April 7, 2003
Another week gone by, and one more week to go! I have never been to Japan before this week, whereas I had visited at least briefly all the other countries, so my time here has been really incredible. I arrived in Japan last Tuesday morning and took a mini-bus from Osaka to Kyoto, which was about a two hour ride. This was a fabulous way to begin my stay here and I was basically given a free tour of the area. A lot of freeways at first, but once we reached the southern part of Kyoto I was amazed by the colors, the cleanliness, the amount of bicyclists, and the organization of the city.
Japanese everywhere, which, I know, might sound obvious but many of the countries I have visited this semester have had a very strong English influence that is seen on the street signs, store signs, and restaurant names. English is very limited here, and while this has been challenging for me, it has also been a rather entertaining game of charades and point-and-guess. Whereas with a language such as French, that is slightly familiar and has a relatively similar sentence structure to English, I can at least pretend I know what is happening around me. But here, not a chance! The language flows in such an unrecognizable manner to me, and there are many formalities spoken in each sentence that I am never quite sure when a person is done speaking, let alone how I should respond to them! I have picked up a few important phrases like ?arigato? and ?sumimasen,? which mean ?thank you? and ?excuse me? or ?sorry.? These phrases are used in every sentence, it seems, and are such a sign of the great importance that greetings or certain formalities in speech are in Japanese culture.
The highlight of my week has been undoubtedly the blooming Sakura trees that have literally exploded all over the city this past week. The flowers only blossom once per year and only remain on the trees for about a week, so my timing here has been impeccable. They began to bloom the day or so after my arrival and have only just begun to fall to the ground, leaving the ground covered in light pink petals. I have watched the trees transform from bare brown branches into the most beautiful, wispy, cloud-like trees that, according to tradition, bring along with their arrival the beginning of spring. The Sakura flower is the national flower of Japan and the entire city has seemed to join in the change of seasons with hana-mi, or ?flower viewing,? parties. We also joined in the fun, and the Friends World boys threw a hana-mi BBQ last weekend and we all sat around grilling fresh fish, meat, and vegetables in the shade of the trees. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday, let me tell you!
And last night I had the opportunity to go with a Friends World student to her Noh rehersal, which is a dance/performance group that she is a part of. Noh is a form of traditional Japanese dance; the dancing is quite slow and meditative for both the performer and the audience member. She was the only foreigner in the group, which consisted of three other Japanese women and one Japanese man. It was quite an incredible experience for me to be able to watch each member individually perform a short, few minute dance piece. The other non-dancing members were sitting in a line on the back wall singing a beautiful, traditional piece along as the dancer moved across the floor, slowly, sliding her or his feet across the tanami mats that covered the floor. Rachel, the student I went with, spoke beautifully about her experience dancing Noh and about the intense effect it has on both the performer and the audience. I noticed their eyes, how their movements were coming from a deep place within the dancer. Rachel described the dances as timeless, which I thought was a very vivid way of visualizing the movements and meditative attitude Noh embodied. It was a moving experience for me to be able to see each member of the group rehearse their dance, to share their dance, and I am thrilled for Rachel because she is able to connect with this part of Japanese culture in such a beautiful way?
I have been able to continue my research with great success here, and have had the opportunity to speak with the three faculty members here and the majority of the students. It is always so interesting for me to hear how students became involved with Friends World and what their present interests are. Students here are studying anything from the traditional Japanese art of tattooing to Noh performance to Japanese environmental groups, which is the same wide range of interests I have encountered at each Center. Because all the students are so different in their focuses my interviews have been rich with diverse opinions and perspectives, something I think all interviewers would hope for.
I have one more week here in Japan and then I am heading home?. I had hoped to go to the China Center but things didn?t work out, unfortunately. I guess I will have to do my China Center research from home. But I think I will be ready to go home in a week; it has been a long, incredibly few months?
Much love to you Lucas! See you soon!!