Japan Musings 7: Fuji Center

Hokusai, Thirty Six Views of Mt. Fuji
A co-worker talked to me about his long term interest in Shotokan, a form of Karate, talking about how it was as much about thinking as about the body.  He invited me to attend a session, and sure enough i found it interesting on many levels, like much from Japan.

Each session began with a sit, in which you put your feet beneath your body and hold that posture in silence until the sensei says to end it (seiza).  i found this to be incredibly painful.  If you haven't spend your life sitting the way the Japanese sit, and decide to go at when you're in your late 50's, you're going to hurt.  But sitting there one morning, a thought came..

i felt my body planted and one with the earth.  How could i not, with all the pain it was sending to me head?  And me head seemed apart from all this, as the collector of messages but the generator of none.  The body was earth, the mind the sky; one planted in the realities of planet and life and aging, the other floating in thoughts of candy bars and pipe dreams.  The image that came into me head in that instant was Mt. Fuji.

Mt. Fuji is many things.  It is the earth solid and sure of itself as any mountain, yet its top is covered in snow and often de-materializes into cloud.  It's perfect symmetry and isolation objectifies this aspect of its nature.  It is and it isn't.  It was just this i felt sitting in seiza, with body of the earth and mind of the sky, and in the many depictions of Fuji in art, where its identity shifts from earth to flower to sky to wave; it can be what you imagine it to be.  What appears on the one hand to be so insistent and clear about its identity can on another day become vague and indifferent about the same.  And so another example of the Japanese sense of de-centered being discussed in earlier posts.

Fuji is about which Japan revolves, a single, insistent point of reference.  Hokusai created his series of views of Mt. Fuji in a way that described just such a centeredness, as he moved around the mountain as all revolves around the mountain, describing it in all seasons and weather.  The paradox is that Japan revolves around a center that at times doesn't exist, it focuses attention on something there as much as not there, and the fact that Fuji is a volcano can't be dismissed.  As mentioned previously (Japan Musings 2) about the train station as empty center, so Fuji, the assumed symbol of stability and gravity, is little more than a valve of the earth core, expelling when the time comes, emptying itself and revealing the true center, that of the earth itself.

And so The Land of the Rising Sun, de-centered, in flux and fluid, and prepared to reset the calendar any moment, Mt. Fuji or not.

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