I was watching an animated samurai drama late last night after returning from work, in which the samurai hero admonishes a woman comrade for wishing to die. “I can’t stand anyone who takes life so cheaply,” he snarls before turning his back on her and walking away.
It got me thinking. Look outside and life takes on a myriad of forms. Like probing fingers it pushes into every possible mold to form itself. We like to think of ourselves as somehow unique and God-chosen, but really we are just another expression of all that is dancing around us. Like notes in a cosmic opera.
And the spark that sustains the breath of the marionette in each creature can be snuffed out like… THAT! All it takes is a little pair of scissors.
I think that samurai was right. He wasn’t being arrogant or macho. He wanted someone he cared about to value the precious gift of living. It is the most precious gift we have in the world. Every day we should take a moment to reflect on this. To stand still and acknowledge that the heart is beating. To look out the window and remember that you hold something flickering within that allows you to partake of the light of the rising sun without. To recognize the flickering flame of life in every creature around you, no matter how big or small. To dare to nod to the eventuality that the flame will extinguish, and that it is all right. Rejoice in the brief moments we have! So brief, so beautiful and exquisite, so rare.
It’s amazing what lengths people will go to to justify madness. Now they are talking “ Superbombs“, as if blowing up thousands of people without setting them aglow afterwards really makes much of a difference. “Daisy-Cutters”, “Bunker Busters”, the abominable “MOAB’s”… all with these adolescent nominclatures straight out of video games (I can imagine these bomb designers sitting at their cluttered desks with their ties tourniqetted around their heads, heavily mumbling “Dufous Boulders”, “Girlie Splatters”, “Dino-Pizzas”…).
The more I read the more the image of Goya’s painting of Saturn eating his children is conjured up. Why can this connect in my mind and wake horror, but only amusement in those who love war and destruction?
I can’t help it: I love coffee. It sends me ricocheting off the walls whenever I drink it, but, after a cupped handful of mountain spring water, there is no other drink that quite fills the spot. There is something about the bitter, furry bite that greets the mouth with a hospitality not unlike a warm embrace from a lover, and the desire for more never quite slips away, no matter how much you resolve to abstain. Walk into a room pulsing with the musk of coffee and, like the scent of a lover’s body, the antennae in your brain spring up and the floor turns to clouds.
With my diabetes I really shouldn’t be drinking the stuff, and for the most part I restrain myself. But occasionally the gastronomic bad boy in my taste buds gulls me into adultery against the jug of fresh lemon-flavored water in my refrigerator. I woke up this morning unrepentant after a brief affair with two cups of coffee last night, which kept me up half the night, half delirious and lusting for more.
To my dismay I found the coffee jar empty when I attempted to steal one last sip a little while ago. All that was left were the mug and the spoon. Even a look through the rest of the kitchen drawers provided no relief.
The days are noticeably growing cooler. The songs of the crickets have lowered into a sluggish pitch as the musicians struggle against the temperature. For some reason the non-native Rose-Ringed Parakeets (Psittacula krameri), with their lime green, winged javelin-like bodies, have been congregating around the telephone wires and tall Zelkova trees around my neighborhood, and the mornings and evenings have been punctuated by their piercing shrieks. Parrots and parakeets most definitely belong to the area above the forest canopy… when you see their darting, vigorous flight it is hard to imagine them pent up in a cage ever again.
The light recedes earlier now, too, and children in the neighborhood scatter back into their homes earlier. It is a pity, because it seems as if the children had only just begun to grow dark and their limbs to grow firmer with their days outside during their short summer vacations. It had taken most of the summer for them to venture into the neighborhood and play with the other kids. Now the TV’s and video games have recaptured their victims and the slow degeneration of the children’s summer bred muscles will begin anew. When the tide of darkness neeps high enough and the cold keeps people locked up indoors, all the afternoon shouting and laughing in the neighborhood will die away to concrete silence. Perhaps the children in this neighborhood bump around a little too much for me during the days when I’m trying to work here at the computer, but at least they reminded me of things being alive.
