A playwright. Ron Destro, came to me in 1994 and asked me to write a few songs for his play, ‘Hiroshima’. He reminded me that 1995 was the 50th anniversary of the Hiroshima tragedy. In his script there is a scene where a little girl tries to fold 1000 paper cranes. In Japan there is a tradition of folding 1000 paper cranes to make a wish. The little girl dies before she is able to fold all 1000 cranes. I was particularly touched by that scene, and went into the studio. I first recorded ‘Hiroshima Sky Is Always Blue,’ and realized that it was too long to be in a play. ‘Never mind,’ I thought. ‘I should just keep recording when I’m inspired.’
”I’m Dying’ was the second piece I recorded.
‘Kurushi’ was the third.
Kurushi, in Japanese, means something like ‘tormented,’ ‘pained’ and ‘suffocating.’ In fact, it’s a very Japanese word, and there is no exact translation in English.
When I was recording ‘Kurushi,’ I felt that the little girl was me. Then at one point I heard myself saying ‘Mommy. Mommy, I’m in pain.’ I couldn’t believe it. I’m still calling for my mother? Where did that come from? Then I remembered my son, Sean, crying ‘Mommy’ in the middle of the night when he was in pain. Probably that’s what we all do. But I haven’t called out to my mother for the longest time. In my mind’s eye, I saw a large projection of my mother’s face on a backdrop, while I, as a little girl, kept folding the paper crane. Mother was a projection. That’s why I gave up calling out to her. I thought. In the dark booth of the studio, I felt my soul-antenna reaching for her and touching only emptiness. It was sad, but it also made my head clear. I felt alright.
Then songs flooded into my head, and I kept writing and recording. The memory of being a young child in Japan during the second World War came back to me. I remember being called an American spy by other kids for not singing the Japanese National Anthem fast enough (it’s a slow song, but they suspected that I didn’t know the Anthem too well since I lived in the United States before the war). I remember the severe bombing in Tokyo, hiding in an air-raid shelter listening to the sound of the bombs coming closer and then going away, and feeling that my mother and I lived another day.
I remember when something that seemed like a piece of a B-52’s fuselage fell in our garden with the words ‘piss on you’ scribbled on it. I remember how Count T., my uncle and a Princeton graduate, laughingly said to my mother that he would not translate such a word in the presence of a lady. I remember sneaking into my father’s library and looking in the dictionary to find the word ‘piss,’ without success.
I remember being evacuated to the country; the food shortage, and starving; going to the next village to find rice for my brother and sister; being stoned by the village kids who hated people from the city; getting anaemic and being diagnosed as having pleurisy; being abused by a doctor, and having my appendix taken out without proper anaesthetics because of the shortage of medicine.
I remember how I cried at the end of the war, how bombed out Tokyo looked when I returned from the country on the back of a truck, and what we went through daily reading about the people in Hiroshima. The ones who died of burns went quickly. The ones who died of leukaemia went through a slow and agonizing death. We lived through their death.
Then I realized that there was a striking similarity in what I went through then and what I am going through now. The city is a warzone. And I now have many friends around me who are facing slow death from AIDS. They are suffering low white blood cell counts exactly as the Hiroshima victims were. I am living amongst my suffering friends, listening to them talk about their fear of death, sometimes jokingly, and other times in anger. I live through their nightmares, not daring to voice my own.
The making of the album served as a purging of my anger, pain and fear. I hope it will for you, too.
©1995 Yoko Ono
from the sleeve notes of the album ‘Rising’ by Yoko Ono / IMA.
Released 18 January 1996