Thursday, January 31, 2008

the indie contingent

Mark spent a year in Tokyo as an Artist In Residence (AiR) with CAN. He left behind a lot of good friends who miss him, a lot. Thanks Mark for this post, and, welcome to the blog. Come back to Tokyo sometime soon and make my Taylor (guitar) sound really good again. It was great having you here with us for a year! (Paul Nethercott)

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con·tin·gent - [kuhn-tin-juhnt]
–adjective

1.dependent for existence
2.A representative group forming part of an assemblage.

There are several things I've been learning on my journey as an "independent" artist:
1.There is no such thing as an independent artist
2.Artists can not possibly survive independently
3.and for you math people out there I've come up with this little formula A^1=undefined

What am I saying? Am I throwing in the sweaty towel? Chucking my guitar against the wall and walking away? ummmm... here is another equation - NO x INFINITY = ANSWER :)

What the term independent means in music, is that we are free to follow our heart's passion, free to express that passion in our art as we desire, and free to distribute and use our art to benefit others with out being inhibited. But to accomplish this, we are actually very, very dependent - on people like you. A group of people that goes beyond just a "listener" or a "fan", into what I am calling the Indie Contingent.

These are the people who share a common vision with me, a vision of reaching out to the oppressed, seeking healing and justice for the exploited, and loving them with the Love that has been poured into us. Are you willing to merge your time and abilities with me in this?

Morocco Trip:

Many of you have heard me express my vision for loving the oppressed around the world, but only some of you know how we plan to let this vision manifest in the near future. I want to take a small team of people to different countries where significant exploitation is happening for 2 to 3 months. Our goal is to hear their stories so that we can present them in forms of media - songs and other art - to raise awareness and funds to bring aid, practical help, and loving people to the sides of the hurting. We are currently in the planning stages of preparing for the first of these trips - to Morocco, in the summer of 2008. There is a lot that has to fall into place, but we are preparing, brain storming ideas, and planning in full expectation of it happening.
ALL of these positions below aid this, either in actually participating directly in Morocco, or preparing our distribution base back in America and around the world where we hope to share the stories.

These are the talents I am specifically looking for to join the Indie Contingent -

The people we are looking to potentially have come with us to Morocco are listed below...we hope that those numbers can be replaced soon with names :)

1-2 song writers
1 photographer/video documenter
1 translator or translators in country

And maybe you aren't into traveling around the world, or simply can't... Here are several talents that we really need tons of here in America, or abroad

Graphic Design:
-Merchandise (designing t-shirts, wrist bands, and whatever your mind come us with)
-Web Work (design, Flash, and programming)
-Promotional Material (merch layout at shows, promo posters/flyers, CD designs)

Tour Management:
-Venue Scouts (finding interesting, artistic venues to play in and promote our vision)
-Booking Agents (booking shows at venues like art spaces, colleges, churches, bars)
-Local Talent Scouts (finding artists to join the show in their area and bring new people to listen who normally wouldn't be there)
-Promoters (people who spread the word about new music/shows through word of mouth, distributing flyers, writing reviews and notices for newspapers, getting announcements through connections to radio stations, etc)

Visual Art:
-Artists of nearly any medium (I love to have artists performing during the shows to turn the musical and lyrical message into a fresh visual connection)

Are you interested in joining the Indie Contingent, or just wanting more information?
email me at

We sure hope you are, as we are truly impotent without you. Your ideas, hearts, and abilities only make our visions more viable, and its potential reach far greater!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Religious Video Games

Back in September and October, while I was waiting for my visa to come to Japan, I finally got a chance to play Okami (大神 ōkami in Japanese), an action-adventure game for the Playstation 2 console that was released in late 2006. I was attracted to the game for two main reasons. First, it had a unique graphics engine that made the game feel like a 3D Japanese watercolor painting. Second, and most important for me, it had a soundtrack that fused Japanese traditional music (邦楽) with the Western orchestra.

When I started playing the game, I was in for quite a surprise. The story was nothing less than Shinto 101. You play as the avatar of Amaterasu, the sun goddess and the most important of the kami to the Japanese people. You have been called back to the world by a withering tree named Sakuya in order to deal with a spreading darkness in the world, which through the game takes on the form of Orochi the 8-headed serpent, the Nine-tailed fox demon, and many other characters from Japanese legend. Some of the protagonists include Issun the painter, Susanō, Waka, Kaguya and the Bamboo Cutter, and others. Amaterasu is in a weakened form, as people have forgotten her and are no longer praying to her. Through the game, you help people through their troubles in order to gain their praise, which in turn strengthens you. There are many more blatant Shinto references.

