Entry #25 – Recent Artist Inspirations

Hi everyone, it’s Kohaku. I hope you all had a good week.

There’s certainly a lot of tension in the world right now – in all kinds of places, for all kinds of reasons. The U.S. and Iran, Iran and the Ukraine, Taiwan’s elections, Hong Kong, North Korea – just to name a few. I really wish that humans could just learn to love one another, to do away with war and violence, to tolerate and coexist. Do you think it’s possible? Can we save ourselves? I really wonder sometimes.

Anyway, as promised, I’m going to talk about my recent artist inspirations today. I think art is incredibly important for people to get in touch with their emotions and develop strong connections with each other. Art can teach us love and peace, tolerance and coexistence, creativity and sensitivity. So, I always try to continuously expose myself to new art and artists, and at the same time I make an effort to pay attention to what goes into my own art – whether that’s writing, photography, painting, or anything else.

Most of what I’ve been doing recently has to do with music. Here are the music artists that I’ve mainly been listening to recently.


~ YOHIO

I think YOHIO is incredible. His singing voice is great, in English and in Japanese, and the amount of effort and creativity he puts into his music videos always impresses me. He’s very young, too, and with the quantity and quality of the content he continues to put out, he’s quickly shaping up to be one of my favorite visual kei artists. I’m looking forward to his new album!


~ RADWIMPS

RADWIMPS never ceases to amaze me. Not visual kei, but I first got into them after watching 「君の名は。」 years ago, and have been steadily working through their discography since. From upbeat soft rock jams, to the annual introspective pieces based on 3.11 like 「夜の淵」 and 「カイコ」, their variety of songs and general style and lyrics really appeal to me. Recently I discovered some of their older songs, as well as a lot of songs I’ve just never listened to. I was stunned after viewing the music video for 「光」. It’s a great song, plus LGBTQ representation… there goes my heart. Here’s the MV below:


~ Yellow Fried Chickenz

I started listening to some of their songs again. I think YFCz was a really interesting band. I loved the diversity and quality of the members, and really enjoyed hearing dual vocals. Some of their songs sound a bit crazy, and it can seem sometimes like the musicians were really just fooling around and having a good time, but then out of nowhere they’ll hit you with a tragic heartthrob like 「Mata koko de aimashou」… Look that one up. The video makes me cry!


~ Kiyoharu / Kuroyume

Most recently, I’ve been listening to Kuroyume and vocalist Kiyoharu’s solo works. I love his voice, and the overall sound and style of the band. I can’t say anything much more than that yet, since I haven’t listened to very much for very long, but I’ll be working through their discography in the coming weeks. Kind of late to the party, but it’s never too late for music!


That’s all I can think of for right now really. I want to keep finding more artists to listen to, as well as diving deeper into the works of the artists I already love. How about you all? Who have you been watching, reading, or listening to recently? What’s going into your art?

Take care of yourselves. Lots of love and be at peace.

KT

Last Night ~2019~

on this final moonlit night
we look back and ask ourselves:
where are we?
who have we become?
and now, where are we going?

dozens of years have come and gone,
and here we are at the edge of dawn
with what?
can you see?
having locked our memories in chests full of blood,
we can no longer hear our own children’s screams –
how stupid can we be!
thinking we can put a face to tragedy –
as if humans ever understood humanity.
to what we have done, no thing can compare,
and we continue to do it on a childish dare,
putting up fronts of sincerity and sadness,
spray painting over our internal madness.
this world…
a cold desert with no horizons,
no longer a place of life –
it’s a meaningless battleground!
but, after all,
darkness is not something
unknown to man.
you always knew this…
I love you all, but it’s beyond my control –
humanity is determined to rip apart my soul.

day after day, I watch
waiting for the world
to transform into a rose –
perhaps, a rainbow…
tracing your outline over and over again,
my tears become the gentle rain.
you always knew what I didn’t…
we’re burning in the light of day,
living our lives without a say,
still struggling to find the way,
and I know I don’t belong here –
but I’m forced to share this dream.

the world I tried to find
never existed in my time…
so condemned for eternity,
I forever watch this path.
still, chasing the horizon
that will never end for me,
I will close my eyes and say,
“I will not give up hope today.”
your parting words grace my lips
there’ll be no war today, I think –
it’s our love after all.

can we believe in an impossible world?
I can’t live without it…
but tonight I understand that it’s only a dream –
one we can’t reach, one still too extreme.
her whispered words
“you won’t live to see that day”
so I walked without a future…
well, to sprout and bloom and die,
maybe this too is our life.
just like you before me
I know that I’m not here to stay,
but at least I can say I’ve tried –
now, I’m searching for a place to die
just waiting for the right time.

