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Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011
WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST
Refusal, disposal, separation . . . exasperation
Special to The Japan Times
Japan is fond of buzzwords and perhaps one of the buzziest of the last two years has been the term "danshari."
It leapt into Japan's ever-fickle public limelight in 2010 and continues to cast shadows even now.
Each "danshari" syllable can be tracked to a distinct Chinese character that when lined up mean, "refusal, disposal, separation." The combined emphasis is to tidy up your life and let loose of all the material junk tying you down.
You know . . . like the Australian bush hat you bought on a whim in 1989. Or your Little League fielder's mitt. Or the notes to your university Shakespeare classes.
What? You don't have any of those!? Gosh. How can you live?
"Listen," says my wife. "The bush hat has to go."
"Why? It's such a cool hat!"
"Which you have never worn. Even once."
"Yes, but what about global warming?"
She squints. "What about it?"
"World climates are changing. One day . . . " I sweep my hand, "all Tokyo might be nothing but . . . outback. When that happens, I'll need the right hat."
"Yes, but by the time Japan becomes Australia, you are going to be 'down under' yourself! Literally."
Oh. I see where this is going. It's the old, "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die" approach.
"OK, so what is it you want? A new wardrobe? A new kitchen? What?"
She shakes her head and says, "You're missing the point."
"All right, all right, I get it already. If you want a bush hat too, I'll buy you one."
"I don't want a bush hat! I want you to jettison your useless stuff!"
I ask her to define "useless."
She answers with her eyes. They glance at my fielder's mitt, very usefully fielding dust in the corner.
"Well," I tell her. "To you that's but a fold of stiff leather, but to me it's a living rainbow of formative memories."
"Such as . . . "
"Such as the time I got cracked in the mouth with the baseball and broke two front teeth. Or the time I struck out with the bases loaded in the playoff game. Or the time I overthrew third base and let three runners score."
I almost sniffle. "You just can't toss out memories like that. Those things made me what I am."
"No. A loser with an old mitt. You have to be one to understand."
But danshari, she says, means moving on. Letting the past stay in the past. Removing the objects that pull you back.
"And then replacing them with new objects? Who thought of this idea? Japanese retailers? It sounds like the gospel message for consumerism."
"But it's more than just objects," she tells me. "You have to let go of people too."
OK, now we're getting somewhere. For I have a long list of people I would just love to let go of. Like . . .
. . . my neighbor with the siren's voice that can penetrate walls, time zones and perhaps even solar systems . . . the colleague who thinks part of his job is also part of my job . . . the stamp clerk at the post office who resembles Josef Stalin in both body and, I think, spirit. And more.
"What do I do? Click my heels three times and scream, 'danshari'! And then they'll be gone?"
Some relationships, she says, you have to work through, not cast aside. The ones that keep you tangled up and keep you from reaching your potential are the ones you should leave behind.
So I backtrack and argue that, rather than cast it bluntly aside, I should work through the relationship with my fielder's mitt. And my bush hat. And, yea verily, my Shakespeare notes.
When she frowns, I say, "OK, how about you? What junk are you gonna pitch?"
She insists she has no junk.
"The oldest possession I have," she says, "is you."
That makes me feel fairly smug. And then nervous. For I have been snared in her danshari trap.
"Don't worry," she says. "Unlike a baseball mitt and a bush hat, you at least have some potential. Like, say, for doing the dishes. Potential you should be tapping more often."
With another check in my favor being I do not collect dust. Or not very much of it.
That might be danshari in a nutshell. Lives are crowded places and no one has room for everything. If something in your life serves no purpose other to invite dust, then maybe you should gain some space and spare yourself some trouble.
By saying good-bye.
"You can apply this to humor too," says my wife. "You have some dusty jokes that could perhaps be archived."
I protest, saying, "Old jokes never die, they just get retold."
"See what I mean."
I do. If the bush hat fits, you'd better wear it. That much I get.
I'm not sure if I get danshari. But no matter.
As buzzwords go, it will be collecting it's own dust in no time. I'll pitch it then.