31 de agosto de 2013

My world changed after Okinawa

From 31 July to 11 August I have been to Okinawa - the southern islands pertaining to Japan since the end of 19th century for those not familiar with this Far East country geography and history. Although I am still not able to understand why, I know that this journey has affected me deeply at this moment.

Since I came back from Okinawa, I want to talk about how great and beautiful it was to be there, but, at the same time, I feel like not extending myself too much in the conversation, because some deep stuff are wanting to emerge. And if it happens I go further than the simple "yeah, it was beautiful and pleasant journey", I feel I am talking about things that are "not of my business".

I mean I don't wanna talk only about how awesome the beaches are, I also wanna say how I am more and more convinced that  Okinawa is not Japan; how small details make the difference... But, more, and here things get complicated: I wanna criticize Japan for the big issues I have been seeing and working with basically since I started being able to transit out of "being able to order and buy food" bubble. I wanna say how I feel more on the side of the Okinawans, or Uchinaa-n-chi, than on the Japanese side. I wanna emphasize how Okinawa is forgoten by Japan and relegated to a second plane to see if people argue, discuss or are able to see and analyze all the matters Okinawa has to deal with for decisions it has never made, or how their culture was downsized to something like "folk Okinawan stuff" instead of "people's traditions".

Everytime I listen to a Okinawan song, I feel my soul back to the bliss and to the days full of natural smiles and relaxed fun. But I can't stop the memories of American army helicopters training over beatiful islands. I can't stop myself thinking about how people overevaluated the impact of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs (check here for an analysis more structured, that somehow confirm my view and my impressions of these 2 and a half years and makes me think I'm not that dumb) and forgot about the final and bloody battles of Okinawa. I myself saw survivors about 100 years old talking about the weeks when they were still hiding themselves - not only from the enemy but also from Japanese forces - inside caves and drinking water with remanings of dead bodies (it was all that remained to drink) because they didn't know the war was over or they didn't know where to go. On the other side, a transcription of a commander of Japanese forces at the end of war saying something like "thank you for serving, now go on with your lives, you're free". Even before discussing what Japan thinks it's freedom (that's a way more complicated discussion) I ask myself how the victims don't feel anger, how they're still alive without feeling depressed with this world.

More impressions to come...
For the song I always listen to:


12 de julho de 2013

Despedidas e acertos

Aqui no Japão, praticamente tudo tem música de encerramento. Eu nunca procurei saber por que. Só me lembro de perguntar quando ouço o tal tema de encerramento e, normalmente, não tem nenhum japonês do meu lado para, quem sabe, solucionar a dúvida. Além disso, com o tempo, aprendi a deixar de fazer perguntas no Japão, porque é assim que nos treinam a viver num mínimo de conforto aceitável em termos de convívio.

Nem sempre é a mesma música. Acho que cada lugar escolhe uma música melancólica, algo no ritmo de um andante... Mas sempre sinto vontade de chorar. Lembro de uma vez em que peguei um barco para Niijima, para acampar por três dias. Quando estava chegando na ilha maravilhosa, com o sol nascendo, começa a tocar a música e, imediatamente, quando mal havia chegado, já carregava o sentimento do fim e da despedida. Levou alguns minutos até que o sabor do mar e do verão levassem embora a ideia de que aquilo iria, em breve, acabar.

Outro dia ousei ficar na biblioteca central da universidade onde estudo, a Waseda, até a hora de fechar e, surpresa, descubro que a biblioteca também tem música de encerramento. Logo me critiquei: "Óbvio! Se o ferry tem, por que um prédio oficial da universidade não teria?". Mas em seguida veio a tristeza profunda: era uma das minhas músicas clássicas preferidas, Pachelbel , Canon (ok, lugar comum, eu sei). Fiquei imaginando: poxa, agora essa música vai ficar carregada de sentido, saindo do status de neutralidade "eu gosto dessa música". Toda vez que ouvi-la, vou me lembrar de algo acabando no Japão!

Julgamento feito, julgamento debatido, julgamento superado: todas as músicas são carregadas de alguma lembrança! Dependendo da música, há várias passagens dinâmicas! Por algumas músicas, tenho algo que beira a obsessão e nunca deixei de ouvi-las. Ganharam, portanto, significados diversos com o passar dos anos. Quem sabe não seja o mesmo com Pachelbel...

