Categories
Chiba Japan: Living

Floods

It’s been raining hard for four weeks now and made it impossible to enjoy camping, but for the last two days things have gotten totally nuts. Record rains with constant thunder and lightning. Most areas have been getting about 100 millimeters in one hour, one area got 200 millimeters this morning. Earlier today many areas in Japan were inundated in major floods. Houses have been washed away and thousands of people have been evacuated. The area that I live in, Sammu city, Chiba prefecture, is set to have rivers overflow their banks tonight and all the trains have stopped. I wouldn’t even think of going up to the mountains again this week. Mudslides and landslides are bringing mountainsides down everywhere.

I’ve never seen anything like this in Japan. Just seeing how easily all the trappings of society get completely turned upside down makes me wonder what will happen when the sea levels really begin to rise. We are so fragile.

Categories
Chiba Japan: Living Journal Life In Walking

Ninety-Nine Leagues

Some photographs I took during a walk to Kujukuri-hama (Ninety-nine Leagues Beach) from my home. What you see is the beach during off-season. In summer it resembles a seriously peopled garbage dump. Until the walk I hadn’t realized just how close the ocean is. It explains why the climate around here never gets really cold or hot like Tokyo two and half hours away by train.

Naruto Rushes

Reed warblers sing their clicking songs amidst these rushes.

Motosuke Hoofs

I never saw the horses, but it was a surprise since there is so little room for horses to manuever in Japan.

Motosuke Palm Bark

In an effort to evoke the spirit of California and Hawai’i the beach is lined with windblown palm trees.

The wind began to blow stronger when I arrived.

Motosuke Sand Messages

The sand tells stories of all who pass…

Motosuke Oyako

…and has a way of hushing conversation.

Motosuka Waves 1

You can walk for hours thinking of nothing, and letting the waves wash in and out of your consciousness.

Motosuka Waves 2

It is hard to deny that the ocean is alive and as moody as any singer or storyteller.

Motosuka Waves 3

There are those who seek out the edge of the sea to ask its advice, so often at the beginning or end of things.

Motosuka Fish

The answers are often harsh, but they never relinquish the beauty of each encounter.

Motosuka Restaurant

When the storm came I retreated to a restaurant and listened to the wind outside buffeting the windows. The beer and pizza gilded the beginning of forgetfulness.

I just managed to escape the downpour at my apartment door. The wind blew and blew all night long.

Motosuka Flowers
Categories
Chiba Japan: Living Journal Life In Musings

Alpine Journey 10: Stepping On Ants

It’s been exactly two weeks since I left Switzerland and returned to Japan. It’s hard to believe that I was actually out of the country. Like a dream I stepped onto the plane back at the end of July and headed west. Then a month followed as if passing through a curtain, glimpsing a wider world that I had almost forgotten went on every day outside the borders of my awareness. Europe manifested itself as a walk-in memory; so much like my childhood in Germany, and interactions with people so much closer to how I naturally expressing myself. Travelers actually made an effort to lean across tables to talk, women flirted with me (unlike in Japan where no one ever makes eye contact with you… you’d think no one was ever interested in others), the food was fresh and healthy even in the smallest, out-of-the-way towns, life moved at a manageable pace, everywhere travelers and townsfolk alike taking the time to sit and talk. And while the pretty towns and green slopes and millions of sheep and cows got monotonous after a while, there was something about the way the populace valued what they had and insisted on remembering what is important about a community that stayed with me throughout the trip.

I promised myself on the last night in Zürich that I would remember the revitalized spirit I had started feeling throughout the trip and would do my best to keep the momentum rolling, but the moment I landed in Narita Airport and felt myself get drawn right back into all the predictable weight of the culture… all the girls on the trains preening themselves in front of mirrors and putting on makeup, the boy staring at me whose mother just laughed when she noticed and encouraged his feelings by telling him that I was “strange foreigner” and “he’s funny-looking isn’t he?”, the endless “salary” men in their ubiquitous suits no matter how hot it was, the glaring pachinko parlors and cheap roadside car dealers with their flourescent flags and flashing neon lights, the mass-produced, developer houses at arms-breadth from one another that tried so hard to be western and all like mind-numbingly the same… a huge anger blossomed inside me and a deep resentment at having to return, plopped right back into everything that I want so much to extricate myself from.

