Kyohei Sakaguchi: Commentary On My Works to Date

Kyohei Sakaguchi | trans. Chris Berthelsen

Japanese source HERE

1. Zero-Yen House (Little More, 2004)

This is my first book, based on my graduation dissertation on research into the dwellings of people living on the streets. After graduating from university I went 'independent' but most of the time I had no idea what I was doing. I had this idea of publishing my graduation dissertation but had absolutely zero insider knowledge or connections. And I, who had never even read many books, had no idea about publishers. So I showed a friend from high school my book and asked for help finding a publisher. The answer was that "No one but Little More would touch it". I brought it to them, and weirdly enough, after just ten minutes the decision to publish was made. There's nothing but risk involved when publishing the photo collection of an unknown guy, but that's what they did for me. The first round of royalties totaled zero yen because the contract stipulated that I would be paid royalties from the second addition onwards. As a tradeoff, I put forward the condition that an English translation be included and they gave me ? 50,000 to do it. I took this money, went to Aoyama Gakuin University where my little brother was a student, and asked a female student who was studying English literature to do the translation. After publication I took this book and went on a sales trip overseas, to Paris, London, Frankfurt and all over; all at my own expense.

2. Tokyo Zero-Yen House Zero-Yen Lifestyle (Daiwa Shobo 2008)

Even after publishing the above book I saw no increases in work, and I spent all my time working at my part-time job. Even so, every spare minute I had I spent outside conducting my fieldwork. And then one day, by the banks of the Sumida River I met Suzuki-san, a man that most people would call homeless. I was so excited to meet for the first time someone who had constructed their dwelling with a budget of zero yen that I spent every day documenting him (well, really, drinking and hanging out with him). I turned this into my first ever paid publication in my life, after the editor of AERA gave me five pages to fill up as I saw fit. This was the impetus for my first attempt at writing a book. I never imagined that I would be a writer. This was just at the time when we were expecting our first child. We had no savings and I had just quit my part-time job. While feeling great unease about the future I frantically wrote the 350 page manuscript for this book in one and a half months. While at the time I thought that this book was a non-fiction account of Suzuki-san's zero-yen lifestyle I now think that it perhaps is actually story that I wrote while I was possessed by Suzuki-san's spirit.

3. The Edison of Sumida River (Aoyama Publishing, 2008)

In the process of writing Tokyo Zero-Yen House Zero-Yen Lifestyle I had the experience of doing a job which was in tune with my body for the first time. When writing a book, more and more ideas flow into my mind. Experiences and memories from the past show themselves in different ways, and come at you from new angles. While writing the reportage of Suzuki-san I was overcome by the desire to write the story as a kind of tale, or legend. This 350 page book was written in two months, straight after I finished writing the previous one, with no break in between. The finished work is a novel of a totally fictitious world where all of the people from my fieldwork are all mixed up together. Four years later my wife, who doesn't really read much read this book and commented "I can't think of this as anything other than a story about us." That wasn't really my intention but anyway...
This novel and the previous book become the source works for the film directed by Yukihiko Tsutsumi.

4. Tokyo One-Mat Inheritance (Shunjusha 2009)

As I got used to writing, it may have appeared like I had acquired some techniques of living longer, but I soon got stuck.
At this time I still didn't know what I should be writing about. I claimed I was an architect, but created no buildings. I claimed I was a writer, but couldn't really produce novel after novel. As such, I just roamed the streets every day, under the guise of doing fieldwork. This book is dedicated to the 'space that can't be seen but which hides the potential for infinite expansion' that I encountered during those dark days of roaming. At the time it didn't sell at all but what I wrote here opened up possibilities for me soon after. Also, this was the book that was written when my manic-depressive symptoms, which I was to later go public with, were at their worst. At the time I had almost no income and even though I had one daughter our family had just 40,000 yen in savings. Even so, I decided not to quit. For me, this book proved to be a turning point. Inocchi (Yoshihiko Inohara from the group V6) read this book and emailed me personally. At first I thought it must have been a joke and replied by asking whoever it was to stop mocking me. After I confirmed that the email was real, it came to be that he produced a stage version of the book.

