Blogging Journal

Sailing Out of Sight

Orkney Tall Ship
Tall ship “Roald Amundsen” sailing into Stromness Bay, Orkney Islands, Great Britain, 1995.

What a strange feeling to have had a steady stream of readers who commented regularly on my posts for the last two or three months and then suddenly it dries up for no discernible reason. Are my recent posts that boring and that irrelevant, compared to earlier posts? Did I do something wrong to the templates so that no one can find my page any more? Did I commit a faux pas in my comments somewhere on other people’s sites? Or is the content of my own site objectionable?

It is as if I have entered the doldrums and there is no wind. I keep trying to convince myself that this is only a blog and not really very important, but then, I worked so hard on making this come true, put my heart into it. Blogging out there in the ocean of bloggers and not being in hailing sight of a single fellow sailor makes for pretty lonely sailing. What is the point of writing a blog if there is no interaction? Might as well just keep my diary here at home.

I shouldn’t complain, of course, at least I’ve had visitors and comments. I drop by Pacific Tides quite a lot, and he has never gotten a comment, other than by me, so far as I can tell. It’s curious, because the site is beautiful and the writing is interesting and relevant. Thomas has traveled quite a bit and has a delightful outlook on people and travel. I once asked him if he was at all concerned about the lack of traffic to his site, but his reply seemed like a philosophical shrug; perhaps it is just enough to get the thoughts and creative mappings down.

I would like to be so nonchalant. Perhaps I take this blogging business way too seriously. But then, for me, writing is important stuff. And I want to be true to my own thoughts and feelings when I write in the blog or make comments elsewhere. I am good at joking around in person, but not so good in my writing, so perhaps I come across as this monumental bore who has to philosophize about everything. But why not? So much other stuff that you come across on the internet revolves around nothing, around passing on information simply for the passing on, like electronified gossip, e-gossip. It has been good to find other bloggers willing to discuss things in depth, and willing to write more than a sentence or two.

So the web of contacts that I’ve connected to through this blog have come to mean something, especially in my discussion-starved lifestyle here in Japan. The discussions have kept me thinking daily, even while walking to the train station or sitting on the train or eating dinner at the ramen restaurant near my workplace. Often I jot down topics or threads of ideas as I walk. The discussions have gotten me reading more philosophy and meshed with the storm of opinions and theories and introspection that whirl around in my mind these days. And by writing about place and nature, I’ve taken more time to look around me and look closely, with my eyes, my ears, my fingers, camera, pencil, my feet. A kind of census of locale and a personal embracing of hope.

I will continue to write, throwing these words out into the void and hoping the seeds land on some fertile ground somewhere. But as long as I sit here writing soliloquies it will be more like a hermit mumbling to himself, than a member of a forum. Then again, didn’t the sages and wise men, pundits and gurus all sit alone somewhere on some inaccessible mountain? Perhaps I would be better off to contemplate it all in silence.

Art of Living Books Journal Musings Simplicity

Body and Soul

Shetlands Puffin Peeking
Puffin peering from the edge of a cliff, the Shetland Islands, Great Britain, 1995.

In the midst of reading her book, The Making of the Representative for Planet 8, the fourth in her “Space Series”, Doris Lessing talks in depth about the relationship of the impermanence of the world with the concept of self. Two of her characters go through two long soliloquies as they attempt to come to terms with the knowledge that they will become extinct. Three concepts emerge: dreams are collective, the body is but an ephemeral container, and the self is but a manifestation of other selves that came before. I’ve been reading the book on my commutes to and from work, while sitting with a wall of bodies lined up right at my knees, individuals each, but one person little differentiated from the next. The book and all these people often left me sitting with my eyes closed, trying to pull aside the veil that hides comprehension.

It is true what Lessing says, each morning I wake to the conviction, “Here I am. This is me.” And yet each day my experiences tell me that this is not really how things are. This determination to define “me” in the context of the world around always flutters out into disappointment when I realize that I am not really so important in the scheme of things after all. We cry when something dear to us dies or we lose something that we value. And yet eventually all things die and disappear. We know that. The cake we made rots. The book we read disintegrates. The dog we cherished dies. Even the mountain we roved in a reverie crumbles into dust. It is the way of the world and we are all an intimate part of it.

But it seems we spend most of our time denying it and resisting the going.