Hardest was returning home to this apartment. I unlocked the front door, stepped inside into its tiny confines and the muffled stillness of its humid air, turned on a flourescent light that made all my sad belongings jump out starkly, reminding me in their silence of the months and years of stagnation and just how much unneeded junk I was weighing myself down with. The door thumped closed behind me and there I was, alone again, with no one to talk to, no family, no friends, no one to even have the possibility of meeting if I decided to take a walk around town. It wasn’t that I didn’t have people who cared about me, but that there was no possibility of getting together with any of them. The contrast to a month of meeting people every day in Europe hit me hard. No one even called to say hello.

Except for four days when I had to spend time teaching junior high school students in the south of the prefecture the next two weeks found me holed up in my apartment, growing ever more down and losing motivation even to get up and go to the store to buy food. Just the sight of yet more processed Japanese food left me with no appetite. Turning on the TV depressed me with its childishness and constant, unhealthy focus on young girls and the same, self-satisfied celebrities. Walking on the streets and constantly standing out, never, ever being able to get away from the label of being a foreigner, had me cursing under my breath at strangers. Being in Europe allowed me for a while to blend in and remember what it is like to feel part of a group. And then opening my eyes to the apartment reminded me of what I had still to do and hadn’t done. Sleeping swept it all away and I could forget for a while, so I slept in until noon and ate cereal and scanned the internet for word of release. The lack of exercise, after a month of constant, hard walking, slowly began to raise my blood sugar again and reawaken the problems with diabetes, the sluggishness of my blood physically bringing me even more down.

I knew I couldn’t continue like this. I had to buck up and overcome the sense of dislocation. But to what? I realized in Europe, strongly, that Japan is not my culture, that no matter how long I live here, how well I know it, how fluently I speak the language, how much I try to soften my criticisms, the Japanese will never count me as one of them, as they don’t count themselves as part of the rest of the world. I can struggle till I die from hypertension and am incapacitated from depression and yet Japan will never let me be one of its children. I fit right in in Europe. I’ve struggled to fit in here in Japan since I was a boy, even wanted to become a Japanese before I left to study in the States, and therefore the idea of leaving it behind hurts, deeply. It’s like giving up on my identity. The humility and frustration of never being accepted by the culture in which I grew up, which has gone so far as to shape the way I think and act, makes the ground feel unstable. Where is it that I can go to feel that I am finally “home”?

I’m sure other people also feel this way and that most people spend their lives wondering what their place is. But when someone can’t even claim a certain culture as their own, as the template for their sense of belonging and for how they act and see the world, what do they turn to? When people ask me, constantly ask me, “Where are you from?”, what should I answer? Is it important? It feels important. Or at least the sense of safety and kinship feel as if they could relieve this fight-or-flight tension that reisdes in me. I watch other people so comfortable in their clothes as “Japanese” or “American” or “Chinese”, never really questioning it, and listen to their self-assured proclamations, “I am Japanese! We are different from you!” and wonder what they are referring to. Does it have something to do with the bonds of a moeity? Does the identification protect you from the bad spirits of the world? Does it make you bigger than you are as an individual?

The trip to Europe planted seeds for a lot to think about. And to consider what my next step is. The connection between places became apparent the other day when I was walking back from the supermarket. I glanced down at my feet and realized that I was about to step on a colony of ants at the side of the road. In a flash I saw myself at the side of a road in France, avoiding another colony of ants there. I am neither here nor there, and yet in both places at the same time.

I think my next step must take courage, a willingness to pull up roots once again and seek better ground. And perhaps that is the fuel of my own flame. I don’t really know yet. But I know this, though. I want the next step to be light and simple, without unnecessary burdens. Travel light. And that I am willing to take the chance to live more on my own terms.
_____________________________

I have about 850 photographs to go through so the Europe photos will be a little while before I can get them cleaned up and uploaded. I’m designing a gallery to go alng with them, so hopefully they will be worth the effort.

