Sunday, April 13, 2014

14. 鴻鴈北: "Migrating Waterfowl Head North"

(BGM: "I'm Like A Bird" by Nelly Furtado)

Whistling Swans (Cygnus columbianus) and Bean Geese (Anser Fabalis) on Lake Biwa in Nagahama
Shichijuni-kou (72 Seasons) Calendar Listing
晩春 Banshun: "Late Spring"
Season No. 5: 清明, Seimei: 
"Clear And Bright"  

Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) on promenade in the moat at Hikone Castle, Shiga. 

Climate No. 14: 鴻鴈北 
Kougan Kaeru: "Migrating Waterfowl Head North" 
(April 9 -April 13)

The swallows may have arrived, but in Japan, it's time for the swans and geese to go. Master commuters of the bird world, these migrating waterfowl rack up the mileage points every year, flying back and forth to favorite feeding and breeding grounds in a perpetual loop. Along their arduous journey, some birds get left behind and are adopted by flocks of different species. Still others wander away from their extended families to create their own flocks.

Common Gulls (Larus canus, a seasonal species for Shiga) on the wind above Lake Biwa, Nagahama.

But no matter what they do, only one thing is certain: to survive, they have to keep moving, ever sensitive to minute changes in their environment. When their feeding grounds are all picked over and pooped on, it's time to move on.

Webbed Footprints (Nagahama, Shiga)
Many of us expats living in Japan tend to conduct our lives in much the same spirit of transience. We can become so used to a life of constant motion, that we develop an aversion to the idea of settling down. After awhile, this mindset can permeate all facets of expat life, from our work to relationships. I am no exception to this. Even as I write, I'm in the process of letting go of someone I loved for nearly half my life. There's nothing I can do about the unanswered emails I've been sending once a year, pretending the person on the other side cared. I just have to let go, because obviously, my friend already let go of me.

Pintails (Anas acuta) scooting around Lake Mishima (Nagahama, Shiga)
Whenever I feel this resigned, I'm always reminded of my old home in Alaska. I spent the majority of my years on a street named after the Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator). Every autumn, I'd spot them flying over our black spruce-covered neighborhood in an elegant V formation, cooing a lonely, haunting requiem, as if departing Alaska with great reluctance. I'd always feel a pang in my heart whenever I heard them, remembering the people no longer actively participating in my life.

Whistler Swans taking a nap on the shores of Lake Biwa (Nagahama, Shiga).

Apparently the haiku poet Basho, who often traveled around major waterfowl hub Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture, was similarly moved by a flock of geese he saw leaving in the spring for their summer home:

"Friends part forever- 
  Wild geese
   Lost in clouds." -Matsuo Basho

Separation is never a happy thing. We still love, and the pain is sweet. But we move on despite of it, knowing the pain will eventually dissipate with time. Travel helps the memories fade a little faster. My friend, like the swans and geese of Shiga, was there one day, nowhere to be found the next. Parted forever? I have to assume so.

I see a lesson to be learned from this let-down, however, that's far too powerful to be left ignored: Suffering comes from attachment. Nothing is permanent, not even frienship. There's a saying along these lines, founded in Buddhism, that accurately reflects the truly transient nature of human relationships:

一期一会, Ichi-go, ichi-e.
 "One time, one meeting."

Statue of Ii Naosuke at Hikone Castle, Shiga.
Coined by tea master and Tokugawa Shogunate chief administrator Ii Naosuke (1815-1860, daimyo of Hikone Castle situated near the shores of Lake Biwa), this expression is often mistranslated by Westerners in the negative sense, in that all frienships must end at some point. Since my home culture programmed me  through media and religion to see concepts of love and friendship as eternal despite all laws of nature, I had an intensely difficult time wrapping my head around this one.

But the Japanese also see this phrase in the positive, for it can mean that every meeting, like every moment, is purely unique. Our time spent in the company of others must be done so in the spirit of servitude. The tea ceremony (茶道 sado) is a prime example of this concept in practice, with every motion choreographed to appear as if executed with the utmost grace. Every motion, like every moment, is a gift shared with the guest. Each person who crosses our path deserves our kindness. Sometimes, this is tough to remember, especially when we need to let go of those who cause us pain.

Just as the migratory birds must keep moving to survive, our hearts must remain open to the new people we meet, unafraid of attachment or injury. If they're not, then we suffer. But if we truly live in the moment, there's no need to attach. Leaving a frienship means room in the heart for another to begin. And so it goes. (So we come and go).

Flavor of the Season: 苺, Ichigo, Strawberries

Though the peak season for strawberries in Japan is actually the middle of March, many restaurant chains hold their strawberry fairs and promotional campaigns this time of year. On a chilly, rainy Sunday afternoon, a fellow expat friend and I found ourselves unable to resist their juicy, decadent pull. Sweet with just the right amount of tang, fresh, scarlet strawberries harmonize effortlessly with a dollop of pillowy whipped cream.

Strawberry Parfait at Gusto Restaurant (nationwide chain).
May each encounter be sweet! "Ichi-go, ichi-e," indeed!

Copyright 2014 Genkilee, Gen. All rights reserved. No part of this blog (written or photo content) may be reproduced or reprinted without the expressed permission of the author.

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