[Nanao Sakaki Reading at Yoyogi Park, Shibuya, Tokyo, Earth Day 2006 – Photograph used by permission – Copyright John Suiter. All Rights Reserved]
NS: Okay. Another poem. Future knows. Future knows – “Thus I heard/ Oakland California – /To teacher’s question an eleven-year-old girl answered, “The ocean is/ A huge swimming-pool with cement walls.”/ On a starry summer night/ At a camping ground in Japan/ a nine-year-old boy from Tokyo complained/ “Ugly, too many stars!”/ At a department store in Kyoto/ One of my friends bought a beetle/ For his son, seven-years-old. A few hours later/ The boy brought his dead bug/ To a hardware store, asking “Change battery, please?” – Future knows.
AG: Shall I read that Nanao?
NS: Yeah, please
AG: [begins reading] “..Future knows. Thus I heard..” – That “Thus I heard” is characteristic of Buddhist sutras.
NS: Yes true. [Allen continues reading the poem]
AG: He has new poems.
DB: The poem that we’re reading is from a fairly new publication?
AG: Absolutely new.
DB: Nanao-san’s poetry, isn’t it? It’s called Real Play
AG: Tooth of Time Books, 1981.
DB: And can you get ahold of that here in Boulder, Allen?
AG: It hasn’t been ordered by the bookstores yet, although I think some of the students from Naropa have asked the bookstores to do it. And it can be ordered from Taos. It’s Santa Fe….Now those of you who are bibliophiles, I’d advise you to order it fast because there’s only a thousand copies. It’s very beautifully illustrated with some brushwork by Nanao (including the cover). (And) a very brief, beautiful preface by Gary Snyder
saying – “Well, finally here it is. Nanao’s bundle of poems. Written with sand and rainwater, written not by hand or head but with the feet. These poems have been sat into existence”. And then it ends, “I won’t write what little I know of Nanao’s life here. I’ll just say he has bony knees, dark tanned face, odd toes, a fine chanting voice, a huge capacity for spirits. and a taste for top-quality green tea. His work or play in the world is to pull out nails, free seized nuts, break loose the rusted, open up the shutters. You can put these poems in your shoes and walk a thousand miles! – Signed Gary Snyder, Kyoto, July 40081.” – So you have.. I would suggest, those of you who are bibliophiles get it fast. There’s only a thousand copies and it’s probably going to be worth lots and lots of money as an artifact in about three years…So it’s Tooth of Time..I’ll (give out) the address, if you’ve got your pencils and your papers and your memory’s ready..(or) if you’re Australian Aborigines
and can remember everything.. I’ll remind you that Nanao, the desert rat, will be in person sneaking through the Mall with his Noh play and his troop of musicians…
DB: That’s a real twilight zone there (on Pearl Street) between the Blue Note [now-defunct music venue] and Naropa
AG: Yes. Somewhere triangulating between the Blue Note, Naropa and the New York Deli
DB: No person’s land.
AG: For a Noh play! – N-O-H
AG: And we’ll put it on. That’ll be Wednesday at 8 o’clock. (And) you have new poems, don’t you, Nanao?
NS: Okay. From Australia. From Australia.
AG: You were in Australia with Gary Snyder.
AG: Wandering around in the desert with Australian Aborigines for weeks, so I hear
NS: [begins reading “Break The Mirror”] – “The morning after taking a cold shower. What a mistake! I look into the mirror……..”
AG: Pretty good for a seventeen-year-old!
DB: You wrote that in Australia
DB: When were you there?
NS: Last September to October, and living with Aboriginal people. And always listening (to) their music, and always impressed (by) their life , most gorgeous life.
DB: Did you see any connection between the Aborigines of Australia and the Ainu of Japan
NS: Yes, I really feel strongly, yeah.
AG: You have been in Ainu territory?
NS: Yes, I have many good friend(s) (among…)
DB: For those of you who are listening and are not familiar with the Ainu, they are the indigeneous people..
DB: ..of Japan
NS: Sure, sure.