My late night returns home from my night work will soon again have me arriving on my street, standing outside my apartment building under the sulfur light of the street light, listening. Listening for others and hearing only the wind or the distant, passing thump-thump of the commuter train. The lights will be on in the surrounding house windows, but no silhouettes in them. It is often hard to believe that this is one of the most crowded cities in the world; so often the streets resemble the watchful facelessness of a mausoleum. Perhaps I feel this because I seek the ghost of humanity in the streets. And perhaps I seek this humanity because the same streets of my children told more stories. People were out in the streets more and more drama occurred as a result. Somehow the lure of modern conveniences in the home has separated people from one another.
A friend of mine recently responded, when I asked her if interacting with her neighbors was important for her: “The people around me are strangers. I have no interest in their lives and want them to show no interest in mine. What goes on with the person next door is of no concern to me. I would rather that we pass each other by without even looking at one another. The place I live is just that: a place to live. My friends are elsewhere and my activities take place either in the privacy of my home or where my friends and colleagues are. The area where I live is only for convenience.”
These words sent a shiver up my spine and left me feeling disoriented, though I’m not exactly sure why. Her words make sense on a certain level and even carry a measure of precaution necessary for living in such a big city, especially for a woman living alone. But I can’t help but wonder over what is missing in the words. It is as if the very place we live in, that we inhabit, has become nothing but an abstraction. Our connection to what sustains us, the giving of the Earth to our survival, seems not to figure in the evaluation. Surely if we are to survive the oncoming hardships of a deteriorating habitat we must learn both to identify with the places we dwell in and to learn to share our lives and needs with our neighbors, both human and non. Such essential basics as food, air, water, shelter, and health all require our cooperation and a deeper level of concern and affiliation with our surroundings than we have now.
This has been one of my deepest, most consuming concerns over the years and one that seems disproportionately difficult to discuss with others, especially neighbors. Another friend asked me recently why I feel such a disillusionment with my sense of self-identity. Perhaps the roots lie in this question of abstract versus concrete identification with the place we live in. If you can’t name every tree or tell the yearly patterns of wind blowing or know where the best water is in your valley, doesn’t that mean that you don’t know where you are?
For anyone who has had the experience of being stateless or drifting between nations not knowing where they might be allowed to stay, the news that I received from the Japan immigration office today, that my application for permanent residency was approved, will carry the familiar sense of relief that I am feeling today. Though I am a German and do not want to give up my German citizenship I have never lived there and don’t think I would really know what to do with myself if Germany was the only place I had to return to. I’ve been in Japan so long now that it almost goes without saying that I would make this place my permanent home, but all my life until now Japan has remained a kind of mirage that hadn’t accepted me yet into its fray. It has always been difficult to commit myself to this place, give my whole heart to it, while its people had not in return shown me steps that would justify my spending my energy in making this a proper home. Yet, today, the nod was given and, in spite of my skepticism before, it has made a whole lot of difference.
So many people around the world take the place they live, and their country, for granted. Many of them have never experienced the wrenching feeling of dislocation that accompanies the realization that, if circumstances dictated, you would find yourself adrift in an indifferent world, belonging nowhere, akin to no community. In these last two years, with the choices of possibly being forced to leave Japan, but not being able to return to the States because of the crackdown in immigration (even though most of my family lives there), maybe only being able to choose Europe as my destination, but knowing only a few people there and no job prospects, or perhaps seeking out some other, only obscurely imagined country (I’ve imagined New Zealand) my sense of losing hold of my place on the ground grew more and more acute, until, in these last two months, I had the feeling that parachutist might have when drawing nigh a forest with no breaks… no idea where to put my foot down because there is no place safe or solid.
I had always thought of myself as more a less a wanderer and lone wolf until the wandering and lone wolfing became the only path I could see. I understood then that, while roving still boils in my blood, I also need some ground to lay roots in and to grip the earth with my toes so that I can see where and who I am. Just as much, I need others… friends, colleagues, neighbors… around me to help define me as an individual and act as the catalysts that bring alive and give meaning to all that I endeavor when communicating or working. Wandering around without purpose or direction or starting point only adds to a sense of aimlessness that I feel has the effect of rendering human actions and thoughts null if not reciprocated by another or by a place. I no longer believe in the individual who gets all they want or does whatever they damn well please. More and more I believe that a fulfilled person is an individual in the larger world, filling in the role of a piece in the jigsaw puzzle.
