Collaboration Update #4


this week is chaos, and i’ve begun to write and re-write this update over and over again but my mind can’t finish the thought.

but what i wanted to share is how these last three months have challenged me creatively, thematically, and _-ly.

each update and conversation with dawn is a reminder of where i am at the moment. whether it’s a lull in time or the chaos that is this week. yet, stirring in the back of my mind is the final work we’ve yet to create.

but as time has continued, i realize our digital dream has become less about our project and more about the relationship we’ve developed through countless texts, long-winded emails and video calls.

and for that, i am grateful.


I’m on March break, but somehow my days seem to be filling up with endless “to do” lists. But my Yume partner, Kayla, is in Toronto and I’m really looking forward to meeting up with them!

I had imagined us having a lovely spring walk down by the Rosedale Valley, maybe talking to the ducks, and delighting in the signs of spring… But today, SNOW!

Ever the optimist, I’ve been practicing “Haru ga kita” (Spring is coming) on my flute. It’s a children’s song I remember hearing from an old LP when I was a child. Spring is coming!

Haru Ga Kita

Collaboration Update #3


Lillian and I have started into actual co-creation now, with Lillian writing the various project texts and me editing, or perhaps more accurately, suggesting edits. We’re taking Lillian’s ideas, notions, and disparate elements and forming them into a cohesive whole that will describe the project to outsiders, in the most eloquent and compelling way possible.

This will be fun. But also probably the hardest part of the journey for Lillian, who is, after all, the central creator here.

Write. Edit. Repeat.
Write without Fear.  Edit without Mercy.



Michael loved the idea of serendipity – surprises hidden for decades, found only by accident. There are two storylines – the first about searching for Mom’s best friend in Vancouver, MIORI; the second about what had happened to my family when they were deported to Japan after the war was over.  At first, I had combined both the stories and gave it the title, SERENDIPITY.  

I recorded the narrative by me, the storyteller. I found that the story is way too long to be animated in only three more months. So I divided SERENDIPITY into two separate stories. The first is WHERE IS MIORI?  Maybe like the well-known WHERE IS WALDO?  A search for a girl lost in the meandering journeys of time by her best friend, my mom, discovered by me by happenstance.  The second is THE LETTERS. Also about finding letters by chance which give me answers about what had happened to my family who were deported to Japan, after the war. 

Here are recordings of WHERE’S MIORI?  And THE LETTERS.  Each recording is 20 minutes long.  Michael and I are leaning towards THE LETTERS.

An WW2 government identification card (front side) of Lillian's mother Lily (Reiko) Hamaguchi.
The backside of the same identity card with finger print, serial number (05949) height, weight, address and occupation (houseworker)
a very old black leather photo album belonging to Lillian's mother.
a black and white photograph of three friends: Burney, Miori and Butch, all three smiling in the snow.
a sugar beet harvesting kinfe with its' hooked end.
Beet Topping knife
Steamer ship

Collaboration Update #3


Miya and I have been brainstorming ways to connect our embodied movement to each other, across the 5,000+ kilometre distance between Halifax and Vancouver where we respectively reside. In our creative conversations, our shared access to the Pacific and Atlantic oceans came up, which led to the idea of each of us filming ourselves moving by the seaside and experimenting with connecting the videos side-by-side through editing. This visual is a minimal improvisation of gestures masking the face, is my contribution of research to this concept even before the mask of my face is made. 

It was incredibly grounding to dance at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, at Wickaninnish Beach on Vancouver Island, BC on the traditional territories of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations. 


plaster casts of Shion's face that were mailed to Miya through the post

I received Shion’s plaster bandage face cast in the mail. She was very brave to do this-it’s not easy! Once I had this in my hands, I mixed up some plaster and filled the cast she made. I now have a replica of Shion’s face to make masks on that will perfectly fit her face and look like her. As you can see in the photo, the cast she sent me is now destroyed, but it served its purpose well.

Collaboration Update #3


"I was able to get this 1967 Photo that appeared in the London Free Press.  A photo of Dawn's Grandmother who practiced ikebana.  She is holding a bouquet of flowers: Iris, tulip, daffodils and eucaplyptus.
I was able to get this 1967 photo that appeared in the London Free Press.
(Photo by George Blumson, courtesy of the LFP Collection / Western U. Archives)

Generation / Regeneration
Kayla shared some photos and stories about her family’s past, and coincidentally my relatives have been sharing some family history over email this past week or two.
I was thinking about my grandma Obokata, who did ikebana and was a star of the London Ontario Garden Club. I was able to get this 1967 photo that appeared in the London Free Press.
(Photo by George Blumson, courtesy of the LFP Collection / Western U. Archives)

About my Grandma Obokata (from my play, Japanese Maple):

Scrub scrub scrubbing
your garden hands grandma;
Rub rub rubbing
your rounded back grandma;
blink blink blinking
your tired eyes grandma
so many mysterious
and wonderful things you do in a day…

You fall asleep with your glasses on—
“To see my dreams better” you laugh.

