Debt & Indebtedness
In an attempt to pour forty four litres of water
into a vase the shape of a fist
I rushed around first with purpose,
Then with an aimlessness found largely in
decommissioned greyhounds and
cities of people after flood.
After finding the fist not fitting for
forty four litres I found not quite
enough volume everywhere,
In breath taken sharply,
In fights fought in public,
In simulated hair on tv. Finally
I knew to fold myself into the vase
as a way of living outside my means.
I filled, freelanced, financed my way in.
Fret you may but I’ve found a way
A body of water will not be held.
Walking past a whir of cars, eyes fixed upward on skyscrapers and flashing signs. The buzzer clicks, we shuffle across the wide grey pavement. It’s the end of my first day roaming Tokyo on my own, a trip I booked as a distraction, a way of finding something. It’s getting late and my phone is low on battery. As the dark hours set in I find myself at the doorstep of Robot Restaurant.
‘Roboto, roboto, restaurant!’ sings a pair of mechanical dummies, their limbs motorised to the tune.
A man in uniform urges me to go inside. I’ve been told about this place from a workmate, a divorcee who came here on honeymoon. It looks exactly like the YouTube clips, maybe a little smaller.
Along with other tourists I’m ushered through an endless series of corridors. Every surface is a psychedelic torrent of glitter, animals and butterflies, glossy enamel and lights – so many lights – on the floor, walls, ceiling. Throbbing with a kind of life. Eventually we reach a room dotted with red velvet furniture and ornate gold trimming. Onstage a lady sings ballads in a wedding dress, her tiara sparkling. A band of robots pluck gently at their instruments, one on piano, one on guitar. Their chrome suits reflect the plush interior. The other tourists stare at me. I presume they’re wondering what this brown girl is doing on her own in this place. Awkwardly I order an Asahi Dry and slip out to the balcony. Gazing out over rooftops I feel my dreams unfolding before me. Attempting to grab hold of racing thoughts I jot them down in my journal:
Form is emptiness, emptiness is form
The restaurant is an anti-climax, identical to the YouTube clips. I realise how slow time passes when it’s not being edited.
Speeding through the countryside on a bullet train. The landscape moves too fast to fixate on any point so I focus on the horizon, letting all the objects blur into a single line. I’ve spent the week in Kyoto’s ancient Gion and I’m sad to leave. The carriage is full of kanji, salarymen in white-collar shirts and grey suit pants. From the window reflection I see the man next to me reading the paper, snacking on convenience food. It’s strange being a tourist, on the other side of the gaze. Instagram informs me that an old friend I haven’t seen in years is in town. I send her a DM and we make plans to meet up. Mount Fuji passes by, a sad giant shrouded majestically in pink and white clouds.
Voices of people next door waft in through the screen. I’ve been sleeping on the floor of a friend’s Ikebukuro apartment. She’s already gone to work by the time I get up. Folding up the temporary bedding, I make a mental plan of my route to Shinjuku.
Passing by a row of vending machines, eyes fixed on Google Maps. She’s staying in the kareshi rentaru, the boyfriend rental district, I realise looking up at the glossy billboards. Their youthful faces smile back at me. Some kareshi look like rockstars leather-clad with chains; some are like boy-bands with bubblegum smiles and wispy hair. Many eyes inflecting the promise of something. I pass by a group of boyfriends waiting to cross the intersection. They look so effortlessly cool.
No limit and holding onto nothing
My friend greets me in the lobby, ‘What are the chances?!’ It’s strange seeing a familiar face. We’re not the same and yet it’s like nothing’s changed.
We spend the day shopping, immediately getting sucked into the vortex that is Muji. Each escalator is like an event horizon leading us deeper into the abyss of homeware and well-being products; there’s even a Muji cafeteria.
‘If I lived in Tokyo I’d eat all my meals here,’ she says with a straight face.
Instead we snack on 7-Eleven onigiri, takoyaki on Cat Street, and ramen ordered from a vending machine. I buy some pink pleated pants and fake reading glasses from Romantic Standard. Bold ironic text like FEASIBILITY and HOW DEPRESSING is the trend at Takeshita-dōri. Kids everywhere are pulling goth, club kid, and androgynous looks.
‘Socks...So many socks,’ she cries, running a hand through the display at Mega Donki.
Hello Kitty, Gudetama, Pokémon prints. Fake food key rings and sashimi fridge magnets. We buy one of every matcha flavoured snack in the confectionery aisle.
