Japan: Country of Contrasts

On the Go

Thoughts, photos and travelogue by Svagito.

Cherry blossoms in Japan
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I’ve just returned to Europe from Japan, where I was enjoying the magnificent ‘Sakura’, the cherry-blossom season. Together with Meera I had been a regular visitor there, but because of the corona virus I had not gone for 4 years. I’d been missing those regular springtime visits, so now it felt like coming home. It was good to see familiar places, meet many friends again after the long gap, and, of course, to be once again mesmerized by the magic of the cherry flowers and their abundant beauty… that seems to be not of this world.

I flew in from Taiwan, and when I arrived in Kyoto, the centre of Japanese culture and heritage, Yashoda and other friends received me at the station. Our flower-viewing tour started immediately. One cannot get tired of admiring those flowers and their delicate beauty – alleys of cherry trees of different varieties that stun you in any weather.

On our first day it rained and all the flowers were dripping, but the next day the sky was blue and we were going around parks, temples and Zen gardens, which Kyoto is so full of. The peak season of cherry blossoming lasts only about 2 weeks, and all TV and radio stations announce in which city the flowers are in full bloom or to what percentage they have opened already. It really is like a daily weather report. By now, after having been there maybe 25 times, I myself have become rather experienced in deciding what places to visit in order to see the best show.

This year I also taught a course in a beautiful seminar house in Kyoto that also had a traditional Zen garden with many cherry trees. On top of this the group was treated well, with Japanese cuisine and a traditional Japanese bath place. So everything that you would expect from a visit to Kyoto was provided as we also entered the inner journey to explore another side of Japan: the severe Japanese conditioning that many friends native to that country have to struggle with.

In Japan it can be quite visible to an outsider how the society automatizes its people – and what can happen if a person is not working on herself to become free from the grip of society’s rules and moral codes; trying to enter a new stream of consciousness. Observing people in everyday life situations one may wonder at times whether this person is a real person, or just a robot or AI! People appear to be behaving in completely stereotypical ways. It might be the lift-operating girl in a department store who, with smile and white gloves, keeps repeating all day the same sentence to the customers, or it might be the worker at a construction site who keeps waving his flag all day in the same manner, repeating the same sentences.

Life in Japanese society can seem to function perfectly smoothly and in such a controlled manner, just like the shinkansen, the Japanese high-speed train that arrives every 5 minutes exactly, according to the clock. You can set your watch seeing a passing train – something that even in Germany one can only dream of. The only disruption happens when once again someone commits suicide by throwing himself in front of a train. When you read on the notice board of a delay, and the stated reason is ‘obstacle on track’, then you can guess what has happened.

While I can see in my courses how participants struggle to overcome the fear or shame that arises in them if they do not follow in detail all the rules and norms that their society imposes on them, I also find it particularly touching to witness the sincerity with which many Japanese friends progress on their inner journey. Japanese participants in a group might not be so expressive as their Western counterparts, and might rather wait before raising a hand to speak, but once they do, what they say is often touching and honest.

Of course, these are generalizations and not exactly true for everyone. Meera, for example, was very outspoken, and many people could not believe that she was born in Japan. Laughingly she told me once that again someone in Japan had said to her: “Oh, you speak very good Japanese!” They could not believe that in fact she was born there! She was so alive and expressive and her joy inspired so many people who came into contact with her.

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This trip, after my group I travelled with two friends to Noto, a small fishing village in a more remote part of Japan, where Meera was born… and where we used to have a cherry-blossom painting course every year. We also visited some lacquer shops in a seaside town nearby that is famous for this ancient Japanese art. The two ladies who run one of those shops cried when they heard that Meera was no longer with us in the body. Meera used to always bring her group to that place and with great excitement show everyone around.

I want to continue to give my support to Meera’s Japan team so that those cherry-blossom painting courses can happen every year, something that got a bit disrupted during corona time. It is such an amazing experience to sit underneath those abundant blossoming trees and paint, and when a breeze comes so many petals rain down on top of you.

We also plan a big exhibition and creativity festival in Tokyo during the next spring season to celebrate and explore our creativity. I hope too that many friends from the West will be able to join us in 2024 and participate in the dance of those millions of cherry flowers that gives the spring in Japan such a divine atmosphere; something that you will not find anywhere else on this planet in just the same way. Maybe this is the reason why Meera never wanted to miss a single cherry-blossom season in Japan. When the petals start falling, she used to say: “Look, they die dancingly!”

After Noto I went to visit Osho Art Unity in the famous town of Kamakura, just south of Tokyo, where many of Meera’s original paintings are being kept, as well as many of Osho’s silkscreen prints. Here too is the home of the Meera Art Foundation Japan, that I established together with Japanese friends Gatasansa and Rama. This year Kantu helped me to re-pack all of Meera’s paintings and collect further data, like size of painting, year of creation, style, and other information that later will appear in the catalogue raisonné of all of Meera’s artwork (meera.werkverzeichnis.at). While staying in Kamakura for that week I met with many friends and we discussed how to expand the work in Japan, even looking for people who might be interested in opening a gallery/coffee shop.

It was such a joy to visit Japan again after 4 years and to bathe not only in the onsen hot springs that you will find all over Japan, but also in the hospitality and kindness that you are bound to meet at every step. Almost nowhere else in the world I feel so welcomed and treated with such generosity and care. If one can overlook the tightness of rules and regulations (that anyway do not apply as strictly to foreigners as gaijin are considered an exception), one is bound to have an amazing time, especially when one is lucky enough to visit during cherry-blossom season.

Japan, the land of Zen, is a country that one needs to discover. Here, busy, high-tech cities exist side by side with ancient temples; blooming trees stand near Zen stone gardens, the rigidity of a strict moral codex exists beside genuine kindness and heartfulness, and a highly developed aesthetic sensibility can be found in places you would not expect.
Japan has touched me in so many ways, and I hope to introduce the spirit of this magical island to many of my Western friends too.

If you do not want to wait for next spring season (because for this year you have missed it), I want to invite you to our Munich exhibition and creativity festival called ‘Blossoming’, May 25-29, 2023, where many of Meera’s cherry blossom paintings will be on display, and you will get a taste of creativity and Zen, Meera-style. More info: meera-art-foundation.com


Svagito is a therapist, author, teacher and training leader. He was Meera’s partner for 25 years and is curating her legacy. family-constellation.net

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