Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Home Frida

Good Morning or Evening, I have no idea what time or day it is. We just returned from our trip to Japan and I am writing this in a jet-lagged stupor, so I will probably be surprised when I read it later.

The room is spinning, and no, I’ve not been drinking. My eyes are crossed and I woke up with a cold, but at least my body had the courtesy to wait until it got home.

This entry isn’t the full-blown synopsis of what happened, because I’ve not yet had the luxury of processing it, as the physical journey has just now ended. We woke up yesterday in Osaka, had a full day of packing and getting our heavy bags and selves to the Kansai Airport, flying all night and landing in San Francisco the morning of the same day. March 24th was Ground Hog’s day for us as we lived it twice.

To answer the most frequently asked question, Yes, we had a great time, Yes, it was worth every minute, penny and yen. We would go again in a heartbeat.

We discovered that almost every Japanese person carries a cell phone with Internet service, so there weren’t many wi-fi spots to be found, as the general population has no need. Their phones seem to be all-purpose and can do just about anything and the most popular item for sale at every shrine, temple and 7-11 was a charm to hang from a hole in the back of their phones. We noticed several women who had entire collections dangling and sprouting color. Their technology is so advanced, the commercials advertised waterproof phones that could be used if caught in a downpour, taking a shower, soaking in a hot tub, or while scuba diving in the big blue.

We’ve already mentioned the uber cool fancy toilets, but the techno-thingy I had not seen before was a video screen in the dashboard of cars for backing up into impossibly tight spaces, an area in America that would be used for storing a handkerchief or an iPod.

Our luggage is currently plopped on the floor, the contents spilling out as we have not quite unpacked, but the bags seemed determined to start without us. As we collect our belongings and ourselves and make the transition back to the Here, there will be fun photos and quirky moments to share.

Thanks for all your good thoughts, prayers and feedback. It’s always a treat to go somewhere new, but you guys are what make this place home.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Soaking it in

Ahhhh...Back in Japan. It is starting to feel like I am really here, and yet as much as is familiar is sooo different. Who would have thought that everybody would have aged while I stayed just the same? Well, maybe not just the same -- I keep hearing how thin I am. That would be a great compliment were it not for the fact that they follow up with, "You were so fat back then!"

In my head in know that it is true -- I gained 40lbs in the four months I was here the first time -- but, I so quickly returned to my more natural weight when I returned to the States I never really thought of myself as "so fat." It is a bit shocking to hear that they have held that particular picture of me in their heads for all these years!

It seems that the local economy has also thinned over the years, and I am amazed at the lack of hustle and bustle on once busy streets in this area. Even in the larger city of Tsuyama the shopping center was like a ghost town. Even more distressing, I had my first cup of bad coffee in Japan there. I have been raving about the fact that they served the best coffee in the world for the last 26 years, so that cup nearly brought me to tears.

In their possible defense, they did not speak English and my Japanese is not what it was, so they may have thought they were doing us a favor by making us "American" coffee -- meaning very weak.

This is a land of juxtapositions, though, so my delight has far outweighed any disappointments. The people are still kind and helpful, there is beauty around every corner, and the food is so good that if I were to be here any longer than two weeks I would soon quit hearing how thin I am.

I can see that being here is a great reminder about being in the Now. The tea ceremony is about being at the tea ceremony. Every detail is to be noticed and appreciated. There is no room for who said what yesterday or where am I supposed to be tomorrow -- you must be present.

The same is true for soaking in the Onsen. It is about being in the water. The heat purifies all of the nonsense out of your head, and you scrub the day off of your body before you enter the pools. Worry can't coexist with that level of relaxation.

And Now, it is time to go have some more adventures!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

In Japan!

As you know (if you have been reading along thus far) I have returned to an essential and hugely formative piece of my past, and what a ride it has been! Literally. The turbulence was enough to get a wide-eyed look from more than one flight attendant as they buckled themselves in mid-flight, the musical seats before we got under way (my seat-back would not stay in the "upright and locked position" so we were moved), the air conditioner peed on us during take off, and...well, you get the picture.

But, I'm here and in love with it all over again. The food, the people, the everything. Much has changed (like everywhere in the world), yet it still maintains the essential spirit. I will wax poetic in greater detail later -- right now I am on a keyboard that has a key which is all too easy to hit by accident that causes the letters to do this: 間用レアd亜ny尾fティs?So, stay tuned...

