Several months later, I found out that instead of me giving a talk, she wanted me to perform at the conference. Yikes. I was no where ready to perform this work. I wasn’t even thinking of performing it myself, and I was still researching the material. As a matter of fact, I’d stopped researching since my health issues last year, and this project had been stagnant for a good nine months.
Composer and musical performer Terumi Narushima, who I had collaborated with before on Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens and Awase Miso, also happened to be on the JSAA Conference steering committee. She advised me that if I read my talk slowly, and with long pauses, and if she played the piano for me during my pauses… well, we would have a show.
So Terumi and I have decided to collaborate again.
As this work was still in progress, we especially compiled our first instalment of You’ve Mistaken Me for a Butterfly for the 2017 JSAA Conference at the University of Wollongong, and performed it for the conference delegates on the last night of the conference.
What I am really chuffed about is that this work is presented in context of performed poetry. I have dabbled in amateur poetry since I was a kid, fancying myself as a poet, yet too shy and not confident enough about my poems. But now, thanks to Vera and Terumi (and Carol Hayes, Rina Kikuchi, Laura Dales, Lyn Parker and many others), I might just add writing poetry to my job description.
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Here are the dates and venues available to the public:
You’ve Mistaken Me for a Butterfly (the first instalment)
POETRY ON THE MOVE Boundary Crossings: A Festival of Poetry, presented by International Poetry Studies Institute (IPSI) in the Faculty of Arts and Design at the University of Canberra.
16 September 2017, 2PM at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, ACT.
You’ve Mistaken Me for a Butterfly (the second instalment)
IAS PUBLIC PERFORMANCE, presented by the Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS), University of Western Australia (UWA).
25 September 2017, 6PM at the Callaway Music Auditorium, UWA, Crawley, WA
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Can I be so brave to tell… some of my poems are on Instagram:
On transformations and where a small change can result in large differences in a later state.
For someone studying about Japanese women in Australia, how lucky can I get than to stay in Canberra with my friend and colleague Dr Keiko Tamura, an ANU anthropologist, who is Australia’s foremost expert on Senso Hanayome (Japanese WWII War Brides).
Keiko is the author of Michi’s Memories: The Story of a Japanese War Bride, and was the facilitator of communications and exchange for the Australian chapter of the Nikkei Kokusai Kekkon Shinbokukai, an international forum, through events, meetings and newsletters, connected senso hanayome in Australia to their counterparts in other parts of the world, mostly from North Americas and the UK.
Whilst during the day I read books and articles, many of which were written by Keiko, at night, over a glass of gin & tonic (sometimes two), I would ask Keiko questions and air my views about the senso hanayome and my wider research about Japanese women in Australia.
During these informal discussions, I was inspired by the notion that the senso hanayome were courageous women, who had embraced the new era within the devastation of post-war Japan with a sense of hope and a pioneering spirit. They were not afraid to form relationships with their former enemies, risked being judged as traitors, they learned a foreign language and left their homes to live in a foreign country they had never visited before. At first glance, this may seem obvious, but things are not always what it seems.
A women who became senso hanayome, were often seen in Japan as a woman of loose morals, despite her relationship with a Western man later becoming a conventionally accepted sexual liaison in a form of marriage. They were often labeled as pan-pan, a slang term then used for prostitutes who serviced the servicemen of the Allied Occupational Forces, despite them meeting their future husbands in normal jobs such as being canteen workers, typists, or house girls inside the Allied camps.
At this point I began to see a similarity, although not the same, with the karayuki. I am sure that such thought would be regarded as severely disrespectful to the senso hanayome – they were not prostitutes, but young women in love, who married, raised families and worked in respectable jobs. Keiko may not necessarily agree with me, but I see a similarity in so far as they both appear to have courageously boarded that ship to go abroad to the unknown, and lived in best way they can, despite being judged negatively as women of ill repute.
Much to my delight, Keiko’s husband, Professor David Hinde is a nuclear physicist at the ANU. Not only can I discuss details of my research with Keiko with her expertise and humanities background, I was given the opportunity to think laterally and pick David’s brain in areas of science and physics.
