Thursday, May 29

This is homeland

When I fly home to the US, I inevitably have the same impression. Even if I anticipate it in advance, the sight of so many fat people startles me. It starts with the middle-aged men's bellies I see being walked around in airports.

All the pot bellies on men in airports moving steadily by, almost as if they were arriving to attend the same pot-belly convention. As my eyes are drawn to them, it seems that they stare back at me, leaving me to wonder if they might be communicating something from behind the shirts, and imagining that they are whispering something as they pass each other by. Perhaps a code word or merely the sustained wink of knowing comrades. Like cyclops with fabric wrapped over their heads, they communicate to one another in complicit squints, each in its gentle rocking motion excreting the idea of a comforting, forgetful homeland.

After living for years in Japan, a country that like so many in the world has few extreme body types, I find that the bellies really stand out. It's as if they had all just popped out the moment you entered the airport. So, is this what MEN look like? can't help but wonder. The impression hits you like that. And then you start to notice the floating masses that somewhat resemble human limbs, you see colossal bodies laboring to fix themselves upon chairs that are swallowed up in the hovering mass, and you begin to feel you are in a hospital ward rather than an airport. It's interesting to me how you get used to that, too, when you stay for a time in the States. The hospital ward for the morbidly obese expands and becomes your society. You begin to see much of humanity in that condition and not to think twice about it. But when you consider it with respect to the peoples of the world, the anomalous nature of it gets stuck inside you.

It is no secret that the US leads the world in obesity and its related health problems. It is also known that the societal patterns that lead to obesity are spreading around the world with great rapidity, especially in the UK. However, I think of all the visitors to the US who must also get hit with the same impression. They might not see cyclops, exactly, but I am sure that like me they are shocked.

Sunday, May 18

Our local friendly volcano

Here's a photo I took in April while riding my bike to the grocery store. Just another eruption that no one paid much attention to. The kilometers-high cloud of ash was swept away into the wind within 30 minutes or so, with very little of it reaching the city, as far as I could tell. I don't know how often this happens, since some of the eruptions of ash occur when it's dark or simply when I am unaware, indoors. I don't believe they all get reported in the local news, but I don't watch that regularly, either. If you miss the eruption, its consequences can be wiped away within an hour. And, unless the wind pulls the ash into the city, which usually only risks happening in summer and only a couple of times a year, then you would have no idea it had occurred.

I live 7 or 8 kilometers from the volcano's base. Only a couple of times over a few years has it exploded with noise that reached me, shaking the windows the building where I work. I took a ferry to the volcano a couple of weeks ago to visit a friend who lives along its base and it was steaming and belching low clouds of ash. If you show enthusiasm about an ongoing eruption of ash to locals, you risk getting an impatient glare in return. Unbridled displays of joy, however, are common at the sight of the faintest winter snowflake, a far rarer occurrence.

The school children who live on it all wear yellow hard hats when outside. The volcano also spews lava, but I have not seen that or heard of it happening in recent years. Its last massive eruption was in 1913 or 1914, when it went from being an island (thus it's name: Sakurajima, meaning "Cherry Blossom Island") to its current status as a peninsula (no name adjustment was bothered with).

Especially when you're on the volcano, you may feel that you are in some pre-historic era. Ferns, gawky sea birds, palm trees, and the tumultuous volcano above... only dinosaurs are wanting.