Saturday, March 05, 2005

159. JAPAN

 Posted by Hello

is a neon tangle
of buildings and streets
and black-haired people
scuttling among
indecipherable signs
flashing flashing
with vending machines
on every city block
condoms and coca-cola and coffee
beer and cigarettes
farm-fresh eggs
whatever you want but don't really need
in a never-ending
mechanical amoral hedonistic

when you step off the plane
for the first time
overwhelms your senses
and makes you
think seriously
you are on some other planet
nobody understands a word you say
but when you
leave the "gaijin" cocoon
tentatively, slowly
full of misgivings
as when you first do something unusual
you can't help smiling

sucks you in
even Tokyo
a frenetic urban nightmare
with a whiff of drains
your roving imagination
your sliding divorce
from familiarity
this country
this whole damn archipelago
Disneyland on wheels
and when
you get food drink and shelter
(a job)
you start to think
hoo boy!

revolves around you
you are a drop-in from Mars
you can't understand
you can't speak
you can't read
and you sure as hell can't write
you wander about like
an amiable impressionable
and this is when
the first great decision comes
you either
seek out other exiles
to complain to commiserate
to criticise
or else you
jump into the strangeness

is surprisingly
of opinionated loudmouths
from overseas, but
when you crawl out
from under that shell
you start to discover
a different country
in which delicacy
of feeling
and a strong reverence for ancient traditions
still exists
in a quiet restrained
understated way
as if the people
were shy to share
age-old convictions
with yawping barbarians

is umbillically attuned
to each passing season
festivals and family gatherings
are faithfully observed
from generation to generation
but done so casually
so confidently
you sense
with a surge of sudden knowledge
that you are walking
in the presence of the past
and the long-dead generations
look down benignly
and with fond affection
on the children of the present
you can feel that
and after a while
want to be part of it

is almost wilfully
we think of them
as a nation of worker robots
in a way that repairs our pride
and appeases the pain
of Pearl Harbour
Bataan, the Bangkok Railway
and puts them down
belittling the fangs of a former enemy
(a formidable people when aroused)
who scared
the living bejesus
out of our grandfathers
but you wouldn't know it
now, with everything
so clean so polite
so efficient
you can drop your wallet on the street
and pick it up next week

begins to open
its inner doors
after fearful painful struggle
when you start to crack
the hard nutty core of language
in the first three years
sweating blood
you think you are doing well
in the next three years
you come to realize
you know nothing
so when I saw
that fashionable movie
Lost in Translation
I thought: what these people
are doing is celebrating
their own incomprehension
their alienation
in the hope
of getting back
to the Real World soon

equally real