In so far as this project began with my interest in Madama Butterfly, and the way in which I wanted to somehow create art that changed the way we celebrate the suffering of Cho-cho san, I thought it apt to ask David about metamorphosis and the life cycle of butterflies as well as the butterfly effect in chaos theory. Over dinner, after the gin & tonics, the three of us discussed meaning of transformations and its stages as well as ideas of a deterministic nonlinear system where a small change initially can result in large differences in a later state.
I do not know exactly yet how these discussions will transform itself into a theatre work. I just somehow know that there is something bubbling under the surface and I am somehow on the right track.
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Dr Keiko Tamura is a Research Associate, School of Culture, History & Language, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific. She published widely on Japanese immigrants to Australia, Western expatriate communities in Japan and memories of the Pacific War in Australia and Japan. Her publications include Michi’s Memories: The Story of a Japanese War Bride, From a Hostile Shore: Australia and Japan at war in New Guinea (with Steven Bullard); Forever Foreign: Expatriate Lives in Historical Kobe, and Reframing National Memory: Stories from Australia and Japan about the Pacific War (in Japanese with Mayumi Kamada et al.) She held research positions at The Australian National University, Kobe University and Kyoto University and was awarded research fellowships from the National Library of Australia, the National Film and Sound Archive, and the Australian Prime Minister Centre in the Museum of Australian Democracy. She worked for the Australia-Japan Research Project at the Australian War Memorial since 1997 and appointed as manager between 2007 and 2009.
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Professor David Hinde is the Head of Department of Nuclear Physics and a Researcher of Nuclear Physics at ANU. He has completed his B.Sc. at the University of Manchester, then commencing a PhD degree in Nuclear Physics at ANU in 1978.
He was a School Postdoctoral Fellow from 1982 to 1984, when he was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship. In 1986 he moved to RCNP, Osaka University, Japan and in 1987 to the Hahn-Meitner Institute, Berlin, Germany. He returned to the Department of Nuclear Physics in 1989.
He was awarded the Pawsey Medal by the Australian Academy of Science in 1992. He is currently Head of the Department of Nuclear Physics at the ANU. Professor Hinde is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Physics and a Fellow of Institute of Physics, UK. He was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2006.
His research specialty has been developing novel experimental equipment and techniques allowing elucidation of the time-scales associated with heavy ion reactions, to understand the dynamical processes as two individual quantum systems start to overlap. His work has led to a significant change in our knowledge of nuclear dynamics, resulting in a re-direction of international research.
An invaluable benefit of spending time in Canberra is the great minds I get to brain storm my project ideas with.
Professor Jacqueline Lo (ANU) is my dear friend and mentor. She has seen my performance works, listened to my concerns and aspirations during their creative processes, gave me feedback, written papers about some, and has instigated pivotal insights and guideposts for me as an artist and as a human being.
Bursting out of my long silent reading and thinking time at the National Library, I blurted out to her:
I wanted to write a love story that didn’t reinforce tragically inclined storylines, emotions and behaviors. Not that I wanted to necessarily write a Cinderella storyline, but neither did I want to pass on the beautification of the long suffering love of Cho Cho san in Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly.
Yet, post colonial and feminist critiques aside, somehow the glorification of heightened emotions of sorrow caused by unreturned romantic endeavour actually existed within me. Actually, I thought it existed/ exists within all of us, Japanese or otherwise… and that was why I was working towards writing a play that transforms these repetitive karmic forces at play, reinforced by popular stories, not only of those from my own life time, but from many previous life times.
Furthermore, It was up to all of us in the present moment to change not only our future, but also our past; by learning our karmic lessons, it was possible to change the past in the here and now; to heal past wounds through our art making process and in the theatre, just like it was possible in quantum physics that the here and now can change the past.
There were many unknown factors about what may or may have not happened to Okin; that historical facts cannot be taken at face value; that nothing is ever what it seems; and if we can put aside critical thinking and preconceived judgements which our karma has engendered in us; then those areas we are never to know will give us an opening to change our past and future simply by how we imagine or reimagine them to be.
Does any of this make any sense to you? I’m raving.
But Jacquie, within minutes of me blurting all this out, understood what I was saying.
She said that I am using the term karma, but in her area of trauma and memory studies, this could be called trans generational memory (through a diasporic lens.)
