Fresh back from a trip to Brazil to celebrate the centenary of Japanese immigration to Brazil, Amanojaku gave two Tokyo concerts this week.
What’s striking about their performance is the vision of leader Yoichi Watanabe that is underlined by his fantastic compositions.
Inspired by stark imagery and story-telling, from sword-flicking samurai to the eternal power of dashing waves, Watanabe’s tunes never fail to deliver an exciting and articulate musical experience.
His taiko concerts aren’t the clap-along feel-good affairs of showmanship that many associate these days with modern taiko.
They make deeper, sometimes painful statements about Watanabe’s perceptions on life and art as defined through his compositions/choreography woven together like fabric.
He told the concert crowd about how he composed “Dotou.”
He said he started out with a piece for the big drum, and then that evolved into a tune about the snarling waves.
While he was at a studio in a prefecture outside Tokyo to work out the composition, there was a thunderstorm.
There was so much rain the sewage gutter outside the studio began overflowing in torrents.
Thus was “Doutou” born.
Watanabe wrote “Kaiun” after his parents died, and the piece has elements of prayer and wishes for everyone’s happiness.
The song has allusions to universal symbols of hard work and preserverance such as worksong chants, swaying of the body and rigorous repetitive beating that is almost excruciating.
But in a mysterious way, the song is also about deliverance from the madness of everyday survival.
It is a moving song about how a man is dealing with the sorrow of losing people he loves, the gratitude he feels toward his forebearers, and the total fear yet total courage artists feel in perpetually facing up to our inevitable deaths.
Fresh back from a trip to Brazil to celebrate the centenary of Japanese immigration to Brazil, Amanojaku gave two Tokyo concerts this week.
KAKIJUN is something that could have significance only in Japan.
Kakijun refers to the rules on properly writing kanji characters _ specifically the order in which each stroke (traditionally rendered in paintbrush sumi-ink) must be written.
If you mess up the order, then it’s wrong _ even if it looks exactly the same as if it had been written in the correct order.
Kakijun highlights the essential importance of process _ as opposed to results.
If it’s not done the right way, it’s wrong.
Japanese society emphasizes the zenlike spiritual _ the virtue of what is happening within the individual _ form defining act _ not just Western-style pragmatism of getting things done, making money, winning status.
In another sense, kakijun is about fixating on regulations for the sake of appearances, not the substance of the action.
It penalizes deviations.
It discourages creativity.
It rewards conformity.
Still, kakijun can be a beautiful concept.
No wonder calligraphy looks a lot like abstract Western art.
It is forceful.
It is evidence of how the artist’s individuality is expressed in form.
It is evidence of how Japanese art is defined as the beauty of the process.
Japanese rules of behavior _ how to enter a door, how to bow, how to drink tea _ are like Dance.
How you do something _ even everyday things _ is part of the definition of that person’s value as a human being to all Japanese.
ENRYO is another super-Japanese concept.
Taken the bad way (let’s start with that first this time), it’s phony because it means: yup, you really want that second serving of cake but you don’t want to look greedy so you act like you don’t want it and say no, thanks, all the while hoping the host will realize you’re just saying that and deep inside you want the cake and so will offer it again, no no no I insist, at which point you get to “give in” and eat the cake without feeling like a pig.
This is enryo.
And it’s an everyday practice in Japan, even today.
This works only if the other party knows you are doing enryo.
It has been known to happen that if the other party for whatever reason fails to catch on and goes along with the preliminary refusal a la enryo-style, and doesn’t persist in offering the cake, the originator of enryo can get quite resentful _ about not getting that cake after all _ and accuse the other person of all kinds of inadequacies, including not being a proper Japanese _ so delicate is this give-and-take interaction of enryo.
Enryo assumes that everyone is in the know.
Enryo evolved out of an insular small-village mindset.
But enryo is also soulful _ caring about the other person so much you’re giving that person the chance to take his or her offer back, in case that person can’t really afford to offer you that extra piece of cake.
Enryo is about self-sacrifice.
Enryo is about modesty.
It’s about not being a totally egotistical and everyone-out-for-their-own kind of society.
It’s about quiet graceful self-demeaning appearances taking precedence over who gets what and big egos and individualism.
Many other cultures besides Japan actually have enryo.
Americans may be a minority in not being hip to enryo at all, and in assuming that no one will be crazy enough to say, “No,” to a desirable offer. Hey, why not? That’s what a normal American would think.
And, well, why not?
If you have to ask, then forget about it.
That’s what Enryo is.
IKI also sounds crazy if you try to explain it to a hard-core pragmatist.
Iki means you do the most cool things where people can’t possibly notice.
That’s what makes it totally cool.
It’s adoration of the less obvious, all the while hoping that the hidden wonders will somehow accidentally be noticed, making them even more superlative like a secret gift.
One good example of iki is a plain dark coat that’s the impeccable statement of understatement, which has as lining this ostentatious and intricate fabric.
The outer may be indigo but the innards would be an elaborate red and gold Hokusai-like manga design.
This is no joke, and some Edo Period “haori” coats are just like that.
