Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Great Peace

Any regular readers that I have will know that I recently visited the United States. I shall write about that trip later (am still in the process of coming up with some dreadful pun as a title), but here I’d like to discuss my feelings on returning to Japan.

The winter in Japan was dreadful. It was freezing, of course, but it was an awful cold because it never let up; I found it impossible ever to get warm. This is partly my fault because I hadn’t realised (for the six months that I’d been here) that there are vents above the windows which had been left open; in essence, I had the windows open all winter. I suspect sometimes that I may have a form of seasonal affective disorder because my mood followed the thermometer in those months. I found it very very easy to get very very annoyed at what I would have called at the time (don’t ask me about now) the immense Japanese bullshit I witnessed everywhere: dormitory staff who think that because of their age they own you and have a right to invade your life; immense bureaucracy and accordingly inefficiency; people who don’t say what they mean but insist on hinting at it; sweeping statements about Japan, the Japanese and how extremely different they are from everyone else on the planet.

As the mercury has risen, my mood has too. The gentle warmth in the air makes it a pleasure to be outside, away from the dormitory staff and feelings of claustrophobia. Sun on skin makes smile.

The Japanese, and I, love the sakura (cherry blossoms) that explode like pale pink fireworks on every street and on each hill. Having a little party under the falling petals (a ‘hana-mi’ or ‘flower viewing’) is a great tradition. Often companies will send their most junior employees to nab a good sub-sakura spot (I’ve even heard stories of people being ordered to camp there overnight). There are many sakura in New York's Central Park. My students giggle when I tell them that the only people I say picnic-ing under them were Japanese.

I felt a great sense of calm flood over me when I landed back in Japan from America. The latter is an energetic country where every day can be a struggle against yourself and your fellow citizen, where boasting is acceptable if not encouraged, where you go big or go home. The former is the opposite. Interactions between people who don’t know each other well are almost scripted in Japan, and it felt very reassuring when, at the airport in Tokyo, I knew almost exactly what people would say to me and how they would interact. I smiled when we flew over Mt Fuji in all his majesty and, after the cabin crew announced his presence on our left, the passengers gave a great “eeeeeeee, sugoiiiiiiiii” as you knew they would.

In Japanese, the kanji for the Pacific mean “great peace ocean” (the beautiful sounding ‘dai-hei-yô’); crossing that ocean, I can perhaps see why. 

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