Monday 4 September 2017

Kimonos With A Bass Line

It was a hot, dry day. The Japanese matsuri (summer festival) was into its second and final day. The event was well organized and running smoothly. I squeezed my way into the stage area which was flooding with people. I managed to get a position against the wall between two others. The kimono fashion show was about half-way through.

The lanterns hung from across one wooden post to the other and were swaying gently from the indoor air movement. The auditorium was set up to reflect a traditional street festival. The attention from the audience could be felt like a cloud of invisible gas rising from the seating area. The bass was pulsing steadily as the ornate traditional kimonos were being watched patiently.

The scene was set up as a changing room, with a lady in a kimono having her hair styled and the other lady having her kimono checked. The scene ran for too long without much change in activity. The music pulsed continuously. When the scene was over, one of the ladies wearing a kimono was visible chatting with a friend just outside the door of the auditorium after she exited the stage. The "real" backstage scene was now visible providing an extension of the already long scene.

A baby started wailing. The mother hustled out through the dense crowd to put an end to the disruption. Her face was pinched toward the middle in stress from the guilt. The surrounding onlookers could feel a sort of dull collective agreement about the illustrative style of the situation.

Maybe the peripheral activity provided slightly more entertainment than the show at that point. There was a loud bang the people around me looked toward the back of the room. Measuring six people down from where I was standing a balloon was stepped on. It was like the bursting balloon was an unplanned expression of our thoughts breaking the silent patience of our watching: "Let's put an end to this pulsing bass - the kimonos are beautiful - but the bass must end."

 (I have to mention here that although I make a poke at the show for the sake of humour, this was only one aspect of the show. In its entirety, the presentation was clearly a product of much work and effort. The kimonos really were stunning and the show was well done. There was much to be enjoyed and appreciated. When I clapped at the end - it was sincere.)

Mike Sasaki's wood forms can always be seen at

Friday 1 September 2017

Alone, We Are Community

I was new to Japan. I had been in Tokyo for about 6 months before leaving the shared apartment and finding a place alone. There was a place advertised in an english magazine to accommodate foreigners, and I went to check it out. To my surprise, it was tucked behind a traditional shopping street. The room was shockingly small, the toilet was shared, the shower was coin operated but the rent was reasonable and I was delighted with the neighbourhood so I could not turn it down.

Togoshi-ginza, a small shoutengai (show-ten- eng. "guy") or shopping street neighbourhood, was lined with shops ranging from modern to traditional. Yaki-tori (yah-kee-toree) or barbecued chicken parts, more than a few ramen shops and bean filled pastry shops were placed amongst convenience stores, pharmacies and fast food. This was good.

Wandering around this maze of greatness I happened upon a lunch board sign pointing inward - down a side street off a main intersecting street. Suddenly, I was no longer alone. I was greeted cordially and invited to have a healthy lunch. Mama-san the proprietress upheld an atmosphere of festivity and community. It was like walking into a pocket of raw life off the cement infrastructure outside. Only later would I find just how related that local izakaya was to the streets (maybe outlined in a later blog posting).

I was invited back for dinner by a new acquaintance - soon to become client. After dinner, I was invited to stay and chat with the other locals. I was looking for a martial art to practice and Namiki-san was practicing Shorinji Kempo. We moved some tables and he twisted my wrist to demonstrate the art. He assured me that he was not yet too skilled and the technique was more effective than it seemed.

This was how I found Shorinji Kempo - a modern martial art developed post world war two as a means to uplift a nation in turmoil. It has since grown to an international scale and is now practiced in many other countries around the world. The founder Doshin Sou took some traditional martial arts as technical foundation, such as Kung-fu and Aikido, and built a disciplinary structure on it. The new martial art combined spiritual aspects, bone alignment, healthiness, philosophy and technique into the discipline which was to be practiced both inside and outside the dojo.

Shorinji Kempo will provide a ladder for any individual wishing to grow into a stronger, healthier, happier human being. It requires a commitment and focus. Having completed the early stages of this martial art, I have been fortunate to receive some of its benefits. By studying the self-defense techniques involving the exact placement of your body and the opponent's, a sense of awareness of the proximate environment is nourished. The goal is not to harm the attacker but rather to temporarily and safely disable them thus controlling the situation. This is achieved through arrests and locks using the pressure points of the body to facilitate the manoeuvres. Understanding that the wrong-doer who you are controlling is confused in their action prevents any negative emotional reaction on the controller's part. There must be inner calm during outer action in order to effectively utilize the techniques in a real life situation.

Practicing Shorinji Kempo has influenced my art. It helped confirm my growing suspicion that many (not all) of the values we subconsciously pick up from popular films, tv, radio, music, etc. work to reinforce qualities of greed, selfishness, pleasure-seeking, envy and social comparison. An episode of a popular sitcom makes light of a situation of envy that we can relate to. This subconsciously works to encourage the same feelings in the viewer by engaging with their natural instinct to fall in with the crowd. The medium of film can exploit the same story telling technique. The viewer is inclined to adopt those ideologies and values demonstrated on screen that are associated with something desirable. For example: greed for fancy property turns into lasting emotional fulfillment. One of the features of my "Symbiosis" line of wood forms is to support the idea that it is important to remember the natural beauty on this earth and our connection to it thereby allowing us to flourish in the community. The forms are carved from wood using simple yet dynamic curves and contours, which are connected in a flowing way. I strive to inspire a sense of inward connection to nature and community through contemplation so as to provide encouragement of the fruitful states of mind that we may often forget over the course of a day. The forms are designed to be placed in spots where they can influence the immediate atmosphere of the space by providing a presence of mystery, silence and inner-reward.

The sculptures can always be found at