Thursday, April 3, 2014

JAH-PAN, Nippon. Different but same perspective in a new time and trip, 2014

JAH-PAN, Nippon. Different but same perspective in a new time and trip, 2014
By Bahe (Ganko Oyagi Nabahi Keediniinii) Katenay

I first came to Japan in 1987, a place of beauty and charm and one of the most industrialized modern countries. This place also expels that fascination of Asian mystification of samurai warriors and castles, the geishas, ninjas, but behind all that are the proper rules of a deep cultured way of mannerism and family standards that most of Japanese grasp on to like, how that by-gone samurai held his sword. The western world of the U.S. however bullies in with its capitalist ideals in an attempt to refine Japan’s industrial and economic power. I returned again, my fourth visit, but this time by means of being so low key which is completely contrary to previous visits where I was “that ‘Native American’ visitor,’ there, with a special message. I am a mystery, once a statesman for my Dineh community, a fighter but not an activist, largely a curious traveler whether at home or in a new foreign place, and a lover of understanding and peace.

I absolutely felt my age with that 11 and half hours voyage in that economy seat of that Boeing 777. I tried to sleep to avoid the reality but the jet would hit that turbulence as I awaken and say quietly, “Stop that. Can I really say that to the Wind Spirit as I and 200 other passengers are intruding in their space?” It was all about counting down the hours as the Sun seemed to stay in the same place, being eight miles above the Pacific Ocean, two miles above the light brown haze from civilization’s pollution, and then I think, “Oh, father sky.” There is amazement about how humans have developed such technology to travel rapidly at the speed of jet turbine engines and fuel. The other part of this human manipulation of jet plane technology is the tonnage of jet exhaust emitted into the atmosphere. Of all the millions of people that travel for leisure or business, they certainly do not think about such consequences from poisoning our protective shell, our air and the weather. It only makes one feel elite even though you have been forced to squeeze yourself into that economy seat. Worst of all, upon boarding, is to allow your self to be molested for security reasons and due to corporate America’s international affairs backfiring.     


As a guest on foreign lands, you are in their hands so to speak but ultimately it’s your patience that counts when being surrounded by languages different than yours. Well that is nothing new because I am surrounded by English every day at work and most of the time on the Rez, too. That's right even on the Rez. Japanese is often spoken loud by many like excited spoken English, but Japanese tend to use it with more enforced expressiveness. Also, I have been a guest many times and even though my friends tried their best to accommodate my stays, the communications sometimes become a challenge. I am use to it so I try to look at physical behaviors and to determine what point of discussion are taking place in terms of schedules. When to go, how to go and how many scheduled stops. Thank, Buddha, I know the words for ‘lets get ready’ and ‘okay lets go’ in Japanese. Foods are not that strange to me and I am very use to Japanese menus, however, I’ve stayed at temples before where foods are simple and not as tasteful. Table manners that I am aware of are, it is fine to speak with food in your mouth and to make slurping sounds when eating noddle soups, but come on where’s the napkin?! I miss the old Dineh foods and manners used like proper sitting position on the floor; bread was shared rather than having your own, and no utensils. But good Lord, I know how to be at an English table, those Swedish foods, Mexico style, Polish cuisines and oh yeah, that simple and delicious Irish eating and drinking. Food becomes key in traveling and bedding as well. Japan’s rhyokans are perhaps the best experience that one can try out and myself, if all possible, I prefer that tatami floor, no chairs just cushions, eat whatever the host provides, and the onsen, the hot spring or baths.

This trip was personal and some free time as provided by my host sponsor’s wishes. And I also wanted to see the country again, its people and its environment after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Having traveled abroad as a special guest before, I have always hope to at least visit holy places and make prayer for peace, humanity and nature communities. I wished for that on this trip, but is there really a way to do a small ritual of the Dineh for the purpose of healing from nuclear radiation? Unlike my travels here before, I will not connect with community members or organizers for peace and justice. Quietly and observingly, I would have to feel for the information I seek and upon which I can proceed with a bit of my humbleness and wholesome prayers. Shinto Temple shrines are like centers that I needed since many in Japan still consider these places of prayer as communing points with the ancestors and the spirits of nature. Rivers, creeks, mountain lakes, and mountains were in abundance here, and those are important because they are the foundations of Dineh creations and existence, and even though I am from the high deserts. To a mountain range it shall be, there nature’s guidance will decide about the Dineh mountain tobacco and sacred Corn Pollen that I had brought. But first, the matters at hand in that urban human world of Japan.       

