IT TOOK SOME TIME–eight years–to wrap the ideas together for S P A C E | Mito, and find the story. But then, there was the moon.
The moon, the season. The season of the plum blossoms. The season of celebrating new things. Flowers…
Ephemera, the chance of having-been and the exceptional attentiveness to the very slim window of time in which you can see this, the full blooms, I mean: these kinds of sliding doors of the past segueing into the future are what I learned to recognize, to pay attention to, and to seek to get to know better when I first came to Japan.
Which was, let’s see… when… If I’m really honest, I can say that this Japangoing had gotten started when my father decided to bring me to this country as a little kid, saying to me and my brother that we just didn’t know anything about the Far East if we had those (ridiculous, unsubstantiated, completely made-up) kinds of ideas about what Japan ‘is’ (as quoted to him by us kids with those things quoted to us as per mainstream media programming). Without thinking twice about it, he got it in his head that he’d take his family to Japan. This was how I got to visit here, the first time. (In the years that followed I would come to Japan 10 times…)
Tokyo the first time was, for me—Hato Bus, Ginza, a white castle somewhere far away that you took a Shinkansen to get to, kimonos at the house and slippers, green tea, the works. I didn’t even know what those the names of those things or places were, at that time.
But I knew I was getting deeper into the layers of this place, every time, but not in an intellectual way… in an ‘I’m here and this I what I’m feeling’ kind of way. People tell me my writing is not direct, that I leave off subjects and verbs and put in a lot of air… must be the influence from my year in Kyoto… and subsequent visits for work of different varieties before settling into this trip’s: making Atelier S P A C E.
Good thing I got here when I was little, first. Before getting too attached to notions of what a place ‘is’ as defined by people not from there, I could check into it with my own eyes. Every one knows that children see things that adults can’t. And that children don’t bother trying to intellectualize it, they just internalize it. Perhaps it was that very first trip here that my father booked, mostly because his kids were ill-informed (and mis-informed). But it set things up for all that has evolved, since. Going and seeing. Talking to people. Discovering the story. Letting it make… itself. The way it wants, and how.
Language: Japanese is my second one. As I’d gotten curious about Japan, its mysterious layers and hard-to-pin-down ways of doing things that anyone from a foreign land arriving here sees right away, I decided to study this language. Eight years of it. Which included a pretty formal foundation, thanks in part to grants and initiatives and scholarships at that time from people who knew my style of learning and kind of invested in it… and so a formal education began. A year abroad in Kyoto, then an intensive summer of study at Middlebury in Vermont, followed by on-and-off short stints to work and live in Tokyo, mostly Chiba. Mostly off the Joban line. One summer I lived in Minami Kashiwa, another, Kita Kogane. This is getting awfully local. But in Tokyo… the Joban line from Mito down through Kashiwa and Kita Kogana and all the way into Tokyo, right to Ueno. As such, Ueno is my ‘hood. Walking there, in recent days, with BOSS, to see what I might remember and share with him, has called up a lot of things… Still processing much of it. I didn’t take pictures in Tokyo yet. It takes me a long time to warm up to a place or person to feel comfortable enough, like… I guess I feel as if I need to understand one or two small pieces of truth-approximation about that subject, in order to photograph. It’s important to me, to take the time. To gather the details, listen, respond in accordance when and if the time is ready. Maybe there will be a plum blossom. Maybe there will be something else. Maybe there will be nothing. All are possibilities, but you have to let things happen, right?
Cherry blossom fragrances by the light of the moon—a recurring motif in some old poetry (translated for us by the helpful if sometimes redundant placards at the Tokyo National Museum). Which was a stop on the recent pop-up, S P A C E | Tokyo, that I had hosted in Ueno (of course). Pretty neat to walk into a museum with very old things, one of them dating to 800BC… I spent most of my time with the scrolls, and then, the sutras.
Reminiscing and discerning
These kinds of things do the trick; art objects, like nature, can bring you into the present. Remind you that you are human, you are here, you are breathing… easy to get locked up in the world of oneself and lose sight of that broader perspective… you can get too focused on your narrow window of ‘this is me, this is here, and this is all there is.’ There’s more. Illuminating, to be back… back in Mito, back in Tokyo, back to the past, and back to the present.
