Photo courtesy of http://www.stuckincustoms.com
I was born in Japan. As a way for me to begin seeing through my boiling sadness and calm rage, and coming to terms with understanding how I needed to be in the world, I began a spiritual search. It ended at a Zen Center in Colorado, then in Upstate New York. I do not know if I wanted ‘Peace’ as they say. But I wanted some of the turmoil to not hinder me, to nail me down, to mangle me towards failure and discontent. There were some things that I had told myself over and over and over. They had come to pass. Where did I get them?
Growing up in my era, as a hapa, a mixed race Black /Japanese, a kurombo (nigger) and ‘slant-eye’ who spoke Japanese as a first language and being scorned as the other and being beaten unconscious for it, teased mercilessly, to bleed from rocks being thrown by the neighbor kids–all played their part in my puzzlement at life. It did not matter how nice I was, how thoughtful I was, how kind I was, how unobtrusive I was, or how vocal I was. I bled. I cried. Smiles by others didn’t mean much, as you may know from a previous posting in my blog. Did the neighborhood kids understand why they were having fun in tormenting? They were legitimized in doing so by the culture. How? And even if we say this was the past, we must stop ourselves. Look around. Constantly we are reminded that the boundaries of violence just change places, shift, move. It is extremely mobile and it is legitimized.
So after Zen training, I did a turn-around. Zen literally made my life into life itself. I could no longer hide from myself. Such is Zen training.
As I began teaching English to Japanese students in exchange student organizations in New York and in Seattle, and in speaking with so many people interested in Japan, I became puzzled at how many people thought of Japanese spirituality and people as ‘peaceful.’ Teachers, businesspeople, maintenance workers, etc. — ‘aren’t the Japanese nice and peaceful?’
And as I went through a Bachelors Degree program at Antioch University in Seattle in the 90s, then a masters’ program at California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco from 1999 to 2001, I was also struck at how Asian cultures were deemed ‘spiritual’ and ‘peaceful.’
People in the US, and also with some Europeans I met in the Netherlands, Germany, and Turkey, think of the Asians in a very non-historical and un-thoughtful way.
How can there be nations without genocide, torture, civil war, violence, imprisonment, exclusion, isolation, marginalization, fire, explosions, death, killing machines?
I bled from the actions of Japanese hands and mouths. I bled. Then even now, as times have changed, people think it is different. We can speak of other kinds of violence. Do people know that Japan has the highest number of murders of teachers by students? Do people know that there is a ‘syndrome’ in Japan where people just silently drop dead at their workplace? It is called “Kuroshi.’
Yes, as in most nations, there are wonderful and peaceful qualities. All cultures and nations have these aspects. But it is not the only aspect. Also, what is beautiful and peaceful? I choose to think that everything is both beautiful and ugly. Things we enjoy may not be so joyous later. Everything has a history. In this sense, our views of Asia, and especially Japan with their kimono-clad women and their Zen gardens and their smiling public, has a veil of western exoticization in it through which we might be projecting. In academics, a serious study of the practice of Orientalism, would be helpful to understand.
The building up of, gathering proof of, and the various methods of creating division and difference, to make OUR OWN culture or self different by DEFINING the other, is something we must pay attention to as a strategy. Edward Said, who first coined the term Orientalism, and has written one of the most famous and oft-read social science and cultural studies works in the world, has given us a wonderful set of tools through which we may examine how our ideas of other peoples and cultures are linked to how we OURSELVES think we LACK and what THE OTHER POSSESSES. Our social worlds did not just happen. We are all constantly creating where we are. It is beautiful. Sometimes not so beautiful. Something is peaceful. But sometimes not. Sometimes something or someone is peaceful but the peacefulness comes from violence, and therefore peace represents violence in many ways.
Watching the videos of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is mesmerizing. The pilots themselves, speak of the amazing beauty of the explosion. But it does not take away from what it did to my ancestors, my mother, and of course, to me. It is both.
I do NOT advocate being depressed and sad and angry about everything. What I advocate is thinking, awareness. In this way, we may honor a fuller experience of people and life, and a wider repertoire of choices toward justice-making, change-making, ethics, and alliance-building. A person who divides the world continually into two moral poles of beauty/ugly; good/bad; peaceful/violent, etc. will only make their worlds very tiny and limited and will miss important avenues for change. I don’t care and am not invested in all of the readers of my blog, to believe me or be concerned about what I write. I am speaking to those who want to think with me, engage in reflection, give some time for experimentation, and who care about the state-of-the-world beyond wanting to ‘win’ people over to ‘our’ side or be gone. Those things to me, are old and tired and boring, but nevertheless, people will continue with those parameters and definitions of the world. I want more thought, creativity, possibilities.
In the picture above, we see a wonderful, beautiful picture of Hakone, a famous resort location in Japan. Many warrior leaders prayed for victory at the shrine of these grounds. Many people, who planned and executed massacres and battles, came here to rejuvenate themselves. The shinto shrine here, animated their needs to fight. I am not saying it is ‘tainted.’ If you recall what I have said earlier, it does not take away from the beauty and the peace. Peace and violence are one. That is why we must continually resist. There is no rest. There is no pure place we arrive. If we do, it’s a fantasy. Or if only for a moment. It’s gone.
The question, then becomes an aspect of the deconstruction I’ve mentioned before. Our emotions and views become more complex, more real. Until then, I think we live in a fantasy world and we live out the fantasies of our leaders for them.