Interview with Akira The Hustler > Artist/Aidsactivist>Tokyo
Tara Herbst

Tara: If you are not part of the mass media, what about money and fame, then?
Could imagine living without?

Akira: Maybe I can live without. Especially fame is not so...its difficult.

Tara: Actually you are famous.

Akira: Yes, I am famous (laughs).And I am not so poor now.
I did not think so much about money before. Because I could earn money; when I was a prostitute it was not so difficult to earn money in a very short time. So I always had a little money in my pocket, it was enough to pay for my rent and to pay for food and buying clothes, because you know, money seems not so big for me. I always think that I have my body, so that I can earn money very easily (laughs). I am sorry but for me the prostitute thing is very, very... not easy, its very hard also, but I can stand to do that. I was always believing in my body, so that's why I did not have to think about money so much, and about fame, its very difficult, but I want to use that, if I can be famous in this way. For me it is very relative with my community, for example in this gay area, I am working in Shinjuku, this is one of the biggest towns for gay people, in Japan, gay and lesbian people in Japan, and I want enough money and enough fame to use it; to do something good for this community. I mean I was a prostitute, I am gay, I am a drag queen, I am thinking about AIDS always, and….I don’t like the mainstream and I am not so typical gay, I am not so macho now, anymore..

Tara: You were?

Akira: I mean my look.

Tara: You had a macho look before?

Akira: Yeah, I used to go to gym three or five days in a week to be attractive, as a prostitute, but I stopped it now. So I am not a mainstream person I think in this world.

Tara: Which specific spaces are important for you now? Concerning your work, or you being active….For example this space here, AKTA…
Akira: This is a community centre in Tokyo, a very brand new one, and to make this place, soo many people did a great effort. It was like sugar in the sea; or small sugar in the sea kind of effort, because the government decided only recently to do this kind of places; and now we have money for AKTA.  Communication is a big problem in Japan, Japanese people always lack of community, so this kind of place for communication is very necessary, of course this is a place for sharing information about AIDS, too, but I want to open this place for all people who want to connect with someone new.

Tara: How long does it exist now, AKTA?

Akira: One year and two months.

Tara: You know that exactly.

Akira: Yes. One year and two months. But also, it can be very crazy if I don't have any other community for me. I have Juicy! Community, for example, this is another important community, but it's not totally different, they are overlapping.

Tara: And what is Juicy?

Akira: Juicy is a party's name, we organize once a month in Tokyo. We are doing drag shows, and we invite a hip hop group from…. I don’t like to say that but it is very heterosexual culture, but we really want to collaborate with them, and also a punk band will come and also many different kinds of djs, come to our party to play records, it’s a totally mixed-up party.

Tara: And other places? Are there other places that are important for you?

Akira: No, I don’t have any others, but actually I am thinking that I really have to make another community, maybe totally different, this is very bad for me, to be only in one place or two places, it's very small for me.

Tara: What would you say that your communities are based on?

Akira: For example this place, AKTA, is for the gay community; we plan to do something for or with lesbian girls, but did not yet. So this is for the gay and lesbian community, but the juicy! party is for people who are living in marginal places, I mean culturally marginal places, not from the moon, from this planet earth, but I don’t like people who are part of the mainstream.

Tara: And in what sense do you not feel being part of the communities? Like not completely belonging to it, or do you feel completely belonging to it?

Akira: Ah no, I am always thinking about other things. (Laughs) This is a very strange feeling but I really love… I am always shaking, like this or that; love and hate…

Tara: And so in what ways?

Akira: To tell you the truth, I am not part of it, I am a traveler I think, but it is very sad. I really want to say I am part of you, part of this world, but I am not and I am a stranger, always.

Tara: Nobody I talked to until now feels really part of communities, that’s interesting, communities; there is a promise as if this was this special place where everybody can at least now feel like belonging to and in the end, maybe there is not such a place.

