A Barrier Between Two Japans.


(Cough. I was being a bit optimistic about getting some poetry up on here over Christmas. Sorry. I think I’m starting to understand why my folks are happy to watch TV after work instead of writing hardcore essays.)

So, uh, yes. I’ve decided to stay in Japan for two years. Unless next year is so unfathomably brilliant that I can’t leave, or that I meet someone worth staying for, I’m drawing a line. My Three Year Life Plan will become messy if I don’t!
(The Three Year Life Plan:
1. stay in Japan next year. Improve Japanese; experience teaching with confidence and well prepared lesson plans for once, which should leave enough time in the evenings and weekends to explore a bit more, read a bit more and perhaps even write a little bit more. Woh hoh! Apply to SOAS London’s Japanese Studies Masters course, specialising in Pre-modern Japanese Poetry.
2. Take that bloody masters course, eh! Classic Japanese grammar lessons, please. Kanji studies pay off. Study part time: make the most of the experience and time which being a student offers you (something I took for granted during my BA); take advantage of the SOAS Brunel library, which holds the largest collection of Classic Asian materials in Europe. Mate. Enjoy being back in London. Have a part time job somewhere. Hello again, Starbucks.
3. Spend this last year of the Three Year Plan writing my dissertation and finishing my degree, whilst looking into potential career fields (HAHA!). Perhaps teaching creative workshops which explore Asian Culture? To what age group? Based where? Asia House, I’m looking at you.)

There is another reason for which I feel unable to stay to here for too long (aside from that this lifestyle feels a little like stalemate when I’m not sure I want to be a fully-fledged primary school teacher forever; or that, somehow, my young adulthood will pass me by completely if it’s not partially spent in London, silly as that is.) The problem is, that there are two Japans. It would be no exaggeration to say that the pleasure I have gained from experiencing traditional culture in Japan has been rather astonishing in its quantity – moments of sudden and rapturous exhilaration – but the long term qualities I continue to gain by living here also give me much pleasure: learning how to communicate with various people and children in various settings, and becoming comfortable with others’ semi-constant observation and curiosity (in short, being a minority figure); coming to observe significant subtleties in unfamiliar social behaviours and professional dynamics; coming to know a little more of myself, and my tolerance for situations which initially – and for some time following – can feel overwhelming. Living here has been a very pleasurable and fast-paced learning curve.

And yet, this Japan which has taught me so much is a different Japan to the one I initially came to admire. When I visit historical towns or places of classical cultural importance, it is another country I am seeing. I am seeing a place which sates and fuels a somewhat obsessive love for Japanese Classical culture. The very accessible, preserved relics of Old Japan nurture my idealism, a Romanticism built from books and history. Witnessing these relics, even over and over, can never alter this idealism, as the past has already passed: no contemporary current of a society influx – a society (like any other) carrying potential for development, and change, and surprise – no society such as this Present Japan, which has helped me grow so, remains from the Heian and Kamakura periods. Old Japan – my Japan, as it must be called, having being borne from my imagination’s take on a legitimate timeline; a country which can only presently exist in myriad forms in myriad minds of people who wish to engage with the past – can never betray my expectations of it: My Japan shall always exist in a manner which pleases me most, subsisting safely where I built it.

And there is Present Japan. I buy my vegetables here. I visit onsen, I go to work. I carry it, laughing, on my back, and pull it along in a sleigh in the snow. I attempt to address it with the humbleness of ignorance and steady understanding. Here, days are rich with communication, learning, persistence and the breathing. This place is a Japan I could not have known without having lived here. In its unfamiliar space, I have not enough pre-knowledge upon which to found any solid expectations. It is dangerous. It is wonderful.

I cannot say which Japan means more to me now. I can read about My Japan in England. Its roots are in fact (as much as documented history can be factual), but it evolves daily from my design. In its impermanence, Present Japan is far more precious. I love it dearly, but it is not what brought me here. I cannot design it in a manner to please me; we share a frailer, unpredictable bond. And it is this question of ‘which Japan?’ which leads me to become afraid of remaining here for too long. I don’t wish either country to hold more weight than the other: I don’t want my idealism to be disproved, and I don’t want to discover too many disappointments in this contemporary society. I suppose, then, that I am not accepting Japan for what she is. I am too concerned with protecting some of my ideals. This is not to fully know a culture – I know – but if idealism disappears, what fuel is there for gaining further knowledge? Am I strong enough to seek it still, once it is laden with realities I might not like? Do I require delusion to maintain an appreciation? Can this be called appreciation..? There is much I have already learned about this contemporary society which increases my love for it, and I spend many of my days happily, but my fear of disappointment is the matter of this barrier between two Japans.

If I stay, he said, there will be more to discover about both of them. I think this frightens me. There was certainly a risk taken, in coming to live here. Over two years, that risk must surely increase. And over three? Yes, Japan: I am learning a lot about myself.



One Response to “A Barrier Between Two Japans.”

  1. Dad Says:

    Two Japans! Two Englands. One can live in a country but still maintain a romatic view of it. Isnt that why history is so attractive a subjest? Reality kicking in? The challange is to find the ‘bridge’ between the 2 Japans so you can communicate the old Japan to the new which keeps the old Japan alive today. Thats a fine job for a teacher. Love Dad xx

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