Or a woman’s kimono would be subdued but have this special lining at the collar that’s only showing in a tiny, tiny bit.
It defies logic, and that’s why it’s so iki.
The goal of a labor-intensive item is not to show off.
It’s in and of itself precious _ although the argument can be made that iki is showing off of the ultimate, perhaps most perverse, kind.
Even among Japanese, iki is supposed to be localized _ very Tokyo _ and some say down-home Osaka people don’t value iki.
Iki means you never ask how much something costs.
Iki people would mix-and-match expensive items with weeds picked up off the road _ that kind of thing.
Like kakijun and enryo, iki is at once perception-oriented and arbitrary.
It’s all about what people think but so specific it doesn’t make any sense when you stop to think about it.
For those who swear by it, there are no gray areas.
And it is a good way to separate true Japanese from posers.
In the way Van Gogh thought he was Japanese and saw Old Edo in southern France, or the way Yayoi Kusama sees polka dots on faces, flowers and everything around her, I see Today’s Tokyo as a flashback to the Hippie Days.
The differences are obvious.
But there are definite parallels between the questioning of the parents’ values that the American LOVE generation did and what the Japanese youngsters are trying to do today.
They are rejecting the dreams for the “straight” life of joining big-name companies with their broken promises for lifelong employment and lifelong social status.
They are becoming “freeters” in more ways than one, looking for a freer lifestyle and a freer way of thinking, to accept not only themselves for who they are and also those around them in Japan _ and Asia and beyond.
The go-go modernization growth days are over _ just as the 1960s and ’70s ended the American Dream.
There is a need for new answers, new values, a new identity, a new way of relating to the World.
The approach is peaceful _ just like Flower Power was so far away and so many years ago.
The Tokyo youngsters playing music, eating pasta and making love in the streets of Koenji, transport us magically to Berkeley and the Haight.
They are the TOKYO FLOWER CHILDREN.
It’s OK to drop out.
It’s OK not to fit in.
It’s OK to be weak.
It’s OK to do something new.
It takes great courage to do this in a rigidly and cruelly conformist society like Japan.
Like flowers, they wilt in the wild.
But they sprout back with new life, carrying on a legacy of music and a frantic search for one-ness that live on through generations.
And so it was natural to call the personal project I began to collaborate with Tokyo musicians in readings of my poetry the TOKYO FLOWER CHILDREN.
We are all children.
No matter how old we grow, and no matter how we struggle to outgrow our childishness, we are all children.
Sure, being a poet is about remembering that eternal child in yourself.
It’s also about remembering all the emotional and physical details of being a mother to your own child _ with all the miraculous joys to celebrate and anguishing sorrows to endure.
But through working with the Tokyo musicians, I learned a new lesson:
It’s about being a poet for the next generation _ being a poet for all the children of the world, and knowing we are all children together.
SUNDAY JUNE 8, 2008
Poet Yuri Kageyama presents
the TOKYO FLOWER CHILDREN with
Teruyuki Kawabata (percussion),
Winchester Nii Tete (percussion),
Haruna Shimizu (kpanlogo), Keiji Kubo (didgeridoo),
Yumi Miyagishima (violin), Carl Freire (guitar).
in an evening of MULTICULTURAL POETRY AND MUSIC.
The Pink Cow
Villa Moderuna B1 1-3-18 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku Tokyo 150-0002
DJ C.Geez (super soul music and dope true-school hip hop) 7 p.m.
Poetry and music 8 p.m. Free admission. Doors open 5 p.m.
Come early for dinner and the best seats!
Yummy Pink Cow food and drinks available to order at the bar!
Please celebrate the publication of Yuri Kageyama’s story in
“POWWOW: American Short Fiction from Then to Now,”
edited by Ishmael Reed with Carla Blank (Da Capo Press).
Kageyama’s works have appeared in many literary publications,
including “Y’Bird,” “Greenfield Review,” “On a Bed of Rice” and
“Stories We Hold Secret.” She has a book of poems “Peeling.”
The TOKYO FLOWER CHILDREN is a project Kageyama began last year to collaborate with Tokyo musicians in readings of her poetry.
Music maker, designer and self-proclaimed “shy and wagamama only child,” TERUYUKI KAWABATA leads Tokyo band CigaretteSheWas. The group has a CD album coming out this year.
Master percussionist WINCHESTER NII TETE hails from the honorable Addy-Amo-Boye families of drummers of Ghana. He plays with the Ghana national troupe, Sachi Hayasaka, Yoshio Harada and Takasitar.
HARUNA SHIMIZU of CigaretteSheWas fell in love with Ghana’s kpanlogo drum while she was in college. She has kept at it as freely as her spirit moves her.
KEIJI KUBO, who plays the didgeridoo and bass, is a linguist and student. He has total respect for aboriginal culture and all cultural integrity.
Violinist YUMI MIYAGISHIMA plays with CigaretteSheWas, Kyosuke Koizumi, The little witch and other groups.
CARL FREIRE is a Tokyo-based writer, translator and musician.
DEEJAY C. GEEZ from St.Louis has been a DJ since 1997 and living in Japan since 2006.
