Monday, May 30, 2011

Shibaten Spirits - the Sound of Light and Love

by 8RG:

 Busking in Toronto

If you're in the mood for something a little different, you'll want to check out the exciting performances of mixed instrumental adventurer 'Shibaten Spirits'. Whether he is busking on a street corner, providing an atmospheric blessing of sound and movement for a new temple in Japan, running a workshop for children or performing formally on a stage - Shibaten spreads his unique energy of love and light to all within earshot.

 Shibaten Teaches Kids at a Workshop

Once you see him doing what he loves best you'll know you're experiencing something special. And it is only a couple of heartbeats later that you realize what a genuinely nice young man he is as well. As he travels the globe (over 30 countries so far), he also picks up new friends at every event, big or small.

 Shibaten Blesses a Temple in Japan

Known mostly for his work with the traditional Aborigine instrument, the didgeridoo, Shibaten also incorporates drums, jingles, gongs and bells among other things into a 'one-man-band' type of performance art. He also accompanies himself in a more traditional manner of singing to a strummed guitar - or larger instruments such as the hammered dulcimer.

 Shibaten Practices with a Spiral Didju

Well worth checking out, Shibaten is currently on one of his many formal tours - this time concentrating on the South Eastern portion of America. Visit his page on the main 8RG website to find his full tour schedule. We've also provided links to all of his official sites so that even if he won't be in your area this time, you can connect with him online. Perhaps you will even have some local events that you can invite him to participate in... you won't be disappointed!

Shibaten Singing

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Is it really a small world, after all?

by Lori:

I had the opportunity recently to visit Disney World, a first for me. I know, right? What child raised in America in the last 30 years didn't go to one of the Disney parks as a kid?! Well, money was tight for us growing up in a family of seven with only one parental income, so for me the visit was deferred until now. Though amusement parks have never really floated my boat, Disney interested me as a great place to observe multitudes of people of different races and countries, all packed together for the sole purpose of having fun.

I must say, despite less-than-ideal conditions of crushing crowds, long lines, and almost intolerable heat and humidity, for the most part people conducted themselves very cordially. It seemed most people were in a good mood and determined to enjoy themselves. The few rude comments I did hear were exchanged between Caucasians, and I never heard any racial slurs in the crowd or observed any impolite stares toward people of color or from other countries. Unfortunately, it was my companion who commented that because it's quite expensive to visit Disney World, "you don't see a lot of Hispanics or black people, because they tend to have large families and can't afford it." I was appalled at this observation and told her so, because she's normally quite open-minded and not at all prone to racist comments. After she thought about her statement, she recanted somewhat, especially once I pointed out that it wasn't really true...we heard plenty of Spanish spoken on every side, along with a snippet or two of nearly every foreign language you could think of. The majority of visitors were indeed Caucasian, though.

My friend did make a good point: Disney World is not cheap. They do provide many excellent services for their guests, and I realize that most of the rides are amazingly high-tech pieces of machinery, so it must certainly cost a fortune to run the place...not to mention paying the legions of staff required to pull it all off. However, it's a shame that for the most part only the upper-middle class gets to enjoy this place. It seems like somewhere that all children should have an opportunity to experience at least once. And that's what kind of turned me off about the whole thing. Surely the Disney corporation makes enough money on its movies, music and other franchises that they don't need to scalp you quite so severely on both park admission tickets and everything else from food to sunscreen once you get in the gates.

Among the rainbow of visitors, we saw two different white couples both looking to be in upper middle age, with apparently adopted Asian daughters of about seven or eight years old. Neither had any evidence of siblings, and I wondered again as I often do, what life is like for these girls. On one hand I suppose they're being given a better life and much more opportunity than they would receive in their native countries, but at what cost? Is it worth the alienation stemming from the differences between them and their adopted families, not to mention social considerations in their communities of friends and school? I like to think and I do believe that our society is becoming more color-blind, but my heart still goes out to these children.

There's no better place than Disney World to illustrate the fact that we all love to have fun and be entertained, regardless of race or national origin. One had only to watch middle-aged Asian mens' faces light up with glee on the roller coasters, or small African children screaming with delight in the Tower of Terror, or people of all ages and backgrounds being thoroughly charmed by the Beauty and the Beast musical, to realize that we truly are so very similar underneath our outer appearances and self-imposed roles. Though the slogan should probably be changed to "The happiest place on Earth (for those who can afford it)", Disney does remind us that most everyone in this world basically just wants to be safe, happy and enjoy life. It seems like that shouldn't be so hard.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


by 8RG: 

I have often said that real change, the kind that lasts, comes slowly over many years time. Though it can be difficult to be patient if you are already hungry for the benefits of what you believe in - for the most part you just have to suck it up. You can do your own part to help create that change, of course... but if there is one painful lesson I've had to accept it is that the average masses will mostly meander along at a snail's pace while heading down the path - easily distracted by shiny things and often stopping for lunch. Even if you are already at the place everyone will eventually get to and you know this, there's a good chance you're going to be hanging out alone - kicking rocks and feeling frustrated - until you're ready to burst.

