Isaku takes taiko to another place

Isaku Kageyama believes taiko must claim its legitimate place in the world of great music.
Japanese culture is beautiful.
But unless Japan can be part of the world and see its place in the true sense _ with all the duties, responsibilities as well as rewards involved _ it won’t work.
Art is a way of facing up to that important and universal Question _ and maybe one of the few ways where there is a true Answer.
Luis Silva made this multicultural video statement in his gorgeous documentary for WeAllJapan, that says it all.

ways of saying ‘yes’ in Japanese

ways of saying ‘yes’ in Japanese
a poem by Yuri Kageyama

That’s the correct way of replying when spoken to in Japan for centuries, hai! the way people are taught in school, by their parents, what’s right in society _
respect for the hierarchy, yes sir, thank you ma’am, hai hai hai, like hiccups, like hiphiphurray, hai! hai! hai! no pause, no hesitation, no thought,
following orders, quick, no questions, grunt it out, soldiers at attention, yelling, spitting, believing, say it with all your heart and mind,
That’s the way people answer in Japan these says, haa~aai! the way people drop out of school, freeters, parents are just friends to follow only on Twitter _
flattening out the hierarchy, maybe yes, maybe not, haa~aai! like a mumble, like a whisper, a kiss on the ear, haa~aai, innocent, hurt only for others,
wind blowing in your hair, smiley faces heart icons in cell phones, improvise, imagine, immaculate, sing it without a care in the world,

hating weddings

I’ve never liked weddings. I find them frightening.
Weddings are a very expensive performance designed to present an image of a social category called “married couple” that is proper and desirable and safe.
People spend a lot of time planning this performance, putting together slide shows of their childhood, picking out a package of gifts of porcelain and other knickknacks no one wants (though some couples have gotten smarter and instead give a catalogue so guests can pick out what they want but there is really nothing in the catalogue you want either), lining up a list of people to give speeches (the boring ones by bosses and former teachers, the teary goofy ones by friends) or put on horrible amateur acts (that should stay in the karaoke box where they belong).
It is a transition into adulthood _ the straight life.
It is a capitulation to the social definitions of Husband, Wife, Marriage, Man, Woman, Life, Career, Success.
It is often an opportunity for a woman to be the star for once, defined by an alleged beauty in absurd formulaic outfits (white dress, red kimono, etc.) so people can sigh and say oooh, how pretty she is, with the understanding that as she ages she can never quite be as nice-to-look at (i.e., socially valuable) as she is on that blessed day.
To negate or even question any of these definitions of what happens at a wedding so carefully orchestrated at considerable costs would be totally un-Japanese.
Love or whatever it is that happens that culminates in marriage is highly individualistic, private and spiritual.
But you’d never know it from watching the couple descend from a gondola covered with fumes and walk around lighting candles at tables decked with weird flowers and funny food.
Weddings usually show where people are really at _ in the end _ even if they have claimed for years to be more liberated.
They may say they are doing it for their parents.
It is frightening because it means that in the end we can never win against all these definitions not only because they are so powerful as dictated by society, but because they are so close to people’s deepest emotions and values (which what doing it for your parents means).
They are growing up.
They are getting married.
They are leaving me behind.

From Yuri To Yuri

From Yuri To Yuri _ Japanese Womanhood Across Borders Of Time
A Contemporary Renku Poem (a work in progress)
By Yuri Matsueda and Yuri Kageyama.

take this knife
lay it down on a round table of
rotting wood
a child trapped in a body with
big pale breasts
a lipstick mouth
listen to the end
in silence
a frog with a tadpole tail
a tadpole with frog legs
too much
hope isn’t good
you know what
to do
when things never change


^___< (16)
hot roses vapored
became instant ash
left their reflection on his bones
highlighted in green
he is
as they say clean

^___< (17)
to yuri from yuri
my solitary audience in blindness
i speak to you
our world sighs breathing in poem
a wilting whimper
a stabbing flash of sunflower
don’t cry, don’t die, don’t lie
no one listens in deafness
but you speak to me
you are my solitary audience

preceding sections:



(1-6) _ where it all started, and which goes to show sometimes all you need is one person to connect with in a special way to create poetry.
Yuri and I are both women bilingual/bicultural poets/writers with what we feel is a special sensitivity.
It goes without saying we realize we are creating for a niche market. Just kidding.
It makes sense to us and that’s what counts.

Noticing accents

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.

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.