Dreams blend with reality like time warps in a collage of bathers, samurai, phallic symbols, milk-spurting breasts, waterfalls, ukiyoe prints and half-born babies in a voluminous retrospective of Tadanori Yokoo’s prolific career at Setagaya Museum.
Images jump from postwar Japan(schoolchildren, Mishima) to Hollywood (kissing blondes), then India and other faraway places as quickly and as unexpectedly as the workings of a genius artist’s mind.
In the same way, mediums keep shifting _ pasted photos, oils, silkscreen, Plexiglas.
The usual demarcations of history, geography, references and dimension are no longer relevant.
Even canvases get shredded.
Themes are repeated, over and over, as colors change from ocean-blue to reproductive red on towering canvases.
We enter Yokoo’s mind, stepping into a world of magic and mystery that is probably where we end up when we die and also where we were small and unknowing before we were born _ the primordial that lurks like a hallucinatory flash behind a mirror, or behind our own image in the mirror, hiding behind our backs, or caught around a corner or beneath the water’s surface or embedded inside a hidden wall:
Michelangelo is /blue dolphins jumping are /a couple dancing inside a skull is /a portrait of Pablo Picasso is /crossroads in the darkness getting shot by a film crew are /faces wearing sunglasses are /a photo of a cat’s face /is a screaming salivating woman who is posing at the same spot Mona Lisa was painted.
Things crumble like sand.
And that face or that thing from another century pops up in our consciousness as it always belonged there, as reminders of our finite lives and our connection to the eternal.
Almost 70, Yokoo is voraciously young, curious and evolving like a child.
He stands quiet, ever charming in a tux, his signature curly head held high, as he greets guests at the museum reception, surrounded by chattering dignitaries/celebrities.
What is refreshing is that he thinks big _ real big, on the scale of the Pyramids, grandeur of the galaxies, the insight of a divinity.
That same “bigness” is present in his physically small works, down to the tiniest pencil sketches.
Yokoo is big.
Yokoo is not timid.
And Yokoo is persistent.
One moment, you see a work from the 1960s, a fluorescent depiction of a woman in bondage, and you think: He is at his prime; he can’t possibly top this.
But then there’s another, and yet another, and yes, another, from the 1990s, maybe just this year, all equally strong and different, yet retaining the voice that is so defiantly Yokoo.
I interviewed Yokoo when I was a reporter at The Japan Times.
I went to his studio filled with knickknacks from all over the world _ figures and artifacts.
What’s this? What’s that?
Everything looked like art in his studio. I was probably picking up ashtrays with wonderment.
Why do you keep asking what is this? what is this? he said with a smile.
Yokoo later told me he enjoyed my articles.
You don’t know anything about art, he said, but you write what you feel, and that’s what I want my works to evoke in people.
It’s a nice thing to say to a writer.
As I leave the museum, I return to the world, suddenly equipped with a new eye.
Everything looks different as though the objects are part of Yokoo’s paintings, just making cameo appearances in the landscape before me, to remind me that everything is as much salvation as it is illusion.
Rei Sato is one of Japan’s brilliant young artists who are part of Kaikai Kiki, the studio of Takashi Murakami.
Her whimsical lyrical works take the pop manga style of the Murakami School, defiant, maddeningly vibrant, so hardened and cynical, a step further, perhaps, in a more serene and introverted direction.
They give a view of the world of a child fingerpainting fish, the happy sun, girls with quizzical expressions and weedlike flowers, sometimes on fabric, sometimes on enlarged photos that are lazy snapshots, like those taken on cell phones, purposely making no assertions whatsoever except in seeing, recording and being.
A makeshift cafe at the gallery _ low coffee tables, muted lighting, a guitarist sending bubbly sounds through electronic equipment, hushed conversations _ also included a book shelf filled with knickknacks: fuzzy stuffed animals, figures, plastic watches, books, a half-filled pot of herb tea, tawdry memorabilia, everyday items that give glimpses into the artist’s mind.
Making your way toward the back, ducking hanging beads and pieces of cloth of different colors, you see that the works become more and more like scribbles, pencil drawings of tiny girls, forgotten notes, scrawled on bits of paper, fragments of thoughts, mischievous markings on newspaper. And in the very back next to old posters of Japanese movies are graphic art from Yumeji Takehisa and the words:
“I want to be a poet.”
The first Sunday of every month is poetry night at What the Dickens in Ebisu 4 p.m. – 7 p.m.
We plan to read “Little Yellow Slut,” a reworked/improved version Sunday April 6.
please see video on YouTube.
The video mail exchange between the two famous Japanese poets is a YT upload from Eigagogo in Portugal.
Their styles are so different.
But the love they have for each other is beyond any doubt.
The relationship you see through their works is strangely more moving than the individual works.
This sounds corny and pedantic, but I can’t think of any other way to put it: Art ultimately is about love.
Not just love for someone, but love for life, love for what comes after your life, love for the absolute, love for your art, love for that something that goes beyond the finite, love for the spiritual, love for god.
Maybe that’s not even love, and it’s something else.
But I can’t think of a better word, right now.