Friday, August 31, 2012

IKEA delivery

I walked into a fully furnished apartment this evening.  Not mine, but one of the other members of HPAC.  After time, I suppose my apartment will become more fully furnished.  And I'll learn more Japanese and know where the hundred yen shop is.  But now I've come home to an apartment that finally has a mattress.  And I still like the space.  I don't know how much work it will take to play in the orchestra or the redundancy of programming or how it will be to work with different conductors.  Right now I just have a lot of space in my apartment and looking forward to a night of sleep.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hanshin Earthquake

The Hyogo Performing Arts Center Orchestra was formed in 2005 by the Hyogo Prefectural government as a symbol of hope for the region after the devastating Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995.    Governmental ceremony.  What does it say?  What is it's significance?  We visited the Disaster Relief Center today.  Videos and displays and accounts from survivors.  So many lives lost, so much suffering.  And it's terrifying to think that it can happen so suddenly without much warning.

And so many volunteers came from around the country to help.  Japan designated the day "Distaster Prevention and Volunteerism Day" as well as the week surrounding it.  The government quickly turned attention away from the poor infrastructure of the city, the slow response, and the initial denial of foreign aid, to the incredible spirit of the volunteers that came to help.  The recovery of those who lost seems to have been the result not of personal discovery and mending, but of a community whose people lifted one another up from the rubble.

I think there is a lot for me to learn from this.  In my life, I've appreciated the embrace and the support of those around me, but mending has always been something personal.  As an individual, I have not been mended on the clock of another or of a community.  But the lesson of mutual support and community revival is woven into the accounts of the earthquake's aftermath.  I think there is something to learn from an island that has risen from terrible years of war, tsunamis, earthquakes, and typhoons.  They are always awaiting disaster and rely on one another to help put the pieces back together.

It's hard to learn about this sort of suffering and easy to see that the government wants the community to have faith in the future.  And we are here to be a part of that.  I'm here as a gift to raise the spirit of the individuals of a community.  Or of the community as a whole.  It's a concept that I don't entirely understand, having only been uplifted on my own terms in the past.  Yet I understand the humanity behind it, and the peace that music can bring to a suffering heart, even if it is only a distraction from memories and worry.  It's a privilege to explore this gift that the government has given to its people.  It's a privilege to be able to play in this space.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


I got lost in the rain on my walk around the neighborhood.  I went down one big street and then answered the calling of a residential neighborhood where the streets are small but the crows are huge.  I came out on the other side to a second hand shop with lots of purses and shoes playing American rap.  The clerk greeted me, "Konnichiwa."

The clouds finally broke their hold and I pulled out my umbrella, optimist that I am, and tried to figure out which direction my Kansan house had landed.  I pulled out my map (again, ever the optimist and always prepared) and stopped underneath the cover of a bus stop.  The rain brought us together, me and the Japanese woman who took a break from biking.  "Sumimasen, Nihongo ga wakarimasen, demo.....doko desuka?"  (Excuse me I don't understand Japanese, but where is this?) and I pointed to the map.  Fortunate that she had such expressive hands.  I looked her in the eyes, and she in mine, so intently.  She wanted so badly for me to understand her words and I wanted so badly to understand them.  We get so used to having our words mean something and to being able to take something from the sounds that we hear.  I think we shared this realization with each other, if not the explicit instruction to go straight then turn left and you will see a Lawson on the right and then you will see Akura Danchi.  I'm sure there was something in her words that said that.  But it was to her hands, in their one gesture that I replied, "Wakarimas" (I understand).

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Train Changes

There is a lot of space in my apartment.  The air is full of possibilities.  I'm crowding the space more and more, bit by bit, one grain of rice (or a whole pot) at a time.  It's strange to be here and to taking up my space and filling it with odds and ends, some freely acquired, others selected and paid for.  But for the most part, there is nothing Darwinian about the things that made it here with me and it makes me wonder about myself.  An oversized sweater that my mother threw at me to stay warm on the bus in Chicago two months ago has somehow clung to my light footedness, as has a pillow that I grabbed on my way out of the house to have somewhere to rest my head in case of who knows what.  Nothing planned in these objects, no years of sentimental accrual to bring them thousands of miles for this adventure but here they are and here I am.  As I rode the bus to Takarazuka on the way to Osaka, I reflected on a period of my life in middle school, one which was recently brought to mind before I left Cincinnati as we pulled out family albums in a memorial for our dog, Penny.  Seeing pictures of the past invites a previous state of mind, previous relations with family and friends, loves and fears and values.  Then I was there, and now I'm here.  And I wondered if this recurring amazement, "I'm in Japan," will ever transform into, "I'm from America."  How did I get here?  What happened between middle school and now?  Did I select this over years of decisions and growth or was this a happenstance of the universe?

