Monday, November 24, 2008

Of Dirty tap water, Autumn leaves, Nature, Trash, and Depression

Saturday morning, as I sat in Kawasaki talking to some guy who saw me studying kanji and decided to invite himself over to chat (you know, a supposedly "shy" Japanese), he began to question me about all the usual---Is Japanese difficult? Is kanji hard?; Where are you from?; Are there any Japanese there?; Can you drink water from the tap in the US?*; and so on, my mind began to wander to the subject of bovine feces (i.e. BS) and naturally on to nihonjinron.

In his book, Dogs and Demons**, Alex Kerr wrote about how folks in modern Japan were somewhat less conscious and respectful of nature (among other things) than they were in the past. One of the smaller examples he wrote of was how people were so quick to trashcan fallen leaves in the autumn.

When I was a kid, folks back home got rid of fallen leaves too, but there was no great hurry to sweep them away as soon as they fell. We never went into the woods or parks to sweep leaves off of dirt trails as we do in Tokyo, for here one must keep nature naturally natural for the convenience of humans. And, perhaps, to give the older gents something to do for their pay.

While in a nearby park a few weeks ago when the leaves had just began to change colors and fall, I was surprised at how hard it was to find any on the floor of the park. Then I discovered the reason. The park trails had been swept clean of the ugly yellow and red fallen leaves to reveal the beautiful mud-brown dirt below. (One could assume that this was done so that nobody would fall on wet leaves until one recalls that if a rare snow falls, the same trails would be snow and ice-covered until it melted.)

Then, last Friday as I was walking down a local street specifically to look at the autumn leaves, I was pleased to see that those leaves were also being swept up as soon as they fell.

Ahh, Japan. Where we humans make nature more natural than nature itself.

When the world economy seems ready to collapse into the biggest disaster since the Great Depression (and for some reason, few whom I meet seem to be concerned) perhaps I should worry about other things.

*Alas, another fine example of nihonjinron. I have run across a number of people who seem to think that Japan is the only country on earth which has safe, drinkable tap water.

**A very controversial book to some---mostly non-Japanese---as Kerr was critical of modern Japan.

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