I’m leaving Japan tomorrow, returning to America after 364 days living in Tokyo. I’m delighted to be returning to the home where my family, oldest, deepest friendships, and beloved girlfriend are waiting on me. I’m mournful to be leaving so soon the country that has truly become my second home. It’s a strange feeling to have one event trigger such opposing emotions.
“Why do you love Japan?”
I’ve been asked that question a lot over the last year or two, and never been able to find the answer.
Sometimes I try to explain the abundance of beauty here. Paper fortunes tied to trees at a temple, or thin white strips of it fluttering at the bottom of a small softly chiming bell; summer cicadas kreeing in the trees; the gentle sloping tile roofs of buildings; artfully sculpted pine trees lining narrow roads. Japanese women. Japanese fashion. The ineffable melody of the Japanese language. But this explanation inevitably reduces to a long list of minutia that describe what I find beautiful but doesn’t explain why it’s beautiful to me. How does one explain the why of beauty?
Other times I try to find the answer in the Japanese attitude of harmonious living, respect for the group and others over oneself. Or sometimes in the sense of safety one finds here as an extension of that harmony. Friends and I have forgotten things but always been reunited with them. I never fear being robbed or attacked, or that a lost thing will not be returned to the nearest police box. The other night I actually said to some friends, “Lets go down this alley and see what’s back there,” without sarcasm — in the absence of fear, adventure is the natural result. Still, magnificent as it is, I did not come to Japan for the freedom of true safety.
Then there is the spiritual history of the place. In Zen I find hints of something I’ve been reaching for my whole life. In the many gods of Shinto I find not superstition but mythology informing a veneration of every aspect of the corner of the world one lives in. And in Japan I have found a home in a culture shaped by centuries of the combination of those religions. The result is a people and place inconspicuously founded on reverence for the mundane.
All of these things are bound together, inseparable and still only a small part of what I’ve come to think of as the real reason I love Japan: peace.
In Japan, I have peace like I have never had before.
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