But there is a continuity between then and now, one that I'm longing to remember in these days of just getting settled.  It's there, very nearby.  I can see it in the way that I start to set up my apartment, the way that I move around in my space.  When I'm alone I can feel it in my practice and individual routine. But I think this continuity can extend to a way of interacting with others as well.  Courtesy transcends international borders.  Today on the train platform, a teenager with headphones dropped a card and was about to get on a train.  I tapped his shoulder, saying "Sumimasen" (Excuse me) and handed him the card.  It's a small favor, but there is something so satisfying in reaching out in my new home, in touching somebody's shoulder.   And a young girl handed me change when I dropped it, and a man in a wheel chair bowed his head to thank me for moving my cello.  Making eye contact here and there in a respectful way, something that I can't tell whether it is a part of Japanese culture or not, or if it is a part of American culture or not.  But it's a culture in which I believe and would like to cultivate wherever I am.  As I break away from the early wide-eyed wonder of being here, I notice that I see people less as being different from me as they are different from everyone.  Each person is the same as me and different from me as the people that I see on a bus in America.  Each person is as same and different as the person next to them on the train.  It is comforting in this time of alienation from all things familiar that I am surrounded by people with whom I can extend and receive small acts of kindness as fellow human beings.  It makes the world seem a little smaller and transitions a little smoother.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Currency Exchange

There are so many things to learn in Japan.  Which way to look in traffic, how to ask for shrimp tempura, which station to get off the train, how to hand something to a teller or cashier and how to receive it.  Today our wonderful guides from the orchestra, Ryoko and Yoshie, took us to the bank to set up our accounts, to docomo to get our mobile phones, to lunch to feed our peko peko tummies, to a furniture store to look into mattresses and beds and to the electronic store to get routers and printers.  They have organized everything beautifully.  They sat with each of the five of us at the bank and then spent over two hours with us at the phone store, answering questions,  translating contractual issues and offering advice.
They were tireless in the questions we asked them.  Which plan should I get on my phone?  How many minutes do you think I will need?  How much is texting?  How much is international calling?  Texting? To the US?  To England?  Can I avoid getting internet on my phone, and is there an English line for questions and can I change my contract and why do I still have a to pay 390 in yen to set up the internet if I'm not using it?  Is this a good price for a mattress?  Will I have enough money to shop later if I pay for my washer now?
It's incredible the number of things that we learn to assume and the independence that one acquires during growth.  We learn to valuate our currency, to have an understanding of how much we are giving up when we pay for something.  Currency exchange isn't just a numerical transaction.  Certain things carry a certain value in this country and it is similar to America, but not the same.  How do I balance the cost of a router with a mattress in terms of yen?  What does a yen mean to me?  How much internet and how many texts is a yen worth?  Even in American dollars the concept of value is a shady one.  I've spent 20 dollars on magazines in an airport but refused to spend 4 dollars on an overpriced water before a 10 hour flight.  How much are things worth? Given the vacuum of years of familiarity with a currency, the ambiguity of worth is so much easier to detect.  So many things to learn in Japan, and in this moving process, an opportunity to see something in a new way.
Of course value is more than monetary.  Where do we put our time, where do we put our energy, where do we put our thoughts?  These are things that are often outside of our conscious control.  We spend money frivolously, hours browsing the web, energy stressing over things outside our control, and get caught in circuitous thinking.  It's so easy to get blinded in our own habits  and sometimes it takes a new currency to remind us of those things that matter and the way that we show how they matter.  What matters to me?  How do I know?  Is this evident in the way that I live?  How do I spend my life and what value does it have?  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

17 hours from Cincinnati to Osaka

It's 5 pm here which I think means that it's about 3 am in Cincinnati.  I got in ahead of time (Delta is definitely the most punctual airline thus far) and have found my room in my hotel, complete with the Japanese toilet and bath.  As the woman from the hotel helped me with my two suitcases I realized I forgot to look up tipping practices in Japan, but figured that if she lingered in my room it would indicate that I should tip her.  Not so.  I'm afraid I may have insulted her, but hopefully she will forgive my misinterpretation of her genuine concern over the temperature in the room.

And everything is in Japanese!  Someday I hope to understand the written and spoken language around me, but I know that as much as I'd like to make sense of this new world and to interact with it and its people more fully, I will not be able to undo my understanding once I have it.  This is a sacred time- the time of not knowing, of not understanding. It will linger forever, I'm sure, but never be so real as it is today.  I already inadvertently learned my first Kanji character, the one for "day."  It just happens that there is order in this buzzing world and that I will start to piece it together, despite my best intentions to remain ignorant.  Curiosity gets the better of us.  And maybe someday I will speak and read Japanese.  

The mountains around Osaka were beautiful from the plane.  And like the language, I was aware of looking with a new set of eyes, looking in a way that I don't so naturally muster as I drive down the highway in America.  Something sparkles in the shape of the leaves, there is something magical about the entrance to a bathroom.  Seeing the world with new eyes.  Perhaps this is what I love about being in a place where I don't know the language:  novelty and awareness are highly saturated.

How do we capture this sense of novelty?  A great book, a good workout, an inspiring human being, a beautiful view on a hike- throughout life things touch us to feel a heightened sense of living.  And how can we be alive more fully in the spaces between these privileged occurrences?  I'm excited by this new world and all the possibilities it possesses.  I've always been interested in novel things.  Yet I'm aware of all the things I left behind me, still unturned.  All the spaces within my old stomping ground that I never touched, the people that I only got to know so much, the world that become everyday too quickly.  In the coming days and months of living in a world so novel from my home, I hope to observe "novelty" transition to "commonplace."  I have a suspicion that this is impossible, but my hope is that vigilance will keep my eyes open.