Twice a year, I make a pilgrimage to Tokyo, one of my favorite cities. Like many in Hong Kong, I take guilty pleasure in all things Japanese. Saddled by the burden of history, all ethnic Chinese in my generation are taught to loathe the Japanese or at least keep them at bay. How we are to separate our sworn enemies’ heinous past from their admirable qualities continues to elude every Japanophile among us.
Moral dilemmas aside, I find the Japanese aesthetics irresistible. The marriage of Shintoism and Zen Buddhism has produced such core values as wabi (侘; simlicity and transience) and sabi (寂; beauty of age and time). They are the underpinnings of every aspect of the Japanese culture from theater and architecture to food preparation and social etiquette. A perfect storm was formed when these values collided with bushido (武士道), the strict code of conduct of the samurai warrior, resulting in an idiosyncrasy that is exacting, nuanced and immensely graceful. At once a philosophy and a national identity, the Japanese aesthetics make even the most mundane of activities, such as cooking a bowl of udon or gift-wrapping a box of rice crackers, a ceremonial ritual to behold and admire.
I checked into my usual hotel in the Nihonbashi (日本橋) area and was led to the familiar room by a porter of impeccable manners...
Read the rest of this essay in HONG KONG State of Mind, available at major bookstores in Hong Kong and at Blacksmith Books.
|HONG KONG State of Mind|