The other night I watched the first half-hour of a documentary I had downloaded about wabi-sabi. The British presenter had read about wabi-sabi in a book and so travelled to Japan to wander about asking people first if they spoke English and then if they could explain wabi-sabi to him. I think this is about the equivalent of sending a Japanese bloke to Australia and having him try to find someone who can explain the rules of cricket to him in Japanese but without actually going to a cricket game. For those of you who are wondering, wabi-sabi is one of these eastern concepts, like Zen Buddhism, that to us foreigners sounds marvellously esoteric and therefore a little bit magical. Most simply put, it is perhaps an appreciation of imperfection. Wikipedia calls it a world-view while another website gives us this definition: “Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death.” And then goes on and on and on.

By the time I drifted off to sleep on the sofa, thanks to my own investigations into Japanese beer culture, the presenter had just been hanging out in the park with a haiku club who all applauded his efforts when they returned to base camp and shared their poems. I hope he was at least aware that there was no chance of anyone criticising his poem anyway. Japanese people just don’t publicly disagree like that. It would interfere with the social harmony, so you have to get used to detecting the slightest hint of hesitation and then wondering whether you’re not reading too much into every situation. Japanese television is full of  food shows and every time someone puts something in their mouth, they swallow it down and if it’s particularly awful, you can see them battling several emotions and possibly a gag reflex before saying the only thing that anyone ever says anyway: “oishii!” (delicious!). There was one man on a travel show who actually described the food he was eating but Kazuko reckoned he wasn’t really Japanese.

My personal wabi-sabi has me wondering why it’s been so long since my last blog entry and what on earth I’ve been doing in that time. Is it the rain, the cultural investigations or the late nights watching the Tour de France on the internet that have made time somehow accelerate and prevented me from cycling much? Or to be more Zen about it:

A dunce once searched for fire with a lighted lantern.
Had he known what fire was,
He could have cooked his rice much sooner
. (Not my work)

Kazuko and I managed one decent ride last week but it all ended in frustration as we are yet to find a reasonable cafe where we can park our bikes and sit at a nearby table. So although we’re on the look-out, this is still the best coffee in town:

Left is coffee, right is milk.

Left is coffee, right is milk.

I look forward to my fortnightly trips to the coffee shop up the road where I get to practise my Japanese and try to guess what the nice man at the shop is asking me. I think he asks me what grind I would like and I point to a percolator but he could always be asking me something completely different and is polite enough to pretend I’ve answered correctly. I suspect he is appreciating the aesthetic beauty of my imperfections.

I delved further into Japanese culture later in the week with a family night out with Kazuko’s sisters and their husbands to a restaurant in a fancy part of town where we had nomihodai tabehodai shyabu shyabu which is, of course, all you can all you can drink and eat shyabu shyabu. This amounts to throwing very thinly-sliced raw meat into a pot of boiling water then dipping it in sauce and eating it. There were  vegetables and tofu as well to pad out the gaps between meat.

Here's a pot of boiling water with the remnants of some vegetables in it.

Here's a pot of boiling water with the remnants of some vegetables and a bit of meat in it.

This is what meat looks like.

This is what meat looks like.

Team photo.

Team photo.

Whereas wine and beer don't mix, I find alternating between sake and beer to be quite refreshing.

Whereas wine and beer don't mix, I find alternating between sake and beer to be quite refreshing.

Although I quite like the sake serving set, note that its perfect roundness points to a lack of wabi-sabi (but almost certainly makes it a lot cheaper to buy). Kazuko’s big sister reckoned the way to drink it was to fill the cup until it overflowed into the saucer, drink the first lot of sake out of the saucer then use the cup after that. Unfortunately I’d nearly finished all my sake by the time she told me that so I only managed a small dribble into the saucer.

I had a job interview on Saturday morning and the only thing to do after one of them is to head out drinking. I had teed up with my brother-in-law Kii-chan to go to the big beer festival in town on Saturday afternoon. We are both so incompetent at each other’s language that we can pretty much only communicate after a few beers. Unfortunately he forgot about it so we went on Sunday instead. Even though its been wet (but still warm) and even though it was only the middle of the day, there were still a few people about:

The Kirin beer area seemed popular.

The Kirin beer area seemed popular.

It’s summer festival time so there are fireworks in the evenings and a lot of girls get dressed up in yukatas (summer kimonos).

A refreshing beer goes well with traditional costumes, don't you find?

A refreshing beer goes well with traditional costumes, don't you find?

We walked through the Kirin area on the way to the international beer section but that turned out to be not open yet so we ended up in the Sapporo area because I had spied a beer I hadn’t seen before: Yebisu Creamy Stout.

It is a stout tent, isn't it?

It is a stout tent, isn't it?

It was a tasty treat for the stout-lover, particularly as it was served nice and fresh and creamy as advertised.

Me and Kii-chan.

Me and Kii-chan.

Summer creamy stout!
One thing your black does not hide
Ten dollar glasses.

I knew I could work  a haiku in somewhere. Needless to say, at that price we had just the one. There were some tempting mini-kegs to be had:

Just the three litres in that one.

Just the three litres in that one.

But in the end we opted for big glasses of black beer:

That's the ticket!

That's the ticket!

Yes, his is bigger than mine but I had a big one in the next round.

Yes, his is bigger than mine but I had a big one in the next round.

A hand towel on your head does not keep the rain off.

A hand towel on your head does not keep the rain off.

Once we were drunk enough to get on together without Kazuko’s translations, Kazuko and her sister took off for a day spa, leaving Kii-chan and me to our own devices. For a bit of variety, we headed back to the Kirin beer area where the enormous mini-keg things put the Sapporo ones to shame:

In Australia, this would be warm and flat by the time it's finished but it's not so hot here so they seem to work pretty well.

In Australia, this would be warm and flat by the time it's finished but it's not so hot here so they seem to work pretty well.

And they're a bit of a struggle to carry.

And they're a bit of a struggle to carry.

I should point out that my very generous brother-in-law was interested to learn that in Australian culture we take turns at buying rounds, but still ignored this and ended paying for most of the beer. Once we’d had our fill, he hopped in a taxi with me to drop me back at my place, stopping at a convenience store on the way, which he walked out of with a six-pack for me and one for himself. I felt duty-bound to attack the beer once I got home, where I fell asleep on the sofa watching some documentary I’d downloaded.

A MASTER who lived as a hermit on a mountain was asked by a monk,
“What is the Way?”
“What a fine mountain this is,” the master said in reply.
“I am not asking you about the mountain, but about the Way.”
“So long as you cannot go beyond the mountain, my son, you cannot
reach the Way,” replied the master.
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6 Comment on “The joy of imperfection

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