but in that single instant I –
I can only think of you…
I call out for a love that
was never mine to cherish,
reaching out for the days we shared
and the tomorrows we left behind.
promising “one day, someday, some time…”
in the future one of us lacked.
if only they would let us live…
so you said –
can you feel it?
time is slowing down for you
so that you can smile again…
what words!
humanity wasn’t fair to you,
and unfortunately you were human too –
and yet you see that I love you
because our hearts just grew and grew
together, we bend their definitions
expanding what it means to be alive.
was this all not worth it in the end?

someday, the world will understand me
and we can live as we were meant to be –
but right now, in our shared dream,
we are still struggling,
searching for the words to say,
words that might still change the world someday.
at least, for today
we look into each other’s eyes
and we say, “we will not go.”
we say “this is not the end.”
we say, on this day of endless dawn,
the sun will rise again.
this goodbye is not forever…
we will meet again.


Happy New Year, everyone. Lots of love to our one global humanity. Let’s make a good 2020, together.

KT

Paper Cranes Progress Update

Hi, everyone.

As we near the end of summer, I’m just about finished with this bag of paper cranes. These are all the color patterns within the red and orange stacks, minus a few that will be coming along soon. I haven’t counted, but there’s probably a few hundred in there! Now, what to do with them…?

I mentioned last time that I want to do a world peace project with my cranes, but I’m still not sure what it’s going to look like. Suggestions, anyone? Let me know in the comments or leave an email!

Take care. Everyone go make some art.

KT

on this eternal morning I

on this eternal morning I
listen to you breathe and cry
“it’s okay, it’s time now to let go…”
these whispered words are all I know
and yet…

and yet you see that I love you
because our hearts just grew and grew
together in this empty, dying world
we won’t show our flags unfurled
there’ll be no war today

blind to each other’s bodies we
shared our souls ‘till we could see
the meanings of “now you and I”
the hallowed ground where you now lie
it’s beauty, after all

fading slowly back into the light
the moon protests our global fight
“night and day both give no place…”
I’ll follow now the dream you chased
it’s precious, after all

still reaching for the sunrise I
will close your eyes and gently sigh
a tinge of burning passion felt
maybe revenge would my heart melt
and yet…

and yet you see that I love you
because our hearts just grew and grew
together in this empty, dying world
we won’t show our flags unfurled
there’ll be no war today

there’ll be no war today, I think
it’s our love after all


Dedicated to the memory of all the thousands of people affected by the U.S. September 11 attacks

And to all those who still stand up for one loving, global humanity.

Looking towards a world at peace… someday.

KT

Entry #4 – Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli, and Art as a Tool for Activism

Hi! Kohaku here. I hope everyone had a great week.

Recently I have been rewatching the works of Hayao Miyazaki. If you haven’t heard of him before, Miyazaki is a very famous Japanese animator, screenwriter, and director usually associated with Studio Ghibli (My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, etc.). I’ve said this before, but I basically grew up on Studio Ghibli and not Disney. I like to revisit Ghibli films now and then, and every time I do this I always end up thinking about the power of Miyazaki’s work and their continued (and perhaps increasing) relevance to modern day. I thought I’d use this week’s journal entry to talk about that.

Here are some reasons why I respect and admire the stories Miyazaki has chosen to tell, and why even the older ones are still important today.


Some minor spoilers below for the following films:

  • Princess Mononoke / もののけ姫
  • Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind / 風の谷のナウシカ
  • Ponyo / 崖の上のポニョ
  • Spirited Away / 千と千尋の神隠し
  • Castle in the Sky / 天空の城ラピュタ
  • The Wind Rises / 風立ちぬ
  • Grave of the Fireflies / 火垂るの墓
  • Tales from Earthsea / ゲド戦記

He uses recurring themes of human greed, arrogance, and ignorance causing devastating environmental consequences, and environmentalist messages can be seen in almost all of his work.

These themes are pretty obvious in some Ghibli films. Princess Mononoke, for instance, focuses strongly on how humans wage war on and exploit the environment, and reinforces a moral of living in balance with nature instead. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind essentially imagines a post-apocalyptic world in which many humans still continue to destroy the planet, even though it’s so painfully obvious that they’re killing themselves along with it.

