Most people in the Western world have some idea about Japan, even if these ideas are largely imagined. It’s where people are stuffed into trains with the same intensity you use to desperately jam yet another outfit into an already over-packed suitcase, but it’s also the place where an endless horizon of mountains stoically rise above the clouds. It’s home to a vibrant youth culture where fashionistas stomp around the streets of Tokyo in combat boots, a Lolita-esque dress, fake eyelashes and purple pigtails, but where you can also see a woman rushing to catch the train while making sure she doesn’t trip over the elegant folds of her kimono. Home to both samurai and to Pikachu, Japan can easily be imagined as a land of contradiction: a place where visions of an ancient past and a futuristic dream world coexist in the present.
Fashion in Harajuku, one of the best spots in Tokyo to get a glimpse of youth culture and Tokyo’s incomparable street fashion.
Nothing, and no one, but mountains as far as the eye can see. The Hachimantai Mountains, on the border of Akita, Aomori, and Iwate prefectures in northern Japan.
These contradictory, nearly competing histories are rather interestingly bound together by a singular notion of Japanese identity. In other words, the past, present, and future of Japanese society may be drastically different from one another, but they are linked by a general idea of “Japaneseness,” and perhaps what it means to be Japanese in contemporary Japan. But if these are all imagined ideas, in what way do they gain meaning, and how are these identities negotiated?
This blog explores the relationship between imagination and music. I believe that the deep connection shared by music and society is one of the most important avenues for people to imagine, and identify who they are. Music is a sonic imagining, a soundtrack that reveals a society’s collective unconscious, to borrow an idea from Carl Jung. From each society’s unique conception of beautiful music to the way that people listen to music, and to the way that music challenges listeners, music is capable of being historical, present, and progressive all at the same time. There is music from multiple eras floating around any society at all times, with each genre holding meaning to whoever listens.
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Two weeks ago I drove east toward Jökulsárlón in Vatnajökull National Park, which has a lagoon of floating icebergs (pictured above). I was so excited to see the country’s glacial landscape, which covers 11 percent of Iceland’s land. Just a tiny part of an iceberg sticks out above water level, and even those pieces are massive. The sight of the icebergs—some of which were moving with the water current, fascinated my friends and me. Then, nature did the thing it does best: it inspired me. I was inspired when I saw a large icebergs going through the process of calving, where a chunk of its ice breaks off at its edge.
I drew a correlation between the massive sizes of the iceberg and Saga Fest. The large amount of logistics and coordination involved with the festival, it can seem like an overwhelming project. If I could help it, I didn’t want Saga Fest to go through a process of calving—where one of the festival’s experiences loses its connection to the overall outcomes/vision.
On the other hand, I started to think about how large icebergs are broken apart into smaller pieces through calving. Perhaps, I thought, there could be a way to break Saga Fest apart in a similar way. What if instead of viewing Saga Fest as this huge, ambiguous and overwhelming project, we divided the festival into a high volume of miniature experiences that all shared the same vision? What if Saga Fest isn’t just a single festival organized by a single group of organizers, but rather, a coordination of hundreds of smaller experiences organized by hundreds of people? If we took the latter approach, could people test and reiterate mini-experiences even before the festival took place in May, and how would such a prototyping process shape the community Saga Fest is hoping to engage?
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Here I am (center) pointing toward the Northern Lights, and sharing the experience with friends Ilmur (left), Christian (right) and Anjali (not pictured).
Photo by Anjali Daryanani
By the time we got to the hot spring, it was almost completely dark. With the exception of a few stars that peaked out in the sky to join us, we were alone because the spot is a well-kept secret.
We parked the car, leaped out, tore off our clothes and jumped into the hot spring—it felt like needles dashing into every part of our bodies because of the sudden transition from biting cold to warmth. As we eased in, the four of us sighed a collective breath of bliss, and we corked our heads up toward the night sky to watch the stars come out one-by-one.
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(Non-Arabic speaking readers can access English subtitles for this video by using the “captions” button located in the bottom right corner.)
My colleagues and I reach the small, withered doorway of an old apartment building in central Amman after a precarious decent down a steep set of craggily concrete stairs. From outside we can hear a group of voices talking over the dim hum of a grainy radio, though access to the building is obstructed by a canopy of wet, drying clothes strung about a low lying chain of crisscrossed metal wires.
Inside, surrounded by the building’s unfinished walls, fifteen or so men are gathered around the makings of a modest dinner. Though they have little – just black beans and rice – they are quick to invite us for supper. We politely decline and instead ask to see the rest of the two-bedroom apartment that the men share.
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