Yoko Tawada & Aki Takase performance and workshop

Miho Matsunaga
Professor, Faculty of Letters,Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

On November 15-16 last year, the performance "Mushi no Shirase (The Insect's Report)" and workshop "Kotoba to Ongaku (Words and Music) Vol.3" were held by Yoko Tawada & Aki Takase at the Ono Auditorium. This year already marks the third year of the event staged by the Berlin-based pair.

As you know, Yoko Tawada is an internationally renowned writer who, starting with the 1993 Akutagawa Prize, has won numerous major domestic awards such as the Tanizaki Prize, the Ito Sei Literature Prize, the Izumi Kyoka Prize for Literature, the Murasaki Shikibu Literature Prize, the Noma Literary Prize, and the Bunkamura Prix des Deux Magots, as well as the 2nd Waseda University Tsubouchi Shoyo Grand Prize. Since graduating from the Waseda University School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I Russian Literature Department in 1982, she has had an interesting past, having already spent 30 years living in Germany, and debuting as an author in Germany before Japan. Tawada continues to write books in both Japanese and German, and has penned more than 20 works in each language. Her writing covers a diverse range of genre, and her continuing to write in various fields such as, of course poems and novels, but also drama, essays, and technical books, is impressive. In Germany she has been awarded the City of Hamburg Literature Encouragement Award, as well as the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize and the Goethe Medal, and, while being a foreigner, was nominated as a member of the German Academy. She has also been invited to universities throughout Europe and the United States as a visiting lecturer or writer-in-residence, and in recent years, large symposiums on Tawada's literature have been held at universities everywhere, with those results also being summarized in several books ("Fremde Wasser" for example, which was published in Germany last year.) She is an author who has attracted more international attention, both literarily and academically, than the average Japanese reader could imagine, but first and foremost, Tawada is a writer who has continued to write the same way in her non-native German as she does in her native Japanese, and practices "exophony" (living and writing outside of one's native tongue), as well as always being on the move. That is because she is no less than a pioneering author who, while in a sense, embodies the language situation in our globalizing world and deepens the understanding of the possibilities of language and culture. Taking a look at the US, England and France etc., the number of those who have migrated from non-English and non-French speaking countries and become an author is too many to count. Even in German-speaking countries foreign-born writers are not a rarity, with full-time and part-time writers totaling over 300. More often than not, circumstances such as political persecution or economic difficulties lurk in the background of such immigrants, and the fact that Tawada emigrated on her own accord after graduating from university stands out. (Even though she has more than fulfilled the requirements to obtain German citizenship, Tawada has kept her Japanese nationality.)

Jazz pianist Aki Takase also chose her path to work overseas at a young age. She embarked on her professional career in 1971 after graduating from Toho Gakuen School of Music Piano Department. In the 1970s she gave performances in not only Japan, but also the United States, and from the 1980s onwards has given solo concerts and played with bands in Europe. She became a lecturer at Berlin's Hanns Eisler College of Music, made numerous recordings , and has won the German Critics Award eight times.

Tawada and Takase started performing a recitation concert together around 2000, with an annual concert in Japan at Theatre X in Ryogoku. They also give one-off workshops at universities around Japan, but at Waseda University, Tawada's alma mater and overflowing with student cultural activities, holding regular and continuous workshops is unprecedented.

Tawada and Takase's performance "Mushi no Shirase (The Insect's Report)"

Questions and answers with the audience

Many of Tawada's literature award winning works, like those mentioned above, can be obtained in book form. Aki Takase's music is also available on CD. However, in each performance these two give under the same roof, an interesting chemical change takes place every time (and only once!). Not only are they creators, but the special qualities of each performer is superbly brought to the front. Japanese writers have few opportunities to recite their own works, and it is even rarer to have a session with an artist from a different field, but in Germany recitals are frequent, and in big cities, recital events are held almost daily in literature museums or universities, libraries, bookstores, and cafes etc. Recitals as part of a production when an author releases a new book are also popular, and there are many writers who release a CD at the same time as the book. For example, Nobel laureate in literature Gunter Grass is an author who actively gives recitals, and I have listened to Gunter's recitals in Hamburg, Leipzig and even Paris (of those, the Hamburg recital held in the Thalia Theatre at the beginning of 1992 was a collaboration with a percussionist and even aired on television.) Tawada and Takase's performance can even be said to be stimulating from the point of providing opportunities to "see and listen to" literature.

The pair's performance and workshop have been held at the Ono Auditorium since the year before last, but I would especially like to recall the student participation workshop "Kotoba to Ongaku (Words and Music)". In the 2011 workshop they introduced wordplay and rhythm-play that frequently appeared in the recital performance, and the students tried their hands at recitals such as "kakeru" (splitting and reading a humorous text using the verb kakeru (to multiply), and literally multiplying it), "Uosekkyo (Fish Sermon)" (a piece enumerating the names of fish with ideas taken from Kyogen), and "Dadada - nari" (a work crossing Dadaism with a string of categorical sentence endings) and so on. It is not simply just reading clearly, but with the aim of enjoying the strange sensation of the rhythm of everyday Japanese sliding through the body, and while there were some students who struggled and couldn't quite break out of their own shells, for most students, this kind of recital was a first time experience and a chance for them to contemplate about voice and body. Furthermore, one of Yoko Tawada's early poems "Tsuki no Toso (Flight of the Moon)" was translated mainly by literary art journalism students from the School of Culture, Media and Society into English, Danish, Italian, Chinese, and Korean, and there were attempts to read two languages simultaneously, and to move around the venue while reciting the poem in those languages at different timing. There was also a recital of his own work (a poem that was written as a question and reply to "Tsuki no Toso" and includes symbolic experiments) by third year student Shohei Akakura, who began writing poetry after reading Yoko Tawada's poetry collection, which became the climax of the workshop.

At the 2012 workshop, students and exchange students who signaled their intention to participate in advance gave recitals using their own ideas of the poems "Osatsu (Banknote)" and "Meiwaku (Trouble)", which were recited by Tawada and Takase the previous day in their performance "Mushi no Shirase", with Takase providing an impromptu musical accompaniment. They weren't just simple imitations of Tawada's recital, but on top of being recitals where the students read with a good understanding of the content, there were also some that took the audience by surprise, and others that drew laughter, revealing the character of the reader. There were also recitals of original poems written by School of Culture, Media and Society students and research associates. This year they were given the common theme of "insects", and there were also some unique performances where the reader transformed into an insect while giving their performance.

Looking at the questionnaire, there were many people attending the performance and workshop for a second or third time. There were also messages of gratitude to Waseda University for opening such a high level performance to members of the public. This event is also scheduled to be held in 2013 and I am looking forward to even more progress and development.

Miho Matsunaga
Professor, Faculty of Letters,Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Joined Waseda University academic staff in 1998 after completing the doctoral program without a doctoral degree of doctoral program at the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology. Awarded the Mainichi Culture Award Special Prize for her translation of Bernhard Schlink's "The Reader" (Shinchosha) in 2000. Has translated many other books including Hermann Hesse's "Beneath the Wheel" (Kobunsha) and Cees Nooteboom's "Mokusei! Nihonkiko" (Ronsosha).