The stench of Japan fills my nostrils



It is snowing. I haven’t seen it snow like this for over 20 years. The minutes slip by and still it snows. Through my sliding glass doors I can see it pile up on the roofs of this dirty city. Grey sky merges with a sea of grey concrete. It sickens me. Tsurumi Shrine’s roof looks heavy, unnatural even, though it covers a space supposedly closer to nature than the buildings around it. 

I think about the garbage that floats festering in the local river, and of the trees in the city that have their limbs needlessly cut off every fall. My mind wanders to when I visited Nijo castle and Ninomaru palace. My fellow site seers walked through the halls glancing for mere seconds at the paintings on the walls, their feet covered with slippers, their conversation not on what their eyes met but some trite happening at Isetan Department store. They’re missing so much. The feel of the wood on your feet. The intricate carvings that line the halls above them, the patterns on the ceilings, even the covers that hang over where nails were pounded into the wood. None notice the lightly incised graffiti that catches just enough light to be visible on the wooden walls. None wonder who wrote this, and how long ago? I think of Kukai and wonder if he would cry to see what Japan is today.   

Out in the distance I see Abeno Harukasu tower puncture the grey sky. An ugly uninspiring building. A modern Babel tower. A testament to shop, shop, shop and the disregard to nature that abounds in this country. Elsewhere on the horizon I see new high rise apartments being built in replace of empty lots or vacant run down homes that used to hold a hint of Higashiosaka’s traditional architecture. Run down homes that could have been renovated and rented just the same, and empty lots that should be turned into much needed parks.   

A silhouette moves past the windows of the elementary school across from Tsurumi shrine and I wonder if that child will grow up like the majority of the Japanese people: apathetic, selfish, unable to express an opinion, unwillingly to challenge injustice, with only shopping as a hobby, a believer in the excuse that since Japan is an Island nation its ostracization of people from other countries and its erroneous belief that it is a mono-culture is okay. I wonder if that shadow will be a child that will look at my daughter and bully her simply because she has a father that is not Japanese. I wonder, will that shadow be an adult that will call my daughter Gaijin when they see her, even though she was born and raised in Japan. 

I recall Isamu Noguchi’s words from 1973. 

“The fact of the matter is that the Japanese do not see foreigners as another person equal to themselves because Japanese are Japanese and everyone else is a foreigner.”

I also think of my Japanese coworker’s hesitation and lack of confidence in answering whether or not she believed Japan had changed.

I think also on America, and all the things that disgust me about it. All of the emptiness of the people who live there. All of the injustices that people turn a blind eye to. An SOP. There is nothing here in Japan that surprises me, I never felt culture shock. I only see a distorted reflection of all the other modern countries. 


originally written three months ago.


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