Perhaps it has something to do with getting older, and realizing that this body that I’ve inhabited all these years is steadily letting go, that eventually it will give and wink out. More and more I’m coming to realize that this youth oriented society that we push so strongly is ill-prepared for the awakening to the ephemeral nature of our lives. We spend so much time buying the make up and working out in the gyms, that we’ve left no space for the habitation of our minds, which must take time to grow into the acceptance of eventually letting go.

I watched a program the other night about a Japanese businessman who gave up his lucrative job as a salesman to live as cheaply as possible and concentrate on taking photographs. He bought a run down old farmhouse just on the outskirts of Tokyo, threw away all modern appliances, learned about how farmers in the poverty stricken days before the war kept themselves warm, cooked, and ate. He adopted the simplest, most technology-independent lifestyle he could find and settled down to enjoy his lifestyle. What he found was that a person barely needs much to live relatively comfortably, and that his time expanded into hours.

“When you’re spending less money and time on the items that are supposed to make your life better, you gain back all that time. And what I’ve found is that there is more space for my mind, now. I hadn’t realized just how gratifying the older lifestyle was. There is something that feels complete in cooking fish over an open fire or putting a vegetable from your garden onto your plate. It is a satisfaction that you just can’t derive from TV or cell phones or computers.”

I am wondering more these days if the richness of close association with the surrounding world that a life of voluntary poverty and simplicity seem to embody actually helps you incorporate the ephemerality of life into your outlook and works in better with the birth and death of your precious self. For it seems to be the clinging to self that most harms the cycle of things.

Would that our societies let go of “prosperity” and learn to transcend the limitations of desire. We could concentrate on our collective dream instead.

Journal Poetry

Herbsttag (Autumn Day)

Orkney Quoyloo Window View
View from a friend’s cottage window in Quoyloo, the Orkney Islands, Great Britain, 1995.

In 1991, while attending a writer’s gathering I was invited to in Glenbrook, New Hampshire, Walter Clark recited this poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, one of my favorite poets, and favorite poems:


Es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr gross.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren lass die Winde los.

Befiehl den letzten Fruechten voll zu sein;
gieb ihnen noch zwei suedlicher Tage,
draenge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Suesse in den schweren Wein.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein is, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin and her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blaetter treiben.

It is difficult to translate into English the inherently melancholy voice of the German language and even more difficult to ascribe the longer rhythms and consonant rich sound of German words that Rilke uses so masterfully in his poems. It is simply impossible to bring across the full beauty of Rilke’s poems in English. For the sake of most of the readers of this weblog, I’ve made my own attempt:

Autumn Day

Lord: it is time. The Summer was so grand.
Lay thy shadows upon the sundials,
and upon the fields let the winds loose.

Allow the last fruit to grow full;
give them yet two southerly days,
press them through completion and throw
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Who now has no house, builds none more.
Who now is alone, will so long remain,
will wake, read, write long letters
and in the alleyways two and fro
restlessly wander, as the leaves drift down.

German books are still published in small formats that are easy to carry in pockets. Japanese books, too. When I introduced a Japanese friend to The Lord of the Rings series last year, at first she recoiled when she saw the huge paperback volume in the English section of Kinokuniya, the giant six story bookstore in downtown Tokyo. “It’s too heavy!” she protested. “Who’s going to carry around a lump like that?” She was reassured, however, when she went downstairs and discovered that the Japanese versions had been split into seven volumes, each small enough to slip into her purse’s side pocket.

I’m puzzled why western book companies now issue most of their books in these huge bricks that barely fit into your bag and add up to the equivalent of a weightlifter’s barbell when stuffing a bag for school or work. During the Second World War publishers distributed the newly designed “pocket books” so that soldiers might carry a volume in their back pockets, but the mobility of these books still holds true today. Not only would carrying the latest edition of the Harry Potter series while walking the mountains make my pack a lot lighter (no I don’t bring such big books into the mountains!), but it would certainly make having books shipped from in the States here to Japan a lot cheaper.

Journal Musings

Autumn Grey

Lacquer Vines
Lacquer Vines on the trunk of a Beech tree, autumn, Oze Marsh, Gunma Prefecture, 1994.