Akira: Of course. For example my friends are in Okinawa now, Johnj, and the dj you met from juicy! party, the president of juicy! party (laughs)- they send me an e-mail; 'we are very happy now'.  But I really hate to go to other places with 20 or 30 people, I can not stand it. But now I am not isolated but a little bit lonely because they are in Okinawa, it's always like that.

Tara: And do you feel empowered by communities? Powerful in the sense of possibility of action.

Akira: Juicy! yes.

Tara: And in what way?

Akira: I can not find the reason, maybe we are all very strange and unique, but very isolated also and independent.

Tara: The members from juicy?

Akira: Yes. Juicy! yes, AKTA no.

Tara: AKTA does not give you power?

Akira: No, AKTA I give. In AKTA there is not this kind of person, there is a very low percentage of people who believe in culture or in art, I am the only person who really believes in the power of art in this context.

Tara: But again to come back to the Juicy! Party, in what way does it give you strength? Kazumi also said that you seem very different here at AKTA and at the juicy! party…

Akira: It's not about the drag culture for me. Sometimes I have to hide my punk spirit in my pocket in this place here and I have to pretend like an old grandmother or grandfather or older brother and sister, but Juicy! is funk and punk and I have to… its like wrestling in Juicy!

Tara: There is this unity of identity, which is demanded from society, or maybe also from you here, in AKTA, so you have to choose, between affirming your identity or affirm yourself…what would you say you are living more at the moment? More pleasure or more responsibility?

Akira: Ah, responsibility, I always have that.

Tara: But that's especially concerning your AIDS-activism, isn't it? It seems like a self chosen or self-organized responsibility, in a way.

Akira: For what….I don’t know exactly for what I am responsible…For what am I so responsible? (laughs) AIDS? Yeah, in this place I have to be responsible for AIDS activity, but in Juicy! not, it's included, but….I would like to combine pleasure and responsibility more.

Tara: Can you see a way you could do that?

Akira: Maybe this kind of exhibitions we organize here, this makes me very happy, the mixture of artists and people who really want to have the information about AIDS. Maybe I could try to do more of this kind of things.

Tara: And concerning your art work? Your films and exhibitions? You have pleasure doing this kind of work?

Akira: Yes of course. But in this place I don’t want to do MY exhibitions… Should I? (laughs)

Tara: About practical politics. Often people involved in practical politics are very moralizing about what is political correct, or not. Do you have experiences with this here in Japan?

Akira: Yes, but it is not so much on the surface. There are very heavy things but more in the underground. If I fight with these kinds of problems, I can very easily be the victim of political correctness, so I don’t want to fight, I want to dance around the political correctness, always. For example the past war things…

Tara: Concerning the Japanese history?

Akira: Yes. The Japanese president never said 'I am sorry or we are sorry to the Asian countries, to China or to Korea or to Taiwan'. So this May I did a film with the Japanese national song, I changed the melody. At that time I felt that maybe I touch this issue with my finger. My expression is different, I sing the song of Japan, the national song but I changed the melody, but I really want to sing this song, because it is a song about love. It's the same with the AIDS-epidemics, too.

Tara: What for example?

Akira: Like safer sex political correctness is very heavy. So almost all activists say : >Safer sex! Safer sex!< But I think many slogans about AIDS come from America; it is an imported culture. Also the gay culture comes from America, the safer sex is the same. Japanese people can not believe in America any more…not so much.

Tara: Could you describe the American imported pc politics more concretely?

Akira: Like >safer sex is good sex.<  They say it in a very strong way, they use most extrapolated Helvetica for the posters, but it does not fit Japan, the Japanese people.  Maybe safer sex is good sex, but it is very hard to do that. This is our life, so how can I do that?

Tara: And what would you say?

Akira: Now I am doing many interviews with young people, please talk about safer sex, you don’t have to be a good child, please be honest, if you don’t like safer sex, please say that. This is very interesting…to find out our own way.

Tara: With all your experience and your knowledge, what would you propose?

