In the Gardens

Image Credit: Wiki Commons

Image Credit: Wiki Commons

I remember the first time that I saw a monk and I will likely never forget it. It was June, the weather of San Francisco was warm, but the bay air kept it from becoming too hot. The sun was high, but not blinding, as it was blocked out by lush green trees and the red pagoda that stood tall just a few meters away. Many would say that he was a fake—just someone dressing up, and I shouldn’t hold onto a false memory, but there was a certain energy that he gave off, something that he just seemed to exude, and I knew that he was real. The trail where I encountered him was lined with rock lanterns and benches to rest upon, something I took quick advantage of because I just wanted to relax amidst an atmosphere rarely encountered in the chaos of my life. So, it was easy to spot the brightness of his robes as they stood out amongst the green surroundings. He walked slowly, carefully, and every time someone walked by him, he would bow—or, at least, that’s what it seemed like. I knew that watching him was rude and I shouldn’t have stared, but it was almost impossible to look away.
I stood up before he reached me, and as he passed by, he bowed to me—or toward me—his head low, his palms together. There was a feeling that surged inside me that I doubt I will ever truly understand and I wondered what he thought of me, if I even crossed his mind outside of recognizing my existence. I wondered a lot of things about him—what did he think about as he walked through the gardens? What did he think when he stepped outside and encountered the claustrophobic city after being inside garden—something almost outside of time? Did he, perhaps, stand atop the moon bridge and just breathe, taking in all the scents of the surrounding foliage—the flowers, the trees, the air—as I did? Did he enjoy the kuzumochi or did he refrain from eating such sweets?
He walked on, slowly making his way down the path and out of my life, his bright robes a contrast against the green, and yet he seemed to slowly blend into the garden, as if he were a part of it, too. I’ll never know his name, as he never uttered a word, but his presence spoke more than any language ever could. Perhaps, if I am to be honest, he wasn’t bowing to me. It could have been that he was just bowing, as he always did, and I just interpreted it as what I wanted it to be. I wanted this man—someone who seemed to exude such peace and tranquility as if he embodied the garden he walked through—to acknowledge me, but who was I to want such a thing? Me, a college student whose life was a whirlwind of crazy—of stress and exams, of anxieties—who was I?
Perhaps one day I will encounter him again and I could walk with him through the garden—climb the moon bridge and stand atop it with him, his orange robes like a beacon. Perhaps I will learn his name.

By: Greyson Gardner

The Pachinko Parlor

Ian Scott Silk Road Blog Post ImageAfter working as an assistant editor for this magazine, the words Silk Road no longer hold the meaning they once did. If you were to do a Google search of “Silk Road” the first result is a Wikipedia page describing the historical trade route. Following that, there is a plethora of hits on the infamous illegal online drug marketplace, also known as “Silk Road.” This literary magazine doesn’t appear on a Google search until page three, following a hit on a Stanford website of a project with the same name.

Falling into a static view of the world is common. It’s easy to forget that there are a multitude of perspectives on any subject. Some of these differences are entrenched in a region or society’s culture and language. This past January I returned from a three week trip to Japan during which I collected data for my thesis regarding cultural differences in facial perception between Japan and America. The above picture is of a Pachinko parlor near Fuchinobe Station in Tokyo, just down the road from J.F. Oberlin University where I was collecting data. Watami, advertised above the SilkRoad sign, serves some really good Korean style raw horse (bazashi).

As opposed to American culture, it is not as acceptable to be extravagantly boisterous and to constantly display overt emotion. There the emotional culture is one more of facial stoicism. Consequently, when reading faces, Japanese people tend to look at the eye as it is harder to hide emotional expression in that part of the face.  In America we tend to be more open about our emotional state and advertise it, thus Americans tend to look at the mouth, where it is easier to read emotions.

This difference is most exemplified in the use of emoticons. An article titled “Cross-cultural comparison of nonverbal cues in emoticons on Twitter: evidence from big data analysis” published in the Journal of Communication, Park, Baek, and Cha found that Japan uses vertically orientated emoticons which emphasize the eyes. Conversely, in America we tend to use horizontally orientated emoticons which emphasize the mouth.

Asia is in many ways fundamentally different than the west. They eat “strange” food, they tend to hide their emotions more than we do, and they even read faces differently. In essence, they have a fundamentally different view of the world and society around them. I’ve already read some of the submissions for Silk Road’s Asian edition.  I must say I’ve been impressed and moved on all accounts, and this Asian edition is something I am really looking forward to. I hope that this upcoming edition will shed some light on a new way to approach or think about the world. I encourage you to put your preconceived notions of the world down and fully open yourself up to these new perspectives. Asia has a lot to offer. All you need to do is read.

By Ian Scott

Image Credit: Kana Tateyama

Kabuki Dance of Japan

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“Our

Shadows 

Dance like kabuki

Apparitions through a

Shoji screen~ …” 

~Kabuki~ (excerpt), Leila Fortier

When I first read ~Kabuki~ by Leila Fortier for Silk Road’s issue “Voices on Asia”, I was immediately struck by the imagery it presented, really drawing me in and fueling an interest as to what kabuki (歌舞伎) is — a Japanese style of theatre and dance that ties in elements of drama, the kanji for it sometimes translated as “the art of singing and dancing”. The art form is thought to have begun in 1603, founded by a female dancer named Izumo no Okuni. It was designed as entertainment for the common people of the time, marking it the first as such. Although started by a female, the participation of female dancers was banned in 1629, with young men taking their place in the performance. It shifted once more in 1652 from portrayals done by young men to being done by older men — this shift is what has carried through to present day.

As it developed, the form moved through parody to genuine, serious performance. Many things were transferred from life to the stage, including historical plays, domestic stories, and dance pieces. A common theme for kabuki theatre is the idea of  the “lovers double suicide”, similar Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Staging for this art form is complex, originally called “magic box” due to the ever shifting elements including lifts, traps, and even revolving platforms — this is where the image of shoji screens that Fortier draws, comes into play.

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When not wearing Noh masks, actors frequently wear distinguishing make-up that highlights their features, examples including white face paint and red lips. The bright and colorful nature doesn’t  end with the make-up either, but carries on through to the costumes worn by actors. Each costume’s color and design has a different meaning, just going to show how intricate and detailed kabuki theatre is.

One of the most incredible things about kabuki is the fact that it’s a  traditional style of entertainment that has carried over to the modern era, even remaining the most popular form of traditional theatre in Japan. Kabuki is currently performed in The National Theatre of Japan with each piece lasting around four to five hours.

If the intricate nature of kabuki caught your interest and you want to learn about other cultural elements in Asia, you’ll find them in Silk Road’s newest issue, Voices on Asia, which will be released on December 9th.

By: Alex Clanton

Image Credits: WikiCommons & visipix.com