An interview with Kazuko Kono, Japanese singer living in Croatia, Plan B magazine; afterwards also published in Globus:
From the Land of The Descending Moon, inhabited by 127 million people, where toilet seats wash people’s asses, where karaoke school girls get laid for Gucci purses, directly from Japan, of which we, the miserable of the world, think (in attempt to comfort ourselves) that is inhabited by Borg drones, geeks and manga-jerks, comes Kazuko Kono. She lives, studies and sings in The Dark Age Land, of which we are so exotically proud.
– I am late. Sorry. I croatized. – says Kazuko.
– They've spoiled you already. Damn...
(A huge bore is roaring behind our back. They're fixing sunshades on Flower Square. We flounce and move to the farthest table.)
– You see – says Kazuko – people live surrounded with loud noises all the time around here. There are no such noises in Japan. If a waiter drops a glass, he apologizes to the whole restaurant. It bothered me a lot, at the beginning. I mean, people can be three hours late here. Then trains… And it seems as if trams don’t have any schedule whatsoever. I don’t follow them anymore.
(Imagine, the crazy Japanese prints out the schedule of Zagreb Trams!!!)
– But this carelessness suites me now. – Kazuko continues. – When a train is three minutes late in Japan, the driver commits suicide. Sick! But, it is this long living hara-kiri tradition, you can't blame them, the old people think that it is the only right thing to do.
– Your Croatian is good – I say.
– I study Croatian and Russian at Faculty of Philosophy. Haven't graduated, though. I have no clue when I will acquire the diploma. I had so many ambitions, but now, I just don't have a clue...
(Imagine, sweet Japanese studies Croatian and has already caught a Cro-syndrome: eternal student, have-no-idea-what-to-do-where-to-go!!!)
– I played piano and wanted to become a pianist, to enter Academy. Wanted to be a part of UN... I thought: since I am studying this exotic language, I could go to UN. Now, I don't know what to do anymore. A career with band, I suppose. When I entered the bend, they promised to become real stars, with a pile of cocaine in the backstage, and whores in cages.
Now I wait for that to happen…
– How did you start singing?
– The name of the band is Welcoming Committee in Flames. A guitar and a drum only, and I singing. When they looked for a singer they said: “We want Japanese.” They were only fooling around. They couldn’t have dreamt that they would actually bump into me, real Japanese. They heard about me from friends, gave me a phone call and that’s it. I have never sung with a band, but I skipped school to sing in karaoke. It is normal in Japan. You skip school for karaoke.
And now I wait for our first album to be released on 1st January 2009.
– According to what you said, our stereotypes on Japanese are totally wrong: just working and finishing everything on time.
– These stories about Japanese are true, but then they are a total bullshit. Older generation works a lot, really. When I was a girl, I was seeing my dad once a week. He would come back home after I had gone to sleep, and when I would woke up, he wasn’t there anymore. I heard that Americans exceeded us lately. Statistics show they work even more.
– No! That's American propaganda... – I say.
– Maybe... But that was a big shock for us. You know, we are not the best any more.
– And school? I heard that you move from school to school like robots, and then quickly back home to do your homework. Everything is programmed.
– You see, it's not much different than it is here. There is alcohol, blowing, everything, but we're screwed for having to wear uniform, and therefore everybody knows you're under age. And you wear it whole daylong. So, you need to hide. We figured out many ways to hide: toilettes, train stations… When I came back from Zagreb, where I started to smoke a lot, and be late a lot, I was dying for a cigarette. Then, a friend of mine and me hid into a toilette in the school that nobody uses, and locked not only a cabin, but also the entire toilette. And then, somebody came and knocked. We shit our pants. When a student was caught with a cigarette, she was let go instantly. So, there we were, petrified. We shout: “Just a moment, a moment.” And, thanks God, the person went away. It's not easy to hide in Japan, it's hard to run away, you need to jump walls to have a cigarette. Schools have three entrance doors, and there's an additional professor standing in front, so nobody can escape.
– School uniforms are sexy... We used to wear aprons – I say.
– Yes, I heard of aprons. The looks of uniforms are important when we pick school to attend in Japan. My private school had awesome uniforms. When you see us sitting in classroom, we look like dolls.