DB: And they’re mostly in Hokkaido
in the north
NS: Yes, just far north and very small like (in a) reservation. And not so happy life. Japanese government pushing them to.. “You must work in capitalistic society”. It’s very hard for them.
DB: Right. There’ve been a number of political references that you’ve made in your poems..
DB: Are you concerned about the arms race and..
NS: Oh yes, yes. That’s true. I came here for many times in Boulder and each time very shocking – like Rocky Flats,
alright? I saw Nagasaki bomb and I saw thousands (of) dead people in Japan in the war-time. And I was (in the) Japanese navy, and every morning I was sending over Kamikaze
pilot(s), (and) they never came back. So (everybody) making nuclear bombs and they’re heavy for me. I’m very tired of such a career. All of our life, our time is not so happy time.
DB: It’s 37 years since the end of World War II, and there’s a still a very large U.S. military presence…in Japan, a nuclear presence too.. What kind of.. what kind of feelings does that create among the Japanese, who are the only people to have been victimized…
DB: ..by the atomic weapons
NS: Now recently [1980’s], a very strong reaction to nuclear war. I get a letter (stating) almost one fifth of (the) Japanese people (are) clearly against war. That’s (a) good sign.
DB: Twenty percent
NS: Yes. Passionate..
NS: Against nuclear war. No more. That kind of voice, very (much) stronger now.
AG: Against nuclear war or against holding nuclear bombs, or what?
NS: No, against no more war, for sure. You can’t (have) atomic bombs, nuclear bomb(s)..
DB: Is there a lot of support for continued U.S, military in Japan?
DB: Do you feel that they are protecting Japan? Are you glad that they’re there?
NS: Yeah, some people think in such a way, that we need (an) umbrella. Japanese need umbrella from other atomic nuclear war. There are American army, or navy, protecting us. There are still some Japanese thinking that such a way.
DB: What do you think?
NS: Oh, no thank you.
DB: “Thanks, but no thanks”?
NS: Yes. No thank you.
AG: I’m curious, maybe we could get a little off, not just the politics or the immediate obvious, but what Nanao’s history of the Japanese cultural youth movement has been, or what he understands (of) it. Maybe you could ask him about that?
AG: Because he does know a lot about it.
DB: In Gary Snyder’s book of essays and poetry, Earth House Hold
, he refers to a kind of (commune), or new community, that you created..in Kyushu
DB: Why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit about that?
NS: (This was) almost (the) first commune activity, maybe, (taking place) in Japan. And then to (actually) move out to (the) countryside.. We started moving our around ’65. Gary Snyder
helped me (because it was) real hard work. He worked with me – with us. At one place, far south, almost in Okinawa
, it’s (a) wonder(ful) space ((there’s an) active volcano – active – real active!). And (incredible) – so rich energy. Only ten fishing families (living) there. So I found this spot. I stated moving, calling many friends. And they started (a) farming-fishing commune there, and people are (were) taking Zen
practice or many kind(s) of religious activity in (the) same place. Then, suddenly, two years later, the Yamaha
company moved in. They started building a tourist-complex, alright?
So I was right here (in the U.S, in the) Southwest. So I flied back quickly and start organize against “No tourist-complex please”. Should be natural wild life should be there. But Yamaha so strong, almost government. So we couldn’t.. But still we keep the place, the land, and we moved to many other place(s) – like abandoned mountain bridge. Because younger people never go back to the mountain life – too hard! – So, all the people now going to Tokyo. So, many mountain bridges completely in no-man’s-land – in central Japanese mountainside.
NS: So now, like a hippie or long(er)-haired people said, you move back to these mountainside..and started learning ancient way, how to cultivate not using chemical(s) or machinery, just using your own idea(s) and your own body. And one, one teacher, his name is Matsanobu Fukuoka
, he started kind of a very natural farming system – no cultivate, no cultivating, no chemicals, no machine(s), just what he plant – rice and wheat and another kind of alfalfa together – seed. Then coming slowly one by one. Taking care of each other. So this system is very great way You don’t need a big land. Very small place. More like productive. So.. and this teacher and younger people together now. And another thing – we have our own food co-op system all over Japan for sharing very natural food. For example, Japanese.. most Japanese never eat brown rice, they just eat white rice, white bread, white sugar. So, only really younger people eating brown rice and whole-wheat bread, and how to eat mountain fruit. I can cook lichen from here and many wild mushrooms. I know how to make..
