17 Oct Japan Field Notes, PT 1
WHEN I WAKE UP in the morning the first thing I do is open the window. I check the sky. It’s this transition period — dawn — which fills me with inspiration.
Perhaps because it’s no longer night. It’s not yet day. There’s a beauty in that which makes us feel a certain way.
Does any night remain? Has the sun yet risen enough to cloak the buildings in golden light? Or are there still swathes of shade which slash the buildings, drench the alleys, and hold on to the cold?
Our lives comprise these sorts of endless dawns, transitions between night and day, starting and stopping, being and nonbeing, pleasure and pain.
They’re the moments throughout the day which only we experience, and perhaps they’re not worth sharing because they seem trivial. But some subtle feeling arose and made you smile, made you think, lessened the weight, brightened the sky.
We’re always going somewhere, and it’s not the destination which defines who we are. Rather, it’s the way in which we go, the art which takes us from here to there; the way we stop to say good morning, or think about which apple to buy.
It’s the little things, the simple moments, which make this life worth living.
Here are some which have impressed upon my soul during my time in Japan so far. I call them my Japan Field Notes.
I first arrived in Japan, waiting for the train to take me from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Narita Airport, from which I’d fly to Osaka. A feeling of disbelief, but also of familiarity, flowed through me.
I bought a green tea from the vending machine. Fields passed by amidst Tokyo’s outskirts. I scrambled to make the connection from Narita to Osaka with little time and scant brain power.
I rode the bus along the river in Osaka, gazing upon the moonlit, rainy night. An unknown world. A dream came true.
You never know until you go for yourself. Negativity sells. Everybody will tell us why we shouldn’t. Fuck that. Believe in yourself. If you’re being called somewhere, to something, to someone — you must go see what’s there.
No decision is the only wrong decision. You must discover on your own. You have what it takes.
After my first couple of weeks in, I joined a gym. I used to be afraid of breaking my routine. Routine grounds us, makes us comfortable, gives us a flight path. But sometimes it’s important to stray.
Your lifestyle follows you wherever you go — don’t worry that things will be different. You’ll figure it out. If you’re an athlete, you’ll find a way to workout. If you’re a creator, you’ll find a way to create.
And if you don’t, maybe that’s okay too. For me, experience supersedes routine. Don’t be afraid to get out there and try something new. You’ll always be you.
In Kyoto, an older man riding a bike smiled with his eyes as he passed. The smile could mean nothing else but be young and dumb. If you don’t know what to do, do what you’ll look back on and regret not doing.
Kyoto — artisan and spiritual, modern, retro, ancient; everything just feels of a distinct quality. Finding it difficult to find a place to go out, we parked ourselves by the canal where others were hanging.
A light rain came and went as we sipped sake and made friends.
I talked to a couple of dudes, and one was in a tough spot in life, figuring out what to do. The other was helping him out, and it felt genuine, like they had been through something important together. I could feel it.
Who would love me at my lowest?
A true friend.
The train rumbles by in the distance at the Cerezo Osaka soccer match, again and again, gleaming beneath the moon.
“A man must have aunts and cousins, must buy carrots and turnips, must have barn and woodshed,” says the 1800s transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson in The Heart of Emerson’s Journals.
“Must go to market and to the blacksmith’s shop, must saunter and sleep and be inferior and silly.”
Curiosity. Acceptance. A life of joy, love, improvement, novelty, silliness; foolishness, smiles — an ordinary life that’s nothing but ordinary, the key to this entire experience.
Life is for living. Everything I do should contribute to that.
It’s intimidating to go into a local shop and eat alone. But what other choice is there? People will surprise you with their warmth. I found a sushi spot in Tennoji, simple and delicious.
The sushi chefs had me cracking up with their IRASHAMISAEEE whenever somebody came in. Their voices undulated like mountains as their knives sliced and diced. Fantastic vibes.
I left the restaurant with an Okini! in my wake. The chefs, the servers, all started to laugh.
Okini is arigato, thank you, in the Osaka dialect which apparently isn’t used much anymore. I bought an apple next door from a grateful old couple and thought I’d continue riding the okini train. They loved it. Okini is the key to hearts around here!!
I step out of the station and into the bustling center of Kyoto, Japan. I’m working at a school here today.
For lunch, I wander through Nishiki Market and have what I think are grilled muscles on a stick, and the sweetest sweet potato I’ve ever had. Just walking around, eating the sweet potato whole in the street.
What is beautiful? I use the word beautiful a lot in my writing. It’s in the eye of the beholder, as they say, because beauty is indescribable in its totality.
It’s not the way you look, or speak, or run. It is these things — it could be, but it’s not only these things.
Beautiful is anything which makes you stop and think more deeply. Beauty gives meaning to your breath, meaning to the pain, meaning to the layout of a city, meaning to waking up day by day and doing what needs to be done.
I bought flowers for the elder woman across the street, and left them on her front porch with a letter in Japanese — what I think was Japanese—saying flowers from your neighbor.
That, perhaps, was the most important thing I’ll do in Japan. I haven’t seen her since.
It’s good to be bored without distraction. The mind is like a wandering dog in Central Park. It ambles through open fields, the bushes, fallen leaves. When it’s bored, it comes back to a familiar lawn.
A familiar thought or idea. It begins to dig. And perhaps, it strikes some gold, some long forgotten memory; a jewel that’s been buried in time. Its favorite bone.
I mix the coffee in the French press with chopsticks.
The smell of coffee fills the dojo.
Sometimes the bookstore makes the book. I was on my way to a big bookstore in Osaka which sells English books. But I passed a small bookstore/coffee shop that I’d seen before.
I stopped to check it out. Books stuffed every corner of the small store. A man behind the counter poured espresso.
The smell of coffee and old things.
The selection of English books was slim, but I found what I was looking for. Rather, it found me.
I bought Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, for 700 yen. I’ve read Walden before, but I’d rather get a used book I’ve already read from a dope local bookstore than a new, fresh book in a huge chain store.
Walden is what I need right now. Moments like this make me believe in fate.
I wonder about the thoughts musicians must have, the different places and situations where people listen to their music. In the middle of the night in Osaka, I rode my bike through the rain. Stopped for some ice cream.
Listened to Antidote, by Gus Dapperton, outside of Family Mart.
Working out in foreign countries,
Not just passing through
Havoc in my wake;
I’m laying roots.
The world is our home;
Leave it better than you
In the more challenging moments,
the days that feel meaningless,
think about the small things you love.
I think they’re more important than anything.
They keep us going.
A jacket that’s nostalgic.
A song that brings tears to your eyes.
A color that warms you.
A memory with a friend that makes everything okay.
Take a deep breath.
Look at the sky.
What we worry about now
Probably means nothing.
Enjoy your life.