Between my home and the university where I work lies a stretch of rice paddies that takes me about 45 minutes to walk (or 20 minutes to bicycle). I came here in the middle of the winter while the land still lay fallow, the trees bare, and everything brown and dusty. The sense was of a landscape gone dry and dead, and the state of the dying town where I live didn’t help the overall impression that I had landed obliquely on the moon. Those first few weeks negotiating the dirt lanes on those early winter evenings, coupled with all the baggage brought from Tokyo, while being followed by hollow winds rolling off the coast, really made the whole area seem like some sort of banishment into the Gulag.
So when one evening as I walked home I caught the croaks of the first frog I’d heard in years, it was rather like feeling the first raindrop in a year of drought. Just the sound itself was green. Its voice arose from a hidden embankment, full of confidence and ardor, and hung in the darkness right out of reach.
In the coming weeks the fields transformed as if by magic. Water flooded the empty platters of dried paddies, flowing in like mercury in the burning evening sun, while breezes scalloped the surfaces and prodded the sleeping frogs awake. I never would have thought the soil carried such a rich harvest of voices, but within a month the fields had awakened and the whole world seemed to erupt with the din of frogs, millions upon millions of them, as far as you could lean your ear and out beyond, where the wild reeds and rushes from last year rustled unseen in the shadows.
The sound of the frogs lit up something that I had not felt before here. In passing through the fields I found myself slowing down more and more to stop and simply listen, even though it was always after work and darkness had already fallen. With the neon lights of the mall strip road shining in the corner of my eye and enhancing the depth of the darkness all around me by visually dividing my head from my feet, when I hunkered down in the grass to listen close, it was like dropping into a darkened pond of sound, all else drowned out. The urgency of the frog song, its rhythm and texture, sang to something in me as a fellow living creature, rejoicing in the appetite of being alive. And a little, just a little, corner of my sadness and loneliness began to melt away.
Farmers began to people the fields, planting rice seedlings in neat rows that suddenly gave scale to the duns and russets. And as if this was a cue the hills and copses all around sprang to life right along with the rice. In the blink of an eye there was green everywhere, and first hints, then rashes, and finally swaths of pink and red and yellow as flowers raced under the skies. What only a week before only shook in the wind, now billowed and swayed to the same music playing in my head. The days drew breath and expanded, loosening their belts to allow the light to spill out into the edges of wakefulness, longer and longer into the territory of night time. The walks lost their aura of anxiety and spending 45 minutes or more making my way between points seemed to grow shorter. I actually began to look forward to getting out of the office and crunching through the fields.
The frogs sing outside my bedroom window now. Spring has flourished. Each day more birds arrive, bringing with them new songs of hope. And new names: Great Reed Warblers, Common Gallinules, Woodcocks, Northern Shrikes, and Blue Rock Thrushes.
Okay, time to come out of my stupor and join the rest of the world celebrating spring right now. It’s hard to gel exactly what is going on inside my head and heart right now into something intelligible, because I myself still seem to remain out of touch with myself. I’ve spent so much time alone for the last few months, especially these last two months, with my school between semesters, and now full-tilt into the spring semester, that at times the rest of the world doesn’t seem to really exist any more. The loneliness and isolation is getting to me, badly. I’ve thought often of writing something here, but the thought of subjecting others to my personal complaints kept switching off any ideas I might have come up with for posts, that I could never get a word down. And the longer I put it off the harder it was to say anything worthwhile. Trying to talk about how I’m feeling to those close to me, like my family, just makes me feel that they will worry needlessly, seeing as I’m here in this ghost town (literally, most of the businesses have closed up, and walking around the town subjects you to street after street of shuttered and rusting shops). And since I have not felt welcome (except for a few people) or informed at the job I moved out here to take, not even the comfort of working with colleagues helps to offset the loneliness. The atmosphere of the job itself is heavy and secretive, with more than an inordinate number of people wary of voicing opinions or offering to participate in activities. I’m still trying figure out what keeps people there; the only thing I can come up with right now is money. I end up escaping the office, walking along lonely roads back to my town, and arriving at an apartment that reminds me every day of being cut off from friends and family. The internet has become a place of solace, where at least there is a little interaction with others and I’ve met some people with whom I can daily discuss hobbies and laugh a little. But it’s all virtual; I haven’t actually met or touched someone for several weeks.
So maybe cabin fever and isolation bring out two things I’ve been thinking about almost as if they both might reconnect me to real things, certainly the draw of the sensual: sex and traveling.
