The Face Under the Mask




The third part of this analogy series has to do with personal identity. The idea of the first two is that you show different faces to different people based on who they are and how close you are to them. Politeness to strangers and casualness with friends and family. However, the third part of this cultural idea in Japan is that you don't show anyone the face beneath.

This comes of as kind of dark to me, as I'm sure it does to many of you. I believe the ideal is that you keep your internal world to yourself so that you don't burden others and you get done what needs doing. This is a perfectly admirable ideal in its own way, and it really does make for a hallmark of this collectivist society that I've come into. However, this isn't exactly an ideal in the US. We still have these social niceties of not bothering others and being polite, but it's less strict and we're simultaneously told to be ourselves and not to let anyone put you down. IN that spirit I'll talk a bit about my inner world and how exploring on my own has brought me peace lately.

The second half of this summer has been significantly different from the first half. My program was split into 2 blocks that changed mid-summer, around when the rainy season ended. With that change, I got a new roommate, the friends I made before all left and very few people from the previous block stayed behind. We all had different schedules so we didn't get to hang out a lot, those of us that stayed, and I also didn't have the same schedule as my new roommate. He was always out when I got back and too tired to go do anything when we both happened to be around during the day, so I did what I do, which was to content myself with some solo exploration.

I had a couple of occasions where others would join, but for the most part people were much less interested in exploring when I was available to or stuck to the groups they formed in the beginning. Nothing wrong with that, and I went to plenty of cool places. We had a group activity on Friday, as the program likes to do, but it took me out near Kinkakuji, the golden temple in one of the pictures. It's a beautiful shrine in a beautiful pond with an interesting hostory including a mad monk proclaiming it too beautiful to exist and burning it down.

On another solo trip checking out the Gion area of Kyoto during Gion Matsuri, I happened across the other picture. It has to be intentional, but it's a massive stone bowl I saw outside a shop after dipping my feet in the nearby creek. I thought it just a bowl of standing water with some moss and leaves in it. I thought that was noteworthy enough to take a closer look and appreciate the foliage when I noticed the small fish in there as well. This was enough to mesmerize me and I must've watched the fish for 10 minutes before moving on to head home. It was a wonderful moment of awe in the middle of the city on a hot day.

I didn't go into detail here about the negative side of what became a period of effective isolation. Perhaps I can't really take that mask off completely, but that's not what you're here for anyway. Suffice to say I had some internal struggles to deal with, but eventually I got pretty close with a guy that was in the first block, starting on that Hieizan trip I've already talked about extensively. We'd just never really had a chance to get to know each other until we had some exchanges in one class and then got stuck in a hotel room on a mountain together for a night and got to talking for real.

The mask idea is useful, and I think we all use it in a way. You can only be truly close to so many people after all. Being more aware of this idea and experiencing it in the society of origin first hand, I appreciate the mindset. For us, not raised or living in this society, it's worth thinking about your own masks, and perhaps take them off a little more often. You might make a new friend in an unexpected place!