Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Today's Sunrise

Today was a national holiday. I woke up early this morning to relieve myself and while doing so I noticed it was a beautiful morning. So, I decided not to go back to bed but to go out and ride my push-irons instead. I took my camera with me, and from the bridge that crosses the railway line I took these shots of authentic Hirosaki.

When I went back to England during the summer I was showing a mate of mine some pictures of Iwaki mountain taken from the hotel roof-top beer gardens of Hirosaki. I thought they were really beautiful shots of the mountain with deep colours in the background where the sun was setting, and clouds making all sorts of wierd shapes. But my mate, George, wasn't all that impressed. He said that Hirosaki looked really industrial and it spoiled the rest of the photo. It struck me then, just how used to 'the Japanese space' I've become.

I actually find Japan's ability to reconcile the beautiful with the downright drab and ugly one of it's greatest features. It's the defining feature in my mind that separates Japanese culture from modern Western culture. In the West, we've struggled so hard over the last two or three centuries to define autheniticity, especially in it's contra-position to the inherent decadence of modern culture in consumer societies. For Westerners, that which is authentically modern soon implodes and reveals it's superficiality, whereas that which is really authentic is as hard as stone. And the issue still rages in universities all over Europe and the USA, about how to define authenticity. Do the Japanese care to get involved? Maybe some of them do.

But everyday I come across examples of Japanese spaces where tattiness and downright ugly design sit side-by-side with what I consider to be potential beauty and authenticity. I know it's not just me. Take Furo Fushi onsen for example. It's an outdoor onsen that is located right on the coast and looks out onto the sea of Japan. It is a very beautiful place to watch the sun set, except the lashings of concrete around the sides of the spa itself and the big plastic grey pipe that sticks out of one side - which also has bits of concrete stuck to it - take the edge off it all for me. It amazes me how much concrete people can get away with in this country and not get the feeling that their home is being robbed of it's beauty. Don't even get me started on the huge concrete walls that are splattered all over Japanese hillsides. But the Japanese seem comfortable with it. They seem comfortable with the hords of overhead cables and electricity wires obscuring not only the city-scape, but the countryside as well.

This isn't a moan. It really isn't. Because I've come to appreciate Japanese spaces for what they are. They are void of the tension between the modern and the authentic. The Japanese don't care and this shouldn't be regarded as a lack of taste or anything like that. This is another one of the ways in which their outlook differs from that of the West.