Japan Journal 2: Beauty and Adjustment

So we’ve been here about three days, and a lot of things have taken a little getting used to.

For instance, this keyboard in the IES Center. Its default is katakana, which I know nothing about. I learned two symbols yesterday to try and find some anime, but I don’t remember what they look like. And all the punctuation is in different places, which is a little confusing.

Our lesson today, however, involved finding the beauty in the impermanence of things and the fact that everything changes, so I’m trying to not get annoyed with this. I was feeling super chill and zen after our lesson, but apparently that too was an impermanent state of being. I guess I’m just overstimulated.

What did you find aesthetically pleasing in your explorations of Tokyo?
One of the only things that I found truly, strikingly beautiful was the bark on the ginko trees at the temple in Asakusa. I can’t put my finger on why, but I loved how it was a little like pine bark, but still seemed to flow around the natural contours of the tree. It was so absolutely organic, and it was so soft and rough at the same time. I also really liked the old stone statues and the worn designs and kanji inscribed in them. I love old or “broken” textures. Chipped paint and rusty metal are my favorites. Tarnished silver is also beautiful. That uneven, opaque darkening I think compliments the contours of metal and the geometric patterns in diamonds better than polished silver. If I ever get married I would definitely want a silver ring, maybe with a simple design, so that it would age and I could see it gaining experiences as my spouse and I gain them. It’s somehow an inherantly poetic metal to me.

What does your aesthetic preference say about your background?
I didn’t grow up in a fancy home. We definitely could have lived more extravagantly than we did, but I like that instead my parents saved our money for flights to see family in Washington, driving across states for friends or adventure, or buying only large, long-lasting things. None of our dishes or silverware matches, the only room with any sort of a color scheme is the bathroom (that’s only a thing because there isn’t really furniture to mismatch in the bathroom), and the only quality that was seriously considered for any piece of furniture we’ve purchased is functionality. After that is safety, and only after that is if it looks nice – not even whether or not it matches. I am like a sponge and soak up every aspect of my surroundings, so I have carried a similar mismatched, messy tendency to my sense of fashion, how I organize my own living spaces, and the images that move me deeply. I love juxtapositions and where very different things find harmony – part of the reason I love interdisciplinary classes. But I digress. (Hmm. I bet my house has also influenced how I think.)

When Yuko-sensei asked this question I started thinking about my mom. She is 51, and is very conscious of her age. Since I was young, actually for as long as I remember, I have heard her criticize her wrinkles, the weight she gained after she had kids (even though she’s only about 15 pounds heavier than she was in college, when she was very petite). I know she has always struggled with her appearance, and she is very aware of her emotions towards food since recovering from and eight year bout with bulimia. I picked up some of her weaknesses, but dealt with them much more quickly and completely than she seems to have done, and I try to validate who she is alongside her perceived imperfections as much as I can. It isn’t out of a want to just make her feel good, I genuinely do believe her so-called flaws are inseparable from her beauty. I love her crow’s feet in the corners of her eyes because they tell me she has laughed long and hard for years. Already I am beginning to get crow’s feet, just little baby ones, and I’m happy for it because it reflects the joy I’ve experienced. All of the other wrinkles on her face tell me about her life – the deep lines on her forehead mean she has been surprised, worried and caring; the little line between her eyebrows means that she has concentrated, poured over textbooks and worked hard, and that while she has been angry, not frequently has she lost her dignity or composure. Her lips are not pinched because she doesn’t smoke. She has a little weight around her middle, and that is because she is a mother. When I hug her I can feel though that she is at once graceful, almost delicate, and strong. My mom doesn’t seem to have connected completely that her body is an archive for the full life she has lived so far. Maybe talking to her about these ideas will help her see.

The other major thing I thought of during class, which I shared, was that the bible I got in middle school is to me more beautiful than the ones I’ve bought since. At the beginning of my freshman year a new friend saw my bible and was horrified that it was taped up, warped, written- drawn- and cried-on, and about to fall apart. I had never considered it anything but beautiful up until then because it housed ideas and stories and song lyrics that had moved me more deeply than anything pristine ever could. I have tried to buy new bibles since then, but none of them ever feel right; none of them ever feel like home. Those pages hold almost ten years of my faith’s development, and I can’t imagine how seeing that experience as ugly could be healthy.

So the concept I connected with the most is sabi, the beauty in aged and used things. I don’t mind my body having scars and stretch marks because it reflects part of my experience. Similarly, I love broken windows, worn wood, frayed cloth, all because it has stories worked into its appearance.

Some other ideas that I considered engaging were:
-You may miss beauty if you have expectations or lack curiosity.
– “It is not the object – ‘Is it beautiful or is it not’ – it is us. Can we see the beauty or not?”
-An object in itself only has meaning if it has been broken. (I think meaning is probably different than purpose – I’ll have to think about it more.)
-You can only see your own nature once you’ve cut yourself from your roots. I think this might be the core of self-awareness, and why diverse experiences are at once so uncomfortable and so valuable.

Speaking of uncomfortable experiences, I am beginning to get homesick. I am usually really good about switching environments, and I’m a generally flexible person. I just miss being able to understand the stories people tell in conversation. I am an introvert, but one of the main things that keeps me from getting lonely is being able to hear other people’s stories in the way they speak and what they’re speaking about; in people watching. Here I am totally lost as far as sentence structure, and I can only get a broad idea of tone because the very sound of Japanese is so different from American English. I am hyper-aware to try and catch some patterns, and I may be getting some, but I also feel very disconnected. I think I’ll go study some Japanese to see if that makes me feel a little better. I find comfort in language.

[Pictures to come once I get back to the U.S.]

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