Amanojaku LIVE at Harajuku Astro Hall

AMANOJAKU Tokyo’s Top-Level Taiko
Harajuku ASTRO Hall
THU Aug. 20 7:30 p.m. (Admision starts 7 p.m.)
Advance tickets (includes one drink)
4,000 yen; at door 4,500 yen.
For more information, please call Amanojaku: 03-3904-1745.
Ticket Pia P-code: 330-019
Lawson Ticket L-code: 79754.

Amanojaku, led by master drummer Yoichi Watanabe, concocts an emotional and explosive experience of sound, pitting the best of taiko tradition with global ethnic rhythms and modern composition for a distinct World Music narrative that explores Japanese soul.
Amanojaku teaches taiko in the U.S., Brazil, Asia and Europe, and leads workshops and performs in festivals throughout Japan.
Last year, it led the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Japanese immigration to Brazil in a performance of 1,000 drummers at the samba venue.
Hiromi Ogawa and Mayumi Kawana are founding members of Amanojaku and the best women’s duet taiko drummers in the world. They debunk any old-fashioned stereotypes the West may have about Japanese women, inspiring awe with their sheer brute strength and creative integrity.
Also appearing are Daisuke Watanabe, Hiromi Sekine, Chris Holland (from Denver Taiko) and Isaku Kageyama.

Reading the air

The idea of “reading the air” sounds absurd.
But Japanese talk about it and do it all the time _ the art of staying so in tune to social expectations that one fits in perfectly without ever being told anything at all.
It’s all in the air, to be detected, if you are a proper Japanese.
There is no need for blatant threats, punishment, policing, even instructions.
The person who starts laughing when everyone is solemn, the person who says the wrong kind of joke, the person who doesn’t get the joke, the person who is wearing the wrong shoes, the person who doesn’t get it, the person who thinks the party is happening when everyone else wants it to end _ those are people who fail to read the air.
They are out of it, no way a proper Japanese, possibly criminally insane, surely a loser because he or she hasn’t learned the art of reading the air _ what’s invisible but everywhere and so so so necessary if one wants to survive, what’s so plainly obvious to those who are aware of that waft, that scent, that billow in the air around us, but otherwise goes over the unknowing’s heads like a gust of a thoughtless clueless wind.
Reading the air is crucial in this society that thrives on conformity and is ruthlessly cruel in setting boundaries on who is “in” and “out,” seeking to protect its comfortable insularity from the challenges of individualism, assessment by performance and self-expression.
Its rules are so thorough, governing every detail of everyday life, the psyche of its participants, so subtle in its nuances, like a tea-ceremony dance, that no one can really create a manual comprehensible to the humble outsider.
So read the air, my friend, read the air.
There is even a sociological/demographic twist.
Japan is one of the most rapidly aging societies in the world, meaning that the birth rate has been so low here (partly because of the role of women, partly because child-care services are inadequate, partly because education costs are so high) for so long the numbers of old people are massive compared to the dwindling numbers of children and young adults.
This has reinforced air-reading.
A kid born in Japan finds him/herself in a world dominated by lots of adults well versed in air-reading.
This is a society where children by definition are a minority, possibly an endangered species.
They are outnumbered.
Pressures on them to read the air are enormous.
And they learn fast.
They figure out how to get over with the more numerous and more powerful elderly.
The young as defiant, carefree, dangerous _ not so in Japan.
Instead, they focus their energies on reading the air, on not doing the weird wrong wild thing, to win their untroubled place in the Adult Establishment.
Air-reading is so crucial chastising people for their inability to read the air is part of the modern Japanese colloquial lexicon.
Being labeled “kooki yomenai (unable to read the air),” like “nerd” or “wimp,” is utterly uncool.
As in most such sweeping social trends, there’s a backlash, even in Japan.
Those who refuse to read the air are now being seen as brave achievers _ but only if they are true undeniable winners like Kosuke Kitajima, the Gold Medal Olympian swimmer.
“Kooki nanka yomuna!” he declares in an ad for a burger chain.
Don’t you go around reading the air!
Having the privilege of not having to run around reading airs, and not having to worry about the consequences, is the ultimate that proves you have truly risen to the top in Japan.

Being Japanese: Kakijun, Enryo and Iki

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.
Pretty deep.
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.

Amanojaku Taiko in Brazil

Video by someone who was at Amanojaku’s June 19, 2008 concert in Brazil.
Thanks for the video!
Isaku’s blog and entry from his end on the same concert.
The piece being performed is “Five Color Taiko,” in which five players drum out music that is at once together and coherent in unison yet also individual, creative and unique, expressing the essence of the human spirit as interpreted by Amanojaku leader and composer Yoichi Watanabe.
Brazil, home to the biggest Japanese community outside Japan, is also home to a younthful and vibrant taiko culture.