Video: Japanese Traditional Dance: Awa Odori – 阿波踊り

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Japan is a festival land.

There are many festivals throughout the year, some national, some regional, with most having ties to communal and/or ethnic memory and traditions that have long become non-ethnic and homogenized in Japan’s march toward joining the world community of nations.

Today, many young Japanese are only beginning to learn that Okinawa ‘may have not been’ a version of a Japanese identity, or that the Buraku and the Ainu people exist, or that Zainichi Koreans have had a precarious relationship to the Japanese nation in relation to what the mainstream has been taught.

Like most first-world nations today, National Festivals and associated dances have their origins in communities resisting the onslaught of the nation-builders, dominant clans that would massacre them and keep them controlled. Now they are part of a ‘mosaic’ of ‘traditional Japanese’ dances and festivals, where before, they may have been resisting that ‘Japanese’ identity, which comes from an amalgamation, like other national identities, of particular groups of allied ethnicities and clans.

Many festivals have their origins in religious or post-war and post-battle strategies of appeasement toward certain communities after battle.  Other festivals have roots in religious ceremonies in relation to the natural cycles of life or to honor gods and goddesses, while others have links with farmers and fishermen and bounty.  Still others are ceremonies of survival and empowerment. In more than a few instances, they are a combination of these named situations, and more.

Many of these meanings have lost their focus in modern Japan.  Most of the festivals and dances, of course, have needed to keep up with urbanization and modernization.  This also includes Japan’s notion of itself as a homogenized, unified nation of a single people.  The ‘other,’ then, are named legally other in laws and are distinctly excluded from nation, through micro-regulations, etc, much like most other nations of our present world.

Consequently,  these beautiful dances, are sometimes left to signify and represent ‘artistic beauty’ or exoticism and entertainment, merely a personal ‘fun’, perhaps. Many of these dances have their origins in Okinawa, Kagoshima, and from the Ainu, and/or other areas and communities that were nationalized through colonization in earlier times (and ongoing today as ‘minority’ communities). Many elders and well-thought younger persons, who have significant memory and links to what has been lost and what it has cost to maintain these dances and songs, feel these motions and tones, music and forms in a way much deeper than how most mainstream Japanese today may feel them.  Put another way: Japanese may be proud of these festival dances, and may even revere these traditions, but understand them as only a singular “Japanese” tradition from sometime long ago, through homogenized singular national ethnic myths or national versions of wars fought and natural disasters, stripping them of the uniquely diverse and possibly terrifying and most often empowering histories that point to people and communities that are not even recognized or trivialized.

In nations as old as Japan, what pre-figured (existed before) a “Japan,” is inside of these traditions. They are now considered ‘preserved Japanese traditions.’  In this way, it is a way for the people in the present, to feel their continuities and ancient histories, even though they are merely named ‘Japanese’ in the modern era.  Thus, a “Japanese-ness” could be crafted by way of naming these festivals and songs and dances, as ‘traditions of nation.’  They are, and they are not.  They may also signify resistance to nation, by communities and clans and ethnicities that were eventually assimilated into the Japanese nation.  For this reason, it is important that these traditions are preserved and empowered.

This video is of an excellent performance group performing in August of 2012.

This style of dancing is called ‘Awa Odori’ 阿波踊り.   The Awa Festival is a 3-day festival celebrated on Shikoku in Japan, in August, as one of the hundreds of events celebrating O-Bon  お盆 (National Buddhist Festival honoring the Dead). Awa, is the old term from the middle ages, naming what is today–Tokushima prefecture. This style of dancing is believed to have begun in the late 1500s.

A fairly good overview of the Awa dance and festival is at wikipedia.

Today, most watch the thousands of trained dancers in parades through the streets.  Originally, Everyone in the community would dance together.  Today, most people feel too embarrassed to dance or say they ‘can’t’ (internalized oppression in the nation-state).  People listen to and watch these dancers in parades and in one or more the hundreds of performances on the streets and in entertainment halls.  There are, however, many smaller celebrations where some choose to participate themselves, accompanied by the traditional instruments (flute, shamisen, bells, taiko drums).