In other films, environmentalism isn’t so obvious or important, but it’s still there – in Ponyo, for example. It’s very heavily directed towards children, and the theme of the film isn’t necessarily the relationship between humans and the environment… but it kind of is. Scenes in the movie show tons of trash floating on the ocean and on the beach, and Ponyo’s father consistently reiterates that nature is out of balance. Now, part of the imbalance has to do with Ponyo trying to become human and having too much power, but it also has to do with how humans are flooding the ocean with things that aren’t supposed to be there.

I think films with messages like these are so important, and are getting increasingly important as we learn to face the realities of climate change and own up to our mistakes with how we’ve dealt with nature in the past. Moving forward, we have to clean up after ourselves and learn how to live sustainably, in balance, without any of the greed and arrogance that has historically consumed us. Miyazaki uses incredible animation and storytelling to convey these important lessons to people of all ages and especially children, the younger generations who will have to bear the double burden of the consequences of environmental destruction and the necessitated responsibility of fighting it.

Many of his films have a strong pacifist sentiment.

Most of Miyazaki’s protagonists spend much of their movies pleading for peace and trying to show others that war isn’t the answer. Sometimes, that’s about war against the environment; other times, it’s about humans fighting wars against each other.

The Wind Rises follows Jiro Horikoshi, who laments that while all he wants to do is design beautiful airplanes, people take his planes and use them to kill each other in war. In Castle in the Sky, Sheeta tries to teach a crazed man that the world needs love, not war, and prevents him from launching Laputa’s equivalent of a WMD. And don’t get me started on Grave of the Fireflies

Some Ghibli films tackle human-human wars as well as human-environment wars. Take Princess Mononoke. Most of the film is centered on the protagonist, Ashitaka, struggling to make peace between the people of Iron Town and the spirits of the forest. But Ashitaka is also trying to make peace between the people of Iron Town and the samurai who attack them. In Nausicaa, the title character tries to make peace between humans everywhere and the giant insects in the expanding toxic jungle… but she’s also trying to make peace between the various people who come from Tolmekia, Pejite, and the Valley of the Wind.

At the end of the day, almost all of Miyazaki’s films are pleading for peace in all its forms, and I think this is incredibly important. As we continue to develop more terrible weapons, as we continue to start wars, as we continue to see a rise in acts of mass violence… the lessons taught by Studio Ghibli serve as very powerful reminders that we need to learn how to be at peace, or soon we won’t exist.

In his films, people/spirits/etc. generally aren’t bad or evil “by nature.” They become evil as a result of greed, arrogance, and ignorance – other’s, or their own.

In Princess Mononoke, Ashitaka’s journey begins when he gets cursed by the demon Nago. Although Nago appears to be incredibly destructive and terrible, we soon learn that he was originally a boar god, and he became corrupted when a human shot him with a rifle and the bullet lodged in his body. In Spirited Away, the spirit No-Face is originally quiet and calm, but he turns into a hungry, destructive, rampaging monster after being corrupted by the greedy atmosphere of the bathhouse in which he stays.

Miyazaki’s works always underline the fact that the problem isn’t some distant, vague evil – it’s greed and arrogance, usually on the part of humans, and it needs to end.

On a similar note, protagonists and antagonists in his films tend to be complex. They aren’t always purely good or purely evil, and there isn’t always a strong “good vs. bad” mentality. Sometimes antagonists aren’t even present or are hard to name.

In Princess Mononoke, the leader of Iron Town, Lady Eboshi, commits a lot of the environmental destruction in the film. However, she also empowers women and provides a refuge for lepers, who are rejected by society, and she gives them work and food and a place to stay. In Tales from Earthsea, directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son, the protagonist Arren essentially starts off by murdering his dad, and spends the rest of the film fighting a side of himself that thirsts for violence.

Rather than painting a picture of the world as black-and-white, Ghibli films emphasize that reality is complex, that people can be both good and bad, and that “good” and “bad” are actually extremely ambiguous. I think this is also a very important lesson for people to learn.

He often tells stories of strong female protagonists that are intelligent, complex, human, and aren’t limited to their relationships with men.

This has always amazed me about Miyazaki’s work. Strong female protagonists (and antagonists) that are portrayed well are relatively rare. Most female main characters are written into the story simply by linking them to male characters, and their whole lives apparently revolve around guys (their boyfriends, their dads, etc.). Appearances and relationships are usually over-emphasized. Sometimes, female main characters are too perfect, so much so that they’re totally unrealistic. Other times, they’re portrayed as utterly stupid or lacking, so much so that they’re also totally unrealistic.

