Two months have passed. Everything about my weekdays are steeped in familiarity now. The same trainers greet me every day as I sweatily climb the stairs at the pool, the cheap apples are always tucked in the same corner of the grocery store, and I can always expect the smell of fresh choux buns on the escalator to out of the subway.
Life is still pretty lovely. It is difficult to decide what to write; there is simply too much to say. I’m filling up on red bean paste and walnuts because it is just not the same in Canada. Japanese firefighters were hitting on me, so I guess I can check that off of my bucket list as well. There are giant, hideous koi that swim in the river near the pool that I look for as I pass by.
Work at CityNet is picking up in anticipation of the 12th Disaster Cluster Seminar, which will be held in September at the end of my work here. Preparing flyers, crunching survey data, and writing reports keeps me busy. Hearing what municipalities have to say about implementing abstract mechanisms and commitments towards disaster risk reduction has been a highlight of this past month. I am so consistently impressed with how hard the people at the organization work and their clear respect for each other and their partner organizations.
I have been able to meet some incredible people and organizations through my work. This month alone, we will have the chance to work with the local fire department, visit a disaster risk reduction centre, and organize a site visit with representatives from other cities involved in CityNet. The agility of the organization in coordinating these kinds of activities is always impressive to me, particularly since there are so many stakeholders and institutions involved. I have a deep sense of respect for my coworkers; they have found the balance between working devotedly to these professional goals with a light, infectious sense of humour that always surprises me and makes the day pass quickly. Working here is expanding what I expect of myself and what I will seek from my future career, as well as shaping the important values with which I will align my life.
It also happens to be the rainy season in Japan, which essentially feels like a very sweaty November. A November with mosquitoes, thick air, and hydrangeas. I have been stuck indoors due to the frequent storms, which has led to some challenging but necessary rumination.
The thing that occupies my mind is the thought of leaving. Particularly when I am tired or emotional, sometimes a sense of numbness creeps into my stomach. All of the essential elements of life feel so temporary. Friendships, relationships, anxiety, happiness, fear, jobs; all of these things subside over time. Handling this kind of loss has always been difficult for me. I have a habit of what I like to call “pre-mourning.” This is when you anticipate a difficult change or a loss in the future, so you spend several weeks (or even months) silently grieving the difficult emotions that you predict that you will feel soon.
It seems practical, and it has allowed me to handle change effectively in the past. However, I really am not fond of the fact that this kind of thinking makes me rue the future. The truth is that grieving the loss of the small community that I have built in Yokohama is a mistake. I have no way of predicting what connections will endure, which will erode, and what new relationships I may forge in the future. When I return to Canada, I already have another job lined up; it will be something new and challenging, and I’m really looking forward to it.
One of my favourite concepts from my undergraduate research was the idea of bounded rationality. It’s the idea that decision-makers (and all humans) are forced to make decisions with limited knowledge and resources, so they attempt to make the most logical decisions possible with the constraints that they have. This theory portrays human beings as well-meaning but imperfect agents, operating to the best of their ability despite limited resources. Perhaps some of this generosity should be expanded beyond the theoretical realm to us as people. I would like to believe that we are all striving to do the best that we can, even if we lack the omniscience to know the optimal choices.
I hope that when I look back on this time, I can still remember all of these moments. Elementary school children lined up across Yokohama Station, their little yellow hats bobbing. The crooked smile of Yoshio, a retired crane operator who swims daily at six in the morning to keep himself healthy and independent. The wind gusting over the bridges that drags my hair over my face each time I cross it. How can I carry all of these tiny wonders without letting my memory lapse?
Anyways, I have been thinking on this old Zen proverb that I once heard in a lecture on Japanese premodern culture, in another situation where there was an impending choice. If you are also in a liminal state, I hope that it brings you as much comfort as it does for me.
The Tiger and the Strawberry Parable
One day, while walking through the wilderness, a man stumbled upon a vicious tiger. He ran but soon came to the edge of a high cliff.
Desperate to save himself, he climbed down a vine and dangled over the fatal precipice. As he hung there, two mice appeared from a hole in the cliff and began gnawing on the vine.
Suddenly, he noticed on the vine a plump wild strawberry. He plucked it and popped it in his mouth. It was extraordinarily delicious!