Students had a day on their own in Tokyo, choosing between a number of different sites, which meant the faculty had time on their own as well. I watched a bit of the debate, streamed on YouTube, but spent the morning seeing what it might be like to be an urban stylite.
Early in the fifth century Simeon the Stylite lived on top of a pillar in the desert near Aleppo, dispensing spiritual wisdom and hiding from the crowds. There are still modern stylites, Maxime Qataradze lives atop a rock pillar in Georgia (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/19/katskhi-pillar-monk-georgia-maxime-qavtaradze_n_3950192.html).
I had breakfast sitting in a window on the 25th floor, watching the commuters flood the streets below. The last time I was in Tokyo, we ate lunch in a rooftop garden, high above Shinjuku. Yesterday I bought dumplings and sushi in the fancy food hall in Isetan, then took my sketch pad and lunch back to that garden. It has been uncomfortably hot in Tokyo, and the heat tumbling out of the rooftop air conditioner units didn't make the roof any cooler. But with height comes perspective, if not spiritual wisdom. I had a better sense of the landscape, but also of the value Japan places on green space in such a crowded city. From the top I could see pockets of green in all directions.
My class has been reading Gaston Bachelard's Poetics of Space. Bachelard 'reads' gardens and grand vistas as a connection to the cosmos, something that pulls the resident of a space out of themselves. Vast landscapes always leave me with the sense of how small I am in comparison to the universe, which certainly pulls me out of myself.
For dinner one of my colleagues and I found (on Yelp - where else) a conveyor belt sushi spot. It was great fun to sample in this way, and thanks to the little signs in Japanese and English popped onto the belt, I (mostly) knew what I was eating. It was mesmerizing to watch the sushi circle around, and fascinating to see the attention paid to the ever-changing array of little plates.