Traveling at Weather’s Whim

Now that we’re a couple weeks into official winter, I want to revisit the issue of weather. More specifically, I would like to address my desire to hibernate for three months and inability to wake up before noon if it’s not sunny.

So instead of hibernating or sleeping all day, I am escaping this admittedly mild winter for a tropical island whose temperature rarely drops below 70 degrees. In a little over month, I’m flying to Okinawa, Japan for a family/research adventure. Near-equatorial weather aside, I’ll be among people who are just pushed and pulled by climate as I.

Cathy Davidson says this about weather in 36 Views of Mount Fuji:

The Japanese expect connections between external conditions and internal ones. If the rainy season, for example, comes too late or lasts too long, everyone starts acting strange; it becomes almost a national obsession. The national meteorological service feels compelled to apologize publicly for the disruption.

I get anxious when the groundhog doesn’t see his shadow. I get cranky when I’m cold.  I let external conditions affect my own, but Davidson continues:

In the West, our usual impulse is to deny that anything as significant as the ego could be influenced by mere nature.

But isn’t it easier to blame nature than ourselves for any faults of ego? Nature, weather, rain is the perfect scapegoat for the fact that I’m still in bed at 1 o’clock. Maybe in Japan I could get away with that argument, but with a warm forecast I won’t have to.


January 6, 2010. Tags: , , , . autobio, travel. Leave a comment.

Cultural Splits in Okinawa

Painting of Naha Port in Okinawa by Seikichi Tamanaha

Every college student in the arts and humanities learns this magical, essay-salvaging word: dichotomy. It’s the perfect basis for any legitimate or bullshit thesis statement, and professors eat it up. Webster’s defines it primarily as

1 : a division into two especially mutually exclusive or contradictory groups or entities

This word came to mind while researching for my upcoming trip to Okinawa, a small Japanese island in the southern archipelago of the Ryukyus. Long before Japan took Okinawa as a prefecture in the late 1800s, the tropical island had established a strong cultural identity that thrives today. But there is also strong Japanese influence; for instance, the native language has nearly been forgotten and replaced by that of the mainland. There is a split, a distinct dichotomy of cultures on a piece of land merely 60 miles long and at most 12 miles wide.

But Okinawa is much more than a dichotomy. A multichotomy, let’s say. Strategically placed at the center of East and Southeast Asia, Okinawa takes influence from all surrounding countries. Plus there’s the whole U.S. occupation for 27 years after WWII thing.

Okinawa imported a plucked three-stringed fiddle from China (along with their musical scale and notation system) and called it the sanshin. The Okinawans adjusted the instrument’s tone and structure, and it eventually made its way to mainland Japan, where it became the better-known shamisen (maybe you’ve seen God of Shamisen or Masters Musicians of Bukkake play electrified versions of this).

I will write much more on this later, but I wanted to tonight partly because I got to hear stories of this culturally confused haven at the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis‘ presentation on Okinawan Art, Culture & Character: Past and Present Perspectives (one of which was my aunt’s), and also because, by wonderful celestial coincidence, it’s a quarter moon tonight, which covers Webster’s secondary definition of dichotomy:

2 : the phase of the moon or an inferior planet in which half its disk appears illuminated

September 26, 2009. Tags: , , . music. Leave a comment.