Waseda University Collaboration

Tokyo

At TWFMW we’re all about reaching out to people and building relationships, whether that’s with your next door neighbour, or someone in a far away land whom you’ve never met. We were recently approached by Elizabeth Coll, a photographer friend in Tokyo, who loved the project and wanted to present our story to a group of students at Waseda University in Tokyo.

Hitomi Yoshio, a professor at Waseda’s Global Studies in Japanese Cultures Program (JCulP), invited Elizabeth along with the co-founder Dan and our in-house artist Karo to give a talk in her class, and together we collaborated on a project to showcase the voices of students, who were dispersed around the world during the pandemic year.

Here are some of their stories…

Pure Beauty

 

One early morning, using grocery shopping as a reason to go out I felt a strange feeling in my nose and lungs, as if I am in the forest outside the city breathing in pure oxygen from plants and trees. In the middle of spring, when mud from melting snow was everywhere, the air of the capital was never so clean and easy to breathe. It seeped in through the invisible holes of the medical mask, bringing the best pleasure for the body not seeing nature for a while. There was no one around me, the sky purely blue and it seemed like birds returned back for the new season. The road in front now looked like the zombie scene that we laughingly watched in cinema so many times.

By the eyes of the isolated, the scene was lifeless and hopeless, but when I looked at a piece of fresh cigarette on the ground, I knew that someone was on the same spot as I am and dropped yet smouldering tobacco on the road. “This isn’t an abandoned city” – told the voice inside me and the things around began to come to life, bursting with memories of people moving, leaving footprints, touching door handles, gazing at waking from winter trees. And so am I took the step forward, leaving the traces of mine and disturbing the silence of the new, unknown alien world that we are gradually adjusting to.

Arina, Astana, Kazakhstan

 

To Become a Superhero

 

Back when I was in my quarantine hotel room in Nanjing, I watched the world move on from my window without me in it. Everyday people walked their dogs without me, got drunk without me, offended women without me, earned money without me, broke hearts without me. I wondered, what’s my role in all of this?

Fourteen days are an eternity stuck in an eight square meter. I binged eight seasons of Friends in fourteen days. One day I walked 54 steps, or I could say, I peed four times—my daily contribution to society.

But fourteen days are nothing to save the world.

Remember when you dreamed of becoming a superhero? Dressed in a crappy homemade costume and standing proudly in it, we all thought we could be the saviour of this vulnerable world. Imagine telling your six-year-old-self that you have now become the hero you dreamed of, you would be so proud of you.

If you have not yet realised your accomplishment, here’s how to become a superhero in 2020, and from now on too.

Stay at home. Understand the impact of your individual actions on the collective. Alone together, we can all be the masked superheroes our younger selves looked up to, though the mask may vary from what we had in mind.
Travel in your imagination, let your mind take you on surreal adventures, forge legends in time and write them down. Do all of that on your couch.

Did you know that it was this easy to make a change?

Anais, Nanjing, China

 

Tainted

 

A girl, or a woman? She herself doesn’t know which she is. 19 years old in Japan is considered underage, but if you’re a girl and 16 and above, the government wants you to marry and have babies.

She’s not the window gazing type. She avoids the window. Facing East so that it pours in all shades of gold each morning, the window of her bedroom is a place she dreads. Clear glass with no curtains. As generously big as the top of a table seating six. The transparency and dimension add to dread.

What is dreadful is sometimes forgotten, and is remembered when accidentally noticed. She too, forgets to avoid her window, and sees what other eyes don’t. Other eyes, looking out her window, would see landscape. Her eyes, see the past that never leaves.

Other eyes would see a telephone pole and the street light strapped onto it. Her eyes see the nights he walked her home and held her underneath the dusty-white street light.

Other eyes would see a concrete road running parallel to the window. Her eyes see the place where she raised her middle finger to another person for the first time, and afterwards asked for forgiveness and begged not to be sent to hell.

Other eyes would see a side walk stained with blue spray paint. Her eyes see the day she and the girls sprayed T-shirts for fun, naïvely vowing they’d be best friends forever.

She can skip the songs that remind her of him, she can keep her middle finger away, and she can go without spraying garments. But she can’t get rid of her window and the gutting past that never moves away from view.

Himari, Saitama, Japan

 

Sink and Swim

 

Hey, do you have a moment to listen? It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

The world has become incredibly loud in these months of the pandemic. All the same, it feels like my head is underwater. It feels a little bit lonely here in my head.

Thoughts bounce off of the 4 walls of my room and I drown under their weight. Time seems to pass by in a blink. It’s hard to keep track of the time when you’re confined within the same space for months. And yet, there are these moments in which I become hyper-aware of the passage of time, of how minuscule my own problems are in comparison to the chaos that’s happening beyond my windows. What have I been doing all this time?

