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Category: Japan

POEM: in any given set

Listen to this poem using the player above.

in any given set

we walked around it all day
that little Japanese tea cup
sitting on what had been the dining room floor

it said Sanriku on the side
in bold yellow kanji
evoking memories of contented nights at the restaurant

when I arrived in Japan
my host mother could only say
“Are you Jay?” — still three more words than I

could say to her
ignorant as I was
of foreign tongues and other people’s customs

nineteen years gone
and I know more words
but I still wonder whether I understand

most of what you say
or what I am supposed to do
in any given set of circumstances

the little tea cup
occupies its fixed place
on the floor, forces us, unknowing, to give it room


POEM: Eating Godzilla

Listen to this poem using the player above. The music is by a friend who prefers not to be named. The laughter is by Bernie and John.

Eating Godzilla

for some reason, we started with the tail
you’d think that would be the toughest part
but after we’d sliced away the scales
the flesh was surprisingly tender
and no, it didn’t like taste like chicken
well, maybe a little
but it also had that metallic
just-out-of-the-microwave aftertaste
probably from the lingering effects of the radiation
Kazuhiro had insisted on serving side dishes
despite our obvious inability to finish
the great green lizard in one sitting
so we’d sautéed Mothra in a sesame sauce
and served him (her? it?) in lovely
sculpted bowls that fit perfectly in the hand
I’d suggested also eating Raymond Burr
just for old times’ sake
but by this time he was more fat than meat
and who can be bothered to pare all that away
just for a few grizzled bits of TV lawyer?
anyway, after the tail was finished we
cracked open Godzilla’s skull to get at
what we thought would be
the salty brain encased within
imagine our surprise, then, when
the skull turned out to contain
thousands of Pez candies
in a variety of fruity colors
Iwai-kun suggested handing them out to the children
who’d naturally gathered ’round us
for a look at the sundered source
of their nightmares
you should have seen the smiles
on their faces as he
reached his hands into the skull
and drew forth the rainbow
of sugary delights
he tossed the Pez out like Mardi Gras beads
and the kids scrummaged for them, squealing


POEM: Tea Ceremony Hurts Yours Legs

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Tea Ceremony Hurts Yours Legs

at 17, I studied the ancient art of tea ceremony
with my final host-mother
and a teacher who seemed middle-aged
but may have been just slightly older than I am now
I’m not sure about the sensei,
but one thing I do know is
tea ceremony hurts your legs
the insidious thing is that you
don’t even notice it at first
you’re too focused on
placing the bowl just so
the ladle along the crook
between your thumb and index finger
the sugary snacks on a piece
of pristine rice paper
floating above the tatami floor
after a while, it feels like
you yourself are suspended
above the floor, just slightly
is this enlightenment?
did I, at 17, achieve satori?
wait till my parents hear about this!
and it’s then, as you leap up
to spread the word
that you realize your mistake
and pitch face-down onto the mat
spilling your carefully whipped green foam
and crushing the delicate wooden ladle


POEM: Aomori

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standing on the cliffs of Aomori
is like standing at the end of the world
one more step and you can take
a refreshing swim in the bay
if you survive the drop, that is
squint your eyes and it feels like flying
pine trees level with the top of your head
and the waves continuing their
thousand-year attack on the rocks below
I kept better notes than this
but they were lost in a flood
nothing so grand as the sea
winning that final victory
it was just that our washing machine
overflowed and submerged the basement
who would have thought
after a thousand years
it would be a load of laundry
that would finally conquer
the cliffs of Aomori?

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POEM: Tsurumigawa

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Tsurumigawa photo by Ivan Kurniawan
Tsurumigawa photo by Ivan Kurniawan


ironically, we lived along the See Crane River
it sliced through the rice fields
that were just steps from the busy road

Tokyo and Yokohama and Kawasaki
are joined like an urban Cerberus
between them, hidden bits of unexpected farmland

bent old women in worn rubber boots
knotted bandanas around their heads
slop through the wet paddies

reaching crumpled fingers into waving rice
and plucking out the o-kome
the flesh of their people

in Ichigao, our town,
the women could have walked
a mile along the river

and treated themselves
to McDonald’s french fries
or the Colonel’s secret recipe

of herbs and spices
a bloodless invasion
leaving no cloud in its wake

I don’t think we ever actually
saw a crane on the river
that bore the bird’s name

like Oak Glen or Forest Heights
the name is simply a reminder
of what’s been taken away

gold flecks in green tea
gold plastic across the street
from the train station

and the Colonel standing there
arms outstretched, smiling
beckoning the cranes to fly to him

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POEM: Miso Soup

Listen to this poem by pressing the play button above.

Miso Soup
(for Jennifer)

the only thing better than the taste of the sushi
is the lingering aftertaste
mixed with miso shiru and warm ocha
a sensation so rich
it’s almost another meal in itself
I always order one extra piece of unagi
and remember walking into Meiji Jingu
holding your hand
you gave me a book on Zen —
I was into that then —
and I gave you an atlas of our world
so we could choose the next destination
we sat in the kaitenzushi-ya in Shibuya
and watched the endless parade
of plates, daring us
in Nikko, we took a photo in an unexpected
tram car that was right there on the sidewalk
then climbed up all those stairs
to see the sanzaru
there were many little tremors and
the one big one
that had us scurrying for the doorjamb
just as the shaking stopped
and yes, there were cherry blossoms —
there always are —
right outside our bedroom window
and the cleaning man came by each week
and always seemed surprised to see us
we gave him our maple tree
(and you gave me its cousin years later)
I savor these moments and roll them around
on my tongue, heavy with the dusky taste
of shoyu and the tang of vinegar in the rice


The Jazz Session #47: Satoko Fujii

On the new episode of The Jazz Session, I interview pianist and composer Satoko Fujii. Fujii has released four new recordings in 2008, her 50th birthday year. These records find her with her New York trio; on accordion in the avant-folk-jazz group of her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura; in a quartet with some of Japan’s most talented improvising musicians; and in a second trio with both American and Japanese musicians. Far from slowing down in her middle years, Fujii seems to be pushing herself even more relentlessly, searching for new and exciting ways of expressing her musical ideas.

Listen to the show.

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The Jazz Session: Francis Jacob & Toru Dodo

Show #4: Jason Crane interviews French guitarist Francis Jacob. Jacob’s career has taken him around the world: France, Switzerland, Boston, Brazil, Paris and now New York. Along the way, he’s picked up a gift for improvisation and a taste for West African music. On his new CD, Side By Side (2006), he combines his many influences and creates two albums in one — the same tunes, played by two wonderfully different bands. Listen to the show.

Show #5: Jason Crane interviews Japanese pianist Toru Dodo. Born in Tokyo, Dodo started playing piano at age 4, then gave up his dream of concert piano for the economics department at Tokyo’s Meiji University. He found jazz at Meiji, and eventually came to the United States to study at Berklee College of Music. Since moving to New York City in 1998, Dodo has released three CDs and performed with Kenny Garret, Benny Golson, Curtis Fuller, Ruth Brown and Terumasa Hino. His new album is Dodo 3 (Jazzcity, 2006). Listen to the show.

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