I cannot turn on the television anymore… the images of Japan seem surreal and the situation is too horrible for imagination. I can scarcely breathe when I see it. The world is witnessing a cultural catastrophe of significance, with scenes more horrific than the eruption of Vesuvius and destruction of Pompeii by the sheer magnitude of it. It is heartbreaking.
When Japan comes to mind, I never think of Tokyo and bustling technology; I think of gardens. For hundreds of years, the Japanese have taken horticulture very seriously and gardeners are among the most respected of artisans. Their successes include cultivation and hybridization of almost every plant we treasure and much of the Japanese culture is steeped in celebration of the Seasons with ceremonies honoring flowers. Their gardens are among the most cherished in the world and have been duplicated (in part) by everyone who has ever had a trowel and a vision. Their ancient culture is steeped in propriety, respect, and aesthetics.
When I was in high school my parents were a host family for the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. As a host family we were often called upon to take visiting foreigners into our home and entertain them by giving them a small measure of our culture. My Mother believed it was a good way for her three girls to meet people from different cultures and interact with them on an individual basis... she was right. Most of our guests were from Japan and we usually spent three to five days with them. The exception was the gentleman from Thailand, who lived with us for almost a year.
Often I would arrive home from school to find a group of Japanese tourists in the living room having tea. They would giggle and bow as introductions were made and always wanted to visit the Oklahoma Cowboy Hall of Fame as their first destination. (The wild west is infinitely fascinating to those who have never lived it.) In the evenings we would all roll up our sleeves and talk, translation book in hand, bowing to each other while chopping vegetables for the traditional Japanese meal they always insisted on preparing for us... so we would know their culture and cultures are always reduced to food! Always, always, they were polite, respectful, and truly a beautiful and joyous people that made the experience memorable.
We often kept in touch and when my parents traveled to the Orient, they stayed with many of our former guests. It was back in the pen-pal days so I exchanged letters with many and we became good friends during our respective college years. As our lives became busy, I lost track of them and wonder where they are now... I feel an overwhelming sadness for them.
The world will be changed forever by the loss Japan is experiencing; something fine and beautiful has been permanently altered. However I know the Japanese people are among the most resilient on Earth... things will change but somehow they will survive. After all, they are the creators of wabi-sabi.