What dreams do you dream
behind your glasses
behind your smiling flower eyes


is a home a who, a what, a where? how do we mourn the loss of the places we no longer recognize? how do
we acknowledge the ones we never met?
this week, dawn and i briefly spoke on the idea of place.
for her, for me, for them

Collaboration Update #3


A script from a Kabuki play - an infamous sake drinking scene with a 5 gallon sake cup for a treasure spear.
photo of Noriko san's nagauta shamisen which was reskinned in Tokyo but stuck in Japan because JapanPost is still not airmailing packages to Canada due to Covid-19 issues.  She says: "I hope it can fly soon!"

I recorded this short excerpt for Teiya, so they could understand the historical reference
and atmosphere of the sake drinking tale which has been immortalized in poetry, song,
and film. I watched 50 hours of the NHK taiga drama – “Gunshi Kanbe” to find this very
scene. 1 Classical Japanese poetry requires a certain degree of supportive research to
help capture the historical import and emotions, in my opinion. This excerpt from
“Gunshi Kanbe” depicts Mori Tahe (of the Kuroda clan) winning a drinking bet (5 gallons
of sake – one shot!) and receiving the infamous spear – Meiso Nippongo. The song
Kuroda Bushi ( 黒田節) was inspired by this scene. Kuroda Bushi is a folk song from
Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan and dates back to the 1590s. The first verse of
Kuroda Bushi is immersed into the shigin, “Meiso Nippongo”. This is my favorite shigin
for the New Year.

“The Toyotomi Decline.” Gunshi Kanbee, created by Yoichi Maekawa, episode 44, NHK
(Japan Broadcasting Corporation), 2014.


a hand written musical score of a nagauta song.  with musical notations and Japanese written out in the english alphabet

Our conversations about nagauta continue – now to add to the list is “Suehirogari,” “Musumedōjioji,” and “Zen Honō-ji – and I am transported into wonderfully illuminating conversations about the stories behind these songs: noble samurai, drunken competitions, and sorrowful forlorn women. Somehow, we seem to weave Puccini’s Madama Butterfly back into our musical conversations, and how it has affected us from my most recent video offering of The Butterfly Project to Noriko-san seeing it for the first time at age 10 in Montreal where she observed yellow face and costuming that was culturally inaccurate. Cultural appropriation, racism, the rise of anti-Asian hate, echoing back across time, and across oceans to internment camps and incarceration in the 1940s, in both the US and Canada, deportation, disownment, banishment.  And then at the same time unpacking the trope of the unmarried old woman whose unrequited love leaves her bitter and eventually turning into a monster to be discarded, shunned, and then her ultimate death.

We talked about the meaning of our names, the kanji and where it came from: “One who unties knots” will do so “steadfastly as an evergreen forest.” A good mantra for our process, me thinks.

I’m going to dabble more into the world of Otsukisama and dream about what “shigin” could sound like, especially the style of shigin that was taught by a western classically trained opera singer…

Collaboration Update #3


A photograph of glacial ice that I took at Athabasca Glacier

still, not still

In one of our back and forth exchanges, Jon sent me a photograph that he took in a hotel in Wakayama, Japan. “The room only had one little window and it opened to a 1 foot gap between my hotel and the adjacent building,” he said, “so the decorator installed a lightbox with a beautiful beach and mountain scene… it felt like a cheesy but effective workaround.” Then he asked, “if you had to spend 2 weeks in a room with no windows, what would your lightbox scene be?” 

Two images came to mind, almost immediately. The first was a photograph of Takakkaw Falls — which has always felt like a powerful, spiritual place to me. But it was the second image, that I knew was the one I’d want to have in that room with me. 

still, not still is a composite of two images that I’ve worked with separately, in the past — a photograph of glacial ice that I took at Athabasca Glacier and an old photograph from the Meiji Era, of a young woman riding a stuffed crane. In response to Jon’s question, I saw these images in my mind as one … as a lingering … as something still in me, unfinished … and I found myself wondering, if I closed my eyes, would a story come to the page or off my tongue, from this still, not still image? Maybe, when falling asleep in that room with this image, some bits of the story might surface from the dreams of night.  


“Hi Baco, I liked what you were saying about adaptable spaces, and the imperative to be responsive to changing situations. I think a lot about this sort of thing when it comes to our JC ancestors having to uproot and build new lives, reinvent themselves with new jobs, communities, civic identities.

This video shows a rough 3D scan of my home workspace. I was setting up a 3D scanner at Christmastime and this was a test… it is terribly inaccurate but aesthetically I enjoy how it looks. Depending on my frame of mind it looks either like a scene of destruction, or alternatively a space that is malleable like putty, able to be reconfigured into something new as needed.”