5. Urban Hunter-Gather Lifestyle From Zero (Ohta Publishing Co. 2010)

2010 was a year of big changes for me. Naohiro Ukawa started the USTREAM programme DOMMUNE and I met Kageo Umeyama a.k.a. Kowloon Joe who was to become an important mind in my future. This was the year where I came to be deeply involved with writers of my generation such as the music writer Ryo Isobe, the philosopher Ataru Sasaki, and Naoki Ishikawa, Toshiki Okada, and others. In the midst of all that, this is the first work produced with Kageo Umeyama, who was working as an editor at Ohta Publishing at the time. This is a very important book, where I was able to grapple with my original theme of how we perceive space, from the perspective of an investigation of the lifestyles and dwellings of people that would generally be called 'homeless'. This is the book where terms such as 'layer' and 'resolution' that I came to use in later books came into being. As the book began to slowly start to sell I was finally able to make a living solely from writing for the first time.

6. How to Make an Indie Nation (Kodansha Gendai-Shinsho)

During the internet programme DOMMUNE, which started up after I had finished writing the book above, I raised the issue of nuclear power generation. That was on the 4th of March, 2011. At that time Tetsunari Iida, who at that time was the director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies in Japansaid that the power plant in Fukushima was dangerous, and he said that the real danger of a meltdown was from a tsunami, not an earthquake. Exactly one week later the 2011 earthquake and tsunami hit Eastern Japan. At that time I was living in Kunitachi in Tokyo and I felt like I was in a dream when I saw the Fukushima power plant looking like it was going to blow up on the 12th of March. I remembered that Iida-san had said to me on March the 4th that if it did blow up then people should evacuate to a radius of 300km so I pack up my family and moved back to Kumamoto. My wife's comment that we were now in a state of anarchy further propelled me to found the New Government on the 10th of May and take up office as its president. Ah, thinking back on it know I find it amazing that I did such an insane thing, but it's the truth that both my life and my writing changed because of it. I was miraculously able to finish this book, which is the culmination of all my previous work, just moments before my manic-depression went off the rails and I became unable to operate. It is, however, also the best selling book of my career (60,000 units published).

7. Concept City (Nitto Shoin 2013)

This is a collection of drawings and other things that I created between the end of 2012 through to the following year, the bulk of which was published as the catalogue to my solo exhibition at the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art in Aoyama, Tokyo. For the years after the publication of Zero-Yen House, before I started to write, I was able to scratch out a living through art exhibitions overseas and interacting with a small number of collectors that had met in Canada. In Japan, however, my artworks were of interest to pretty much no one. Only Watarium had showed continued interest in me since my 2004 debut. As my thinking had slowly matured I had come to understand that my drawings have a large influence on my writing but I hadn't really had the opportunity to present that in any way. Watarium's unprecedented offer of their whole facility for the exhibition was an opportunity to synthesize previously disparate aspects of my artwork, writing, thought, action and sickness, the result being this book.

8. Age of Illusions (Gentosha 2013)

With my mania-power at its fullest I made it through the first half of 2012 only to fall into a long and deep depression. It always comes after I've been wildly enthusiastic about something; then the sweats and chills of hell move in. Unable to move, I lay on my futon thinking about when I should end my life. On one of these days, when I had pretty much decided to die, I was mulling things over in a small room in a cheap hotel in Aoyama when a twenty minute flash of memory from when I was four came to me in a vivid form. The book that this incident became the start of is a weird kind of book that can be both a novel and an autobiography. It's a book which puts to paper a several hundred meter walk with my mother from my house to my kindergarten. I'm surprised that such a book would even get published. Even so, this was the impetus for me to start writing novels and the style that I worked out in this book has become my axis. Even now, I regard this as my masterpiece (even though almost no one bought it...). For the first time in my life I experienced a change in awareness through the act of writing, and for this reason it is a book I treasure. Read it!

9. Mobile House (Shueisha Shinsho 2013)

I started with investigating people that society would call 'homeless', but I felt that the essential next step was for me to begin experimenting with it myself. This book has its roots in the 2010 article 'How to Make a Mobile House' that was published in the art magazine Subaru. This is the tale of how, under the tutelage of The Robinson Crusoe of the Tama River - an old man who had lived by the Tama River for over 20 years - I built a mobile house and lived in it in a parking lot in the Tokyo suburb of Kichijoji. While I was writing this book the 2011 earthquake and tsunami hit Eastern Japan, I set up my New Government, and wrote How to Make an Indie Nation. This means that the process of building mobile houses is the genesis of my work to found the New Government and push even further forward. Even now, I think this book can be read as the tale of the fairytale character of The Robinson Crusoe of the Tama River. Through this kind of process, I first began to experience a kind of roaming in the interstices between fiction and non-fiction.