And so this acceptance of my part in Japanese society has given me a show of confidence in me that I deeply appreciate, even if it is only a bureaucratic filling in of check-marked requirements. Someone, somewhere thought to allot me a place here that I can fill and, like an anchor, it secures the long luffing sail of my self confidence and gives me a place to recalculate my new steps.
From a jet plane the Earth sits under the hard mirror of the sky. The Sun glares down, its one unblinking eye pitiless with power, seeing all, the vast film of water, air and rock. Indifference beats upon any harborer of precious fluids, hissing admonishments to turn tail and burrow into the nearest cleft. To a watcher in space the blue marble of the planet might at first seem stillborn, but if it watches carefully the swirling surface would give away the secret: like milk roiling in a cup of coffee clouds belie both a smoldering heart and a mind fanning the idea of regeneration. The clouds themselves would give birth, like whales in an ocean of air.
The land that clouds inhabit lies forever just out of reach. I might brush the clouds during brief passages along the crests of mountains, and when gazing out of plane windows they whip by like shreds of cloth or spread out below like slow herds of buffalo, but forever they remain denizens of the troposphere and I only a guest, fit only for momentary appearance or required to press my face to a porthole, sealed like an astronaut.
Clouds possess the insubstantiality of ghosts and as such offer proof of the existence of dreams and imaginary kingdoms. You can see them and yet pass your hand through them. Castles and pots of gold vanish with the first shift of the wind. The mind instinctively seeks out corporeal definition, seeing familiar faces and rabbits and dragons, but blink your eyes and the forms have billowed out into abstractions, confounding your potter’s hand.
And yet I have witnessed the towering mountains and valleys of the cloud realm. The planes I have perched in passed among the walls like slivers of glass, crawling amidst halls of divinity that humbled the voice whispering within as I peeked out. Bergs of vapor rolled across sheets of metallic sea, trawling their nets while some god harpooned the void with spears of lightning. Clouds have uttered the most titanic sounds I have ever heard, the vibrato in their bassoon vocal chords plucking the very air of its emptiness. And clouds have given me dantean visions of perdition, such as the memory of a night time New York City glittering at the bottom of a well of circling thunderheads crackling with electricity and flashing with gunpowder.
They move in the tier above me, casting their huge shadows on the windswept hills, and softly reminding me of my mayfly existence. Like islands in the water ocean gaps define their hierarchy, and for tithe they only require that I close my eyes and take that leap of faith. All islands require faith in navigation, clouds require unremitting belief, or you end up falling. As if nothing were there.
Appropriately it is raining today. A sprinkly, spitting kind of rain that crackles upon the leaves, not a real threat to open windows or lithe grass stalks. The extended family of paper wasps, though, that have been building their little queendom under the lattice screen at the side of the garden, huddle against the paper of their nest and moon at the grey scene, too chilled to make the effort to check on their young.
An hour ago the earth jiggled a violent mashed potato as she shivered… perhaps she was still wearing that light summer dress.
The jungle crows seem to have contracted a mass phlegm attack as they guard the telephone poles and wires above my apartment… every now and then they have been clearing their throats in the most oyaji-like, and un-crow-like, way (“oyaji” is Japanese for “middle-aged” man. It has derogatory connotations, with images such as a predilection for young women, getting drunk too much, orneriness and bull-headedness, conservatism, balding, puns, even harking up phlegm and pissing at the sides of streets… it is an image of older men that does them a great injustice, but it is a big part of Japan’s popular culture right now).
Bench warmer leaves of the false acacia and zelkova trees in my garden have started blushing yellow, the misfits at the lunch table.
Mars, who has been showing off in the night sky all summer, will have to sit back behind the cloud curtains tonight. Even stars need to take a break from the greatest show on Earth.
Me? It is as if a vaporous hand passed over my lips. I sit by the window gazing, mostly at the insistence of the falling rain. There is nothing to say. The thing to do is wait for nightfall and then, simply, fall asleep.
