A Collaboration with Composer / Musician Terumi Narushima.
A performative poem reflecting on Okin, a Japanese woman who was caught up in a court case in 1898, when two white men were accused of sexually assaulting her. The events took place near Butterfly, an outback mining town in Western Australia.
Performance History and Publications:
Performance: Biennial Conference of the Japanese Studies Association of Australia at University of Wollongong June 2017
IAS Public performance, presented by the Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS), University of Western Australia (UWA). September 2017 at the Callaway Music Auditorium, UWA, Crawley, WA.
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. September 2017 at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, ACT.
Sex in the City, curated by Jenevieve Chang, Customs House Library, Sydney, NSW April 2018
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:
In Shimabara, there is a small hill called the Benten-zan, which has a shrine and a temple. The shrine enshrines the Benzaiten goddess, who is the goddess of everything that flows: water, time, words, speech, eloquence, music and extension of knowledge. Her origins are with goddess Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and learning. I thought it apt to pay my respects, as it was in my making of a performance that brought me to this place.
Further up the hill is the Risho-in Taishi-do, a Buddhist temple established in 1895 by Gonsho Hirota. In 1906 Gonsho went on a pilgrimage to India, and whilst on his journey through South East Asia, he met hundreds of karayuki san, many who were born in this area.
At the highest point on the hill is their tennyo-to (could be translated as goddess tower), to enshrine a Buddhist statue he brought back from India. Gonsho built the tower with donations of his followers, many who were karayuki san he met during his travels. Women’s names, the amounts of contributions, and the places they lived, like Singapore, Ipoh, Siberia and Rangoon are inscribed on the stone fence posts surrounding the tower.
It is worth mentioning that karayuki san had sent much of their earnings back to their hometowns. D.C.S. Sissons wrote that Osaka Shimbun newspaper, before WWII, calculated that annual remittances home from Amakusa women exceed 200,000 yen, which went a long way towards covering the import surplus of the region. *
Sissons also wrote that the earnings of karayuki san in Australia was much higher than their counterparts in other countries.* I carefully looked at the 286 stone fence posts to see if I could find contributions from Australia, but couldn’t any. Although many of the engravings in the posts had faded, it is probably because Gonsho did not travel to Australia.
Opposite the tennyo-to, there is a stone monument by Tomoko Yamada, the author of Joshi-gun Aishi: Karayuki, shofu, itokoujo tachi no sei to shi (could be translated as Tragedy: Karayuki, prostititutes and the silk factory women’s sex and death). The monument is dedicated to not only the karayuki san, but also to the Comfort women in Asia.
Many of the books with information about karayuki san I had read at the National Library of Australia during my residency, also had chapters on WWII Comfort women. Writers like Tomoko Yamada, Yoshimi Kaneko, Ill-myon-Kim and others elaborate on the connection between the long history and culture of often state endorsed institutionalized prostitution in Japan and the atrocity of the WWII Comfort women.
There were 8 Buddhist figures surrounding the tennyo-to, each a protecting diety for one or two of the animals on the Chinese zodiac. I slowly walk around the tennyo-to in an almost trance like state, and prayed.
* Sissons, D.C.S. (1977) ‘Karayuki‐San: Japanese prostitutes in Australia, 1887–1916— I*’, Historical Studies, 17(68), pp. 323–341. doi: 10.1080/10314617708595555.
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 records immaculately researched by 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. 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 in Australia 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 records, but threads and motifs that seems to be guiding my next performance work.
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 both showcased as part of their repertoire: the Butterfly Trick (Ukare no Cho / devised by Osaka juggler Tanigawa Sadakichi [Sissons, 1999]in 1820’s)
The Bendigo Advertiser’s article about the Butterfly Trick performed by the Great Dragon Troupe, read that 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.”
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]
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 which reveal and conceal 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.