AG: It’s very delicious, lichen..
NS: It’s very delicious
NS: Yeah, Flatirons. I brought back (from) Flatirons and I know many mushrooms,
DB: Does your poetry really reflect a lot of these experiences that you are talking about?
NS: Uh-huh. I think it comes from.. it’s not head work, just my digging around.. It almost comes from my daily life.
DB: And what kind of connection or inspiration do you feel from American poets like Gary Snyder or Allen Ginsberg? Do you feel any kind of community with them?
NS: Yeah, sure. At same time from American Indian culture. I’ve been many times with Hopi
people, many tribal people. I give same Zen
, same.. sing-song with them. So comes from… And another great energy for me is.. Rockies – Rocky Mountains
, or Rio Grande
, (Big River) and Southern desert. These are.. they are great energies. So for me going back to Japan is a very heavy.. no big desert, no big mountain.
NS: No, so spoiled
DB: Is it?
NS: So spoiled.
AG: How so?
NS: Yeah. Because Fuji-yama..this way..okay…This is 30,300 feet high, I think, so, not so high mountain. But from ocean you must (go) straight up…But all the day, I think, most 80,000 feet, big road goes up to this height. So you need just a short climb. So, summer-time.. each summer maybe one or two million people climbing the mountain. Okay. And the summer is the worst weather, so good business for mountain cabins. So..but (many who know) those mountains very well, they climb (in)
autumn…most beautiful season..no storm.
AG: We better go climb Mount Fujiyama in the autumn then.
NS: Yeah, sure
NS: Sure, sure. But further north, or further south, still clean feelings in Japan.
AG: You had a group of friends who had a coffee-shop in Shinjuku
which is the bohemian area of Tokyo.
NS: Yes, yes. But now all gone.
NS: So now we move out to the Tachikawa
. Tachikawa is (a) very famous airbase, yes?
DB: U.S, Air Force base,
NS: Yes. Near Tachikawa, we have a very small town, maybe ten rock and roll music shops..coffee shops, that area is real.. a kind of independent country feeling. Many long-hairs. Everywhere you can hear..what you call..American rock, or reggae, kind of very..easy there..and everybody sharing..yeah, it’s a good vibration. And (then) the many lower town(s), like southern Kyushu
(we built a big sailing boat, kind of activity). Some part is very free more and we come.. foreigner(s). Yeah, for example, my place in (the) center of Japan, always Americans, Europeans, coming, staying.
AG: What s the character,,,how has Japan changed in the last twenty years since I was there..almost twenty years [Allen is speaking in 1982]?
NS: Yes, twenty years..Maybe these (past) thirty years so big change
NS: That’s my feeling.
AG: Yeah. How so?
NS: Ah, pressure. Pressure. It’s close to China
NS: Close to Soviet
NS: Alright. And Korea is unstable
NS: So I think Japanese people feel very Insecure. Insecure feeling. Because China so much army power, right?.. Soviet.. so such a small country, it’s smaller – almost a little bit bigger than Colorado state.
DB: That’s happening on a sort of geo-political level. What’s happening in terms of people’s inner lives? Do they feel the tension, the pressure, from industrialization, from having to go to work, to have to go to an office every day at five o’clock, at nine o’clock..
NS: Yes. Yeah, Yeah. I think they are spoiled by capitalism or industrialization. So strong. So now if you have no good job in such a company or factory, you are out of caste. You must be… You must belong to something, big company or government, local government or farmer, you must have a career, good status, position in society. So Japanese young people are (left with) nothing. But I think the best people are young, just (as) a kind of group, very creative and hard-working. But, generally, Japanese society, say, under beggar, more low class..
AG: Lower class than beggars?
AG: How do people treat you – and what is your..?
NS: Oh, it’s miserable
NS: I can’t stand that.
