After almost two years in Japan I finally get to read the “Stupeur et tremblements” (Fear and Trembling) by Amélie Nothomb. It was quite a sensation when published back in 1998 and left a number of people shocked and thinking that they would never want to work in Japan (including my colleague who gave me the book).
The story is about a young Belgian woman (the author herself) and her one year work experience in a Japanese company in Japan. Here I must add that we are talking about the year 1990, when there were very few ladies working in big corporations (the company described in the book had five in total), and even fewer foreigners (the author happened to be the only foreigner and one of those five ladies mentioned before).
The book does not shock me that much, though some parts do seem a bit exaggerated. Yet, if we take into account the 27 years that have passed, I would not be surprised if it was not exaggerated that much after all….
I keep thinking about the book and about life and work in Japan on my way to a famous park.
As you may recall, Japanese pay great attention to each season and it is absolutely normal to spend up to five hours in the traffic (one way) to get into a park when that specific type of flower you want to see is in full bloom. I do not think it ever happens in Europe or anywhere else for that matter.
Navigating with my camera among hundreds and hundreds of other visitors (majority of them either elderly people or young families with small kids, but well, it is Monday) I suddenly remember what I have read in another book:
“He becomes aware, for the first time in his life, of the beauty of flowers. He remembers harbouring a near-hatred of them as an adolescent. It seemed absurd that anyone should take joy in something so small and so temporary when there were surely greater, more permanent things on which to pin ambitions. He himself wanted glory and intensity. To be detained by a flower was a symbol of a dangerous resignation. Now he is beginning to get the point. The love of flowers is a consequence of modesty and an accommodation with disappointment. Some things need to go permanently wrong before we can start to admire the stem of a rose or the petals of a bluebell. But once we realize that the larger dreams are always compromised in some way, with what gratitude we may turn to these minuscule islands of serene perfection and delight.” (Alain de Botton, “The Course of Love”)
At first I could not agree, but now, comparing with life and work of a typical Japanese person as described by Amélie, I suddenly see the link. Maybe it has to do with that pre-defined path of life that a number of Japanese people are stuck on with not much choice but to accommodate, or maybe it is the disappointment that you are just one piece of a big system and cannot escape that leads to significantly greater attention to all the wonders of nature.
Luckily Japan has plenty of that on offer at any point during the year.
And yet, I would prefer to think that is not the disappointment with life, but simply that… ”after women, flowers are the most lovely thing God has given the world” (Christian Dior). 😉