Categories
Chiba Far and Wide Japan: Living Japan: Photos Journal Nature Photos

The Sea of Frogs Serenades for Me

Clouds Over a Rice Paddy

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.

Planning Night Rice

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.

Dried Sky Flowers

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.

Bamboo Clearcut
Windblown Susuki

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.

Horsetail and Dandelions
Rice Seedlings
Naruto Train
Categories
Chiba Japan: Living Journal Life In Musings

Swallows In the Rain

Failed Cafe

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.

Bamboo Greenhouse

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?

Togane Evening Tree

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.

Naruto Station

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.

Naruto Goat

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.

Rice Field to JIU

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.

Storm Over Naruto
Categories
Chiba Japan: Living Journal Life In Musings

The Night Crossing

Naruto River Reflections

The wind blows through this little town like a newly landed boat passenger, all breezy with new ideas and pent up enthusiasm, legging across the gangplank, scarf whipping about, and pushing past the locals without considering them. From my apartment balcony I can look out across the treeless rice fields to the line of trees along the coast, just at the edge of a morning’s walk, from where the salt air flies in and harries the metal bannister of my apartment building. On blustery days like this I can smell the brine of the sea and that fresh stirring of ammonia, carried in by distant seagulls.

I’ve heard that some of the highest concentration of birds gather along that imagined coastline over there. Now that things have slowed down at work and I have several weeks to put the new apartment in order, I think I might take a bike ride out that way to see for myself. Since coming to this area (northeast Chiba) of Japan four months ago birds seem to be my constant companions, watching over me during some of the bleakest days of my life. Just when I feel that I’m just not going to make it, some bright-eyed elf of a bird flutters into view and does his dance, either to distract me from my, as one of my readers put it so humorously, “tortured writing”, or to remind me that even in the depths of self-doubt nothing is really ever that serious or self-important. And like an angel dressed as an overworked waiter the one bird, the white wagtail, that has always followed me everywhere, all the way since childhood, daily I find one of their representatives waiting impatiently at the foot of the apartment stairs, calling out, “Hurry! Hurry! There is work to be done! No time to dilly-dally!” I’ve seen a ural owl and a wood cock, two mysteries that let their guards down long enough for me to receive their blessings.

Naruto Apartment

On other, cloudy days when even the birds take to the bushes or when night falls, I’ve found myself out away from the windbreaks and trudging along dirt roads, sometimes long after midnight, with the sky slipping along the heavens and me down here, below, making my way between ditches and telephone poles. One night, having spent the entire day at my office in the university without another soul in the building, I emerged onto the deserted streets and couldn’t feel the draw of the compass that usually beckons me home. I stood beside a sleeping maple and listened to a shred of corrugated plastic banging against a wall, trying to make sense of the emptiness that welled either from my own heart or resided as it was in the carelessness of these modular houses.

Night Train Crossing 2

What is it to need someone, anyone, nearby, just to hear their voice, though you don’t know them, or to reassure yourself that you are not just imagining those dark shapes fluttering at the periphery of your vision? Why do I end up whispering so much to myself as days go by without speaking a word to another person? What is this need to speak, to reach out and brush your fingers against another soul, or to say, “Stay. Stay for just a minute. I need to see myself reflected in your eyes, to know that I am there.”

Night Train Crossing 1

With her gone now the nights seem longer. I still have the habit of turning over and reaching for her, my fingertips expecting her smooth shoulder and my ears listening for the soft sound of her breathing. The white mug that was paired with the blue one, which we both used to share a cup of tea together every night, now sits unwashed in the sink. She had wrapped it in newspaper while packing and when I took it out of the box in my new place the flood of memories choked me. One after another memories came spilling out of the boxes, so many of them that I had to stop and go for a walk.

I wonder how you are doing, dear heart, over there, all alone yourself? Are you holding the blue cup, or turning over and patting the mattress where my pillow once lay? Do you have to go for a walk, too?

