There is a stillness here that hangs between the branches of the little trees and blankets the narrow gravel walkways. Even during the busy morning commute, there is a silence on the streets. It lingers on the faces of the people packed on the morning train, pressed up against each other with stoic, expressionless faces. No one speaks. They have a quietness around their mouths that makes me wonder, What is life in Japan? And where does it abide? I seem unable to read their faces, unable to decipher their silence.
Silence is more valued here than it is in America, from what I can discern. It occurs much more in conversation and daily life than I am accustomed to. Living here makes me realize how terribly noisy Americans tend to be. (I am especially conscious of this when we go on tours of the city with my UNC classmates.) Respecting others' needs, even if they are unspoken, is a top priority for the Japanese. I think this is part of the reason why silence is so precious here. I wish I understood so much more than I do.
The Japanese conception of space is something I've been thinking about a lot lately, too. It is a small island (about the size of Montana) with a limited amount of space for the millions of people who live here. So everything is fashioned accordingly--nothing is given more space than it absolutely needs. The rooms, streets, houses, cars, appliances, even books and school supplies are compact, narrow, "tiny," to American eyes. No amount of space is ever wasted. It makes me want to live more in this way when I return to the States.
As I write this, I am sitting at my desk in my room and the windows are open (the Japanese try not to use A/C). The good (and bad?) thing about living in Japanese neighborhood is that all of the houses are pressed up against one another and so you always know what your neighbors are doing. There is a newborn baby a few houses down and I can hear it wail every evening around 8. A young pianist practices scales every morning before I leave to catch the train, sometimes in conjunction with the kid with the trumpet. Right now, I am listening to a father tell stories to his young son. The boy laughs after almost everything his father says. I can't make out most of it, but I know it's something about going to school and losing your obento (boxed lunch) on the train.
This morning I participated in neighborhood trash day. Every June, the whole neighborhood comes out with trash bags and identical white gloves to clean the streets--which, to my eyes, already looked perfectly clean. So everyone picked up leaves and bits of dead grass for an hour. I wasn't very good at discerning which leaves were ignored and which were picked up. I put some photos of trash day on Flickr, if you're interested.
New photos up!
Composed June 15