6 minute read
Getting Comfortable With Local Life
November 2, 2017
This fourteen-part series is based on our journey to Japan and Indonesia, beginning September 13, 2017. In each post we use our presence in Asia as a broader background to the usual exploration of how we fit into this world. Welcome to our private life.
The brief education we received today on superficial details of Japanese life it made it seem dumb to learn about Japanese society like a clinical experiment. Now we’re even more interested in remaining here to both learn more about the lifestyle and continue our spiritual experience, but we know there is a limit to what we can possibly understand since we don’t live here and the Japanese culture does not incorporate visitors. Eventually we have to leave.
Spending time with someone who could relate subtleties of Japanese life to westerners was the most valuable experience of this trip so far because it exposed how little we know about living here – we learned more about the people while speaking with kayo than we did in the six days before. Her explanation that “Japanese cannot be rude to each other because Japan is a small island” embodied the divide between our way of independent thinking and the social sensitivities of Asian culture. And I don’t believe we could truly understand without some level of consistent immersion here.
We are learning that discovering details of a society is like traveling to a city and visiting its districts – we can only get a superficial taste in a week’s time. It would take a while to become part of normal life here. Yet ironically we have become more comfortable with mundane daily life in Taito, and the familiar places gave us a routine that could probably sustain us if we needed it. But, eating breakfast at the Asakusa denny’s doesn’t necessarily mean we could integrate well with the people.
“Most Japanese do not have religion, they just pray.” our new friend’s answer about questions of local religious life was very familiar to me, like having deja vu after meeting someone new. Our evolving spirituality is so well aligned with the eastern lifestyle that our visit tonight to the Sensō-Ji temple was clearly the highlight of our visit here, and we will continue learning more about Buddhist tradition – the experience visit made a lasting impression that reinforces our recent self-discoveries.
We feel more comfortable with the Japanese lifestyle and social atmosphere than we do with our experience in the us. It makes me question what we expect to gain from planning to remain in America for the long term.
2-3, Hanakawado 1-Chōme, Taito, Tokyo
This image is here only because of my fascination with unintentional captures. It’s a representation of everything I enjoy about photography: experimentation, discovery, subject matter, design… When such accidents happen I tend to show them (regardless of audience) because they embody everything that kept me from pursuing art when I was younger. Back then I had different ideas of creativity and experimentation, for whatever reason, was not part of my mindset. It isn’t clear to me why.
Sometimes I make images that aren’t easy to decipher. I do it purposefully, the same way that I sometimes walk away from a group of people to wander alone, just because I can. We don’t need rational reasons to do the things we do - I like to explore that idea as much as I can without alienating the people around me because the understanding is new for me. I don’t mind being vague just for the sake of it.
Senso-Ji Temple, Asakusa, Taito
This is the first of a series of images below that I chose to include because at the time I wasn’t sure what was happening around me, the significance wasn’t clear as we were walking around Asakusa. So I took some photos to remind me of the goings on, simply for the sake of remembering. As usual I refused to capture the most significant of moments so we could keep them for ourselves. If you choose to look and you are curious enough you can find images of everything around us. But not from me.
Instead I offer glimpses of our experience, reminders to me of where we were. I took this image specifically because I wasn’t sure if I would make more as we walked toward the temple, which is in the fuzzy distance. Ultimately the only recollection we have of the Sensō-Ji temple itself is from our memory because neither of us photographed it. Very fitting.
What we read about the Japanese being “us and them” (or uchi-soto) seems true; walking around during the day we get a lot of looks, but basically no other interactions. Quite honestly our experience in the city has been no different than in a typical American big city, so we aren’t discouraged. Tonight when we had dinner at a yakitori stand was different. We can’t be sure if the presence of our friend Kayo was the reason, but one of the strangers at the table next to us insisted on taking pictures. He needed help because he was pretty drunk.
Even though both Japanese and American strangers mostly treat us the same, the Japanese are never rude. Can’t say that about Americans.
3-1, Asakusa 2-Chōme, Asakusa, Taito
Still no image of the temple. But the same moon we see on the other side of Earth was so blatantly visible that it was worth the memory to shoot. If you care to know, the temple is to image right. Also, I’m more willing to learn about how to worship as a Buddhist and return there than to go to the episcopalian church where I grew up. That’s why I recorded these photos.
3-1, Asakusa 2-Chōme, Asakusa, Taito
I can’t pretend to remember the recipe for finding the fortunes in these drawers, but it consists of paying a penance and drawing a stick from this container. And reading in Japanese some numbers that we don’t understand. It didn’t matter that the first two fortunes were so eerily accurate, I don’t care to know my future even if it is available so I refused to take part.
Tokyo Metro Government Building, Shinjukuyoda
The traffic is a shock every time we go to Houston (or other metro areas where we drive). When we leave the northwest we are constantly reminded why we love it there, and all the hurried humans are not a good tradeoff for the deer, turkeys and quail that we normally contend with. Regardless, I still like urban areas; I find city textures appealing even though we like more natural settings. Nature was my first love in photography but I still like to challenge myself when we leave it behind.