Landschlacht, Switzerland: 9 May 2016
An email from an old friend, Sumit, asks: “Not writing blogs anymore?…I have not seen any new blogs in the last few weeks.”
A daily journal, bought at a local grocery chain, has a leather cover that intimidates: “You don´t write because you want to say something. You write because you have something to say.” (Anonymous)
Facebook: Someone posts a photo of a shelf of books. Upon the book held up to the foreground of the picture, a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
A private student, upon reading my blog for the first time, commented that she thought that she didn´t need to read about places she already knew, but she thought that underneath all the verbiage was a feeling of sadness.
“So, what´s been happening?”, you might be asking.
“Where have you gone?
Why no more blogging?”
Not an easy or a comfortable question to answer…
Perhaps one might consider what silence actually means…
Many years ago, I spent a very little time in Japan, and at first glance it is a country where everything seems to be happening all at once:
People congregating at Akachochin devouring, like greedy beggars at a banquet, skewered chicken yakitori and grilled squid washed down with beer or sake.
Children scared by their parents into cleaning the bath or the Akaname – a human frog with wild hair, an incredibly long tongue and a single clawed toe will enter the dirty bathroom in the dead of night and will lick the children giving them serious sickness.
Baseball – more popular in Japan than football is in England – is not just a sport, it is a way of life so ingrained in the character of the Land of the Rising Sun that, like bowing or breathing, it consumes them with a passion that haunts even their dreams.
Scandal has never been far away from Japanese shores…
Sada Abe (1905 – 1987), a failed geisha and former prostitute turned waitress, had an affair with the owner of the restaurant where she worked.
To prevent him from leaving her, she strangled him to death and hacked off his privates, knowing that if she killed him, no woman would ever touch him again.
On 8 January 1992, US President George Bush at a state dinner given in his honour during a visit to Japan throws up in the lap of the Japanese Prime Minister Kichi Miyazawa, creating the word “Bushusuru” (doing a Bush) meaning to vomit without warning.
Morning, 20 March 1995, 7:30 am, five men board trains at various stations along the Tokyo subway system and release the deadly nerve agent sarin.
Twelve people dead, a thousand injured.
Alcoholism is rampant in Japan as is drunk driving.
Over 1,000 earthquakes a year in Japan, though most are minor tremors barely noticed.
But what is minor and really noticed is Kata – the rituals attached to all activities, and what truly separates us Gaijin from being truly Japanese.
Electric talking toilets; enko ballad singing; the remote possibility of death by eating fugu (blowfish); navigating the rubbish as you wind your way up Mount Fuji; the xenophobic attitudes of the Japanese to those who can never be Japanese; gambatte do-or-die bravery of all who will sacrifice all for the challenge of a greater good; the insanity of Japanese TV game shows; the constant, not at all subtle, gawping of young and old at the obvious foreigners amongst them; the burdensome duties of giri (obligation) one has towards others; golf consuming up precious land and precious time in a country lacking both; drunken hordes of businessmen visiting hosutesu (hostess bars); the never-ending repetition of irashaimase (“welcome”) in any place that deals with the public; the unimaginable disgrace of jaywalking done only by ignorant gaijin or by yakuza gangsters; kapuseru hoteru (capsule hotels) though very cheap are too reminiscient of being buried alive in a fully functional coffin; the labyrinth complexity of keigo (honourific language) that detemines how you speak by with whom you must speak; the waving cats (maneki neko) that greet customers through shop and restaurant windows; overcrowded subways of manga-reading businessmen, the kata of one´s meishi (the ritual of giving your business card); pretending to enjoy Noh (Japanese theatre which, much like Japanese literature, seems to be about nothing happening); playing the omikuji to determine your fortune and destiny; pachinko parlors – a sort of Japanese gambling casino in a country where gambling for cash is illegal – where hordes stare at machines bombarding them with loud noise and bright light; pornography where all is suggested yet nothing is seen, including the presence of joy or pleasure; rabu hoteru (love hotels) where the itch can be scratched; the utter delight of ryokan (traditional Japanese hotels); sake – that drink of the gods – where memory and giri can be divinely drenched; those poor bastards sarariman – the common man – the 12-hour day labourers – unloved and unappreciated yet crucial to the entire structure of the Japanese economy…
So much to bewilder the mind and astonish the senses…
A timeless land that is both bounded by tradition and yet a land beyond tomorrow.
Yet, with all the sound and fury that erupts around the visitor, the faces and the attitudes of the Japanese themselves seem to the uninformed gaijin to be that of non-reactive – “nothing to see here”, “nothing is happening”.
Try reading Japanese literature and the Western mind finds itself desperately craving action.
But therein lies the secret of Japan…
5 / 6 of Japan is uninhabitable, 7,000 islands of mostly mountains suitable only for pine trees, incapable of supporting roads, homes or factories.
127 million people live on top of one another on the crammed coasts in unbelievably cramped and crowded conditions, so they must achieve harmony or the resulting anarchy will tear them apart.
Individuality and selfishness are dangerous.
Society can only work if all work together.
The aim is to remain as level, as neutral, as possible, keeping your private concerns and feelings to yourself and present a gregarious surface that gives little away.
Maintain the larger harmony, so that whatever happens, happens within.
The truth lies not in what is expressed, but rather what is unstated.
To really understand requires rigourous attention to the small print of life, what is suggested rather than said, what is under the surface and between the lines.
To inhabit this world is to live in a realm of constant inner explosions, tremors underground but barely felt by others.
Everything happens between the spaces and in the silences.
Nothing is ordinary.
Nothing is without effect.
A cherry blossom petal falls to the ground and the earth trembles.
Change is constant and emotions revolve around change, but expressing these emotions selfishly disturbs the harmony of the group.
The same can be said for relationships, even here in the expressive emotional West.
What a couple don´t say to one another is just as significant as what they do say.
My wife frequently complains that I don´t express myself enough and perhaps she feels that the unexpressed emotion means an absence of emotion, but this is where she is wrong.
For within my mind is a torrent of emotion and the inner conflict and struggle is to comprehend these emotions and somehow discern which should be communicated and how they should be communicated.
For the more that is spoken, the more that can be misunderstood.
So, in my periods of silence, it is not that nothing is happening but rather the reverse – so much is happening I need time and silence to assimilate it all.
And then I am ready to attempt to speak my mind or write something worth reading.
And though like the soto (invisibility) of the falling cherry blossom petal, events and places may seem commonplace and undramatic, the resulting impact upon myself is worth expression, for both the significance of my own unique perspective brings contribution to the world, as well as the similarity of my human reactions to others creates harmony of shared experience.
So, be patient with me, gentle readers, gentle friends and family, for never imagine that I care too little, but rather realise that I care too much that mere words and emotional expression are only the tip of the iceberg.
Much lies under the surface in the silence between.