Moving along at a paltry 200km/ph on the Hayabusa Shinkansen bound for Shin Aomori, and then to Hakodate via the Super Hokuto, it is hard to reconcile experiences and observations in this country filled with anomalies and contradictions. I sit on a westward-facing seat so the blind is predominantly drawn to stop the rapidly falling winter sun’s rays blinding me from my keyboard. (I was not born into the world of computers but grew into them and therefore I readily acknowledge that although I can type at reasonable speed, it is not touch typing: I need to see those keys!) The drawback is, of course, that I cannot appreciate the scenery as it whizzes by – not that there is much to be admired presently as there is little more than urban sprawl, which is not that pleasant in many places but even less aesthetically so in Japan.
Japan boasts some beautiful temples, shrines, parks, trees, gardens and old houses, which can be found in almost any neighbourhood – not just the main tourist attractions that draw millions. Sadly, the “City” (I assume it would be local and city bureaucrats) seem not to have the same sense of value. Power lines, power poles, road signs, billboards, side rails, fences, flags, amongst other eye-polluting menagerie photo-bomb the visual appreciation. Notwithstanding the threat from natural disasters that have facilitated the need for power lines to be above ground (not too sure the logic holds up here as gas is under the ground, but I am no expert), these in-your-face pollutants have sprung like weeds in the “need” to be modern drive. (“Modern” or “developed” is also at times a fallacy as a good deal of Japan outside urban areas [hard to define when the sprawl becomes rural sometimes] is not connected to sewage but to site-specific septic tanks that require emptying periodically, and which have an unfortunate side effect of creating a rather unsavoury pungent odour that permeates the neighbourhood when the “poo truck” arrives to do its duty).
I often wondered what Japanese thought of these “eye sores”, as I had developed a suspicion that possibly they just didn’t notice them at all. This assumption was not based on some random thought spontaneously arriving like an “aha!” moment; it was based on observations of behaviour and on behavioural and cognitive science about information overload and information processing. You could imagine my delight when the opportunity came to test my hypothesis. In one of my classes at a well-known Japanese university, a student was presenting Pecha-Kucha-style on his hometown. One of the images showed a beautiful old rural house sided by two gorgeous Japanese Juniper and a lovely quaint Japanese garden in front. About a quarter of the way from the top, sprawling across the image were multiple power lines silhouetted against a spotless blue sky. It was a tragedy to the beauty of the cultural icons that were in that scene, but one that I have become accustomed to seeing. I asked the student if he could recognise what was out of place in the photo: “which of these things is not like the other” moment. To my great amazement he could not identify anything. I therefore specifically pointed out the numerous power lines polluting the image of the cultural icons to which he responded: “I didn’t even notice it!” The Invisible Gorilla?
I look over my shoulder at the other passengers seated in Car No.1. The front car of the Hayabusa has only six rows with a two-three cabin configuration. I am in 6D, on the bulk head, because an electrical consent is situated on the wall in front, meaning I can connect my computer, phone or iPad – my phone is charging while I tether from its connectivity. (The wonderful unlimited download package I have chosen on my mobile phone means I don’t have to panic about the mounting costs that come from those out-of-date in-the-wrong-paradigm limited free Internet contracts.) Moreover, the passenger seated next to me is also able to charge their device/s should s/he so desire as there is another consent on the side wall – remember this little tidbit: Shinkansen’s have power sockets but they are only on the side walls so target a window seat or a bulk head for the newer versions – unless in Gran Class or Green Car when the configuration is a little different). As with the passenger seated next to me, most of the others in the Car are either asleep or are reading a B6 paper-based book that are churned out by Japanese publishing houses on a menagerie of topics, fictional, factual or wannabe believed-as-factual pseudoscientific fantasy. I am nearly the only one using any technological device that is not a phone (there is one chubby man ogling something on his phone device).
Even though I tend to read, listen to or watch most of my books in digital format recently, I am still partial the paper-based edition. There is some satisfaction in the tangible experience of turning pages, feeling the paper’s texture, adding post-it stickies with notes and thoughts that relate to – or vaguely relate to what is at hand at that moment – an idea later illegible and beyond any declarative or procedural memory as to what it alludes – simply, lost somewhere after existing briefly as a moment in time in working memory. There is also the reality that when the moment comes – and it will – that your body decides that it is time for you to have a nap and you drop the book. Of course, you wake instantly, retrieve the book, look around to see who has noticed your stupor and feelings of foolishness that are coming over you: no one has – likely they are too polite to laugh at you. The relief does not abate so quickly when it is my iPad: I fuss over it, check the screen, the switches, the sound, the most important apps – games and SMS – for the next ten minutes. A book? No worries!
Here I am seated in one of Japan’s most advanced technological masterpieces surrounded by analogue entities. These are people about the same age or younger than me. The juxtaposition stimulates my mind and a thousand thoughts engulf me.
Ironically, the motivation to start this blog has been caused by me giving a task to students in one of my classes: Tokyo Stories. Those stories will soon follow in the tab link on my web page. Another motivation to reactivate my web page and this Blog also has roots in discussions during about six meals with friends and associates in the past two weeks. These encounters both reassured me and confirmed that many around me in my professional and daily existence have no idea about preparing youth for the futures that are racing toward us. And, my activation stems from a “mado giwa” (literally translated as window sitting, but refers to when a person at an organisation is not given any responsibility other than to “stare out the window” – to turn up, a job I know many bureaucrats in many countries would love if they do not already willingly doing so) responsibility. I will explain more about that in another blog soon. The forces came together and once again the message was clear: only you can get yourself out and only you can create opportunities for the stars to align. I could choose: the quagmire created around me or the futures I believe in. This Blog is part of that road ahead. It will not always focus on academic rhetoric nor use appropriate academic methodology to discuss ideas. Much will be about experiences and life in Japan, and more specifically, higher education. For more academic and professional information and discussion, please read π3 Training, Teaching and Experience Tabs.