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Embrace the Tao!  Flee the Wu!

People usually recover from illnesses by virtue of their body’s natural defenses, but to the nonscientific mind it seems natural to credit the recovery to whatever quackery you administered,” wrote Yau-Man Chan in The Tao of Chinese Medicine – I on Nov 2 2008.

What a brilliant observation! 

We Americans do terribly at understanding other cultures.  We Americans have wrecked our respect and standing in the world in the last century because of our inability to understand other cultures.

How to do it wrong:

We do not try to understand other cultures on our own.  We call in an expert to teach us.  Expertise is self-proclaimed.  It’s not unusual to be instructed by uninformed hucksters with an agenda.  Most hucksters know how to snow the audience using arrogance, contempt and smugness.  They don’t know how to tell us about the ways and thoughts of others.  Often, they don’t understand themselves.

The most serious obstacle to learning about “other cultures” is the designation “other.”  They are not like us, so the saying goes.  Their ways are unfamiliar and frightening; they are challenging to understand.  Whatever frightens us about other culture means that we assume it to be inferior. 

Other cultures look at us aghast – we are boorish and rude in many ways that they consider unacceptable.  For instance, American ways of handling its elderly is shocking in the eyes of many other cultures.  From Indian/Native American to Japanese, they tend to respect and preserve the elders as a resource; we toss them out as used-up.  Notice that we are nearly the solitary culture on the planet which does this.

But we are interested in inflicting what we have on others, not understanding them.  Understanding takes patience.  We relish dominance over the different.  Different cultures are expected to know and admire  our way of living, so that they can improve their own.  What, exactly, we are improving upon is their concern, not ours.

Christmas – Kurismasu – is a fun and wildly popular holiday in Japan.  They are awash in reindeers, garlands and tinsel; Santas animate and plastic; holiday music and egg nog and stories, trees in the public areas, and sometimes tangentially religious constructs here and there.

The Japanese delight in Kurismasu.  Not one in a dozen can tell you what it’s about, its religious origins or reason for being.  Not important.  Kurismasu! It’s not like the more serious holiday of New Year’s Day, which comes a week later.  New Year’s is celebrated with a solemn civility in a country where traditions mean millennia, not decades.

  Why are Japanese such fun party boys & girls about Kurismasu?  Remember back sixty years – that’s long ago in American terms, but last week in Japanese history.  They had lost a war, and some islands with 50-100 million people living in a very mountainous country, needed food.  Japan is about 70% mountainous.  Japan’s recent neighboring food sources had been subjugated lands that had been starved by the Japanese .  They were no so swell on stepping in to a mercy mission.

It was as though all the food in the US were grown in the Rockies.  Colorado grows wheat, and Utah grows tomatoes and celery, Idaho potatoes of course, New Mexico peppers.  They are good, but not enough to feed the whole nation.  Not-so-moldy rice was the usual fare; and the rat population in the rice fields were almost nonexistent.  Rats offer a rich protein source, although starving themselves.

Into this all roll the Big Red Geijin Monsters from America, the huge pale giants from far away.  They were surprisingly kindly.  And then, suddenly before New Year’s, the giants begin to put up bright and gaudy decorations, and speak of their Kurismasu.  What is that?

Food, food, food – mounds of it.  Trash containers filled with delicacies – the paddy rats were saved, they gorged!  And the gifts!  Sometimes the White Giants gave away things; sometimes trash and trinkets and flags and dreck, but by whatever gods they worship, the White Giants gave away FOOD!

Huge baked hams larded with fat; salted meats and sweet things, cookies, candy and treats; all sorts of foreign looking and strange tasting things, but packed with protein and calories, and more fascinating than the ho-hum rat haunch on rice that is eaten on good days and holidays.  Starving people are easy to cook for.

 Kurismasu.  It’s not a holiday about the birth of Jesus.  It’s a holiday celebrating the miracle of GI Joe, bringing food and gifts and the fruit of a prosperous nation to the starving.  Merry Kurismasu indeed!  The White Pagan manifestations of Kurismasu aside – what a wonderful holiday!

That tells of the golden days of America Victor which the starving and impoverished saw after WWII.  And in those days, the good GI’s strange religion made them give these sort of things to the needy!  How fine is that!?

Now, the food in Japan is rich and the Japanese little tubbies, fretting over the same health problems we have in the good old US of A.  The Emperor’s Birthday, December 23, is widely celebrated by the young people today – but not out of reverence to the Emperor, but the adolescent tradition of dressing up, going to a party, renting rooms in a hotel and f*king like bunnies.  They call it Sex Day, the 23rd.  And then the next day, food and presents!

In December, being bicultural in Japan is where it’s at.

(Continued tomorrow)

Embrace the Tao!  Flee the Wu!