Sleeping Mountains

Reflections on life, literature, and culture.

Category: Music

Nationality: from Takamine to Tahrir

(“Baby Insadon” by Takamine Tadasu from ZAIM.)

Is a person’s identity tied to their nationality? Is language and culture divided along national borders? Does someone with two nationalities have two identities or none? What nationality is someone without the citizenship of the country they have lived in their whole lives? In a non-agricultural community, what does it mean to identify with the land? Why do immigrants have to run bureaucratic gauntlets? Or, to summarize, what is a nation?

These are questions that have plagued me off and on my whole life. Of course, my case is a privileged one, being born in Germany with German and US citizenship before moving to the States for most of my education and finally ending up as a resident of Japan. There are far more expats, immigrants, and people with ambiguous citizenship in this world, who struggle more with their national identity and with government bureaucracies so that they might live fulfilling lives where they find themselves.

In early January, I finished translating the exhibition catalogue for the Takamine Tadasu Exhibition at the Yokohama Museum of Art. On January 21, I was invited to attend the exhibition opening, and although the event was nothing like the fashionable party I had imagined it would be, I was impressed by the exhibition itself. Read the rest of this entry »

Watching Noh

(Kanze Tetsunojo’s noh stage, across the street from Cartier, Prada, and D&G in Omotesando.)

Yesterday, I attended the first day of a workshop with Kanze Tetsunojo, a noh performer and the head of a very influential family of noh actors within the Kanze school.  One very simple question of his provoked a fascinating series of thoughts.  That question was,

Is noh chant hard to understand?

Read the rest of this entry »

Kasuga Wakamiya Onmatsuri


Shrine priestesses dance kagura to open the Kasuga Wakamiya Onmatsuri dance performances.  The kagura piece pictured above is entitled Sensai or One Thousand Years.

On a rainy Wednesday afternoon in December, I took the trains to Nara, the capital of Japan from 710 to 784 and a center of Japanese religion ever since.

I had set my mind on seeing the Kasuga Wakamiya Onmatsuri since I had first read the 1349 records of the shrine festival.  That year, a shrine priestess named Otozuru Gozen performed Okina, which in the contemporary repetoir of Noh is performed exclusively by men (see my previous entry about Okina here). In 1349, Okina was the first dance of the day’s performances.  Okina’s position at the beginning of the program shows the religious weight of the piece.  Even 650 years later, contemporary performances of Okina are always at the beginning of a program, and it is said that a god decends and inhabits the dancer during his performance.  Now Okina is not performed at the Onmatsuri, but priestesses dance kagura to open the day’s performances (see picture above). Kagura are shrine dances, and the titles of the four dances performed all indicate the celebratory nature of kagura. Read the rest of this entry »

Rilke, Japanese electronica, and me

I met Rurihiko Hara in an undergraduate class I audited at Tokyo University last spring on Noh theater.  He came up to me after class, because he’d heard that I’d taken Noh lessons in Kyoto.  He had done the same under a different Noh master.

Last summer, after I’d returned to Kyoto to work for a few months, Rurihiko introduced me to his brother’s electronica band, Rimacona.  I heard Rimacona live and really enjoyed their music.  It’s sometimes jazzy, sometimes folksy sounding, dreamy electronica that incorporates piano riffs and female vocals with some almost natural-sounding noise.  Here is a link to Rimacona’s MySpace site:

In early October, Rurihiko, was back in Kyoto for a while and asked me if he could record me reading a German text.  This we did in the garden of a subtemple at Daitokuji on a sunny afternoon.  The text is Rilke’s Das Märchen von den ungehorsamen Händen Gottes.  This he mixed into his own electronica and performed at a live concert on my birthday, which I unfortunately couldn’t attend.  He’s done me the great favor of uploading it to his own MySpace site.  So here is his MySpace page:

Scroll down in the playlist and click on i_sink to play it.  I hope you like it.


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