I had the chance to share with one of my readers and friend on Wattpad over an interview which will be part of their magazine initiative by @TURTLES2001 in the future. I have permission to publish the content here for readers. Some of these ideas maybe often said, while others may be of interest for you!
Michiko: Let’s start really basic. What is it about writing that you love?
Taka: What a question! First of all, I think I have to begin with the arts in general. I am involved in essentially all the arts, as an illustrator, graphic designer, musician and so on, aside from writing. I believe the arts is about communication, without it, the world will not be able to transmit ideas and furthermore, to transcend the realm of this physical, concrete, often soul-draining society and its expectations and constructs. I see it this way, human beings are created to have soul, heart, mind, imagination and creativity. These things are beyond the mundane dailies, or even beyond materialistic, financial, academic responsibilities and ambitions, or physical necessities. Take Maslow’s hierarchy or pyramid of needs for example, self-actualization at the very top, and I’d make a case to add one more level on top of that, which would be transcendence… I firmly believe that without the arts, we would not be able to engage that high level of thinking and imagination.
The arts, beyond the engaging of our minds, it actually is interconnected with everything past or future. There is no such thing as purely original art, and therefore, each work will actually draw influences, consciously or unknowingly from existing pieces or experiences that the creator has absorbed. Many scholars would argue that the foundations of all Western literature comes from two sources, the Ancient Greeks and the Bible, and onwards from those building blocks, come Dante, Milton, and Shakespeare – you probably get the picture, from Shakespeare things continue to build in weblike intricacies. Eventually we can find fragments and glimpses of these things in all the present work, especially in those who have studied literature. This is the case with music, for example: African tribal music, moving into the Blues, which inspires rock, which inspires punk, classical which inspires metal, and onwards – my music history is nowhere near well learned enough though. There are probably traces of the Beatles in so many bands and artists.
Anyway, now back to writing, why I enjoy writing is the ability to exist in this realm of transcendence, both away from the physical world into the abstract planes of philosophy, imagination, creativity and also the ability to tap into this “collective” pool of all past artistic work, which no doubt carries history, all human wisdom and understanding available. It’s a mystical experience. However, many may not be able to catch a glimpse of this world, especially nowadays with the abundance of immediate technology and constant gratification of the senses, so it is a duty for me, and I think, all artists, to create a bridge into this realm. This bridge can be summarized in my opinion as the channel and communication from heart to heart, soul to soul, intellect to intellect. This is a huge privilege, and one that exhilarates me and makes me realize I am part of a big picture.
Michiko: What inspires you to write?
Taka: At first, when I was younger, what inspired me to write was experiencing life and feeling the beauty of life around me. Sometimes it’s hard to see this when I focus on people or social issues, however, when I sit down under a tree overlooking some vast field, or looking up at the startlingly blue sky, breathing in the fragrance of spring and the blossoming of sakura, the first lazy snowfall adrift, the nostalgic melancholic realization that it is Christmas again, there are so many beautiful moments in the world. These are capitalized and reflected in artistic work, sometimes to an even more heightened degree when well expressed. It would carry to me a great current of strength, courage, dreams, because there are more of these moments ahead. So I would draw from great literature, anime, movies, music and onwards that carry this kind of spirit. And as such, I wanted to create my own version of it and give my readers that same kind of emotions.
On the other hand, answering the first question should give a glimpse of the kind of passion I draw from being part of this big picture, but more specifically what inspires me to write nowadays are really the readers. Being in this “business of inspiration”, having an audience is important. It isn’t a one way communication, it is communication between two people, the writer and the reader, and also a two-way communication. It is really inspiring in return to realize that wow, I’ve really inspired someone else. Some readers will even say that I’ve changed their life, that my work has encouraged them to become a better person. That it had saved them from depression or given them more confidence and courage. That it had made them stop and think deeply about their life and the world around, see things a little differently from before they started reading my work. And that makes me stop and just sit in total awe of how much of a blessing it is to be able to be a part of someone else’s life. This is completing the calling and my duty as an artist, seeing the circle being complete. Giving life to someone else, inspires me to write onwards.
Michiko: Third question. What do you believe are the standards of good writing?