Walking to JIU

I guess I can say the worst is over and that from here on out it is the healing that takes over. I’ve had some hard walks in my life, sometimes the trail so battered and strewn with boulders or the rain so bad that the mud made it impossible to push on, that I had to turn back and hope to climb the mountain again. What often made those climbs easier was a partner to consult with and call to through the thick mist. It’s easy to get lost when you’re on your own. These last few months have opened my eyes to the existence of that door through which you might never come back. It didn’t know it was so easy to lose all substance and turn into a ghost right before your own eyes.

Naruto blue sky

Yesterday I took a train ride through the area north of my town and stood in the doorway of the train when it stopped at the next station. A quiet little place, with farmhouses guarded by bamboo groves and side roads that turned off the main roads and took off into the hills. “Maybe this is where I can settle down.” I thought. “Maybe the thing is to go further and deeper than you are now, take the quietude a step closer to the birds and follow their lead.”

Naruto Me 3

Along the edge of the field a wave of starlings settles into the grass and soaks in the bright morning sunlight. Azure-winged magpies swoop in and out of the persimmon canopy, chuckling and purring to one another. A black tailed kite keens high above the fields, rising on the updrafts and disappearing into the clouds. A white wagtail cocks its head and bobs its tail. Then it is off scuttling along the road top, peeping its satisfaction.

“Excuse me, sir. I think you forgot your umbrella.”

Naruto Old Camphor
Categories
Chiba Japan: Living Journal Life In Musings

Bated Breath

Hello everyone,

I’m really sorry about the long absence. I want to update the entries more regularly, but lately things have just been too busy or I’ve just been too tired to write. What with just having searched for and moved into a temporary apartment, moving belongings there, looking for an apartment for my wife, packing the original apartment (hey, I can now say, for a short time only, that I have three domiciles… including a place out in the country!), preparing end-of-semester tests and grading at the university while still trying to learn the ropes, and holding onto some semblance of sanity with all that is happening between my wife and me, well, I’m more than just a little overwhelmed. The other day I sat in my office for one hour in a kind of catatonia, completely unable to get my brain to compute what the next step was that I had to do right at that moment. At night all I dream about is year-long bicycle journeys and long-distance walks in the mountains. I think my brain knows better than my conscious self where the marbles are rolling toward…

Please be patient with me. I will start writing regularly again as soon as the silt has settled. For now, please take a look at Pohanginapete’s latest entry. Beautiful.

Categories
Chiba Japan: Living Journal Life In Musings

Rice Stubble

Things have been so hectic lately that I’ve had no time at all to concentrate on the internet, let alone blog about anything. I haven’t even had time to get out for a walk or run, to take, pictures, or contact friends and family. First it was the end-of-the-year business of student tests and make up courses, attempted semblances of preparing for the coming classes, and university administration. All the other teachers had already taken off while I sat in the office typing away. In one way it was good, because I was just too busy to think about being the only person in the entire school sitting there at night while a storm blew itself to smithereens outside the window.

The next step was looking for an apartment to move to. For the last two and a half months I’d been staying at the university guesthouse to give myself time to settle into the job, get used to the area, learn about where the best place might be to live, and relieve the enormous expense of continuing to maintain the old apartment where my wife will remain until I’m settled down and she can find a place in Tokyo, while at the same time renting a second apartment. I had to look for the cheapest place possible and think about something that would allow me to get around without a car. This of course limited my options pretty severely. The original area I wanted to move to, called “Toke”, which was actually quite nice and very convenient, ended up not having any apartments available in my price range, so I decided to use a so-called “short-term apartment service” with the nationwide company Leopalace. I found an apartment in a small town called “Naruto”, which, location-wise is not bad, in that it is about a 15 minute bicycle ride from the university, has a direct train connection to Tokyo, is about an hour bicycle ride from the Pacific Ocean, sits right near a big area of hills and forests where I can go for the long walks that I’ve so longed to do, and has the basic amenities needed for daily living, but it certainly is a run-down little place, and the apartment building itself located at the end of a drab and stark end of town. I keep wondering if I’m going to be all right, what with everything changing, not knowing anyone (and because I am a foreigner, very unlikely in making friends with any neighbors), and all that is happening with my wife still raw and uncertain. So far apartment hunting, within the maddening Japanese system (on average you have to pay six months’ rent when starting out, only two of which come back when you leave… and then even that maybe be dipped into by the landlord for “cleaning expenses”), is as always a frustrating and infuriating experience. Japanese renters don’t need guarantors when using Leopalace, but when I sat in front of the agent yesterday before signing the contract I was informed, “You will need a guarantor.” When I asked why, he responded, while wringing his hands and apologizing profusely, “Because you are a foreigner.”

