Dark Side of the Hill

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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:

Nun At Nangpa Pass

Body of a Tibetan nun shot by Chinese soldiers at Nangpo Pass in the Himalaya.

10 Responses

  1. Sometimes it seems like there is only darkness in the hearts of man & many have lost the way as spiritual beings.

    Yet the person who was helpful to the refugee reminded me of the Tai Chi symbol, even in the darkness there is light.

    As you were the light in the darkness of the neighborhood.

  2. Stephanie Snider

    I am so sorry your day started that way. If we only look at darkness, we only see darkness. The challenge is to find the light–and it is a great challenge.

    I enjoy so much your thoughtful words and pictures. I hope that your day went better than it started. There is no beauty without ugliness–though I don’t understand why. It just is.

    And of course, as an American, I cannot resist the obvious.
    Shit happens!

  3. Zen… Yes, it is important to look at the positive side of things, but I also believe that it is important not to trivialize the darker things, too. They exist, too, just as you pointed out with the Tai Chi symbol.

    Stephanie… Not the best start to a day, but no matter how things get I always bounce back. I’m very glad that my words can make at least a little difference in your own day.

    I love the succinct and damn-the-torpedoes way Americans sometimes put things. Shit happens, is right! Thanks!

  4. Stephanie Snider

    It does suck about the nun though–I wasn’t trying to trivialize what happened. It bothered me after I posted that you might be offended by the comment. Glad you weren’t!

    I have to focus on the positve, otherwise I would be too depressed to leave the house. Children and music and trees–all those things make it possible to keep from screaming. Sometimes!

  5. The tea must have wiped away some of the ugliness that you had seen earlier.

  6. Kwai Chang Caine

    You scolded yourself for doing the right thing? How odd. Or maybe I didn’t understand, and the scolding was for choosing to not confront the other scofflaws. I think a good course of action would have been to pick up a chunk of warm doggy fecal matter, and shove it squarely in the faces of those other assholes. They learned nothing, and you went home with your tail between your legs. Hmmmmm.

  7. Stephanie… I don’t get easily offended by such language, even if it is directed at me, unless someone whom I know well, like, and respect is questioning my integrity, which you of course aren’t. Besides, sometimes there is no better way to get across what you want to say. It’s when the language is used as a crutch in place of vocabulary that I really don’t like it. It’s like someone coughing and pointing this way and that while giving you directions…

    May… Tea always takes the bit out of reality. I wonder why? Coffee or a good wine can do the same thing. Strange, isn’t it? Can anyone think why that might be?

    Hello Kwai (Kwai Chang?)… Welcome! I haven’t seen you here before. It’s nice to hear your contribution to the conversation. I’m surprised by your reaction, coming from someone who, whose background at least, is Chinese. I grew up in Japan and, though I do have a big proportion of non-Japanese feelings, a lot of Japan is deeply a part of me. There is always a feeling here, and I’ve experienced it a lot among my Chinese friends too, that harmony is often much more important than personal triumph and satisfaction. It’s why sumo wrestlers never speak about or show too much pleasure in having beaten an opponent, or why during great disasters, like the Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, Japanese in most cases react with restraint. It’s also why in the movies monsters like Godzilla are not considered evil and there is never really any defined, cut-and-dry evil villain in so many of the TV animations. And even why it is so hard for the Japanese to define the idea of an evil war hero (and so hard for non-Japanese to understand how the Japanese cannot be “repentant” for their war crimes). Things simply are never seen as black and white; always the context and the inner conflicts of all those involved are considered, remembering always that humans are humans, everyone is fallible, and rarely, if ever, do people do anything out of pure malice. Even contracts in Japan are always fluid, always with room for the changing nature of human interaction, with very little strict adherence to the “letter of the law”. Things are done this way because Japanese feel that you can’t solidify something that never stays still.

    How does this relate to my scolding myself? Well, I never felt I was going home with my tail between my legs. I felt bad for embarrassing the man and for causing a disharmonious situation. While I didn’t agree with what he was doing, I’m pretty sure he is not a bad man and probably even somenoe who has many redeeming qualities. While I do also feel that Japanese need to express their opinions more and take more stances on important things, they also carry an ethos about living harmoniously that westerners could learn a lot from. There are no Ten Commandments here, no one God they have to look up to for answers, no concept of Original Sin. Instead, their morality lives in themselves, in first accepting without doubt, that humans are good and also fallible, that most of the terrible things and little problems that happen in the world are due to the experiences an individual has and to miscommunication (which is also defined here sometimes as saying too much, spilling too much information or expressing too many strong opinions). You have to ask yourself why there is so little crime here compared to so many other societes, and why it is that crime has increased here so dramatically once western values and information took a hold.

    Besides, who I am to spout righteousness? How do I know that my anger is truly justified? I make people angry with my own bad habits.

    I don’t know, Kwai Chang, do you think it is inappropriate to feel bad about making another person feel bad in such a situation? May I ask what you would have done? And if anyone can enlighten me with a better and more effective way to deal with such instances, I would love to learn how to go about doing it!

  8. I thought you did the correct thing Butukisan. Making him aware of his actions and disharmony to the environment of others.

    Kwai Chang, the one you are named after would not have handled it the way of which you spoke, not the Shaolin way. My Sifu is “his” teacher…

  9. Stephanie Snider

    Carry plastic bags with you, “Oh did you forget your bags at home? I hate when that happens! Here you go!”

  10. Although I can be aggressive at times, if I was in a peaceful mood, I wouldn’t have ruined it by a nasty conversation. I would have said to myself “some people are really stupid” and then would have gone back to my thoughts. But, if was already in a battling mood, that episode would have given me a good excuse for arguing.
    I know, I haven’t found a solution to your problem…

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