Friday, January 10, 2014

Japanese Self-Defense Forces at HPAC

As I rode my bike into the HPAC parking garage this morning, I passed several people in military uniforms carrying a large stretcher loaded with stuff.  It is so common that I don't understand the things that I see in Japan that I've become accustomed to moving on with life if it doesn't seem to be an imminent threat to my survival or promise something delicious.  I parked my bike and headed into the building.

But upon arriving at the 5th floor of HPAC, my homebase, I found it to be overtaken with Japanese Self-Defense Forces.  They had infiltrated our rehearsal room and camped out (politely and considerately) in our lounge.  I bowed my head to a few as I made my way past the vending machines where they were pondering what beverage to purchase.  Checking the faces of the HPAC office members like a toddler reads their mother's expressions, I determined that there was no actual threat, that HPAC wasn't a new bunker hold in a war with North Korea illegible to me in the Japanese newspapers.  No threat and nothing delicious in the foreseeable future, I continued my trajectory to the practice room, noting the instrument cases dispersed throughout the lounge.  I gathered that they had some sort of rehearsal for the military band and that they, just like the pre-adolescent ballerinas that grace the 5th floor lounge every so often, would be gone at the end of the day.  

On the way to the recital hall, I fell in step behind several forces members heading in the same direction.  It was unexpected for them to mingle in our activities.  Perhaps something was amiss.  I noticed that the female members in front of me all had their hair neatly tucked in hair nets, some with sparkles and bows.  It was a nice touch to the uniform and helped defray my sense of alarm.  Japan technically only has Self-Defense Forces, not an army, though the lines have blurred in recent years.  Regardless, camouflage uniforms (hair accoutrements or not) stand out backstage.  

A handful of them seated themselves in the house before our dress rehearsal.  As I was tuning, our orchestra manager came over and explained that one of them was married to our flutist and that a group of them had been interested in seeing the dress rehearsal before their own rehearsal in the large concert hall.  No wars, no deportations.  Just people interested in listening to music.

How much is hidden behind a uniform?  Who are the people wearing it?  Behind my black concert attire, behind their camouflage uniforms, behind make-up and tuxedos, high heels and ties, there are people.  And yet these things with which we cover ourselves become such a definition of who we are, a label with which others may make assumptions beyond our control.  Is it our responsibility to adorn less, or look past the adornment?  Or should we accept what we see and treat the world as it is presented to us, or at least as we interpret that presentation?  I see camouflage uniforms, I walk tentatively and bow as I pass.  It seems there might be some possibilities lost in this option. 

It is a pleasure to share music with others, whether they wear our uniform or not, but there is some added enjoyment in playing for those thought to be beyond the scope of familiarity.  The world gets a little bit smaller and the illusory boundaries we create among one another seem to fade.  Perhaps there will be a point when they no longer exist and the way to create them is forgotten.    

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