You get talking about these specific things and you realize that you have internalized more than just the way it’s neat to watch the trains go by at Ueno. Or that you have layers upon layers revealed to you, one step closer, from ‘soto’ to ‘uchi,’ and, on the parallel track, from ‘tatemae’ to ‘honne.’ The more time you spend ingesting the things by osmosis, and mostly straight from your environment to the core of your heart, conveniently bypassing that big thing in your head so you can’t, you mustn’t, you simply do not get the opportunity, to process through the brain, but must feel your way towards some kind of feeling… whatever it is that’s your own take, that is, for you. Each blossom in the Kairakuen park that happened to be noticed, by someone passing by, was, in this way, also brought into that person’s day, that person’s world. Sure, I have my qualms about the overconsumption of images and that was why I took only one picture of the ume in bloom. One shot is good. One is enough, for me. Plus, I would hate to have my real life experience of the park (reportedly the second largest in the world among city parks, second only to that one smack in the middle of New York, where I remember once going for a walk and sitting on a bench beside a young man from Warsaw, whom I then invited, being spontaneous and idle, to wander through the sides of the park with me and talk about nothing for a few hours in the hopes he might feel better as he had been a little dour-looking—some silver spoons and a couple of fine saucers and teacups and a pot in a museum somewhere on either the East or West side, I’m not sure, seemed to do the trick (art objects, and nature—works) and we had parted company with smiles and gestures that had said, that was nice, that was good, good luck now with you, for those were the days of the pre-phone and pre-internet over communication-streams. I’ve let go of those, now. I’ve let go of a lot, in pursuit of the chance encounters that might lead to other journeys, connexions, discoveries, museums, old artifacts, like 800BC things in Tokyo or silver spoons in NY.
And the blooms of the ume–also short-lived, also quick to say hello and also, in the same breath, goodbye.
But to assign wistful nostalgia is to dilute the real experience: this is this, here and now. Time frozen is the same as infinite time. And so, we go, and so we are. Here, let me tuck myself into a small cafe for a bit, start chatting–
‘–and that’s why I’m here.’
‘A story? A newspaper article?’
‘Oh! Do you write for the New York Times?’
‘And you want to write about Mito?’ The man is in his late sixties or early seventies. I can tell he is a regular because when he enters, he is bewildered to see, I’m supposing based on context, that there are more than 0 people in the shop (he walks in and says ‘mezurashii,’ which means, ‘this sure is rare). It’s me, and an older pair of ladies, who are talking together about how cool it is to be in a place where they have been trying to go, for so long, though last Wednesday was a holiday, so–
‘Yes, I think I want to write about the Mito of today.’
He is joined by the shop’s owner, whose father I will meet in not that many days. Both are perplexed as to my choice of location to consider, deeply, for some kind of thought. ‘Mito doesn’t have anything here,’ says the older gentleman. ‘There’s just one road. That’s it.’
‘Well, we have the… let me see if I can find some information packets.’
I am tickled and humbled by their interest in helping me. I forgot. It’s been eight years since I was last in Japan. But the politeness of the society is equally as solidly in place as is the structure that guides one’s ‘how I need to be.’ Both got in the way, for me and for some of my good friends from here, of how to let go, be freer, more spontaneous, more scruffy, more comfortable int he moment, less concerned about the way society thinks you should be, and more interested in the next things than that which has been there forever. Tradition. Mores. It’s a long story, but one that I’ve been writing for 20 years, I know that sounds like a really long time, but it’s true, and will share sometime in a small circle of S P A C E in the issue, S P A C E | 東京, ‘幼なじみ’. Much to say, but I’ll save it.
Having been and being now
For today, just these things. Mito and its meanders showed DK a lot. Whereas Finland taught us how to just be, Japan is reminding us that there is a context to this. That one is to be, but also, that one has also been, and continues to become. To become your best self, to ‘become yourself,’ is really the work, isn’t it? A big kind of work. Putting it off and waiting for new seasons to come into bloom is to delay something that is more important than the coming-into-shape of one or five thousand blossoms. That something is starting, which begins with noticing, the noticing of the noticing is the beauty of the moment, that collection of attunements to the here-now is what, I feel, is poetry in a life… and in simpler terms, beauty… and art.
To the journeys, then. The new, the near, the now and the next.
S P A C E | Mito will be published on 9 July. This issue would not have been possible without the very helpful contributions of a few good people. DK would like to thank: Marita Morita, Makoto Takeuchi. But especial thanks go to Noriko and Izuru Morita along with Ravinder Kohli.