Teaching In Socks

April 13, 2009, 5:14 pm
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It would be an egregious error of omission if I didn’t dedicate an entire post to discussing the cherry blossom phenomenon. I know I mentioned them in a previous post, but it’s such part of Japanese culture. Thus, where others have cultivated volumes, I will aspire for due diligence on the subject.

It’s difficult subject to discuss; while I am neither a poet or someone who has the propensity to drool over fauna of any sort, I haven’t been able to construct a proper qualitative equation to capture and convey how sublime and beautiful these trees are.

I suppose at the peak of their bloom, it looks like they are trees in winter, stacked with soft, fluffy snow. Now, as the blossoms begin to fall and paint the ground pink, even the gentlest of breezes can create that surreal, cinematic sensation of storm of swirling petals. Basically, it’s hard not to get girly about.

Perhaps what sums it up best was something the owner of nearest convenience store said to me. He said (and I’m editing his English here a bit), "many people say the Cherry blossom is a good representation of a man’s life". That is to say intensely magnificent and equally  brief. I believe this comparison originally was used to describe the life of  a samurai, but it’s still relevant.

This metaphor perhaps reveals a host of insight about Japanese culture, but  one I recognize  is something I experienced when living in London. That is when you live in a country with a vast history, people have a greater awareness of their lifespan versus the ocean of geological time. In America, where we generally seem consider the relevant history of our nation to start around 300 years ago, we do not see life through the same lens. While I’m sure this affects ones attitude in more ways than I can enumerate here, I will say in both here and England, the culture seems to be at greater peace with the finite limitations of life.

Other Points of Interest:

Below are two things I noticed at a Hanami (a cherry-blossom viewing party). We’ll go with a Pro/Con format here.


1. While not everyone partakes, it’s tradition to bring a few beers or jars of sake and get sensationally ripped while sitting under the trees. On this occasion, I was semi-working, as it was a school event, and had to abstain.  However, I can’t think of a Japanese tradition I have encountered that I support more. It seems like a supremely good method to enjoy life to its fullest. Although it was unfortunate when an older gentleman–not in our party–had to be hauled out in an ambulance.


2. There was a group of teenagers who brought a TV and Karaoke with them. Never mind that wizardry that clearly took place to power those devices (or who lugged a car battery to the picnic) but as much I support enjoying a drink in this scenario I do not support the ideal of mobile karaoke. It’s and indoor activity and no matter how many times you have tried our for American idol, you are at a crowded picnic area–other people do not want to hear your half-baked rendition of “Proud Mary”

Final Note:

I was on the train the other day, reading a fellow passenger’s paper when I noticed in the Horse Racing section, the paper had printed color portrait photographs of all the horses racing that day. I can’t imagine in what situation that would be useful or necessary, especially for someone making a wager on the races. "Oh this one has good color, I like the white spot on his nose, I’ll take him to place, the ugly one to show, and the one with the googly eyes and the blue hat to win in the fourth race".

Sophmorism and Sakura
March 31, 2009, 5:32 pm
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The last two weeks have been fantastically hectic–so much so, that I haven’t really had any time or energy to post or document any of the action. Since I’m still short on energy I’ll try and run through the two interesting points as briefly as possible–excluding a haiku format.

1. Of course during a visit from two good friends we found the first vocally xenophobic (or perhaps just anti-American) Japanese person I have encountered since I arrived. In retrospect, perhaps he was just the first one who expressed his disdain in English (I get a variety of looks on a daily basis), I’d know, but either way he was a total J-hole.

Completely unprovoked this fine gentleman was standing alongside a crowded path we were following to a temple in Nara and said, in discernible English, “I will drink Champagne when you leave Japan”. I must first commend him for the risky diss; what if we were French? However, the overall lesson I took from this experience is that this man was an incredibly  intrepid jackass. It takes some effort just to learn how to insult someone in their own dialect, let alone so elaborately. While simple f-bomb would have sufficed, something compelled this man to move further. Great job, Earth.

I was so taken aback my only reply was a lightly toned sarcastic  “thank you”.

In his defense, at least once a year, without fail a stranger lobs and unexpected insult my way; some are more memorable than others. In 2006, while walking in the West Village to pick up a package at  UPS Purgatory, I caught the eye of a man crossing the street perpendicular to me long enough for him to ask, “whatchew looking at fatass?”.

I don’t take these attacks to personally (that would be awful). I see it as God playing Cato to my Inspector Clouseau, keeping me on my toes.

2. Cherry Blossom season has begun. I have the feeling it’s a five week season that can be broken into four stages: two weeks of talking about how awesome the cherry blossoms will be, two weeks of staggered blossom fruition, and one week of talking about how awesome the cherry blossoms were.

Currently, we appear to be ending the second week of build up and anticipation. The few early bloomers light up the mountainsides and streets like fireworks, but it’s obvious by the amount of bare stems and branches that this is just the preamble.  Still the excitement is palpable.

Full blooming trees are often crowded by camera or cellphone wielding  admirers–it’s not a passion, it’s an obsession. An old lady backed square into me the other day as she was staring at particularly elegant early bloomer, and the clerk at my local convenience store has been using it as his stock bit of small talk for the last few days. The hype is to immense for me to really grasp a sense of whether it’s too big a burden for these trees to live up to, or an appropriate amount of brouhaha  for what must be an brilliant botanic spectacle.