Shades and Absence

額田王「君待つと わが恋ひをれば わが屋戸の簾動かし 秋の風吹く」英語訳

What about Japanese culture fascinates me? Its attention to shades over lights, absence over presence. As pensive and pathetic as it may sound, it is a void in your heart that evokes your reminiscences of people, things and events. An unattended tea cup, empty space at the dining table or a lone laughter in front of the TV set, all of these are a reminder of the loss of, separation or being away from loved ones. It even makes you feel they might be around or alive here or there when you feel the wind blow or when the night falls. This sensibility is pretty universal, for it has been sung in many different forms of poetries in history. For comparison, let me take two examples: one dates back to the 7th century Japan and the other to the 19th century New England.


君待つと わが恋ひをれば わが屋戸の
簾動かし 秋の風吹く
ー 額田王
 kimi matsuto waga koi oreba waga yadono
 sudare ugokashi akino kaze huku

恋しいあなたをひとり待つ 部屋の簾が
揺れたのは 秋の風が吹き抜けたから

Alone in my room… in longing… the blinds…
rustling… in the Autumn wind
– Nukata no Ohkimi


Water, is taught by thirst.
Land – by the Oceans passed.
Transport – by throe –
Peace – by its battles told –
Love, by Memorial Mold –
Birds, by the Snow.
– Emily Dickinson

陸地は ― はるばる越えてきた海が。
歓喜は ― 苦痛が
平和は ― 戦いの物語が
愛は ― 思い出の品が

ー エミリー・ディキンソン

These two don’t depict things themselves but imagination and sentiments they arouse. Absence speaks aloud, in reserved longing and quiet contemplation. Later on in history people built astonishingly ostentatious shrines even deep in the mountains and much later on, today, we see architectural mishmash of Tokyo and their slapdash concrete environs. Do we need to become a hermit and build a hermitage on an isolated moor or prairie to be away from distractions and noise? No. Just try to see what is not here and listen to silence.


Flawless Completion Is Something Undesirable


Learning is something of a journey with no perfection in sight.


In everything, flawless completion is something undesirable. Intriguing is leaving something incomplete so that there is room for growth. – Kenko Ramblings


With all knowledge and experience you have, you still get your skills radar chart showing that you lack a particular skill(s), which means that what you get is something far from the perfect hexagonal chart. You still lack fluency. You get the feeling of missing something, a rough and coarse texture. Dents and repairs. But it’s through your yesterday’s embarrassments and surprise over cultural gaps that you gain insights. That’s what makes growth possible. Assured, decided and committed to what really matters, you let the greatness shine through. That’s the beauty of imperfection.