10. Kyohei Sakaguchi's Diary of Manic-Depression (Igaku Shoin 2013)

The manic-depressive cycle that became increasingly extreme from 2012 enveloped not just myself but my whole family, and become impossible to control. I felt that I needed to create some kind of technological innovation in order to somehow reign in this terrible beast. My whole family got together to discuss how to work manage my manic-depression, a disability of the brain for which there is no complete cure. The conclusion we came to was to not treat it, but to try to savor it. And so every day I recorded delusions and facts, all mixed up together, constructing it in the style of a novel. Before I knew it, I had produced over 800 pages. I then remembered how the weird editor Masaaki Shiraishi, who created the 'Opening Up Care' series for Igaku Shoin, once asked me to write a first-person research account of manic-depression. I sent him the manuscript. Shiraishi-san read the diary of my efforts to try to interact with my family while at the same time totally refusing any attempts to cure my manic-depression and then burst out laughing. In this way the whole thing, with almost no editing, was published as this book. The boundary-blurring of fiction and non-fiction that started in Age of Illusions becomes even more intense here. Here I had the experience of getting to grips with my own style of writing, and this book was printed like the vestiges scratches. This book also contains drawings of my wife, daughter and son. I wrote this as a modern-day version of Journey to the West.

11. The Adventures of Kyohei Sakaguchi (Doyosha 2014)

It was ten years since my publishing debut with Zero-Yen House. I had staked my claim as an architect who doesn't build, and having no real idea how to move forward, time seemed to float on by... but somewhere along the line I had produced around 20,000 pages of text. That is to say, this was the year when I first reached that conclusion that I may be a 'writer'. It was at this time that I was asked whether I would be interested in turning my diary from ten years ago (the one on my website) into a book. That was a time when my chaotic thoughts had not been put in order. I flew around the world, meeting people, encountering music, films, and books, and constantly seeking my mission. It was that kind of bittersweet adolescence. I was just a twenty-five year old youngster scuttling about Paris and London trying to sell Zero-Yen House, which has just been published. I wrote in my diary almost continuously over the seven year period from 2004 to 2011 and I plan to publish The Adventures of Kyohei Sakaguchi as seven volumes in total.

12. Roaming Taxi (Shinchosha 2014)

After writing the research-based Edison of Sumida River, and the near-autobiographical Age of Illusions, this year saw my first novel. Up until now, I guess that I would say that up until this point I had been chasing the wild and extraordinary but this the heart of this book is at the everyday scale, that which is not normally recorded in photos or videos. The impetus for this book was an experience I had when I was still at high school. My great-grandmother, who actually lived in Kumamoto, was trying to get to Yamaguchi Prefecture (a long way away!) At that time, the whole family thought she had lost her marbles, and they didn't really pay attention to her. But this lady who was trying to get to Yamaguchi Prefecture stayed embedded in my memory. One day, I decided to set up a taxi company to take elderly people with dementia to the fantastical places that they wanted to go. I presented my business plan to my wife. Her reply was "I told you before, right? You will not start any businesses. If you want to start a business then you should write a book about it." I started writing straight away. I wanted to bring my deceased great-grandmother and great-grandfather back into physical form through the writings on the page. In this book I investigate how to express my thought and perceptions spatially, and is also where I had just started introducing the concepts of 'revision' and 'refinement' into my writing process. It's a pretty interesting book. You should definitely read it.

13. Theory of Escaping Reality (Kodansha Gendai-Shinsho 2014)

Why do I write? Why do I create? And why do I try to convey all this to other people? Feeling that I wanted to explore this mystery, I started writing.

I'm certain that everyone has experienced the elasticity of space and time at least once, in their youth. When I was an elementary school student Sunday mornings were slow and viscous flows. The park I played in when I was young now seems tiny. The smell rising from asphalt after the rain can bring forth memories of a sunset I saw long ago. Somewhere along the line, these kinds of thoughts become fossilized as childhood memories and we place them to the side as 'not real'. I view this phenomenon on the same level as ecological destruction. The reason I became an architect was that I was excited by myself when I was a child, when I was able to feel this kind of invisible space. To notice the sprouts of space, which have been pruned from the realm of reality, and to keep on watering it; that's the behaviour that I call 'to think', the nest that I call 'thought'. I have continued to transform, from Zero-Yen House through to Roaming Taxi. This new work is the product of six years of writing on the source of this creation. Please do read it.