Much as I love immersing myself in the beauty of mountains and the peace that I find there, my recent refusal to write about things that make me angry or that I find unnecessarily ugly or unfair is tantamount to sticking my head in the sand. It’s not all pretty pictures, as you all know.
This morning I woke at dawn to go for a long walk, this time without my camera, just to be out there to look and see. I had slept well and in the dim enclosure of my apartment I moved about humming to myself. When I finally did open the front door and step outside, the air was brisk, with a sky flush with clouds. All the rooftops and trees rang out with the calls and songs of brown-eared bulbuls, jungle crows, great tits, tree sparrows (Passer montanus… not the Western hemisphere species), and hordes of flocking grey starlings. It should have been a tranquil and invigorating morning, but right on the street outside my apartment my crest fell.
A man walking his cocker spaniel waited as the dog did his number on the sidewalk, and then the man just walked off, without glancing at me, leaving the number to do its fly-ridden thing. It being a morning of serenity and tolerance I decided to shrug that off and continue walking. Two minutes later another man stepped, this time with three dachshunds, out of his newly built, meticulously manicured house and walled garden, into the gravel driveway belonging to the kindergarten next door, and waited as all three dogs did their numbers. When they were done, the man turned his heel and reentered his fastidious house, again, leaving the mess on the ground for bombardier beetles and maggots. Well, I told myself, this isn’t my home, and he seemed like a reasonable man, so let’s not assume anything here. So on I trundled, still in the mood for humming.
I rounded the next corner and came face-to-face with yet another housing development in the vicinity of my apartment… the seventeenth so far in my five years here… this time taking over a small park that must have been part of this area since I was born. Now, Chofu, my town, supposedly has a law which requires 20 percent of the land area to be reserved for trees and parks or small farms and nurseries. One of the reasons I moved here was to make sure that I had a least some semblance of greenery around me while in Tokyo. However, the big housing corporations like Daiwa House and Sekisui Homes and Mitsubishi Development must have made some under-the-table deals with city officials and bypassed the laws. Every single one of the green areas around my home, now that the little park had been taken, had disappeared during the five years I’ve been here, to be replaced by exceedingly cramped mockeries of American “little boxes on the hill top” “all made out of ticky tacky”, some with barely a meter of space between the walls of the houses. Everything was beginning to look exactly the same with none of the older expressions of individual creativity and the signs of various states of growth and dilapidation that traditional Japanese neighborhoods always carried with an air of dignity and pleasure.
I saw yet another man (always men… I’ve rarely seen a Japanese woman not carefully pick up after her dog) allowing his pomeranian to proliferate the various species of dung beetles that tumble about those odoriferous miniature landscapes, this time going out of his way to part some streetside azaleas, stepping into and trampling the branches, and setting the dog inside that space like a flower pot. He, too, after glancing guiltily about, walked away as if he were the only man in the world committing such misdemeanors.
As tends to happen when my eyes focus on certain subjects, my mind went into overdrive and saw all the ugliness repeated over and over again, the hideous housing developments, the pooing dogs, the litter-choked river, the signs shooing skateboarders and bicyclists away from the public parks, someone’s dirty panties by the side of the river path, a small, hidden slope seething with discarded refrigerators, bicycles, bookshelves, and stained mattresses, tendrils of plastic cordage suspended from trees, a flock of oily and filthy pigeons, many with club feet or deformed beaks, piles upon piles upon piles of garbage-filled plastic bags waiting to be picked up, the first bomber plane of the day roaring by toward the American air base in the west, the sickly-sweet odor of sewage and detergent flowing from a storm drain into the river, the carp and turtles poking about in the toxic mud of the ankle deep river water, and a horizon choked with rooftop after rooftop after rooftop after rooftop after rooftop…
I started clenching my fists in anger and felt my chest constrict, so that it was hard to breathe properly. I saw a man walk nonchalantly down to the river’s edge and, since it was dawn and few people were about, zip down his pants and send his urine arching into the water, and that did it for me. I couldn’t enjoy this walk. So I turned and headed back home.
Along the way I happened upon yet another man standing as his dog, this time a huge samoyed, did its contribution to the pinworm empire, right on the walkway of some student apartments. I almost walked past this man, too, but was boiling over with indignation, so I stopped, turned around and asked him point-blank, “Excuse me, are you intending to just leave everything there, right in front of that person’s home, in the walkway?”
He scowled and turned bright red. “No,” he replied.
“Ah, then you intend to pick up after the dog with your bare hands?”
He, of course, couldn’t reply to that, but he did anyway, “No.”
“What if I decided to do the same thing right in front of your house?” I asked.
“I probably wouldn’t like it,” he answered. I felt like I was talking to a naughty teenager.
“Please think about it then,” I said, and with that I turned and continued on home. I felt prickly and off balance, and scolded myself all the way to my door.
When back in the apartment I let out a great sigh, made myself some tea. Tea in hand I ventured to my computer and turned it on. Opened my e-mail. And found this news. And the video:
Body of a Tibetan nun shot by Chinese soldiers at Nangpo Pass in the Himalaya.