Young people do stand out quite obviously, not only because of their lively and joyful outlook, but their possession of that trendy western style mixed with some Japanese. Their subtle and obscured sense of having a real and centered culture that is unlike the American materialistic youths. A culture does certainly exist in most Japanese households like a designated corner of a room that holds a Buddhist altar that is never without incenses or fresh foods and flowers. Home cook meals are often traditional and healthy, serving tea is almost a ritual, and before eating, family would bow and say, "itadakimasu," meaning "I receive this food." As trendy and hipped as these youths appear on the streets or on the trains, they do have a central base of family cultural strength. When they are free to indulge, they have all that available throughout the endless, scattered towns and cities. A question floats in my head as I think about today’s Dineh (Navajo) society and how it is becoming cultureless just like its dominate counterpart, the Americans: “Will today’s youths of Japan pass on their parents and their grandparents’ old ways in spite of American pressure?” However, much is the same still as I have observed 27 years before, junior high students in uniforms, like small gangs they bicycle together through the narrow sidewalks and all having the same styled backpacks.

Amidst the clean, uncrack narrow sidewalks and streets and which are incase by compact multi-story buildings, urban life bustles with morning and evening commuters. Many waiting for metro buses, and some capable elders and teen student in their proper attire commute on bicycles. The unnoticeable and tangled web of electrical and fiber optic lines align the sides of streets and buildings. People seem very obedient as they almost stand at attention with their umbrella as they wait for their bus or for the traffic light to change. Not a single pedestrian or driver dares to violate the red light, and not a wheel turns or that someone steps over the marked lines. Everywhere people simply working hard, services come with pleasant greetings before and after, and at the gas stations where attendants do everything for you. Japan urban human environment seemed so orderly as opposed to American sloppiness of occasional trash blowing in the streets, or a smoker crashing cigarette butts, or even a pedestrian dashing across through parked traffic. In this city, Utsunomiya, I didn’t see a single person panhandling for a few Yen! The U.S. has its own sophistication but its attitude is very external as you may notice the loud conversations on the sidewalk, and depending on the kind of neighborhood, hearing slang and cussing language. Japanese don’t talk if they don’t need to such as on the buses and trains.

This part of Japan is new to me, and its beautiful countryside sits about 120 kilometers from the recent Fukushima’s Daiichi nuclear disaster. I am certain that it is always on the minds of everyone here, the youths and new parents. But I wished to know. How have these humid surroundings been impacted by the radiation if that made its way this far? What measures are cities like here taking to avoid the radiation other than, seeing many people wear mask over their mouths and nose? I am just a visitor staying around such a short time, but questions haunt me like I am supposed to be a scientist seeking theories and answers. One of my host sponsors is a ninety year old man and he surprised me with a question that was translated to me, “Does your people worship the Sun?” A reference was also made about the Plains Indian Sun Dance ritual. As I am thinking ‘why’ I tried to explain briefly that we don’t actual worship but we religiously and spiritually acknowledge it as deity. A deity that is nearly as equal to the great universe, the constellations, the moon and the earth. That is as simple as I can make it even though I can explain more for the next two hours. Then finally I asked ‘why’ he asked me this.

