A world of grief and pain,
I can’t get Japan out of my thoughts this past week. I cannot stop looking at the pictures and film of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster are heartbreaking – I am trying to reconcile the images with the Japan I know and love. My Facebook feed is full of news of people moving south or overseas out of Tokyo, but just as many are staying and trying to do something to make a difference – pictures of gear at the ready as they have volunteered to help. I am glad to be safe away from it all, but part of me wants to be there too, to help.
Japan is my second home. It is hard to believe I moved there over 15 years ago, and made it my home for seven years. It welcomed me (as much as it can welcome any foreigner), frustrated me, enchanted me. It is a place that is hard to describe to someone who has never visited, as to Westerners Japan seems to have so many conflicting elements. It feels difficult to grasp.
There are so many contrasts: the elbow bumping shopping area of Shibuya which you often see photographed to the mystic mist-shrouded hills of Hakone; while riding the train the person next to you will fall asleep on you (I am not kidding about this, sometimes they almost end up in your lap they lean over so far), but you hardly touch people you know well (especially older people). People can seem overly formal when you first meet them, but they are incredibly kind and hospitable. The skin that seems so reserved only just covers sentimentality and softness: the first time I had ever seen Rugby players cry was at the end of a championship match in Tokyo.
They have words that describe concepts that we can’t easily describe in English, words like wabisabi, which someone described to me as ‘the last autumn leaf falling from the tree’ – it is the beauty of imperfection or impermanence. And the most touching movies are animation – see My Neighbor Totoro or Princess Monoke if you haven’t had the chance yet.
There is such a huge population but it covers only a small amount of the land in Japan – something like 75% of the population lives in 25% of the land. That means you have built up areas that snake along the trainlines, and then areas that only have small villages, or in the case of the mountains, no one for miles. Inland is majestic and reminds me of here, New Zealand. And the coast also reminds me of home, except for the areas that have huge concrete walls and massive tetrapods that look like concrete jumping jacks. Both of these are to combat the extreme weather conditions. And tsunami.
Japan is not far from my thoughts at the moment, and I hope you don’t mind if I write a bit about it over the next few weeks.
I’m donating half of every book purchase until the end of April to the Red Cross Appeal supporting disaster relief efforts in Japan.
Spend $24, I donate $12.
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