Saturday, March 20, 2010

Nowadays, with the advent of the internet, every place has become a center.

I came to the city of Kan-Onji on the Shikoku island to meet with Dr. Michiyo Okada, who is a specialist on teaching children with special backgrounds and nees.

The city of Kan-Onji is a tranquil place on the Setonaikai sea. When I came to this kind of place before, I used to think that I am now far from the center. Nowadays, with the advent of the internet, every place has become a center.

Dr. Okada is making some remarkable observations and discoveries while teaching the students. In that sense, Kan-Onji is the center. I came to learn valuable things all the way from Tokyo to this center of humanistic learning.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Asking oneself what one really wanted to do with one's life in the first place.

March is the graduation time in Japan. Many school hold the graduation ceremony, where students receive the certificates and sing special songs.

The fact that March signifies the end of something, while the anticipations arise for things to come, has taken a deep root in the Japanese psyche.

Spring is in the air. The cherry blossoms are not in bloom yet, but the expectancies are ripening. The combination of these emotional elements have would lead to a poignant mood which can only be experienced at this time of the year.

For this writer, this particular March signifies the end of many things, as well as the prospects for others. It is a time of transition. In such a period of change, one reviews what has been essential in one's life, checking this fact and re-evaluating that, asking oneself what one really wanted to do with one's life in the first place.

In winter many things in nature perish, and thrive again with the advent of spring. I wonder if life is not like that. From the ashes, green leaves shoot up, bearing flowers unknown and exotic in the prime of summer.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

There had to be substitutes for the real thing.

The Mount Fuji is an easily recognizable volcano mountain, and its shape is recognized by people in Japan.

The other day I went to a restaurant in Sapporo, the northern capital of Hokkaido, and discovered a wooden engraving of the famous mountain. Even a very simplistic representation of the mountain outline can suggest the rich cultural connotations surrounding the now dormant volcano.

In many places, a mock-up of mount Fuji would be made to worship its image. In the rural town where I was brought up, there was an artificial mount Fuji, on top of which one could find a stone monument. In the old days it was difficult for people to travel, and there had to be substitutes for the real thing.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

As I witnessed the black insects walk about among the microcosmos of Persian speedwells

A human brain likes surprises, and mine is no exception. Every year, in spring, I used to be surprised as a kid to see the first signs of spring. The blue flowers of Persian speedwell (Veronica persica Poiret) would often be the very first manifestations of the beautiful in life to be brought to my attention in early spring.

The other day, walking along Tokyo streets, I suddenly remembered how I used to be joyous when I witnessed these lovely blue flowers. It was always perceived as quite unexpected. One year would have passed since last spring, and you simply have forgotten that there were such things as the Persian speedwells. So it always came as a pleasant shock to observe the tiny flower petals again.

The absence of these spring ephemerals from my consciousness signaled a change in the way I go about in my life. I used to walk along the bare earth quite a lot, stooping to the sides from time to time. It was an every day ritual to wander around and observe the changes in nature. Nowadays, I just speed through the pavements and stairs without even stopping to look around, a poor soul ever trapped in the list of things to do.

Due to the negligences, the elegant blue of the Persian speedwells has disappeared from my life. Yesterday I wanted to rectify that.

On the way to NHK, I sidestepped into the Yoyogi park. I was in search of my past. Persian speedwells were something quite common in my childhood. The only question was whether I could time travel.

The blessing came in an instant. There they were, just under the trees, those tiny blue flowers of the Persian speedwells. They must have been there all these years, without me noticing them.

I sat down, took out my amazon kindle, and then thought better of it. It was not time to delve into the universe of tiny letters, which I could do at any time anyway. It was time to observe the environment, with all its grandeur and nuances.

The ants were there. Those small, hard-working creatures. As I witnessed the black insects walk about among the microcosmos of Persian speedwells, something in me melted away to reveal a long-forgotten core of the unchanging.

The Persian speedwell flower found on the Yoyogi park slope yesterday.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The free system would gradually outgrow the controlled system.

At least a part of human history can be regarded as a competition between different systems based on different philosophies and sets of values. The competition between the "free" and "market economy" countries and the "communist" or "socialist" ones leading to and during the cold war era and beyond was one typical example.

For some periods, it can appear that the tightly regulated systems have an edge. In the years around the Great Depression, for example, it seemed that the "free world" was in shambles, and the socialist system, i.e. the Soviet Union at that time, had an edge. But trends at one period can be deceiving. We all know what actually happened after that.

In today's world, a new type of competition is emerging. At one end, we have a more or less free system where different ideas and opinions compete in the economical and political context. At the other end, we have a social system where things are tightly controlled, without a democratic election, and limited access to the internet.

At one period, it may appear that the controlled system is economically thriving. People might succumb to the allurements of control at one time, as it is certainly easier for the politicians (those in the power, that is), and superficially benevolent for the "stability" of society. In the long run, however, it is my bet that the free system would gradually outgrow the controlled system. And I have no intention of approving or even advocating the control approach.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Symbols are very powerful, and can reach the very bottom of your soul.

I happened to see a clip from the old Godzilla series yesterday ("Mothra vs. Godzilla"). Originally, the film was released in 1964, when I was 2. I remember seeing the film in a theatre just before I entered the primary school. It must have been one of the re-runs.

Godzilla appeared to be something of primordial brutality when I watched it as a kid. The way the monster was depicted, it was clear that there was no way of establishing a means of communication with it. Of course, as the Godzilla theme developed over many films, the monster "evolved" to display some comical features. It even played baseball in a film co-featuring some sea monsters. In the beginning, however, Godzilla was portrayed as a leviathan moving about on its own instincts, where nothing is negotiable. And it is in this primitive context that Godzilla impressed the young child.

As many point out, Godzilla has something to do with the collective trauma of the Japanese people in the post-war era, especially as regards the atomic weapons.

It is interesting to consider, even as I was not aware of the detailed history of my mother land in the years preceding my birth, I was somehow unconsciously affected by the implications, in the reception of the way Godzilla was portrayed when it destroyed the landscapes of contemporary Japan. Symbols are very powerful, and can reach the very bottom of your soul without knowing it.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

It is priceless to be thus taken unawares by surprise, in a ritual of life repeated every year.

During the winter, all biological forms enter a kind of dormant phase. Human beings are no exceptions. While we go about busily along the streets, a part of our sensitivities are closed, becoming oblivious of the possibilities of existence. For example, we forget that there are such things as flowers.

Every year, from February to March, it therefore comes as a pleasant surprise to observe the arrival of spring ephemerals, in the form of plum blossoms. You know from experience that there are these tiny and lovely blooms in early spring. And yet, you have forgotten about it, and it is with a shock to observe the manifestations of life on the seemingly lifeless boughs of plum trees.
It is priceless to be thus taken unawares by surprise, in a ritual of life repeated every year, celebrating the continuation of the world as we know it.

Plum blossoms, red and white, in the Yugawara district. Beginning of March, 2010.