It is time to turn on incandescent lights while the skies harbor the new arrival of nimbus clouds. Summer has passed, giving way to the slow grip of winter. I sit further back from the window, drawing inward to the map of my mind. Soon excursions will issue challenges from the tips of my shoes, kicking through the bones of leaves, and leaving a wake of assurance and regret. Grasshoppers and mantises shrivel into leaves. Lizards and toads incorporate the earth, like clods of inchoate dreams. The abandoned cries of dun minded birds ring out from the quivering branches, unchallenged and brave, small breasts held out towards the inevitable cold. And the light, which heated the rooms of my summer reveries, fades into sleep. Sleep and stillness. The ship heading into a grey and silent peril.

Japan: Living Journal Life In Musings

Table Manners

Wooded Canal Germany
Wooded canal just outside Lübeck, northern Germany, 1995.

With winter approaching the chances to meet flights of wanderers along the streets of Tokyo would seem to die out with the passing of the summer birds. Summer holds the tickets to all the comings and goings that we do. And yet this last weekend I ended up with three days of encounters: my Friday night dinner with former students, the day long celebration of eating and peeking on Saturday, and then yesterday, most unusual, a chance meeting with two hikers at an outdoor store. Unusual in that, here in Japan, meeting and talking to strangers usually only occurs when the circumstances dictate such a necessity, for instance when a customer talks to a shop clerk or a passenger asks directions on the train. Otherwise Japanese keep to themselves and it is rare that two people sitting next to each other on the train start up a conversation, even if they sit brushing shoulders for several hours. It is one reason I dislike train travel in Japan, despite its efficiency and speed.

Of the two characters I met in the hiking store, one was British. When I first saw him he looked familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on where I had met him. Normally in England or the States, we would have smiled and at least nodded when we first made eye contact, but this being Japan, we just sort of grunted and passed one another by.

It was at the store’s self-help coffee corner, where you can sit and watch videos of mountains to travel to and look through outdoor magazines and maps at a big, wooden table that I met the second guy, a Japanese. He saw me fiddling with the coffee machine and stepped up to offer assistance, not realizing that I could speak Japanese and that it was the little sign which read, “Coffee Corner Closed” in Japanese that I was concerned about. He naturally hesitated, as a Japanese would, wanting to be careful not to intrude on my privacy, and I reacted in just as Japanese a way, stuttering slightly as I tried to reassure him, without insulting him , that I appreciated his help, but understood the Japanese.

That would have ended our further talking had it not been for the British fellow. It soon became apparent that these two people were friends; they sat down on one side of the big table and started discussing camping equipment. I listened furtively, wanting to join in the conversation, and finding their talk of lightweight tents and over-accumulation of camping gear quite interesting. Every time one of them looked up at me, I looked down, as did the Japanese guy. I figured that I would sit there, drawing my sketches for an tarp idea, while they talked themselves out and left the store.

I was about to leave, when the British guy suddenly turned around and asked, “Say, where you from?”

So we got to talking. It lasted three hours. About everything from the latest camping gadgets, to the best places to roam in Asia. It was mostly a volley between me and the British fellow, but I was aware of the Japanese man sitting next to the other the whole time. I occasionally turned to him during the conversation just to let him know that I was aware of him and that I also understood how hard it was for him to join the conversation. Eventually the ice broke and he joined in, talking for a spell about temples.

The curious experience of the interaction between the three of us was that I suddenly was put into the position of having to defend both a British sensibility and a Japanese one. The British guy occasionally leaned over and would strongly opine with statements like, “I think the Japanese don’t like foreigners and that’s why they don’t deal with you when you walk into the stores.” His words would stop me short, because, in part, I agreed with him, having had many similar experiences. But at the same time another part of me would ring with the opposite view, that the Japanese truly are a shy and very reserved people, and it is difficult to get them to display themselves. I sat there before these people whose cultures I both understood and had experienced all my life, and for a second or two found myself tongue tied. How to answer? After a moment’s thought I would reply. “Well, you know, you are right. A lot of Japanese really don’t like foreigners and resent having to deal with them, but you have to remember that most Japanese are also keenly aware of social propriety and will bend over backwards to observe the respect due another. Showing someone that you don’t know what they are saying and thereby causing them discomfort or inconvenience is something shameful that needs to be avoided at all costs. Many Japanese turn away simply because they haven’t a clue about what to say and get nervous.

