Thursday, December 29, 2022

Witnessing Kengo Kuma go walkabout in the wild.

I went to the island of Yakushima for a few days. Yakushima, in southern Japan, is rich in pristine nature, and is a UNESCO World Heritage registered site. I went there in my capacity as the headmaster of Yakushima Ozora High School, a correspondence-based institution with the main campus on this island, providing a much valued learning experience for students from all over Japan. 

This time, there was something special. The world-renowned architect Kengo Kuma came to see the campus and its surroundings. I came to know Mr. Kuma as a guest of the Professionals program at NHK, where I was the co-host of the show. At that time, I learned that Mr. Kuma would go walkabout, when he visits a site of interest. So when Mr. Kuma started to walk on the school premises, it was as if a confirmation of a long-held view on the habits of the master designer of buildings came to be confirmed.

What Mr. Kuma was capable of, however, was something beyond my imagination. The land in which the Yakushima Ozora High School is situated is rich in vegetation, with threes, shrubs, and weeds rampant, except for, of course, the well-maintained areas in the vicinity of the buildings. Mr. Kuma was like a fireball of curiosity. Wherever he wanted to go, he would go. He was heading the whole group, venturing into the most wild parts of the premises without aid, glancing in this direction and then in another, inspecting how the landscape and the views around would change, with the avid observation of a five-year-old and the mature wisdom of an experienced architect. It was an inspiration and privilege to witness.

Mr. Kuma's family name, "kuma", has the same sound in Japanese as the animal "bear". On that day, Mr. Kuma went walkabout like a wild bear in Yakushima, and it was fascinating to witness the workings of a great mind.

Mr. Kuma and myself in front of a giant watermill in the Senvus Village, an ecological education site attached to the high school.

Mr. Kuma, myself, and the high school staff.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

I wish everyday of the year would be Christmas, a season of goodwill.

This is Christmas day. It is big in Japan, a country where a mere 1 percent of the population are self-proclaimed Christians.

The Japanese are incredibly flexible when it comes to the secular adaptations of religious cultures. It is customary to pay a visit to a Shinto shrine on the New Year's Day, to be wed in the Christian fashion, and do funerals in the Buddhist way. Halloween is increasingly popular in recent years, especially in and around the world-famous Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo. Such a frivolous attitude might surprise people from other parts of the world, but for a typical Japanese, it is something very natural. It is so nagomi.

From my early childhood, I have been accustomed to the idea that on the Christmas day you would get a present from Santa Claus, only to learn as you matured that it was actually from the mama or papa or combination of both. When you are a teenager you are constantly bombarded with the ads that suggest that lovers should spend a romantic few hours on the Christmas Eve. I would say that every boy and girl in Japan has been exposed to this idea at some time in life.

So when I went to the U.K. to do postdoc at the University of Cambridge, it was refreshing to know how Christmas was celebrated there. It seemed to be more of a family-oriented affair, not so commercialized, and certainly not about lovers. I was once invited over to the house of late Professor Horace Barlow for Christmas dinner. It was fascinating to wear the paper crown hats popping out of the Christmas cracker. Horace was wearing the hat, just like a five year old, beaming with a happy smile. He must have been over 70 years old then. I was impressed by the general idea that Christmas was a season of goodwill, where people would be kind to each other, giving money to the charity, celebrating humanity in general. Perhaps this aspect of Christmas is still to be imported in any substance to the land of the rising sun.

So I wish everyday of the year would be Christmas, a season of goodwill. I don't want any presents, or romantic hours for that matter. I just wish that people would be civil to each other, all year round, never thinking of waging wars or being involved in cunning plans to take advantage of people. Maybe this is too naive, but it is part of the magic of Christmas, to be naive.

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