Memories of Tōkyō

One of my most favourite moments of 2016 took place on September 7th. Why? What? Where?

This was in Tōkyō, the capital of the State of Japan. More precisely, it was in the Imperial district and by the entrance to the Imperial Palace. The sun was setting with its last rays still casting a faint light, bringing the park to life in an unique way. There were not many people present, the tourists had come and gone though it was not yet late (twenty to six) — but the Sun was setting and people move with it, so for that day, they had passed on.

The setting was beautiful in every mentionable way. It is still in my mind, the Sun’s quiet descent as daylight slowly receded, as it left the Imperial District, and as its last rays illuminated the former heart of the Shogunate.

Overall, I did not see much of Tōkyō as I had barely 24h there, but I am incredibly happy that one of the places I decided to go to was the Palace. Having the limited time to explore, I had started out without much of a plan and with a very limited grasp on which options were plausible. Chance ruled. The providential decisions which made me exit the underground in that station and walk down the street to arrive in the nick of time to see the day pass away are worth pondering about on their own. How much of what happens to us is chance, and chance alone? How much of this was indeterminable by anything I did?

But, with regards to this post, I mostly wanted to share this image:

Kōkyo

I can still remember the serenity. Can you sense it?

Where to Go?

I lamented not a long time ago that the majority of what I wrote here was of something else, of qualities and ideas, and of thoughts. What I have avoided writing about for a long time is this world, and I am now here to rectify this.

Today, I will just post a short list of places I would like to go to, but since I like these places so very much I think it makes sense to mention them.

As a list, here are the six locations:

  • The Cape
  • Australia: New South Wales/Victoria
  • Japan: Chūbu/Kansai
  • Canada: Alberta/BC
  • Sri Lanka
  • Kenya/Tanzania

Now, to figure out the why (insofar as I ‘want’ to figure that out), I can say the following about the places above:

  • Scenery which should be amazing along with two oceans to explore. I love the seas, and I think the seas there will be different to the ones I am familiar with. And there is also a sense of history different to Europe’s: different to what I am used to.
  • I have always had a difficult explaining this particular one. The best I’ve usually done is said: “I really like the idea of it!” I think I might enjoy it because of what it looks like in my mind — which indeed is the worst way to visit any place at all (I mean, expecting something definite), but in a sense I do not have any expectations. What I do have is a thought that I’ll have a brilliant time there. Also, there is the Lord Howe Island which sounds like an amazing place simply for being named after the Lord Howe.
  • I would like to visit the majority of Japan, including Hokkaidō (though that I would like to see in the winter). These central regions though were the source of a lot of the historic events that Japan has seen in earlier history, and I would like to see what remains of those times. And I would like to see some of the natural monuments in the area (Fuji-san!), but that is maybe more for the sake of saying I’ve done that than for the actual wish to do so.
  • I know people there. I have an idea of what the nature is like. I know I could ski. What else would I need? I don’t think that the question of “Do I want to return?” would ever be a problem in a wintery BC… =)
  • With this wonderful island, my thoughts say: “You have to come here. There is no other way.” My mind responds with an agreement: “On a beach there, you can relax in the evening wind and solve whatever problems you want to solve. You can rest as you haven’t in a long time, and you can read under the setting sun.”
  • I think that what makes me want to see these lands is the same instinct that would take me to Western Russia and the steppes. But there are no steppes any more — we have a large farmland and that is all. Where is the hope to wander the lands and see no one but the birds on the rivers? The savannas are still there though. For now.

I do not know if this is very explanatory, but even in the best of cases I like to explain by way of riddles. At the very least, these places feel right to me. So I can continue thinking of the question: what comes first? Even the first is a good year-and-a-half away in the best of circumstances, but that just makes me want to think of those times even more. This in itself is probably a fault of being human — I cannot just concentrate on the day at hand.

It will remain to be seen if this problem makes for a loss… So, my mind will continue to smile at images from thousands of kilometers away until that time.

Permanence

Is it a paradox that when one thinks of oneself as permanent, it is not difficult to do things placing the same person into the greatest of dangers? And when it is clear that there is no permanence, that end will be there, then preservation of self gains importance.

What do I mean by permanence here? Certainly not the actual body of flesh, that fades quickest. Instead of that, it might be the name that one leaves behind, the ideals that were believed in…

Maybe, but how can we know without actually feeling the same? Is it possible to reproduce any feelings as they might have been in that, that instant?

“For the samurai to learn 
There’s only one thing,
One last thing –
To face death unflinchingly.”
— Tsukahara Bokuden

 

 

Concepts of Beauty and Elegance

I also thought it might be worth to introduce a few concepts of beauty and elegance, just so it would be possible to spend a fraction of that time (that time that we spend doing nothing, or maybe… maybe, not doing nothing, but say, looking out of the window at the clouds passing by) understanding what makes that cloud, passing by, worth looking at.