I watched these two people from widely disparate cultures and found my innards shifting first this way then the other, in a seesaw of cultural sloshing that left me a little exhausted while I tried to keep my balance. Maybe because I have been straddling cultures all my life, it always comes as a surprise to see others not being able to bridge the gap and clearly make out the logic of the other side.

In the end I made two new friends. Hope fully we will all have a chance to get out to our beloved mountains, where cultural differences are all washed away by the undeniable wave of nature.

It was just as the two were heading out the door while I stood in line at the casier, that the British fellow and I turned to each other and announced, “Weren’t you the guy on top of Kumotori Mountain a month ago?” Yes, we had met before. On top of a mountain, in a bright early morning sunlight, going opposite directions. “You going all the way down on foot?” “Yeah, all the way down. And you?”

Japan: Living Journal Life In Tokyo

Old Friends

Fish Monger Kichijoji
Fish monger preparing to bag a sale in the Kichijoji covered market.

Yesterday, for the first time in oh such a long time, I got together with some close friends whom I hadn’t seen in more than a year, to just spend the day talking and strolling. It was a molasses kind of day, waking up late, taking time to putter to the station, milling about while waiting for my friends at the meeting spot, and then just taking the rest of the day to put one foot in front of the other as we wandered around Kichijoji, an area in the western part, sort of outskirts, of Tokyo, where a distinct atmosphere of cosmopolitan creativity and traditional street markets mix in a quiet and stimulating labyrinth of tiny alleyways and stalls.

What was so surprising for me was how much I enjoyed just dilly-dallying around, shifting weight from one storefront to the next, mainly goggling at the mouthwatering food in each window or basket. Usually I get antsy when I have to stand in one place shopping for more than ten minutes, but it was delightful to be regaling each other with completely silly jokes, laughing till our eyes ran with tears, and not taking anything seriously.

Main Arcade Kichijoji Covered Market
The main market arcade through the center of Kichijoji

For lunch we ate a traditional Japanese meal of broiled mackerel and saury, boiled bamboo and radish, pickled vegetables, and brown rice. From there, at various stalls, we sampled fried pot stickers, Ghiradelli chocolate, dried Okinawan plums, and gazed at stall after stall of food that left us dizzy with all their aromas, fragrances, and odors. It was food, food, food, like happy dogs. We joked that if we were to eat at MacDonald’s there would have to be a temple or church built next door just to confess the feelings of guilt that eating anything other than food good for the body induces.

Feeling a little sluggish from the hours of walking, we decided to take in a movie, the totally forgettable “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”. It was so bad that afterwards we spent probably less than ten minutes discussing it. Instead we headed for an Italian restaurant, where we sat for another three hours laughing and talking over cream minestrone soup, crab sauce fettucine, garlic and tomato spaghetti, garden vegetable salad, wine, and beer. As a diabetic I very rarely indulge in this kind of feasting, but by god does it do wonders for the soul when I let up the iron fist of abstinence!

A thoroughly satisfying and soul-sating day. Friendship fills the gaps that nothing else can, and even makes food taste better.

Alleyway Kichijoji
One the many winding alley ways through the marketcovered market at Kichijoji
Diabetes Health Journal

Skirting the Border

Herrenhausen Fountain
The Great Fountain in the Herrenhausen Gardens in Hannover, Germany, my hometown, 1984.

One thing about having diabetes is that it does a good job of reminding you about the fragility of your life. Aside from the daily struggle with manually maintaining that metabolic balance that most people take for granted because it is automatic for them, just the sight of the insulin needle four times a day or the countdown of the blood sugar meter as it measures the level of sweetness in your heart, or even the waves of numbness and pain that ebb and flow with the tides of your body’s mood swings, can sometimes stop you short when you realize that what you are doing is gauging and resetting an hidden clock. And the clock keeps ticking, regardless of whether you want to set the snooze button or not.

Once a month I must haul myself over to the hospital to have my extremities jabbed and poked and probed, internal juices sampled, irises dilated and retinas blinded, veins pressed and released, substantiality of bodily presence in this world weighed, and rude questions posed about such private matters as what I ate for breakfast or how often I visited the toilet. It is like a reckoning; the Lord of Life and Death beckoning, to sit observing me while I bleed. Every time, about a week before the appointment, a cloud of guilt envelopes me, tightening my arteries and causing the banging of my heart to ring loud in my head. Was I good? Did I live up to what the doctor expected? Would all those other patients sitting in the lined up benches in the waiting lounge, expecting their names to be called next, notice that I hadn’t done my exercise or that I had eaten a MacDonald’s hamburger, or spent too many stressful hours at the computer screen? Would I somehow be punished?