The Japanese elder explained as he occasionally said certain things up close to his 95 year old sister who sat next to him: “Human-made industries have gone too far and have created destructive elements that are out of our control. My life time job has been nothing but trying to help people better their lives and to get them out of troubles that they cannot get themselves out of. So, this is why I see how society, normal peoples, is now facing obstacles and the dangers of nuclear technology. In Japan, we have so much nuclear waste but the government and scientist do not know how to dispose of them as they are store in unsafe facilities. The reason I asked about how your peoples tell about the Sun was that, I have thought that the only solution for these nuclear waste, like the situation in Fukushima, is to send all that radioactive materials back into space and send them off into the Sun, where it came from originally. Japan is face with an important choice now, especially after Fukushima, we should begin to rely on safer energy from solar and wind power. For the upcoming futures, we also have to think seriously about how we all can start living more sustainable like even growing our own foods. It seems like every country in the world is pushing toward an end and if we do not make the right choice again, there may be more Fukushimas. Because of my life time of giving legal help to people, I feel this way and I wish I can do something to make everyone’s life much safer.”

The inner thoughts of Japan after 3-11 began to present itself in this elder’s words and this was clarified more the next day while having dinner at a ryokan on the lakeside of Chuzenji outside of Nikko city. This is a mountain lake that Mount Nantai, a quiet active volcano, dammed up millions of years ago and made a natural spillway, the Kegon Falls. My friend and guide Fumie asked the lady hostess about the fish in the dinner menu but the conversation went into talking about the lake. The elder woman hostess said after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the government warned the local inhabitants that the lake was contaminated.

“We were told this but it was confusing about the amount of radiation levels that the Japanese government was announcing. First, they told us that the radiation levels in this lake was at 200 MicroSieverts (µSv, and measurements based on per hour) but then they later told everyone, ‘it is at 130 µSv.’ It was very likely that the fishes were not only getting exposed but were ingesting the radiation in their foods. We were then told, ‘the lake fishes were unsafe to eat.’ We were told different numbers and types of radiation, and they tried to explain how levels were equated. All these were confusing, but we all decided to not fish in this lake anymore. In the summer, there would be boats out there for fishing so now this lake has been abandoned. We asked the government experts ‘how could radiation from Daiichi nuclear power plant accident reached the lake all the way over here?’ They said according to the measurements and monitoring a month after the plant explosion, fallout radiation was traced along this mountain range and the mountains acted as a conduit that brought in the fallout. But the officials only said that for some unexplained phenomena, the lake took in a lot of the fallout. So now, the fish we buy are from elsewhere where foods are considered safe. Fishes from flowing rivers are said to be fine because those waters are not stagnate like the lake.”

The evening dusting of snow began outside the window of the ryokan, a room with nice tatami floor, warm heat under the small table covered over with a thick quilt, sliding door closets with cushions and beddings, and outside and nearby, Mount Nantai-san is mostly shrouded in an end-of-winter storm clouds. Looking out into that abandoned lake, there is only a few ducks taking risks with their foods, perhaps, like me. “What have I gotten myself into,” I wonder even though I had wanted to go to Fukushima and share my prayers, on behalf of my Dineh peoples in struggle against uranium and coal mining. I do not understand the number or levels either, but supposedly the radiation levels at Daiichi nuclear reactor explosion, days after March 11, 2011, was 400 µSv. Maybe Fukushima wanted to meet me here, 70 miles away.  

Strange how numbers are presented to us like everything from global economic trade statistics to states general elections results, and they come up with the numbers and we normal citizens have to go with it. Numbers and measurements have gone hand and hand since the Chernobyl and the Three Mile Island nuclear accidents, and each time, even after Nagasaki and Hiroshima atomic bombs, the figures are revised to accommodate standard thought. However, earth and its inhabitants were, once upon a time and naturally, exposed to radiation from space and it was at a constant level at around 10 μSv per day, maybe that true safe level. Today, we spend most of our savings and enjoy a round trip, commercial jet flight equaling about 16 to 20 hours and along with that, we also give ourselves about two-chest x-rays (200 μSv). Numbers will add up and very much depending per hour to per year and of course, how healthy we are.

