Land and life, just enough: an interview with Nanao Sakaki - Japanese nomad, environmentalist, and writer - includes three of Sakaki's poems - Interview
Nanao Sakaki is 73. He is loved by children for balancing anything on his head at any moment or for offering them dinosour meat or edible stars as on alternative to whatever's-for-lunch. He follows an ancient tradition of wild men ("desert rats") who, like myself find their greatest joy in walking. This interview took place the day after we ran the Salt River (Arizona) together.
Nanao means "seventh son." He was born in a poor village in Kagoshima, a city on the southernmost island of size in Japan. He has always associated himself with the original "tribal" peoples of Japan: the Ainu in the north, or his own southern people who differ even physically from the "Japanese" (a mixture of invading races). After World War II, Nanao walked Japan, and taught himself English, other European languages, and classical Chinese. He started weaving what is now a remarkable, completely decentralized fabric of "alternative" communities (both urban and rural) in sharp contrast to the growing compulsive conformism among industrial workers of Japan. Nanao has four children, including Maggie-Tai Sakaki Tucker, an equally brilliant literary light and fun friend.
Nanao has friends and admirers in Australia, Asia, Europe, and North America; they value him both for his poetry and for his consistent leadership of people tooking for a new direction for the bioregion of Yoponesia. He has been a cactus thorn to "Japan, Inc.," reminding Japanese people that for all their economic success they are not so happy after all. Since the 1950s, Nanao has been an inspiration in the movements to re-establish organic and small-scale forms, to dismantle nuclear power plants, and to preserve Japan's free-flowing rivers, ancient forests, coral reefs, and remaining wildlife.
A close friend to After Ginsberg, Nanao is Japan's first tructs planetary poet and a part of the great, reconstructed lineage of twentieth-century heroic expansive international poetics. As Gary Snyder has written: "Nanao's work is truly unique. I know of no poems with quite this slant compassionate, funny, deceptively simple, cosmic, deeply radical, free." The poems, unfortunately, are out of print in English and await a new publisher. I have included three from Break The Mirror (OOP, North Point).
Peter Warshall. Where were you at the time of the dropping of the atom bombs?
Nanao Sakaki: Southern Japan, Navy air base. Kamikaze. Everybody knows kamikaze? Kamikaze pilot air base. And I was radar man. I was reading Kropotkin [Mutual Aid], you knew the book? And I was listening Johann Sebastian Bach in radar room. And reading Shakespeare. So much fun! And they don't know what Kropotkin is, so it's OK. And I had long hair, long beard, because it's a kamikaze air base, so kamikaze can have anything to do. Freedom. Because they must die certain day. So kamikaze pilot, having long hair, long beard. So I was there, looking like these people. Why? I should die too. So I had long hair and beard. And after the war ended, the same day, I shaved.
Recently, I found, I wrote in my poem: I saw in my radar the Nagasaki bombing, B-29. But it was my mis-memory. Recently I found a paper recording the wartime, what is going on, and it says that at the end of July [1945 the order came: Break [down] every system, like radar or anti-air. Everything break, and move deep into mountain. Such order came. So we break down all radars at the end of July. So we almost had nothing to do. Some kind of rumor came, almost like a given fact, secret. So Hiroshima and Nagasaki time [August 1945], I was in southern Japan.
Very interesting story. The air base was named Izumi. Izumi is very famous now for crane. Other time 300 cranes coming to this point. The wartime, no crane because crane doesn't like airplane. So no crane. After the war, people started giving food so now 10,00 cranes coming. That's too much.
OK. About the war.... One day, almost war ending, before Hiroshima, maybe two or three hundred American fighters on my head coming to our base to attack. And probably Grumman. Hellcat. And too much noise. So much sound. Shooo! Shoosh! Everywhere. So I came out. What is going on? I had machine gun with me, short one. And I saw one fighter just come to me. So I pick up my gun and I almost hit this airplane, but the pilot just waved his hand to me. So I don't know what! I wave back. And we never kill each other. So many experience in the war.
How did you hear about Hiroshima or Nagasaki? Rumor.
Did you see the cloud from Nagasaki? Yes, I saw. That is clear memory.
Why did so many people in Japan believe in the divinity of Hirohito? Mostly education. Long time Tokugawa shogunate, 300 years, like a slavery system. Well-trained slave country. Just like military zone. Left-right-left-right, such a feeling.
And why were you different? I was lucky not so high-education. I had no chance. So I could see everything with my own eyes from childhood. That's good education. Especially, my father bankrupt. I was seven years old boy. A shock. At that time, my family typical middle class. And suddenly, lower class, where you must work. So I started newspaper boy from next morning. So quick change. Circumstance changing.