Taka: I believe any good writing should ultimately engage the reader and convey a powerful message. Personally, I would argue that this has to be a positive message and impact the world in a constructive way. These days, now that I’m more mature, I also am no longer as interested in engaging emotions however. I am more seeking intellectual depth and the layers of abstract concepts beneath the work. There are some pieces that are more for “gratification” of readers, as in just create an enjoyable experience. But I believe good literature would do more than that and cause the reader to experience much more than they ever could have imagined, on all levels, the heart, the soul, the intellect, that addresses the most common and basic questions of all humankind and all stories: who am I, and who am I in this world or system?
On a more technical level, of course there is the “show don’t tell” but even that doesn’t quite clarify things. I think what truly smooths out literature would be the author’s voice and style. Something that balances out the different elements of a narrative well: narration (as in what actually is happening), description (engaging the senses without over-saturation and unrealistic sensory overload), inner thoughts and emotions (which includes the narrator’s personality and voice, as well as deeper thinking), dialogue (without unnecessary detail that takes away the focus from what is being said). All of that with a very sensitive intuition and an eye (or ear for proofreading out loud) for rhythm, like the balance and flow between long and short sentences, fragments, complexity and phrasing, and so on, will create and form the author’s voice. Diction does not necessarily have to be sophisticated, complex, or basic or anything. Some authors can sound profound and eloquent with simple vocabulary. It’s rather those elements I’ve mentioned that count, and then some. When everything works together, in a coherent, artful way, it would create “good writing”.
Michiko: What messages do you try to convey in your writings?
Taka: I try to address the base question of almost all stories: who am I in this world and system around? One common theme in my latest work is to do with philosophical Idealisms such as subjective idealism. The world is made up of a myriad of subjective interpretation and each person has their own views. Nothing is objective because once something is perceived by someone and attempted to be understood or expressed, it goes through the filters of each person’s influences, upbringing, background, philosophies, mindsets, emotional states, culture, and so on. To say a tree, will bring up different images for different people and different ideas about it. In the same way, there are countless parallels at work. Other than that, I will focus on the conflict between the emotional, primitive, instinctive self (i.e. the Id of Freud’s theories), and the rational, intellectual, disciplined self. Actually, I deal a lot with the self, and the different parts or sides of one person, and the death or ongoing change or journey of these selves, affected by the experience of life. I also aim to touch a lot on the idea of love, the different forms of love for example lust, parental love, sisterly/brotherly love and unconditional love. Love which is the strongest is mentioned by Plato and Socrates, that is manifested in a connection of the intellect and philosophy. For example, the difference between the level of fleeting emotions on whim based on a quick intuitive spark between two people or a match of values such as open communication and well thought out goals of creating a healthy collaborative marriage and joint career ambitions. The latter will result in a more long lasting relationship. But I’m not here to talk about love which would be a long spiel! Anyway, I think I will also convey the determination, courage, and perseverance of pursuing dreams and ambitions, no matter what it takes, to struggle against the oppressive pressures of the system and expectations around us from external sources, as well as the need to have hope and look forward despite temporal downs and painful suffering – especially emotional suffering: there is always a next day, and life is never static but in constant flux. We will be able to look back one day and realize it all passed by really quickly, and that we made it through. I am Christian as well and with a firm base foundation in my faith, I also think my work will reflect the idea of a greater force or current in the river of life. Things take its course, sometimes in ways we don’t understand, but if we ride the flow, we will emerge in a better place.
Michiko: What kind of mindset and setting must you be in to be able to write?
Taka: I can literally write anywhere. I’ve trained myself and my mind to be able to switch on and off emotions and distractions. Through my experience as a writer, I have acquired much determination and focus, and treat writing as my full time job and identity. I often set word quotas and ask myself, if I was a professional author and was getting paid for my time, what would I do? So for Espresso Love for example, I had a 1000 word per day quota, which most of the time I surpassed. During the end of the manuscript, I reached 3000-5000 words per day since I could see the end in sight.
However the best place would be in a quiet location. I prefer to be shut indoors, without much to see. This allows my mind to fully awaken and wander, creating the world within which I explore in my writing. If there is too much going on, even if it is beautiful scenery or something, as inspiring as that might be, it would present too much concrete form for my own imagination to manifest. My mind essentially contains enough beauty to not need to look at beauty.
