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The time is now

An essay published in the Fukui Shimbun-Newspaper, on 28 February 2018

Shichio MINATO

I usually simply pass through this route during my commutes by car or bicycle, but today I decided to take the long way and spent over an hour on foot. On this freezing cold morning, the melody to "A Hazy Shade of Winter" - from Simon & Garfunkel - played inside my head. The immense energy harbored by the morning sun created a stark shade of chiaroscuro contrast as it began to apply hues of colour to the monochromatic tones of the city.

- I definitely am living in the present.

When I encounter a beautiful sight, a feeling swells up within me - a desire to give shape to that emotion and share it with someone. It's similar to that sensation when you happen to discover a restaurant that serves delicious food, and you say "let's keep this place a secret," but all the while you're just dying to tell somebody about it.

It only seems like yesterday when I returned to live in Belgium last spring, but as my scheduled day to come back drew near, my stay had trickled down to only a few remaining weeks. When I considered that my life here would only last a short while longer, normal everyday existence began to feel like a truly special thing.

What used to be something that "I could do anytime" now became something that "I could only do in this moment." It was all very interesting, because now my perception of time, and the way I viewed things, had changed.

When I look back upon my year here, "light" became a most important keyword. The light streaming through a window, the city lights reflected on the surface of water, the fluttering flame of a candle, the tail lights of a car streaking through the fog...

- Why had "light" come to appear to be such a beautiful thing now?

It must have been around the time that I graduated junior high school, that my older brother - an avid reader - handed me a copy of "In Praise of Shadows" by Junichiro Tanizaki, saying, "you must read this!" For a long time, I had been afflicted with dyslexia (reading disorder), and I especially had difficulty reading vertically composed books. The typefaces would appear like mirror writing to me, or as if they floated above the page, and I would become exhausted after reading just a few pages. Now, with the benefit of rationality, I could calmly view this condition as "just one aspect that made me who I am," but at the time I suffered from a powerful inferiority complex.

In any case, my brother knew me quite well, and his recommendations usually were spot-on, so I decided to take the time to read this book thoroughly. And, incredibly, I experienced this sensation, of something freely slipping into my body and becoming absorbed within.

And thus, I became mesmerized with this "world of shadows," and it later served to be the source of inspiration for my subsequent work.

While declaring the importance of the "world of shadows" to Japanese culture, Tanizaki took a critical stance towards Western culture, which did not understand it.

Afterwards, however, as the Westernization of our nation rapidly progressed, I in fact have come to feel that - at least when comparing Japan to Belgium - our countries' aesthetic sensibilities towards nuance have become turned completely around. For example, shopping centers in Japan are exceedingly bright, while in Belgium low-intensity lighting has become mainstream. Regular households prefer dim lighting as well, to the point that I begin to worry, "perhaps this might be bad for one's eyes?"

When analyzing the reasons why the "light" in Belgium appears so beautiful, I realized an important clue hidden within the "world of shadows" and "the time is now."

Someone once told me, "Minato-san, your paintings are so dark. You should make them brighter." But in order to depict beautiful light, it is necessary to have shadows. The amount of light compared to dark within the frame is a mere fraction. Not quite enough is actually just the right amount.

Furthermore, in order to realize my art, I value an appropriate level of intensity, as embodied in the words, "the time is now." It serves as an intermediary between the transmitter and the receiver.

Perhaps because my wife is a musician, we have a relatively large number of opportunities to attend classic concerts, together with our 3 children. Before the performance begins, I would whisper into their ears, "this might be the only chance you could hear this." While I worry that they will fidget and fuss and disturb others, perhaps I have an even greater desire for them to cherish each "sound" as it happens, in the moment it was given birth.

At this point in my writing, I am reminded of the four-character compound word (idiom), "treasure every meeting, for it will never recur." Perhaps these occasional encounters with "beautiful light" may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

A winter morning in Citadel Park. An important green space landmark, loved dearly by the citizens of Ghent.

A winter morning in Citadel Park. An important green space landmark, loved dearly by the citizens of Ghent.


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