The limit and powerlessness of the city of Tokyo
How did you spend your self-restraint period?
“With absolutely no live performances, I was spending time writing novels. Since it was tough staying all day at home, I went to an abandoned housing complex near my house and stayed there staring blankly at airplanes.”
What were you thinking at that time?
“About the limit of the city… I think what’s attractive about Tokyo, is the people rather than the city itself. Being raised in the countryside where free thinking was not allowed, I felt Tokyo was attractive because of the people living here from various social class, and the way we can rapidly meet up and speak with them. So, I realized with that taken away, nothing was left, and nothing was functioning here. In the first place, there are too many people in relation to the size of the city, overcrowding has been exposed. After the earthquake (Great East Japan Earthquake), I think there were people who reconsidered their lives and moved to different places, and similar trend is happening now. Not only in Tokyo, but many people might be rethinking their relationship with the city.”
I agree. Especially for Tokyo, the energy created when people met with each other has now stopped. There may be anxiety about that.
“For example, the ‘Zenkankakusai’ festival which I have been holding for seven years, was searching for a new trend using the energy created when people gather. So, with that being robbed, we can say we no longer have any weapons. Without the energy generated by bringing people together, there are many people who have run into the feeling of helplessness about what they can do. I am no exception.”
Let us know more about “Zenkankakusai.” How did this festival which raises funds in advance through fund-raising and crowd funding, with tipping as the admission system and free food, come about?
“It’s just that I didn’t have enough money to go to live concerts when I was young. As in the phrase ‘the kids are alright’, we should actually go see it when we are young, and I think that is what rock is about. The value of 2000-3000 yen is completely different when you’re in your teens versus in the 30s and 40s. So fundamentally, the value of money and the value of things will change depending on the environment. Currently the society sets a range to some extent, but I think it will change to each of us thinking about the value of the experience. The tipping system is a preparation for such society, and I felt it important to be involved in the economy and society in that way.
When I first started this seven years ago, the word ‘Nagesen’ which describes the tipping system seemed dated, but now it’s used openly. During this time when the live venues and clubs may close, it is becoming common for each of us to think about the value of places which are precious to us. I feel like I was doing that kind of thing.”
In the background of your comment “each of us will come to think of the value?”, did you feel the collapse of capitalism?
“The feeling is more like ‘accelerating’ instead of ‘collapsing.’ Productive and useful things are considered valuable, and useless things are being cut off more and more. Music genre referred to as ‘Underground’ is becoming tougher than when I first started music; as for major labels, it used to be a little more challenging to release, but now they can be only releasing music which can sell. As a result, I am sorry to say, it is only releasing lame music and losing the power to hook up with people. That’s why we are releasing music through our own label ‘Jusangatsu.’”
So, was your “Zenkankakusai” like an antithesis, perhaps to make correct evaluation yourselves?
“Yes, it was. Hence, if people didn’t feel anything, they should just put in the amount that doesn’t move their feelings. The valuation is entrusted to each one of us, although influenced by many things such as the economic condition. As for me, there was a shocking music scene that changed my life. The same 2500yen admission fee can have completely different values. So, I feel that the society is healthier if that difference is passed on to individuals. That image has always been there with my activities for ‘Zenkankakusai’ and GEZAN.”
It was drastic to even make the food free of charge.
“Yes, it was hard (LOL)”
I believe recovering the cost there was the traditional way for the music business.
“Once during a drinking session, a person running festivals came up to me and jokingly said, ‘Stop, because you’re making our strategy old,’ (bitter laugh). I think the fact that the event worked was one judgement of that era, so I felt we could move forward. If it doesn’t work, we have to accept it and make changes.”
Considering the fact that it worked financially, means this was something everyone wanted.
“Because of that, if you lie and make it your own profit, it will instantly fall apart. Well, we are putting a lot of effort in something we’re not paid for, I’m don’t know when I’ll run out of strength. I think we can still do it.”
Do you have any idea on how big you want to expand?
“I honestly don’t know. With the coronavirus situation, we need to reconsider how to hold the festival from various aspects. For better or worse, I feel that the coronavirus drew a line across what people have been doing. Considering that, I feel we will be tested on how we behave from now on.”
There is a value to things we take for granted
What was the purpose of changing one Chinese character of “ZenkankakuSAI” this year, and to use the tipping system to sell the cultivation kit for vegetables and flowers?
“Due to the coronavirus, everyone looks at SNS as if it were God; the number of infections reported on the Internet impact the mood of that day, or upsets our plans for the following week, month, and year … In terms of impact, we were checking the iPhone screen as if praying in a church. Information spreads too fast, and there were many who couldn’t resist the speed nor take off their eyes, including myself. To that, I needed a slower, more precious flow of time. Planting a seed and watching the sprout grow is just a tiny change, but today will be different from yesterday, and will move forward tomorrow. I had an intuition of the need to have a living thing near me.
I had the urge to change this time to something positive. Although it’s a period where we are refrained from things, I wanted to remember the ‘feel’ I encountered or the happiness of meeting someone after a long time. When things, including live concert starts after being stopped for a while, I think we will reconfirm in many ways, that things we have taken for granted and are accustomed to are very valuable. One of the ways to record that feeling, was to plant the seeds. This media (interview) is also one way, isn’t it?”
That is my intention.