Akira: Sex is not bad, basically. Sex is used to not be bad in ancient times for Japanese people, but before the First World War, like 100 years ago, when the Japanese government opened this country to the world, Japanese people take off many identities, one of it was their sexual identity, and after that the government always said to the people 'sex is bad and talking about sex in public is bad' and especially to women they said this: 'this is shameful if European and American people see that kind of barbarian it is very shameful.' So the Japanese sexual identity is confused.

Tara: And concerning safer sex?

Akira: Yes, so half in their mind they think sex is good, why should it be bad? But part of it is; this is shameful. So to say >safer sex is good sex. Use condoms.< This kind of manifesto is too strong and seems a little bit strange to the people, so we have to care for their confused identity before we say >safer sex is good sex<. We first have to say your sexual identity is not bad. So now, especially for gay men, many gay websites are open for >not using condoms is good sex. > People send e-mails to the website: I have experience without condoms, it was really good. Safer sex is very bad sex, many many people came to that website. It is a anti-reaction to >safer sex is good sex<.
Tara: But what would you say?

Akira: That's why I want to share information, if someone ejaculates in your eyes, what can we do….. or at least please don’t ejaculate in us, you can insert but please do not ejaculate, but this is very political incorrect, so I can not say that. At least as a public servant, I am very frustrated by that. Also, in Japan, to die for love is not a bad thing, but…

Tara: That's strange to here that from an AIDS activist. Surprising.

Akira: Yeah, you can find many novels from 2 or 3 hundred years ago in Japan, suicide story because of love, this kind of culture still exists in Japan. So at least we have to understand about this kind of culture, sex is not bad, but our identity is injured, also dying for love is not good but not bad, these 3 things are very important to understand. But I don’t think dying for love is a good thing, I am not a so simple person (laughs).

Tara: Yeah, I think you would not organize this space if you would.
Concerning morality_ with Assembly International we are searching for a way to struggle for change without this kind of moralizing way, what would you say is a method for yourself to do that?

Akira: I used to think the best way is to enjoy our new values. I want to show my happiness as being gay to the people and also share that for example with my parents. I really wanted to share my friends and gay movies and novels with my parents and I can do that, not with my father but with my mother I can. So I think sharing and showing our experiences is the best way to change values our find new values.

Tara: And concerning the gay movement in what way did your attitude change now?

Akira: I think it is not the time for me to do a demonstration in Japan, now I really try to love my life, very strongly, and this is the beginning I think, to find good things in this boring fucking country (laughs) and love it.

Tara: So for you this would be political.

Akira: Yeah, yeah. Maybe about gay things it's the same, I really would like to love my life as being gay and I really want to find good things in our community and to love that. This is the beginning, love, and after that I want to share that. So for me this is more important, than doing a demonstration.

Tara: And do you think that criteria like <gay, heterosexual, lesbian, etc> are important criteria you need for fighting?

Akira: Yes. But the method for doing that has to be more variable, colorful.

Tara: Less cliché..

Akira: Less 'critical to be critical'. We have to question the method and think about the past.

Tara: And for you your gay identity is important for your engagement.

Akira: Yes, of course.

Tara: And concerning feminism, do you think it's necessary to be a woman for being a feminist?  Do you consider yourself being a feminist?

Akira: Difficult. Difficult. Feminism. Unfortunately my experience with feminists was very bad.

Tara: What kind of experience did you have? In what way was it bad?

Akira: Sometimes I feel you are soo much, don’t be so oppressive, please, I think sometimes. For example I used to go to the international prostitutes conference in Los Angeles, in 1997, and there were 250 women prostitutes and 40 male prostitutes. And some of the prostitutes who are activists and also feminists stand up and they say to us, please leave the room, we don’t need male prostitutes, this is a conference only for women, because if you exist we can not say prostitution is a bad thing for all the women in this world, because prostitution is very bad. We were very sad. What? Because my friends or my new friends whom I met in the conference, women who liked their work very much, they love prostitution. The only thing we want is, we want to work in a save way and not with violence, also we want to protect ourselves from sexual transmitted diseases, so we wanted to talk about the new methods, about that, but for the woman who is a feminist activist prostitute, she seemed very narrow minded, so this was my most bad experience with feminists, I am sorry feminists (laughs). Yeah, but, also after the September 11th I went to the peace walks in Tokyo.

