Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sayonara no Toki

As the sun sinks into the west over Tokyo and the land of the Rising Sun, I cannot help but think that leaving this place once again has cast a pall over my life, just as the darkness slowly spreads from the east. The ancient peoples of Japan were right to call it as they did: “Nippon” written with the kanji for “sun” and “origin.” This is a land beautiful and bright beyond measure, fairly overflowing with a rich history and tradition that cannot help but stamp the hearts of those who visit here, however briefly, with an indelible mark.

I envy the people who are lucky enough to call this place home—all the while aware also of how lucky I am to live also in the country I am privileged to call home. The world is a dark place and every land has its own dark underside, but I am starting to understand that things really can be seen from the old, over-tired cliche viewpoints of half-empty and half-full. Thus I can look at a place like this, or a place like my home, and love it dearly and see all the things that are wonderful about it without making myself blind to the darkness. It is a marvelous and powerful thing to love a place or a person wholly, knowing that they are as imperfect as anyone or anything else—especially myself.

And so as I bid farewell to Japan once again I cannot help but worry that that this will be the last time I see this glorious land of dream-like beauty—just like I did the last time I left. However, there always is a last time, despite the best laid plans of mice and men. A last visit to a Book Off, a last handful of Mochi, a last rough-and-tumble with the Endo boys, the last sight of the stately and unearthly lines of a pagoda high on a hill among the trees. A last view of the Sakura, now shedding their blossoms in a late snow-shower of fragrant pink petals, the last grove of secretive bamboo and tiny delicate maple leaves.

I just pray that this will not be “Sayonara no toki” for me.

Keep yourself well, Japan, as you have kept yourself for nearly two thousands years.

Mata, ne.

Zenbu ga Hakanai Desu

I went back to Uji today. It sounds funny, but I can’t even begin to explain the feeling of homecoming. I only lived there for a month, and yet the whole city has this feeling about it that is so powerfully in tune with my own heart.  Byoudoin especially.  Frankly, I didn’t take any pictures because there is no way for an image--digital or analog--to carry the strength of the kokoro there. It is very old and is one of the few ancient sites that has been spared the ravages of fire over the long years, and so it is still there in its pristine beauty, looking almost exactly as it did in 1049 when Yorimitsu (?) turned it from an inherited manor into a temple. And it wasn’t even new then. It’s modeled to be what the “Pure Land” or the Buhddist heaven is supposed to look like. And really? My vision of heaven isn’t much off. At any rate, trying to describe it here is as useless as it is trying to take a picture. The funny thing is, the feeling I have there is as powerful as the feeling I get at the temples of my own religion, but it’s different. This really is something more of an echo than the strong stuff I feel at someplace like the Salt Lake temple, but there are pure strains of HOME in it that make my heart yearn for something I don’t even know how to define.

We ran into these loud and cute old men at Byoudoin who were speaking gorgeously southern Japanese, known as Kansai-ben or Osaka-ben. In my opinion, such Japanese is much nicer and easier to understand than the standard Tokyo-ben or any of the northern accents or dialects, so I found myself rather indignant in class when I would have points deducted from my score when I would slip into a southern accent. At any rate, one of them spoke English fairly well and was all prepped to tell us ALL about Byoudoin--only to find out we (or at least I--this was Sasaki’s first visit) already knew it! The Japanese people I have met all seem delighted that I not only am familiar with things but can add my own comments to a discussion about something like Heian era architecture or the role of the Shinsengumi in the Bakamatsu. At any rate, he asked us where we were from and the minute I said “Utah” he was like “MORMONS!” and I was like “Yes!” and then he was like “Salt Lake City!” and I was like “Yes!!”
We also saw a group of Chinese monks touring Byoudoin, complete in their amazing dusky orange robes, prayer beads and shaved heads. It was amazing.
It was all very delightful.

Sasaki and I also went to the Tale of Genji museum today. Three rooms and a twenty minute movie using Bunraku puppets. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s masterfully done and worth every out-of-the-way step it takes to get there and every yen of the entrance fee. I wonder if I can find a recording of “Ukifune” anywhere. I would love to force you all to sit down and watch it with me. My english recording that I had been given to listen to was sort of wonky, so I turned it off and listened to the story in Japanese. Luckily, because I happened to have read most of the Tale of Genji, I didn’t get TOO lost.

The used bookstore (furuhonya) I used to go to all the time in Uji was gone. The building was still there, but it seems to have gone out of business. I was very sad. But all in all only one sour note in a day is a good way to go! (Touch wood.) When I inquired at Kyoto station after a used bookstore, the guy seemed to think I was talking about a bookstore with books about old stuff, not like a used bookstore (furu=old hon=book ya=store) and so was really confused, which is really strange because “Furuhonya” MEANS used bookstore! It’s not something I made up or something weird. It’s something Japanese people say ALL THE TIME!

When they’re looking for used books, that is.

Our bus driver on the way back to the Ryokan was really, really cute. I blushed at him shyly and Sasaki winked.

Too bad we’ll likely never, ever see him again.

The Imperial palace is, sadly, something of a disappointment. It’s a giant shoving loud tour group that’s not allowed to go inside anything or see anything cool, and the palace itself isn’t really that old. It’s been moved and rebuilt, so...NOT the same place where Hikaru Genji would have walked.

Oh well. I suppose it would have been difficult for him to walk anywhere, fictional character that he is.

I wish we had time to go down to Miyajima and see the Besso (manor house, so to speak) of Heikei no Kiyomori, the infamous antagonist of the Heikei Monogatari. He may have been a nasty human being who died of a terrible fever that was brought about by karma for all the baaaaaad things he had done, and a nasty father who drove his son Shigemori (*ahem*hotness*cough*) to die because he was torn between loyalty to his family and loyalty to his friends and leaders of the Minamoto clan, the bunch with which Kiyomori was trying to start a war, BUT (longest sentence EVAR) his house is gorgeous.

BUT we do not have time. So instead I will go to Harajuku in Tokyo one last time and try to persuade myself that I do NOT need a lolita dress, which I will probably buy anyway because all of my good sense seems to have evaporated.

Oh well.

The sad thing is...the Japan I truly love is long gone, lost in the currents of time that draw us inexorably towards a future that is uncertain and more than a little frightening to one such as I. All I can do is grasp at the pieces—pulling them from the earth and preserving them with loving care, drawing from them all that I may of a bright, peaceful age that may never actually have been.