Thursday, July 4, 2013

Noh in Seattle

Because of my work at the National Noh Theatre and the International Theatre Institute, and as a columnist for the Japan Times specializing in traditional Japanese music and theater, I’ve seen hundreds of Noh performances over the years by many top performers, but I was still knocked out last weekend by the power of Munenori Takeda and Fumiyuki Takeda, two Noh artists visiting from Japan, when I heard them chanting on Bainbridge Island. Truly excellent! They flew out yesterday and already I’m going through withdrawals!
 Photo courtesy of   SUGOI EXPERIENCE JAPAN

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Saluang Flute

The saluang is a bamboo flute of the Minangkabau people of Western Sumatra, Indonesia. I studied it in preparation for a performance of Randai, a martial-arts based dance-drama. It has a airy sound, dry and meditative, and requires circular breathing (breathing in through the nose while blowing out through the mouth with no break in sound). Through it I lose time.
Photo by Kumiko Lawrence

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Himalayan Singing Bowl certified

There is a shimmering, like leaves on a tree when it sways in the breeze. Our minds perceive and simplify. We’ve seen it before, many times. It is a tree. They are leaves. The wind is blowing. But we do not, perhaps cannot, perceive the whole: The tree, that particular tree, is not the same as it was yesterday. Our experiences in the last twenty-four hours have changed our way of perceiving. We feel we’re standing in the exact same spot, but that spot, our posture, the slight change of light has altered our perception. The tree, the leaves, the self, change imperceptibly with each moment.

It is the same with sound.
I am now a certified practitioner of Himalayan singing bowl healing. My instructor, Suren Shrestha, showed me an effective treatment to release stress and muscle tension or to cure insomnia and migraine headaches. Gently strike an inverted large bowl while it rests on your head. In the west we would call the sound produced a ‘drone’, a sustained sound or repeated note, but the actual sound is extremely complex, like sunlight reflected off a lake, an infinity of shifting angles. The mind struggles to analyze the patterns, is overwhelmed, shuts down. The mind’s surrender is relaxation. 
Suren Shrestha :

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Mahabharata (The magazine Parabola)

Kumiko Lawrence’s sumi-paintings are featured in the summer 2013 issue of the magazine Parabola together with a Mahabharata-based short story by Kenneth E Lawrence . Thank you all for making this possible.

  Sumi Kumi

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Soju Kai Recap by Heather Porter

Our friend Heather Porter posted a recap of Soju Kai’s March 24 lecture/performance ‘Healing in Noh’ on her blog ‘Hanamichi’. An excellent recap with great photography by Heather Jackson.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Healing in Noh @ Nagomi Tea House

On March 24 Soju Kai presented a lecture/demonstration at the Nagomi Teahouse in Seattle’s International District. I recently began writing a monthly column for the Hokubei Houchi (North American Post) newspaper entitled ‘Tales from the Noh’. During our first meeting there, we were pleasantly surprised to discover the Nagomi Teahouse downstairs, a beautiful and intimate space.

We chose as our theme for the presentation ‘Healing in Noh’, and focused on specifically on healing through sympathy as expressed in the Noh play ‘Atsumori’. Kumiko opened the performance with a celebratory chant from the play ‘Tsurukame’. I then spoke on the music, movement and chant of Noh, as well as its history and esthetics. Kumiko demonstrated jo-ha-kyu, then danced a section of the play ‘Yuya’.

The presentation also featured backstage photos of Kumiko’s father Yoshio Negishi, a licensed Noh performer. Masks carved by Kumiko’s mother, Yukie Negishi, a Noh performer and accomplished Noh mask carver, were modeled by stage performer/dancer Yuuki Hoashi.

The performance continued with a staged reading of my retelling of the play ‘Atsumori’, as published in the Summer 2012 issue of the journal Parabola. Kumiko’s sumi paintings of scenes from the play were also featured.

The performance ended with a video clip from a live performance of ‘Atsumori’, danced by Hideo Fukuhara, Kumiko’s uncle.

Photography courtesy of Heather Jackson.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Like most bookworms, I tend to see TV as a distraction. Why waste time watching TV when there are so many good books lining my walls just begging to be read? No great sacrifice, really, since 98.9% of what's on is unwatchable. Recently, however, I happened onto a new show that- dare I say it? - I watch religiously.

I originally gave 'Vikings' a try because I love Icelandic sagas. I've read a dozen or so, mostly Penguin classics, and I thought maybe the new series would therefore be at least mildly entertaining. So far (three episodes in) I've been very impressed with just how true to the original culture and history the show is.

I get most of my televized history from lectures on C-SPAN. I loved the History Channel when it first started broadcasting, but lately it seems to only have marathon showings of Pawn Kings, a sort of rustic Shopping Network glorification of pawn shop shoppers, so 'Vikings' has been a very pleasant surprise.

Hopefully the show will be a big hit. I don't care much for spinoffs, generally speaking, but if a publisher or two wants to hop on the bandwagon, maybe they'll finally release some decent audiobooks of some of the sagas. That, if it happens, would be a rare example of commercial forces working in my favor.


Sunday, March 3, 2013


I'm currently working on a novel, a new version of the Mahabharata. My influences are many, including 'The Tales of a Thousand Nights and a Night' and Indian cookbooks, but the strongest influence (aside from the Mahabharata itself) is the Japanese Noh theatre.

Sumi ink painting of Draupadi by Kumiko Lawrence.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Soju Kai Performance


Soju Kai presented several lecture/performances in 2012, and we are currently scheduling our 2013 tour.

Above is a photo from our February 16 presentation at East Shore Unitarian Church (Bellevue,WA) for their Adult Program.  The performance had 'Healing in Noh' as its theme, and focused on the stories 'Hagoromo' and 'Atsumori'. It featured a lecture 'What is Noh?', dance and chant, and Kumiko's sumi ink paintings.

Our next performance will be on March 24th at Nagomi Tea House in Seattle.

We plan to do a Heike Biwa Katari (storytelling) series this spring and summer. We have long wanted to do a Heike Monogatari storytelling series in this style, the way it has been done in Japan for over a thousand years. 

2013 will be an exciting year!

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Epic of Kelefaa Saane

The Epic of Kelefaa Saane describes the life and exploits of a legendary warrior prince of the Mandinka people of West Africa. African epics, when published in English, are usually translations of transcriptions from oral recitations by griots. These recitations are often done before a live audience that knows the stories very well. The end result, yes, is often repetitive or confusing to the uninitiated. But I found this particular epic to be a good read, less confusing than most, and I found the story to be powerful and the variety of ways it was presented to be fascinating. A very enjoyable read.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Kumiko's Art on Display

Kumiko's art is on display at South Bellevue Community Center. One of the series "Atsumori", a samurai story from one of the Noh dramas.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Three Kingdoms/Three Musketeers

I'm only seventeen episodes into the 2010 TV version of the classic Chinese epic 'Romance of the Three Kingdoms' (about 16% finished), but already I have that feeling again. I first felt it, I think, towards the end of a Dumas novel. I was about half way through his 'Man in the Iron Mask' when I realized, a surprise for some reason, that the musketeers were growing old and would almost certainly die within the next hundred pages or so. I was about to finish the multi-book 'Romance of D'Artagnan', and I remember wanting to put the book aside to somehow prolong the lives of my favorite characters. It's early on still, but a similar feeling has crept into my watching of the RoTK.