Steve Brooks, Gary Lawless, et. al
Excerpts from Nanao or Never: Nanao Sakaki Walks the Earth, edited by Gary Lawless
© 2000 Nanao Sakaki
Published by Blackberry Books
Preface: This is not a biography of Nanao Sakaki. This is a collection of stories, poems, photos, reports from the various way stations of Nanao's life.
When Nanao is visiting Beth and me, life is interesting, vital, charged with a little something extra. We are looking through Nanao's eyes. When Nanao has gone, we often wonder where he is, and what he is doing. This book comes out of that curiosity.
I have tried to reach as many of Nanao's friends as possible, but there are still many Nanao stories out there, and more to come as he wonders Earth A. Those of us whose lives he has touched echo the message sent to Nanao's throbby heart from Earth B"COME BACK ANYTIME!"
-Gary Lawless, Gulf of Maine.
Excerpts from "Wowed by Nanao"
(accurate oral transcription put into poetic form,
by Steve Brooks)
FIRST ENVIRONMENTAL CASE
My environmental activity started in 1955.
At same time met Art Blakey (American jazz drummer)
and interested in American painting, Action painting.
Jazz and new painting. At same time Japanese forest bureau
started huge cut-down of Japanese forest.
At same time I started to wander into virgin forest with a
We traveled all over Japan looking for virgin forest.
I went to southern island called Yakushima. It's very tiny,
100 kilometers around, 2000 meters high. Inside, huge
Cedar forest still there!
One oldest tree 7000 years old. Can you imagine? So
huge...but not so tall, not like Redwood but of the
same group as Redwood and Sequoia.
Forest bureau was cutting down such a gorgeous tree so I
start asking them to stop, "Why you cutting such a tree?
It's not only Japanese treasure, it should be world trea-
sure, human being's stuff! We shouldn't cut down so
cheaply just for construction."
But they say, "This is our BUSINESS!" They never listen to
So, I started to talk to Tokyo, to Japanese environmental
groups just starting in Tokyo. We work together but it
doesn't work because BIG BUSINESS.
Many years after that they stopped cutting and they
brought the leftover
Cedars to World HeritageUNESCO. The Cedar became
But, I say, "Too late! There's no meaning! All cut down! Just
a few trees standing and this is world treasure? Why?
I'm very angry this case. So that was 1955.
ENVIRONMENTAL CASES: BLUE CORAL REEF,
It was 1982.
I found out Tokyo government wanted to build an airport
on top of the last great blue coral reef in the world in
southern Okinawa, for tourists.
Why destroying coral reef and making tourism? So con-
So, I started to save this coral reef.
Before me already people started, especially local people.
But it doesn't work.
I came to the United States in 1985 and 1987. In 1988 I
published my book (in English). So I came over many
times and each time I spoke about the coral reef case.
Many people started recognizing what is going on over
In 1988 I organized a big gathering in San Francisco. Allen
Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Joanne
Kyger, Peter Coyote helped me. Over 10,000 people
It was big punch to Japanese government. They couldn't
understand at first why american poets say no to
but, I made a statement talking about friends of Japan using
an Issa haiku:
Inch by inch
climbs up Mt. Fuji
And I said, "Coral reef last great blue coral in the world.
It's not only Japanese possession, it's world heritage! So we
are talking to save. Please listen to us! So for future
generations we must keep this coral reef!"
At the end of the government gave up.
So the poet has a little power.
After that I invited Allen Ginsberg to Japan
and a representative of the Okinawan islanders came to see
Allen in Tokyo to say thankyou.
They brought handmade sandals from weed and ocean food
ENVIRONMENTAL CASE: "LOVELY SPRING DAWN",
TASMANIAN VIRGIN FOREST, TASMANIA, AUSTRALIA
I was invited by Tasmania, Australia in 1993.
There was a big forest gathering to save the forest and
they asked me to join. They sent me a ticket.
So I went to Tasmania and joined the festival and read my
poems and they brought me up to date and informed
me on Tasmania.
"A big Japanese corporation making pulp paper: they are
cutting down almost virgin forest."
Southwest Tasmania is nobody's land. This part already
(One-third of the island).
The other part, sparsely populated.
Tasmania is the same size as Sri Lanka but the population
is a half million, and it's a very easy place to live.
So much food. From ocean you can get seafood by hand
almost. So rich a place!
There are still a few aborigines.
The point is, Australia, economically they are having a hard
time. So, the government wants to sell everything to
But, the younger generation: they are so changed,
most powerful young people there, very active, not violent,
very smart and very strong. Always fighting to save
They ask me to join.
I walk many many mountains. Incredibly gorgeous moun-
tain. So virgin.
Almost no footprint.
I went to Japan and I started talking to save this forest:
"These trees are going to Japan as wood chips, then
mostly toilet paper
and cartoon magazine. That's terrible story!"
Japanese cartoon magazine is a weekly magazine, a million
copies, so heavy (thick paper). Can you imagine? And,
no recycling anywhere.
I talked many times, talked to many people but it doesn't
They say, "Wow, toilet paper from Australia, cartoon maga-
zines from Australia, what is wrong with that?"
So, I don't know what to do.
One day I see:
Kyoto is now exactly 10,200 years old city. Its birthday was
celebrated last year and I see an image...
of invaders from outer-space...
I wanted people to really see the subject. It worked.
