Jesse Efron has an M.A in English literature as well as an M.F.A in creative writing. He lives and teaches in northern Kyoto prefecture. The judges felt his piece provided an interesting look at questions of identity in a global age and at a time when tourist numbers in Kyoto have surged dramatically.
Nippon leaves his one story apartment, gets the newspaper and acknowledges March’s grey sky, then returns to make soup using actual ingredients with spices like parsley and turmeric. He prepares vegetables, indulges in the broth’s piquancy before adjusting and re-tasting until he’s achieved a healthier mirroring of those powdered packets that have usurped what used to be home-cooking. He shakes his head at the misfortune of generations growing up on packaged foods, though this isn’t even his real preoccupation. He wants to know what he stands for; a nation? And if I am to stand for a nation, then why do I hide here in the Enmachi district of Kyoto? He knows the answer, that he uses Kyoto as his mooring in what’s become a diffusive world.
So he finishes his meal and walks to Kinkakuji, taking solace in the lack of skyscrapers. Tourists are reflected in the gilded leafing and paneling of the Golden Temple and Nippon stands among them guessing nationalities, but as he has a difficult time even picking himself out, he gives up and leaves, not even wanting to make conclusions about who he believes to be Japanese.
Ryoanji is quieter and famous for its fifteen-stone Zen garden. He pays the entrance fee and before entering the temple is reminded in English to remove his shoes. He can’t understand the couple speaking French or the German sounding man talking to his boy, but it’s distracting. The carefully swept garden is designed such that only fourteen of the fifteen rocks are ever visible at once, yet despite the impossibility of the stones he searches. Someone speaks Chinese. Another, Korean, perhaps. And eventually, when Nippon is deep within the stones, all of the languages become one.