When history is lost and manipulated by various forces in nation-making, ideas become contested along the lines of haves and have-nots, and what is ‘best for the nation.’  When reading histories of the Awa-Odori, its religious and communal roots and relations to nations are fairly clear, yet bring up many questions and silences.

In any case, this performance of Awa-Odori by this group is wonderful.  The clip contains short snippets of a few of the performances, where one can see the beauty of this form of Japanese dance.  Each hand gesture, finger movement, leg and foot movement, degree of bending and leaning, signifies something.  One can see the elements of nature (mountains, wind, oceans, etc.) in these movements and gestures.

I always remember these dances from childhood and remember them as more than just something ‘pretty.’  There is history in these dances, no matter how urbanized and nationalized and homogenized they are.  They retain that spark of beauty, grace, and some of its original forms.

Video Trailer: ”Tokyo Ainu 東京アイヌ”

The Ainu people are a people who have inhabited the northern regions of Japan and what might be called Russia by some, as well as the areas now disputed, between Japan and Russia.  The Ainu are a caucasian group who were, as per the everyday norm of today’s most well-known nations, displaced and killed (physically, or culturally/spiritually) and assimilated (which to me, are all forms of killing in some way), what nations do to those who are different to create a “majority.”

This new documentary focuses on the Ainu people who are living in Japanese cities.  In this documentary, the focus is on those living in Tokyo.

Revolution – by Junko Nishi, Japanese woman poet

Revolution

by Junko Nishi

Since the images you demand

cling to me

I cannot form my own image.

I am forced to live

by your images,

I am always living like that,

[and] so

I understand

revolution is really body aching.

From Women Poets of Japan, edited by Kenneth Rexroth and Ikuko Atsumi. New Directions 1977, page 132.

Social Justice is not………..

Some people are confused……confused about “social justice” and what it is.

I am not seeking to define it.  I am seeking to carve some intelligence into the word, term, concept, action.

So much of the US notion of social justice is from within the reality of living in the Empire.

It is a crumbling empire, no less.  But it is empire.

When Americans think of people who are “activists,” they think of a whole array of people who seem to be shouting out for things that they feel are morally right, necessary, necessary for their particular concerns and people and political persuasion.

Disconnectedness—it is one of the main effects of extreme individualism.  Individualism, is different from empowered individuality.  Individualism is somewhat of an ideology, something made superior.

With US concerns for individual freedom, communities suffer.  Since most white people and wealthy people in the US, as well as a good portion of the middle class and the homeless, do not think of themselves as being part of any community, it even gets more precarious when working with struggling for a different world. The legal structure and the institutions in the US, provide legal freedoms to some degree, for individuals.  For groups, communities, there is very very very little, if any, recourse.  Case after case is thrown out in favor of 5000 individuals having to file individual claims to right a wrong done to a whole community.  In most cases, these individual cases are drawn out over years.  For the economic and social underclass, funds run out and energy is sapped and the three jobs they may have to go to becomes priority.  The cases become weaker.  Or the powers hire the attorneys that are high-powered and block any power that the underclassed individual may have.

Disconnected individuals (a fair amount of “normal” and not-so-normal people in the US especially–and increasingly in all first-world countries) tend to sabotage works and solidarities and political commitments that could be good for everyone, or at least a larger population of different kinds of people of differing socio-economic, ethnic, cultural, genders and sexual orientations, etc., feeding into division and conflict, violence and rupture.  They become “identities” which are separate from other “identities.”  So goes the ongoing disconnectedness. But I do think there are those forces that create these isolations need rupturing.

And when we speak of activism, those people wanting their “rights” to privileges, and the right to maintain them, are put on equal footing with those fighting for difference, for survival.  Fighting to MAINTAIN PRIVILEGES is NOT social justice.  Privilege and how it operates, makes invisible and priority, over those who have and are considered less, must be looked at and actions taken in regards to what is seen and realized, for a “social justice” to actually happen.  In other words, as many US Americans seek to access privileges of something that is defined as the “freedom to get, the freedom to be….” social justice is diminished because privileges cannot afford an “other.”