Coincidência feliz que ela tenha ficado carregada de despedida, pois é um momento de despedidas. Algumas quase subliminares, outras muito significativas. 

11 de maio de 2013

Japanese faces

When I lived in São Paulo and felt a bit lonely, I used to take some minutes to stand at the window and observe other buildings, from the closest to the far away ones.

I looked at their windows and imagined people that were on the other side. They were mostly happy doing whatever they had to do. If it was weekend and the light was on, they were gathering the family and/or friends and having a dinner or a party. People were sincerely and deeply laughing. If the lights were off, they might have gone to the cinema, or maybe I could see, look, over there! the dancing reflection of movies' lights.

Sometimes I didn't have to imagine, I could listen those buildings' voices! I could see their faces!

When they weren't happy, they were showing their emotions, trying to deal with the situation and getting the best of it. Anger! Tears! Blow!

All of this made me feel much better inside! I turned back to my table to work on all the new projects I had in mind or in the old ones that needed to be developped. Or sometimes I'd be back to my beer, my wine and movies! Lots of movies!

When I look at the window in Japan, I can't see anything. I see empty souls.

Lights on, lights off!

I don't stand at the window anymore if it's not to admire the snow or the sakura...


23 de abril de 2013

Natiolism without theory

I was doing my homework when it came to my headphones a Chico Buarque's song, "Meu caro amigo" (my dear friend) and I started thinking about militarism, repression, nationalism... As I mentioned in the title: no theory, just thinking in the library.

First I thought over Latin Americans fighting dictatorship. Then it came up to my mind how ashamed  many of my Brazilian friends and I am of our armed forces. Not that we think they are incompetent or should be better. From my point of view, it's something related to how we see our past (the coup d'état followed by the 2 decades of military government) and its consequences in the current actions and reactions of Brazilian police and government.

That's when I started the inevitable comparison with the situation in Japan. From my perspective, Japanese people in general are very apathetic, specially concerning the current reality and their recent history (II WW onwards).  I was now wondering if this attitude might be purposeful: if I don't know what's going on, I can avoid discussion, so that I can avoid conflict (the society that avoids conflicts in any forum, amen!), and whatever happens is never gonna be my fault.

 For those who aren't aware of what happens here frequently, I'll explain (as short as I can) a representative example.

There's a Shinto Shrine called Yusukuni, where the Japanese pray for the spirits of people who died fighting in wars Japanese caused or participated in, such as II WW. That means that those guys who raped and killed women in ocuppied territoies, killed people in general with extreme violence, and so on (for my "legal" friends, you can just check the Rome Statute and think that Japanese army committed basically all the crimes listed in it) are honored there. During the American occupation, American negotiators wanted the extinction of this shrine, it was a polemic issue. In the end, they had to let it go, and the Japenese "gave up" on the Emperor but maintained the shrine.

At least once a year, Japanese politicians (including some prime ministers) visit the temple under the attention of the media, despite of the official complaints of its neighbors that keep asking Japan to recognize properly the History. Every time the visit happens, we se diplomatic reactions from China and from South Korea. The Japanese government just says the visit is not made in official capacity and deplore the reactions of its neighbors ("the visit shouldn't affect our bilateral relations").

What about the Japanese people? What they say? I never heard/saw a word. They keep voting for those politicians; there's no relevant movement against the existence of the shine. Nationalism here is still strong and extreme right-wing movements that would be forbiden in Brazil for example, are allowed in Japan. It's very common to listen some groups making protests on the streets shouting, for example, "foreigners, go home! You aren't welcome".

When I as younger and didn't have a critical perspective about the world that surrounded me, I used to think we're bad bad Brazilians: we don't celebrate the independence day for real, we don't praise our military, we aren't eager to sing the national anthem, and we love our flag only during the world soccer competitions. Nowadays, I can only think we are nationalists in a much more positive way: we recognize our history and praise our positive characteristics. I used to see and hear everywhere in Europe that Brazil is related immediately to joy and beauty. Every time I said "I'm Brazilian", the person immediately smiled.
(I wouldn't see it's the same here, but this is a topic for a new post...)

