text and photo by
Grigoris A. Miliaresis
In Europe, when we say “low country” we mean Holland, the Netherlands. And of course, geographically speaking we are correct but if we come to the concept of lowness itself, I doubt there is any other country, people or culture where this idea is more pronounced than Japan and the Japanese. This characteristic is so prominent in this country that sometimes I really wonder how it happened and the Japanese didn’t create structures of the most bottom heavy shape there is: the pyramid. (Even though, they actually did build quite many mounts with a rather similar shape).
Why? It might be because vital room is scarce in this land which, even though larger than most European countries, is 75% uninhabited because of the mountains. Come to think of it, it might be because of the mountains themselves: living among all these mountains, the biggest of which, the emblematic Fuji-san is the perfect image of a triangle, this idea became embedded in the national unconscious of the Japanese and they recreate it in everything: the way they talk, constantly humbling themselves, the way they sit and sleep, the way they built their houses or they way sumo wrestlers build their bodies. Everything is low, close to the ground.
My personal explanation is that living on such an unstable land the Japanese feel the need for some stability; since the ground itself doesn’t provide it, they try to imitate it in their lives like some sort of homeopathic magic, a wishful thinking that will protect them from all those times when the earth moves or when the winds become so strong that they sweep things and lives. For any reason, it’s interesting to watch how this idea of lowness permeates everyday life and how nobody notices it; like here, in a very central, very urban café in the city of Kawasaki, less than ten minutes from Tokyo station.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.