The events of this year have felt like a heavy weight that pulls me underwater, head blank and lungs screaming for a reprieve, but I let myself drown because it feels like I don’t deserve the things I have. Do you know this feeling too? Do you feel the same as I do?

It’s been a rough year, hasn’t it? But it will be okay because we’re human, we have survival ingrained in our veins down to our very being, we’ll swim and reach for the surface and remember the feeling of air in our lungs, we’ll remember the warmth of the sun kissing our skin again. Better days will come and they will go, but regardless, they will come. Laughter will ring in the air, and warmth will fill your chest and we won’t be so lonely anymore. Don’t forget to come up for air. Don’t forget that the sun rises, again and again, every day. Be kind to yourself, yeah? Rinse, repeat, until it feels real.

I’ll see you again

Yvette, Mandaluyong, Philippines

 

 

16, 18, 41….

 

67, 107, 124, 131……

Just to see the numbers.

It is like a daily routine to check the weather forecast every day.

157, 293, 316, 392…….

When I stayed home, I felt a certain distance from the numbers.

It gradually expanded, and sometimes shrunk a bit.

 

As I got used to have conversations with my friends online, I had to see my own face each time.

I saw my face on the computer screen, and I became more and more objective for myself. I got totally lost in my identity.

It was a disappointing fact for me to know that I am only an image on the screen.

 

In July, I went outside after a long self-quarantine period.

I went outside wearing a mask, and I realised that I felt much safer with covering my face with the thin cloth. It is not only for avoiding viruses but also for becoming a person with less-identity.

 

This year, in the period of covid-19, words are as significant as numbers.

New words were created, and I was surprised at how easily I adjusted myself to these words.

We had no choice but to believe anyone’s words, so the society itself was constructed with such unfamiliar terms.

The society of New-normal made me reconsidering the term, “normal”.

The concept of “normal” seems much more attractive than before.

What is the “normal” situation?

I didn’t know, and I still don’t know.

Now I just feel that the numbers which increase every day should contain any abnormal meaning.

Someone should be under abnormally heavy pressure. I have to be aware of it more vividly, but I cannot feel that I now suppress someone.

 

305, 460, 678, 822……

Today was 664 people.

Today, I am only myself again.

Kanon, Tokyo, Japan

 

Starry Sky

 

20 years old is a meaningful age in Japanese culture.

In simple terms, we officially become adults. We get to be allowed to drink, to smoke, to get married without parents’ permission. Another tax to pay, clubs with genuine IDs, and most of all, we have a celebration called Coming-of-Age Day.

On the day, 20-year-old girls (maybe I should call them “ladies”) wear a beautiful Kimono with long sleeves, and gather at halls. Every year, the streets and stations are full of color. Red sleeves sway, gold obi belt shines, white snowflakes fall upon chats and laughter of dressed up ladies.

This year is my turn. The celebration of my city is still to be held after the great struggle of COVID. I was born in 2000, and finally became 20 years old last month. I have been waiting for the day forever because my long sleeved Kimono is beyond beautiful. I don’t hesitate to say that it is most elegant among any other girls in Japan. The indigo tie-dyed pattern is as though flowers bloomed on the starry sky. My white obi with golden embroidery is like the milky way on it. The neckband is light orange just like the sun is breaking the night.

What does it mean to grow up in such a chaotic time? How can we find hope to sail for adulthood while weathering the storms through grownups’ disappointed faces? I’ve not found the answer yet. One thing for sure, however, is that I am responsible to make my life deserve my Kimono. No matter what’s awaiting, no matter how rough the waves are, I must survive the storm as a mature sailor, so I someday see the orange dawn glow.

Minami, Tokyo, Japan

 

404 -Not Found-

 

I fall into the illusion of being a God when I open the Internet. A story of how many people passed away today, a story of Mr. X was sentenced to death etc. Not only local news, but I know world news that I’ve never been to. But shortly after I see the happiness side of this world. A story of a celebrity getting married, a story of ordinary girls becoming professional
idols etc. They make me delusion to be in an amazing world.

Every day, such news illuminating the binary world appears in front of me. Too organized, too intelligible, and too beautiful. So, the world I can see on the Internet looks distorted to my eyes. News that makes me happy, news that is about to pull into the darkness, news that feel how insignificant I am… I pretend to understand this world, but I’m always not there. I don’t exist in this “world”. I only see the world where I don’t live. I’m desperate because I want a place to belong to.

Hilarious

So, close my eyes. Fill my eyes with the warm spring scenery from the window, fill my ears with the refreshing summer sounds from the window, fill my nose with the scent of the arrival of autumn from the window, then, fill my skin with the chilly wind blowing from the window. The same “season” as last year might not come, but I’m in such a world that I can feel from the window. I definitely exist here. Then, think about what to do the next time I meet my loved ones, and what to talk to my loved family when I wake up. Let’s live the day like that. Let’s love myself in the world of “404” that never appears on the Internet.

