If You Meet the Buddha, Give Him Some Tissues: Modern Koans

Public transportation you can set your watch to. Blazingly fast fiber optic Internet. A culture that fosters hard work and attention to detail. Toilet seats that warm your cheeks and wash your anus. Androgyny advanced to a level where you might believe that the populace has evolved past petty sexual differentiation. Neon everywhere. To many visitors, Tokyo seems like a city of the future. Looking out over the city from one of its many skyscrapers on a rainy night, one can’t help but think of Blade Runner made real.

Spend a few years living in this marvel of human engineering, however, and you’ll start noticing some disturbing inconsistencies. Transactions are still recorded in paper and ink and notarized with a stamp. Internet Explorer 6 and fax machines are standard issue for many businesses. Spill boiling hot oil on your hand on a Friday night during a drunken cooking accident? Sorry bud, hospitals are closed on the weekends. Where was that attention to detail when you came across your umpteenth “No Smorking” sign? It’s enough to make you wonder if that African fellow in sunglasses and a trench coat slipped a red pill into your gin and tonic last week at Ageha.

You, a champion of Western-style logic and reason having seen these many contradictory aspects of Japan, may be inclined to quickly and brutally dispel the image of Tokyo as a futurist’s wet dream with a hard right straight of truth. However, consider that Japan is also the birthplace of Zen Buddhism. In the practice of Zen, one method of seeking enlightenment is deep meditation and contemplation of a koan, a paradoxical riddle which stimulates an awakening to the true nature of reality by demonstrating the inadequacy of logic and reason. Viewed through this lens, all of the infuriatingly inconsistent aspects of modern Japanese culture are not byproducts of an aging, change-resistant ruling class, but sign posts created to guide the careful observer on his journey to a higher state of being.

If you can answer these modern koans, you may find yourself one step closer to throwing yourself in front of a train nirvana:

A worker asks his boss, “Why do we need an English slogan when 99% of our clients are Japanese?” The boss replies, “Happi business stlategy always caring.”

A foreigner says, “I’m a translator.” A Japanese man asks, “Can you read kanji?”

What is the value of 10 men working overtime on nothing?

Why is fax superior to email?

If you meet an energy crisis, do not insulate homes.

Multiple stab wounds, bloody footprints, no weapon in sight. It’s a suicide.

The English-speaking Japanese is half Japanese. The other half is Japanese.


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