(This is the Niō on the left side of the main gate of Zenkōji, a large temple in Nagano. Niō are protective gods that come in pairs. This Niō has his mouth open. The one on the other side has his mouth closed. I love the power so many of these sculptures found in temple gates have. The fact that so many of them are hard to see in their dark niches shielded from the birds by chicken wire makes them all the more mysterious and fascinating.)
I’m sorry to have taken my dear time again before I got around to writing a post. I’m currently preparing for a mid-term presentation of my MA thesis. Wish me luck!
In the meantime, though, I wanted to write down a conversation I overheard in a cafe. I was eating my cake and drinking ice coffee (because it’s far too hot to drink hot coffee), when I heard parts of the conversation at the table next to me. Two elderly women were sitting there. One of them was reading from a pamphlet of haiku that the other had given her. She commented that she couldn’t write anything on the same topics after having read these, because they would influence her attempts to write. That, however, is not the conversation I wanted to relate. I’m just setting the scene.
I was trying to read an article for my thesis, but I couldn’t help overhearing the woman who had been reading the haiku. She said, “Where is God? God isn’t anywhere, and he’s not going to take us to him when we die.”
The other woman gave a little laugh, but the first woman continued, “Thinking about that isn’t much use.”
Then she said something that made me smile, because it has to do specifically with what I want to write in my thesis. She said, “It’s inside us, not somewhere out there.”
So, there you have it the two stereotypical points of view of East and West (which are hard to delineate in any case). The West believes that God or the Truth (capitalized like in all good German existentialism as some friends of mine would say) are somewhere transcendent, somewhere separate from the world we live in. The East believes such knowledge and insight are within the individual waiting to be discovered as he interacts with the world. These are stereotypes of course, and if they were really unshakeable truth, then there wouldn’t be much point to my being in Japan right now.
If these stereotypes were true, someone who grew up in the West like me wouldn’t be able to understand Japanese culture or Noh no matter how much they tried. And Japanese people wouldn’t be able to understand European culture or thought. But, I know plenty of Japanese who understand a lot more about European and US culture than I do.
There’s not much else left to do than to trust that intuition and to have faith that I can understand other people and their culture. Or is there another way? . . . hmmm. . .