There are times when the hours pass at the hospital and I watch the other patients who are my silent peers in this frightful contract. All kinds of people sit facing the blinking appointments monitor, little children in strollers, young women with their knees pressed together and shoulders hunched, old men gazing about bewildered, and overweight businessmen who fold their arms and shake one knee, still defying vulnerability. If I stare alert and don’t allow myself to slip into the stupor that the stuffy air ought to cause, I see the shadows hovering behind these people, claiming them. One afternoon an old man who had lost his eyesight recently stood ramrod still in one corner of the lobby while his wife carried out the responsibilities of getting him through the check up. He stood as if facing me, his eyes hidden by dark sunglasses. It was disconcerting because he almost seemed to face me directly, but his eyes seemed to face away just off to the side. As I sat gazing at him more and more the sink hole of empathy shuddered through me as I came to understand that he could be me, especially if I don’t take care of myself. The prospect of losing my eyesight, a very real and common verdict for people with diabetes (I hate the word “diabetics”, as if we are some kind of pariah or an impersonation of the disease itself), knocked me over the head and shook me awake. And this kind of awakening happens every time I go to the hospital; just yesterday a trio of elderly women sat beside me discussing their diabetes, like gossip over the garden wall. One of them said, with a finality that hushed them all up, “You really have to be careful. If you lose your eyesight then you’re really in trouble. I mean really in trouble!”

All this may sound macabre and morose, but in actuality it keeps you on your toes. Almost every person with diabetes that I’ve met who manages a well-balanced control of their blood sugar, gets regular exercise, and has stress lowered, seems to be correspondingly energetic and cheerful. Just look at the famous people with diabetes: Halle Berry, Mary Tyler Moore, Jerry Mathers of “Leave It To Beaver”… they all project this. Perhaps it has something partly to do with daily turning around and facing the possibility of death and not running away. It is like a Buddhist koan, an intimate comprehension of the ending of things right there a finger’s breadth away. And with the recognition of this ending, a converse eye opening to the breath of life. You can’t help but live awake and full if you face the reality of being snuffed out. Diabetes helps to remind you that, as Buckminster Fuller mused, “I seem to be a verb”. This body, doing all these unconventional misdemeanors, occupies space as a swarm of ideas, even the sensation of physicality but a synapse of one idea relating its theorem to another idea. Sitting in the midst of that swarm is the globule of the self, like an astronaut, drifting like light through the aether. You have to harness the gist of who you are and feed it with reminders of its own ephemerality, to rein it in and determine how the life you have been given, but a mere gesture, is to be lived. Reminders, although they can be scary, are good. They scoot the pebble across the pavement.

On the twenty minute walk from Shin Okubo station near the hospital to the hospital, I often pass a wizened old homeless woman huddled on the sidewalk. She never looks up and usually barely moves. Her clothes and skin are always dark with filth and drool often slips down the side of her lips. One time I found her passed out on the verge of the street, cars passing just an arm’s length away from her head. No one passing by made a move to help her. Since there was a police box a minute away I ran over there and told the officer in charge about the old woman. He laughed, as if she was a common problem, and told me that he would send someone over. I wrestled with going back to see that she was taken care of or rushing on to my hospital appointment. I decided to get to the hospital appointment, but to this day I feel I missed an opportunity of squarely facing life, of relating my experiences in the hospital and with the quirks of diabetes to the reality of a little old woman whose inability to rise to the challenge of her daily brushes with death. It is a bridge that crosses a vast, but incremental gap; and if I can but cross that bridge I will have discovered the very justification for such a disease as diabetes.

Journal Musings Technology

Loose End

For three days my internet connection was down and it was like a bag had been thrown over my head. I couldn’t do my design work, or communicate with my family and friends far away, or open the browser and lose myself in the blogging for a while. It is somewhat frightening just how dependent upon the computer and the internet I’ve become.

