Text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis
He was born in Nagasaki, the only truly cosmopolitan city of Japan, its only contact point with the outside world for more than 250 years. He grew up in the public bath, the café and the restaurant owned by his family, next to the city’s red-light district and he learnt from very early who people are when they are having fun, when they drink and when they are naked. He started going to his neighborhood theater, record store and antique store when he was an elementary school student and he learnt to love the stage, the music and the culture of his time, the 1930s, and of the previous eras. And when he was 10 years old, he saw the eerie blaze and the deafening roar of the second bomb, just 2.5 miles from his house and he realized –right that moment and the days that followed- that there was no return to the world he knew until then.
In the years following the war he went to Tokyo –to the rubes as he calls them- and he lived as a homeless in Shinjuku, as a waiter in the café and as a chanson singer in the clubs of Ginza, as an actor in the plays of Yukio Mishima and Shuji Terayama and as a performer in the cabarets and later on the concert stage when his songs became big hits and he started touring all over Japan. He declared openly that he was homosexual, he let his hair grow long, he dyed them bright yellow, he wore women’s clothes and he started speaking in the way women speak in Japan. But when he talks about society, politics or war, sometimes his voice drops his characteristic falsetto and becomes deep and rough –this is the voice of a man who survived the bomb and the prejudice that accompanied his appearances for decades.
It is in this voice that he sings “Yoitomake no Uta” (ヨイトマケの唄), the song of the workers in the fields: out of respect for the people mentioned in the lyrics he strips off his female persona and performs dressed in the clothes of a post-war schoolboy and with short black hair –there are few things in contemporary Japan more chilling and more moving than his lonely image onstage with a spotlight in his face, lamenting life’s hardships in the devastated provinces of those days. And then, mocking his own self first and foremost he becomes once again the yellow-haired diva with the refined manners idling in the private TV stations and alternating between well-mannered witticisms and vitriolic comments about the problems of Japanese society; if there is one face representative of the bright and the dark splendor of postwar Japan, this face is unquestionably the face of Akihiro Miwa.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.