ゆめ / Мечта: A Dream, A Humbling Experience and a Melange of Emotions

I dreamt of a unified Japan.. A Country strong, and independent, and modern.. And now we have railroads, canons and western clothing.. But..

We CANNOT forget who we are, or where we come from

Excerpts of Emperor Meiji’s speech, from the movie “The Last Samurai”
Emperor Meiji (played by Nakamura Shichinosuke II) in the Movie “The Last Samurai” (Copyright: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

You may be wondering why am I quoting some lines from a movie? What has this got to do with anything? Allow me to clarify.

This is NOT just a movie.. It’s an Emotion and a Mirror..

This is NOT just another post on some trip.. It is my humble way of saying “The Honour is Mine”..

Honour for spending some time amidst something which is not just another place, but which can be the superlative form of Perfection. Honour for being in company with one of the most helpful, happiest yet paradoxically, humble people on the planet. Honour to witness the rare harmonious coexistence of people and nature. Honour for these and more of these.

It is again an honour to write this small piece as a prelude to the stupefying travel experience I had in Japan. And an equal honour to share with you in case you haven’t traveled there, or relate to your experience in case you have traveled there or are currently staying in Japan.

The Emperor’s Speech

Let’s say that one of the driving forces behind my visit to Japan is the movie “The Last Samurai”. You heard that right. Right from the time when I was a schoolkid.

ゆめ (Yume) / Мечта (Mechta), meaning Dream. I had this dream. To experience what the Emperor said, what the people do and whether or not all this is just a fantasy or has some merit to it.

And it takes very little imagination to realise the fact that – it all makes sense. Those words mean the reality.

You may ask, but wait, Japan is a technologically advanced country with lots of anime, cartoons and western clothing and food. How on Earth can all this be real?

To which I will say, you are right. Japan is all that. But amidst all the technology and science, how can one miss the humility of the people? How can one miss the bow and thanks or “Arigatou Gozaimasu”? How can one miss the people’s dedication towards perfection? How can one not see the discipline even under chaos, in trains or buses during their peak hours?

Why can one miss the harmonious coexistence of paradoxes in Japan?

  • Science with Culture
  • Progress with Nature
  • Blessings with Natural Threats
  • Advancement with Humility

And everything intertwined with the common thread: Perfection. The dedication of the people in pursuing perfection in whatever they do. Always. Every second. The unmatchable discipline collectively shown by almost everybody in almost every walk of life. The stoicism in the face of chaos or mundaneness.

From the moment they wake, they devote themselves to the perfection of whatever they pursue

Algren-san (played by Tom Cruise) in the movie “The Last Samurai”

Now coming to the historical accuracy of the movie and the quotes, yes, there may be questions on those. The timelines might have been misrepresented and the persons (except the Emperor) might not have existed. But something transcends beyond all these debates. The essence of what the Emperor said.

But what about the Emperor himself? Allow me to give a brief historical context.

Emperor Meiji is credited with the famous Meiji restoration of Japan in the 19th Century CE, where Japan experienced unprecedented modernisation, technological advancements and prosperity. Japan opened Her shores up to Western powers for trade, technologies and increased cooperation post centuries of isolation. In that period raged a war for the very soul of Japan, the Satsuma Rebellion. Some sections of the populace were concerned about the erasure of the rich culture of Japan in the altar of the so-called modernity. Among them were the さむらい / Samurai, a group of brave people who have mastered the art of war for more than 2,000 years, who wish to oppose the Emperor for this very reason, yet believe that by doing so, they are offering a service to the Emperor, as had been the case since the pat 2,000 years (after all, the meaning of the word samurai is to serve).

The tragic rebellion ended with the defeat of the Samurai owing to the technologically superior Imperial Forces aided by Western powers. And thus the era of the Samurai ended. Or did it?

The Emperor took upon himself the task of modernising Japan and strengthening Her economy.

Japan will modernise. But not at the cost of Her culture.

The Emperor issued a pardon to all the Samurai. They could no longer hold swords in public.

But they didn’t disappear.

Their quest to perfection didn’t disappear.

Their humility didn’t disappear.

Their harmonious coexistence with nature didn’t disappear.

Their discipline didn’t disappear.

All those virtues permeated to the people’s way of life in Japan.

To those who studied about Japan, visited Japan or are staying there, look around yourself. Japan has maintained an identity of its own. A Culture which thrives even today and continues to facsinate almost everyone alike. A Culture which taught us いきがい (Ikigai), the perfect blend of vocation, passion, skills and demand, which if achieved, can ease both the personal and professional lives of an individual. A society, where people are proud of their rich heritage and language and yet are accommodative of a foreign language without any resentment. Culinary delicacies whose basic ingredients are calmness, quietude and above all, mindfulness.

To know life in every breath.. Every cup of tea.. That’s ぶしど (Bushido)

Katsumoto-san (played by Ken Watanabe) in the movie “The Last Samurai”

Perhaps thats what Perfection means. And that’s definitely what Japan is. Where such paradoxes harmoniously coexist and makes one gasp in wonder. And that’s what was perhaps the dream of Emperor Meiji – A Strong, Independent, Powerful and Modern Country, perfect in itself and yet striving to perfect perfection every single second, which is proud of its roots, its culture and who its people are.

And as I look at the calming and serene cherry blossoms or さくら (Sakura), I can’t help but reminisce the words of Katsumoto-san..

Perfect.. They are all Perfect..

Katsumoto-san (played by Ken Watanabe) in the movie “The Last Samurai”

[Above: Pictures of さくら / Cherry Blossoms in Sapporo, Hokkaido Prefecture. Clicked by Me. ]

I must pause now to allow you to gauge the immense humbling experience the traveler will get once she/he arrives in Japan. I shall show glimpses of my experiences in Japan in the subsequent blog posts.

Let this post serve as the prelude to what awesomeness lies in store. To sum that up in a few words, let me conclude by saying “Those who didn’t visit Japan yet are not only missing a great place, but also an inexplicable yet wondrous emotion”

The following conversation is my own version of a famous one, something which the people who watched “The Last Samurai” movie can relate to. Highly recommended if you haven’t watched it, its a movie which can be called “Perfect”

Emperor: “Tell me where to travel

I: “I shall tell you what all to Experience

Copyright: Abirbhav Mukherjee. All photographs are mine unless otherwise mentioned. The images of the actors as well as the indicated quotes are from the movie “The Last Samurai”

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