After he returned from his International Space Station mission, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield told Zoomer magazine (May 2017), “It’s an intoxicating and completely engrossing environment. It was how I imagined, but better. It was richer, more profound and more stimulating.”
He also said, “…my own reaction [at seeing the newly risen moon from earth] was ‘Wow.’ And that should never go away in your life. You should be awestruck as often as possible and put yourself in a position to be awestruck.”
Always, travel to Japan has, for me, presented continuous intoxicating experiences of the sort that leave me awe-struck. And those who have been to Japan know of what I speak when I say that in very many ways Japan, like space, is a largely unknowable universe. It’s modern, edgy and alien on multiple levels. At the same time it’s steeped in profound, millennia-long traditions–arts and crafts which devote extra-ordinary attention to presentation, form and beauty.
For each of my trips to Japan I have created a designated trip-journal that opens with a quote. Every time that has quite serendipitously turned out to be a thematic arc for the journey. In addition to Hadfield’s remarks, over the past few months I’ve noted a number of possibilities hoping eventually one will stand out as the “it quote.”
According to Oscar Wilde, “The whole of Japan is a pure invention.” That one always makes me laugh as, I suspect, many non-Japanese with any experience in the country might. His glib insolence grounds me in those moments when anything in Japan gets too rigid or outré or overwhelming. How splendidly ironic that Wilde got the essence of the place without ever going there. Perhaps it takes a paradox to know one.
Also fitting are Leonard Cohen’s remarks to his biographer. He said, “The years are flying past and we all waste so much time wondering if we dare to do this or that. The thing is to leap, to try, to take a chance.”
Back in 1980 Jack Lemon advised the young Kim Cattrall, “Always do the things that frighten you.” Even though “I’ve got this” on many levels, it does require a certain je ne sais quoi to venture alone into a city where I do not know one single soul. The population of the greater metropolitan area of Tokyo is said to be more than 38 million. That’s 3 million more than the entire population of Canada and might be enough to give some people pause. I’ll admit it: Some days it unnerves me.
In addition, it’s more than a little daunting to take on the study (even if only at the entry level) of an highly codified and nuanced art form that traces its origins to the sixth century–and me with language skills not equal to that of a preschooler. Still, fear is not what I want headlining this venture. On my way up the roller coaster (or more recently down the zip line) I prefer to embrace the things that thrill me.
Then a few days ago I happened upon a video clip. During a charity visit while speaking with a ten year-old child about their shared love of art, Catherine the Duchess of Cambridge said, “So you’re creative. It’s great fun, isn’t it?”
Bingo! Just like that I had my “it quote.” No philosophizing or intellectualizing or venerable poets required. Without making it complicated, tap the inner child and play. That’s the key–to make things with the same artlessness as a finger painting or a mud pie. With nothing more in mind than to create a symbol of the universe with flowers. That, and have awe-filled fun.
I’ll keep you posted as to how that works out.