My pack was heavier than I wanted when I set up on a two-day jaunt over the crest of Kumotori Mountain (Cloud-Grabber Mountain, at 2014 meters, the westernmost point of the municipality of Tokyo and the tallest mountain in the Kanto region) over the weekend. I was carrying a camping hammock that I had sewn together a few weeks ago and a little more food than my knees cared to share the pack with. Also, not having gotten up among the peaks for most of the summer, my muscles were decidedly uncooperative when it came to demanding a toll from them. I had stayed up most of the night packing and mulling over an acrimonious letter I had received from a former friend. I definitely didn’t feel prepared for a scramble up among any crags and down steep inclines of loose gravel. So, after a scant 1 hour of sleep and shuffling along the road toward the train station with the sun barely snuffling at the horizon, I had to chant a mantra to myself, “I am having a wonderful time! I am having a wonderful time! This is what I live for! What life is all about!”.
The air was rather cool compared to the oven-baked, steam-dumpling sauna party that hit Japan three weeks ago. With the windows open in the train, I could close my eyes and drift away into thoughts of flavored ice-cubes as the wind frolicked over my close-cropped cranium. There was even time to take stock of the other walkers who were heading in the same direction, most of them nodding and bleary-eyed like me. The train carried on toward Chichibu in a rocking silence, the sun flashing through the windows like a bright-eyed girl flirting through the curtains.
Five transfers later my boots stomped onto the swaying floor of a ropeway car and my pack and all, crammed into one end of the car among a gathering of hopeful strollers, were whisked up toward a point in the heights where swallows love to gambol. I found myself stepping out onto an observation deck, the sun stretched high in the sky and stomach grumbling. So I sat myself down on a bench and gobbled up the baked salmon and mushroom rice box lunch I had brought with me. One of the families that had ridden the ropeway up with me came marching back from their glance at the valley below only five minutes after I started my lunch. Not even enough time to huddle together and pose for a photograph!
Shouldering my pack I started up the trail. The first hour took me along a stone paved path that led through the grounds of Mitsumine Shrine, the home of the goddess Izanami, who, with her brother/ husband Izanagi created the islands of Japan. I had expected an ancient wooden structure, but found instead several huge modern concrete buildings that somehow couldn’t convey the sense of one of Japan’s most holy places. The path itself retained its centuries old charm and until the actual hiking trail took up from the cessation of the stone paved path it took me past tranquil courtyards and gardens among which tourists quietly sat on weathered blocks of stone, bantering and sharing lunch. A hush hovered over everything, as if someone were watching, and all the visitors seemed to feel it.
With the sun still behind the bulk of the range, the hiking path led up among stands of cedar while a cool breeze swept among the shaded tree trunks. The forest duff gradually gave way to crumbling rock and gravel and the crunch of my boots sounded loud in the silence.
People traveled mostly in bands of three or four, mostly elderly people who smiled a lot and seemed so much more full of life and energy than the few younger walkers I passed. I wondered about this, thinking that perhaps all these older people had spent more time outdoors when they were young and had grown accustomed to the rigors of a hard walk. The younger walkers often exhibited a sullenness or reticence, evident when they barely gave a glance up upon passing and only mumbled their hellos. So unlike the traditional, stoic cheerfulness of Japanese mountain walkers, but also perhaps a reaction against ingrained social expectations. After all, the mountains were also supposed to represent self-reliance and getting away from the city crowds, but even here the crowds never ended.
I passed numbers of non-Japanese walkers, too, mostly walking alone, all men, and by their accents, mostly from Britain. One lightly-burdened walker surged ahead so fast, that halfway to my night’s destination, he already came loping back down the trail, ready to catch the afternoon train back to Tokyo. Another group of five, one pony-tailed Brit with legs of thunder who led the group, a plastic map case strung around his neck, an Indian who huffed and puffed as the group trudged up the steep rocks, two Japanese women who plugged along while conversing with a bespectacled Canadian. Listening to their discussion I had to laugh: between labored breath they were outlining the intricacies of the Human Genome Project. I was amazed at how disciplined the mind of the Canadian was… he could chug along stepping from one chemical sequence to another all while his eyes were fixed on his boots, never once looking up to admire the view.
With only one hour of sleep my body refused to go along with my intentions. The walk became a dream of exhertion, my breath squeezed out of my lungs while the fire burned in my muscles. I stopped every hundred steps to catch my breath and still my swirling mind, then I pushed on. Not fun… but no, yes, fun! Yes! Yes! Yes, fun! “I’m having a great time! I’m having a wonderful time! This is what my life is meant for time!” And the 45% incline wordlessly couldn’t agree more. The uphill stretching before me outlasted my little attempts at heroism.
