REVS digital No.8 The Kiss OUT NOW.
From REVS No.7 The Blaze issue, text by Erina Suto, Photography by Jorgen Axelvall
Stall – Balmain, Shirt – Kris Van Assche
Mutsuo Takahashi is one of Japan’s most prominent living poets at 75.
His beautiful and passionate writings often depicting homoerotic
desires have won praises all over the world.
Mutsuo Takahashi’s home is in Zushi, south of Yokohama: the jardin à la française, perfectly kept. The symmetrical hedges. The flowers adorning them – tulips, black velvet petunias. And the fountain. Amidst this abundant evidence of human care, one nonetheless feels the plants have been somehow liberated, which in turn produces a sense of dream-like softness.
“Don’t trample the plants,” Takahashi says. “And try not to tread on the moss.” He seems to be thinking aloud. It has occurred to him that we’re new here, in his world of fragile growing things, and prone to a reckless kind of wonder. All of which conspires to absolve of us our sense of everyday time.
And we enter the house, dimly lit by vintage fixtures with restored lace décor. A soft morning light enters through a line of classic French casement windows looking out onto the garden. From the open windows we even hear uguisu, Japanese bush warblers sing. Clutter amounts to favorite books, antique mirrors, a human skull, paintings, weathered-looking stuffed animals, delicate bird cages one of which houses Cherubim, a beautiful desert bird, an array of pièces de résistance that have returned with him from his many travels. Now we’ve also lost our sense of place. We’re no longer near Yokohama, no longer in the present tense. We’re in the worlds and years of Mutsuo Takahashi’s literature.
At age 75, he is one of Japan’s most prominent poets, a globally renowned writer of homoeroticism and relentless transgressor of literary boundaries. “In Japan, poetry is divided against itself,” he says. “A shijin would write contemporary poetry. A kajin would write tanka. And haijin would write haiku. I choose to combine. I have written Noh dramas, I’ve written Jyoruri. It’s possible that makes me unique. But I see them all as poems foremost, whatever their structural differences. A moment of inspiration occurs, and form follows naturally, offering no struggle – all forms exist inside me, they’re part of me.”
Model / Jacket – Robert Geller, Shirt – Kolor
Mr.Takahashi / Jacket – Paul Smith
Takahashi takes us on a tour of the house, which continues to blur our sense of where and when we are. Additions to the house, which Takahashi has inhabited since 1986, have been carried out piecemeal over decades with whatever materials have intrigued him. “When an Edo period home was dismantled, we salvaged and stored whatever we might use for this house,” Takahashi says. Takahashi and his partner also added a third floor to the home, where three seashell chalices rest on antique desk overlooking the sea, Enoshima and – off in the distance – Mount Fuji.
On this floor, Takahashi often watches the sea and thinks of classical Greece. He shows me a Greek photo book, printed in the 1960s. “I wonder why, but this sort of thing makes my heart race. Reflecting on it now, I suppose I feel the classical Greeks possessed a certain depth of sight – they viewed the world root-deep, “ he says. “And the sea – growing up in Kyushu, in a town called Moji, it was always close at hand. I go abroad, and always seem to find my way to the ocean. I live near Tokyo, but choose Zushi. The sea is boundless. It offers a sense of something which exists at the far end, beyond sight. That sensation – of a distant, unseen presence – reminds me of the sensation with which I encounter poetry.”
Takahashi has written over a hundred books of essays, poetry and prose. In a recently translated work, Twelve Views from the Distance, a memoir of his childhood, he meditates on memory, of which he possesses more clearly than one can imagine. During our tour of his home, he poses and answers one of the questions he has recently pondered. “Why do I have so many memories?” he asks. “It’s due to my misfortune, I suppose. I have encountered difficulty. I have been unhappy. This unhappiness and misfortune have created a child who pays attention to details. My father died when I was 105 days old. I experienced poverty. I was itinerant – left with various families while my mother worked. I didn’t have many to turn to. As a child I had to pay attention to the adults’ facial expressions. When having yelled at without any reason, one remembers, for instance, staring at the edges of a tatami mat and the details of the damage on it. Remembering these miniscule details, everything else follows and comes back to me. I might have had an unfortunate childhood, but as a writer, I’m fortunate to have these memories. I vividly remember fragments of my surroundings while the adults were cruel to me – how beautiful the nature was especially. And though I didn’t have any friends, I had words to play with. I must have been talking to myself all of the time.”
Model / Shirt – Damir Doma Pants – Balmain
Mr.Takahashi / Shirt – Kris Van Assche Pants – Kolor
Of course, Takahashi has not finished writing. Like his home, the origin of his literature flows outward from him into the world. “This unsettling, unknown thing – the desire to write – exists in me,” he says. I keep it there until I no longer can, until the pressure expels it. Until words appear. If I were to paint, they would be colors, but in my case they’re words. I follow the words wherever they take me, and I’m most pleased when it’s a place I haven’t expected. ‘Wow. This is where I’ve come to,’ I think. ”
That seems to be the theme in his life – it seems to take him places unexpected often with help from unique characters. “I didn’t choose my path. Looking back at my life, things just ended up happening. I just ended up doing something because I did. But I do think that I was blessed in terms of people I encountered.” In his first collection of poems, Rose Tree, Fake Lovers, after coming out to Tokyo, he managed to get Shuntaro Tanikawa to write its afterword. This was followed by another text by Yukio Mishima. Their relationship began from Mishima’s phone call to Takahashi at the company he worked for at the time. “I didn’t realize who Yukio Mishima was until he mentioned that he was a writer.” Their relationship continued well until Mishima’s death. A figure from the Beat Generation comes to light as well – Takahashi’s first translated collection, Poems of a Penisist, grabbed Allen Ginsberg’s attention. Ginsberg led him to publish Sleeping Sinning Falling from City Lights Books. His relationships go well beyond the world of writers as well. He has modeled and spent some time with Richard Avedon in the late 70s in New York. His vast circle of friends is a whole another story of its own – that he has published a book about it.
This year, after 30 years, Takahashi will be traveling for the seventh time to Greece. “I never wrote about Greece – perhaps because my feelings were too strong… At my age now, however, I started to feel like I can write something about it. I do have things I wish to write about at this point in my life at age 75. Somehow recollecting the life I have been living until now or rather redefining it. The other – the relationship between Greece and I – in other words the relationship between poetry and I. I usually have two or three things I say I would like to do. Having ten or twenty – we wouldn’t know where to start. Luckily, after accomplishing those two or three, I can continue and do more.”
He said chuckling, with a beautiful glow in his face.
Mutsuo Takahashi & model Yuto @be natural models
Photography: Jorgen Axelvall / Super sonic
Styling: Masaki Kataoka
Hair & Grooming: Akiko Kawasaki
Special thanks to – Jun Hanzawa & Nile