– Now Is the Season for Japan (New York Times, March 22, 2012):
ONE bright early spring morning this month, I took myself to Ryoanji, the Kyoto temple that is home to the world’s most celebrated rock garden. There was not a single other foreigner in the place. Not even many Japanese were visible across the 120-acre compound (I’d scheduled my trip for spring break, when clamorous school tours are less in evidence).
So as I sat above the enigmatic presentation of 15 rocks, arranged with seeming randomness across a wide bed of raked sand, I could hear nothing but bird song from the cherry trees around me. A trickle of water from a thin bamboo chute issued into a stone basin around the corner, deepening as it intensified the silence. The characters around the basin said, “What you have is all you need.”
Stillness, spaciousness and undistractedness are what I had just then. Though foreign tourism to Japan as a whole plunged by 50 percent in the three months following the earthquake last March, as of January 2012 it was only 4 percent lower, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.
Nevertheless, the quiet amplitude that is one of the special graces of Japan has a new resonance this year. On the surface, the country that greets someone arriving from San Francisco or New York tomorrow is startlingly similar to the place you would have seen two years ago, despite last year’s catastrophe. But deep down, Japan seems more vulnerable, and thus more wide open, than ever.
The 9.0 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown that hit the country on March 11, 2011, claimed almost 20,000 lives, overturned an economy that had already been foundering through 20 years of recession, and demoralized a citizenry dealing with one suicide every 17 minutes, a loss of direction, and what is now seven prime ministers in fewer than six years.
Yet it also highlighted the resilience, self-possession and community-mindedness that are so striking in Japan; suddenly, the country that had seemed to insist on its difference from the rest of the world could be seen in its more human, compassionate and brave dimensions. Japan has long been what the globally savvy magazine Monocle called, in a recent issue, “The World’s Most Charming Nation”; now it is also one of those most grateful for visitors.
Read more‘Now Is The Season For Japan’ (New York Times)