(Imagine, crazy Japanese then ends up in Croatia!!!)
– But which devil brought you to Croatia? – I ask.
– Well, I wanted to go abroad, that is why I enrolled International school in the first place. To travel. There are many possibilities for that. Some wanted America, New Zealand, England, an English-speaking country, and I wanted a strange language, different, exotic... My school had a sister school in Zagreb, exchange of students from Japan and Croatia. That is how I first saw Croats and heard Croatian language. I really liked them being so proud of being Croats. But, I’ve come to understand that this has some awful sides. Nationalism creates problems in this country, I believe that. Ideas like homeland are useless in Japan. They don’t exist. They don’t exist in that form. That is so exotic about Croats. The pride. And then you won third place on the World Cup in soccer… That was interesting, too, such a small country, and so many soccer players...
(Imagine, small Japanese came to marry a soccer player!!!)
– You came to marry a soccer player? – I ask.
– No, thanks God, I didn’t! I’ve been here for nine years now. When I came, I lived with a family, whose daughter lived with my family, in my hometown, Sendai. This is the biggest town on the north of Honshu, the main island. So I lived with them in this Dubrava place… I remember I came and thought to myself: What the fuck? What kind of neighborhood is this? Everybody I knew lived in Dubrava, Spansko, Precko, Zapresic, in Tresnjevka... I have no idea that people in Zagreb live in downtown, that there are residential buildings in downtown. When I started living on my own, I figured out that people live there, too. And Dubrava was really exotic. You know, all the kids in the street say to you: Hey, you, yellow-one… this and that… Annoying, yes! But, what… then, I dyed my hair blonde for some time and wore huge glasses, so nobody noticed me. Camouflage… Now I don’t care… There are still these incidents… Many, many of them. Even more, maybe, since the Chinese came. Maybe they think we are taking their jobs away.
– What a shame!
– You can find that in Japan, but we are such a shy and discreet people, so we don't articulate it.
– So, how do you see us?
– You are all snobs... You can tell it by everything, by cell-phones, by clothes, by cars... For example, in Japan, there is no such thing as borrowing cigarettes from others. You don’t ask even your friends for a cigarette, and here they ask you for a cigarette as if they are penniless, and then they buy a fancy shirt. I mean, we are all like that, but still I am a little uncomfortable. And you are obsessed with alternative. This thing with alternative, I couldn’t understand. What does it mean? I looked up the dictionary, but when you translate it to Japanese it doesn’t mean a thing, it is bullshit. Alternative is not a big deal in Japan. Like, we were reaching a peak of strange dressing, even boys put make up, wore skirts, angel wings... and that wasn't so alternative. Once I made an ex boy friend of mine to wear a skirt, it fitted him really nice, I borrowed him my own, we wear the same number, which is a little embarrassing, but still... And then, the locals in Dubrovnik started to insult us: “You fagot what you need a skirt for!” And I mean, really, when they saw us, a yellow-one and a fagot… It was then that I stopped insisting on that.
But people here make PhD thesis out of alternative.
We order whiskey.
– As for snobbism, we are snobs, too – Kazuko explains. – And since you are fewer, that is more visible... You know, more obvious. When I was in High school, school prostitution was in... My friends did it regularly. Every day, no shame. Of course, it is a little bit – um, um, um... for the first time. After that, you get used to it. At the time, standard rate was 1.300 – 1.400 Kn (200 euros).
(Imagine, crazy Japanese got a good price!!!)
– And all the girls did it – she continues. – Both those who were short of cash and the ones who weren't. Only to be able to buy Vuitton, Gucci, Prada. Sex for purses or shoes. It is organized. There are rooms for guys who want sex with schoolgirls. The guys and girls sit and wait for a phone call. Everything is done over phone. Like chat, but for sex purpose only. You dial a number, say: "Hi, what's up?" Have a little chat: "Want to meet? Fine. Where?" You make an arrangement out of fun, and then hide so that you can observe the guy: “Wow, which guy, how ugly he is… hahahaha." Then you laugh with the squad. At the end you decide whether you are going to do it or not. I've never tried it, but not for moral reasons, but because of my parents who always provided me with all that I needed. I don’t wish to sound arrogant, but my folks always bought everything I wanted, so to do that just for another Gucci purse would be really unfair to them. But that was so normal, you could talk about it, tell stories… I mean shit happened, HIV, violence… Nothing like that happened to my friends. It is like a form of communication. All the guys wanted were to have sex with schoolgirls and to have small chat. These weren’t some grandpas, they were twenty-thirty year olds.
