America e Kaerimasu!
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Yes, I've waited way too long to write this and there is way too much to tell! It feels as if more things have happened since April when I wrote the previous Japan letter, than happened during the whole rest of my stay here. I am finally becoming comfortable living here, and my command of the language, though far from fluent, has improved to the extent that I can communicate my basic needs in most situations. I have also begun to have propositions for many collaborations and enticing projects with Japanese artists, and I have lots of ideas brewing about things I want to do and see. All this, and now it's almost time to go home! Only about a month left here in Tokyo, and because time has clearly increased its speed (don't you think so?), that will be over in no time at all!


It's funny how long it can take to feel at ease in a place. And then suddenly-- you can't remember when it happened-- but you find yourself under the delusion that you fit in. I've noticed myself following the same pattern of many other people who's accounts I've read or heard. I felt like such a foreigner when I arrived, and now I actually have an unnatural feeling when I find myself surrounded by other foreigners. On more than one occasion, I've caught myself remarking to a Japanese friend, "Wow, look at all those gaijin!" "Gai" means "foreign", "koku" means country, "jin" means person. Gaijin is the (often derogatory) shortened word for the (neutral) Gaikokujin. I remember, during my earlier months here, that I often found myself doing something involuntarily. I would see some American or European-looking person approaching on the street, and I would just give them a little nod, like a "Hello." It was the same exact thing that I used to hate when Black people did it to me in the States. I used to think "I don't know you. Why are you acting as if we are friends or family or something?" And now, here I was doing the exact same thing to people I didn't know! I think it just came out of a feeling of, "they might have something in common with me- here I am in a place where I can't communicate with anyone, and this is a person who might be able to understand me or who might share a common experience with me." Funny, that I had to go all the way to Japan to fully understand what was going through those Black people's minds when they would nod at me in the States! Not that I didn't understand it intellectually before. But being in Japan and nodding involuntarily to some stranger because they didn't look Japanese made me understand much more deeply. Those Black people were nodding at me because they went through life feeling misunderstood by and unable to communicate with the White people around them. I didn't get it because I never felt that way. But how would they know that about me? I certainly didn't have anyway of knowing how the people I was nodding at here felt about being in Japan. My body just had an involutary gut reaction to the way they looked, which caused me to nod. There was really no thinking involved. So now I understand.

But at some point, the nodding stopped. I can't remember when, but it's done. I suppose it's because, as I made friends and associates here, most of them turned out to be Japanese. Other than my neighbors, it wasn't until recently that I had many gaijin friends to speak of. Many foreigners living in Japan like to hang out with other foreigners and have more non-Japanese friends than they do Japanese. They move into gaijin ghettos, go to gaijin bars, shop at supermarkets that cater to gaijin etc, But, true to the way I operate at home, I made friends here based on what people do and what their interests are. So most of my friends are musicians, or other artists or friends and family of those artists. Although a few of the composers I made friends with are Americans, since this is Japan, most of them are Japanese.

But during the last month or so, I've connected with some very special non-Japanese new friends. Most notably, a choreographer named Maureen Freehill from Hawaii (with whom I did a collaboration on a Butoh piece) and a choreographer named Sally Gross from New York who is here on the same fellowship I have. Both of these women have been wonderful companions, and reminded me how fun it is to have someone with whom I can talk in depth about minutia, and with whom I can SHOP! Also, because they are both wonderful artists, I've had the pleasure of discussing work in detail that goes beyond the English capabilities of many of my Japanese friends and far beyond my capabilities in Japanese. I have also finally been able to spend some time with a very old friend (from back in my Boulder, CO days). Eric Jacobsen and his wife Ayako were having their second baby when I first arrived, but things have finally settled down for them to the point that we could get together. The whole family is adorable, and I've had some great times bopping around with Eric. He composes music for children's videos and television, and he even let me do a voice-over for one of those goofy Japanese TV commercials I'm always making fun of.

Maureen w/statue at ICC

Donna Ozawa's used waribashi (disposable chopstick) sculpture.

I've also had the pleasure of being visited by several people who traveled to Japan. Moshe Cohen, from my building, was touring last month and came through to do some performances here. I spent some wonderful time with him including dancing with him at Kazuo Ohno's studio. I also met Donna Ozawa, a Bay Area friend of Miya's, who's here doing a project on garbage and art. She's a very lovely person, and her work is dealing with some very important environmental issues in an artist/activist kind of way.

