Hokkaido (Japan)

- throwing powder into eyes -

Do you know the origin of the French expression "throw prowder in someone's eyes"?

It goes back to the 12th century and comes from the dust that the first athlete raised in the eyes of the following concurrent during dirt track racings. The latter then derived its victory partly from the blindness of its competitors. Still in the 16th century, this expression meant "to prevail over someone".

 

This is literally what we did this February in Japan! Put on not sneakers but skis and snowboard, we played sending white dust to our eyes on the sides of smoking volcanoes, in the birch forests and at the foot of imposing ice waterfalls! No one knows who won, but what a pleasure to lift this light snow at each turn!

If skiing in Japan is almost a pilgrimage for any self-respecting spatula addict, it is because the cold winds of Siberia bring quantity of enormous flakes which accumulate in thick layers of airy powder, especially on the North Island: Hokkaïdo.

In good seasons, you can count up to 15 meters of accumulated snow in ski resorts! Lack of luck, we arrived in Japan during the WORST season for almost 60 years according to locals. No worries, the cumulative 6 meters and the regular falls of 30 cm of fresh air have largely made us happy!

But clearly, in the race, Nature wins. She threw powder into our eyes when the blizzard forced us to abort the ascent of Mount Asahidake, or when she brought snow through the vents of the van in the middle of the night!

Impossible, however, to hold it against her when we realize with what delicacy and complexity she shapes her snowflakes observed under a microscope. That’s downright stars in the eyes!

 

But let's talk now about the meaning we give today to the expression "throw powder in the eyes" (= to hoodwink)...

 

Because, in the list of flattering but deceptive appearances, something struck us in Japan. Behind the minimalism of traditional houses and gardens hides a consumer society pushed to its climax. Nothing is recovered, everything is bought and then thrown away. And see as much overwrapping, single-use products, consumption of water in onsens (public baths) and electricity down to the heated toilet bowl, in a country that could afford to act for the planet, it must be said, it saddens us.

The fact that many Indian states have banned the use of the plastic bag when the cookies are individually wrapped here makes us even angry. Japan, the 7th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world [1], does not escape and will not escape the impacts of climate change [2]. So when will the behavior change come?

 

To be honest, after 10 months of traveling to Central Asian countries, coming back to a society that works close to ours turns us upside down. Because ultimately, behind all the codes of respect that Japan counts hides a society marked by individualism. No generalization, but the few glaring and suspicious looks when we seek help to restart the truck that suffers from the cold in a parking lot or the 75-year-old workers seen on construction sites, leave us doubtful that "developed countries" also rhyme with "flourishing societies".

 

Criticism is easy, and it can hardly be admitted that France is exemplary on these subjects at present. But perhaps while these suspended times we could just take the time to think about the society we want for tomorrow, when the course of life resumes.

 

[1] https://www.carbonbrief.org/carbon-brief-profile-japan

[2] https://www.env.go.jp/earth/tekiou/pamph2018_full_Eng.pdf

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