Waiting for the Western mainstream (as a whole but more personally for me in the Deep South) to discover that there's an entire galaxy of amazing things to celebrate from the East has been difficult. From cultural events to cuisine to film and music to art to amazing friendships/relationships and so on... so much to appreciate, admire and respect.

But I am keenly aware of the process of change in all of its tedious bulk: time and positive exposure, over and over again, with little hope of seeing much of the benefits of all of that work in a single lifetime.

Having said all of that however, after nearly 45 years of watching this process take place, I can genuinely see where seeds have started sprouting in tiny social crevices. And here is one that I was glad to notice:

In a Walmart, in the Deep South, I counted 14 DVDs on sale that featured entirely Asian casts. When adding DVDs with a mixed cast but an Asian character prominently featured (and illustrated on the cover art), I could add 3 more. Adding one particular film with several different collectible covers, in this case, 'Ip Man' with Donnie Yen, the number is a tad higher. Throw in the number of anime DVDs that started much of this trend 25 years ago and the count is really high.

Then I went on to discover 2 music CDs by Asian American performers.

And finally a 'Thor' official movie zine designed for young folk. It featured nice full color images of Asano Tadanobu as 'Hogun' a good 9 or 10 times (with one full page mini poster of him that teen girls often hang on their doors - at least they did in my youth... I had Bruce Lee).

I realize that in some parts of North America people might be shrugging and thinking, "Big deal." Places like New York City or San Francisco or Toronto. But I live in a part of the world that traditionally does not enjoy such easy access to Asian arts. It has always been a case where much effort is involved in the search alone (before the internet, one used snail mail orders by such specialty services as the old 'Bud Plant's Incredible Catalog'). Add to that the extra high expense of getting items that are considered rare in this area... especially when they are shipped in from overseas.

Five years ago, I would have seen none of this in a Walmart. The animes might have been available in some Best Buys and Barnes and Nobles. The comic shops have always been pretty good about having things you couldn't locate elsewhere for their eclectic clients.

But the Walmarts always seemed to stick to the average and the mainstream at affordable (sort of) prices. Which means, hopefully, that the average and the mainstream is starting to absorb Asian identities into itself. Finally.

Yes - most of the films were of the action and epic adventure genre. Yes - my favorites are not there yet, such as the cerebral 'Last Life in the Universe'. But it's that change thing again... slow and ponderous. Unfortunately for me, most of the public only wants to see adrenaline rush flicks, not the quiet and quirky material that I often favor. I've had to learn to live with that as well.

So I see this as it is (despite the fact that there are still imperfections) - a small but positive sign that things are still changing in the right direction.

And to help encourage that change I voted with my wallet. I bought two of the DVDs:

'The Warlords' with Jet Li, Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro

'Shinobi' with Yukie Nakama, Jo Odagiri and Tomoka Kurotani

Monday, May 2, 2011

Small Steps

by Lori:

So often in online community discussion groups we hear complaints about how the western media have marginalized Asians, largely relegating them to stereotypical roles and casting Caucasian actors even in movies based on Asian heroes. We're hungry to see art truly reflect life, and we know that a wealth of Asian talent exists out there which is being overlooked, if not outright snubbed. However, positive portrayals of Asians have lately been sneaking in through one of media's unlikely back doors...reality shows.

While I'm not generally a fan of reality TV, it's certainly heartening to see Asian contestants making a good showing in, and often winning, a diverse array of competitions on reality shows. Some of these include Peter Wong of HGTV's All American Handyman; John Jung and Carolyn Bee from Ford Focus Rally America, which received coverage on Current TV; and multiple members of various dance groups on shows like America's Best Dance Crew. And of course we can't forget the original Asian reality star, Yul Kwon from Survivor. The great thing about these programs is that they're showing Asians in non-stereotypical circumstances, acting just like anybody else, and letting mainstream audiences see people who resemble their next-door neighbors, once you look past their ethnicity.

So while we're still waiting for a true blockbuster Asian superstar in the western media, these humble folks on reality shows deserve some serious kudos for quietly representing Asians in a positive light, through an outlet that reaches millions of "average Joe" viewers. It may well be that these small steps end up going further toward creating a more color blind society, than would one big star who could easily be dismissed as an exceptional talent. If nothing else, it gives us one really great reason to tolerate reality TV!