And, I got to spend a little time with Steven Schick in Shizuoka. He was there to play percussion in a Roger Reynolds piece in a collaboration with the famed avant garde theatre director Tadashi Suzuki. Also, a rather unexpected surprise was that Pina Bausch's company came through to do a series of four performance works in Saitama. I was so excited when I read that they were coming and invited my friend Kaja, to come with me and see them. After a wonderful performance of "Die Fensterputzer", I took Kaja backstage and introduced her to everyone who's name I could remember, and then Pina invited us to join her and and a few other people for dinner. Kaja helped in translating the menu. We had a marvelous time! It reminded me of the wonderful experience I had at the festival in Wuppertal last year.


Since my last letter, I've had three performances. In April, Sam Bennett (who now lives in Tokyo) invited me to sit in with his group "Dent" (Samm, Kikuchi Naruyoshi, and Yoshigaki Yasuhiro). I wound up playing most of the entire second half of the evening with them. It was completely improvised, and I had a blast. Then, in early May, I composed and performed music for Maureen Freehill's "Bridge". This was a butoh work for four dancers and an actor. I later recorded a studio version of the music I made and invited Ikuko Hara (the actor) to come to my studio and record the text she did in the performance. I then played a solo concert at the International House of Tokyo. This performance included some of my old repertoire as well as three new pieces. One called "Akihabara Nightmare" using samples I'd made of some of the characteristic Tokyo noises, one called "Nihongo de Hanasoo" using text from one of my Japanese language books, and an improvised duet with Tamami Tono, a sho- player.


I have continued attending Butoh workshops. I went to one at Asbestos Kan (taught by Waguri-sensei who studied with and documented the work of the late Hijikata), but mainly I have continued going to OHNO Kazuo's studio. Shortly after my return from touring, I attended a performance by his son Yoshito. I then began attending Yoshito's workshops. He teaches on Wednesday evenings at his father's studio. I enjoy attending the workshops of both Ohnos. Kazuo Ohno is an amazing and inspiring presence. He is a bit like Cage was in his last years. So full of contentment and some kind of serene joy of having lived a life making powerful, important work. And he joins in and dances with us during his workshops, which are mostly free in form. And Yoshito Ohno is an excellent teacher. He gets very specific during his workshops, which generally include very focused excercises that demand growth of the participants. The combination of both is very good for me. I try to go to Yokohama at least once a week for one of their workshops. Now that my time is running out here, I feel compelled to go to both workshops each week, but my crazy schedule doesn't permit it.

OHNO Yoshito


I am also continuing with my Japanese language study. For me, this language is incredibly easy to pronounce but incredibly difficult to learn deeply. The more you learn, the deeper you realize the well is. There are days when I feel I've learned nothing. It hurts to listen to a television broadcast or a lecture and understand literally nothing. Not one thing. And there are other days where I swell with pride at my achievements. Like today, for example, when I rescued some British tourists who were trying to buy something they couldn't explain to a clerk in the bookstore. I felt so accomplished when I walked over and said "What is it that you want?" and they told me, and I turned to the clerk and told him (in what must have sounded to the British tourists like perfect Japanese) that they wanted movie posters with Japanese writing on them. Even though the bookshop didn't carry such a thing, I was thanked profusely by both the tourists and the clerk. I get the same sort of feeling of achievement when I go to a restaurant and order a meal from a menu that has neither English or Romaji on it, go up to the counter and get quoted the price in Japanese, pay without having to see Arabic numbers on a cash register or calculator display, and say the meal was delicious as I leave. All by myself! But, I still only understand people when they are speaking to me slowly and taking into consideration that I am a beginner. I would like to see Japanese films, for example, but I can only go to films who's original language is English. Because, if a film has any subtitles, they are of course in Japanese! I did rent "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawarence", that 80's film about the Japanese war camp (based on a novel by Van der Post). I had forgotten that so much of the film was in Japanese and, of course, the prints published over here have no subtitles except when people in the film are speaking English! So it was interesting to try and muddle my way through the film. My Japanese isn't really good enough for the speeds and vocabularies used in films, but because I knew the film, it wasn't too bad. Tom Conte's Japanese is quite good!


Last month I went to my first Noh performance in Japan. I was invited by Sei and Hatsune of Visual Brains fame to see a good friend of theirs perform. It was a full day of performance. The final piece was a major work called "Sumidagawa" (Sumida River) which included a child performer. I enjoyed the big majestic work and the formality of everything. I also enjoyed seeing so many Japanese women sitting in the audience in kimono. (These were of course mixed with many other women wearing Issey Miyake and a few in jeans.) The men in the audience were mostly in western suits. But on stage, the performers were adorned in beautiful formal kimono, and in some cases masks and elaborate wigs. I was so interested in their very stylized movement that I then hastened to start taking Noh class. I had originally wanted to study Noh so I could learn the singing style, but I've gotten more out to the movement part, I think.

