Fukushima Tides (Japan)

Abandoned graveyard washed away by the waves

 

The Namie town graveyard sits beside the estuary, on reclaimed land between the sea and the foothills. As you go inland, the foothills rise suddenly, like gnarled chicken feet, all skinny and sheer, rearing up from the earth. The Ukedo Elementary school is famous. When the teachers heard the tsunami warning, they knew they didn’t have much time. They rounded up the kids and marched them as quickly as they could up those chicken scratch hills. And they saved them all. A minor miracle given the scale of devastation unleashed that day. But the stone preists in the graveyard couldn’t run. Phlegmatic, they waited for the tide to roll in and do to them what it willed.

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The estuary river, the Ukedo, starts it’s life deep in the mountains.  Beneath the vaulted canopies, it slip-slaps away through the gorge. Playful, full of life, like a slalom of fawns.  It rushes at the lean trout, twists back on itself. It tumble-babbles the boulders and air-kicks down the valley deep. But soon its shoulders broaden and antlers grow. It becomes stronger, a raucous herd of white headed bucks. They are driven to lock horns.  They rut-rattle down the rocky channels willing the next generation into life.

 

But as the land flattens the stags tire. Heavy manes of green reed slow the flow. The battle scars of the rapids take their toll. The Ukedo curls up, the life force eddies to the centre. Its unhurried heart rolls past Namie town towards the salty crossways, a meeting point of terminal velocity. Here, in the estuary, the Ukedo is ready to let go. It gives its nutrients up to the waves.  In the brackish water, spores carried from the mountain peaks feed the hungry sea. The river is both vessel and journey leading to this moment – a unity entering the current of a thousand new beginnings.

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It is no surprise the town built its graveyard here, its own set of gateways at the merging of currents. The port leading to the deep, the cemetery leading to the other side of emptiness. And for centuries nothing changed, the river came to meet the sea, the fishermen came to brave the waves, the families came to honour their dead.

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But one day the sea’s hunger knew no bounds. Ravenous, it turned on the hands that fed it. All man’s great projects, the ports, power stations, schools, convenience stores and cemeteries swept away and gobbled up by the ogres of the deep. But the ogres’ eyes were bigger than their bellies. They choked on their greed and spewed it half back up. Then dragged their achy, gangling guts back to the blue, leaving the land scarred, the world of human things scattered like a stack of cards. And as the town pulled its face from the mud and surveyed the scene of apocalyptic ire, it could do nothing but stare into the abyss and weep and mourn.

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But death is a moment of paradox. It is final, but it lingers. When someone passes, they can never return, but at the same time, they bury themselves deep inside us. They are both a worm and a dove, burrowing and fluttering.  They anchor us to the past as they fly into the ether.  An invisible tie is born. We become inseparable, the ying and yang of shoreline and sea.

 

It is like we are moored in the port on a ghost ship, bobbing on the waves.  We sit in the bowels playing chess with our spectral partners, trying to avoid check-mate, one move at a time. And, perhaps, they too are stuck in a purgatorial in-between. Not knowing what to do, to protect or release.  But without some form of letting go, neither can move on. We are chained to the checker board.

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All religions have tried to give voice to these moments of transition. The Tibetan book of the dead speaks of ’Bardo’ – the visionary land between death and rebirth. After the dazzling brilliance of death, the soul must dream-walk through the past.

 

Vibrant mandalas light the way through ego loss, hallucination and reincarnation. Red nightmarish visions of longing and desire persevere, till we are bathed in the blue lights of purity and healing. Eventually, they lead us back to the point of conception. To a couple in the half-light, ignorant and entwined.  The future is morphing into the now, slipping silently in to the pool of becoming. And our new parents, still unaware, the past has nailed a new flag to the mast.The dazzling, colourful brilliance of Bardo has given way to the dull light of everyday being. Into the dim dome of the world, a baby falls. A cry is heard.

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But Bardo cuts at the very notion of the binary, of one being another, being distinct being caught between two lives. We can equally be caught between two moments. Bardo is a Cannon of Potentiality revealing the spaces in-between what is known, what is spoken.

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And this graveyard, this holy place hung out to dry on this spit. Caught between the mountain and sea, the sky and earth, the light and darkness. Exposed. The dichotomies, the yin and yang, the black and white, swap places at incredible frequencies, each infested with the throbbing of the other, the slipped noose and sliding door of being here and being now, the pulsating mid-grey permanency, like the Berlin wall crumbling East into West. Giant bells toll, ringing-in the New Year, recording the passing of another into Bardo, the dreamtime of meditation, death and renewal.

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And the town itself is in-between worlds. The reconstruction crews arose from within the claw-lines of death and destruction. New shoots began to grow. But no one knew how to feed them, or what fruits they might bring forth. The statues in the graveyard looked on stoically, praying for resolution and liberation. Hoping for the best, not knowing what it was.

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And with time, fantastical plants flowered in abandoned gardens.  Shiny, misshapen fruits hung from their tangled limbs. Overnight the locals awoke with strange tattoos inking their way up their arms, across their chests. They called their friends to come see.  But when they ripped of their shirts there was nothing there, the box was empty. The world, like a gas, in a magician’s puff of smoke, got bored with its boundaries and slipped away. We are here at this moment of paradox, not knowing what to do, the dove and worm, the buck and ancient stag, a chimera, ying neither, yang not.

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