You can tell a lot about a person by convincing them to let you into their home and look around for awhile.
Oof, did that sound weird-creepy? That was weird-creepy.
Let me start over.
I’m not a particularly material girl (I don’t hold onto a lot of stuff, Marie Kondo would be very bored here) but I’m looking around my family room, and Holy Knick-Knacks, Batman. There be significant Japanese tchotchkes here.
Somehow, despite my propensity for minimalism, I’ve held onto fragments of memories of different times in my life, all of them centering around this one small country in Asia. Pieces of the puzzle of what brought me there in the first place, and what I brought back with me, and what still matters.. Things like:
- Every Hayao Miyazaki film available on DVD, plus a version of Princess Mononoke on VHS imported from Japan that has the distinction of not including English subtitles.
- Two unsharpened steel katana (Japanese long swords, the primary weapon of the samurai for the 700 + years of their existence), resting nonchalantly on top of my piano (because I’m mechanically uninclined, and cannot put nails into walls in a straight line, so I barely hang large works of art, not to mention secure wall mounts for heavy weaponry).
- Multiple framed ukiyo-e (Japanese block prints, popular from the 17th – 19th centuries) that I inherited from my grandmother on my father’s side (only one nail needed per print – I can handle that).
- A set of okoto picks (for the Japanese harp, where more likely than not you would hear someone play “Sakura, Sakura” over and over again)
- Three miniature Japanese shops with traditional thatched rooftops, selling soba, fried food, and other general market fare
- A paper fan that was part of my kenbu outfit (literally translated, “sword dancing”, this is a nearly lost art of dancing (if you can call it that) to 12th century Japanese chants — the “dance steps” being kata, like in Tai Chi, to homage samurai preparing for oncoming battle)
Not a lot of “stuff”, but context is everything. Because if you were to convince me to invite you into my home (in a not-creepy way), you’d see … barely anything. Oh, you can tell someone lives here, but perhaps they don’t hang around that much. Nice hardwood floors, but not much on them by way of furniture, or even area rugs. There’s a couch and TV in one room. A long table in the dining room area beyond that. Curve to the left, and there’s a small table in an all-white kitchen. Hardly anything on the walls, and what is hung looks slightly askew and misaligned, as though hanging by pushpins or on old nails that were left over from a previous resident (because they are).
Then you go into the last room, slightly outside of the main circuit when you walk in front the front door — possibly an add-on to the house at some point, there’s even a break in the flooring — et voila, stuff.
And lots of it. In positions of honor. Stuff that sits prominently on shelves, and on top of the piano. And there are tables, and a couch, and comfy chairs, and an area rug and …
WTF, DID I JUST CROSS THE BARRIER INTO A PARALLEL UNIVERSE?
Quick look back. Nope. Still minimal as all get-out, everywhere you look. Except here.
What does it all mean?!
The easy answer is, hot damn, I must really have it bad for Japan. But why? Why did I pick this place of all places to obsess over?
It wasn’t the first foreign country I was exposed to — my great grandmother on my mother’s side spoke Ukranian-Polish to my grandparents which they had to translate to the rest of us (which was many levels of code-breaking cool), and there’s a distant possibility that we’re related to the Romanoffs (tres sexy), so shouldn’t Russia have been the one that sparked my desire to go explore my roots?
Or what about the languages I taught myself as a kid — Latin, Spanish, Polish, French — and I would go on to choose French for my required foreign language credits in middle school and the first part of high school. What, Paris wasn’t good enough for me?
I mean, seriously, who creams their shorts for the land of grown women fawning over Hello Kitty, and grown men fawning over preteen schoolgirls — in the midst of all these other seemingly sexier influences?
And why go nutso over anything, to the near exclusion of all others? What is that turning point, what makes you turn off all the other faucets running into your brain so that all the energy can flow through this one particular turn-on?
Maybe that’s just what comes with your lifetime pass to this particular amusement park. In the crazy experience we call life, maybe some of us are simply wired that way — our unattached neurons start building their synaptic connections as we pull our focus in one general direction that catches our attention, which becomes a discernable subject, which becomes a collection of various interesting shapes and functions, and so on down the line. We zoom our view into the rabbit holes of that Thing or Idea or Place or Time (and the most rewarding ones have all of the above), and soon enough, that becomes more engaging than just staying on the sidelines, viewing the world through a wide angle lens.
We need to feel the rush of getting closer to something, something that is incredibly far away but we can feel ourselves shortening the distance, and the dopamine zing of knowing that we’ve just added a piece to a gargantuan jigsaw puzzle. And the closer we get, the more pieces we slide into place, the more energized we are that what we’re doing has worth, has meaning. Regardless of whether it actually does anything officially “helpful” for anyone else. The growth in knowledge and understanding — or more to the point, the feeling that we’re growing in knowledge and understanding — is intrinsically valuable.
I think that’s fairly close to what happened between me and Japan, and Japanese, and their art, their culture, their changes, their societal rules. I started looking, and I didn’t want to stop. So I didn’t. I haven’t.
I suspect that’s also why I’ve held onto so many of these artifacts from decades of mining the cavernous depths of my Japanese experiences. It’s still very much a rabbit hole that I want to explore, and haven’t nearly seen the bottom of yet.
And I think that’s why I absolutely adore visiting other people’s homes, and finding those fragments of what they really care about evidenced in their various rooms, or maybe just that one room off to the side that doesn’t quite seem to fit with the rest of the place, but you can tell the moment you walk in that this, THIS, is the heart. This is what keeps everything circulating.
Or maybe I’m just weird-creepy. I’ll leave that to you to decide.