“At the time of the earthquake, I felt a strong sense of discomfort and crisis towards society, but it eroded through everyday life and it was forgotten. In 2021, it will be 10 years after the disaster, and I think we must be more conscious in the next 10 years that follows. Otherwise, while we forget and leave it , people with power will willfully rewrite various structures, and will create a system that will make more profit for them. I feel it is okay to have many forms, but we also need to confront each of them.”
I agree. By the way, to celebrate the start of your farm, GEZAN drummer Roscal Ishihara broadcasted a 30-hour-drum-marathon. Whose suggestion was this?
“It was my suggestion, except the part about 30 hours. Roscal was the one who said 30 hours. I was skeptical on making it too long, but his weird reply was, ‘I’m okay because I train my inner muscles,’ (LOL).”
Since he was moving around while playing his drum, every time I watched, the location changed and the scenery changed, depending on the time of the day.
“It became dark after sunset, and sunrise in the morning, and when it rained, we needed to take refuge from getting wet and cold. We experienced something very natural. Since we needed to stay home at that time, it felt refreshing, when many of our feelings were fading. But I must say, it had nothing to do with the farm. Honestly, far from it. (LOL)”
How to create an environment where humans can be respected as living things
You mentioned earlier about the line being drawn, and we are tested on what we will do, can you share what you are trying to do as a creator?
“It’s more fundamental than as a creator, but I think the rationalistic trend to prioritize productivity will accelerate further. Companies, stores, and individuals will try to recover the financial loss caused by the coronavirus, and excessively seek productivity, and cut back on the margin and promote only those that produce money.
While we weren’t able to meet people in person amid coronavirus crisis, I was also interviewed online, while technology moves us forward, the feeling when meeting people, breathing as a living being and the sensation of the skin were all very important to me. So, I felt strongly that I had to create the future around that. There are people who is thinking about creating an online festival using avatars to listen to music, and some are doing it, but I’m not interested in it at all. I’m interested in people who respect humans as animals and as a living being, and how to create an environment where we can find value. Regardless of what I start, that is what I want to cherish; nothing specific yet. That is a gift I received from this coronavirus era. If each one of us could realize the feeling of ‘what I wanted the most’ and put a frame around the vague feeling, I think this time was truly meaningful.”
However, regarding the economy, at the time of the nuclear accident, there was a question whether to shut down the nuclear power plants because of its risk of radioactive contamination, or to prioritize electricity; in short, whether to prioritize human lives or the economy. In coronavirus crisis, economic issues such as poverty are directly linked to life, our well-being. I think that may be the difficult part.
“Yes, it’s difficult. Since music and movies are nonessential and non-urgent. It’s not easy for the world to understand that creation and live performances is my job. At the beginning, we were told to refrain from going to live venues, followed by continuous accusations of nightlife districts being the source of infection. Because of this, another thing I realized during the coronavirus crisis is that, for society and the government, this place was the first in line to be cut off. Now we know, we are in the place to be cut off first.”
And how did you feel about it?
“Never expected better, but I realized that it was just as I thought. So, now that I know, I just don’t have any expectation. ‘Autonomy’ may be the closest word to explain this, but I think it’s just about creating our own society by connecting with people who share the same values and can understand each other. What makes me alive is friends or people who care about me or love me, and that is society for me. Though, there is no need to create a frame around it. Either way, making me aware of ‘what makes me alive’ is one of the things that coronavirus taught me.”
There is an anticipation that the infections will increase in winter, which makes it even harder to come into contact with people. Do you feel any fear about this?
“It will be a long-term battle, so I suspect giving live performances will be hard this year, and we don’t know how it will be next year. So, in terms of fear, I really really feel it. However, as I said earlier, if we hold on to that ‘feel’, then we will not waver. …Yet, I think it’s okay. Everyone should be okay. Although it’s hard to put it into words.”
You depicted the end of the world in your first novel, “Ginga de Ichiban Shizukana Kakumei” , did you feel that this kind of pandemic will happen one day?
“Since I was young, I was obsessed with death, so doomsday and ‘life and death’ are universal themes to me. People often say, ‘Ginga de Ichiban Shizukana Kakumei’ illustrates the current situation, and the contents fit.”
What do you mean by obsessed with death?
“In other words, I’m obsessed with life. I always wonder what it means to exist. Some may say we are alive as long as our hearts are beating, and I agree there is a side to life that can be expressed like that. However, for me, I’m alive only when I truly feel I am existing.’ After all, there are times I feel nothing despite my heart beating. There’s a part of me that is always testing how to make me alive.”
Since you were a small child?
“Since I was young, I felt it would be better to feel alive than getting hurt or injured, so I got into many many fights. Seeing an insect die, I thought ‘Ah, it’s dead’; I think I’ve always had a dreary feeling towards death. Death has always been close to me.”
Lastly, is there something you would like to ask the readers?
“It’s the same story, but I would like to ask, ‘what it means to be alive.’ Not in words prepared by society, but what ‘being alive’ means to yourself. There are many times when some small touch or personal experience can make us alive. For certain people, that can be live concerts, or watching movies, or growing plants. There should be an answer there.”
In 2009, formed the band “GEZAN” in Osaka. Started his music career as a vocalist, in charge of songwriting. Released his solo album “Chinmoku No Tsugini Utsukushii Hibi” in 2011. Hosts ZINE exhibitions and outdoor music festival “Zenkankakusai.”
In 2019, published his first novel “Ginga de Ichiban Shizukana Kakumei.”
Interviewed by Joe Yokomizo on 16th July, 2020