photo & text by nacrowe
long before i taught in YOKOHAMA, i read THOUSAND CRANES (VINTAGE INTERNATIONAL, 1952) by YASUNARI KAWABATA sophomore year of high school. this was a post WORLD WAR II novel that deals with a culturally-sanctioned form of masculinity that is based on oppression and how one comes o terms within a new context with shifting power dynamics.
central to this book is the significance surrounding the rituals and choreography of the traditional JAPANESE tea ceremony. the delicate, controlled movements assigned to these performative proceedings and are a meditation unto themselves, elevating the presentation of what are consumables into a transcendent art form. this performance informs the viewer about the transient nature of experience and the transcendent sensual pleasures that are to be gained by focusing our attentions to the ever passing moment.
when i moved to JAPAN, it was KAWABATA's description of these tea ceremonies that provoked my interest in investigating other traditional pastimes like gardening and kabuki. the through-line with all of these activities is this BUDDHIST concept of SUNYATA, the nothingness of identity (anatman) and the basic concept that "all things are empty of intrinsic existence and nature" (svabhava). MAHAYANA BUDDHISM asserts that our experience of ourselves and that of our surroundings are devoid of meaning, but that we should engage with such fully nonetheless. it is a very ineriguinging topic and something that comes up time and time again in my travels in ASIA when objects of seemingly insurmountable detail are produced as means of meditation. it is this concept that drives TIBETAN BUDDHIST monks to create impossibly ornate MANDALAS, only to be destroyed upon completion. life is impermanent and ever evolving and we are merely a transient moment in that evolution. the atoms in our body will eventually disperse and reorganize into other combinations, just as they did before our conception. our consciousness likewise is an emerging phenomena which will eventually dissipate and recede.
THOUSAND CRANES utilizes the tea ceremony as a means of describing the breakdown of JAPANESE masculinity and the social order underlaying it in a postwar period that was highly transformational. the degradation of this ceremony over time mirrors that of its subjects in the narrative. it is interesting metaphor, especially since the transient nature of experience is baked into it. will this sense of toxic masculinity pervade?
hard to tell. i wonder what KAWABATA would have made of modern KAWAII culture in JAPAN and the extent to which the following generations held firmly and passionately to quixotic notions of a youth culture that promised freedom from responsibility and control. seems the polar opposite of the tea ceremony which embodies and transmogrifies all the embedded cultural weight of generations into a ritual movement, a slight turn of the wrist as one delicately pours tea into a vessel.