Sitting in a donut shop overdosing on sugar and caffeine, I realize that most of the “salary men” that fill up the world around me in downtown Ikebukuro are most likely several years my junior. Their faces, if you look closely, are so often young. Possibly, I think, just out of high school. The ones who hold higher positions are older, college age. The donut shop workers, I realize, are the same. And this strikes me as strange. Not because I feel old in world full of bright bushy-tailed younglings. I’ve hardly reached that age.
But because in America, that is not the norm. Or, at least, it is not the image. Perhaps, over time, it is becoming the norm. And perhaps this is a good sign of it. Young suit-and-tie salary workers being served donuts by their seniors in striped t-shirts and baseball caps with company logos.
I say this because in so many ways, Japan is the land of the future. And not necessarily in the way one might think. It is a place where young and old, cutting edge and outdated, up-and-coming and relics all co-exist right alongside one another. It is as true of people as buildings. Customs and ideologies. The culture is slow to change in many ways, and in others, it has adapted preemptively to the the future that is still years in coming.
I see this as I think of population, family structure, robotics. I see it in the way the language shifts and morphs, accommodating new words and making up its own while aggressively resisting conversion into roman script and adaption of roman sounds. Automated systems that make placing an order at a restaurant easy-peasy while banks and the police system are so heavy laden with bureaucracy hardly anything ever gets done. And if it is done, there are about five different government buildings you must go to and about ten forms you must complete. Stamps are still a legal and official signature. Stamps made easily by a machine on just about any street corner.
The dichotomy and strange symbiosis is striking.
In America (at least), we have this idea that the past must die to make room for the future. That the old must be erased to make space to write the new rules of the new world. This simply isn’t true. The odd disjointedness that the past and future create by being strapped together can be simply…overlooked. Ignored. Paid no heed until such time as it simply ceases to feel disjointed.
This is how Japan feels to me. In Tokyo as much as in the country. Farms alongside skyscrapers. Tatami floors from the Edo period in a room where art worthy of MOCA hangs on nails bought from the Home Depot in the nearest city where ancient matcha ceremony procedures are still followed to a “T” using ceramics passed down for generations and a whisk purchased at the TOKYU HANDS in Shinjuku.
When I am in Japan, despite the isolation I sometimes feel as an outsider, I get the strongest sense of hope for the future of humanity. Its this warm belly sensation that spreads in chills to my fingers and toes. It’s more than a feeling. It’s a deep understanding. A truth rooted like this land is rooted to the earth, by veins of fire solidified into rock over time. The regenerating forests of bamboo watered by dirty irradiated water are full of this one truth I cannot get enough of:
Despite disaster, apocalypse, and invasion of a future full of dread. Despite selfishness and ill-will. Despite every possible warning I can claim —
Life is a force ongoing, forever and ever.
So it is. So it goes.