Raindrops pattered among the leaves by the time I reached my day’s destination, a mountain hut crouched on a huge outcropping in the ribcage of the mountain’s torso. An old man with bug-eyed glasses and Mona Lisa’s ephemeral smile greeted me at the door. I informed him that I wanted to camp for the night. He waved his arm behind the hut to a flat, grassy spot beyond which a further space opened and beyond that the world fell away to the burning vista of the mountains of northern Chichibu, and the sun lowering in the sky.
The old man whipped out an dog-eared copy of the camping register, flicked away the dried, flattened body of a harvester spider, and asked me to sign in. Behind him a small group of women hikers huddled in the gloom of the hut, laughing uproarously about something they had encountered on the trail.
The tent went up just in time for a rain shower to dump its load on the canopy before letting up and a fiery sunset lit the western sky. I took my cookpot and stove out to the edge of the cliff and sat boiling a packet of pre-cooked rice and a packet of Thai curry. Watery grey clouds paraded in front of the sun, their trailing robes dragging across the sharp ridges of the mountains. Several times shika deer gave sharp barks like yelping dogs. One wandered near the campsite, but bounded off with a series of heavy crashes after it discovered me perched on a boulder.
With evening and nightfall sleep dragged at me until I could barely hold my head up. Before I knew it I was out, the fatigue closing around me like a drug.
I woke near dawn with the need to relieve myself. I stuffed my feet into my boots and stumbled outside, where the world was bathed in blue moonlight and the sky was filled with the manes of lion-like clouds and between them glittered a black-velvet table of diamonds. Mars, like a tiger’s eye, stared at the moon in all his distant jealousy, riding the night sky like a chariot driver. A ceaseless hissing issued fromt the treetops as the wind raced overhead. I stood a long time just gazing.
I woke again when the first light filtered in through the translucent film of my tarp walls. Hoverflies buzzed outside the netting and, incongruously, a radio played Marlena Dietrich songs from inside the hut. I wriggled out of the sleeping bag and packed up all the belongings, before stepping out to cook up a breakfast of Chinese ramen, pumpkin soup, ginger rolls with cheese, and a cup of cappucino. The grass was glittering with the flitting bullets of the hoverflies and the sun breaking over the crook of the pass to the East. By the time the pot was wiped clean, the stove stashed away, and water bottles (filled with precious drops that I had had to scramble down the side of the hill for twenty minutes yesterday evening) fitted into the pockets on the outside of the pack. Shaking out the waterlogged tarp, I stuffed that away in an outside pocket, too.
And away I go, hark, lark, and ho!
It was all up, up, up through the morning, the boot toes turning this way and that with the switchbacks. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, turn, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, turn…on and on. After all the comers and goers tramping up and down the mountain the day before, few people accompanied me through the first half of the day, so the vegetation, as the elevation grew, made their costume changes in relative silence, from the tall, evenly-spaced Cedars, to stands of Beech, then the dark, unkempt brooding of Larch, and finally the luminous green embroidery of White Birch. Even the animals seemed to sleep in on this Monday holiday morning. Having slept well, my legs ground up the slopes like a tractor.
The last spurt to the summit levied its toll by deciding to act more like a wall than a slope, angling itself up and requiring gingerly steps along the slippery scree. I saw the break in the trees and the open sky beyond. It was like discovering release and I charged the last hundred meters till I thought my lungs were going to burst. Then I was out in the open, breathing the wind, the sunlight, the arc of the dome above.
Lots of others were gathered here, sitting facing the sun like cormorants. People pointed toward distant mountains and tried to name them. A group of boyscouts stood in front of the summit sign, taking snapshots of themselves in different poses. A group of elderly walkers, about ten strong, and wearing an assortment of clothes that gave them an air of a flock of gaily colored songbirds, shouted at one another across the sweep of open ridge. “Come! Come! Come! Look! Look! A dragonfly!”
