Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ocean of Concrete, Demons and Dogs

Japan is a wonderful country, with a long, deep history, a unique culture, and pockets of sublime beauty.  Yet Japan, on the whole, is ugly.  Terribly, pointlessly, for-no-darned-good-reason ugly.  You likely have seen fantastically beautiful photos of Japan, taken at some thousand year old temple in Kyoto, or in some secret pocket garden of the most meticulous craftsmanship.  Well, let me show you the other 99% of the country.  Below is the view out my window, from Kobe facing south across the inland sea, with Wakayama prefecture barely visible on the far side.  This, not some perfect garden, is what you see almost everywhere in Japan - concrete, ugly buildings, and power lines.  If I turned the camera a bit, the vending machines, corny bright signs, and some rusting old cars surrounded by trash, just to complete the effect.

I recently got around to reading Alex Kerr's Dogs and Demons (my Amazon review can be found here), which I had been putting off for a long time precisely because I knew that he and I agreed on this point, and I didn't want to reinforce my negativity on this topic.  In his work, Kerr lays out in no uncertain terms how the terrible nexus between Japan's deliberately corrupt government, its heavy industry, and its peoples' overwrought fears of natural disasters has allowed this beautiful nation to encase virtually all of its coasts in concrete, dam all its rivers, and cast a spider-web of lines and cables over what seems like every last inch of the country, while conciously removing almost all elements of nature from their cities outside of those few meticulous gardens.

Japan can do better than this.  The power lines can be buried, particularly in the city cores and near major attractions - one should not have to stand on their head to take a picture of an ancient Zen temple that doesn't need to be photoshopped to remove power lines or other random modern junk.  The rivers can be freed and the coasts exposed as well.  Your walls of concrete are largely ineffectual against disasters, while choking the life and beauty out of your nation every day that they exist.  The ugly signs can be regulated, the trash picked up, the trucks blaring propaganda as they cruise down the street banned.  There is so much in Japan that is great, and its people are some of the most eco-concious people I have ever met in many respects, willing to go to lengths to conserve energy that no American would even fathom.  Yet they bury their nation in concrete, cables, trash, and noise, to no avail.