The thing is, the game is incredibly fun. One look at the Wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%8Ckami#Reception) will show you the vast amount of awards and acclaim it has received. It's even getting a Nintendo Wii remake, even though Clover Studios, who produced the game, dissolved last year. It has earned its place on my shelf as a game that I will never re-sell, and will probably play again in a few years. So, on the one hand, we have an incredibly well-made game promoting Shinto.

On the other hand, we have the wealth of well-made Christian games on the market. Their titles include... well... to be honest I can't think of any. I remember Wisdom Tree Publishers back in the days of the NES (Japanese Famicom) and SNES (Japanese Super Famicom), who are famous for publishing the only game, and I mean the ONLY game, for the Super Nintendo to NOT receive Nintendo's official seal of quality. The game was Super Noah's Ark 3D, which was identical to the first person shooter Wolfenstein 3D, except for the fact that the Nazis were graphically replaced with goats. In the days of the original Nintendo, they were famous for a game called "Spiritual Warfare," which was loosely based on the Legend of Zelda, but instead of killing goblins with your sword, you instead shot heathens with the fruits of the spirit in order to convert them. Other games include rip-offs of Super Mario 2 and Candyland.

In fact, every Christian game I can think of is a rip-off of another game. But surely things have gotten better in the last 15 years, right? Unfortunately, no. Digital Praise is the leading Christian games publisher now, famous for making a Christian version of Dance Dance Revolution and a host of PC-based Veggie Tales and Adventures in Odyssey games. A couple of years back, Left Behind: Eternal Forces tried to cash in on the hype surrounding the Command and Conquer series. There have been few other notable mentions.

So why is it that a game promoting Shinto can win game of the year on so many websites, while Christian games barely rise to the surface, and if they do, are generally not worth the time and money it takes to play them? Part of it includes the costs incurred while making a game. After all, games are expensive to make, and they are only getting worse. I think a bigger problem though, is the stigma that video games have received from Protestant America. Almost every famous anti-videogame spokesman is a Conservative Christian, and many things have been said to alienate those who like games. Some of my friends have been lectured by their coworkers on how they are breaking the commandment to not kill every time they play Halo with their friends. Some have seen games that include magic and immediately announced them as hethen, ignoring the often strong sense of justice and morality presented in the same games. Others claim that video games rot the mind (a statment which has been proven false on many occasions, as playing games includes much more mental interaction than watching television or movies, and has been proven to increase cognitive mapping in children).

In the meantime, we as Christians are missing out on a medium which is rivaling and threatening to surpass the movie industry in terms of revenue. Not only that, but a quality game made and released (through the appropriate outlets) in America/Canada will also likely be released in post-Christian Europe, Australia, Southeast Asia, and of course, unreached Japan. The operative word is "quality." For more information on what some people think of the Christian gaming industry, an editor at RPGamer.com posted an interesting commentary. I would encourage you to read it. Section 3 includes the commentary on Chrsitian games, and section 2 shows some of the ways that video gamers feel attacked my narrow conservative mindsets. Check it out here.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

"Cellphone Novels" Huge Hit in Japan

On the trains in Tokyo I often see young women absorbed in their cell phones, now I know one thing they are doing is writing and/or reading novels! Amazing...

"Thumbs Race as Japan’s Best Sellers Go Cellular" The New York Times


TOKYO — Until recently, cellphone novels — composed on phone keypads by young women wielding dexterous thumbs and read by fans on their tiny screens — had been dismissed in Japan as a sub-genre unworthy of the country that gave the world its first novel, “The Tale of Genji,” a millennium ago. Then last month, the year-end best-seller tally showed that cellphone novels, republished in book form, have not only infiltrated the mainstream but have come to dominate it.

Read the full article on the NY Times Site

Saturday, January 19, 2008

TV Program Leads Japanese Youth To Faith in Christ

As told by Takeshi

I have been working as a carpenter for 4 years, I worked so hard that some times I felt tired mentally and spiritually. At those times I began to think a lot about my life, "For what cause do I live in this world?" or "Does my life have meaning?" I got sick of myself; the feeling of loneliness and emptiness filled my heart.

One day, I saw a TV program called "Unbelievable Wonders", it featured a little girl called Ashley. Ashley has a disease called progeria, and life was really painful for her. Progeria is an accelerated aging disease, in which the aging process of the body accelerates 10 times faster than normal. Most people with progeria die at around 13 years of age. But, at that time, Ashley was already 14 years old.

