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Monday, January 5, 2004

The Gift of Death

I was thinking recently about that Biblical verse: "For God so loved the world that he gave his own and only Son..." I suddenly realized a new interpretation of that expression: that we, as spirits, were so in love with "reality" (The Earth) that we were willing to give up our immortality, and accept a short life here. Just like Arwen did in The Lord of the Rings... she gave up her life for love. Just an idea! but if it is true, it means there is no Afterlife for us, no Blessed Realm over the ocean... because we forsook that for the privilege of incarnation.

On a bright note, my Japanese word of the day was taught to me by Masumi, after I told her about my psychic dreams -- it is masayume  (正夢) or "true dream". I'm sure it will come in handy someday!

Sunday, January 4, 2004

New Years Day in Japan (A New Sea Change)

It's amazing how sometimes you can "meet your match", that special someone who instantly -- and irrevocably -- changes your life. I mean "meet your match" in a number of different ways, in a whole constellation of different ways. For example, there is "meeting your match" on the "soulmate" level: finding your true love, that person who melds with you, completes you, your Twin Flame in other words. That's the contemporary idea of a "good match", and I do subscribe to the theory, to a limited extent at least. But there are many other different possible meanings to the phrase "meet your match", and I am not talking only of finding things that burn! Like a prize fighter finally meeting his match in the ring, that one guy who can knock him out -- that is meeting your match. The prize fighter who meets his match, and loses his title -- that is what I am talking about today. It is a humbling experience when you meet your match. You might be motivated to drop on to the floor, and bow in reverence to this person who has bested you.

Let me put it this way: I was starting to think like I could be a playboy, with girls all over the place, a woman in every port, or a partner for every day of the week. That's the standard playboy dream, and I thought I was on my way to attaining it, after a slow start in life. There was one particular girl (Masumi) who I used to work with about 8 months ago or so, and with whom I used to exchange emails, even when I was with Akiko and Miyuki... it might have been just casual flirtation, but it gave me a thrill to think I could have two girls at the same time, three if I tried hard enough. There are plenty of gaijin dudes in Japan living that kind of fantasy, that Hugh Hefner fantasy, and I thought I was about to join the ranks. Then I lost Akiko, and I lost Miyuki, and suddenly I was back to square one: miserable and alone. Even when I flew out to Tottori the other week for my TV job my blues had accompanied me on the plane, blotting out the spotlight I should have been basking myself in, dragging me down at every turn. Just like Churchill's black dog, sprinting at me from across the dunes. I would scan my keitai forlornly, between shoots, looking for some text message from Akiko. Nothing from her there, not even anything from Miyuki... they weren't playing the game no longer. Holiday season arrived, and I thought I was going to be in for a dismal time. Then, out of the blue, I received a perky Happy New Year! message from Masumi, and my spirits soared. Somebody still cared! But this time around, I knew a bit of casual flirtation wasn't going to suffice. I needed something solid, something substantial! So I went out on a limb, and asked her out! Well, kind of asked her out... I offered to go out to her bayside hometown and visit her. And suddenly I realized that far from being the "casual fling on the side" that I used to picture her in my fantasies, she had actually become the center of my life. The thought arose in my mind: instead of me conquering her (as another notch, another knockout), maybe she had conquered me. Seduction is always more powerful than production, as Baudrillard would say. It is the paradox of romantic love, I suppose -- it is always the woman who pulls the strings. And after meeting her, at some country izakaya, I realized my life would never be the same again. So, the old me met my match, and was forced to sue for mercy!

Side street off Okubashi Dori, north of Nippori (Japan, 2004)
To celebrate my recent change in fortunes, I went for a walk, actually it was a megawalk, megawalking being just the appropriate way to explore a megacity like Tokyo. I often pick a random direction and walk until I find something interesting; lately I've been heading north a lot. This time I went up past Uguisudani Station (鶯谷駅) along Kototoidori (言問通り) with its clusters of love hotels and its generally seedy air, then through the backstreets of Nippori (日暮里), where I might have picked up a bottle of green tea, or a cheap burger at McDonald's. I think I sent an MMS to Masumi there, while the sun shone wanly, struggling through the clouds. It was New Year's Day, and I was due to go all out the way to Kisarazu (木更津) the following day to see her. For today, however, Tokyo was mine. One of things I like about this city is that every area seems to have its own specialty or reason for being; Shitaya (下谷) where I live is famous for its Morning Glory festivals, and Nippori is known as Fabric Town. There are tens of fabric shops lined along the narrow streets, some of them so rammed full of material it is almost impossible to move down the aisles. Today of course all the fabric shops were closed, and the streets generally deserted. I walked past them all, shutters down, some of them with kadomatsu sitting in front of the premises. Either kadomatsu, or some kind of pine branch stuck to the front door, to celebrate the New Year. Somewhere along the line I must have stumbled upon the Okubashi Dori (尾久橋通り), which was to take me to my randomly chosen destination for the day. Down under some crazy overpass, cars whizzing by overhead, navigating myself through the bicycle traps. Down beneath the crazy overpass and out on to the streets beyond, with their dry cleaning businesses, obento shops, keymaking premises, that kind of thing. Perhaps, from time to time, some old lady or gent passed by me on a bicycle, ringing their bell. Later on I passed a street, lined with bare trees, and Hi no Maru (Rising Sun) flags, which perfectly summed up the spirit of the day... dead but reviving. It was cloudy at the time; in time the clouds cleared, and the sun broke out, bathing the city in springlike cheer.

Mansions on the bank of the Sumida River, catching some late winter sun (Japan, 2004)
Every part of Tokyo has its own identity, that's one of the things I like about the city; another thing I like is that even though it is home to some 20 million people, the infrastructure is so developed and possibly even overdeveloped, it can often seem like you are the only person around. This city is the urban jungle penultimate and I just love exploring all the little nooks and crannies, the underpasses and overpasses, the engineering and the rusted relics from the Bubble Years. When I touched down at Narita Airport for my first time ever on the sunny morning of November 11, 2000, and took the ride into Ueno station downtown, the thing which struck me hardest was the concrete. The legions of brown and gray concrete apartment boxes (mansions), which start rising from the Plain of Kanto halfway across Chiba, and jostle with each other ever more aggressively, the closer you get to the city. By the time you reach downtown it is all wall to wall concrete -- concrete everywhere, with barely space for a tree to poke through. Layers of concrete in fact, piled up on top of each other, like the rings in a tree trunk, recording the history of the city right through the Contraction and Expansion of the Bubble, and the less developed years before, all the way back to the devastation of the war. It depressed me -- I couldn't imagine how anyone could live in such a desert, in such a wanton wasteland. It jarred with my aesthetics, and it lacerated my soul. My first impression of Tokyo (and as we know first impressions count so much!) was that this was an ugly city. There seemed to be no trace of the ancient past (as in Jerusalem, London, Madrid), and contrary to expectations there was no in your face celebration of a Utopian future (as in the mile high towers of Hong Kong, the hypercolor of Singapore, need I mention Dubai?) Tokyo that morning didn't seem to be a celebration of anything other than bland 20th Century functionalism, replicated en masse, like a virus. Almost Stalinist, although I know that is not the right term. Still, you get the idea -- this city is The Projects. It took me years to realize that such epic ugliness could indeed be beautiful -- the severity was part of the charm (as in a Japanese rock garden or a severely pruned tree.) But by definition understated never grabs you by the balls straight up, it's like an acquired taste, or that girl who was number three... and now suddenly number one, if you can play your cards right. That's if you have any cards left in your hand!
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