8 de março de 2013

11 March 2011

It has been a while I want to write about March. March 11, 2011 more specifically. Two main reasons finally brought me here to my white table with view to the spring flowers wanting to bloom: tonight (or this morning, we can't ever say when it happens during sleeping time and is not so strong) one of the almost daily earthquakes shook my bed; also, yesterday I had realized how much I underestimate Japanese people despite of my intense love and admiration for them.

I came to Japan at a very delicate moment: just after the triple disaster of 2011. It was a very hard decision at that moment to choose between coming exactly on April, later or simply giving up. But we all came, all the scholarship students selected by the Consulate of Japan in São Paulo.

Part of the city I visited one year after the disaster. This used to be
a rest house. I was told basically everyone there died
as they were too aged and couldn't run from the tsunami
 For me, besides the professional and personal circunstances pushing me to come instead of staying in Brasil, there was a feeling of duty and gratitude which kept saying "Japan needs you now much more than Brasil needs. Help the country that helped you". I know that, actually, for the Japanese Ministry of Education, I'm no more than a number and that this feeling I've just described may sound naive. Also, probably objectively I didn't not help the country. With my linguistic difficulties and all the shocks I had suffered with, I was afraid of going to one of those volunteer works and ending up disturbing more than helping. I was also afraid of seeing things I wasn't prepared to see back then, more exactly, a war scenery.

But on the top of all those things: I was more interested in talking to people, people who were feeling abandoned and as a burden for Japan (as I sometimes think Okinawans feel). People affected by such huge problems. I wanted to know how they felt, I wanted to be a shoulder.

One year after my arrival, I was finally able to visit one of the affected areas: Minamisoma, a city also frightened by the horror of nuclear disaster. I can't describe how abandoned and opressed one can feel there. The kids are not allowed to stay outside, half of their friends moved out to the South of Japan (in order to avoid exposition to radiation) more than half of the population moved out. Stores are closed, many ghost towns surrounding it. And people who need to talk and have fun with whom is available to be their companion! It was an amazing experience! One of the moments I most felt there is hope and solution for everything, because all in all, human beings need of the same basic things everywhere in the world!
Flowers prepared by Minamisoma's children in the Happy Flower Project.
On the back, with pannels with messages and drawings made during the activity,
mostly "let's keep fighting"

Not only there I had this feeling of "reward". One of the commentaries I have most listened so far when talking to Japanese people even out of Fukushima is "wow, you are very brave to come! Everyone was leaving at that moment (2011)". And then I noticed a certain "it's good not to feel abandoned". Yes, even Tokyo was much different in 2011, I can say for sure. Everything was cancelled, postponed, had an exception because of the earthquake. The places were not so crowded as they have been again since last year and we basically didn't see foreigners around. The country was somehow abandoned and we felt that our life was around the earthquake (the past one or any other new that could strike the country). In my opinion, the brave here is not myself, but Japanese people! They keep striving, findind alternative ways to face the disaster, the lack of support, and the disregard of Japanese government.

Middle March is the time to rethink my arrival and evaluate how much Japan changed my life. My inspiration (a bit tacky or even repeatedly listened on the media, but...) is here.

2 de março de 2013

My eternal challenge in Japan: the language!

First spring flowers at Yoyogi Kouen
On the way to work (NHK International Service in Portuguese) yesterday, I saw the first flowers of this spring at Yoyogi Park. I am not sure if they were "ume" (plum) or "sakura" (cherry) flowers, as I'm not able to distinguish some species of them. But I remember someone told me the ume blooms first so it must be it.

The coming of a new spring , of this explosion of life, made me remember that I'll soon be reaching my second year of Japan and, coincidently, my 27th spring. I think it's pretty "sage" to measure life  according to the number of springs. Living in a country where each season shows its best, it's possible to notice how life changes in the begining of spring. It seems we take a new breath and start a new journey. I guess it's not for other reason that everything starts in April in Japan, when the sakura make their show!

When I think of the anniversary of my arrival and about  getting closer to the 30's, I get those mixed feelings, specially the love/hate relationship with Japan. In the end there is not objective answer for anything and I vote for a positive sum/balance. But one thing still makes me concerned and: I'm not able to comunicate with the majority of people who surround me; I'm not able to do many things by myself because I can't read or write. I don't speak Japanese.

