I sometimes feel that I will always yearn for Japan in my heart. It may be for Miyagi Ken/ Prefecture, where I spent two of my most formative years, straight after university in Durham, where I’d spent some time and energy hanging out with Japanese students.
The autumn chill reminds me of the autumnal ‘kouyou’ leaves epitomised in Naruko; cherry blossoms never fail to remind me of the first signs if spring – such encouragement in a land where it gets horrendously cold in winter, when you think the bleakness will never end.
This week on British TV, I’ve spent some time watching Japanese programmes that highlight the contrasts in that land – and that are also apparent in my life.
Yesterday, plonked out on the sofa, drained of energy again, I watched ‘Only Yesterday’, part of Film 4’s Studio Ghibli season.The main character (*spoilers alert!*) spends time out of busy Tokyo, farming in the Tohoku area of Yamagata. Vistas of rice paddies, traditional buildings, bridges and farmland reminded me of my old haunts’ scenery. She takes a road day trip to Zao in my beloved Miyagi Prefecture, overlooking Okama crater, which always reminded me of a James Bond film.
She falls in love with country life and a Yamagata farmer & ditches life in the big smoke.
Contrast this with Channel 5’s programme, ‘The World’s Busiest Train Station’, focusing on Shinjuku Eki/ Station in Tokyo. Non stop, busy, relentless. Serving business life and the party scene. Underground, overground. Despite this it’s clean and tidy. Bustling – and that’s not even in rush hour.
I love the buzz and rush of being in the big city. But living near the ‘inaka’ – countryside – also meant as I left Miyagi, I felt unwilling to return to the London suburbs where I’d grown up. In my fresher room in Durham, I could look out on the countryside. Revising for exams in summer, I’d find my mind drifting to bright yellow fields (I later learned these to be rape seed fields) many miles away, not a building in sight – so unlike the suburban scene where I’d grown up.
This busy London girl knows the need to stop but even living now near the countryside, it doesn’t come easily. The tv programme focusing on Shinjuku has turned to high suicides in Japan. Knowing the high stress pressure of that country, it is a sad reality of its repercussions. Would they be just as stressed if they spent spent time in the countryside? In a land riddled with earthquakes, typhoons and tsunami threats, even life up north is far from ideal – especially since 11/3/11.
Ah Japan, NIHON
INAKA NO HOU GA II
YUKURI SHITE NE
There’s a little impromptu haiku for you –
ah Japan, Japan
Life in the country’s better
Keep it nice and slow