When I think of Japan, the first image that comes to mind isn’t the wild, crazy Shinjuku pop world so famous the world over. I like to think of Japan as the amazing cultural and historical marvel that it is, and in my head, it is often this I see first:
Kyoto. A simple quiet lane which geishas and samurais have traversed ages ago. And also this:
Fierce orange red toris which reminds you of gateways – to the realm of the gods or to other worlds, who knows?
Japan feels like this: fierce and gentle in the same frame. Strength and fragility, rage and stillness side by side.
When I think of Japan, I think of this obscure lane that led to the traditional Japanese house I had the good fortune to find --- Ryokan Uemura.
I think of Madame Uemura –a gentle smiling face, offering tea as I arrive and a snack to tide me over until dinner. She may have not uttered more than 20 words to me, but her gestures and actions conveyed she is pleased I have come.
I think of furry Totoros made to look so adorable, but are actually quite frightening if you come to think of it. Japan has a funny way of making the terrible look beautiful. I can sense it in their backbones, the way they hold themselves as they go about their daily business.
I think of being able to eat by yourself, just you and your thoughts without the pressure of having to make conversation, not even to your food server.
What a quiet, sensitive, polite people they are. What a stark contrast to Hongkong, for example where you can expect to be shouted at for asking something as simple as “How much?” How efficient to think of simple ways to make co-existing much easier. It’s an introvert’s paradise!
I know it sounds sad to live in a city that values individual effort and personal space so strongly. But maybe only extroverts think that. Maybe this enforced alone-ness does explain the crazy Shinjuku style, and people wandering off into forests to die and working themselves to death. It's a city not meant for extroverts. But introverts will thrive here. I can tell.
I am glad I went alone, at least for my first time. It gave me time to enjoy simple pleasures like this. It would be a different experience with a toddler scrabbling about, I am sure. I missed Little Bee each step of the journey, but my time alone in an introverted place like Kyoto has helped me remember who I am as a person. I like to think that just like Japan, I am proof that gentleness and fierceness can co-exist, can be one and the same. That I can be both mother and me.