I read in Kyoto in English, mostly Americans there, and
people were so shocked. Wow! Some people say, "Real
And I read the next time in Japanese. Afterward,
probably 100 Japanese cartoon writers and painters, so
It's shocking to them. Wow!
For the young writers and artists in this case, good punch!
"Somebody should do something!" they said.
But now Tokyo has another shock: poison gas in subway.
ENVIRONMENTAL CASE: NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS
AND EARTHQUAKES IN JAPAN
Fifteen nuclear power plants north of Kyoto, I visit there
I stay at Shingon or Zen temples that are anti-nuke.
Mostly Japanese Buddhists very conservative, they never
talk about nuclear power issue
but the monks at those temples shout, "no nukes, no nukes!"
Kyoto is so close to the plants, only 100 miles
and wind always blowing: Kyoto to Osaka to Kobe
Because of wind course if something happens millions of
people must die.
Already the government thinks 5 million will die if some-
thing happens to a power plant. Like an earthquake.
ENVIRONMENTAL CASE: THE FAST-BREEDER NUCLEAR POWER
REACTOR NAMED MANJUSHRI, JAPAN
Why have they used, in Japan, Manjushri Bodhisattva as
the name of the fast-breeder nuclear reactor? The most
So, if they were, in Canada, to use a name for their fast-
breeder reactor should it be Jesus Christ? How would
I've asked, especially, Buddhist priests, "Please start some
movement to change the name."
Originally the nuclear power corporation asked Zen priest
to use Manjushri
Bodhisattva's name. The priest said yes.
In the years after Hiroshima people thought nuclear power
was no trouble.
They thought, "we can use the energy without harm, we
can have pure clean energy for everybody."
They were fascinated, admirers of Einstein.
But, no more.
Change the name first then people's consciousness rising
"We don't need!"
"Without nuclear power we can survive."
ENVIRONMENTAL CASE: JAPANESE RIVERS, WILDLIFE AND DAMS
My last interview was with the Whole Earth Review and
there my thought was: More consciousness, more ener-
gy to environmental cases.
In this regard, North America is in better shape.
It is shocking coming here from Japan. Here, not so many
Only there's one thing still, about Japan: in the Northern
Island of Hokkaido
We've had 1000 Grizzly Bears.
On the mainland, 10,000 Black Bears.
Which meanshow very rich is the Japanese forest.
England: no bears.
probably Germany have very few.
Very rich forest in Japan. Mostly cultivated trees not virgin
forest, man made.
In my memory when I was a child,
How sky was blue
How river was rich.
I grew up by a big river, so rich. You could even get fish by
hand, and eels.
Because so much poison.
ENVIRONMENTAL ACTION ON THE NAGARA RIVER, JAPAN
The Nagara River east of Kyoto is not such a big river. It is
the only river with a dam in Japan.
Al the other rivers: dam! dam! dam!
On the Nagara River they are building a huge dam. It has
no meaning everybody knows, it's just for business.
The government must use their money, if not, they can't get
tax. And, corporations need jobs. Without jobs they
must give up. Local people need a little money. Every-
body building up such a kind of illusion. Make more
From this river or the next river, they never learn from
Five years I kept walking this river always with a friend.
It's very short, only 100 miles.
Just to walk is very important. If you walk you see so many
Walking the river is easy. You learn so many things,
and you feel the river
and you touch it.
We miss the river now almost,
because all the rivers are dirty and contaminated
so we never jump into the water.
In the Nagara River something is still alright.
I met a big salamander, three feet long, twice.
And there are many Nutria, similar to beaver.
I recommend to my people to walk on the river.
Beside the river is mostly government land so it's O.K.
Sometimes we make a raft.
Twenty to thirty, sometimes one-hundred people, walk
It's just that we love the river.
Slowly local people come to us, "Why are you walking?
Stay with us one night." And they offer us sake and
"Stay at our temple", they say. And it's a rainy day so we
stay at the temple.
Now we are very good with the local people and when we
speak a little about the dam they understand. They say,
"O, we've seen you walking so many times. Thankyou."
Now they speak, "No need of dam."
Some other groups are shouting loudly, "No dam! Stop
building! but, my circle just quietly singing songs
More poetry, more music, more heart."
He looks and smells of the desert, skin rubbed with sage, hair washed in spring water and brushed into a pony tail, rucksack perfumed by the sweet incense of pinon coals. -John Brandi
On the crowded sidewalk outside Shinjuku's Fugetsudo coffeehouse I met Nanao Sakaki, the Japanese wandering poet, and soon his informal Bum Academy. Nanao had and still has a remarkable social mobility. Homeless people under bridges would offer tea and next we were sitting in some hidden luxury mansion. -Franco Beltrametti
From childhood I had some dream of mountain-walking. My father was a good walker. He had some dream to be a wandering poet like Basho or Ryokan or something like that but he never realized it. -Nanao, transcribed by Jirka Wein
Later he visited me when I had my own house in Bolinas. Looking at a bright pink passion flower, with purple, lime green and gold center, he said, That's not a real flower, is it? -Joanne Kyger
Nanao is himself childlike in his appreciation for simple, pure things: Strange bugs. Tops made from cardboard. The color of the moon. -Maggie Tai Sakaki Tucker
he's an independent desert rat who has spent the last weeks in New Mexico & Arizonain deserts where he is quite familiar and he'll be headed in a few days up north through Canada and Alaska and then who knows where?a wondering classical Zen-like ah-hm i d i o t ! -Allen Ginsberg
Reprinted with permissions by Gary Lawless