But Studio Ghibli conveys its female characters in a much more accurate way. They’re human. They’re self-possessed, capable of critical thinking and decision making. They have big things to say about the environment and war and inhumanity. They’re rational and emotional. They make mistakes sometimes, and other times they save the world. Their lives don’t revolve around guys, and even though many Ghibli films have or hint at a love interest, that’s not the point of the film.

I think accurate, human portrayal of female main characters is another important aspect of Miyazaki’s work, and I’m really grateful for it.


Having said all that, I’m not going to force you to go watch a Ghibli film if you don’t want to. But this week, maybe think about the movies you like to watch and the movies you grew up on. Why do you like them? What lessons do they teach, and do you think those lessons are important for people to learn today? I’m always going on about art as a tool for activism. If you like movies that are good just for the sake of being good, that’s okay, but I prefer movies that use their goodness to encourage or advocate for something larger – like environmentalism or peace or empowering minorities. Movies that can do that while still being incredibly enjoyable, despite or perhaps because of the lessons they teach, are insanely amazing to me.

Anyway, please think about it, and as always, take care of yourself.

KT

Entry #3 – No More. We’re Done.

Hi, Kohaku here. I hope everyone had a great week.

The past few days have been hard, don’t you think?

Right now we are dealing with the aftermath of several mass shootings in the US: Gilroy, California at the end of last month, and back-to-back shootings last weekend in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas. These have been covered a lot by local media. Please look them up, if you haven’t heard about them. There are also many other horrific events that haven’t been covered as much, in part because they are all too normal nowadays. Meanwhile the protests in Hong Kong rage on, typhoons and heat waves batter Southeast Asia (and other parts of the world), and tensions between Japan and South Korea are incredibly high…

This week, we also passed the 74th anniversary of the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

To honor the over one-hundred thousand people who died, as well as all those who still live, I spent this week writing and posting a series of poetry based on these events. I was having a hard time reconciling how little progress we seem to have made since then. Here are the poems in order, if you haven’t read them all:

Perhaps, I should make my thoughts and intentions more clear… Yes, I perfectly understand that Japan and Japanese people did some very terrible things during the war. Particularly because I am Taiwanese, I know this very well. But America also did some very terrible things during the war. Every country did. Please, I am tired of people trying to evaluate history through the lens of “which side had the moral high ground?” I am tired of people saying, “well, Japan did this, so that justified America doing that.” Please stop trying to say that one side or one action was more just or ethical compared to another. It may well be, but it’s too late for that now.

This week, it is not the individual countries and their actions that I condemn. What I condemn is war. What I condemn is the mistakes of humanity as a whole, our willingness to destroy ourselves, our willingness to drop atomic bombs on each other and kill thousands of people in a single instant. What I condemn is our failure to learn from the past, our failure to get rid of our nuclear weapons after seeing how terrible they can be, our desire to keep making more and more weapons that are many times more powerful, many times more horrible, in the name of ‘global power’ and ‘national security’…

Tell me, how can anyone be safe in a world where almost 14,000 nuclear weapons still exist?

And how can anyone be safe in a world where weapons of war can be legally possessed by civilians roaming the streets?

The atomic bombings may have been seventy-four years ago, but they are still very, very real today. Every time there is a war, every time we are brought to the brink of one, every time there is a mass shooting or bombing or arson, part of me is angry, and another part is incredibly sad. We should have learned long, long ago that humanity cannot live like this. But we still haven’t learned. Even the atomic bombings could not teach us. So what can? What now?

No more war. No more nukes. I am tired of this. We are one global community, and we have to start acting like it, or we’re done.

This week, communicate with your loved ones, your friends, your family. Talk to them and listen to them and hear them out, even if you had an argument, even if you disagree with what they’re doing, even if you can’t bear their political beliefs. Stay close out of love and hope for peace. And together, teach your children – and each other – to value life. Human life, and non-human life. Your own life, and the lives of those different from you. If we are to survive and be happy, we cannot continue making the mistakes of the past.

As always, take care of yourself.

KT

A Single Star-Filled Sky

As the darkness sets in I gaze up at the sky,
Wishing I had the ability to fly –
But I don’t even know where it is that you are,
So where would I head, for how long and how far?
The light is fading, and without you I’m stuck here,
But strangely tonight this produces no fear;
Just counting the bombs like I would count passing cars,
Knowing that you and I are now seeing the same stars.

