Essay on Essays

October 19, 2014


Essays should probe, question and clarify; they do not have to finalize, conclude or prove. They should open up dialogue; they do not pass judgments. They might transform beliefs, but mostly they are about seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary.


The pattern of essays, like Tokyo’s patterns, can juggle quick shifts in style, tone and abstraction. The short essay best corrals my experience of Tokyo, all the feeling, seeing, sorting, and ruminating.


Tokyoites are amazingly good at switching modes, from a small focus to a huge one, from close attention to total indifference, from anonymity to intimacy. Essays fit Tokyo well for just that reason. They can

do much the same.


I feel inspired by the constant surprise of the city, and surprise creates its own style and tone and form. These essays are both an embrace and a pushing back against a city I find alluring and vital, tough and bewildering.


Observing, asking, stopping in, wondering, and questioning became part of how I live here, a defense and recuperation, but an interaction and reception, too. I live here now. There’s weird stuff every day.


Much of Tokyo seems practical, efficient and shiny-clean. But Tokyo is also as complex as a long novel, as confusing as an avant-garde film and, as soberly, singularly beautiful as a character of calligraphy on a pure white background.


Tokyo is a triathlon of a city. But, taking time to uncover the hidden meanings and obscure values gets past the surface. People are running all the time in Tokyo, but they are running for reasons.


Tokyo’s meanings appear only in scattered observations, odd experiences, and disparate fragments of life. Tokyo is a city that resists generalization, in a very willful and quirky way. Tokyo is a capricious city.


Like a traditional Japanese garden, wherever you look it seems to be a different place altogether. Moments of alienation are followed by moments of exhilaration; aggravations turn to amusements; confusions tumble into insights. You just have to step to a different point of view and look again. These essays step aside, back, and forward, to find new points of view.


I love wandering the city, but if I go looking for an essay topic, I never find one. I get hit by topics in the normal course of the day. Observing, asking, stopping in, wondering, and questioning have become part of how I lived here. I live here now. There’s weird stuff every day.

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