We do a lot of karaoke. You don’t sing for audience, you get a room, where you sing, drink and eat with your squad. It’s funny, you get wigs, stuff, everything for masquerade. This is called Karaoke Box. And, in these boxes, school kids do their thing. They can’t do it home, we live in such small spaces of 20 square meters, with paper doors. Every box has a small window, I mean, not everyone can peek in, the majority is not high enough, but when I took my ex-boy friend Vinko to Japan, who is almost 6.2 feet high, he could see it all. Even when you don’t mean to peek, you have to notice it. He always said: “You see! Again! I mean, is there anybody who actually sings in these karaoke? All of them just fuck!”
– What about our boys? Anybody wanted to marry you?
Yeah, some maniacs. Thank God, we never reach that point. But, I like northern guys, since I am from the North myself. There is a North-South division in Japan, as well. I don’t like these loud, arrogant Dalmatians, I prefer Slavonians. There were some exceptions from Dalmatia, but they were more adventure-type of guys, rather than interested into relationships. Macho guys are not at all popular in Japan, so I don’t like chunky, macho characters. Men are considered to be cuter the more they are sexually neutral. There is this thing called Love hotels, meant only for sex. You can rent them by the hour or for a whole day if you are fit enough. It’s cheap, you have a moving bed, a mirror on the ceiling, karaoke too… you know, real fun. You can’t do it home, in Japan. Flats are too small. Not enough living space, in general. A house is a privilege.
– But you lived in a house.
– It is ancient and falling apart. But yes, you could call it a privilege. That used to be my grand-grand fathers house, it is grandpa's now, then it'll be my father's, than my brother's...
– And you'll get nothing?
– No. I don't know. Maybe I get something, but my brother will get more, for sure. He is a man. These things are so idiotic back home. A huge difference. Heavy sexism. It's like that in office, at home, everywhere... Fuck it. Total shit!
– How do you swear in Japan?
– We don't.
– Never ever?
– You can offend someone only if you mention something against his Mum – the worst would be if you said – your Mum has a big… (she stops for a moment) belly-button. It is some sort of traditional insult. I don’t get it why.
–What do you say about our curses?
– They're very practical. You have to observe the situation and use them under certain conditions. Cursing enables you to express your feelings directly and honestly. Shy as we are, we don’t swear. We don’t know about the devil, either. We have words for that, but these creatures do not cause fear or emotions. It was here that I learnt to swear. And it is awesome.
– There’s another crazy thing. The whole family uses one tub and the same water for bathing. First the oldest one man. Then granny, then daddy, and so on. My Mum never respected these customs, she didn't give a fuck. Grandpa was always the first one. Always! Then you use that water for at least two days, to cut back the costs. That’s tradition. Young folks don’t practice it. That used to be completely normal to me before, but there’s no chance I’d do it again. Let alone the toilette seats…
– Oh, do say it!
– Vinko will explain it, when he comes.
–Who is Vinko?
– My ex. Present roommate. We were together for four years. Anyway, he is gay. He is my University colleague, we met on Latin course, and at first we were best friends and went to Japan. He fell under local influence so much, that he started to take people, in a way, neutrally. When I asked: “How can a fagot like you can be with me?” he said: “Well, it’s the same shit”. I mean, it’s a sad story, that Japanese girls have no tits, no asses, that boys wear skirts… Sexual difference is so small. When Vinko came to understand it, he thought to himself – why not? Then, once I forced him and he agreed.
(Imagine sweet Japanese managed to convert one!!!)
– Still, this was just temporarily... – she continues. – We split up after four years. But we are still best friends.
