April 26, 2005

Unnamed Flowers

There is a type of flower that is blooming now throughout Wakayama. Perhaps it is blooming all over Japan, the earth, the universe. I don't know this flower's name. In the school garden at Koyo High School, there are voluptuous congregations of these flowers--a congregation celebrating nothing but this particular time of year. There are other flowers at school, such as the beautiful sight that is above the unused picnic table (which is next to a carpless pond)--a thick grove of the hanging wisteria vines rustle noiselessly in the wind. The aforementioned flower is a light, almost burning purple. I think if I were to know its name, it would be a bit more objectified--that is "such and such" a flower. It is wonderful to have mysteries like this--something which we see and experience without having to name. I feel this way with people sometimes--that if there is a mutual understanding between two people, it cannot have a true name. Or rather, the name by which it goes, changes from day to day.

So, now I am on my way to class. I have a terribly sore back from too much squatting at the gym. The day is a beautiful one, the view from the classroom lightens the spirit, as do the kids in my first grade classes. Even though certain heavy thoughts return to me on a regular basis, I feel an acute lightness right now, as if I were a fish jumping upstream.

April 15, 2005

Daily Life

This has been the first day in a long time when it is actually cooler inside the staff room than it is outside. I grew accustomed to returning to the teachers' room for warmth, weak coffee, and the ever so wonderful bento (they just came as I type away). But now I find myself with loads of time here without classes (I will finally start on Monday with two whole classes in the afternoon), so I have been strolling in the sun, checking out the various trees, plants, and a variety of bicycles in the front parking lot of my school.

I wonder what it would like if someone were to videotape my daily routine on these days without classes and then speed up the tape.

{Jeff sitting and reading/studying, stand up to get coffee, sit down and stoudy, stand up and walk around, sit down and study, go over to the computer to write a blog, sit down at desk and study, make another trip to the bathroom down the hall (with the faint hope of running in to the new music teacher), sit down and study...eat bento...refill coffee...sit and study...walk around....sit....no more studying...sitting)

Well, it is a beautiful day. English Camp in a few hours. My hangover is fading away slowly, but I am definitely going bowling again.

Time for an ever so productive weekend of English Games, perhaps tea or coffee with a friend on Saturday, and then digging up bamboo shoots on Sunday.

April 14, 2005

Kaisha and Shakai

I was sitting at my desk (now at different desk typing) this morning, studying Japanese during my spare hours (the classes have started, but unfortunately I cannot start teaching until the official schedule is released). I noticed that the word for civilian and worker, society and work, are the same two kanji flipped around. 会社 or kaisha means "company" or "business." 社会 or shakai means "society." Perhaps the whole country, if you are dislexic, is one enormous corporation, thus making all members of society employees of some unseemingly immanent bureacratic body. What am I getting at, though, in this strange, perhaps obvious, comparison between Japanese "society" and "companies?" Does this little point of linguistic irony mean that Japanese speakers think of society as a giant company, or vice versa? Am I merely reading my way into things that Japanese people have never considered? Sometimes I think that perhaps even little things like this, that is, words that we use to represent who or what human beings are, self-identifying words, deserve some, much more, attention. After all, the 50-something, balding bodybuilder at the gym still refuses to call me by name. Instead, he uses "へんな外人" hen na gaijin (strange foreigner, or, strange stranger). Perhaps this man has killed many brain cells in his years of lifting and drinking shotchu into the wee hours at a local snack bar (God forbid I should ever do that), but I had to confront him in my functional but nonetheless inadequately inarticulte Japanese. Anyways, these words, 社会 and 会社, have led me to think about why Japanese workplaces seem like their own world, and why their world runs like a well-oiled machine...sometimes.

Though this sounds like I may be critiquing Japanese culture as a whole, I find that I have grown tired of critiquing, or beginning to critique, my own culture. Maybe no criticism is necessary. Maybe I am not criticizing, but in an inexplicable way, appreciating that which is simultaneously wonderful and unceasingly troublesome in this world.

Last night I had one of those dreams that sweeps one through a myriad of settings, situations, encounters with people, etc. Now, awake , just about one of ever two people I see seems to remind me of some part of those dreams. Back to strange, suggestive reflections on the idea that, at the moment of death, we see our entire life flash before us. Well, not my whole life flashed before me, but let's just say enough flashed before, behind, above, or below me to make me wonder about my life in relationship with the people I have met thus far.

April 13, 2005

Forgetting what I Remember

This morning I read on article on "the wane of reading" in America. Upon finishing my perusal of such an articulate article, I felt as though I was able to return to a place that I left a long time ago. This is place is "a made place"--the imagination, and it serves an often unobservable purpose, which is that of reflection, of looking again at experience and seeing more than what appears initially on the surface (sometimes this "first impression" involves nothing at all). Perhaps what has brought on this wave of laziness, lack of patience, lack of concentration are the instant yet transitory rewards (if we may call them by such a positive name) that television, the Internet, computers, video games, leave us with. Well, one cannot say that I have indulged in much of these technological splendors in Japan (I don't watch TV, I email far less than in the states, the expensive hand held video game unit that I purchased was a mistake), but yet I don't feel all that more reflective. Yes perhaps there is something deeper than just these machines coaxing us into the virtual space of who we would be if we weren't ourselves. It seems like people spend a lot of money these days, perhaps because they have more money as well as time, on things which help them avoid themself. The pursuit of an ideal image is what I mean--the you after a genie has granted you three wishes (note: this outcome can, obviously enough, have its own pitfalls). So, while we find more ways to be happy, we start spending more money on it. We find more ways to communicate, but we communicate less. There are more places to find books, a greater need to read them, but we read less. And now, I am typing away at a jounral that won't do much for anyone, maybe myself, maybe a random figure that looms in my future--a person that will skim these archives and find something that flickered in luminosity for a second, helping him or her with some crisis of great or small proportions.