NS: Because just look – hippie!
NS: That’s all.
AG: But many people have beards like you?
NS: No, very few.
AG: You have classic Oriental beard though?
NS: Yeah, but I was in the Navy, I had the same style.
NS: The same story
NS: Always you’re out of order.
NS: (That) kind of feeling. But I think Japanese..Japan need big greater change pretty soon..if not suicide culturally. Spiritually. That’s what I’m so afraid of. Yeah
AG: What elements are being killed or suicided?
NS: Because too much dependence on material…
NS: Yeah. I know how fifty to sixty year(s) ago, Japanese people, very very poor…but very peaceful – except militized [sic]. Generally, Japanese is very soft, tender people, open to foreigners..
NS: Yeah. But now getting very tight.
NS: I’m most afraid. Next century, maybe Japanese whole culture gone.
DB: Nanao-san, could you recite perhaps a poem for us in Japanese so that our listeners have an idea of the sounds and rhythms of your native language?
NS: Um-hmm. Or how about a song?
NS: Okay. Japanese farmer’s song (from Southern Japan) [Nanao sins in Japanese]
AG: Umm, that’s pretty. Nanao has one of the most beautiful voices I know. And that long hollow interior cave abdomen belly sound. Years ago, when we used to give poetry readings together, he gave (an) uncanny chanting of Pranaparamita
NS: Kan ji zai bo sa gyo jin han-nya ha ra mi ta ji….
NS: Oh, here in Denver
AG: …we each chanted in different languages that heart sutra. Do we have some more time?
DB: We’ll make time
AG: …could you just do that? But I think you’d have to go a little way from the microphone..
[Allen and Nanao prepare a dual preparation of the Pranaparamita (Heart) Sutra] ….”form is emptiness, emptiness is form”
NS: [chants in Japanese] – It’s a little hard for my throat..
NS: …is not in good shape. Sorry.
AG: Here in a small room where it’s hot.
DB: Was that in Japanese?
NS: In Japanese, yes sir. It is Japanese.
AG: Sino-Japanese maybe?
AG: Sino-Japanese? Chinese-Japanese? or Japanese?
NS: Comes from China… around 6th century..but, originally, from India to China, 2nd century.. to Japan, I think, 6th century
DB: What’s the significance of that sutra, Allen – or Nanao?
NS: Yeah, Allen can…
[Allen chants the Pranaparamita Sutra in English translation in its entirety]
NS: Good memory!
AG: What is the key, though, is the short part – the “gone gone forever” – gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha
Actually the Tibetan Buddhists also chant that in English every morning over at Karma Dzong. It’s universal – the Zen Buddhists, the Tibetan Buddhists – So it’s the foundation of most Mahayana
Buddhism. The key is that, though this world is solid, it is transitory, and therefore, and from a certain point of view, empty. As a dream. When a dream is solid, when you’re dreaming, it’s real, but, at the same time, although it is real, it is also not there, because it is gone.
AG: Sort of like this radio station is completely real and all the sounds you hear are one hundred percent real, except, in a hundred years, come back, nobody will be here.
DB: Sure, indeed, yet we have filled this studio and the airwaves with a tremendous spirit and we thank you very much Allen Ginsberg and Nanao Sakaki…
NS: Thank you
DB: ..for coming and joining us this afternoon. And I’d like to remind you again that this Wednesday evening…on the Boulder Mall, “between the Devil and the deep blue sea”, between The Blue Note and Naropa, Nanao will be presenting a Noh drama..
AG: What’s it called? “The Snow..”?
NS: “The Snow Woman”
DB: Which is Noh drama – that is N-O-H – Noh – What does that mean?
NS: Noh is ability
DB: And it’s a very Zen tradition, isn’t it?
NS: It’s very close. The form is empty…but still kind of building up. Yeah.
AG: Not too many people come, just a few select intelligensia want to hear this sublime little chanting and action. (A) very brief little show we put on,
DB: Well I’ll be there for sure. Thank you very much
NS: Thank you
DB: Allen Ginsberg and Nanao Sakakai.
NS: Thank you
DB: Thank you