Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Through a Child's Eyes

 To Kill a Mockingbird fascinated me when I first read it. I was Scout's age, and had free access to the "stacks" in the basement -- the enormous overflow of books that my parents consumed with abandon. I think they were right, because if I couldn't follow any book, it simply bored me and I picked up something else. This made me a prolific reader of just about anything and guaranteed I was never bored. 

I read that book again as an adult and realized Harper Lee's absolute genius as I saw how the story operated so beautifully on two levels -- the child's and the adult's -- and the different things I saw and absorbed by reading it at both ages and with both perceptions.

Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series affected me similarly. The stories begin when Laura is 6 and follow her to young adulthood, as a young married woman and mother.  The books grow up with her, increasing in complexity and reading level until one passes through youth to adulthood with Laura even as the country and the world pass through the stupendous changes of the second half of the 19th Century.

When my curiosity about how Japan managed what no other Asian country did, to leap from decaying feudalism to a first world power in an incredibly short period of time during the latter half of the 19th Century, became insatiable, I wanted to avoid the usual boring tropes. I mean, how often can a western person come to Japan, be astounded by the same ten things, misunderstand completely those and twenty more and pronounce with any accuracy on the nature of the quirky and wonderful country in which I live?

Not that they don't try. I am rereading a couple of commentaries from around 1900, written by westerners, of course, and have just finished all volumes of a modern mystery series. They do the same darned thing, no matter how objective they tried to be. Still, they are colored by their own cultural prejudices and inability to even try to see things from a Japanese perspective.

That's what I have tried to avoid in The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series. By seeing the world through the eyes of somewhat unusual Japanese children as they grow up as well as through the eyes of the adults around them, I hope to give a truly accurate picture of the culture that persists and has persisted from time immemorial to this day. I learn as I go. I can't help but have cultural preconceptions but I try very hard to avoid them.  By interweaving folklore to produce a cross between magical realism and historical fantasy, I'm aiming high. By using the techniques of Harper Lee and Laura Ingalls Wilder, I hope to provide something accurate and true that will lead to a greater understanding of Japan and its culture among my readers, while sharing with them the reasons I so love this ever-intriguing country.

A friend of mine just visited the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home in Mansfield, Missouri, USA. Come for a visit. The late 19th Century saw huge changes around the world that continued well into the 20th. Laura Ingalls Wilder lived through them and gave them all to us through her recounting of the personal history of an ordinary pioneer family.  I owe her a lot.  Come see.



And a farming community, old and new, in Japan!

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Summer of Our Discontent, And Yet...

I've broken my back. Compression fracture, T-12. Hurts, but I have drugs and a brace. With luck and good treatment, it will probably resolve in about six months without surgery. I can't say enough nice things about the Japanese National Health or the medical system that made it possible for me to get treated at an orthopedic hospital on a Saturday afternoon on a walk-in and urgent basis for about $30.00, including X-rays.

I did it fixing the kickstand on my remarkably heavy electric assist bike. Sadly, I was really enjoying riding my bike on back streets around my pleasant neighborhood. Until it resolves and I get medical clearance to do so, I am limited to Shank's Mare. As long as I'm upright, I can sit and walk, so let's see how far I get.

Fortunately Tokyo, and Japan generally, has one of the premier public transportation systems in the world, and there is no shortage of taxis.
In fact, once when I had walked the Old Tokaido Highway to a fairly remote village in Hakone, I planned to take the bus back up the hill. But the bus didn't come. I asked the people in the woodworking center, in case I was reading it wrong (always possible for me) and they checked the schedule, too. Indeed, there was supposed to have been a bus. There was supposed to be another bus shortly, but it didn't come either. I have never found out why, because a handy taxi came tooling by, I flagged it, and was soon on my way comfortably up the hill. 

This is poised to be and is being a difficult summer for almost everyone, everywhere. Because of COVID-19, many things are closed. We're supposed to socially distance, a hard thing to do while navigating public spaces like train stations here in Japan. A lot of people live here, and they all want to get outside now that the rainy season has finally stopped. Restaurants and stores enforce distancing and hand sanitizer use, and masks are now a high-fashion item that everybody wears, but when too many people are simply window shopping, or on their way to restaurants or stores, it's hard to keep away from them. Cases are rising, and Please Stay Home, Part 2, is likely to become a reality again after the national summer holiday of O-bon, when the deceased (and everybody else) returns to their hometowns for a giant summer festival, memorial service, and party. 

Everybody's worn out with this, and I think that's why officials are carefully watching the numbers, imposing minor limitations on the hours of some businesses, and waiting until after O-bon. People need a break. Consensus is rapidly building for the government to do something, and besides pursuit of treatments and vaccines, that translates into Please Stay Home, possibly with the stick of fines rather than just the carrot of compensation. 

There have been worse summers to be limited in what I can do, since prudence dictates that I and everyone else travel as little as possible and avoid crowded places. I am very fortunate that though I have locations I would like to visit, I have already done most of the research I need to do for the as yet untitled Book 8 in The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series, and am able to start that book right now. I am very sorry for the people who do not have arts, businesses, chores or hobbies they can actively pursue indoors, or in their yards, at home.

It is truly a summer of discontent. We are weathering it well, but it isn't easy. It's important to always find something to enjoy, something to look forward to.

My garden is filed under "entertainment" this year -- my crops are few and far between and the bugs are very much enjoying them! Still, my few tomatoes are ripening.

And I will have peppers!

Stay safe, everybody. We can beat this. Together.