I’m stalling on this post, about our trip to Japan, or more accurately, Osaka, Kyoto and Kurokawa. This happens sometimes, either when the trip itself was too brief, or in this case, even with a sufficient duration to ponder, I find the place… difficult to compute. Truth is, I’ve always had mixed feelings about Japan. Mixed, but not foreign. After all, I’m from Taiwan, hardly a stranger. Since awareness I guess, Japan has been a place with unescapable elements everywhere deep inside its social fabrics that, to me, are both deeply seductive and also repulsive. It’s a festival of confusions, to say the least, the reason why Lost in Translation was transcribed here, and perhaps the reason why I hesitated to come for years. I didn’t know if I was more afraid to love it, or hate it, and either way, why did that matter? I wasn’t sure of the answer either. It’s a country where people pay for their dinner through vending machines, but spend hours drinking a cup of tea. The country runs on the most highly efficient and developed system of high-speed rail that few others can compete, but the information kiosk of which, in the Osaka station, is still being organized in old-school filers. It’s a country that is famed for its obsession in cleanliness and manners, but one of the few still left in the developed world where I have to endure second-hand smokes in restaurants. A culture that is widely associated with its quiet, distilled form of beauty, that wabi-sabi life, and yet, the major cities within which are wild labyrinths of neon lights and carnivals of giant moving octopuses.
Slow, fast. Quiet, loud. Polite, yet perversive. Allures, and frustrations. Which one is true? Or perhaps all is.
A country that thrives in contradictions.
I didn’t know what to make of it. I still don’t.
I wanted to, like everyone else, just focus on its beauties, which are nothing but pure pleasures. The yakitori (skewered/grilled chicken) in Wabiya Korekido in Kyoto comes close to an art form. The beef heart sashimi from Maru in Osaka could not have been the revelation that it is anywhere else. The amount of philosophy that goes into making a bowl of ramen cries for admiration. A dip into the tinglingly warm hot spring, the liquid silk that percolates from deep within earth in the stillness that is Kurokawa, it is hard, real hard, not to fall for it all.
But with every enjoyments, comes with a blinding contradiction that seemed to overturn the previous experience. Was my experience authentic rituals, or rehearsed theatrics. Was this a sanctuary, or a theme park? What the world is infatuated about Japanese’s deeply philosophical way of life, was that even a real part of their lives, or just advertisements? Or maybe they are two of the same thing, a double-sided mirror.
I’m sure most of you don’t know what I’m talking about, a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. I have failed to explain it, and for that I’m going to stop.
Maybe Japan was never something to be understood, but to be pondered upon. Was never a maze, but growth-rings on a black pine trunk.
To get it, I gotta eat more ramen.