On the other side of the horizon line,
You live in a world that’s no better than mine,
Full of clumsy creatures who act without thinking,
Who commit acts of destruction without even blinking.
They say that two minuses are supposed to make a plus,
So should we let two countries war without making a fuss?
I love you all, but it’s beyond my control –
Humanity is determined to rip apart my soul.

Dozens of years have come and gone,
And here we are at the edge of dawn,
Repeating ourselves like a song on replay,
Crawling desperately toward the end of the day.
The ground cracks open beneath my feet,
You wrap your child in a bloodstained sheet,
They whisper “I’m sorry” and pretend to care,
While celebrating nothing but death and despair.

Gazing at the same sea of stars, you and I,
We wonder how quickly our time will fly,
Praying we’ll live long enough to see
A world where love will be finally set free.
But tonight I understand that it’s only a dream –
One we can’t reach, one still too extreme.
I hoped we would meet in the future some day –
But tonight I am dying, so alone we will stay.

It’s Not Just Violence

Photo by Kaique Rocha on Pexels.com

When people do not listen
When people do not care
There are those who
In their desperation
Turn to violence
Fighting to make themselves heard
And this is too easily met
With condemnation –

But there are also those who
Within their desperation
Find steadily more ingenious methods
Of peacefully expressing their pain
Whether it is through rallies
Or Airdropped leaflets
Or post-it note walls…

To meet violence and discrimination and tragedy
With peace and voice and human creativity
Takes a special kind of bravery,
I think…

But to fight is also brave,
And to those who thoughtlessly condemn protest violence
To those who use violence in return
I wish you would first imagine
How much suffering they must be going through
To be willing to risk their lives
To be willing to hurt other human beings
And for what?

There is a difference
Between violence born out of pain
And violence born out of hatred.

There is a difference
Between saying carelessly, “no more fighting”
And begging after careful evaluation, “world peace” –

Because empathy and compassion
May save us all
But society continues to strip them away…

So,
One day…


Dedicated to the Hong Kong extradition bill protestors,
And all those who suffered at Yuen Long and elsewhere…

Paper Cranes

Hi! Today I would like to share some art that is not based in writing. Here is a string of forty paper cranes that I just made!

Paper cranes can represent peace, luck, transience, and happiness, and legend has it that if you make 1000 cranes, whatever wish you have will be granted! I like to make strings of cranes to give out to my friends and other people who are important to me.

I’m thinking of starting a paper crane project to support world peace, though I haven’t yet decided what it will entail. What do you think?

Hoping everyone has a great day.

Happy 50th Birthday, Sugizo

Here’s a birthday tribute for another musician I really like!

Fifty years old today, Sugizo plays lead guitar and violin and sings backing vocals for visual kei rock bands Luna Sea and X Japan. He also works with several other groups and is a renowned solo artist. He’s absolutely brilliant on the violin, and he does charismatic guitar improv on stage. His recent experiments into electronic-type music are also great, and I love his latest studio album Oneness M which features a different vocalist on each track. The video below, uploaded by Youtuber Daniel Branco, is track five, “Meguriaerunara,” on which Sugizo collaborated with vocalist Teru from the rock band Glay. Give it a listen:

Besides his music, Sugizo is also very well-known for being an activist for environmental sustainability, world peace, and human rights. Many celebrities, in Japan and elsewhere, don’t express their views on these issues and try not to get involved in anything that might be political or controversial; however Sugizo is not afraid to express his thoughts on what is important to him and what he believes should be important to all of us. Among other activist events, he has frequently participated in Peace on Earth and Earth Day Tokyo, and recently he powers his guitars and equipment on hydrogen fuel cells. He was also part of Sakamoto Ryuichi’s “No More Landmines” campaign, project Stop Rokkasho, and Greenpeace’s campaign to stop whaling in Japan. Further, he has been involved with volunteer and memorial work for the victims of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, and he has performed various times at camps for Syrian and Palestinian refugees.

What I admire most about Sugizo is how he consistently uses his art as a tool for activism. This can be seen in many of his songs such as “Enola Gay,” “Pray for Mother Earth,” and “No More Machine Guns Play the Guitar,” which I quoted previously in my post Stop the Killing. His work pushes me to use my writing, music, and artwork to advocate for the issues that matter to me.

If you like violin, or even if you haven’t listened to violin very much, here’s Sugizo’s beautiful performance of “Synchronicity” at a 2008 concert, uploaded by Youtuber EINxSOF:

Give some of his music a listen and see what you think! Happy 50th birthday, Sugizo – keep on doing what you do best, inspiring your fans to stand up for what is right.