Saigyo and Tears for Japan

Friday I had thought to begin the first in a series of blog-posts, sharing vignettes from my November 2010 travels to Japan. Something to ease me into blogging, something I could do with confidence and love for my subject.

However, in the aftermath of Friday’s earthquake, tsunami and the threat of nuclear meltdown in more than one reactor, perky little pieces about bicycles on sidewalks and scouring Tokyo back streets for mom and pop sushi joints seem more than a little out of place. Perhaps even obscene.

At present I am also at a loss for anything to say about anything, much less about a beloved place that has never been my home but for which I frequently am homesick. Whatever the reason for the attachment, it seems mutual. Japan has embraced me in wondrous ways–has done so from the first visit in 1998–with multiple disclosures at every turn. Now this. I am heartsick.

Over the past days my mind has frequently turned to the poem of classical poet Norikiyo Satoh (1118-90), better known by his Buddhist name Saigyo:

I don’t know what resides here, but tears fall in appreciation for it.              なにごとのおはしますかは知らねども かたじけなさに涙こぼるる

In hindsight, I’m soberly glad I didn’t wait for ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) and opted for koyo (autumn leaf viewing) when making my travel plans. I wonder whether I saw Japan in its last glory-days for a long time. An autumnal blaze–all orange–before what may prove a long winter ahead.

My tears fall for the devastation of it.



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