Wedding Island

If I were as young as Misty, I would be tempted to write a thesis on the use of public space in Japan.  But then I see the faces of those Westerners – Andrew (Canadian) and Beat ((Bay’-aht – Swiss, but more Japanese than the Japanese) – when I ask them how they are getting on with writing Japanese, even after 10 years of living here.  I can see that whatever insights I might get into Japanese culture from visiting, I will always be looking in through a small window, and probably forever be limited to the hello, bon appetit, I’m sorry, I’m really sorry, I am excruciatingly sorry, excuse me, please, oh-so please, thank you, how much does it cost, where is the toilet, and ordering sushi.

Here’s a sign announcing my workshop location in the building:

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The workshop is in a brand new physical therapy facility on the bayside in Fukuoka.  As everywhere here, space is at a premium, so maximum use is made of it.  As in Nagoya, sculpture abounds. My paper would have to distinguish the public space use from the architecture; I admire modern Japanese architecture without really liking it much (but then, like Prince Charles, I don’t like any modern architecture much).

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It doesn’t mix well with the old (on the right, above) in my opinion.
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Between the architecture, however, is another story, like the walkway above to the Fukuoka Tower.  And just outside this brand new hospital is a lawn with white oversize furniture – a huge lamp, coffee table, and chairs for some genteel Titan, no utility whatsoever.  Right at the entrance a path of paving stones leads into a sculptural bamboo arbor thingie, and leads out only to dissolve into a random arrangement near the street.  It is nice to know that this orderly culture has a whimsical side – and this one had to be approved all the way from the top, the serious man at the head of this hospital.

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The JAL resort hotel we return to each night is huge, all sweeping curves, with a stomach-dropping open elevator to the 35th floor at one end, revealing the extent of the Fukuoka valley as you ascend.  The hall where we meet for breakfast is five stories of open space shaped like a horn with a round wall of glass at the end – needs a Pavarotti concert, not just scrambled eggs and odd pickles.  Beside this monster hotel is the Fukuoka Yahoo! Dome, home of the Sea Hawks.  All the Japanese baseball teams have American names – Giants, Dodgers, Lions, Tigers, and Bears, oh mai!

Around the dome is a shopping mall of gargantuan proportions, stuffed with all your familiar stores (and some not, including a deafeningly noisy and smoky pachinko parlour, where you can sit and bet (real money) on a video horserace.  The race comes complete with the initial walk-by inspection of the horses – but it’s all computer-generated anime, for chrissake, don’t you think they are going to manipulate the race so that the house wins?)

Ach, I’m headed in the other direction to the walking bridge across the cement-banked river mouth to make it to the beach. But look around the corner, anywhere, behind the hotel, next to a store, under an abutment – and there is a tiny but exquisite bit of garden.  Tended by someone they must be, but populated now by dubious looking cats who find my invitations to a rub somewhat dubious in return.  But I must make it to the beach this morning, in order to contact the ocean.  Touching the salt water – in this case the Sea of Japan – is de rigeur.

Down the soft brown beach is a large pier crowded with buildings, apparently including a church, begging exploration.  I walk out on the boardwalk onto Wedding Island.  Between Disney and Vegas, this is a one-stop wedding circuit, starting with a receiving area, and then the company moves into the large christian-looking chapel (but no cross – more about religion next post), then into a dining and reception area, and on out the other side of the walkway to head for your honeymoon – with another party sweeping into marital bliss right behind you. All packed onto a 150’ square concrete platform with the waves lapping underneath.

It is interesting what the Japanese absorb from our culture and what they don’t. No kimonos and obis here; it’s all long white dresses, rose petals, and a tux.  Nice site for a wedding, I guess, seaside and all, but the plastic packaging of a sacrament gets to me and I maunder back to the boardwalk and its kitschy souvenir stands, ready to join Miyashi in an anti-American re-purification of Japanese culture.  Someone, a recent student in America, pointed out to me that the same is true in reverse – we accept sushi and tofu and chopsticks and tattoo ourselves with Asian characters – often incorrect: she saw an American kid who proudly showed her the Japanese character for ‘peace’ inked into his back, when in fact it was something like ‘momma’s boy’.

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