Here, we see the link between what many Americans call “Freedom” and the middle class ideals.  As I’ve mentioned before, people often confuse the access to middle-class, European elite (white), masculine and militarized material, emotional and spiritual values, as “freedom.”   Then this gets confused with “Liberation.”  Going on vacations, to “get away from reality” and “rest”—which are bourgeois leisure ideals made socially dominant as a desire in life by elites during the colonial days between the 17th to 19th centuries, becomes somewhat like the popular confusion about “liberation” these days.  Social liberation means, in this scenario, some kinds of escape.  And then guess what? Things deemed “in the way” of this escape, is deemed as some word exaggerated and confused with non-liberation.  We learn to block anything that stands in the way (or seen as standing in the way) of our disconnected and individualized freedom to escape, as needing to be disappeared, violated, jailed, tortured, maimed, stopped, killed.  Psychologically, culturally, intellectually, with the variety of arms and weapons of mind, heart and body that we have learned in the system of continual disconnection and valorized individuality (above solidarity, community, living with difference).

So in these ways of thinking and thrusts of behavior that I have mentioned above, social justice is suffering.  It is definitely not dead or gone.  It is in pain.  It is in pain because fewer and fewer people have the inclination, desire, time, and/or energy, to struggle with self and community enough.  Fewer and fewer people have the creative thinking enough to get out of the box that the Empire holds us in.  As the social-political forces that we have all internalized, confuse us and run our bodies as “spectacles” —as Guy Debord (December 1931-November 1994, French postmodern philosopher) has pointed to for us, we have a harder time interpreting the difference.

It is made worse by the crash of cultures, values, times and places that are incoherent.  Incoherence is NOT THE PROBLEM!!  It is our inability to not do violence to incoherence that is the problem!!!!  We incorporate, assimilate, violate, manipulate, imprison, sequester, make sick, make knowable–and therefore no longer that thing itself but our own other interpretation of that thing–person–place–time) that we create.  Now the world seems smaller and more alike.  Less diversity.

Put them away, make them criminals, make it hard on them, annihilate them, torture them, jail them, make them sick, control those people and those communities, feel sentimental about it after they are dead, it makes us good and holy.  On and on.  Refugees from ourselves—as we see refugees and the stateless, as if all of us were states.  It’s a joke. But we have definitely internalized the state.  There’s no escape.  How about starting with a realistic assessment and then assessing how we may do things differently?

The reactionary definition of “community,” in the eyes of many individualists, is that communities are like herds of cattle and animals, without minds, aimless and not able to think for themselves.  This dualistic notion of community has been developed through years and centuries of learning that the communities our ancestors killed or destroyed in order to create the wealthy “global” in favor of an individualism that was able to “capitalize” on making money for itself (not others).  And furthermore, when we try to make communities and join them (because we sense our loneliness, disconnectedness and isolation), we (US Americans) tend to get very very uncomfortable with the differences, the conflicts, the games, the political jostling, and general psychological violence that is practiced in groups, no matter how lofty.  If we don’t feel those things, it is usually because we have learned to ignore–or perhaps learned to become oblivious because no one is bothering “ME–THE INDIVIDUAL” and this asserts a “satisfaction” in the name of escaping the difficulty of being together with others of differences, and also the higher position of being alone and therefore “trouble-free.”  This is an illusion.

Mourning but knowing that there are so so many in this world who understand enough and care enough about this in the world, to begin steps and to empower toward social justice.  It is arduous and difficult and tedious, but must be done.  Individual heroes will be squashed.  Communities of difference, across different backgrounds of histories, etc. must learn to come together without the escape mechanisms we have all learned well.  Empowering toward social justice is tedious, arduous, precarious, uncertain, not attainable in a finality, but is a pathway that is immensely more loving than the loneliness of dieing in an old folks’ home somewhere in a desolate urban landscape. Some are working now and we must work together, learn how to.  The rest will most likely just wait for those few to do the work while they enjoy the fruits of empire, and maintain global injustice.

Race-Nation-Gender-Class-Nation: Forget it. Never Forget it

Pat Parker (1944-1989), poet, teacher and activist, wrote this poem: For the White Person Who Wants to Know How to Be My Friend  and had this wonderful line:

The first thing you do is to forget that i’m Black.
Second, you must never forget that i’m Black.