I’ve never written about sex here, and I rarely read about it in other people’s blogs, almost as if everyone actually never thinks about it. It’s weird, really, because without my even trying it colors a great part of what goes on upstairs every day, especially when I spend this much time on my own. When there is almost no possibility for it, it’s curious why it wells up more often than when splashed in front of me in plain view every single day. Is it an instinct, a willful detour from what we humans so foolishly call the more important aspects of society (like watching people blow each other up on TV or stuff themselves with unnecessary amounts of food), or blessing, or a curse? Sex has shaped our bodies and minds, acts as a staple for why we make decisions and how we feel about others, muddles even the most resolute hermit, and takes up every single free space in the environments all around us in other creature’s lives. Sex is everywhere and yet we’ve developed shame about it.
Let me be honest, though no one asked me to be… I do on occasion peruse sex sites. It’s not even a question whether a lot of others do, too. I have no interest in or feelings for people abused or shown being hurt or forced to do things they don’t want to do, but I will always feel that nothing is more beautiful in the world than a human body, especially, for me, a woman’s body, even my beloved mountains, and seeing it is something I can’t live without. Why that is I can’t really explain. Some people might call me a dirty old man (in Japanese “sukebe”) or tell me that I can’t see women for anything other than sex objects, but that is from people who refuse to know me or allow a man to be composed of many facets. The human body fixes itself in our minds as deeply as the joy of eating good food or recognizing the goodness of a baby. I used to get scandalized by pictures of people having sex, but after seeing it more than I ever imagined I would, I’ve come to see it as something as natural and beautiful as a sunrise or a flower. I no longer get bent out of shape when I see two people in the act, joined. Even the feelings about nude men has changed. I am by no means gay, but I’ve come to realize that there is a part of me that finds men attractive, maybe it’s my feminine side, whatever, but I see it more as an ability to now see people, women and men, more for what they actually are, than for what everyone around me expects me to see. The Greeks seem to have been able to see male bodies for their own beauty, while generations of western societies afterward all seem to be stuck on the idea that only women can possess erotic beauty, and that any male who professes being able to see the beauty in another male must by definition be homosexual. As if being homosexual was something evil and fearful and unnatural. And as if the male body was something ugly in itself. Very strange. Why do women get all the beauty and men nothing but brutish pictures? Where did this attitude develop that men must conform to this rigid, ankle-deep, emotionless caricature of being human?
I have tried participating in adult meeting sites and while talking to some of the others has opened my eyes to the great variety and possibilities of how people interact with one another, in general it is decency and gentleness and friendship which I aspire to and moves me when I get close to someone, and the empty talk of sex over the internet just seems like an excuse. So much of it seems made up of people who constantly think only of themselves and use the anonymity of the internet to draw in the emotional needs of others. Some of the introductions that I’ve seen women write of themselves makes you wonder if the men they desire might have any kind of personality beyond catering to the women’s hunger, demanding total loyalty before they have even met, in spite of the women themselves breezily and openly trying out as many different men as the internet time allows. I suspect the men on these sites tend to follow very similar patterns, with sex and conversation taking precedence over friendship and long-term trust. After conversing with a number of women I’ve decided that enough is enough and this is no way for me to try to meet people or spend my precious free time outside work.
Instead dreams of travel keep welling up, some of them old dreams since I was in high school. In 1978, after a month-long bicycle trip in 1977, at 17, around the north island of Hokkaido, Japan, I had started saving up and preparing for a round-the-world bicycle journey. The route had been all laid out, starting here in Japan, crossing into China and making its way through Tibet, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and destinations west. Afghanistan still held the imagination of adventure travelers then and many of the places that today have been overrun by war, still allowed wayfarers the option of the overland route. While I was naive about many of the dangers of the world at that time, the dream filled me like water and seemed to give me purpose.
My father didn’t agree. He insisted that I finish college and secure an education for myself. We had a big argument and in the end I gave in and ended up studying for eight years at the University of Oregon, right into a masters of architecture. University definitely shaped my outlook on the world and helped to expand how I see things, but throughout the time there always something vital seemed to be missing and I never seemed to be able to find my own pace and sense of purpose in the same way that my dreams of travel and my love of nature always had. Even today I feel locked in ill-fitting shoes, constantly repeating tasks and responsibilities that fail to make use of what I am best at. And I’m not sure why I never make the moves myself so that I can secure the type of lifestyle and philosophy that mean most to me.
One of the things I decided when I made the big changes last year was that I would try to get back to those things which make me feel whole when I do them. Life is too short to constantly be doing only things that make you feel empty. Perhaps I am lucky in that I know what makes me happy. This summer, with a month off, I hope to set out on a long walk, perhaps along the Camino de Santiago, or in the Austrian Alps, or maybe even Nepal. It has to be something bigger than the little walks I take here in Japan, something approaching the dreams of my youth. And I’ve begun dreaming of something even more ambitious, too. Perhaps a bicycle trip around the world is not impossible. Can I do something like that with diabetes, at my age? Can I dare to imagine a path around the entire world and to dream of a chunk of my life under the stars again? I just can’t imagine myself stuck in an office for the rest of my life, always feeling broken and hemmed in. I have to believe that there really are many ways to live a full life.