||A Sensibility for Living in a World in Constant Flux
Sense of the Floating World
"The volcano Fugen-dake made a horrible attack on us.
Anthropologist and Producer of sensorium
And yet I still find myself praying to her. Strange ...."
[A man in Shimabara, the site of a great volcanic explosion in
In the past several years, Japan's volcanic system has suddenly
became very active and caused appalling disasters in such areas
as Shimabara, and in the form of earthquakes in Okushiri Island
in the north, and of course in Kobe. There were many casualties
in these areas, and these disasters called into question our capacity
for crisis control, as well as the basic structure of contemporary
society: the centralized life-line configuration, high-density
urban design, information systems, and so on.
It is noteworthy, however, that the local people who suffered
these disasters do not unanimously speak of their experiences
in such negative terms; they speak of matters other than such
grim-sounding things as crisis control and damage recovery. In
fact, they exhibit in various ways a kind of revelation concerning
that which befalls people when they come in contact with something
tremendous that transcends their mundane speculations and desires.
Metaphysical Feeling toward Earthquakes and Volcanic Activities
The words quoted at the beginning come from a local leader in
the reconstruction project that was under way as a result of the
damage caused by the eruption of Mt. Fugen-dake in Shimabara.
The man speaks of his unchanged worship of the mountain. In fact,
the name itself, "Fugen," is a Buddhist term for the sacred.
The reconstruction team is attempting to propose an alternative
regional design program that will make sense in global terms and
in respect to planetary civilization. They are not merely interested
in restoring things to the way they were before the eruption.
Instead, they want to attain a kind of ecological/cosmological
sensibility in relation to the land and the volcano.
This same attitude can be found among the people of Izu-Oshima,
who suffered from the eruption of Mt. Mihara some 10 years ago.
They feel an awesome respect for any volcanic activity and call
the eruption of the mount "gojinka," or sacred fire. The people
of the many communities in Japan who have lived in close contact
with Mount Fuji and other volcanoes must implicitly share this
kind of sensibility.
Tsumura, who contributed two reports (part 1 / part 2) to our sensing Japan, suggests that in Kobe, too, a year after
that great earthquake, a significant number of people, including
many who lost loved ones, feel "sympathy" toward the earthquake
or achieved a revelation-like breakthrough, and became not so
anguished by earthly mundane matters. (Please refer also to Tsumura's essay in this library on "earth")
An Asian Sensibility Concerning Earth and Nature
Ken'ichi Harada, a geophysicist, says that such an attitude toward
volcanic explosions and earthquakes is particularly Asiatic, or
Japanese, and demonstrates a great contrast to the attitude of
He says that in the West, people tend to perceive natural disasters
in more or less functional and material terms. Thus a disaster
can only be regarded negatively, and any discussion concerning
it would be focused on how the "threat" may be dealt with. In
Asia, however, an almost religious attitude is often taken toward
these events, one that urges people to find a way to accept or
coexist with such phenomena. This gives rise to a state of mind
in which one attempts to locate one's position within the greater
There is also other evidence that supports this thesis. Throughout
Japan, we find many sacred points based on traditional worship
of mountains. These places are considered sacred sites or places
of power where volcanic energy can be manifestly felt. These points
are sometimes connected to form a kind of networked route of pilgrimage,
such as the famous route that takes pilgrims to 88 sites in Shikoku,
the westernmost island of Japan.
The sites might also be compared with acupoints and the route
to the human body's system of meridians (the "chi" energy channel
in Chinese healing). In short, the volcanic system (the meridian
system of the earth, so to say) and the network of religious sanctuaries
Toji Kamata, a researcher of religions, has astutely revealed
that at the base of our traditional sites of worship lie the singular
points of the volcanic system, with their gravitational and magnetic
properties. Such geophysical conditions (and people's corresponding
sensibilities), provide us with proper spiritual, mental and physical
fine-tuning and massage.
In the creation myth of the ancient Japanese "Kojiki," as Kamata
explains in his essay (the second verse of linked senses) , one also finds a sort of cosmological sensibility regarding
volcanic activity, one that sees it as indispensable to the birth
of the world, that both our physical and spiritual life are due
to it. Harada, in his article, points out that thanks to advanced
geophysics, we now have a means of scientifically substantiating
this mythic sensibility regarding the vital movements of the earth.
In Asia and Japan, any discussion of volcanoes and earthquakes
would be incomplete were it to be limited to such topics as the
magnitude of destruction and disaster prevention measures. We
need to take a more inclusive approach to such issues, one that
admits the notions of sensibility, religious or spiritual feelings,
cosmological awareness, epistemology and cultural values.
Revitalizing a Sense of Living on the Earth
The Pacific Rim Volcanic Zone, in which Japan is located, is in
sharp contrast with the rest of the world, where the continents
are in stable phases. From an earth science perspective, our mobile
zone is always fluctuating, and we keenly feel the respiration
and other vital activities of the earth.
This chain of volcanic activities reminds us of the invisible
and subterranean existence of the fire meridian that runs across
the Pacific Rim; and it reminds us that we are connected with
other people of the Rim through that system.
Recent events, regrettable though they may be, have made this
meridian manifest, and have given us notice to develop a sensibility
that can benefit and facilitate us all as living organisms, to
be in touch with the earth's kinetic changes and rhythms, and
to live interactively with them. Such a sensibility will involve
religious and cosmological notions and may serve to help us reorganize
our lives in this fluctuating zone.
The Fire Meridian Network of the Pacific Rim
The local people of Shimabara, emerging from the damage caused
by the volcano, are steadfastly developing an alternative regional
rebuilding program that reflects their attitude of coexisting
with the earth. They have also established ties with the people
who were struck by Mt.Pinatubo.
Izu-Oshima, Mt. Fuji, Kobe, Shimabara, Pinatubo: this is not merely
a geophysical chain. The emerging network among the people in
each region might form the network of sensibility to live along
this fluctuating Pacific Rim Fire Meridian.
Throughout 1996, there will be a variety of events in different
areas in Japan designed to explore how we might develop this sensibility.
From Kobe (first anniversary: see for example Yagi's interview from Kobe in sensing Japan) to Shimabara, Mt. Fuji, and Mt. Mihara in Izu Oshima (a Divine
Fire event is planned in November on the 10th anniversary), there
are signs that these events will be connected to one another and
so form an integrated whole.
Given what I have outlined here, we need to identify and seek
a new form for our living environment and our lifestyles, a form
that is distinct from that of the geodynamically stable Western
If we can initiate such a move, the agony of suffering such as
that experienced in Kobe and other areas, might give rise to something
more positive than mere physical reconstruction: namely, a mind-shift
at the macroscopic level, one that will tend toward a radical
change in our perception of the meaning of civilization.
[sensing Japan, Tsumura's report part 1]
[sensing Japan, Tsumura's report part 2]
[sensing Japan, Yagi's interview]
[library "earth" (Tsumura's essay)]
[linked senses "earth" (Kamata's essay)]