June 17, 2005
The other day I had some time to take pictures. I was in Takadanobaba. I took out my camera and started to walk around the back alleys, took a turn onto a wide street, and then crossed back in front ot the Eki (station) with ebb and flow of busy workers in suits and Waseda students. But everything seemed flat. I had no connection with the moment, with the people passing by. I took pictures, but it wasn't fun. I was aware of all this, and for a moment I thought, "Idon't know who or where I am right now." And so I had no sense of what to shoot either. It was better to put down the camera and take out my journal, and that's what I did.
It's easy to spot disconnection in Japan. People living behind walls, or masks. Nurturing private worlds and secrets not shared, like the secret of who they really are inside. People literally retreat into their houses and stop coming out. They are "hikikomori" -- and society takes notice because they are many and the numbers are growing. But others take shelter in working endless hours (men) or talking for hours about nothing. There are so many ways to describe the walls here.
I've thought about all this quite a bit. My first year I was so isolated by language, so feeling isolated by people keeping a distance made the exerience that much more difficult. I would start thinking of brief times I spent in Africa and Mexico, where I made friends and got to know people very deeply in such a short time.
But now after three years, there's no use getting down on the cultural walls I feel. I've got to come to grips with (and acceptance of) my own identity here. Regardless of how hard Japanese culture may be for an American like me, I can't blame these kinds of struggles on the culture outside. As I read recently, "You cannot have intimacy [that is, connection] out of a false self" (Eldredge, The Sacred Romance). This is not just an issue for people who live in another culture. In fact, being in Japan may simply expose areas of growth for me that were there long before, and I'll take that as a good thing. The author (that I mentioned just above) later quotes G.K. Chesterton who wrote (in Orthodoxy): "We have all read in scientific books, and indeed, in all romances, the story of the man who has forgotten his name. This man walks about the streets and can see and appreciate everything; only he cannot remember who he is. Well, every man is that man in the story. Every man has forgotten who he is...We are all under the same mental calamity; we have all forgotten our names. We have all forgotten who we really are."Posted by jw at June 17, 2005 03:40 PM