She later sent me a chapter in the book Empathy and its Limits she had written called, Diaspora, Art and Empathy. It was primarily about John Young’s art over a period of time. Reading this gave me further guideposts to my work in progress.
To me, John’s work goes far beyond racial, diasporic or transcultural concerns (He was born in Hong Kong, studied in Australia, and is part of the first wave of Chinese Australian artists). His work concerns those of humanity as a whole.
the relationship that the generation after those who witnessed cultural or collective trauma bears to the experiences of those who came before, experiences that they ‘remember’ only by means of the stories, images, and behaviors among which they grew up. But these experiences were transmitted to them so deeply and affectively as to seem to constitute memories in their own right. Postmemory’s connection to the past is thus not actually mediated by recall but by imaginative investment, projection, and creation.
Yes! This is what I am doing, working on, remembering, imagining, projecting, and creating.
Jacquie then goes on to write that John’s work, although not that of conventional postmemory in a sense that it was bequeathed to him as a member of a particular diasporic or national community, but that of ‘affective communication and imaginative contamination,’ and thus postmemory is ‘less about veracity… but rather about the structures of feeling that the memory-making inspires, and the ways in which this memory-making echoes something of the ethics and history of the memory-maker.’
Suddenly, I felt liberated.
Over the last decade, somehow I have found myself working in what Jacquie describes as ‘conventional diasporic frameworks in our multicultural paradigm.’ This it seems is what John had experienced: an ‘ethnic’ artist charged with the weight of representing a social or cultural group.
So then my concerns about Madama Butterfly need not only be because I am a woman of Japanese heritage. The discourse on diaspora and diasporic art may have made me take notice of this particular story, and kept me awake at night, knowing something had to be done, but now my work no longer need to be just about the Japanese, or more specifically, a Japanese woman who had suffered.
I would so much like think that my concerns to be wider and deeper, and not only within the context of diaspora or perhaps even gender. For the sake of evolution our consciousness, I would like my art to take part in a transmutation of our accepted behaviors and emotional responses, especially of those that are repeated throughout generations, and are often judged, celebrated or criticised, without it ever being questioned.
…. A big task ahead…
Professor Jacqueline Lo is Associate Dean (International) for the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Executive Director of the Australian National University’s Centre for European Studies and the Chair of Academic Board (2016-2018). She is also an Adjunct Research Fellow of the Centre for Interweaving Performance Cultures at the Free University of Berlin.
John Young Zerunge was born in Hong Kong in 1956 and moved to Australia in 1967. He read philosophy of science and aesthetics at the University of Sydney and then studied painting and sculpture at Sydney College of the Arts, specifically with the conceptual artist Imants Tillers and musical prodigy (the late) David Ahern. His investigation of Western late modernism prompted significant phases of work from a bi-cultural viewpoint, including series of paintings in the last four decades – the Silhouette Paintings, The Polychrome Paintings, the Double Ground Paintings and the Abstract Paintings.
Japanese women in Australia, pioneers, artists, entertainers, butterfly, tricks: revealing / concealing in performance
A musician and two dancers were the first Japanese women to set foot on Australian shores, according to historical records immaculately researched by renowned scholar D.C.S. Sissons. Shamisen player Mitsuko, and dancers Otake and Otome were part of the acrobatic team, Buhicrosan’s Troupe, who disembarked in Melbourne on the 14th of November in 1867 to perform at the Princess Theatre. Furthermore, the first recorded Japanese to ever been born in Australia was the daughter of members of another group of acrobats, the Great Dragon Troupe, aboard the S. S. Penola enroute from Melbourne to Adelaide. Billed as “Iranim Penola the South Australian Japanese,” she was displayed to audiences by her proud grandfather at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide and Port Adelaide Town Hall.[Sissons, 1999]
The first Japanese women in Australia were artists and entertainers. I am a Japanese migrant to Australia from Japan, and a performance maker. In the first two weeks of my research residency as part of NLA’s Japan Study Grant, I am beginning to find not only historical facts, but threads and motifs that seems to be guiding my next performance work I will create.