From here on it was almost all downhill, laughing knees downhill. Shouldering my pack again I descended. It was a jaunt along an open ridge, with the mountain dropping away, treeless, to the West, and a panorama of forested valleys stretching away to the horizon. Open ridge walking is like slow flight, each step a heavy wingbeat. This side of the mountain harbored many more walkers and every few minutes someone would come laboring up past me, or, occasionally, like the boyscout troop, would come marching down and overtake me. Once a man who seemed to be in his fifties, wearing black lycra tights, came running, and only stopped to wheeze for breath after I had gone on beyond what he thought was earshot. An hour later he came dashing past me again, heading back down the mountain. I had heard that on the weekends an eighty year old woman ran over these ridges, carrying only a knapsack filled with water bottle and a box of lunch. I wished that I was in such good shape.
Lunch found me sitting back in the bamboo grass munching on poppy seed cake and crunching an apple pear. The whole mountain seemed to take a nap then, as people stopped moving and only the flies kept buzzing around the rocks.
Two mountain bikers came lugging their machines up the trail, their cycling shoes clattering against hard surfaces.
My legs began to ache and the trail dropped down into the forest again, where it wound down endless through stands of Cedar, on and on, swerving left, then right, then swooping down straight ahead. It was just a contest of putting one foot in front of the other and trying not to think how much longer the end of the trail would be. Two hours later, nearly at the foot of the trail, the two mountain bikers came flying back down. They passed so quickly and so silently that it seemed no more than a passing thought. “Excuse me”, they each muttered, and they were gone.
I had to laugh and make jokes to myself to ward off the pain in my feet along the last stretch where soil turned to concrete. After two days the concrete seemed suddenly too still and made my legs wobble. I lurched along the side of the road, then took a short cut through some terraced farmland, and ended up at the side of a main road along Okutama Rreservoir. There stood the bus stop sign and a panting crowd of walkers, all grateful for the end of the atrocities to their knees. I lowered my pack and stood there swaying in sweat. I gulped down the last sloshes of my water and gave a big, happy sigh. I just love pain!
I looked back the way I had come. The mountain was bathed in the orange heat of the dying sun.
Let me get this straight: I don’t hate Americans. I am angry at what the American government is doing and at those Americans who support it, but that doesn’t mean that I hate Americans, not even those who feel something had to be done about the New York tragedy.
Hate and anger do not automatically equate. I do hate, with all my heart, the madness that people like Bush, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice, Powell, and Cheney, and non-Americans like Blair, Straw, Aznar, Koizumi, and Howard are pushing on the world, as much as what dictators, propagandists, murderers and warmongers in all other places take upon themselves to force on others. I hate what they stand for and what they actually are doing and I hate their hubris. But I don’t hate any people anywhere for their existence.
Just as one commenter expressed, I believe the people are basically good around the world, very much including Americans, whom most of my friends happen to be. Doubtless there are those who will read this post and, because in their hearts they have already divided the whole world into simplistic good and evil, for and against, construe any and everything I say as messages of hate and intolerance on my part. They won’t even be able to discern what I am attempting to say and why I am speaking out, because they have already decided who I am and what I stand for. That is their loss.
Over the last few days I have recieved a number of responses to my last political post. Some were quite supportive, others quite belligerant, one downright threatening. I have held back from replying, to sort my thoughts out and to measure the balance of the so-called hate and tolerance aimed at me. It is interesting that every single message that voiced anger about my criticizing Americans in any way predictably misconstrued my words as generalizations about all Americans and relegated the tone of my words to “hate”, though I uttered not one word of violence toward or wish to undermine America or Americans. It is also interesting that the only polite and even-toned messages were public, whereas the belligerant notes came to me privately, as if the writers had a personal vendetta against me. They attacked me as a person, attempting to intimidate me and draw me out into a name calling spree, one quite rude and insulting.
Personal attacks not withstanding, it is the desire to shut me up at all costs that irks me. From what I hear from my close American friends, voicing an opinion that is counter to the popular line is becoming frightening in the States. Fewer and fewer people who are opposed to the war in Iraq speak out for fear of their personal safety. Flag waving, though it has always been an American standby, has turned ugly as more and more it resembles the slogan-toting, demonizing ranting of the masses in pre-WWII Germany that my German grandfather, a man of peace and gentleness, spoke so bitterly about. By threatening me and using any kinds of taunts possible, those who seek to shut me up through intimidation like to hold up the line that they are allowing me to speak freely because that is what America is all about.
