Driving to a dinner party with a colleague I watch the day’s light fade in the narrow ribbon of sky overhead. I remark how beautiful little Japanese streets are.
The madcap macramé of overhead cables which knit the houses in the narrow street. The painted lines separating the walking path from the cars. Bicycles propped alongside a riot of flower pots pressed against the rows of homes (leaving just enough room for a careful pedestrian to heron-step between the pots and road).
“No,” she scoffs. “This street is not beautiful.”
This is not an argument I will win. Not even with equal language skills. She has that trait which sets her in opposition to any opinion expressed on anything by anyone.
“Then what do you find beautiful in Japan?” I ask.
Before Yumiko became a teacher she had been a tour guide which explains why, miles later, she is still blissfully working her way down the list of the most beautiful views in Japan. This allows me to sit beside her babbling brook, make mindless un–un noises and enjoy the ever-changing panorama as we drive.
Nearing our destination we park and walk the rest of the way. The overhead wires, except for a few burnished cables, have disappeared into the squid-ink sky.
The warm glow of lanterns reflects from the paving stones, music blares from an electronics shop nearby while the trains in the distance swish in and out of the station to muffled announcements, signals and chimes.
Of course, as a traveller it’s easier to give unfamiliar beauty deeper attention. Unlike my colleague I don’t have a foreign visitor to escort to a party after a long day in the classroom. It will hours before she gets to flop down in front of the television or run a bath. Then she’ll be back in the gym for early morning club activity tomorrow.
Thinking I may be guilty of the same lack of discernment in my home town, I have looked for parallel insights on my return. Naturally, when I do this I find more to admire. But as anyone who has been to Japan knows, it’s not the same.
Swept up in the commerce of the urban world, senses are constantly assaulted by the crush of people, noise and the demands of handheld devices. Therefore, such mundane aspects of everyday Japanese life are easy to ignore even though they contain a remarkable exquisiteness. Beauty this pervasive has become white noise.