Harvest Moon Japan—a time for moon gazing ceremonies in the tea houses of Kyoto. Golden and full, as I drive home last night, the full moon is calling out to me. Did you know that in Japan they say there is a rabbit in the moon, but I could not see him last night? I looked, trying to make sure I did not go over the road, while the man in the moon gloated, as he towered over the city.
I could remember being told about this rabbit in the moon, while I was living in Japan. I looked for him over and over and over. One day, I finally asked a Japanese friend about it. How could I not see it and she pointed to the floppy ears. Can’t you see him dancing. Dancing? I had been looking for some big eyed buck teethed face, and then for a minute I saw him too.
So what do you think, if a Japanese person gets told about the man in the moon? It is not very different you know. We see him looking out at us, and they are looking for this full figure—not some face grinning at us in the sky.
Things are like that often they depend on one’s position. It actually is the basis of the design of many Japanese gardens. You could stand one place and then walk across a bridge and look out and it was like you were in some kind of time warp, because things looked so different that it sometimes felt that the previous place had not even existed. Those gardens were made with great care and this idea had special significance to the Japanese way of thinking……well, it does to travelers too.
You know my father saw memoirs of a Geisha a few months ago. He didn’t like it and I thought that it was because it was about WWII, but that was not his reason. His reason was that he didn’t like glorified prostitution. Well, no matter how hard I tried to explain to him that Geisha literally meant artist and that one any one time rites of passage was more of a ceremonial kind of thing. He wasn’t buying it. That was his position on things and he was sticking to it.
I found it funny, considering they possessed so many qualities that he had wanted me to be graceful, witty, entertaining, charming, poised, a perfect hostess and entertainer who never overpowered the men in her company, but still could be sophisticated in their repartee.
Well, I was not a geisha. I was an English teacher. At one point I thought an English Conversation class to some of the biggest steel manufacturers in Japan. One high level executive in my class was going to be living in America for one year. I asked him, so what will you miss most about Japan.
He said the flowers. The flowers and I looked at him confused. He said the flowers and there was a glint in his eyes and the image of a Japanese woman walking down the road in a Spring print kimono flashed in front of my eyes, and I laughed and so did he. Well, I was never going to be one of those delicate flowers. I could try every diet under the sun and never was I going to be one of those petite beauties.
You know the truth of the matter is that the Japanese really preferred a crescent moon and it reminded them of things that we would never think of. Image a woman walking down the road in front of you. Beautiful black hair arrayed on top of her head and held in place by lacquer and combs, wearing a beautiful spring print kimono whose collar just barely curves across her white powdered neck………………………Picture it now this place below her hairline and above her collar powered white and crescent shaped as she turns her head to to the angle of her parasol almost floating in small steps down the street in front of you, leaving only the memory of a crescent moon.
You know in Japan people could become National Treasures. No seriously there are living national treasures. One Geisha had risen to such ranks. Can you image the honor if a whole country acknowledges you as a living national treasure.
I had met one of those National Treasures through some of the in roads that I had made. You see having a famous teacher allow you to study with them was one of the ways to extend your visa. This woman was one of the most famous calligraphy teachers in all of Japan. Really what she thought was Sumiei which is the same thing only you are using inks to paint pictures instead of letters.
At the appointed time, I met with her daughter at the subway station near the class. She stood there in front of me still and straight in her school uniform on the tall side for a Japanese girl and just as I was about to bow to her she stuck out her hand and said how do you do. We walked several blocks in awkward silence to the building where the class was. I told her I had brought a present for her mother which I had been told that I should do. Her mother was at a desk in front of the class of student’s who were learning the long arduous process of learning how to mix the solid block of ink with water to exactly the right consistency in the ink well. As I walked in with her daughter, she had been scolding a student.
In front of her was spread a long sheet of paper on which she was making a painting of Japanese cherry blossoms. Every brush stroke was perfect. There was no excess of anything. As we bowed, she looked up at us and bowed her head toward the desk without rising.
Her daughter waved me to take a seat and she stood tall and straight at the corner of the white board in front of the room. I watched the students struggle to do things precisely as she had told them, but more than anything as she sprinkled real powdered gold here and there on the painting, I watched her and her daughter. The umbilical cord had not just been cut, but it was as if the cord between mother and daughter had been severed, and I could not imagine that that child had ever been a part of that woman’s womb.
In Japanese, there is an expression ‘heart is missing’. It does not have a very nice expression. Yet, national treasure or not, that is what I thought of when I looked at them. I knew I could not become this woman’s student.
I read in a newspaper about a Japanese pianist. He was known for the perfection of his technique, but ,when talking about it, he often said that, though he had a good technique, his wife who played from her heart was really the better pianist.
Several months later, I was at a flower arrangement exhibition of the Ikenobu School. The grand master had made a huge arrangement that was the main exhibit in the hall and stood taller then a human being. It was perfect in every proportion. I could image the women scurrying about to do everything precisely as he had asked having brought exactly the flowers that he had required. I could imagine him placing them in the vase accurately, authoritatively and mathematically. But, again I felt, heart was missing.
As I walked down the aisle, in the far corner, was an arrangement that was highlighted with blue iris, as blue as the sky. In fact, looking at it, you could practically see the sky above it and it seemed as if the breeze were blowing through them. Every branch every flower was placed in such a way that it seemed as if it were sitting on the side of a pond and could feel the water silently running through one’s heart. There was nothing, but the sound of stillness…….a sound so loud that everything within my being became quiet with—the soundless mysterious quality—the sound that still lingers in the heart of Japan.