For any social difference that exists in any society, we can place it there, in the space of “Black.”   In any case, color-blindness, gender-blindness, mixed-space blindness, sexual orientation blindness, socio-economic class blindness, neighborhood blindness, body-size blindness, nationality blindness etc. etc. —  we have to pay attention to how quickly we may subsume, make invisible, refuse (ignore), make trivial, something that makes a difference.  Sameness is too valorized in the globalizing society.  It’s not about any particular choices we have in holding on and letting go—-because even this is an action and a series of action (holding or letting go, that is), that come from political positionings that rely on privilege, luck, ability, amount of trauma, fear, violence, and a host of other things that come from oppression and social constructions of society.

Let us not forget how completely and utterly different we are from each other.  This way, we truly understand diversity.  If we “understand,” then perhaps we do not understand difference at all.  We just consume, co-opt, and bring into our own history and culture and language and values, that OTHER.  This is a violence to that Other.

But in saying they are different, do we automatically become AFRAID?   Or do we automatically become ANGRY?  Do we automatically IGNORE?  Do we assume we can translate, communicate?   Yes we can communicate, but understanding its partiality is important.

Honor you.  Honor me.

In our difference.  Utterly different.  Utterly ourselves.  Yet somehow, we are related as humans, as that who has experienced pain.

Perhaps other things.  But do not assume equality.

Be human.

There . . . . . .  Can we allow difficulty, struggle, powerful connection and dissonance?

Ode to Happiness.

Middle class homes and graveyard in Birmingham, Alabama USA circa 1936. Courtesy of Library of Congress public domain phtographs.

You’ve escaped the best you can.  You wanted happy.  Happy.  Your life was sad and bad and cruel and cold.

So you grew to want happy happy happiness.  Along that road, your own culture and village and old ways were made to be stupid and old-fashioned and dumb and primitive.  So you grew to hold your own ways in contempt.  With loathing but with longing.  You remember with sadness and pain—ahhhhh the old ways of my grandmother and grandfather.  Oh well, life goes on.  You’ve learned to bury.

Let’s find and build a home!  Four walls, many separate rooms.  A car or two.  A fence to keep those “others” out.

Or perhaps you found a “commune,” with “like-minded” people who thought just like you.  Even though some of them molested you and entered you at night, you kept it secret in the name of the secret and not-so-secret wishes for happy happy happy.  It’s okay.  Bury those pains and dreams of those people.  They violated you.  They perhaps killed your sons and brothers and raped your mother and sisters.  You hold them in contempt.  Now they smile and they build you orphanages.

First they killed your parents.  Then they build your orphanages “for you” with a compassion.  It’s all over the news programs!  It must be true.  Our government and our leaders are compassionate and they want what’s best for us!  You wither in secret.  But outwardly you go to work everyday to do what everyone does.  Otherwise you would be homeless.

Happy.  You are happy.  You hold it superior.  If I cry you tell me I should see a therapist.  I cry for my ancestors and live with its weight.  Unlike you, perhaps, I cannot shake it off.  I come from their bodies and their struggle against their genocides.  And the superior people, privileged in their assimilation to privileged openings to technologies and banking and the hiding of their brutality in their loopholes and crevices of escape inside the laws they themselves write….create more suffering and blame it on my ancestors.  It is a weight.

Quit your crying they say.  I cry.  But I also rage.  Crying and rage move together to struggle for ethical concerns and meaningful democracies.  The Democracy that is the USA and Western Europe and Japan now, are a sham.  But everyone is now trying to escape.  Escape away from the unexamined actions that is their life.  Life.  Apparently we are all on our own.  Whatever we cry about is our own problem, even though the problems come from the socieities and the people assimilated closely to, and WANT TO ACCESS those escapes, those that want to move into the homes and have vacations.  And communes with like-minded unexamining.

Forget the dead.  Forget those destroyed by the machine that is now prevalent, disguised as happy happy happy.  Promising thing unfulfilled.  The most dangerous thing is our own minds, our own actions.  Especially when we congratulate ourselves.  Exploited, then made into disguising it as something not.