Collaboration Update #3


After I managed to get my tech back up and running, I went back to some time-lapse screen recordings. After seeing what Hitoshi is able to do with a little editing and using his music, it seems like this is going to be the direction we continue in.

Things are developing into more concrete themes. Hitoshi sent me a demo sound. It suits the mood I am in, as i think about recent world events. this track seems to express a wide range of emotions, and makes me think of a storm coming in… and eventually clearing.

I guess I was thinking about peace being restored.

Will's finished computer generated drawing of the calm seashore.
makes me think of a storm coming in… and eventually clearing.
I guess I was thinking about peace being restored


We’ve been doing this tossing idea back and forth exercise on a daily basis, Will’s response to my pieces of music has always been amazing. I use Soundcloud (online audio distribution platform) as my playground/showcase and whenever I create music, I upload it as demo then Will can listen to it too.

Once Will finishes his drawing and making time-lapse visuals based off of my demo, he sends it to me and I make a movie with my music. Making a movie and lining up music and visuals are quite fun. First, I created a couple of movies putting carefully edited visuals alongside music but also, I tried to improvise music along the visuals. This short movies shows my impromptu finger drum along Will’s time-lapse sketch. Enjoy it!

Collaboration Update # 2


Photo of Shion Sky Carter wearing a white plaster mask of her face
In order for Miya to make masks of each of our faces, I needed to make a cast using plaster bandages. Miya will use this cast to make the masks fit perfectly on my face! This was my first attempt at making a cast; it was a really fun process, and the fact that I’m learning new skills through this collaboration makes my project with Miya even more exciting.  
The next step: send the cast by post from Vancouver to Halifax, for Miya to work her mask-making magic! 
Photo of Shion Skye Carter holding aloft a white plaster mask of her face with Ficus plant in the corner


The idea to play with scale between the mask and the body came directly out of conversation with Shion Skye Carter as part of their collaboration exploration together.

Collaboration Update #2


Starting a new project is so very hard. And so very exhilarating. All those stories and ideas and research make the beginning the best, resplendent with potential.

Our first two questions right now are: 1) who is this for, and 2) what is the single idea closest to our hearts. So daunting. So exciting. ’Til next time then.

Photo of an office worker buried in a Humongous pile of papers at her desk.
Photo of a cupcake display cake arrayed with dozens of colourful and delicious cupcakes.


Photo of Lillian's artwork entitled "Sticky Rice 22,000" mixed media drawing on shoji paper, 39" x 180"  A symbolic pilgramage of the forced relocation across Canada, each grain of rice representing a Japanese Canadian.
STICKY RICE 22,000: out of the darkness into the darkness is a mixed media drawing on shoji paper, 39” x 180”, a symbolic pilgrimage of the forced location across Canada, each grain of rice representing a Japanese Canadian. There are scattered grains along the journey representing those who were lost along the way. I am glad that I was able to show it at least one time and see it on the wall. The text reads: “my father said: you should not waste a single grain of rice” 

I shared with Michael, several creative attempts over a decade to tell the story of my family’s forced relocation from their home in Vancouver in WWII, through the eyes of the women in my family for three generations – Issei, Nisei and Sansei. As Michael pointed out, the most difficult part of this project is choosing the story to tell and the audience. I have a tendency to think laterally and ideas just pop into my head. It’s great to have a partner who helps me focus on one part of the story which becomes, in his words, “a voyage of discovery and revelation.  

Photo of a sketch of Lillian's new piece entitled "Between Despair and Hope. BEHOLD THE BLACK RAIN" which addresses the world's environmental crisis and nuclear testing.
Currently I am developing artwork for an environmental crisis inititiative LETTERS TO THE EARTH: Between Despair and Hope.  BEHOLD THE BLACK RAIN is in the sketchbook stage. Since the bombing of Hiroshima, many countries have continued nuclear testing – over 500. Everything on the earth is affected by the fallout – all living creatures, everything we eat, everything we touch. This installation will consist of thousands of strands of washi yarn, recalling the devastation in two large cities in Japan. Nagasaki is located very close to Kumamoto, where my family came from. 

Very recently, I discovered lost threads between my mother and her best friend, Miori, and neighbour on Cordova Street. Completely by happenstance! I had also created an accordion book, LETTERS FROM JAPAN, communication between my Canadian-born mother and her sister who was deported to Japan with her Japanese National husband in 1946. This could be the starting point of a search for lost friends, lost family connections, lost years. Either story, told from my point of view as one who had never experienced the hardship personally, would provide an intriguing storyline of mystery and resolution. I have two cousins left who returned to Vancouver after living through post-war Japan. I could ask them to give me details. I discovered that Miori has a daughter living in Montreal. I am sure she could tell me about her mother after relocation. 

Most of my work in the past had been educational. But my current artworks are becoming more abstract and conceptual.