–You haven't taken him often enough to Japan. Have you ever tried out with a girl?
– It's not that I’ve fucked a girl in Croatia, but I saw girls doing it on regular basis, kiss each other, and touch tits... Personally, I love tits! I adore them so much that the first sexual image that comes to my mind is – tits. I love them so much that when I fuck a guy I think of tits all the time. I suppose it is because I am not used on tits like those. I mean, you don’t get so many tits in Japan, and here, man, big tits are all around. Sometimes, I really stare and peek likes an idiot. Hypnotized. I am not ashamed to speak about it, at all. Tits! Tits! Tits! I have been taking hold of Croatian girls’ tits a lot. I started to do it in Japan, I practiced it since junior high school. I can still remember when I took hold of my colleague’s tits. Shit, I even talked about it with my sport teacher. She was shocked. She muttered: “It is not that I don’t understand, it’s just that I don’t see any point in talking about it.” She was lost, wanted to give me an advice, but couldn’t make it. I adore tits… Sorry, I got to go pee.
Another round of whiskey came to the table.
– When Vinko comes, we go for a dinner – Kazuko ordered. – I've been a veggie all my life. I eat everything but meat – fish, even insects... It's soooooo popular in Japan, really awesome.
– Which insects? Spiders? Worms?
– No, no, no, the ones with head, legs, everything.
– I haven't tried cockroaches – says Kazuko, without a blink – but it is being eaten in some parts of Japan. I am, actually thinking of these green insets.
– I don't know the word in Croatian... INAGO is in Japanese... I will look up the dictionary... We eat all kind of bugs and I love them. When you are eating one, you are aware that this is an insect, you know what you are eating. A whole animal on the plate is rarely to be seen in Japan. There's no such thing as roasted meat or something rotating on the skewer. Everything is processed, we eat minced meat or meat chops often, without even realizing that what we actually eat is an animal. I was six years old when I came to realize that meat is animal. Then, I don’t recollect how it actually happened, but it was my Mum who explained it to me… We were on the farm – watching goats, pigs, cows. I was eating a KFC. Then we saw chickens. “This is what you eat”, Mum said to me. I put the KFC aside, in shock, and left the place.
This sentence changed my life. And I wasn’t really a city-kid, but when I realized that this was an animal, and that people slaughter animals, and that we eat it, I just stopped eating. Now that I think about it, I don’t feel sick, OK, let them slaughter, let them eat… Especially, when the animals are already slaughtered, they’re dead, I think it is inappropriate to refuse it, you have to take it, a life has already been taken, so it can’t just be wasted in vain. That is why I am not an activist! I knew about the fish, because it is eaten in one piece. You can see it is the same fish that is swimming in the water.
(Jesus, this Japanese broad is really a loony!!!)
– Which Croatian meal do you prefer?
– I adore sarma. But vegetarian one, with soya and nuts. All Japanese would love sarma. I love beans with turnip, I adore homemade pie with a lot of gravy, the milk cream. I like prdet.
(Imagine, sweet Japanese probably means brudet!!!)
– It rules! – She continues. – Let alone fish-stew! I like cooked vegetables, leek, green beans, although I understand that many people don't.
– It is a kind of poor people's food. Maybe that is why...
– Oh, fuck that! I'd eat a full pot. When someone's mum, or boyfriend's Mum prepares it... ah... for example, when I went to my boyfriend’s house for the first time... fuck, man… Since I’ve been away from my family for ten years now, when a boyfriend asks me to meet his parents – it is a great honor for me, and I love it. Most people don’t like it, it is too stressful, it looks as if they’re going to marry and that stuff. But I love it, to meet the parents, go to someone’s home, and when someone’s mum cooks that homemade stuff. So, I do that every time I meet a new boy friend, I go to meet his parents and to try this homemade stuff. I’ve been in these situations like a hundred times. And I eat for about two hours. I usually eat slowly. Slowly, but a lot. In fact, this is a cultural difference. We eat dinner, like, really slowly, lunch is eaten much faster, but when we eat, we do it for, like five hours. So, I eat, and eat, and eat – and these polite people say: ”Oh, do eat, please…” And then, next day I ask: ”So, what the parents said?” the answer is usually: ”She is a nice girl, but, boy, isn’t she a slow eater?!” I can’t leave the food on the plate. It is because I grew up in a traditional family. My dad never allowed us to leave food.