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Journey to Wa

Two out of the “three grandes dames of modern painting in the Americas,” had pet monkeys. Frida Kahlo’s primate was named Fulang-Chang and Emily Carr named hers Woo. I can’t say for certain whether Georgia O’Keeffe had one or not, but besides monster talent, I wonder if having a monkey was part of their secret club handshake?

For those of you who are reading The Everyday Anthropologist for the first time, Companion and I are planning on getting up in the middle of the night and flying to Japan. This trip has been 25 years and two months in the planning. Last week’s installment set up the trip, and for the next two weeks, it is my intention to write in spurts and bursts about where we are and what we’re doing.

Considering we’re going to the Land of Contrasts, a place of ancient traditions and cutting edge technology, we should be able to have access to a computer and the Internet, we just don’t know how often, so stay tuned…

Now, back to the monkeys. As an anthropologist, I’ve often teased that I’m part Simian-American, feeling a kinship with the almost-humans. When I was in Japan as a teenager, the effect I had on the people who had never encountered an American before was that of a chimpanzee in a dress. I was an amusement, an oddity, I mean, who wouldn’t laugh at a talking monkey? I was brought into their homes as a distraction, for entertainment.

Even though I was a curiosity, I fell in love, with the country and the people who opened up their homes and invited me into their lives. And here’s the thing I’m discovering about myself, when I meet and fall in like with somebody, I create a space for them in my heart. The outline is of their shape, their essence and they are the only ones who can fill it. Even if time or distance separate us, I hold space for them. In that capacity, I am fiercely loyal. It doesn’t matter how many other individuals I may encounter, their place in my heart is sacred.

As I mentioned before, the struggle I’m experiencing is trying to integrate the past with the present. I adored my sojourn in 1983 and my head keeps trying to inform me that this is 2009. Everybody and everything has changed.

Speaking of monkeys, didn’t Darwin have a catchy little phrase, something about the “survival of the fittest?” My impression about that has always been the iguana with the biggest bicep wins. But perhaps the notion has more to do with this fortune cookie wisdom, “He who adapts survives.”

Adaptability. Suddenly, the idea intrigues me. Do I possess the emotional intelligence that will allow me to live successfully in a particular environment? The strongest are not always those who are rigid, but those who are flexible. Wow, adaptable and flexible, not the first two words I would use to self-describe.

Japan, a country imbued with Buddhist and Shinto beliefs, infuses Zen coolness into just about everything. We’ve all heard of “monkey mind,” a Buddhist term illustrating a headspace that jumps from thought to thought like a monkey swinging from tree to tree.

The Japanese word for now, the present, is “Ima.” It’s a fun word to say, especially if you draw it out, “Eeeemmaaaaa.” It can easily be said in a Kermit the frog accent or in deep breathy Darth Vaderian. It is my new mantra, since I am currently in possession of a monkey mind. Mine is not content with existing in the present moment, but is much more fascinated with the unending stream of thoughts that pass through like a Mardi Gras parade.

Over the last few days, as I’ve explored my psyche with alien probe determination, I’ve concluded that my Japanese memories are my holy of holies. I have a shrine in the middle of me, dedicated to the people and places I visited.

And then it happened.

My interior walls began to shake and an internal earthquake knocked the sacred figurines off their shelves, smashing them on impact. Oh help, my precious memories! I had a moment of sheer panic and then the calm appeared and with it, an invitation summoning me to the present.

For too long, I’ve allowed my wa, my peace and harmony, to be easily disturbed; by my thoughts, by other people, by external circumstances. It’s time to adapt to the Now, to use my passport and go back to the future and meet up with myself.

And as for my pet monkey, the one in my mind, I think I’ll take a twist on the name Emily Carr gave hers, Woo, and call mine Wa. Aah, peaceful, harmonic monkey mind.

And now, it’s time for us to fly. Iiiiiimmaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Time Machine

Have you noticed that good memories can be just as painful as jagged ones? Valued memories cost more because the red hot poker of sentiment leaves scars. To avoid that kind of pain, I tend to nurture the bad ones, stroking the furry little things like a favored pet. Oh, what angst ridden impressions am I waxing dramatic about now?

Have you ever experienced a time in your life that was so magical, so defining that everything after pales by comparison? Astronauts experience this type of pain. I mean, where do you go after visiting the moon?

I had my over-the-moon experience when I was 19 years-old and lived in Japan for the last half of 1983. Not that I haven’t had great moments since, but I was a malleable lump of clay back then, and the experiences cut deep, the stamp of Japan marking me all over on the inside. I may have been born in the US, but part of me was “Made in Japan.”

