Japanese Wood: a nostalgic story of loss

This is my last post about Japanese woods – for a while. I decided not to return to Japan until my PhD defense. As a sort of tribute, I want to share some Japanese experience in the woods that I really love. In this country, you can find often wooden plates with beautiful stories about the trees. It is something I enjoyed reading. It reminded me which romantic idea about Japanese people and their relationship with nature… pulled me to Japan more than three years ago. However, I learned that some practices, like sharing stories about trees, are the last elements of a lost or eroding culture, or perhaps even a western romantic fantasy about Japan, as I described here: Changing the Stories We Live By #4: Grief.

Last year, in early spring, around the same time, my parents came to visit and we visited Nara, the ancient capital. My favourite part of that day trip were these two trees. Then, I thought it was a romance, but now I associate it more with the awkward relationship between China and Japan.

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It happens often that the Japanese adapt the construction to the tree, and not the other way. I like this kind of respect for these ancient old beings. Unfortunately this practice is only applied to sacred trees…

To close the Japanese chapter (for now), let me list all the posts I wrote about Japan in the past 18 months (in reverse chronological order):

  1. Spring Clean in early February
  2. Koyasan in winter- a masculine landscape with feminine lessons
  3. Winter solstice and Christmas in Japan
  4. Tea tasting: Kumazasa-cha
  5. Changing the Stories We Live by #1: Appreciating Rain
  6. Forests, Mountains and other therapists
  7. Fireworks, Bamboo and the Height of Japanese Summer
  8. Wood weaving & forest bathing in Nagano, Japan
  9. What did a visit to Japan’s suicide forest teach me about forest therapy?
  10. Birch cake and the colonization of Hokkaido’s nature and Ainu
  11. Meeting Japan’s curse spirits during a Forest Bath
  12. Forest Therapy Taking Root
  13. Nakansendo’s whispers – or different interpretations of Silence
  14. Become Line friends with Japanese camphor trees
  15. “Holly” Devil, it’s Spring again!
  16. Vitamin Ginkgo for your November Depression
  17. Is the feminization of tea culture leading to the loss of the zen-spirit?
  18. DIY Forest Therapy 森林浴

I plan to process some of these blogs in a story. Please let me know in comments which you liked the most, and what I should elaborate more upon in my novel.

Back to ‘Norwegian Wood’

Last year, my Japanese yoga teacher, 70 years old and the smile, spirit and the eyes of a 7 year old, told me and other customers about a shinrin yoku event, that it is organised by me in less than three weeks for the yoga studio, that my Norwegian ‘handsome’ friend will join (her customers are old Japanese ladies who like the company of ‘young blond men’), and then she mentions  there is a Japanese book about Norwegian wood.

“You mean the book from Murakami?” I asked.  

“Yes, him”, she said enthusiast, and said something in Japanese to the other customer. 

I said: “It is actually based on a song of the Beatles, not really about Norway.” 

It’s funny. What I didn’t tell them was this book had been in my mind for some days. Yesterday I had also thought about this book and decided to write a kind of autobiographical story. I had already written one sentence: I never have understood why Japanese love the song Norwegian wood so much. This book with its nostalgic story brings also back memories to me. I read it like 7 years ago, some months after I spend ten days in Norway and met the Norwegian friend who was going to visit me in Japan.

In Norway, summer 2012.

I do not recall the exact reason anymore why I picked that book early 2013, but something tells me I was back then also very attracted by Norwegian woods, and had also thought the book was going to be about nature (I was so wrong). Plus… I started to also get interested in Japan, and that was actually also because of a conversation I had on a long train ride from Oppdal to Oslo, just after I said goodbye to this new Norwegian friend. This American lady and I had the kind of conversations you will remember even decades later. I love free beer (which tastes extra good in ridiculously expensive Norway) and I do love stories, so I  had no problem at all to be adopted by her for 5-6 hours. She and her husband had lived in Japan for seven years… I still remember she told me: ‘How longer I lived in Japan, how less I understood this country.There was some invitation -and a challenge- in her story, for this then 23 year old girl. Only recently I had a travel of 9 months around the world, and would move soon to Prague to make a big turn in my career and study writing, editing and directing films. I think at that moment I knew for 100% I would go to Japan, and for 69% that I would also stay there for a long time. And yes, more than five years later, I moved to Japan and I know, today, she was so damn right.

Closing the circle?

The irony  is that the same friend from the Norwegian Wood, who I got to know in the same week as this American lady, became (back) an important person for me in the last year… A kind of a Gandalf. Beard and all. Perhaps he still is. But perhaps he is becoming  a character of a nostalgic story. Sometimes, we are connected with places, persons… for a short time, but the connection will always be there, in our heart. Like a story on a wooden plate. It is not really there, but it continues to live in our imagination, dreams and memories.  As long Japanese keep their wooden plates, and I tell stories about the past, it stays alive and does not really get lost. But now it is time to move on. Japan had asked a bit too much from me and I need to distance myself from it and process. Perhaps I return to the Norwegian Wood, and taking this same train, but opposite direction, from Oslo to the inland of Norway, tell some younger kid about Japan and treat him or her on beer. Would that not be the closing of a circle? 

Time of healing, so also time of letting things go

update (17/03/2020): While I wrote this blog early March, I am not sure if I will go to Norway. I subscribed for WWOOF Norway, but it seems now that I cannot enter the country for the next weeks. I am now in Belgium, in the house of my parents, and healing there. I do not have corona symptoms yet, but since November I have pain in my chest (of anxiety). As if I cannot be free.

When I look outside, It is clear that our planet cannot breathe. We already knew this for a while. Now we are, or are about to be, back home with ourselves, isolated, distanced, limited, without any possible distractions that we worked so hard to afford, and that keep us away from who we really are and how we really feel about our lives. I feel sorry for all the victims and pray for them. However, I also try to nourish myself, to heal, become stronger, reinvent myself. I try to focus on small tasks and projects that help me to find myself, heal me. I am following some on-line courses, go walking a lot (alone, keeping distance, in more unknown forests), am reading and writing. I am even wondering if Norway is the next destination for me. So perhaps there are more things I have to declutter, to breathe more openly. Perhaps some places better stay stories?