Yesterday I made a rather long trip on my bicycle around the city. I first went to Akihabara, the electronics district, to window-shop for cell phones—I can't get one until my foreign registration card, showing I have an address in Japan, comes through, so I just took a look at the deals and continued to be patient. From there, I rode about 20 kilometers (I'm using the metric system as much as I can these days, but that's about 12 miles(?)) to see a "firefly viewing." I got there about 7:30, but like many events in Tokyo, you get a ticket with a number on it and have to wait until that number is called before you go in.
So I went over to the corner store and bought some nuts and a bottle of tea and waited. It was a nice night and, as might be expected at a firefly viewing, there were many families with their children at the event. I was alone, so I just watched: across the street a family was enjoying sparklers with their young son, boys and girls were chasing each other, others were running races one after the other. It was pleasant, though I would have liked to have been a participant rather than observer. It reminded me of my childhood: not any particular memory, but of excitement, magic, and anticipation. I saw a young girl jump into a car after seeing the fireflies, and it reminded me of so many rides home as a child, riding home after a movie, after a trip to Grandma and Grandpa's, maybe even after going to see fireflies. I remember a satisfied tiredness, a peace with the world and a belief in miracles. That was a long time ago.
I was allowed in at 8:45. The fireflies were a disappointment, in the end. I mean, they were fireflies, like any other, but they were enclosed in a tiny room, they mostly stayed in one place, and really there were more humans than fireflies, walking in a line, talking, constantly moving. Only a month ago I was sitting on my mom's back porch watching fireflies zigging and zagging through the sky, cutting little lines with their green lamps, thousands at a time so bright that they could be seen even under the street lights.
We reached the end and one of the kids said "is it over already?" There was a hint of derision in his voice. I wondered why the fireflies weren't let loose in the nearby park. A Canadian Japanese working at the event explained that they had developed a way of sustaining fireflies in an aquarium. I thought "is that what it's come to?" I said it was a good thing.
Tokyo is a wonderful city, a real marvel. If one is interested in the dynamics of humans, in literature, in religion, in technology, in Japanese history, in almost any human endeavor, it is a great place to be. There are even several ecological organizations located here. But there is no escaping it is a city, a monstrous city, largely dead and concrete.
I was really disturbed when I saw those fireflies. Fireflies are beautiful and magical; but the magic, for me, is tied up in their freedom, their flight through the night sky over head. I think of my childhood and it saddens me to think that children line up to see the caged fireflies, as if it were a Disney land ride, quickly over. After all the trouble, I can imagine the kids would rather stay home and watch TV. How can we save the earth if this is their view of "nature"? I know I'm not the first person to say this, and I don't have any solutions myself, but every time I see this sort of thing it seems counterproductive.
Tomorrow is my first day of teaching on my own. I alternate between abject fear and an occasional and unreliable conviction that I will make it through the day, making mistakes but hopefully able to learn some things that will make the next day less frightening.