The interesting side effect is that, because of blogging, and some of the recent discussions that have been swirling around me and neighbor blogs, my mind went into “topic overload” as more and more ideas shuttled into the waiting list and ideas began to crowd each other out. It got so that, while browsing an outdoor store this afternoon (in between a morning at the hospital and an afternoon hunting for a bit disk and information on routers at the computer store), I started stopping every other step to scribble down whatever mess of words passed between my ears. This is the state of creative anarchy that I’ve longed to stimulate daily in my drive to become a writer and blogging is the medium that has awakened it.

I came to the conclusion today that blogging is truly something new. It isn’t writing as in a magazine or book, which remain more or less static and set their feet down upon a solid surface, but more a fluid flow of words, one step complemented by the next. It survives and thrives on the interaction between participants; without the interaction a blog goes still and exists only in an imagined reality. The best blogs are ones where the writer and the readership grow together and get to know one another, a state of affairs that writers of books and magazines have until now only dreamed of.

A blog is like a dialog, and come as varied as there are people who write them. Those who have not involved themselves in them much might conclude from the name “weblog” that they are online diaries, and perhaps many new bloggers use them as such, but with more experience and exposure the blogs somehow change, and a community is born for each blog. Just like writers a following develops, too, and people return again and again for the continuation of the story.

Today it became clear just how much stories run through the fabric of our daily trains of thought. We are story animals. And if there is anything truly worthwhile about the internet it is the return of the round-the-fire oral tradition, albeit in written form.

Iraq War Journal Musings


Futago Pond Log
Log suspended over the bank of Futago Pond, still covered in morning mist, Yatsugatake, Japan, 2001.


For the last few days I’ve been trying to write, but the words don’t come out. Too much on my mind, too many things I want to write about. And with this accumulation of words, each theme bleeds into the other until, in my mind, there is a numb ball of exasperation, feeling that all these words will dissipate into thin air, nothing to grasp between the fingers. Perhaps I’ve been reading too many ideas by others and spent too much time dwelling looking inward, at the map thrown across the dome of my thoughts. It is like gazing at a night sky, with a star field of ideas and emotions and knowledge suspended in ignorance and forgetfulness; there is always too much to learn and contemplate.

Earlier this evening I exchanged some enlightening and disturbing comments with Fujiko Suda on her post about Bush’s visit to Japan yesterday. Her thoughts made me deeply rethink my own tendency to “know it all” about what is right and wrong, and about how self-righteous my attitude is, condemning others for shaking up the world, while I feel that I remain innocent. She mentioned “hate” and at first I protested, saying that those involved with the antiwar movement do not protest out of hate, but fear, anger, and love of the world. Yet, when I even glimpse a picture of Bush my stomach turns over and I often react by grimacing and raising my fist at the image. I’ve denied it, but the truth is that, yes, I do hate. I hate very deeply.

I’ve fallen into the trap.

I need to get away from the screen, from bombardments of words, from rhetoric and discontent. I need to dive into my core and find that lake of stillness where I can shake the burrs loose. I’ve been walking lost among the thorns for so long that I concentrate on on the scratches and the pain they bring out, instead of standing still and reorienting myself. I need to let go, once again, of the gathering knot of anger and hate towards all that abstractness. I need to find what is real and concrete. What I can touch and use for my own health. The waters of solace and refuge.

The mountains can do that very well for me.

Gender Journal Society

The Company of Men

Great Meadows
Early autumn afternoon at Great Meadows State Park, Concord, Massachusetts, U.S.A., 1991

One of my women students told me the other day, with complete conviction, looking me straight in the eye, “All men are just foolish things.” Coming from a Japanese there is a certain cultural bent in the statement, inherent in the meaning of the Japanese version of the word “foolish” (ooroka) which carries the connotation of the Japanese desire for the ideal of humility, which I had to take into account as she said these words. I realized that she did not intend to insult or even criticize me, but still, it got me thinking.

