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Living Among Incompatibles | - Pico Iyer Journeys -
"Yet when the floats began to move through the busy streets, in the great summer festival of Gion Matsuri, I started to notice other things below the classic surfaces. Many of the men in white-and-blue yukata, chanting a traditional song in unison, had the dragon tattoos of gangsters across their bare chests. Many of the young women running after them were teetering on 8-inch platform heels, their hair bright yellow and their skins artificially tanned in the fashion of the moment. Even some of the tiniest little boys were calling their mothers on tiny cell phones. The ancient rites were observed solemnly, with dignity and elegance; but they were woven into and around and through the most garish of modern Western artifacts. As if (as often happens) a geisha were carrying a boom box into a traditional inn.

When first I came to Japan, more than 20 years ago, these contradictions—and the serenity with which the culture lived among them—startled me every day. If the test of a first-rate mind, as Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, is the ability to hold two opposed ideas at the same time, and still keep going, then Japan, I thought, had the best mind I’d encountered in a lifetime of traveling. And in the years that have followed, the extremes have in some ways intensified, as much of Japan streaks into a mongrel, high-tech, science fictive future, while the rest remains more firmly rooted in the old than any culture that I know, including China’s. There are TVs on the dashboards of taxis in Kyoto, but most Japanese people were slower to get onto the Internet than the people of Cambodia were.

As I’ve stayed longer in Japan, though, living here on and off for almost a decade, I’ve come to think that contradiction is in many ways in the eye of the beholder, and that part of the magic of this place is that it invites, and sometimes forces the foreigner to leave, his assumptions at home. We tend to think that cultures, and people, must be one thing or the other (modern or traditional, themselves or imitations, elegant or crude); the Japanese are happy to see them as both things simultaneously. They adhere, that is, to a belief in both/and more than in either/or. And this allows them to collect an almost indefinite number of selves and surfaces without remaining any less themselves within: at a typical wedding over here, the bride still changes costume three or four times in a day, shifting from classic Shinto maiden to white-dress Eastern Cinderella to typical Japanese young woman (with many traditions alive in her).

This is, of course, a skill prized in all ritualized old societies—it’s little different from the England where I was born—but nowhere is it managed so efficiently as in Japan. In countries like America, for example, the emphasis is on “being yourself”; in Japan, it’s often on the opposite. Being “not yourself,” but just a kind of impersonal actor playing the part the moment requires (to this day my Japanese wife doesn’t know the name of her immediate boss at work, because the boss is always and only known as “Tencho,” or “Department Head”). And this is all made easier, perhaps, by the fact that the Japanese tend, I believe, to think in images rather than in ideas, and where ideas need to be consistent, images can sit side by side, belonging to different worlds, like parallel lines in a haiku. It’s not uncommon, near where I live, to see a Zen abbot stepping out of a late-model Mercedes, on his way to his favorite bar in the red-light district. In Europe, such behavior might be seen as hypocritical; in pragmatic Japan, a Buddhist priest will perform every last rite demanded of him at funerals and ceremonies immaculately—like the Platonic image of a Buddhist priest; but when he is finished, he will go home to his wife and children, and pop open a beer in front of the baseball game on TV. He’s played his role, he’s allowed to slough off his robes.

The first thing to remember when coming to Japan, I therefore tell my friends who visit, is that everything is reversed here. The Japanese read their books from right to left and from back to front (as it seems to us), and they take their baths at night, before they go to sleep; even their baggage carousels move in the opposite direction. And so, naturally enough, what is exotic for them, and what is normal, is the opposite of the way it might be for us. Sometimes, here in Nara, where I live, I go out at dusk and walk along the great park that surrounds Todaiji Temple, home to the largest bronze Buddha in the world. As night falls, the only beings visible are deer, grazing under trees or pricking their ears at me, like ghosts come down from the hills. The place is largely deserted because most of the local Japanese are heading in the opposite direction, to the “Dreamland” amusement-park 10 minutes away.

The other thing to recall is that the Japanese keep their different selves perfectly organized (as everything else is here) by drawing strict lines between different worlds. There is one set of rules and expectations for men, another for women (and, indeed, one set for “normal” women, and a very different set for those who belong to the “mizu-shobai,” or water-world of the night district); in the same way, there are firm divisions between the office world and the play world. That is why the same Japanese businessman who is so flawlessly polite to you in a meeting will vomit in the street; and the one who fashions a delicate ikebana flower-arrangement will be incomparably ruthless when it comes to war."
picoiyer  2009  contradiction  and  yesand  boithand  eitheror  multiplicity  japan  tradition  culture  people  society  compatibility  incompatibility 
july 2015 by robertogreco
Why we should leave our fingerprints for the future. - Do Lectures
"Robin [Sloan] tells us how and why he writes. And how to get the most out of what you do."

"Lightness of inspiration [TCS example, collecting for unknown future needs]
Lightness of motion [walking when stuck, solvitur ambulando, lightness of the mind and body]
Lightness of digital [enabling a start]
Lightness of dependency [this AND that, not this OR that]
Lightness of heart [because dwelling on death can lead to depression]"

"Time is the ultimate body shop."

"When you are light you are best able to answer the deepest and darkest questions."

"Since death alone is certain and the time of death uncertain, what should I do?"
mindbody  motion  ephemeral  ephemerality  dolectures  doing  making  fingerprintsforthefuture  ambition  purpose  time  whywedowhatwedo  why  craigmod  ebooks  digital  friction  resistence  collectingforunknownfutureneeds  future  collecting  observation  noticing  howwework  meaningmaking  happiness  and  thisandthat  haiku  2011  normalheights  mrpenumbra  living  buddhism  death  life  meaning  lloydalexander  reading  howwewrite  cv  ego  tcsnmy7  tcsnmy  italocalvino  walking  small  slow  lightness  creativity  writing  fingerprints  robinsloan 
august 2012 by robertogreco
The Messiness of “With” | Rush the Iceberg
"Education is not a “I learned from” concept; rather, it is a “I learned with” concept.
“From” is clean.“With” is messy.

“From” is binary.“With” is human.
“From” is instant.“With” takes time.
“From” is passive.“With” is active.
“From” is singular.“With” is together.
“From” is shallow.“With” is deep.
“From” is informative.“With” is transformative.
Do you interact WITH your students the same way you tweet?

Which word describes your pedagogy in the classroom and tweets on Twitter?"
stephendavis  with  and  thisandthat  nuance  teaching  learning  conversation  from  messiness  education  collaboration  collaborative  depthoverbreadth  transformation  behavior  howwework  human  time  slow 
august 2011 by robertogreco
The Messiness of “And” | Rush the Iceberg
"Education is not a “this OR that” concept; rather it is a “this AND that” concept.

“Or” is clean.

“And” is messy.

“Or” is obvious

“And” is nuance.

“Or” is destructive.

“And” is human.

Do you interact with your students the same way you tweet?

Do you eat mashed potatoes AND gravy?

Which word describes your pedagogy in the classroom and tweets on Twitter?"
stephendavis  education  learning  andor  messiness  unschooling  deschooling  expression  interdisciplinary  multidisciplinary  nuance  control  complexity  and  tcsnmy  teaching  pedagogy  language  thisandthat 
january 2011 by robertogreco

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