Inside the In-Between

Yuko Uchima is a long way from home. Originally from Okinawa, Yuko is now in Oslo – by way of Akita, a medium-sized city in Northern Japan. I bring Yuko up, in association with this trip to Norway, not only because she was one of the first people I spoke with for any prolonged time when I arrived here, but also because of her name. It is rather rare in Japan – virtually unused, according to her – and its kanji work themselves out into the delightfully oxymoronic “inside the in-between”.

I mean, it isn’t quite “inside the outside”, but it is closer than just about any other conjunction of consonants and vowels generally could be.

You kind of wonder how that name came about. Well, you might not if you hear “uchima”, but I did. Because I happened to be able to guess what the kanji might possibly be. But . . . wait a minute . . . that might sound stupid, since it is probably true everywhere that names mean things — they come from certain origins, signifying something. But, for sure, in Yuko’s society all names tend to come from somewhere – some association rooted in the past. A guy named “Yamashita” has a name that (depending on the Chinese characters) means “under/beneath the mountain” (and that is definitely a place to avoid when all the debris starts a-tumbling); and a gal named “Matsuda” probably sports a tag meaning “field of pine” (which, if you believe in the truth of names — the correspondence between meaning and character — then that refuge could work out to be a very prickly, painful person to lie down with).

On a more positive note, my wife’s family’s kanji translates as the “coming of cranes” – which I think is one of the most glorious, if not lyrical, Japanese names of all-time. Cranes being associated, historically, with longevity. Here it comes, here it comes: imagine all that life heading right toward you.

I won’t go so far as to say that that is why I said “I do”, but I did, and so did it. Happy to say; yippie for me. Life is a blessed thing.

Generally all names Japanese can be reduced to meaningful statements. On the conference program lying open before me I spy (with my little eye) a Mr. Sunagawa – which, probably means “sandy river” (the name is romanized here, so it is hard to say for sure) — and a Ms. Takamori – which, dollars-to-donuts, likely renders as “high forest”.

Well, maybe I’m rambling (beneath the mountains, through the pine fields, along the banks of the sandy river, and up in the high forest). What I am really trying to say – what I brought all this up to talk about – is not to impress you with my linguistic skills (HA! that would be the day!) No, what I was pointing toward was the concept of inside the in-between. What I wish to now wonder aloud is what sort of cases that might cover?

I can imagine cases where being inside the in-between might not be so great. You know, like where the lava comes coursing through the gully, and you, the poor inert slob who cannot clamor fast enough to the left or right embankment, will, therefore, also not manage to escape. In a word: ouch and goodbye.

On the other hand, one might imagine cases where being inside the in-between could be, well, now that you mention it, quite fantastic. I mean, if it was a, um . . . sexual space that was the great inbetween, with a thigh to the left and right, then, well, to think of another word: Mmmmmmm and let’s never let this end.

So, maybe we can agree that inside the in-between has a certain ecumenical openness about it; a spot of chameleon-like neutrality. It can be good or bad, X and Y (!).

Yeah, yeah, I am aware that this has very little to do with Oslo. But it might intrinsically, which we would never know without going out there, getting a bit beneath the surface. Searching for a space, a home to things and acts that ought not to exist, but possibly do. If not there, where you are, then here, inside the place that is between all other realms.

And, at this point, walking around the cobblestone streets, under the alternately overcast, then sunny skies, I am thinking about this robust, contradictory compound.

Maybe I’ll even manage to transform it into my own private motif for this sojourn. Since every sojourn requires a theme.

Of course, I suppose I can’t claim it as my very own . . .

After all, the idea really belongs to Yuko. And her parents and siblings.

Insiders between their family name and the rest of the world of folk (like you and me), who carry around any and every other self-descriptive moniker.