Before arriving in Tokyo, Motmannian and I made a 2 day stop in Tianjing, China, with my family. Our first day in China involved (after 12 hours of flight time) meeting with distant relatives, walking through bazaars, dinner, walking Beijing's neon-lit streets, meeting my parents and sister at the airport (where there was also a protest against China Air going on), then taking a 2 hour bus ride and a 40 minute taxi ride to our final destination in Tianjing. It felt interminable. Hot, sweaty, surrounded alternately by flourescent lights and darkness, the title of Eugene O'Neill's play came to mind as I sat in the bus, staring out into who knows where.
For some reason, when I think back on our time in Japan, I think also of night - the ultra-hip nightlife of Tokyo and Osaka, the fetish shops on a side street in Kyoto M and I chanced onto. In trying to describe Japan to my co-workers, I first latched onto its night scene. To me, Japan (and much of metropolitan China) represents the future, the nighttime future of "Akira," "Bladerunner," "Dark City," and the like, where there always seems to be rubble and dripping tarp. I think this even though Japan is amazingly clean, organized, efficient (on the sides of bullet trains a slogan reads "Ambitious Japan"). In many ways, China and Japan have developed so fast, and their metropolises dwarf anything we have in the States - glass, concrete, steel, neon lights, clubs, all to the nth degree.
We did see temples and palaces, zen gardens and traditional streets in Kyoto. But what still overwhelms me is the embrace of technology, speed, development. This all ironically linked to the past - for both China and Japan, and most of Asia in general. See John Dower's Embracing Defeat.
A Korean American friend of ours visited the night we got back from Japan, and he shared his ambivalent feelings towards the nation and its culture. Never mind, they weren't ambivalent. At some point he said, "They shouldn't have bombed Hiroshima - they should have bombed Kyoto, with all its national treasures." And, disturbingly, I felt anger welling up inside myself as well as we canvassed Japan's inability to apologize or even recognize its crimes against the rest of Asia. An entire generation is growing up in Japan without hearing about the Rape of Nanking or Korean "comfort" women. They ask, "Why do other Asians hate us so much?" much the same way Americans ask, "What does the rest of the world have against us?" Where are the Holocaust memorials and remembrance days for Asia? Why is there no Weizsacker for us?
This anger felt new to me. I had been so used to defending Japanese culture, especially to my mom, who despises it. I'd spend the last 5 years in and out of grad school thinking of the alternative side of history, questioning the American perspective of the war and the bombings, reading, and watching movies like "Grave of the Fireflies." I could not bear to read the eyewitness testimonies published in this 60th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the accounts of the (still!) proud pilots who dropped the bombs. And yet now I felt ready to be angry, to have a simple view of history. Them. Us. Murderers. Fascists.
In one of our debates on Japan (during our tour!) my dad said, "All human nature is evil." There is no Japanese hiding of atrocities that China or the U.S. or any nation does not also attempt for themselves. My God, and where are we headed? Where is the hope?
So over my marveling of cultural hospitality and courtesy, the pleasure of witnessing attention to every aesthetic detail, the delight I have in Studio Ghibli, and an appreciation for ascetic philosophy and poetry, looms the shadow of history, and conflicted thoughts about nationality and ethnic identity. There was a theme to this trip, in hindsight, but not a theme such as "war" or "shopping" or "food," etc. Rather, the theme is a movement, from day to dark.
O'Neill wrote Long Day's Journey into Night of his family, and it served as a propitiation of sorts. If only something would serve the same purpose for the family of Asia. Walter F. Kerr's description of the play (on the back of my copy) strikes me as appropriate:
I think [O'Neill] wrote it as an act of forgiveness. Not as a pontifical forgiveness, mind you, not as an absolution for the harm that had been done to him. That he was damaged by his family is only a fact now, a piece of truth to be put down out of respect for the whole truth; there is no residual rancor. He seems to be asking forgiveness for his own failure to know his father, mother, and brother well enought at a time when the need for understanding was like an upstairs cry in the night; and to be reassuring their ghosts, wherever they may be, that he knows everything awful they have done, and loves them.