  • miyabi: aspects of beauty that only a highly refined taste could appreciate (the pale shades of dye in a garment, the fragile geometry of a dew-laden spider web, the delicate petal of a purple lotus, the texture of the paper of a lover’s letter, paly yellow clouds trailing over a crimson sunset)
  • en: beauty that was more obvious and sprightly
  • aware: a pleasant emotion evoked unexpectedly (what one feels when one sees a cherry blossom or an autumn maple)
  • yugen: the foreboding of aware (at a brilliant sunset one’s mind feels aware, but as the shadows deepen and night birds cry, one’s soul feels yugen)
  • shibui: the studied restraint that might be described as knowing when to stop (in a sense, the absence of all that is not essential; a sense of disciplined strength deliberately held in check to make what is done seem effortless; the absence of the ornate and the explicit in favor of the sober and the suggestive)

These were the main concepts that I have managed to identify thus far; I am sure that there are many many more, but I felt like they would deserve their place over here, so they are here.

 Full disclosure: Explanations of the terms from Thomas Hoover’s ‘Zen Culture’

Oh Mirror Mirror

Recent days have brought destruction and devastation in much of Japan, recent weeks would add New Zealand, China and North Africa to that list. It’s possible for me to say that 2011 has seen already so many more things than would have been expected merely two months ago: Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt gone from power; open civil war in Libya; Christchurch devastated in a second earth-quake in less than a year; Japan’s north-eastern provinces destroyed in one of the largest earthquakes the world has seen and the following tsunami with now the possibility of a nuclear disaster on top of that.

Where else will this year lead us?
Saying anything definitive would be foolish given how the past months have demonstrated how nothing can be foreseen. If we did not guess what two months could bring, how can we say what nine will? Yet, from what we know we can still derive much.

What is interesting to think is whether it is really the events which are more plentiful than in past times or is it the extended coverage which gives us so much more detail. Only ten years ago knowledge of either Libya or Japan would have been low. There was something, but the development of the Internet over the last decade has completely transformed it. Two decades ago? A faint idea and TV broadcasts, nothing more. Four decades ago? TV, radio, newspapers. A century ago? Newspapers with outdated information, telegraph connections.

And yet, nothing that we actually learn of these events helps us in any way. It just creates an illusion that we know, for in no way can we know what is fully going on (yet, at least).

I have to add: That the earth-quake and tsunami hit Japan with the largest force is something that needs to be observed. Had it been any other place, we would be expecting casualties in the hundreds of thousands much like in 2004. Now, they might well reach that level but the approximations right now are kept at a few tens of thousands. It might all change, however, it is clear that the systems the Japanese have in place such as the city-wide warnings, automatic train-brakes, etc, are useful and helped saved countless lives.

It is only to be hoped that what happens to the nuclear reactors is not brought as a charge against the industry as a whole when again we have decades-old reactors which failed to act by their security mechanisms. If anything, it is a proof that we need more rapid modernization and quickly in the industry.

As said, we will see.

Iroha

色は匂へど 散りぬるを
我が世誰ぞ 常ならむ
有為の奥山 今日越えて
浅き夢見じ 酔ひもせず

As flowers are brilliant but [inevitably] fall,
who could remain constant in our world? [No one could]
Today let us transcend the high mountain of transience,
and there will be no more shallow dreaming, no more drunkenness.
— Kūkai

 

A beautiful poem. 

I thought of posting this and then writing something in addition, but haven’t managed to think of anything useful to supplement this. I am sure it does quite well on its own as well. 

[Note: Source for this specific version.]

23-01-2011: Added the Hiragana version: 

 

いろはにほへと
ちりぬるを
わかよたれそ
つねならむ
うゐのおくやま
けふこえて
あさきゆめみし
ゑひもせす

 

On Fuji-yama

The internet says that there are four routes to the summit of Fuji-yama. I believe it would be interesting to climb them all, and compare the experience. Perhaps observe the sunrise or sundown from there. Would that make a Meijin? I certainly believe it would help. That said, go is extremely complicated, and only the observation of a sunrise would not grant a victory… for a man. A god would do just fine though.

Contemplation: A Poem by Nogi Maresuki

Mountain and river, grass and tree, grow more barren;
for ten miles winds smell of blood in the fresh battlefield.
Conquering horses do not advance nor do men talk;
outside Jinzhou Castle, I stand in the setting sun.
— Nogi Maresuke
 
This captivated me, today. Quite unsure why… but I can imagine the scene so very perfectly. 

The poem somehow advances into greatness, achieving it without trouble.

It seems most fitting for a grand Lieutenant General (Rikugun Chūjō) of the Imperial Japanese Army; for a loyal officer; for a careful and considerate commander…

I don’t think there is much more to add — in any case, the poem quite puts forward what I wished to convey. Perhaps, it cannot be formulated in other words except those already present in the poem…

Most interesting, isn’t it?