Yukina, Saitama, Japan

 

Counting Lighter Bodies

 

There is another side to the window
forgotten in the guarded loneliness I have spent
counting the numbers of passengers on trains,
the rumbling sound softer, the car lighter
florescent lights shining through, too empty to contain within itself

I am now the number
the number increasing without hesitation
because we all have places to be and things to do
just me and so many more others
and faces remain unrecognisable

Announcements sing
warning, caution, advice
recordings enough we can recite
but can’t
we are too tired to hear
we have places to be and things to do
and that
hasn’t changed

Thin layers of light escape the cars now,
inviting slices of rain and cold air
I let circle around me
bodies can’t leave here
there are too many of them.

Kana, Tokyo, Japan

 

Time Flies and So do I

 

People fly by my sight, like the vast majority.
Happy lights twitch in the pitch-black sky.
No one to see them. No one to clean them.
Money, flies with white wings,
Buzzing, the mosquito sounds.
Only for the plants.
Yes, I know
the toxic ones.

Warm lights for people who sit on the high chairs.
Cold lights for people who move with the heart.

As an adult,
I thought I couldn’t hear them anymore
But, I guess I was wrong,
I can hear them when I want to.
I can hear them buzzing around my head.
Round-and-round
But, I don’t know how much that will last.

As the snowflakes dry away,
I will walk down the long corridors of the sparkling clean towers
Looking down, seeing the fast-moving tinny city,
I will say,
“Good thing I studied hard”
and feel my mask, wet with tears

I see myself smiling
But our eyes never meet
I look again,
My fake eyes,
Made of brown lenses and liner and shadow
and that ink I put on with my black fluffy worm

I look at the eyes
And, it looks away.
I look at the one eye, on the top of my device
And finally see my straight face

I look down and see my bandaged fingers.
My short bony fingers,
placed on the keys like two claws.
I hated these once.

But now, with nobody to see them,
I don’t mind at all.

They see me.
From the perfect angle
Perfect as I will ever get

And

I am here
Just being me.

Just being Female.

Rena, Tokyo, Japan

 

Untitled

 

February 14th, 2020 Chengdu, China

I am trying to think, what I am pretending:
To be a butterfly and look away from a rose,
Or whether I have been hiding.

The dew on the rose was shining—
I talked myself through it and believed that my heart certainly knows.
I am trying to think, what I am pretending.

Stepping forward without a clue of direction is nothing but frightening.
Am I open to it yet reacting too hard to expose?
Or whether I have been hiding.

It could be a rose and anything.
There is no more truth in my sorrows.
And I am trying to think, what I am pretending.

I hate to admit, I am a coward shivering,
for I have lost and let my confidence froze,
Or whether I have been hiding.

I hate myself for long, for I have stopped trying.
My clouds blocked my butterfly and anything that glows.
I am, honestly, trying to think, what I am pretending,
Or whether I have always been hiding.

Note: I am just as confused as the poem and had no choice but to compose it before the sunrise of the Valentines’, 2020. Night has been eating away my sleep these days. I know I am all messed up for now, I won’t be when I am out there on my own. I love a person, “but only on my own” (this is for Eponine and myself).

Mirabelle, Chengdu, China

 

My Dearest

 

April 26th, 2020 Chengdu, China

Thought I was crying, crying for you
A spell of winter which the twig of greens couldn’t broke
It turned out I knew, to where the line drew

The season wouldn’t risk to miss its cue
While the ladybird was hiding under that oak
I thought I was crying, crying for you

Warmness sneakingly grew
Wind-chime was flushed in dawn, and suddenly I awoke
It turned out I knew, to where the line drew

I heard a whisper waving me adieu
Drawing down the curtain, I did quietly invoke
Thought I was crying, crying for you

So far like a rainbow, yet as near as glistened dew
I attempted, with smile, to choke
It turned out I knew, to where the line drew

There was an impetuous youth fallen through
The most colourful plate after the last brushstroke
Thought I would be crying, crying for you
It turned out I already knew, to where the line drew

Mirabelle, Chengdu, Sichuan, China

 

Thus I Castrated My Cat

 

August 4th, 2020 Chengdu, China

Freud is wrong-
There is no envy, for what I was born none
I simply castrated courage I could’ve had
I simply castrated the position I could’ve achieved
I simply castrated attention I could’ve called

I did not make a decision that does not belong to me
Nobody made the decision that does not belong to them
He had no choice, neither did I
He played the character of a domestic fluffy angel
And Castration is part of the prerequisite
Told so, by a man
So I was castrated, in order to get my character
Because Castration is part of the prerequisite
And now part of me
Every woman, and cat, needs a character
Thus I castrated my cat

Mirabelle, Chengdu, Sichuan, China

Close