December 7th passed this Saturday and is of course Pearl Harbor Day, certainly not an underappreciated date but nonetheless an interesting moment from which to depart, as I myself depart from Japan. I just spent a week working at International Schools here, and in my third visit it is no more clear what this country ‘is’ than ever before.
For me, it is the veritable question mark wrapped in a riddle. Not that we are supposed to or can really ‘know’ a place. But finding out is always one of my favorite things to do when traveling. More than most countries I’ve visited, Japan lends itself to this psycho-geography game. Maybe it is so opaque because much of it built post-war is very familiar looking to my western eyes.
One only has to venture off the car-friendly boulevards to see narrow streets, bike traffic and walking adults. Everything runs like a Swiss clock but they trump the Swiss with their own punctuality. Children must walk alone or in groups of others to school and not with parents after the age of six and violent crime and robbery is almost non-existent. The order is palpable, whether it is waiting in rush hour for passengers leaving a train before rushing in themselves, to the masks worn to protect yourself as well as others from disease, Tokyo is a city that depends on and seems to thrive on order.
When the Fukushima tidal wave and subsequent nuclear disaster occurred March 11, 2011, it not only rightfully scared them, but, was an embarrassment to this day. Among those with whom I spoke, it is talked about only in murmers. How much order is needed for millions to share an island…or a country? Does order mean a lack of individuality and creativity? Do we need a certain amount of chaos and unpredictability to stimulate innovation? Whose to say, I guess, but whenever I go to Japan, I can’t stop thinking about it.
- Marc Levitt, Host & Co- Executive Producer