Progeria made her bones became fragile, made her hair fall out; it also gave her bad headaches and pain in her chest. As she has passed the 13 year limit, she didn't know when she's going to die. At first, I thought, "What a poor girl. What's the meaning of her life?" But as I watched more, I knew that she lived her life so positively, but I didn't know why.

As I finished watching, I was really moved by her. She had hard times much more than me, but she lived so positively. I thought about how my worries seemed so small compared to hers. At the end of the program, they introduced a book by Ashley. I didn't think to go and buy it. But, as I passed by a bookstore one day, I found the book and bought it.

These are her words from the book. "I don't want to show a sad face in front of people. If I smile, everyone will be happy." And, "I want to stay positive." Also, "I want to be someone that can help others. I want to be someone full of love." I realized from the book that she maintains a very positive attitude. I asked myself, how could she be this positive?

When I heard about Ashley, I didn't know a single thing about church, Christ, or God. In the book there were keywords like church, God, and prayer, but I was like, what is church? What is God? However, I was really moved by the book, so much so that I decided in my heart, "I want to live like Ashley!!" But I didn't know where to start.

One day (in Tokyo) as I rode the train on the Seibu-Ikebukuro line, there were a lot of foreigners around. I thought, "Wow, so many GAIJIN!" I found an empty seat in the corner, sat down and slept.

Suddenly, the person next to me woke me up and introduced me to an event. It was sudden, so I was surprised. The event was a concert by Andy Hunter. She told me it was a church event (at Jesus LifeHouse in Tokyo.) She invited me, but at that time I didn't feel like going. So she said, "if you have any interest in going, here's an Email address you can contact."

As I thought about it at home, I remembered Ashley, and I decided I wanted to go to church. So I sent an Email saying, "I want to go to church."

The first time I went was to the church in Higashi Kurume, and I felt warmth. I also went to the Akasaka church after that, and I had so much fun. I didn't become a believer the first time, but I went there again and again. A young man named Yuji asked me, "Do you read the Bible?" And I answered "Not at all."

But, as I went to "Life Group" (weekly small group meetings) and talked with people from the church, I was really interested in their attitudes and lifestyle, so I started reading the Bible. And, as I found out more and more, I had conviction in my heart that this is what Ashley believes, so I decided to become a Christian.

Now I really want to say "thank you" to the foreigners in the train, to Fumie (the young Japanese believer) who talked to me, to Ashley, and to God.

Note: Story used with Takeshi's permission

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Takeshi's story is a great example of how media can draw a person towards faith in Jesus Christ. Another Japanese friend of ours, while in her teens, came to know Christ as a result of watching "Little House on the Prairie."

Japan is media saturated and has a very high Internet usage. We have have a tremendous opportunity to share Christ through the use of "New Media." I am involved in a very exciting project that has the goal of putting redemptive videos on youtube.com, in Japanese. We want to "connect" with the large numbers of youth, like Takeshi, who are interested in the meaning of life and are looking for hope but know almost nothing about Jesus. This is probably the most challenging endeavor of my life and it has been a big deal for me to decide to move ahead with it. I have crossed the Rubicon now, I am committed to moving ahead with it. Now, that sounds good, to be "moving ahead!"

Monday, January 14, 2008

CAN Monthly January, 2008



Every month we (CAN) hold a "CAN Monthly" meeting. We have held a number of "open mic" events over the past year where participants share their gifts and abilities. We have had ballet, traditional Japanese dance, hip hop dance, hip hop music, lots of other styles of music, visual arts, film, and poetry presented. Most participants do original material, with some outstanding talent represented. It has been fun, and very rewarding to be a part of these Monthly Meetings. Our purpose includes networking, encouraging participants, and giving everyone a "safe" place to perform.

Last Saturday (1-12-08) we had our first 2008 "CAN Monthly." Going into it I thought we were going to have around five people show up, I even suggested that we cancel it. That was a really dumb idea as it turned out to be one of our best meetings. Around thirty people showed up and we had dance, music, poetry, and an illustrator who showed and talked about his art.

We met in a wonderful church building in Chiba. Kashiwa Glory Chapel is an old warehouse that the church refurbished into a warm, inviting beautiful church site.

And, the food was absolutely delicious. The pastor's wife cooked us a huge meal that included coffee and desert (see photos).

I am looking forward to the rest of this year, meeting new people, seeing people get excited about what God is doing in their lives and being a part of what CAN connected artists are doing. I plan to do a monthly report on our meetings.

The video below is of three children at our CAN meeting performing a hip hop dance. Their teacher, who was also at the meeting, is a well-known mainstream dancer in Tokyo. Great to see Christians in strategic arenas like the hip hop sub-culture in Japan (which is large).
video