him on that stage but also all the dancers and non-dancers everywhere.
It is a testament to that relationship _ and his success as troupe leader, master and teacher _ to witness how his 14 male back-up dancers are all very strong and in superb form.
They deliver so completely Maro’s choreography in both technique and spirit.
In one scene, Maro acts as a commander for his dancers, soldiers standing at attention in line.
When he shouts his final order, the dancers crumble in unison, trembling and mumbling at once, transformed into the trademark Butoh style.
It is a perfect moment _ an expression of defiance and integrity in choreographed stupor.
In the closing sequence, Maro dies, his arms outstretched like Christ, at the center of a white cube of nothingness and the eternal universe.
The dancers arduously roll that box around on the stage like the mission they are inheriting from their teacher.
But as Maro dies, he also gives birth, his face contorted in a muted scream, his legs open to the audience and to the world.
And he gives us himself, a Buoth legend.

with singer Robby

with Yumi Miyagishima on violin

African and Japanese Percussion

ISAKU KAGEYAMA, award-winning taiko drummer, and WINCHESTER NII TETE, acclaimed African percussionist, meet for a conversation using the universal language of music. The duo’s music, deeply rooted in the traditions of Japan and Ghana, flows like a conversation between two close friends, with jokes, laughter, questions, and their answers scattered throughout the evening.

Taiko and African Percussion Performance
Isaku Kageyama (taiko), Winchester Nii Tete (African Percussion),
Daisuke Watanabe (taiko), Chris Holland (taiko)
FRI Jan. 9, 2009 20:00 (Doors open 19:00)
Shinjuku Live Takanoya
5-2-3 Shinjuku Shinjuku-ku Tokyo 160-0022
3,600 yen (includes one drink) 
All seats are non-reserved
For Tickets and More Information: Shinjuku Live Takanoya
TEL: 03-5919-0228
Sponsored by The Embassy of Ghana

Isaku Kageyama is one of the bright young stars of premiere drum ensemble Amanojaku. Introduced to the traditional Japanese art form at the age of 6, Isaku is an expert at playing the Odaiko (large drum), and is a two-time National Odaiko Champion.

Master percussionist Winchester Nii Tete hails from the honorable Addy-Amo-Boye families of drummers in Ghana. A complete and versatile musician, Winchester has performed with the Ghana national troupe, Sachi Hayasaka, Yoshio Harada, Takasitar, Naoki Kubojima, Tsuyoshi Furuhashi and many other artists.

Fiction at Ben’s Cafe in Tokyo

I’m going to the Fifth Sunday Fiction Series at Ben’s Cafe in Takadanobaba, Tokyo.
Sunday, August 31, 5 PM
I will read my short story “Seeds of Betrayal,” published in this 1995 anthology “On a Bed of Rice,” edited by Geraldine Kudaka.
The featured reader will be Janice Young, author of the novel “Sweet Dauma: a Japan Satire.” Also reading will be Japan Times writer and novelist Michael Hoffman.
The host is Hillel Wright, author of “Border Town.”