Perhaps, what is mostly likely overlooked in terms of numbers would be the environment that we live in and even more so, the one planet we all live on. On earth, our enclosed modern dwellings that are no longer of natural materials like mud, logs or animal skins, but are instead of synthetic and toxic materials including the appliances and so, how much more radiation are we exposed to per year? Our high tech and so advanced industrial society, which we have accepted to identify with, has its own lethal emissions of poisons besides radiation. How does all this affect the numbers and our existence? Technology and industrialization is a reality that misguides us much like the serpent in the Garden of Eden so, no need to think about it or ask about it because this instant moment in life feels fine. Ultimately, the authorities are pushing the limits so to speak in every aspects of informing us about ‘their truth.’ A little hope maybe at the human level of thinking, which is only a few percentage on earth having this awareness like what the 90 elder Japanese man said, “Human dependency on dangerous forms energy resources furthers an unsafe state of the world.”

I had accepted this private invitation to come to Japan and I was truly honored in an enormous way, and just as previous public invitations when kindhearted Japanese treated me with the same great respect. To mention a few, the humble thoughts and simple prayers were to Shinto shrines, crossing rivers in honor, and applying the powdery crystals from walls of a rock quarry tunnel. Dineh utilize many kinds of minerals as medicine and blessings. Back near the mountain lake, the indoor onsen was soothing and its natural sulfur smell was almost unnoticeable. “Earth spirit from within you where this healing water comes from, I am thankful for this opportunity to immerse myself and be blessed.” I wanted the outside air but the windows seemed to be locked. Then many thoughts came as my head stuck out of the pool of hot mineral water. One thought was of my first Japanese friend from years ago and who has passed on, Masau Nippashi. He was a Nipponzan Mihoji Buddhist Monk when I first met him, full of laughter and joy. He told me his name means Sun Bridge and it was all through my acquaintance with him that first brought me to Japan. Still that bridge has brought me back, I thought. My tattooed self and as sat soaking, I can hear his story about going to a public bath and the reaction of other patrons when they noticed his tattooed back, a samurai devil cutting off another’s arm. “Whole bath just for me! (Laughs mischievously.) Everyone moved to corner away from me. Me, I have the hottest spot!” I moved to where the hottest water was pouring in, and oh yeah!      

Leaving was a two hour bus ride to the airport as I took in the scenery of crop fields, bamboo groves on hillsides, homes with miniature Japanese gardens, and seeing that Nantai-san (Male Body Mtn.) and his maiden, Nyoho-zan (Female Mtn.), get further away into the horizon. The edges of Tokyo were nothing but expanses of compact cityscape, and I wanted to behold at least a sight of Fuji-san, and I did. So small it seemed as it still stood out beyond the carpet skyline of Tokyo, Fuji-san’s snow cap slope glimmered like a sheet of glass in the afternoon sun light. The memories of Japan 2014 are still clear and it comes in my dreams as well, the youths, words from those that maintain skills past down several generations, steep hills and mountains, and words of the elders. That Japanese pride and politeness I saw on my departing moment as I watch the ground flight crew, with their hard hats, stood side by side and as my jet moves out for takeoff, the crew bow together and then wave farewell with their white-gloved hands.  

I returned back on to Turtle Island and after I was greeted by Homeland Security and it was not Geronimo and his gang by the way, and before my connecting flight, I hurried into the men’s restroom and to a stall only to be greeted by a toilet seat full of yellow piss and toilet tissues strewn about. This is my “Welcome back to America greeting,” I thought to myself. That cultural shock as I began settling back in into the disorderly American town as I noticed a chuck of Styro-foam tumbling down the street in the wind and as it broke into many more pieces. Folks in in the U.S. have too many dogs it seems because my five days in Japan, I only saw one man walking his dog along a river bank. I mean, come on, I grew up around working dogs, sheepdog nation! Now we are drifting towards humandog nation. America, its towns of endless cracking veins on the paved street and sidewalks. And I still do not get it: why are there never any flat tires in Japan, and why are there no cracks in sidewalks or street pavement in a country that has weekly earth quake tremors?! Then also how can these Japanese people, these new comers after the ancient Jomon cultures, be so proud despite living on islands that pose many kinds of natural and geologic disasters? Is it because for many centuries Japan has responded differently to nature’s forces like acknowledging temple shrine centers and building precautionary infrastructures?

Take to the roads or ships to some foreign place and as you do so, try to reflect back on yourself and on where you call home. Does something need to be put back in order at home?

 © Sheepdognation Media, byk 2014