I'm not going to say I did my best. I didn't. I know of other people who started with me and now are at least trying to present their seminar in Japanese. I got fed up with the methodology on the way, I was bored having to go there everyday and later 3 times a week (including saturdays) for 3h with no show of progress in the things I was supposed to be learning, and, I shall be honest with myself: I never wanted to learn Japanese for the language itself! I love the thing about the kanji and sometimes I enjoy learning some here and there even for fun. But the language itself I think it's weird, doesn't sound well and doesn't go well with a lot of things I like. Hey, look, it's not a matter of prejudice or hate, it's a matter of personal taste. I prefer languages that stem from latin.

But, I like to communicate, I love Japanese people, and I like to eat and try to cook good food. So my trips around Japan and my continuous challenge to keep trying to read menus and food packages were the biggest responsible for my current level of Japanese. I think I still sound stupid and I can't understand almost anything. And, well, my shame has be growing, because, if before I could say "Oh, I just arrived", now I got 2 years on my back. But still... I can o the basics.

So I decided to face the language from a different perspective: I don't have to like it, I just have to learn it because of a much more ambitious aim: to understand life around me, talk more to people (and not hide or run from them - in case you're asking, yes I do it for real) and to cook! Of course for a person like me it's dificult to learn things I don't like. But I have done it so well in the past, so why not to do it now?

Here is my next challenge: bake bread with Japanese ingredients!

Have a great spring!

27 de fevereiro de 2013

O desafio das pantufas (ou "sobre a liberdade de se vestir no Japão")

Há mais de um ano, nesse inverno de nossasinhorameudeus que faz em Tóquio, eu resolvi sair em busca de pantufas. Infelizmente, eu havia deixado minhas pantufas Peter Pan e de vaca no Brasil e, na falta delas, gostaria de buscar algo no mesmo patamar: divertido, confortável, quente e com preço justo! Foram muitos dias de procura... Passei por vários porquinhos sem graça, estampas estranhas e coisas extremamente caras.

Já estava desistindo, quando, num momento de desolação, olhei pro teto no Donki (sim, vale a pena abrir o link para o vídeo da loja mágica) pra suspirar e vi as pantufas de dragão, as últimas e, por coincidência, verde e amarelas! Mais recentemente, confesso, elas foram abandonadas por pantufas de sola com melhor isolamento e que aguentam essas casas geladas toquiotas. Mas, por muito tempo, elas foram motivo de muita alegria, diversão e aquecimento.

Um belo dia, a caminho da porta de saída, eu pensei no desafio: ir com a pantufa de dragão à videolocadora que fica no térreo do nosso prédio e observar se alguém notaria. Meu desafio é socioantropológico: gostaria de testar a capacidade dos japoneses de fingir discrição.

Ao contrário de nós, brasileiros, que vemos algo fora do que consideramos padrão ou uma muvuca e logo olhamos e queremos saber o que aconteceu, os japoneses não dão a mínima bola. Mas isso parece ser apenas na superfície. Quando eles percebem (ou acham) que ninguém está vendo, eles dão uma olhadinha "de leve". Já flagrei vários japoneses e japonesas observando alguma coisa em mim por cima do livro. Já escutei pessoas comentando a Lolita que acabara de entrar no vagão do trem. Outra forma ainda mais discreta de se sentir observado (e criticado) é quando ninguém comenta sobre uma mudança óbvia que vc fez no visual (quando eles aprovam, normalmente já vão logo dizendo "kawaiiiiii").

Desafio em mente, imaginei "opa, perai, eu não devo ser a única a pensar em descer de pijama pra locadora" e comecei a observar... As pessoas vão sim de pijama para a convenience store (carinhosa combini) e para a locadora. Hoje foi até engraçado: um rapaz de chinelo, uma calça azul de fleece cheia de corações cor de rosa gigantes com "love" escrito dentro deles e um casaco Uniqlo preto.

Acho que só o fato de não ser observado escancaradamente é uma das razões para Tóquio ser o paraíso de quem quer se vestir da maneira como bem entender (ou até mesmo dar uma corridinha de pijama até a esquina) sem se sentir mal com a perseguição dos olhares condenadores. Outras razões são parcialmente consequência do que acabei de mencionar: vê-se de tudo por aí; não há regras para se vestir! Aqui eu aprendi que bolinhas podem ser usadas com oncinha, que ninguém vai me julgar pelas minhas pontas vermelhas (copiadas da Nádia com a devida concordância) e por aí vai...

Foi assim que meu desafio das pantufas morreu...