November 04, 2004

Osaka, Steinbeck, Second-Grade Soccer, and the Unthinkable

I had the day off yesterday because it was 文化の日, or "Culture Day." Certainly what would be a better (or worse) way to spend my day in commemoration of modern, metropolitan Japanese culture (finding anything "old" or "traditional" requires either a long trip on many trains or a reinvention of the said cultural aspect in my imaginative engagement with books that aren't read anymore) than by going shopping? It seems to be all of my students' "hobby" (I still can't see how it can be one, but then again I am still trying to see some good angle of commercialism under the light of my scepticism), so why not give it a whirl? I started the day reading "East of Eden" in McDonalds over a fresh sip of the hottest, but most watered-down coffee. McDonald's is such a reliable disappointment--perhaps a reason for its universal success. Then I sauntered up the staircase at JR Wakayama, caught the Kishujikaisoku (that's a mouthful to remember, but it's better than the two hours plus required by the local train), and arrived at the labyrinthine JR Osaka station. I always tell myself to avoid this station for two reasons: (A) no matter who I am with, whether with a Japanese friend or a foreign friend, I get lost; (B) I have never not seen too many disturbingly beautiful women wandering through the station, staring into space. It reminds me of some words of Neruda "Ah! los ojos de ausencia" (disturbing mostly because I have let myself become affected by my immediate surroundings, which is certainly a bitter (necessary?) fruit of living intimately with the world and with people).

Where did I go shopping? That's the most important question, right? I first made my ritual stop in Kinokuni Bookstore--got a copy of D.T. Suzuki's "Zen and Japanese Culture" (I've been reading a lot of Blyth's work on Haiku, and he takes a different approach to Zen than Suzuki...I like Suzuki's work a great deal no matter what is said about him or about a mistreatment of his work), Goethe's "Die Leiden des jungen Werther," and Hoffmantshal's "Gedichte." Yes, I am back to studying German. Good luck me! Who knows how far I'll get with just my dictionary? Anyways, then I got some clothes at other stores, blah lost two more times...blah blah...made it home...blah...

Steinbeck's book really took me back to the most painful and most joyful (perhaps the only) experience of love. The scene of naming Adam Trask's two motherless boys came at me like a whirlwind of voices that come from various stages in my life. That we all have guilt is a fact of human life. Some people seem to place it in the sphere of Christianity, Catholicism, or even further, certain exegetes of the Catholic tradition through whose work we now have sometimes a deeper understanding of the texts we read, the life we live, though often this understanding is more problematic (the nature of our condition) than redemptive. But isn't this placing of blame a mere shifting of one's own guilt on to something else? Whether or not we are guilty, everyone seems to feel guilty about something, even if it is the absence of guilt. Sometimes indifference can be the most agonizng form of guilt. But in saying something to the effect that guilt is a Catholic concept means there is merely a shift in orientation to the world, and now one set of morals or symbols believed in by one group is scapegoated by the other. Today's world is a prime example of this. In America, a man is being reinstated to lead us into a mass movement of blaming others for what seems to be a worldwide epidemic of myopia, fear, and the refusal to listen to another voice other than what is echoed of one's own. But, this is enough of trying to say what many people have said more eloquently. You can see how my holiday shifted from day into night, like the crux of adolescence which may or may not be the peak of sheer wonder and helplessness, after which we often claim to know ourselves, to know this world, or to know something for certain in truth (all the while there is always a new turn with the same inexhaustible challenges).

My apologies to those reading this blog. It may be too personal. I hope it is not. I will share with you an anecdote on my trip to Nachi last weekend perhaps in hope of lightening the mood of this rather drab and self-consciously reflective (two words applied to me by an abrasively proud and often incoherent Welsh genius) blog. Last Sunday, I watched a football (soccer, sakaa) tournament for many grammar schools in the Nachi area. Such a spectacle this is--to watch a mass of little 7 year olds pile over the ball, kicking it into each other until the ball squirts out five minutes later, leaving the least aggressive kid in prime position to dribble the ball down the entire pitch by himself and fire a beautiful shot, not on goal, but on those soccer moms far away from the perimeter of the field (let alone the goal), getting sports drinks and tea prepared for the halftime cool down. Or, one sees the poor, poor goalie who, watching one ball roll for ten seconds in a line that was perfectly perpindicular to his stance, and then roll right between his legs into the goal, showed no pain of humiliation when he put his team into a 3-0 deficit at halftime because of his battle with hand-eye coordination. This is a great spectacle--these football matches. One can learn much about the human condition, about the incoherence of society, about the beauty of mistakes and coincidences. And those two forwards on the Shimosato squad (who I was rooting for because they were my friend's school), the one's who played the entire match offsides, I salute your lack of shame because you at least knew the concept of distance needed in order to score, the concept of passing (even if its a pass to an offside teammate) and not just kicking rampantly, without looking where you aim. Later, I watched the ocean (the pitch was in a park right on the beach), listened to the waves, watch the deep surf kick up and crash down rhythmically on the beach, all while thinking about the monks of long ago who would get in boats here and set off to sea because that is where they believed the Pure Land was--beyond this sea. They never came back, but never went away. I sat there, the waves saying something the kids' feet also reminded me of--a mystery that we are always a part of. Never, though we are ultimately free, can we go out of bounds.


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