On July 8, 1853, Matthew C. Perry arrived off the coast of Edo. The myth of Japan's complete isolation referred to the fact that Japan continued to deal with the West on its own terms. Perry was not satisfied with being confined to the port of Nagasaki and sought to communicate with the Shogunate in grander terms than mere trade. It was not until the Commodore was refused these demands that the black ships showed their true diplomatic power: unprovoked shelling of coastal towns.
America's attempt to crack the oyster of the Orient drastically changed the trajectory of Japanese history. Among the exotic items that America gifted to the Emperor, such as a miniature steam engine and cannons, was the creed of expansionism. Despite the relative peace that reigned for centuries under Tokugawa, the Shogunate quickly learned that the only real power a modern nation wielded was not honor nor traditions but rather technology and conquest. Reverse-engineering modernity set Japan on a colonial path that would end where it began: with the atomic destruction of Nagasaki.
Chronic pain is not merely a physical condition— it's a state of mind.
I wake up to the sound of helicopters. I find myself in bed, lying on my back as my mind aches from what I would later come to know as the morphine/opioid afterburn; where dreams and memories fight the demons of consciousness somewhere behind my throbbing eyes. I turn to find the source of the roaring rotors as the strings and horns join in. "Saigon... it's Miss Saigon," on top of my radiator, a My-First-Sony tapedeck/soundmachine plays on as only analog plastic 90's tech could provide.
I look down to survey the salvage operation performed on my re-located shoulder three-thousand eons ago. The battlefield is quiet and and bandaged. White gauze can be very reassuring sometimes. I drop my head back down as my drawn-and-quartered tendons seem only to remember what pain feels like. I'm in no place to argue with them.
I'm 13 years old and these are the first few minutes of my new life.
In the words of Rinzairoku, "When you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha."
In the face of total annihilation, we fall in love with the beauty of our floating world.
There is a pervasive Japanese aesthetic know as mono no aware; the sadness of things. Beauty is found in its inevitable destruction. The sakura must fall. And yet after all of the bombings, Kyoto remained intact. The city with Japan's most precious treasures was denied its rightful end.
On July 2, 1950, at 2:30 am, the Kinkajuji (temple of the golden pavillion) was burned down by a monk named Hayashi Yoken. The original looked very different than the one visitors see today:
But like the phoenix on its roof, the pavillion was reborn and gilded entirely in gold:
And so the temple shall remain, its bright and shining edifice a hollow and ritualized worship of a Japan that never was. There is no dignity in forever. Beauty is found in the passing.
Moses prayed on Sinai for 3 months until god forgave his people. Idolatry is hard to avoid as an artist. We craft. We create. We critique. If we are lucky, others see something of themselves projected in front of their eyes. In that moment, we share unspoken intimacy. The object becomes the subject and thus idols are born.
The chorus of sirens outside of my house awaken the reptilian parts of my brain that tell me to run and hide. But by tomorrow I'll forget—
• • •
Someone tried to blow-up my neighborhood this weekend. A well executed FBI sting led to the arrest of a man planting what he thought was a bomb on Clark Street.
The news of this incident still hasn't really shaken me. I've been waiting 9 years for something to happen. We've all been waiting.
"He wanted to transform the city… he wanted to make a statement and he wanted to replace the mayor of Chicago," said FBI special agent Robert Grant. "He was unhappy with the way the city was running [and] with things that were happening in other parts of world." [source]
• • •
Atone. Embrace your idols.
In August of 1945, my great-grandparents were still locked away in the Arizona desert while my grandparents continued to scrape out new lives here in Chicago; surviving.
At the same time, my great-uncle in the MIS continued to interrogate Japanese POWs in PNG, hoping that each secret he extracted from the prisoners would help prevent the American invasion of Japanese soil that each US soldier feared since the first "Banzai!" was cried… Homeland: faces of the children he'd yet to bear charging at him with bamboo spears by the thousand.
8.6.1945: two of my grandparents' nieces died on their way to school; midwives to the apocalypse. Their aunt died soon after of leukemia. Those left behind would be known as hibakusha; atomic survivors. No one escapes the fallout…
Across the demon-proof bridge stands the Guardian of the Fallout. I can't look at Japan without seeing him. Karma doesn't have a half-life.
The Musashi was a Yamato-class heavy battleship and served as flagship for the Combined Japanese Imperial Navy from 1943-44. With her indomitable spirit, the Musashi terrified all who saw her on the horizon.
A major flaw in Japan's overall naval strategy was that big guns and big ships were not the key to victory. The sinking of the Musashi in October of 1944 was a tremendous blow, in steel and spirit, to the Japanese Empire.
Rising up from the sea, Kusunoki Masashige stands as the symbol of samurai loyalty in the face of annihilation, patron-saint of the Kamikaze.
"I 'm not dying yet; I have quite a few men to kill first." -Yojimbo