Then you tell us what to do.  You tell us the road to happiness.  Your happiness kills.  Your happiness is a history of lying and deception.  Your happiness is the amassing of resources that masks itself as providence, as mainstay, as supposed-to-be and supposed-to-not be–over and over and over.  Followers of happiness, never happy, just followers of promises that are unfulfilled.  I am happy, others should copy me–that’s what you say.  That is called “colonizer.”   Happiness is not my goal.  But you say it is.  Happy happy happiness.

Systems replaced by other systems.  Systems should be local and egalitarian.  This makes things messy.  You don’t want messy.  You want an order, a value system, an unexamined value system that continues to annihilate in the crevices that you have not thought through or care not to face.  Oh no, I’m not racist.  Oh no, I’m not heterosexist.  Oh no I’m a nice person, really.  The germs aren’t here.  Or perhaps you know that what you say disguises your real pain–your self-disgust, your disgust at your own culture.

The old ways are not promising either.  Babies with the bath-water.  Thrown, no CRUSHED away.  With glee and celebration like those after the Atomic bomb was dropped on Japan, or after the Malaria blankets were laid on the Native American children.  Oh but it’s for democracy, our great land.  Continual colonialism, disguised as:  “That’s that, it’s different from what I do.  I’m a good person.”

Who are you?  You say you’re happy.  Or you will be as soon as the others listen to what you have to say.  You know better. You are good.

You are happy happy happy.  House, children, cars, vacations, traveling into lands where people don’t want you or have been made to want you because it’s the only way your own government has made their lands–to be slaves to the tourists and foreigners.  See–they want me here, they need us.  That was made real, my friend.  It wasn’t an accident.  Open your eyes.  But all you care is that you’re happy and that happiness looks a certain way.   I get sick.

I don’t want your happiness.   I want life.

Songster Malvina Reynolds: It isn’t Nice

Singer-songwriter Malvina Reynolds (1900-1978), was a sensitive and powerful, straightforward singer-songwriter who wrote against the machine.  There are so many in this world, who are unaware or just don’t care enough, that we live in systems in this world.  Systems are created.  And for those people who do resist, a problem comes up:  the commodification and assimilation of resistance.

Writers such as Malvina Reynolds, understood this well, and sung against it.  Her songs have been sung by Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and featured as a theme song for the hit television show “Weeds.”  She sings to Americans and their easy willingness to think of themselves as “individuals” and “free” when in fact, there is so many brainwashing and levels of control.  There are forces that control us—especially, the ways in which we think: the contours, the frames, the terminologies and “natural” ways in which we think we are in the world, are given to us by the cultures into which we are born.  When we benefit from what is there, we rarely think of this as being brainwashed, being privileged, or being stupid.  We think that we are “free.”

And often, when people speak and relate to each other, we think we are “free” individuals that are “freely” expressing “our” freedom.  So-called.

Think about it people.

We develop.

We are grown in a culture or cultures.

We are grown in certain particular ways. When we say “human” and “humanity” — what is it are we referring to?  Who has the power to speak for everyone?

And does our own morality become automatically better than others?  And if ours is “better,” then what hierarchies are formed?  What allows a person or group, community, institution, state or nation-state, to allow, to ignore, to make, to create, to change, to resist, to create that through which we work, play, relax, “have fun,” react, fight, cling, let go, hide from, jump into, speak against, speak for?

I also understand that those sensitive to democratic ideals, will understand what I mean here.  Others could care less about democratic ideals.  Those others only care about being right and above, looking down and being happy.  Or ignoring and being “care free,” silently colluding with those who are happy with other’s downtrodden or less privileged, or suffering positions.  It’s usually the individualists who often think that it’s “those others” who have brought on what they have brought on themselves.  It is truly sad that those people who think this way, do not understand the contours and histories and development of such an “individualism.”  And it’s made stronger by resources, beliefs, institutions and others who may reinforce and protect our ideology.  Yes it’s an ideology.  Whenever one is not willing to re-think the suffering of others, or our refusal to think, then we should question that thought as an ideology implanted in us.

Malvina Reynolds speaks to many of these problems.  I include one of her songs, via video below, entitled: It Isn’t Nice.

I also include the lyrics to her song: It Isn’t Nice.

