Friday, June 22, 2007


Rice planting, Nosaka Town (now Sousa City), Chiba Prefecture, Japan, 1996, by Michael

Every day, I'm visited by voices and visions from my years in Japan.
The memories remain alive and vibrant within me.
The sense of aesthetics that took root in me colors the way I view life itself.

Hints of incense remind me of lazy summer afternoons with a dear friend in Kyoto,
watching Arashiyama -- Storm Mountain -- turn blue then purple then green in the changing light.

The tinkle of wind chimes carries me back to my apartment balcony overlooking a sea of rice paddies shimmering emerald green in the brilliant sun.

Certain poetry rekindles the joyous solitude I felt inside bamboo groves.

A cicada's stridulations or a bird's call transport me back to forests of giant cryptomeria trees where the sunlight never fully pierces the canopy.

Physically, I'm half a world away now.
Spiritually, I never left.


Mike Cross said...

Hi Michael,

I think I appreciated during my years in Japan the same kind of things you appreciated -- the joyous simplicity of the "one foot in front of the other" attitude (MO ICHI DO; one more rep.; just do it!). The years of practice and great attention devoted to a single stroke of the sword or of the brush. Appreciation of building materials in their natural state.

Conversely, I don't forget the things I hated: the smug insularity, the cultural arrogance, the irrational fear of the other, the male chauvinism (WARE WARE NIHONJIN; we Japanese).

I hated the many levels of deep hypocrisy. HONNE vs TATEMAE. But this, in the final analysis, may have been only the echoing of gaps within myself.

When I read on Gudo's blog his proclamation that "Buddhism is realism," it still makes me very angry, even after all these years. His self-important attitude to state that view as if he is really conveying something uniquely important, from Japan down to culturally inferior nations of the world, makes me furious.

This anger must say something about my own false and chauvinistic sense of self-importance -- the old mirror principle.

I admire your ability to focus on the beautiful in Japan. Aesthetically it is a marvellous place. But spiritually? Spiritually, my friend, I think that you naturally belong in the home of the brave and the land of the free.

All the best,


Michael said...

Hello Mike,

Yes, my views of Japan nearly a decade after having lived there indeed focus on the more pleasant aspects of the experience. My negative impressions have been tempered by time. Still, when people ask me if I enjoyed my years there, I reply that it would have depended on the day you asked me.

I also was extremely frustrated by honne versus tatemae and some of the other things you mentioned. In fact, there were days that I hated being in Japan and regretted ever having come there. I think the roller coaster nature of the experience was part of the attraction.

But, as you observe, these conditions and challenges may have been catalysts for turmoil generated by internal battles I was fighting.

And of course, focusing on the positive aspects of the experience reveals only half the picture.

I would have to agree with you that I am better suited spiritually to life in the country of my birth. It was my experiences in a karate dojo in Japan that convinced me of that.

When I read of life in old-time Japan in the heart of the Edo period, I marvel at the incredible changes in spirituality that have been wrought from then till now. And I would like to ask the Japanese a question: Was it worth it?

As ever,