It’s nightfall now, my last in Japan. We celebrate with cans of Strong, a 9% alcoholic beverage that tastes like fruity chemicals and only costs 350 yen. We reminisce about whānau. I recall how we used to attend church together. Both our mothers are devout Christians. But that seems worlds apart now, and we don’t bear that weight anymore. Or maybe we bear it in other ways. I wonder how long we’ll carry a part of Tokyo, in this very moment, after it has passed.
Form is emptiness, immaterial and pure
Drifting with the crowds through the neon-lit night, Strong in one hand and shopping bags in the other. In and out of TAITO STATION to admire the flurry of gamers; stopping to muse at karaoke singers, strobes flashing in their private room – their own little universe. We shuffle across Shibuya Crossing and lament over Hachikō’s bronze statue. An elderly woman pushes her French bulldog in a pram, its diamanté collar refracting the light and our doting eyes. We get word of a rave somewhere near Daikanyama and begin the pilgrimage there. Through narrow streets dimly lit by lanterns in the warm summer night.
The cap caught your head like it
Had any idea what it was doing
An elegant body
Grand, like vapour
Erring on the side of
Mistaking martial arts for violence
The bees die on the concrete and
The rats in the grapevine live
In your belly, A vague Place
“How much are you?”
Random men asked me on street 12 years ago.
It was obviously referencing my price for sex and I didn’t even
think to answer.
How about as an artist now, how much am I worth?
Currently my art business runs at a loss every year.
Within 2 minutes of my wage being paid into my account, most
of the money disappears to pay off the credit card debt. I create
more and more credit card debt for each exhibition and I
slowly pay them off.
I wonder how I can start saving for the future.
One day I want to have kids and I want to have enough money
that they don’t have to worry.
Like everyone, I also live in historical/cultural debts. Being
Japanese, I am almost torn into different parts.
We have our own history of invasion in our country, Hokkaido
and Okinawa, then we also invaded other countries such as
China, Korea, Taiwan, etc.
I experienced discrimination in Australia because of my Asian
heritage and lack of English skills. This gave me an experience
of being a minority.
I feel like I have a wider view, because I experienced racism
and it motivated me to learn and provide support for other
people’s experiences and culture.
I also gained the right speak to as a person of colour.
Do I look yellow?
There is always a counterpoint.
I have almost experienced white privilege by being Japanese.
We were classified as “Honorary Whites” under the apartheid
regime of South Africa.
My skin gets tanned under the sun.
My efforts disappear into the debts that our history created.
And the debt is never paid off.
But I think it's ok.
Seems like that's how my life works, paying off debts.
But I still wish I would get paid for my art so I can save money
for my future kids. I wonder what I’m going say to them if they
want to go to art college.
Contributors- Issue 1
Sheena Colquhoun is an artist and poet who graduated from Fine Arts (Honours) at Monash University in 2014. She was the recipient of the Sunshine Coast New Media Art award in 2015, and has been published in UK based Journal Tender. She has exhibited locally at Seventh Gallery, West Space and Bus Projects as well as internationally. She lives in Melbourne, Australia.
Clementine Edwards is an artist born in Melbourne, Australia, living in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Ko Tahatuna toku waka
Ko Manaia, ko Rehua ratou ko Rangiwhakaahu ngā tupuna
Ko Ngātiwai toku iwi
Ko Ngahuia Raima Harrison tēnei Harrison is a Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa based artist currently completing a practice led doctorate. Ngātiwai and Ngāpuhi - nui - tonu descent, her research concerns are kaupapa Māori, indigenous methodologies and exploring these concerns within a creative practice.
Huni Mancini is a Tongan (Niuatoputapu/Mu’a) and Italian (Monti/Grillara) writer and visual artist based in Tamaki Makaurau (Auckland). Recent shows include New Perspectives with Simon Denny at Artspace, Tamaki Makaurau (Auckland) and Dark Objects at The Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt.
Noriko Nakamura is a Japanese born, Melbourne based artist.
Georgia Robenstone is an artist and writer based in Melbourne.
Editors- Issue 1
Amy May Stuart is an artist living in Naarm.
Holly Willson is an artist living and working in Naarm . Holly was born in Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) and completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Elam School of Fine Arts, The University of Auckland, 2007.
Many thanks to all the contributors, and the many friends and family who have supported the launch of Lieu Journal.