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This report is taken from PN Review 101, Volume 21 Number 3, January - February 1995.

Letter from Tokyo Penny McCarthy

Or more truthfully, from three miles up. But that is where I feel I've been for much of the past two months - this spell in Japan. It's been difficult to get my feet on the ground, and this is not just because Tokyo is a city which is so paved over, nor can foot feel, being shod. It is partly that, and this is why I escaped to Hokkaido last week, where there is room for cows, and woods and nothingness. It is more the Japanese attitude, or my attitude, to levels, to earth, to nature.

The Japanese live close to the ground. Not only road gangs. but tired children on trains will squat as a preferred way of sitting comfortably; and more surprising in this very westernized society, I have seen an elderly woman, needing to sort change slowly for her railway ticket, squat in front of the ticket office to riffle through her handbag. And a beautiful woman in a pool at the hot springs squat like a child in the water, hugging her knees and chatting animatedly.

At home, life is closer to floor level. Many modern houses and apartments have retained the tatami room, with its rice matting and comparative absence of furniture. One Sunday after lunch and a walk with a family at home, we were invited to sit in the tatami room, on the floor, and I was concerned to know whether behaviour should be tempered to a ...


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