This month, I finally got the chance to see Kabuki. I went to a performance at Kabukiza in Ginza. Naoko-san gave me a pair of tickets that someone had decided not to use. I used it as an opportunity to treat my friend Chikako (the one I mentioned in an earlier letter, with whom I communicate only in French) to an evening out. (It is very difficult to repay Japanese people for the kindesses they bestow. Gifts are just about the only way you can do it-- and even then, they usually feel that they must reciprocate with greater gifts!) I was especially impressed with the actors in female roles (all men). It was really like "high drag"! (I suppose it's a bit like being back in the days when the female roles in Italian opera were performed by castradi.) And there are Kabuki geeks scattered throughout the grand theatre space, who yell out the guild names of certain actors at specific points in the performance. It's kind of reminiscent of the opera buffs who yell "Bravo!" except it's more like jazz, because it happens throughout the performance, not just at the end. Some of them were seated quite near me, and I'd be startled when they'd suddenly cry out "Kinokuniya!!!" in deep booming voices. There were actors representing several important Kabuki families, so this shouting of names happened frequently. The portion I attended started at 4:30 and went on into the evening. I saw a one-act play, two dances, and a two-act play. If I had come in the morning, I could have seen many more. On one of the intermissions, I went downstairs to the dining area and had a sashimi dinner that I had reserved earlier. Some people just buy bento boxes and enjoy them right inside the theatre! After the performance, Chikako and I went to a little tavern for umesaawa (plum sour coctail) and snacks. We chatted (in French- now with a lot more Japanese mixed in) about the performance and enjoyed looking over our programs at all the photos of the actors.

I haven't had much luck getting vocal instruction for traditional Japanese singing. I've attended Chikako's lessons a few times, but only as an observer. Her teacher is very old and speaks no English. Chikako didn't think she'd be comfortable taking on a foreigner as a student. I came up against that problem everywhere I've turned. I finally found someone who might give me a few lessons this month. I'm going to see her for the first lesson tomorrow. She's younger, has some involvement with experimental music, and speaks some English. I'm determined to get some taste of formal Japanese vocal training. I'll have to see what happens. If this doesn't work out, I may be forced to try to learn Enka, the sentimental Japanese popular song style that one often hears when Japanese people sing at karaoke bars…


TONO Tamami in Gagaku costume.

I have done my usual and scheduled too many things for my final month here. I have three performances coming up. One is an evening of three vocal/electronics artists-- Adachi Tomomi, Yuko Nexus 6, and yours truly. And I have a guest appearance at a temple in Kamakura on a program by Tamami Tono(the sho-- player who joined me on my concert in May), and a solo appearance at a club called "Milk" (pronounced "miruku"!) on the gig of a band called "Wiggle". (I suppose that's "wiguru"). I'm also giving a lecture-demo at Keio University, and participating in a Web performance being produced by Scott Rosenberg (of NY, formerly of SF). The web performance will include artists on 4 or 5 continents. I will represent Japan (if I can get the technical part together). Imagine that. A gaijin representing Japan! In addition to all of that, I am trying to finish some recording projects and begin some others. I have done a little bit of work on the illusive solo CD I've been promising to finish for years, and I've recorded some new work (which might be included on it.) I'm also embarking on a recorded duets project with several Tokyo-based artists, which I will complete in San Francisco. And, I'm supposed to find another subletter.for the apartment I've been living in. (Anybody want to come to Japan next month? (Click here to see apartment photos.)


It's definitely bitter-sweet. There are things at home I can't wait to see and experience, and there are things here I can't bear to leave. And I'm now in the insane process of trying to find appropriate gifts for people who have been good to me and o-miyage (souvenirs) to bring home to friends and loved ones. And my Japanese teachers have begun giving me things! My friends warned me about this. It started small. A fan. Some postcards. A picture of a Geisha. But, after asking one of my teachers where I might find a certain kind of tabi (japanese footwear with the separate big toe- like a mitten) she pressed me for my size and bought me a pair. Then, this week, another teacher gave me a kimono! I said, "You can't. This is too expensive." She said "No, it's very old". I said "But your're daughter-- don't you want to give it to your daughter?" "I don't have any daughters. Only sons." And we went back and forth this way until I accepted from her this lovely old kimono that was her mother's. I'm afraid of what will be bestowed on me next week! And I had thought a little box of Japanese sweets was going to suffice…

My Kimono


Things I'll miss when I leave:

Things I won't miss:

Well, I could go on forever making these lists. It's kind of fun (for me, anyway, perhaps its tedious for you!). But I better sign off. I don't know whether I'll scare up enough energy to write another update before I return home, but if not- I'll see you in a month! Or, I'll write you sometime after that to tell you I made it home safely, with all my o-miyage, kimonos, posters, fans, and endless stories to tell…



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