I gave a speech about the trip on Wednesday and will post it here as a taste of the trip. I am also aware this is a Holy Week for many.
It is beautiful here, the sun shining, and the moon was bright in the sky this morning. We have a Japanese Garden, and the Maple trees are exuberantly bright with red. There is a feeling of excitement this time of year, as all reaches up and out for sun, and, of course, roots are stretching in the dark.
And what is it about Japan. I friend who has been there sent this in response to my question of why I feel so infiltrated, stunned:
I think the Japanese gods and goddesses, because they are animistic and attached to the earth and trees and rocks and water, ARE everywhere, waiting for us to notice them!
I digest that, allow a percolation through. I am earth, fire, water, wind, sky.
If you are interested, this is the speech I gave to my Toastmasters Club to give a taste of my trip. Now they want more, and I contemplate, quiet as slowly sipped tea, what I might say.
Cranes, Trains, and Cherry Blossoms
When I say the two words Japan and cranes, what do you see?
Do you see a bird, long legs striding through fields of rice, or painted on fans and screens, or folded in origami?
Or perhaps you see huge metal cranes raising buildings to the sky.
Japan is a land of contrast. I saw both.
As a child, I feasted on a book that belonged to my mother, Little Pictures of Japan. I did see this part of Japan. The old is preserved and honored. People bow. I rejoiced in temples, was purified in shrines, and cherry blossoms showered me with pure delight. I also traveled on trains, was shadowed by skyscrapers and, at times was literally stopped in my tracks amazed at the number of people in motion without collision.
Japan, a land the size of CA, is made up of over 1600 islands. It has a population 1/3 to 1/2 that of the United States. Because most of the land is uninhabitable, people crowd into cities.
Many travel on the Shinkansen, a Japanese bullet train, that averages 155 mph. If we had a bullet train in CA, we could travel from SF to LA in three hours. We used the trains and traveled quickly and easily between Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka.
We changed pace when we took a slower train to Takayama in the Japanese Alps. Known as Little Kyoto, it felt to me like Shangri-La. Here, with the mountains and river, I could write haiku. From there, we traveled to a UNESCO site, a preserved town, preserved because the traditional thatched roofs made of pampas grass now cost $220,000 to replace. No homeowner can afford that, so they open their homes to tourists. The 200 year old homes are works of art as is so much of Japan. The homes are built to withstand earthquakes. They flex and bend. The roof shape resembles two hands in prayer. That helps with the weight of snow.
We returned to the modern world when we toured the Lexus factory, the one described in Thomas Friedman’s book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree. He used this factory to symbolize globalization. We watched robots and humans combine to build cars. The workers, viewing themselves as a family, enter the factory under a Shinto gate. Outside the factory are rows of blooming cherry trees. Above them are modern windmills generating electricity. At the port, we watched rows of cars loaded onto ships. A Lexus is produced every 87 seconds, so even loading these cars is orchestrated. No car sits in the lot more than four days.
Still in modern mode, we visited the tallest building in Japan as of March. It is 300 metres tall. I stood on the observation deck and watched airplanes fly by seemingly at my level.
Now, again, a change of pace. City shrines, forest shrines, castles with moats, temples, and beautifully manicured and landscaped gardens. Purify.
Sit by the sea and eat fish barbecued by women who dived down to gather the shellfish that morning. They are Ama, trained since they were twelve. Women dive because they have the distribution of fat to keep them warm. The village men fish in boats. Ama has been the profession of women here for 2000 years, but now young women choose to go to the cities. Five women cooked the shellfish they gathered for us and then danced. The dance was so beautiful I cried. The oldest was 82, and the other four no younger than fifty and they are the last to do this job. Diving 365 days a year, now with a wetsuit in winter, is not for everyone.
We walked on the slopes of Mt. Fuji and viewed some of the art inspired in its honor. There are 108 active volcanoes in Japan. Earthquakes are common. One is awake in this land that balances activity and serenity, this land of contrast, this land of volcanoes, earthquakes, and carefully pruned trees.
I felt I was immersed when an American came up to me and asked if I spoke English. I’m told you may be caught and never leave. That, I believe.
I saw temples, shrines, gardens, cranes, lakes, rivers, and seas. I saw and experienced trains, cranes, robots, shops, museums, Starbucks and modern art. Through it all, uniting it all, the brilliant cherry blossoms of Japan.