Japan: A Cultural Immersion and a Sense of Zen

I feel a perfect sense of stillness inside me. I feel a perfect sense of Zen.

It all began with an exhibition.

I went to see Krazy! The Delirious World of Anime + Manga + Video Games exhibition in New York’s Japan Society tonight. When you enter, the feeling of Japan greets you. The lobby of the buildings feels like you are entering in a space where a different state of mind exists. There is a small waterfall, which comes down from the second floor. The pool it falls into has plants in it and I imagined how if this were a garden in a Zen monastery it would have fish swimming in it. The pool on the second floor had bamboos and some other beautiful yet simple green plants growing in it. The sound of the falling water was so enchanting. It created a feeling of energy moving and flowing in a graceful dance. The preferred building material was light wood, which added to the sense of the building being integrated with the nature inside it.

The exhibition was a small one yet very interesting. It made me realize that illustrations are really the perfect means for creating imaginary worlds and exploring stories where characters have spiritual powers. For example Afro in the Afro Samurai was seeking to become “Number One” or the one who rules the world, wielding powers akin to a god. It is also very interesting how some of the manga series presented in the exhibition were disturbingly over-the-top violent. Trying to understand the violence, I can only say that the creators of the series were seeking to explore the emotions of violence and create a world through which they can learn. In reality, manga, anime and all forms of art are venues for creation, exploration and learning.

The first room presented manga (comic books). The best feature of this room and may be of the whole exhibit was the book-womb. The book-womb was a bookcase that was build using light wood in a circular shape and there was a small entrance where you needed to bent in order to get inside. There was a small bench where you can sit and read the comic books. Once inside I felt so secluded. I felt like I have discovered a special place where I can read and disappear from the world. There was a room with video games and also a screening room where you can see all these different anime films.

The little Japan Society store had all sorts of cool things inside from traditional tea sets and vases to modern and goofy things like wallets made out of sturdy paper or doorstops in the share of a banana peel.

To have sushi for dinner was the appropriate way to continue the cultural emersion I dove into. There is a great and unpretentious looking Japanese restaurant close by the Japan Society called Nada Sushi. The owners, the waiters and the Sushi chefs were all Japanese and the food was as authentic as it can be. I had the simplest of appetizers. It was grilled shitake mushrooms served on a plate with slice after slice arranged next to each other. The only thing that accompanied them was a small dish of sauce similar to soy sauce but sweeter. And my main course was just as simple — buckwheat noodles in a broth. It felt so good eating my simple meal and appreciating the real taste of my food.

It was somewhere between the sips of green tea that this amazing feeling of stillness took a hold of me. It was such an unexpected discovery in the middle of dinner in a busy restaurant. At one point a lot of commotion occurred around me — people were leaving, food was being served, new people came and all it took was for me to say to myself “Stay centered in your calmness” and I did!

It was such a great opportunity for me to just mindlessly put another bite in my mouth while my mind was occupied with the different events that surrounded me. Instead I focused back on myself, on my food and the sensations each bite created. Now, this may not seem like a big deal to you but for me it felt special. You all know how restaurants get busy and sometimes it takes effort not to listen to someone else’s conversation and stay focused on what your friend is saying or how we get carried away by the conversations we have or the environment around us that we wolf down our dinner without even noticing how it happened.

Next time you have dinner try eating mindfully and see how that will bring a new level of appreciation for yourself and your food.

And here is music inspired by the simple beauty of a zen garden to help you achieve a place of calm.

The Japan Society offers free entrance to the Krazy! exhibit on Fridays from 6 pm to 9 pm. The exhibition continues continues through June 14, 2009. The Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street (between 1st Avenue and 2nd Avenue). There are screenings of popular anime films and you can see the schedule at http://www.japansociety.org. Nada Sushi is located at 135 East 50th Street (between Lexington and 3rd Avenue).

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© Copyright 2009, Rethnea. All rights reserved.

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