Cody, of Overflow made reference to an article he read by a doctor named Frank Pittman, about What Are Men For Anyway?. It is a question that has often crossed my mind, perhaps because throughout my life I’ve never been able to quite find the right shaped masculine block to fit into the social hole. If I follow the carrot that my genes and upbringing have strung in front of my natural tendencies, I rarely feel chiseled into a masculine ideal, but rather more like a series of whims, powered by an invisible engine that reacts to what is happening around me. Rarely do I limit myself to thinking, “I am a man and so I must…”

And yet so many men around me expect that of me and of themselves. They grow up watching the hero cartoons on TV and the action hero movies and a litany of bells gong silently in their minds about being strong and never showing any signs of weakness, preferring instead to reveal the chinks with anger. It is what I went through for years and years, not knowing how to drift through the net of rage that separated me from the kernel of my consciousness, the inability to shift and loosen the strands only stepping up the growing ire until I could rarely speak without shaking my mane. It was only last winter that I finally realized that I could loosen my grip and sweeten the recipe boiling in my mind enough to refocus on the shy, easy-going, laughing sprite of my boyhood, the unblemished sheet of paper upon which my story began.

Women, especially in the West, have taken responsibility for redefining themselves in the modern world, and have done so by banding together and exploiting their general unity to create a chorus. Perhaps that is the advantage that those who recognize the poverty of their circumstances have; deprivation forces invention. The evidence of the maturity of the women’s movement shows up in so many little daily events, such as the number of women compared to men that you see out in the evenings jogging, or the numbers of women compared to men taking self-improvement classes. Or even, here in Japan, the numbers of women setting out to travel abroad and discover new ways of seeing things.

Men, on the other hand, seem lately to be languishing in nostalgia, looking back on the captains of industry of the 1800’s or the warrior kings of the Mongolian steppe. If you look at the old black and white photographs from before the turn of the last century, there is something hopeful and forceful in the eyes of those men, something lacking in today’s men. Those men knew who they were and thrived on the energy that their world view could translate into their adventures and inventions.

That world view died with the advent of such things as airplanes, conquering Chomorangma (Mt. Everest), settling the American West coast, and stepping on the moon. The world became such a small place that heroes and glory lost their relevance, and even survival value. As today’s men continue to jostle for the elusive head of the pride position (isn’t that all Bush is doing, with his strutting and smirking?), they fail to see how ridiculous their aging attitudes have become and how damaging to their own self-development, and disastrous for the husbandry of the planet.

Men must find a way to stop using the urinals as gauges for their self-worth and learn to talk about and among themselves. Just like with women men must find a way to overcome the drawbacks of their traditional roles and outlooks and discover the advantages and strengths that being a man might be. So far just getting a man to admit that he needs help, without slipping into self-pity and over dependence on women, remains a major hurdle that all us men still cannot even feel past, let alone see. We need more men who can define role models and a valid ideal of masculinity. Finding it amidst a hostile political and social climate makes for an enormous challenge.

Women, though, are as much to blame in the deterioration of male identity as men are, in part because so many of them help perpetuate, personally and socially, the myths of what the ideal man is by indulging in the same old demands on men. They, too, want their heros and their knights in shining armor and their gentlemen, without taking time to evaluate what their desires mold in the hearts of the boys they raise. It certainly doesn’t help when, for instance, in a situation I actually experienced, a woman, frightened, gives me a withering glance when we are confronted by some violent men armed with clubs, in effect telling me that I am not a man if I can’t handle their brutality.

Why is it that men must always be associated, both negatively and positively, with violence? Why is it okay to send young men (many against their will, and many willing because it would be dishonorable and cowardly to refuse) to be soldiers, learn to kill, go to war, and die meaningless deaths? Is it our Chimpanzee-like heritage? Can we not find a world view of men similar to that of Bonobos instead?

Two weeks ago I stepped into a large bookstore here in Tokyo and headed for the toilet. When I arrived the stall was occupied, so I waited for the occupant to finish. As he pulled the sliding door open it slipped off its rail and jammed into an angle that made it difficult to get a hold of the door from the inside and slide it back into position to open the door. The occupant struggled for about two minutes with this, until, wanting to help, I stepped forward and tried to grab the door. The guy inside begged me not to interfere, but I continued to help a bit more. Finally the door loosened and he was able to lift it back to its rails and slide it open. When he stepped out he couldn’t look me in the eyes, so ashamed was he. As he washed his hands he berated me angrily, “You shouldn’t have done that! You had no right to interfere. That was so uncool! So uncool! I’m a man, god dammit!”

God, if we can’t even help each other with a stupid toilet door without falling all over ourselves, how in the world are we going to come to terms with such an enormous macho issue as a war?