But, that’s not to say I don’t enjoy awe-inspiring scenery, or a quiet day out under the sun, the “beautiful moments” in life. Those are part of my absorbing, meditation, thinking, planning and preparing, before I sit down to write. When I write, it needs to come from the subconscious and just bleed. All the content, inspirations, influences, philosophies, values, beliefs, plotlines and so on, are things I’ve created and readied in advance. They exist in one big pool. When I write, I simply open the valve and let it flow through me. This is the best way to write I believe. Art needs to flow, but most of the real work is done outside of that actual creation moment.
To get myself into writing mood, if say, I’m feeling unmotivated one day, I will read a few pages or paragraphs of my favourite author, mainly, Haruki Murakami, whose style is both my greatest influence and also so close to my instinctive voice, that it is like reading my own self, if I were to say reach a state of refinement and polish like a gemstone. So it puts me into the right place and I write after absorbing his words. If I’m not motivated, it will be like regurgitating his words – which is fine, since it is close to my own style.
Sometimes I will listen to music, but most of the time quiet works for me. If I’m writing something with heavy intellectual content, like Espresso Love, putting on classical music helps because it is more ambiguous, artistic and more interpretive than something with a real clear form, raw emotions and powerful messages in its lyrics. If I’m writing something romantic, I would listen to more anime-esque music, Jpop, Kpop and so on.
Michiko: Okay the sixth question is specific and relates to your work, Espresso Love. The first sentence of the work stated “They say your order reveals the depths of your being.” What is your coffee order?
Taka: This is such a great question and I’m surprised no one has asked me that yet! Honestly, this is a phrase that I’ve always pondered over and researched widely about. But there are many opinions as to what order represents what. I’m actually going to confess: I’m personally NOT a coffee drinker! I’m a tea drinker – maybe hence, Shizuka’s order. If I was ordering at a coffee shop, it would likely be a simple green tea, or a kind black tea. No sugar, no spices, no milk, just straight. I love the clear pure aroma and taste of tea. I’m just Asian like that. It wakes me up and feels real good inside. I’m a health-nut so strong caffeine or thick sugary drinks don’t go down well for me. But more lately, I’ve been coming to enjoy ordering Shizuka’s drink – which many people all over the world have been trying as well! “It tastes like Christmas.” It’s real sweet and real cozy.
Michiko: Seventh question is about your characters in Espresso Love. Can you relate to any of the characters featured as in personality or their way of thinking.
Taka: The characters in Espresso Love like in all of my work are actually all parts or aspects of me. I also slip in my own voice into all of them. In fact, sometimes I prefer if they sound real ambiguous in their conversations, like they almost sound the same or are on the same wavelength. They definitely reflect me especially in the way I think. Naoki who is the narrator of the story for example has many philosophical tangents throughout the novel, which are essentially my own commentary of the world that he sees. Spoiler alert: Naoki with his “obstructed” emotions or memories are kind of like me these days. I’ve been much more involved with the intellectual side of life and my perception seems to lean towards something akin to maybe an ancient Greek philosopher as I get older. That’s not to say I’m emotionless, or don’t laugh or cry, I’m still a hopeless romantic at times, but that no longer is my first priority, so Naoki reflects that. The female characters probably also contain parts of me, but I’ll leave that up to reader interpretation.
Michiko: I personally know that you are picky when reading novels and works. What do you try to look for when reading?
Taka: Like I mentioned in the good writing question, it would be the same thing, except even more picky. Like it has to engage me on a very deep, thought-provoking level, providing much insight about the world and life, with many philosophies and layers of abstract concepts ingrained in, whether the writer had meant for it consciously or it just appears to me as the reader. On the other hand, like I wrote in “The Elephant Girl” short story, I also always put down books because I pretty much only accept one range of style or voice as I grow older. I look for a visionary, calm, detached, minimalistic, cold at times, sarcastic or light-hearted at times, and maybe slightly an unreliable narrator without showing it too obviously. To elaborate on the unreliability, the narrator would perceive things with his own insight or through his own school of thought that distorts the details of what he sees. For example, maybe a garbage can would just stand out so much, but instead he would glaze over a character’s death. Or a bowl of soup would suddenly trigger a chain of memories or thoughts seemingly unrelated. Something real skewed like that is interesting.