April 11, 2005

Falling Petals

I have by now often discussed, heard, read, felt, and seen the acknowledgement, acceptance, and celebration of ephemerality in Japanese culture, known as 物の哀れmono no aware (lit. sympathy for things), or, as I have adopted it for the title of my blog (which will also prove to be an ephemeral thing), 無常観 mujoukan (awareness of impermanence). Maybe I do not need to be aware of impermanence, and that it is this negating character 無 mu that works doubly--meaning that a full realization is an unrealization of impermanence, that we are talking about a non-awareness, not ignorance, but in lightness, in the absence of a logic that demands everything that life involves us in to fit into the objective space of the known and knowable; it is a positive freedom that does not drag one down with the weight of one's thoughts and fears. There is an old proverb in Japanese that represents this way of living: 行雲流水 ko-un-ryuu-sui (a cloud moving across the sky, and a river flowing on land). As I move on through life, I notice something here, something there, and keep moving.

Why did I start today's blog with this long,very thought-heavy reflection on words that I have randomly come across in my many days of scanning dictionaries, handbooks, etc. for interesting words? I do not know.

Last Saturday was the pinnacle of hanami season this year. It was a calm, almost windless day, the sun shining in a sky with few clouds, the trees stretching their arms wide, seemingly struggling to hold up the fully opened blooms. I stumbled into a friend's barbeque party, helped to ignite the charcoals, and for a moment or two there was peace there in Wakayama Castle park. Looking out over the vista of sakura, I could see Wakayama in the late afternoon light. The sound of drunken friends echoing up the castle walls along with a strange music whose players I could not see. There are times like these when things come into fullness, like the sakura, and then depart. We are thankful for them, and that is all.

April 07, 2005

April 7, 2005

Today I have finally made time to write a blog. The last two weeks were a seemingly interminable blur of taking trains with my brother, drinking while waiting for the train, while riding the train, and while waiting for many buses after getting off the train (some of which took us too regions in Kyoto we never anticipated visiting). Now it is spring--the sakura flowers are an ineffable sight. As trite as it sounds, the simple process of these flowers blooming assuages the many fears, reservations, and dejections I harbor within me--harbor for no reason other than that nasty "pack-rat" instinct that the human conscience can sometimes inflict upon the conscientious. All in all, it gives me a feeling of lightness to stand outside, see all of my students' faces, talk with some of the less shy, and breathe in this warm, slightly humid spring air.

What did I do on my trip? Well, much. However my second night in Kyoto, at the prison-like Higashiyama Youth Hostel, was probably the most memorable, for a reason that has almost nothing to do with Kyoto, or with the reason of my trip (which was to entertain/show parts of Japan to my brother). After a healthy feast of Japanese style hambaagu (meatloaf), I sat in the dining room by myself reading poems from Robert Duncan's book "Roots and Branches." I was drinking my instant coffee (with lots of artificial creamer) and reading the poems when a strikingly beautiful young girl sat a few chairs down from me (note the entire 16 person table was empty). If you can imagine a diagram of vacant seats, the setting would have looked like this:

X X X X Ayako X X X
X Jeff X X X X X X

It reminded me of the scene in the first Batman when Bruce Wayne eats dinner with Vicky Vale across a vast table (in an even more spacious dining hall). It was kind of silly to sit like that in silence, so I asked her a very trivial question. Then we talked about our travels. Her voice and smile abolished the paltry amount of concentration that I was able to muster for reading poetry on that evening. But the conversation that ensued, all four hours of it, is something far more valuable than a poem, though far more transient and mysteriously beautiful and painful. After a few minutes, I asked Ayako if she would like to sit at my table (seeing as there were plenty of seats), and I offered the seat across from me. Instead she got up and sat right next to me, which was a joy and a surprise. We talked about blackberries (originally a discussion about cakes), about poetry, about music we loved (and hated), about Yokohama, about California, about languages, about old jokes that old men play on little children (the one which started this was the "I got your nose" gag), about life at home, about just about everything we thought of and felt at that moment. Many coffees later, well after lights out, we had to part. I exchanged contact information with her, knowing that she was 19 and lived in Yokohama. After a while I couldn't sleep, so I wrote her a letter that night. Knowing that there is a great chance that I will never see Ayako again, I wrote her this letter and included a small gift with it. I tried to express the wonder at meeting her so randomly and so perfectly on an evening with nothing to do. It is certainly far past melodramatic to say that I fell in love, especially "love at first sight," but this evening left me with a realization of love's reality, at holding something so dear that one can let it go. I don't know if that makes sense to you or to me, but I spent an intense few days afterwards not being able to speak coherently to my brother, not being able to focus on anything involved in our trip, not being able to keep my tears from rolling down my cheek at night (especially with the amount of alcohol imbibed).

Yes I know I am melodramatic. I am trying to change this, or in some way I am keeping it there, but either way I am living with whatever it is because this is me.

Since then, the Pope has died, the sun has come out, my brother has left, and I feel ok despite the constant increase in losses that come with time.

Today's blog, like all of mine, has been strange and perhaps impenetrable. But, that is because I am too am trying to dig deep, as for a treasure or an artifact lost long ago.