It is also worth mentioning that the butterfly motif, which reference my concerns with the popularity of Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly (see blog entry You’ve Mistaken Me For A Butterfly) has appeared in history of the Japanese acrobats. The two earliest acrobatic groups to arrive and perform in Australia, the Great Dragon Troupe and the Buhicrosan’s Troupe, had both as part of their repertoire the Butterfly Trick (Ukare no Cho / devised by Osaka juggler Tanigawa Sadakichi [Sissons, 1999]in 1820’s)
According to the Bendigo Advertiser’s article about the Butterfly Trick performed by the Great Dragon Troupe, one of their jugglers, “… took his seat, tailor fashion, on a table in the centre and back of the stage. Tearing a strip of paper in pieces he took a small piece and twisted it into the shape of a butterfly… (He) took a fan, and waving it with a short and rapid motion, kept the butterfly fluttering in the air like a thing of life, sometimes alighting on his hand, at another time on his fan, and again on a flower. A second butterfly was formed, and two were kept flying about with as much ease as the one… The feat was greeted with great applause.” On the other hand, Mt Alexander Mail wrote about Buhicrosan’s Troupe’s Butterfly Trick as “… The famous butterfly fanning was neatly done, but the amazement which this feat raises was soon brought to termination by an explanation being given of how the trick, for trick it is, was done…”[Sissons, 1999]
It may be worth noting that the Butterfly Trick seems to have been performed by men and not the women in the performances… and very curious to know more about how this trick was performed!
Japanese women in Australia, pioneers, artists, entertainers, butterfly, tricks: revealing / concealing in performance are some of the concepts floating around in my mind as I continue the research phase of this undertaking.
 Historian and academic. David Carlisle Stanley Sissons was an historian in the Research School of Pacific Studies at the Australian National University where he was a research fellow from 1961-1965 and a fellow from 1965-1990. His principal fields of research were the history of Australia-Japan relations and the Second World War war crimes trials. In 1991, following his retirement from the ANU, Sissons took up a three-year post to establish an Australian Studies Centre at the Hiroshima Shudo University in Japan. Sissons died in Canberra in October 2006. (Mayumi Shinozaki, The National Library of Australia http://alra.org.au/newsletter1307/1307_shinozaki_1.html )
 Sissons, D.C.S. (1999) ‘Japanese Acrobatic Troupes Touring Australia 1867 – 1900’, Australasian Drama Studies, 35, pp. 73–107.
I am now old enough and ugly enough to write a love story.
You don’t need to read the 382 page National Opera Review Discussion Paper released last September to know that Puccini‘s Madama Butterfly is one of the most popular opera productions performed by Australia’s four major opera companies. These companies have had so many revivals of this production that most opera audiences must have seen it several times in their life times. Typically with beautiful music, costumes, sets and lighting, I can understand why people love this opera. Yet coming out of the theatre, watching audience members with tears in their eyes, listening to them excitedly discussing how beautiful their experience of the show had been, I have to say, crosses my grain. Being a woman of Japanese heritage in the year 2016, I have serious problems in accepting the way its archaic story-line continues to perpetuate stereotypes about Japanese women and their relationships with Western men.
I’m not blaming the opera companies, and certainly not our talented opera singers. The findings of the Discussion Paper suggests that these companies need to stage popular productions like Madama Butterfly to financially survive. Opera Australia has evolved and moved with the times in recent years too, casting talented Japanese and other Asian Australian sopranos for the part of Cio-Cio san instead of an European soprano in Orientalist traditions. But why do we need to continue to enjoy this spectacle that celebrates and beautifies suffering of this woman? Why are concepts of faithful waiting in perseverance for an impossible one sided love and its ultimate betrayal be enjoyed by so many?
My answer is not to criticise Puccini nor those involved in re-staging this 102 year old opera. Nor do I want to write a postcolonial and or feminist critique about Madama Butterfly and a host of other stories with a similar portrayal of Japanese women – its been done before, and relationships aren’t that simple.
My answer is to create a performance that may be able to address some of these issues that the continuing popularity of this opera presents to me, and in the process, re-imagine the way in which Japanese women and Western men relate to each other.
This is my new performance project for the next few years.
I am now old enough and ugly enough to write a love story.