“What difference does that make?” I asked, feeling the bile quickly rise.

“Too many foreigners suddenly disappear without paying rent,” he said.

“Excuse me, Sir, but that is an outright lie. Japanese do the same thing. And I’m certain that if you look at your records you will find nothing to suggest that foreigners are less trustworthy than Japanese.”

He looked appropriately ashamed and then shook his head, “Be that as it may, you need a guarantor. And your guarantor must be Japanese.”

It was useless to argue. This happened everywhere in Japan, legally, and there was nothing a foreigner could do. I wanted then and there to make all the thousands of Japanese living abroad go through the same experience, many of whom have the audacity to come back to Japan and subject foreigners here to such racist policies, with the unending excuse, “This is Japan”, as if that explains anything.

“Oh,” continued the agent, “Even though the advertisement for Leopalace says that it doesn’t matter when you decide to leave the apartment… you can stay as little as two weeks if you like… we do have the stipulation that if you leave before fulfilling the year-long contract you will have to pay a “50,000 ($500.00) penalty.”

I thought I would grab his tie and twist it several turns too tight. “That’s cheating,” I said between gritted teeth. “After looking at all those apartments, reading your advertisements, and you telling me all this time that I could leave any time, now you tell me that I have to pay more if I leave before the year is done? Of all the underhanded…”

He smiled. “It’s still much cheaper than getting a regular apartment.”

And that was the catch. It was true. I couldn’t argue with him on that point. And I had no other choice.

Seething, I signed the contract and handed over the money. Things like this make me hate Japan and the Japanese. Constantly they have foreigners over a barrel and legally there is nothing we can do to fight back. My Japanese friend who was helping me with all this gave me a glance and I could see the anger there… that at least reminded me that not all Japanese are like Leopalace or agree with such practices. Afterwards my friend condemned Leopalace with a few fierce, reluctant tears. “I’m ashamed to be Japanese,” were the words that came out.

For the next week it will be packing boxes, throwing away accumulated junk, stripping the apartment of the last five years of my presence. It is almost like erasing myself. Meanwhile my wife lingers and the memories harangue her. She sent an email the other day talking of having had nightmares. It seems as if every other sentence we say to one another is, “Are you okay?” We both smile and answer, “Yes, don’t worry about me,” in an attempt to alleviate the worry and sadness of the other, but the truth is that we are both not all right. One person even said, I guess in an attempt to be understanding and helpful, “You are not the first to go through a divorce and feel this way.” How do you respond to that? It is almost as if I ought to feel guilty about being sad and broken up, as if I am somehow weak and immature for the devastation that my wife and I feel. Others say, “Make it swift and clean. Get it over with.” That might very well be the answer to how to deal with all this, but I suspect that there is no one in the world who really knows what to do or has the right answer to any of it. Personally I cannot for the life of me understand people who end up hating each other. It seems utterly selfish and immature, a complete unwillingness to accept that the other is a separate person, that things change, that just because something painful happens or someone you love needs to move on, you must therefore resent the other person for their wanting to do what they want to do. I will always love my wife. She will love me. We love one another simply for the other being who they are. And that love extends to each other whether we are together or not.

Gosh, I ended up writing about this personal topic even though I didn’t want to reveal such things on the blog. I guess holding it all inside is just too much. There is no one else to tell it to, so it has come spilling out here. I hope I haven’t stepped on anyone’s sensibilities.

