Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sunday, May 27, 2012 Disapprovals, Conversations, and Gardens

Chad drives me to the eki (bus/train station) for the 7:30 bus to Sendai and I tell him I know now why the bus driver was annoyed when I got on two weeks ago for my ride into Ishinomaki. When the bus pulls up you're supposed to get out of line, open the outside luggage bin, throw your suitcase in and get back in line; nobody does it for you. Not knowing this when I arrived, I dragged my big old suitcase on the bus with me. Chad says, "actually I'm infamous for that very thing--three trips now I've forgotten my luggage in the bin underneath and had to choose: 'do I miss my flight waiting several hours for the bus to make another round trip, or just leave my bags behind?'" The bus loads up, all the seats are full as the last eight people get on the bus. In unison, they all reach below the armrests to their right and with a couple of magical flips, extra seats fold down into the aisle and they all sit down.
As we're pulling out of the last Ishinomaki stop before Sendai, a little kei (keijidoosha mini vehicle class) truck seriously runs the red light with the bus just missing it, the bus driver honks and the whole front half of the bus lets out an "oooh" of disapproval. We leave the hills behind, driving into Sendai with the flooded rice fields reflecting both the blue sky and the office buildings, and the white diakannon (buddhist goddess statue--image shown is a much smaller one near the BeOne house) is gleaming against the hazy hills.

Leaving the bus, thankfully I remember to grab my suitcase before I walk up the steps onto the elevated walkways
(wonderful inventions) over to the station for the shinkansen (bullet train) to Tokyo/Ueno.
Now I have some time to reflect on what Jonathan told me about conversation styles. For Americans, talking is like tennis; we lob responses back and forth at each other adding our 2 cents' worth, your story, my experience, her opinion, and so on, changing subjects with each shift of the wind, until everyone's had a say. In Japan, however, conversing is different. You know how with volley ball, the first two hits are supposed to be "sets," so the teammate at the net can shine with a brilliant offensive shot? And so I'm learning the Japanese way to listen, responding at the significant points with "oooh," and "soo, soo," and "soo desu ne," and if they pause asking leading questions to draw the speaker out until they have said everything there is to tell, and even then at the end, everyone nods and there's a long pause just to make sure. Of course the drawback is if you get someone who likes to talk. . .

Checking my bag at the KAL counter at Narita International, I use a little Japanese, so the agent asks me in Japanese to place my bag on the belt, and I ask her to say it again slowly so I can make out each of the words, but she says it again slowly in English, gently reminding me that "time is money," which is fair because she's not paid to be my tutor, and she also warns me that I'll have to claim my bag in LA and walk it through customs before rechecking it for SFO. After immigration, I'm confronted with what seemed like a mile of duty-free purses, watches, jewelry, cosmetics, fashions, liquor, tobacco, gifts, and souvenirs, and all I want is a ball-point pen and a package of dried fruit.

Waiting to board, I think about what Jonathan said yesterday, that you study your comparative religions, but then you don't accomplish much if you try to have a debate between religions, because it's not so much a Buddhist or whatever that you're having a conversation with, as it is a person who may believe this or that, or have a certain set of experiences or attitudes, and what you want to know is what they care about, and you hope that your example is (mostly) blameless and that you have something to share in winsome words that intrigue or challenge them about those things they care deeply about.

I'll finish with some random pictures: clusters of cemetery monuments found anywhere and everywhere--on hillsides, in the middle of rice fields, in the middle of the city.
One day under an old shrine near the oyster farm, we found rows of wooden tablets. Both Shinto and Buddhist traditions use names for honoring the dead. Included on the shrine shelf in the home are the ihai tablets.
In addition a Buddhist monk may bestow a kaimyo (posthumous "commandment name") for the deceased.
Initially written on wood sotoba sticks, then engraved on the grave marker, the best/longest names cost thousands of dollars. Shinto ihai (namestick) tablets are smaller and only carry the name of the deceased plus the word "spirit." One of the sad results of the tsunami is that thousands of ihai tablets from homes and shrines were washed away. Worse--in Onagawa and Minami-Sanriku almost as many tsunami dead are missing as those whose bodies were recovered.
This is devastating in view of the deeply felt duty to properly care for and respect the dead. Note: temples are Buddhist; shrines are Shinto.

In the fishing village past Okawa, we all commented on the sad sight of a house and a once-beautiful garden, ruined by subsidence and dead from salt-water. Compare it with gardens it must have once resembled.

Ahh, the trains. Local, express, bullet trains. All electric powered. Run like clockwork. Innumerable tunnels. More than the tollways or highways, they are what tie Japan together.
I couln't help taking more pictures of train stations including the three story escalator at Ueno.

Can one tower support any more power lines? Japan is having a major national debate now over the possibility of continuing forward without nuclear power. Some new homes are being built with solar power installed.
For every main street in the cities, there will be 3 or 4 narrow lanes that look like an alley in the U.S.; it is hard to see how two cars could pass, but they do.

In the Ibarazu neighborhood, a strange spectacle played out each workday. Hanging on cables, an unmanned yellow demolition tractor crawled down the face of a sheer cliff and began hammering away at the rock face, while a human (operator?) lowers himself on a rope above it.

Pictures of Kadonowaki Elementary School have become iconic images of the disaster in Ishinomaki. Located at the base of the hill below hiyoriyama park about a kilometer inland from the waterfront, it became an evacuation point during the tsunami.
But a wall of cars and debris were jammed up against it and the hill and later that night, along several blocks a fire began, fueled by the car gas tanks. Today, with several square blocks in front of the school completely cleared, it has become a venue for nighttime morale building concerts. In addition to these photos, see the link to a picture from inside the school.

I couldn't leave out a picture of the typical Japanese letter carrier delivering the mail by motorbike. I will leave you with a picture of one of the ubiquitous Japanese driving ranges and links to Boston Globe 3 month and 1 year before and after pictures:,

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