Japan: Living Journal Life In Nature Stewardship

There Were Giants

Humpback whale lips
Muzzle of a humpback whale that sidled up to the boat I was on in the Stellwagon Banks off the coast of Boston, 1991. Three whales spent about two hours lounging around the boat, one of them lifting her snout up to the gunwhale and letting people stroke her chin, while her son did cartwheels among the waves just off the bow of the boat. The skin felt like wetsuit rubber and the breath, especially when she sneezed globs of fish and krill slobber all over my brother, was, let’s just say, “overwhelming”.

I came across this article last night, about Japan’s big victory in securing a huge portion of the votes in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) the other day. I’m not going to go into the petty details of how the organization works or what exactly happened. Suffice it to say that this is such an unnecessary development. Absolutely no good can come of such foolishness. What is at stake is not anachronistic Japanese cultural traditions (the argument that eating whale meat is part of Japanese tradition is simply not true. Japanese did not eat meat until very recently in their history, and whale meat only made it into people’s homes at the end of the Meiji era, when food shortages forced the government to seek alternative food sources), but the existence of fellow creatures.

What does it take for people to care about something other than themselves? The planet is our common home, irreplaceable and absolutely vital to our own existence. If for nothing else we ought to protect the planet, together, just for our own survival. We cannot exist without other life around us.

Journal Musings

Raspberries in the Rain

Nogawa grass

In recent weeks my garden has overgrown so much that the soil is no longer visible under all the fat ferns tumbling over themselves to get the best light. After last year’s ravaging of the trees in my garden by my landlord I decided to no longer make an effort to control or bring order to anything growing in the garden and just let whatever wilderness remains in this city to do its own thing. Dokudami weed, which is actually quite pretty and whose flowers resemble a constellation floating on a dark green sea, has dominated most of the space, while a few of the plants I brought in are still holding their own.

One of these is the spindly raspberry bush I planted four years ago. This year is the first year that it has produced enough berries to fill my cupped hand and their bright red globules brighten up the clouds of green proliferating all around them. Yesterday afternoon, while a steady rain pattered among the leaves of the fatsia that had grown twice as tall as I am, I waded out among the plants, rain water drenching my sandaled feet, and knelt next to the raspberry bush, plucking berries from the branches and, only rudimentarily checking for bugs, popping them into my mouth. There was something about the droplets of rain on the berries, the pushing of my fingers through the wet leaves, and the quiet rush of rain all around me that held me still. I let the rain soak my back and run down my spine. For once with no US military planes thundering by overhead I could lift my nose to the sky and smell the washing away of dust and toil. The clouds seemed to slide by on grey silk sashes, in a serenity so high and effortless that the garden seemed merely a hesitant footfall amidst a pervading tranquility. I watched a hairy caterpillar munching at the base of the one of the berries, her head buried in the pit she had eaten out, and undoubtedly as ebullient about her banquet as I was about the sweet perfume of raspberry juice spilling down my fingertips. In the shadows of the fatsia a brown-eared bulbul, who had been visiting my garden fence since the start of spring, huddled under one of the broad leaves, his head scrunched down into his shoulders and feathers puffed, watching me with only mild interest. It was mid-afternoon, after all, and right about tea time and siesta.

I’ve been surprised by the settling of my soul these last few weeks. Without a job, on the verge of divorce, finally getting my diabetes under control after two weeks of really scary symptoms, I never expected to feel like one of those lone droplets released from a leaf above and falling into an undisturbed pool… first shaking up those rings, but then merging with the rest of the stillness. I keep waking in the middle of night and listening to the sound of the spring rain outside my bedroom window, mingled with the whisper of my wife’s sad breathing, and wondering how the moments held together without splintering. And yet I still catch a glimpse of the moon riding the clouds or feel the surprise of flavor between my teeth when biting into a raspberry, and I remember that it all works together somehow. All of it. Like the middle of a story still being told.