One more day till 2007. I hope all of you have restful and memorable holidays. I’ll be thinking of you.

Hot tea all around!

Peace and Good Medicine.

Categories
Chiba Japan: Living Journal Life In Musings

Ghost

Gumyo Ural Owl

I’ve been haunting the university halls until the midnight hours these last two weeks, trying to catch up on class preparation, and also trying to avoid going back to the isolation of the guest house I’m staying at. Not that staying at the university while everyone else is gone isn’t isolating, but at least I have an internet connection and can talk to people. And there is some privacy in the room that otherwise I wouldn’t really have. Still, burning the midnight oil is no way to freshen up for the next day, and so yesterday evening, tired of the monotonous, though healthy, offerings of the local Seven Eleven, I decided to head out the other end of the university and take the half hour walk to the Lawson convenience store located along the desolation of the bypass.

Fog had rolled in from the sea and hugged the fields all the way to the shadows of the nearby hills. As I walked along the road, my footsteps sounded loud in the stillness. I pulled the flaps of my cap over my ears to stem the chill, and softly sang a line of an Abba song that just wouldn’t leave my head. The round-trip to and from the convenience store resembled a circumambulation of a graveyard, even the huge lights of the billboards and pachinko parlors cast long shadows across the asphalt and denuded fields, so that as I walked a silent presence followed me with precisely timed steps.

I was passing the back gate of the university again, with its line of trees and bushes when suddenly above my head there was a soft rustle. I looked up and thought I made out the form of a very large sleeping crow. It was hard to tell in the dim light. Then the figure swiveled its head and gazed down at me with huge, moonlike eyes. A ural owl. The first wild owl I’d ever seen in Japan ever since I started watching birds as a boy. The elation that bloomed in me was hard to describe. It was like a lifelong gift, and the moment I recognized the bird all sense of loneliness, all sorrow, all the heaviness of the past few weeks dispelled like smoke. I wanted to run to the nearest birder and tell them… “Look! Look! I’ve got to let you know what I saw! A ural owl! I actually saw a ural owl!”

But what birders do I know around here? I smiled up at the owl and it seemed to nod in understanding. It turned its head away, looked up at the night sky, and lifted into the air like a whisper. I heard the almost tender swish of its wings as it flapped away into the darkness.

It was but a moment, but it is a moment I will remember for the rest of my life.

Categories
Chiba Japan: Living Journal Life In Music

Lonesome Bike Boy

Gumyo Beech Roof

Time to take my time.

Open the door and stick out my hand, finger the first bite of winter.

No matter, a morning without a roof makes up for the hours.

I often wonder

about a life spent out beyond the city limits.

Gumyo Lanes

It’s all tied together

in lattices of stories and building frames,

back along the old ways, when and where our tails meet.

Blow on your hands,

see the billowing breath of others who’ve stood here before.

Gumyo Bamboo Fence

Past, past doors and windows.

I can’t wait for a nod or a friendly hello.

The wheels grind crusted dust,

the hub of a possible breakdown.

Sorry, sorry I have to go.

Gumyo Farmer

If you wait long enough

the sprouts separate the asphalt

and conjure up a potpourrie we all remember.

It doesn’t take any sleight of hand

to dig and let loose the straw.

Gumyo Sea Track

When I was a boy

the wind was my friend. I laughed

when the trees swayed and dragonflies

blew west into the setting sun.

Now I clutch my hat, bracing against the cold.

Gumyo Gingko Shrine

Hold on there,

why don’t you pick that up?

Everything has fallen here, but that doesn’t mean

any old tossing of litter

earns its place among the bones.

Gumyo Old House 2

I remember when Mama took me into the garden

and we buried Melanie (the hamster)

among the roots.

Soil dashed across her body,

forever clothed in loam.

Gumyo Roof Leaves

The cat she settled in the stillness,

pricking her ears for

scratching feet. A crow sailed

over, eyeing branches.

She curled up, hidden from view.

Gumyo Boots