published December 8, 1995
Cover Image by Tomiyama Taeko
Remembering and representing Japan’s colonial and war history have been central themes in the work of 74-year-old Japanese artist Tomiyama Taeko for the last three decades. Of necessity, finding the space, vocabulary of images and means of representation that would allow her to explore what according to the artist are “five taboos” in Japan’s art world – the emperor system, colonialism, war responsibility, sexism and ‘Asia’ – has also been a political act. Her work invites and challenges us to traverse uncharted regions of war history, particularly the geography of Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea; as we move through the “memory-scapes” of each series of her works, we encounter the spirits, visages and the voices of those who were made victims of these geo-political conquests and conflicts. Through devoting herself to the invention of a “gaze” that is both self-reflexive and anti-colonialist, Tomiyama has sought through her art to give form and voice to those whose very existence has been all but erased from “official” history. —Rebecca Jennison, Silenced by History
The times are calamitous, and it is scarcely less frightening to look back than forward. A horrific earthquake turns the world upside-down. A fire cuts a huge swathe through one of the world’s great cities, and no one will ever know exactly how many have perished. You are not safe in your neighborhood, nor even in your home, as heavily armed gangsters battle for turf, apparently with the connivance of the authorities.
The belief that air power can and should be used to end ground wars has a deadly durability. The firing of sixty-plus Japanese cities, razing about 40 per cent of their built-up area, seems crude and barbaric compared to the digital accuracy of the 1991 Gulf War but the Iraq attack was no different. It was based on the same strategic principle of obliteration by overkill, terror by intent, using new-generation technology.
Anyone who has been living in Japan this year could not have failed to notice how much attention the Aum cult, the anniversary of World War Two, and the debate over reforming the constitution have been receiving in Japanese society. However, what has been missing from the public debate is an effort to understand the coincidence of these three issues emerging together. I would like to assume that nothing is merely chance or strange coincidence. These issues have come out of a common history and culture, and their simultaneous occurrence should be understood as a whole.
In 1937, a handsome 50-year-old Swedish bachelor came to Tokyo as his country’s official representative. He acquired an understanding of Japan and its culture not normally expected of diplomats, and some years later when high-ranking Japanese officials schemed behind the nation’s military leaders to initiate peace feelers with the Allies, Widar Bagge was approached to act as a secret intermediary.
Kobo Daishi wrote much about Buddhism but little about himself. In one of his books, he said that when he meditated at Cape Muroto, the morning star appeared in the sky. Japanese Buddhists think this means he became enlightened while doing the Morning Star Meditation in a cave called Mikura-do. It overlooks the sea near the cape.
The greatest blow to the machiya came on January 17, 1995 — the morning of the Great Hanshin Earthquake. While the consideration that architecture is ephemeral runs deep in the Japanese psyche (all the way from the ten-square foot hut in the Hojoki, through war and conflagrations, to contemporary architects who strain to make buildings appear impermanent), this was clearly a different scenario. With frightening force, the earthquake pounded older wooden structures to the ground, making it obvious even to the staunchest preservationist that it was time for a more reasoned approach to older buildings in Japan. The Hanshin Earthquake may well mark the end of nostalgia for Japanese traditional urban fabric; it undoubtedly marks the beginning of a new challenge for Kyoto’s machiya.
I came to Japan from the old country over twenty years ago with no intention of being an immigrant; I was just a traveler who stopped. Like age, immigrancy was upon me before I knew it. I am the first generation of my family to visit Japan, let alone live here. My wife, who is Japanese, is about the 900th generation of her family to live here. Our children therefore are second generation immigrants and about 901st generation natives, which makes them thoroughly indigenous Nisei, and so extremely interesting in many respects. They are more Japanese than me, though less American, and less Japanese than my wife, though more American than her, and more international than either of us.
The Moon of Hoa Binh, by Larry Pensinger & Nha Trang — John Allen
Thank You and OK!: An American Zen Failure in Japan, by David Chadwick — Taigen Dan Leighton
The Turquoise Bee: The Lovesongs of the Sixth Dalai Lama, trans. Rick Fields & Brian Cutila — Morgan Gibson
Nikutaemo – Butoh Bilingual Journal, by Torikoshi Q. — Ken Rodgers
The Song in the Dream of the Hermit: Selections from the Kanginshu, trans. Yasuhiko Moriguchi & David Jenkins — Preston L. Houser