This is a three part story from Laura Winberry about the Speedvagen CX Team’s trip to Japan last fall to race, share and learn with their teammates there. Part 1
To begin to know the Japanese people you must understand their language. And while I do not claim to know a damn thing about either, I have deduced that the Japanese, aside from being one of the most endearing [people] ever, seem to have a word for everything. I like this. As a writer forever in search of ‘words to describe the indescribable, the intangible; words to pinpoint sentiment, emotion, things of the earth, breath,’ I like this. It both astounds and enlivens me to know a language has taken the time to sit with something as important as universal human sentiments and actually honor each with its own word. That tightness you get in your throat when you want to cry but don’t because you’re in public, I bet you there’s a word for it. That oceanic rush from your sacrum, through your navel, up into your chest and heart when you encounter something or someone so divine it takes your breath away, there’s a word for that. I’m sure of it.
Yugen is one of these words. I have yet to find an English equivalent for it, so if you find one, let me know. Used to describe the “subtle profundity of things,” Yugen is an important concept in traditional Japanese aesthetics. It suggests “that beyond what can be said but is not an allusion to another world.” Yugen is about this world and this experience, a wholly “profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the Universe… and the sad beauty of human suffering.” Whoa. Yugen is tits. It also happens to be one of the most fitting words to describe our entire ‘Speedvagen in Japan’ experience.
After the countryside was the lakeside. Lake Biwa, to be exact; the largest freshwater lake in all of Japan. Biwa is located a long, expensive sprinter van ride away from Minamimaki, in the Shiga Prefecture just northeast of the former capital and Buddhist temple laden city, Kyoto. Biwa’s origins are tectonic, making it one of the twenty oldest lakes in the world. It also boasts, until a more recent invasion by foreign fish, about fifty-eight endemic species. Biwa, to say the least, is an enigmatic body. It moves you. Even when you’ve just entered into a quarter mile slog of its [eastern] shore for the third time of many, a golden steed slung over your shoulder, labored breath drowning out the sound of sand in cassettes, cleats, teeth; mucus and salt dried onto your right cheek and disappearing down into underlayers, still, Biwa moves you. A glance over its vast hush, a brief thought of ancient Japanese Nessies just beneath its surface, then back to the clumpy sandbox before you. Yugen. Biwa has moved you. It has made you feel something real.