There are many kinds of awe, according to Professor Dacher Keltner of the University of California at Berkeley. In his new book, “The Thrilling New Science of Awe,” he talks about spiritual awe, that feeling of wonder you feel when you’re praying or worshipping. He discusses musical awe, that transcendence that comes over you when listening to Mozart, Beethoven (or perhaps Taylor Swift). There’s visual design awe, like when you’re observing Monet’s Water Lilies or the Michelangelo’s David. The commonality between all these different types of awe is “vastness” – that sense that you’re part of something bigger than yourself, a larger frame of meaning.
I’m not sure which type of awe I’m feeling when I approach the giant Unicorn Gundam statue in Odaiba, an entertainment area/island in southeast Tokyo. Perhaps it’s plain old physical awe, because this statue is HUGE. Parked in front of DiverCity Tokyo Plaza, the Gundam statue towers over the crowd at 19.7 meters (62 feet +) tall. In a word, it’s “awe-some.” Although I’ve never seen its origin series, Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, I can certainly appreciate a giant robot statue that transforms, 4 times a day, from “Unicorn mode” to “Destroy mode.” In these moments its armor plates shift, revealing brilliant light panels that are pretty spectacular, especially at night. Anime clips are then projected onto the exterior of Diver City and various Gundam theme songs are played from speakers.
The Odaiba district, which features a giant Statue of Liberty, also hosts one of the largest video arcades I’ve ever seen. You really haven’t lived until you’ve seen a group of Japanese youths, all in various levels of cosplay, busting professional-level moves on the Dance Dance Revolution game. One of my favorite types of awe, mentioned prominently in Keltner’s book, is Collective Effervescence, that sense of losing yourself you feel when doing something together with others, like dancing, singing, praying or watching a mass sporting event. Judging by the rapturous expressions on their faces, collective effervescence is what the cosplayers seem to be feeling as they gyrate together in the arcade. And it’s what I and the other 100 observers are experiencing as we gaze up in awe at the miraculous Gundam Unicorn statue. We’re all just puny human beings, deferring to this superior being –essentially a Transformer with a horn on its head. Just your typical evening in Tokyo, Japan!
(Do you get enough awe in your life? If not, grab a friend or family member and go to a concert, a sporting event, a museum. Or simply take a walk in the park and open up yourself up to the mysteries of life, the “vastness.” It’s all around us, all of the time, if we just tune in!)