I was recently in Japan, visiting a good friend while nurturing and growing a better understanding and relationship with her when I realized that she had given me so much more than simply a place to lay my head while I was visiting. Diana opened not only her home to me, she opened her heart, she bared her soul, and she lived with me. Not just lived in the sense that we occupied the same space at the same time; more like she LIVED with me, experiencing things parallel to me, noticing things that I had not noticed and pointing them out, sharing her very different and unique perspectives, and living simultaneously yet very differently. This is the sort of sharing with another human being that I have not done in quite a long time, and I did it very deliberately while relishing each and every moment, remembering to be thankful for the short amount of time, and learning so much that I have taken a while to reduce my thoughts to writing, so let me turn back the clock and move forward from there.
I experienced a once in a lifetime adventure. Prior to leaving for Japan, I thought that the best thing that I could do was to read up on local customs, manners, etiquette, and short polite phrases, lest I be a hypocrite demanding that everyone in America speak English while I am a visitor in another country with no means by which to express even the smallest amount of gratitude in their native tongue. I read up on Japanese culture and customs and I am glad that I did so prior to leaving America. The Japanese have a way of saying only what is necessary; silence is an art form. If I have nothing to say, talking about the weather is superfluous unless I am speaking to a blind person. I don’t know why I would fill the air with the sound of my voice, it isn’t anything special, a bit of a Southern twang when I’m tired or angry, but otherwise, a nondescript sort of whine seems an apt description. I used to fill the air with noise pollution because I had yet to travel on a plane destined for Japan; I had yet to be on a Japanese passenger train bound for Tokyo; and I had yet to be in a Japanese “water park.”
Prior to departing from Newark International Airport, I was sitting in the terminal awaiting boarding. I looked up from my iPhone to see the lady seated across from me with her hand covering her mouth and I couldn’t even hear the faintest whisper. I was deceived by the fact that I could not see her lips moving, therefore, I could hear no sound. Down came her hand and she seemed to be listening intently; back went her hand to her mouth and seated less than 4 feet away, I could not hear a sound. Her conversation ended and she sat reading a paper until we boarded. Silence.
Seated next to the lady on her telephone was an older Japanese couple who kept a seat vacant between them which the wife promptly filled with her carry on bag. She opened the zipper to the bag and a tempest of flying papers burst forth from the zipper and out poured what appeared to be an entire ream of copy paper with various and sundry sheets of indecipherable characters, one of which floated down to my feet. I retrieved the paper, smiled, and handed it back to the wife. She bowed in her seat and diverted her gaze; I followed her lead and did the same. The husband was quite animated as he attempted to catch wafting papers and place them in the seat between them. This is where it gets interesting. From his body language I could infer that the husband was angry (or at least losing patience) with his wife and from the wife’s body language I could infer that she had about enough of his attitude. She put her hand to her mouth, covering her moving lips, she spoke. His eyes opened wide and then narrowed to barely a slit as he put his hand to his mouth and responded. Then silence. Body language relaxed, papers smoothed out, folded and reinserted into the carry on bag. Then I saw the husband reach for his wife’s bag help her to her feet, and holding her elbow he escorted her to the gate with nothing more than silence.
For 13 hours on the plane ride over to Japan, I was seated by the window, there was a young lady in the middle seat and a young man on the aisle; they were not traveling companions, although the young man assisted her in putting her carry on in the overhead compartment. The young man appeared to be Asian, and he had a “Foder’s Guide to Japan” that he read for a bit; the young lady, after putting on her compression socks and blowing up her neck pillow, settled comfortably into her seat. During the drink and food services, the young man and the young lady handed the drinks down the line, took the trays back up the line, and made no eye contact with each other, with me, or with the flight crew. They were polite. They were completely silent. Except for one trip to the restroom, excusing myself to both of my fellow passengers, I was silent as well and I liked it.
I went to a Japanese “water park” which is as far removed from the American concept of “water park” as a mountain is to an ant hill. In Japan, my experience at the “water park” was extreme relaxation and enjoyment at its finest. I bathed in hot mineral springs scented and flavored with various green teas, sake, red wine, coffee, charcoal, traditional Roman and Japanese baths, and a myriad of other hot mineral baths. There were also two swimming pools, one indoor and one outside. During this relaxing and wonderful experience, I noticed many couples, some young and eager to be in love, others older and more there for the family experience, and a good amount of children. In all of the hours we spent there I did not witness one child having a sugar induced melt down; I did not hear one child exude any sound except the sounds of happiness, laughter, and ease and even those sounds were muted, more reserved and mindful that others are also enjoying a moment of public relaxation and enjoyment. Also conspicuously missing from the scenery were the scantily clad, over-sexed teenagers ogling one another. The only thing that resonated loudly within my head was the deafening sound of respect.
It does not appear to me that the people of Japan use language or, more particularly, words in a frivolous manner. They do not cloud the air with senseless and needless verbiage. The weather is obvious, how my day was is subjective, what is for dinner will be obvious. So what is being said behind a hand? What makes the hand over the mouth something mysterious? Is it because I’m a nosy American, always wanting to get the skinny on what is being said, felt, done? I’m pondering my own inability to be silent, to relish the silence, to stop the ever-present vomiting of words into the atmosphere. Words that once spoken cannot be unheard. Words that once expressed cannot be unfelt. Words than once released cannot be forgotten. There is an Art to Silence. I am a child with a crayon. After Japan, I believe that I will be studying on how to be more capable of coloring a masterpiece.