Through the intervening years, life has imposed its own heat on my clay body, hardening me into whatever it is I am today. I find myself with one foot rooted in 1983 and the other one trying to find grounding in the illusive Now. I say illusive, because my head is often in yesterday, tomorrow or circling the stratosphere in between.

Now please climb aboard my time machine and I will transport us back to 1983. Fasten your seatbelt and use your imagination for an appropriate soundtrack while the pages of our calendar go flippety flip backwards.

Ronald Reagan held the Office of President, Microsoft debuted Word, Tokyo opened Disneyland, a Soviet Union fighter jet shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Tootsie and Flashdance played in theaters, Duran Duran, Culture Club (remember Boy George?) and Michael Jackson dominated the airwaves as well as MTV, and Cyndi Lauper and Madonna were in the battle of the legwarmers.

During this era, the planets aligned and an opportunity to travel and study in Japan opened to me.

Nobody I knew had ever heard of sushi, the word “Asian” had not yet become PC. Hello, the term was “Oriental.” Ahem, I was in Southern Oregon where men shopped at a clothing store called “The Gay Blade” and we ate “Ayd’s” candy in High School to lose weight, whadd’ya want? CBS aired the final episode of M*A*S*H, Rick Springfield starred on General Hospital and we all knew the lyrics to his Grammy award winning rock song, “Jessie’s Girl.”

So with that illustrious frame of reference, this child of the ‘80’s boarded a plane and flew to the Land of the Rising Sun. I went to work for a 75 year-old missionary in exchange for room and board and a chance to experience the vast culture of Japan. I should mention now, she was surprised that I was far more interested in making friends, studying Kendo, Ikebana (flower arranging), tea ceremony and brush painting than I was in evangelizing. She called me a “hot shot jazz little number.”

This was when and where I became The Everyday Anthropologist.

And now for my confession. I noticed a copy of Shogun on her bookshelf and decided to read the 1200 page novel while living in a house with tatami flooring, sliding rice paper shoji doors, and eating raw octopus and jelly fish like Anjin-san did in the book. I didn’t quite finish the epic before I left, so I borrowed it for the flight home. Without telling her.

The guilt has plagued me for the last 25 years. With this blemish on my conscience, I received a letter from her that she recently turned 100. I immediately booked two flights to Japan. If not now, when? The answer to the question, “Why are you and Companion going to Japan?” is to return a book. See, if I get it back there in time, then technically it’s still “borrowing.”

If my experience in Japan was so fantastic, why am I just now going back? It’s very complicated, but one fraction of the equation is that on my first day in Japan, I met a man that would impact me from that moment on. He drove the Missionary to Osaka from their little village in Western Honshu to pick me up at the airport.

Raised on Hee Haw, Lawrence Welk and Bonanza, I am quite embarrassed to admit, but when I met this gentleman for the first time, I thought he was her “house boy,” like Hop Sing. To be fair, many in their village had never seen an American teenager before and they also had misconceptions. We taught each other many things and built a cultural bridge.

This man, who was married and 69 at the time, became my best friend. We both found it remarkable that two people from different genders, cultures and generations could form such a bond. He and his wife lived next door and adopted me as their American daughter.

I traveled half way around the world to meet my soul mate. He became my mentor, my Sensei, my deep and abiding friend. So it was the shock of my life when I received the phone call telling me he died of a heart attack in his home where I visited every day.

The grief was overwhelming. The idea of returning to Japan without him there was unthinkable. But the planets have rearranged themselves again and I’m getting the Celestial nudge. Intellectually, I know I cannot land in 1983, however much I might want to. The precious little village, where they’d never seen an American teenager, now has a McDonald’s and a Costco. The house where I stayed has been torn down and my favorite store that sold Hello Kitty is now a funeral parlor. What?

Many of the older folks have passed, the one-year old child of a friend is now a Jr. High school teacher, and my single friends are now married, some widowed, and raising children. I’m not the same. A quarter of a century has passed. My head knows these things, but my heart wants what it wants, for everything to be just as it was.

This trip is a pilgrimage, as much to Japan as a journey to the center of myself. If I can go with an open heart and an open mind, then I can make new memories. The pain comes from resisting what is. Or resisting what is not.

At this moment, I’m impaled on my own resistance. My features are feeling stretched and distorted like a pilot’s when faced with extreme G-force. My heart is the stationary object and the flow of time is exerting it’s force upon it, making it feel as though it weighs many times more than normal.

I still have a few days until we leave, I’ll let you know how it goes.