Tara: Oh, so you did go to demonstrate.

Akira: Yes, several times. There were many good things, but many strange things too: I don’t like meditation, like 'please walk very slowly and pray for peace.' Yes, I am praying for that, always, but I don’t want to do that like you. This is strange, but I can laugh about it. But I was very angry about one thing: 30 people and all of them are women, they make a circle and they start to pray and they say 'man is the cancer of this planet, and always the men do the wars - women and children are always victims'; if they would do that by themselves I could say yes, like Yoko Ono sometimes she uses this kind of text, in her art work, I respect her. But I don’t like that the women demonstrating use the word 'we'. That’s maybe the reason why I don’t like feminists because they always use the word 'we' and 'they', like 'men' or 'women', this is too aggressive, I think. But I like you, and you are a feminist (laughs). I never heard from you that you use the word 'we' or 'they', that's why I like you, I think. 
What was the question?

Tara: If a form of feminism which does not need the criteria of man and woman could be possible.

Akira: What do you think?

Tara: I am sure. Most of my male friends consider themselves as being feminists, but not in the way you were describing feminism.

Akira: Could we stop the camera for a moment? To think?

Akira: So concerning my change of my thoughts about AIDS,…

Tara: Where you a hardcore-liner before? A Safer sex hardcore-liner?

Akira: I was. Yeah, yeah, yeah yeah. I was totally like that. I could not understand that at all, people who can not do safer sex. What?! (laughs) I was like that but now I found out that this world is not so simple. So about feminists I can not say that feminism is not useful, I can not. But if I am a feminist, in the same way I have to be humanist, I think or if I am very deeply into feminism, at the same time I really have to understand about transgender things, so I think I have to have several things at the same time. Personally I really hate George Bush, but I don’t think it is very effective in public to say 'fuck George Bush', it is too simple. I have to find a new way of thinking to survive in this world, because I am gay, I am a man so I really want to find a new way together with feminists like you.

Tara: Where do you see possibilities for yourself to invest into the political?

Akira: I think we are in a crisis era. I think it is important to share the knowledge; I would like to say to the feminists: 'please share your knowledge and information with us'. We have to share, not be so separate.

Tara: And what kind of effects are you hoping from your work?

Akira: Sometimes I really lost my way, so…. I don’t know. In a former question I said let's find a new way. There is no new way I think but we can mix our knowledges.

Tara: And do you believe in changing society?

Akira: Yes, I think so. We did a research program about HIV, we interviewed 500 gay people who are HIV positive and asked them: to how many people did you come out about your HIV status? They answer, to five people in average, that makes 2500 people, so 2500 people can be good friends with HIV positive people…

Tara: The question was concerning friends? Or lovers?

Akira: Yeah, lovers or families or co-workers, I was surprised; so many people! Because I have been working with AIDS for ten years now. And ten years before, the situation in Japan was very difficult; nobody could talk about their situation. I was really surprised; so I think there are possibilities. Half of me is very suspicious but I totally believe in People. It also is hard to be engaged like that. At the same time we also have to find a way not to become tired, like for example Bubu, she needed a long time to recover.

Tara: From what? From her sexworker-rights activism?

Akira: Yes, from the burn-out from the activities, the sexworker rights, and feminism. She was totally tired and I was always with her at that time and now I have a little regret that in the time I spend with her we could not find a way not to become that tired.

Tara: It's difficult; because I think for her the problems had a lot to do with the power- structures of the sexworker-rights organizations.

Akira: Yes, and she is like a big balloon, a too big balloon, she would need to put a small hole….. Me too I am bad at that. But I always say to her I am a lazy person, sometimes I really have a desire to be irresponsible for everything.

Tara: And you do that then?

Akira: No, never. (laughs) Yes I can sometimes. She can not do that. So I think I also want to share the method of being lazy. Irresponsibility is not bad, I think sometimes.