As I went through the entrance of the Christchurch Art Gallery, I was greeted by the gigantic picture of…
I was there for the opening of the “Things That Shape Us” exhibition that began yesterday on 24 July.
As those who know me will know, I am a very private person and do not always enjoy “publicity”.
I am aware that it is a necessary evil to keep doing what I love to do, which is to devote my life to rakugo until my very last breath, but it did make me feel a little uneasy and exposed if I’m to be honest.
But I was there to witness the story that my creative partner Fiona Amundsen and I wanted to tell through our work “An Ordinary Life”.
This work is based on actual and imaginary dialogues with my late grandfather, who was a witness of the bombing of Nagasaki.
Before I talk about this work, I’d like to be clear that it is NOT our attempt to victimise Japan or Japanese; I am deeply ashamed of our colonial past and what my ancestors did particularly to other Asian and Pacific nations.
It is our attempt to capture something universal, regardless of our race, nationality, belief, or religion, through my personal experience with my grandfather whom I deeply adored and respected.
It is a very personal account that is now open to the public.
My grandfather was an unconventional man for his generation.
He turned an artist (calligrapher/ shakuhachi, bamboo flute master), a teacher, a pacifist, and even a feminist after the war.
He was the funny grandpa who always made people laugh even in the toughest of circumstances.
He was a flamboyant man and…
a very bad driver.
He was an excellent liar, too.
He had hidden most of his experiences in Nagasaki where he lost his father and siblings.
Very, very well.
Until his departure.
The inspiration for this work came when my mother told me about his journals on his deathbed.
They were full of darkness.
My mother destroyed all of the journals “to protect his honour”, and I was told what was written in there very selectively.
This made me want to know who this funny, cultured man really was.
I don’t even remember why, but Fiona and I talked about where my grandfather would be now before the opening.
My answer was, “He must be still on this side of the Sanzu River” (in the limbo state, somewhere between the worlds of the dead and the living, in the Japanese worldview).
At 4:00PM, all the artworks were blessed by karakia (Māori prayer).
Fiona said something like “Your grandfather is now blessed through karakia”.
I felt like my grandfather had finally moved on, but I was not too sure.
That night I was woken up in the middle of the night by a strange sensation as if some form of transformation was taking place.
Like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon.
I was convinced that he had finally gone to the other side of the river and fallen asleep peacefully.
The next morning, I woke up to a text from my wife to tell me that our last remaining family member from the WWII generation had passed away.
Now all the family members who witnessed the war are gone.
A circle has been completed.
We must keep telling their stories on their behalf so that we will not repeat the same mistakes.
So that we will not lose our “ordinary life” that, after all, matters the most.
This year I’ve had an honour of working closely with a multi-talented artist, Fiona Amundsen.
About two months ago, our short film, which incorporates rakugo, the Aikido concept of “zanshin” (残心), and remembrance of WWII, was released on Asia New Zealand Foundation’s digital platforms.
This work was a part of “IN TOUCH arts commissions” by the foundation, and I feel very privileged to be a part of this project.
You can still view this film/ artwork, but before you watch it, I’d like you to know a few things:
My family’s experience in Nagasaki is only a personalised way of remembering our mistakes as humanity as a whole. I am deeply ashamed of what my Japanese ancestors did to many Asian nations and others, and this is no way our attempt to victimise Japanese.
It is our way of finding the universal message of peace in the ordinary, everyday things.
Part 1 is very dark and many may give up watching the rest, but Part 2 has some humour in it based on my own experience with my grandfather. But Part 2 only makes sense if you watch Part 1…
I decided to write this first because someone who probably hadn’t watched the work nor read the interview commented as below on the foundation’s SNS:
“Great idea! Let’s remember Nanking, Rangoon, Singapore, Jakaraka [sic], Port Moresby, and many many others too shall we?”
This work was created to do exactly that!
Here is the link to our work. You can also find our interviews on the page. Some of the super intellectual comments are by Fiona 😁
Thanks to my voice issues, I’ve been finding my creative outlet in writing this week. Hope you are not sick of reading my version of War and Peace.
The title today is a…
but I am telling you more about the film project that I mentioned in another post.
It is an Asia New Zealand Foundation funded film project, and it will be directed by the dangerously talented film director/ academic extraordinaire, Fiona Amundsen.
This will probably become one of the most important works in my life as a rakugo performer and a human being.
It is all Fiona’s concept, and I just happen to be someone with the knowledge and skills that she needs to complete her project.
As a film director, an aikido practitioner, and a good human being who understands the utter stupidity of war, she came up with a concept to combine the remembrance/ reminder of the mistakes humans committed in WWII, the aikido concept ofZanshin, and the Japanese traditional storytelling of rakugo.
We connected closely especially because of our stance on war, and we have decided to create something that would hopefully show better options for fellow humans.
As some of you may know, I lost my great grandfather and other family members in Nagasaki, and my grandpa and great uncle were both hibakusha.
So I have a very strong reason to get involved in a project like this.
We have just started working together yesterday, so I thought this is a good time to let you know.
For those who want to know more about this project, please read Fiona’s interview. It was written for Tokyo Biennale, but we are trying to create the New Zealand version of this film/ installation.
Hi all, Eishi here! Hope you are doing well, wherever you are on this beautiful planet!
I will be updating this blog regularly from now on as I have a lot of time in my hands at the moment 🙂
Today I’d like to share about CliniClowns Japan.
They are a group of clowns who visit sick children and sometimes adults, often with terminal illnesses, to bring humour and smile to the otherwise stifling environments they are in.
If you have watched the movie “Patch Adams”, you know what they do (though the real Patch is actually a doctor as well).
They are also called “caring clowns”, “clown doctors”, etc. depending on which part of the world you are from.
As some of you may know, I was initially trained as a clown myself. My initial goal was to become a clown doctor.
However, caring clowning was not yet recognised in 2003 when I completed my training in Japan. Then, I moved to New Zealand, and this dream was completely forgotten. (But I have realised that whatever I do I am a clown anyway- once a clown, always a clown 🙂 )
I recently learned that my closest friend from the clowning school became a clown doctor. He’s been traveling all over the world with a simple aim of cheering people up. Truly a beautiful human being.
Anyway, he is a part of “CliniClown Japan”, and they have just started a YouTube channel. Please follow them to increase their visibility! It is the people like them who need to be recognised in this world in the process of healing!