– You mean, you need to eat everything that's on the plate?
– Everything, to the last grain of rice. Rice especially! To leave rice – it’s a blasphemy. Everyday home, I ate everything to the last grain of rice. It was more granny who made us eat, since Dad was not there. So, I eat everything, and feel fine, and someone’s mum asks with satisfaction: “You really liked it?” And I reply: ”Oh, yes, a lot”. It’s only that I get embarrassed when I hear comments tomorrow that I eat a lot. Once, I spent Eastern at my friend’s family in Slavonia, on the countryside. The Eastern feast was complete: eggs, ham, young onion... I couldn’t refuse. Since the meet was on the plate, the dead animal was already waiting to be eaten, I eat ham and after three hours I get a fever, forty degrees Celsius. I hadn’t been eating meet for twenty years. My … (she stops)… orga… (stops again)… my organism couldn’t take it. Anyway, thanks for saying that my Croatian is good, but, in fact, I still confuse ORGASM and ORGANISM. And I confuse BELLY-BUTTON and COCK . (*the point is lost when translated to English. Belly-button and cock are pronounced as pimpek and pupak in Croatian, which makes it hard for a non.native speaker to distinguish two terms.)
When I realize that I made a mistake, fuck it, that’s a huge embarrassment. Once, in the middle of an intimate situation I commented: „Wow, your belly-button is really big“. Or: “You have a fat belly-button“. And these are really similar words. I used to have a silly boyfriend, a geek, so, he asks me after having sex: ”Have you come?” I said: ”Sure, haven’t you seen the organism I had?”
Now I have to go pee. I repeat in my head: What a sweet Japanese!!! What a crazy Japanese!!! I come back with two more whiskeys. Vinko is sitting by the table.
– You know, when Vinko and I went to Japan for the first time – Kazuko continues – since he was just starting to change his mind, we were friends back then. I said to my family: ”Vinko is gay. There’s no problem with us sleeping in the same room. " So they said: “It’s OK, if he’s gay..." When my granny heard about it, and she is seventy something years old, she went up to the room, and removed all the things she had prepared for him, as our guest. She came back, and changed everything to pink: pink bedding, pink towels… She had been addressing him, till that moment, with KUN, is a form of diminutive, something like Sir, but used for boys, one of the variations… from then on she addressed him with CHAN, which is for girls.
– Japan is another planet – says Vinko. – A new miracle every day. Kazuko's friend's boyfriend had a bar... We came to the bar, and this friend of hers said to her boyfriend’s friend that I was gay. After we all got drunk this guy stood in front of me and took of his underwear. Can you imagine that?! I mean, I was a little surprised, after all. Then, Kazuko explained to me that this bar was not an ordinary one, and that these guys are not just waiters, but animators as well, so they perform things to indulge their customers. When girls visit, they say to them how pretty they are… And so on… It was not a usual protocol to take their underwear off.
– No, it was just his own cool idea... to show his... – Kazuko stops and says cautiously – cock (pimpek).
– And what about toilette-seat? – I ask Vinko.
So Vinko explains it to me:
– We vent to restaurant, Kazuko, her parents and me, I needed to take a dump, and so I went to toilette… I seated myself on this super-techno seat, and there was a command console just beside it, I don’t understand a thing… I did my thing and pressed a button so that the seat could wash my bottom. Luckily I got it right the first time, so it started to wash. I thought to myself, if this shit is so technologically advanced it must have sensors – so when I get up, it’ll stop washing. But instead, it started to spray all around. It took me half an hour to clean the cabin and dry my underwear. Horror! Horror! I was shouting in the toilette: “Your Mum has a big belly-button, your Mum has a big belly-button, your Mum has a big belly-button…"
I am shouting into the toilette seat: “Your Mum has a big belly-button, your Mum has a big belly-button, your Mum has a big belly-button…" And then to make sure that it understands me, I say it Japanese: ”Omaeno kaachan debeso!”