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04/30/2012

cherry trees and eccentricities

 

Campus sakura
Sakura trees along Sophia-dori planted by alumni

 The sakura cherry blossoms only last for a week or so once fully in bloom. Embarrassingly enough, I wasn't aware of this until about halfway through that time, after which I suddenly understood why Japanese people as well as tourists were taking pictures of them. As others have mentioned here, (amid a wonderful collection of sakura pictures I recommend for perusal), the fleeting beauty of the cherry blossoms is associated with a concept found in Japanese art of all kinds: mono no aware. This term means a sensitivity towards the impermanence of things that gives one a greater appreciation for their beauty. After seeing this concept evoked so frequently in Japanese anime, it's been great to witness in its native environment.

A group of the Japanese people in the dorm I'm staying in gathered a big group for hanami--a flower viewing picnic--on what I've since realized was Easter Sunday.

Hanami
Hanami at Hikarigaoka park

This was a simple occasion. I ate, I drank, and I participated in a tipsy, exhilarating, and ill-conceived game of soccer. We used a basketball for a goal at one end and a frisbee at the other; it worked about as well as you would expect. In addition, we essentially played through a passing crowd. Normally I might have been worried about us being disruptive, but space was so understandably limited that passersby either kicked the ball back at us in good humor or expertly stayed out of its way. There was even an elderly lady who dodged a stray ball with such ease we had to laugh. It was also nice just to lie about surrounded by the blossoms. Oddly I didn't mind how crowded the place was, because everyone seemed so laid-back. A whole extended family next to us even let us use some of their blanket, although they later expected me to take a group picture of them. It continues to make sense to me, though, that those living and working here really know how to relax when they do.

Tocho plaza copy

TochoAnother sight that's left quite an impression on me is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, apparently known also as "Tocho." Most people in my program probably saw this during a scavenger hunt the first week here, but my group missed it at the time. Personally though, I'm glad I got a view from my roof first to warm me up. Even the plaza in front of its entrance is built to Adam and evesuperhuman scale, and a marvel to behold. There are nameless statues ringed around its semi-circumference that are nevertheless identifiable through a timeless lens, though my favorite one was pretty unmistakable. I can hardly describe the view from one of the main building's two observatories, though if I were asked to advise a fellow traveller planning a visit, I'd say this:

"The observation lounge of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building should not be approached lightly, especially since it only takes 35 seconds by elevator to ascend 45 of its 48 stories. You might have some notion of preparing yourself after the elevator attendant lists these numbers and shuts the doors, but chances are you'll be too busy staring at the floor-number display and popping your ears. When the doors open again and you go to the windows, peeping over the tops of neighboring skyscrapers and witness, all at once, the sheer sprawling madness of Tokyo, your brain might start to feel a little out of shape. It might also begin feeling small, very very small, so small and tired in fact that it might want you to go sit down for a bit, before you get up to look out the other side."

At least, that was my experience.

View from tocho

I'm genuinely in wonderland here, but it's not all jokes and tea-parties. That said, classes are going fairly well, especially when I manage to get to them on-time. It turns out the commute is more challenging now that I'm attempting it nearly everyday. I also find myself tasked, (through my own cursed ambition), with portraying a historical Buddhist leader with a bit of a Jekyll-Hyde thing going on, but I'm up to it. There was one especially rough day though when I was eating lunch on the go and dropped one of my chopsticks, my only recourse then being to break the other one in IMG_0383half and continue eating, looking like a giant with toothpicks. I think it was this same day, however, that a couple of friends and I found a nice sushi-go-round place in Shinjuku. The great thing about this city is that it doesn't run out of surprises. For instance, the other night I saw a man in a diner wearing a hat that had "Fort Worth, Texas" sewn on it. I accosted him and inquired as to what the name of my hometown was doing on his Japanese head, but he apparently had no more idea than I. That the hat in question had somehow made it to the diner I had no objection to; I did, however, hold some reservations on the behalf of sanity as to the fact of us both being there on the same evening. Of course, at the same time, I was terribly pleased.

 

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