Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Night Rice Paddies

Japan is a magical place.  I don't think it will ever fully reveal itself to me.

A new friend took me on a walk to discover some open spaces in the neighborhood, something not so easy to find in Japan.  We walked through playgrounds and gardens and areas of respite, all along the reflective water and then down a little alley into the rice paddies.  Grassy stalks in water and our little path cutting through them in the night, the smell of rice unveiling.

Sometimes, in this new place, I can feel myself put up a protective wall.  I can feel myself holding on to the way that "I" am, things that I need and values by which I live.  And I've felt these clash with Japanese values or with the Japanese way of living.  These range from the personal inconveniences of 6-way garbage sorting to the feeling of relinquishing some of my personal individual expression for the sake of not offending anyone.  But as I let down the wall I see more clearly what had caused me to reflexively clinch and it invites more curiosity.  I haven't bought aluminum foil for cooking because it's too much hassle to dispose of it properly.  The same of plastic bags and paper towels.  The garbage system disincentivizes consumption and I've started to ask myself what it is that I really need, and what can I avoid consuming.  My fear of personal expression has led me to look more closely at the people around me and to see how varied they are as individuals.  I've come to appreciate the many ways that they express themselves and I look to them for encouragement in my own personal expression as I try to be respectful of the rituals and expectations of their culture.

I'm aware that I'm a child here.  A child doesn't yet know that some things are good and others are bad until someone tells them so.   As Japan slowly becomes more familiar to me, as I come to learn more verb conjugations and subway lines, I want to take the opportunity to observe what this culture prefers and how it acts without assigning a right and wrong to it.  As an outsider I have the liberty to observe without becoming immersed.  

But for this reason I wonder if I inherently relinquish my ability to ever fully touch Japan.  If I live Japan objectively, it is not a subjective experience.  The thing that clouds our own culture from ourselves is also what makes it a part of us.  I know that I'm American, but I don't know that I will ever really understand what that means or what that is.  It's just something in me.

And yet we can cultivate something without it losing its mystery.  How is this so?  We come to know another person, and we come to know that they can never be fully known to us.  We come to know a piece or a poem or a painting, and yet it is still more and more magical.  I've been a musician for over two decades and I still don't understand it.  Perhaps what there is to understand simply becomes larger the more I open myself to it.

And so I think I can try to put down the protective wall that wants to keep myself intact and keep Japan an objective magical mystery.  I think I can open myself to it more fully without the danger of either of us losing ourselves.

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