To clarify, I don’t read for storylines. I’ve stopped reading for that level – storytelling, which is the base level of all literature – because I’ve turned my focus on the deeper levels and want an experience out of my reading. If I wanted a storyline, I would turn to anime or a movie for gratification. Such entertainment would deliver the story much quicker and also paint a full picture for me, the visuals, the audio and so on. What sets apart literature is that it engages on a deeper level and opens the mind up to its own interpretation, imagination and so on. It instantly connects the reader to their senses, their own real life experiences and situations.
Michiko: If you could possess one of the elements of nature (Haha, like Avatar: The Last Airbender), meaning water, earth, fire, and air. Which one would you like to possess and why?
Taka: Fire! I’m a pyro – not that I play with fire – but I love looking at fire. It is simply so warm and alive. It is full of such destructive power but also the gift of life. Not only in its nature as light (I’m very passionate about being a “light in the dark” so to speak) but even in its destruction, clearing out a forest for example, this is actually a cycle in nature that allows for new growth. So in a way it really embodies a whole lot of concepts, and probably more that I’m not mentioning, and shows a balance between life and death, and more cycles or opposites like that. Another reason is that I hate cold temperatures. I live in Canada, and it gets cold. Fire gives heat which is good. I’d rather sweat.
Michiko: Tenth and last question is a music related question. What do you feel is the one song that is the soundtrack of your life and why?
Taka: This is really hard because I love music so much and have listened to such a large variety or range of music. I enjoy way too many artists as well, my favourite ones inspire me to no end. But one song that has always stuck with me and a song I can’t stop listening to is YUI’s “Goodbye Days”. It’s mainly a love song but it is more the context that speaks to me. YUI has changed my life quite significantly.
I first started listening to her in high school when I was going through depression and had no direction in life. Her music (full of such aura and powerful strength, hope and charisma yet delivered through such innocent, untainted, sentimental, delicate feminine acoustic rock tones) and her life story (she quit school to pursue her music at a young age of 14 and wrote music on a guitar, performed on the streets in her home town and Tokyo, auditioned and won in a Sony Japan contest) inspired me so much. In fact, though I had always played guitar, her music inspired me to write music and take up singing. From then on, I was enraptured, and her music constantly gave me the hope I needed to make it through the day and gave me the courage to envision huge dreams – to this day I continue to feel that kind of spirit.
Not to mention, being so obsessed with YUI, I joined a fan community, and her music and her as a person seemed to pull together such amazing people full of life and hope, with real genuine love and compassion for each other that I made some of the best friends I could ever ask for all over the world. When I went to Japan, it was these friends who constantly went out of their way to guide me, take care of me and one of them in particular is tremendously successful and a great inspiration to me, as a person passionate about life. To this day, I consider him and some others brothers or sisters. I know at any time we can turn to one another, catch up and encourage one another.
Often we would say how YUI has not only brought us together but we also had our lives changed by her. Especially standing right there under the night sky in Tokyo, in places YUI would have been, listening to street music and feeling the vibe of people struggling for their dreams. There is some sort of magic, the same kind of contagious magic that Japan and Japanese culture or spirit embodies. When listening to YUI’s music it’s like a big circle that comes back together into a stunning spectacular picture. I’m sure I will meet my YUI friends again many times through our lives, growing up together, facing different obstacles, with the kind of magic YUI had given us years ago.
Now, the particular song “Goodbye Days” is perhaps the epitome of her music, a classic that no one can forget about. It was part of a movie called Taiyou No Uta, where YUI acted, completely naturally almost as if she was acting herself, about an innocent singer-songwriter street musician who had a skin sickness which prevented her from being under the sun’s UV rays, eventually leading to her death. The struggles through this movie no doubt brought many tears and much inspiration, but it also represented YUI’s story, or perhaps the cry of her heart, the message she wanted to convey through her music. “Goodbye Days” embodies all of that.
If not for the context, the song and its simple acoustic tones itself is full of emotion and never fails to conjure up images of summer days, waves of nostalgic memories, a melancholic pang of suffering and hopeful dreams. Now all this together with lyrics like “things are changing” and it’s just a lifelong companion.
Though I could choose a song with more applicable lyrics, “Goodbye Days” with all its context is what comes to mind and takes place in my heart as number one soundtrack.