I am not living in America, nor am I, in my heart and in much of my upbringing and thinking, American in all the ways that Americans seem to categorize themselves. Yet a great part of me is American. Most of my family is American, including my father and brother, uncles, aunts, and cousins. I spent half my life living in America and all of my education in schools with American curriculi. Therefore I take great exception to any American who insists that I am not American. I just don’t happen to follow the touted line.
In other ways I am very Japanese. I grew up here, speak the language well, have a Japanese sense of humor, and exhibit many of the characteristics of Japanese sensibilities. I have never been threatened for what I say… ignored perhaps, but never threatened… here. Japan practices many of the ideals that America preaches, not, as so many Americans seem to feel they should claim rights to, because Japan lost the war and America was such a shining example to the world, but because the Japanese have always carried the ethos of decency and fairness within themselves and in their culture. Americans certainly have a lot of gall claiming that they were the architects of another culture’s identity.
So I will exercise my privilege recognized here in Japan and speak out about what I feel is wrong or right. I have no intention of shutting up simply because a few intolerant Americans don’t like what I have to say. There are many Americans who embrace my words and feel much the same way, about their own country, as I do. I live in a free world. This is my world as much as Americans’. And I really don’t care if, as the polls say, the majority of Americans believe that America is the freest, best country in the world. If it is so free and such a wonderful, peace-loving place then there really would be no need for feeling so threatened each time someone voices a differing opinion, would there?
Getting so defensive is a sure sign that a people are not secure in their beliefs and ethos. I care very much for America and I’d like to see the people feeling and living with less fear of the rest of the world.
The New York tragedy was an awful event and should be deplored, but that does not mean that people around the world should automatically be associated with it. Focusing on the New York tragedy and equating the whole of the rest of the world with that one unforgiveable event is basically saying that all the people in the rest of the world are evil. The Afghans, the Taleban, the Iraqis, Arabs in general, the North Koreans, indeed any people who have spoken up against what the United States is doing have all been made to look like monsters in the American press. But they are not monsters, they are people. And most of them are good people, just like most Americans.
Perhaps Americans who support Bush and his policies are fishing for unconditional support from me, I don’t know. But the world isn’t black and white and I am not in the business of taking sides simply because one person is ranting louder than another. Maybe I make people crazy because I stand in the middle and refuse to be brainwashed into demonizing their opposites, I don’t know.
Certainly a lot of Americans (and very few others) over the past two years have admonished me for saying positive things about Iraqis and Afghans and Japanese and Germans and what not. But all I ever do is look at someone as a human being first, with all the faults and virtues that go with the title, preferably sitting down to get to know one another before then deciding whether I agree with their opinions or not. I don’t care where they come from or what they look like or what their country’s history was. I do take issue with those who would attempt to interfere with this process of interacting with people or would work to color my perceptions of another human being. I make up my own mind about what I think of people, not someone else.
The other day in his letter one of the commenters laughed at me for calling the Japanese perception of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the Tokyo fire bombing as the same as the American perception of the New York tragedy. He said there was a difference because America was at war at that time and America had the right to use any means at their disposal for ridding the Japanese threat. It didn’t occur to him that to those horrific people who flew the planes into the Trade Center it was war and they were using any means at their disposal to rid the American threat. But that is not the point. The point is that tragedies occurred in all incidences. Thousands of people died, most of them having absolutely nothing to do with the chauvinism of their governments. There should be no excuses found to cover up the guilt of committing such unforgiveable crimes.
I related this incidence to a close Japanese friend of mine and she blanched when I told her that the commenter had laughed. “Is that what Americans think?” she said in a whisper, “That Hiroshima was funny?” “No,” I had to reassure her. “Just those who think they are better than everyone else.”
Many people are going to dislike what I have to say here, especially among Americans. Let them dislke what I say and let them voice their opinions to their hearts’ content, but in no way I am going to back down just because someone doesn’t want me to say things he or she doesn’t like. Perhaps harsh words will cross paths, but it is better than silence. At least my words are hitting the target rather than flying off into oblivion.