There is an old saying in Japan and Asia that when a koi fish successfully swims up a waterfall, it will become a dragon.
And the koto is considered as a symbol of the dragon.
Creating arts with the koto is to me a journey of transforming, like a koi becoming a dragon and flying in the sky free from gravity. My art making is a process of freeing myself and the koto from all preconceived notions, such as Asian, Japanese, female, world music, exotic, oriental, etc. etc. Such labeling has been telling me who I am and what I am supposed to be and do. For example, I was raised, educated, and expected to be a Japanese woman who believed that it was more important to learn and be able to behave like a Japanese woman than to explore who I am or what I can be as an individual human being.
I always wondered, though, what it means to be “Japanese” and “woman” anyways. My art making process is a journey of trying to define myself by myself in a way I like, express it through my art, share it in the society and talk about it
My focus is to question 1) the human tendency of labeling things that they perceive and 2) the assumption that people share somewhat similar labeling criteria. I understand that some level of labeling, or definition, is necessary for communication. Yet, I wonder if labeling is really helping us communicate or if it is creating more confusion when we all come from different places. Some questions are: Whose definition of labels are applied in a certain communication? Why is that particular definition selected? And how fair is it?
I would like to challenge preconceived notions of an Asian female world musician. I play the koto, which is an instrument of Japan. The fact that I, as a person from Japan, play a Japanese musical instrument may not always satisfy an audience’s assumption of what “Japanese music” is like. I try to be simply myself pursuing my own interest, without any adjectives in front, such as Asian, female, world musician, etc. I am not trying to escape from or ignore my being an Asian woman, either because I am an Asian woman, and I am proud of it. What I mean is that my own interest as an individual is as important as my backgrounds. They are not exclusive. They can coexist. My art is an on-going process of positing the respectful coexistence.
Technology, both old and new, is what I use for my art. I consider technology to be an extended human body to interact with an environment. For instance, plucking a koto string with a fake nail, or plectrum, enables me to produce sounds that my body cannot create by itself. In this sense, any acoustic or digital music instrument is technology. I combine a product of ancient Asian technologies, koto, and the latest technologies of interface and a computer. By doing so, I attempt to expand the concept of what it means to play the koto. It can create a lot more than traditional sounds: It can produce visual arts or different kinds of sounds and noises. This project can expand the possibilities of what it means to play the koto beyond its conventional practice as "exotic" Asian music instrument and what its music sounds like.
I try to express continuous transformation of myself and the koto beyond conventional notions through my art. My hope is to provide the audience through my art with opportunities to have a dialogue with their own understandings of the "art by an Asian woman with an "exotic" instrument."
These ideas are based on a hope of how humans can relate to the world without stereotypes: perceiving, interacting, and negotiating their own understandings of the world where they meet others who are not like them. My hope is to provide the audience with an experience that allows them to rethink the preconceived notions, assumptions, or stereotypes they have towards the environment they live in and try to find ways to coexist respectfully with different beings.
The koi and dragon are around me all the time, to remind me of this.