This song is particularly interesting to me, since it was BANNED IN JAPAN.  It was banned only in the Japanese translation, but not in the English version. Hmmm….. and make no mistake, there were people arrested and jailed for singing and or passing this song around, in the Japanese language.  Japan’s “peaceful” quality–which so many people I know believe in, hides the tremendous violence of suppression and bullying and marginalization that the so-called “civilized” countries practice.  Japan is one of the most brutal.  I am interested in this because I was born and partially raised there, and have Japanese background.  This doesn’t mean I hate Japan.  I love it, like I love the US.  This doesn’t retract from the violences that the US perpetrates.  And what I mean by “the US” doesn’t just refer to “those others” in governments or elsewhere.

I know that many people have barely heard of any political issues in Japan aside from the Atomic bomb of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Pearl Harbor of 1941, or geishas and samurai and manga and anime.  Japan has been a country built, as all other powerful nations (yes all), on suppression.  Smoke and mirrors, violence and hidden truths.  It is no secret.  And hello– it is not “natural.”  Those of us sitting on sidelines and just making it “natural” and therefore focused only on personal “success” and struggling to free oneself from something, have bought into this game and are just as much culprits as the elites who govern and make the contours and choices that we choose from and call “free.”   But I am not “against” these material or capitalist freedoms.  What I am against is that we spend too much time on these things at the cost of real freedoms and liberations, and democracy.  Democracy has been founded on exclusion and violence.  Democratic ideals are a constant struggle that we live every moment, everyday.  Democratic systems and nations have been built on genocide and marginalization.

The system creates enemies within and without, in order to valorize it’s own system. The system itself, doesn’t care about people.  It is created for itself to survive.  A system is created by people who benefit from that system.  Can you see it? The system is not out there, we live through it and with it.  How can we make new systems while we live in our current ones?  It must be.  We can never be truly outside of it.  Anyone who claims to be “outside” can claim this position if they, again, develop a colonizing, missionary-style mindset of “those people should follow us–we are right”  kind of thinking.  It is ugly and ultimately cold.  There are those who are naive enough to think that everyone who joins “us” will be “good” and those others are “bad.”  Does this sound familiar?   This kind of thinking does not take diversity into account.  It assumes that their own cultural and historical ways of thinking and ordering reality, is universal, cancelling out difference.  In order to create new societies, there must be negotiation and dialogue and struggle together, with difference, not  in spite of it.

Powerful countries, the media and educational systems and now the internet, play a large part in how we come to believe in “our” democracy, event though as a people and nation, it is no such thing.  However, it becomes difficult because there are “democratic elements” in our societies.  We have to recognize these democratic elements and learn how to nurture and fight for them.

Make no mistake, there are reasons why people would want to harm.  They do not happen “by themselves.”  Society—all of us, in whatever circumstances, culture or nation-state we live in, play parts—both as victim and as perpetrator, in our system.  In order to now, deconstruct and re-evaluate, and re-think and respond in a changed way, acknowledging that it cannot be perfect but the path becomes slightly more clear, we must realize that it is a battle.

It’s not going to happen in safety, comfort, privilege, high morality, and laziness.

Malvina Reynold’s daughter’s website about her mother

Malvina Reynolds complete website

Lyrics to “It Isn’t Nice” below this first video.

Please visit YouTube to listen and hear her other wonderfully playful but serious songs.

It Isn’t Nice

– by Malvina Reynolds

It isn’t nice to block the doorway,
It isn’t nice to go to jail,
There are nicer ways to do it,
But the nice ways always fail.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

It isn’t nice to carry banners
Or to sit in on the floor,
Or to shout our cry of Freedom
At the hotel and the store.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

We have tried negotiations
And the three-man picket line,1
Mr. Charlie2 didn’t see us
And he might as well be blind.
Now our new ways aren’t nice
When we deal with men of ice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

How about those years of lynchings
And the shot in Evers’ back?
Did you say it wasn’t proper,
Did you stand upon the track?
You were quiet just like mice,
Now you say we aren’t nice,
And if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

It isn’t nice to block the doorway,
It isn’t nice to go to jail,
There are nicer ways to do it
But the nice ways always fail.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
But thanks for your advice,
Cause if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.