A few summers back, I was cycling with my friend Colin. Colin had been in Japan for three years, and he was conversant in Japanese, but couldn’t read. We were cycling in the area around Kuhombutsu and Jiyugaoka, stopping by temples and shrines to get off and walk around. At one shrine, he said:
“You know, all of this Japanese writing looks very profound to me, but I’m sure if I could read it, it would turn out to say something like ‘Joe’ or ‘Bob’, and lose it’s charm for me.”
He was referring to names carved in the stone fenceposts and the lanterns that decorated the shrines.
I looked, and sure enough the fenceposts held common names: Nakamura, Ishikawa – equivalents of Joe or Bob – and the lanterns included the names of a local sushi restaurant and electrician.
Thinking of the writing on a lantern as the equivalent of “Joe’s Diner” reminded me that despite being a few hundred years old, how relevant these places still were – that they had living, modern relevance to people. I had to smile.
I’d never quite thought of it that way before.