Journal Musings Walking

Sit Still and Listen

At the urging of Beth, from The Cassandra Pages, I am reposting a post I put up Facebook earlier today. It came to me while I was walking to the train station near my house:

I’ve been trying to figure it out, why it is the “hiking” concerned with making miles and reaching summits has never really fulfilled “the call” inside me. I think I figured it out. Two weeks ago when leading the overnight Moonlight Hike from Mt. Jinba to Mt. Takao (just to the west of Tokyo), I met a new friend, Damon Mckinlay, from Damon Bay Photography. There was one moment during the walk, when we heard a strange call. Damon thought at first it was a giant flying phalanger (giant flying squirrel), but a few moments later discovered the frog calling from inside a rain barrel. He named it and described its life cycle to everyone, which I already knew. What struck me was how attuned he was to the surroundings, something that reminded me of my younger days. I used to get up before dawn, to wander the parks and woods and spend intense hours observing and learning, by direct viewing, everything I could about the natural world. And I was extremely knowledgeable. I was shocked during the hike and watching Damon, by how much I’d lost over the years as I got older, how much I’d let go, knowledge and experience that even today I hold as some of the best of myself. I used to go on very long, deeply immersive walks and bicycle rides that had little to do with getting somewhere or checking off a peak from a list. I was in love with the natural world. I’ve lost that. And I have to try to find it again. Slow walks and sitting still and looking, listening, smelling, tasting, touching, and waiting. I have to be inside the world again.

Thanks, Damon.

Here are the replies on Facebook:

Beth Adams, James Castleberry, Bärbel Makrutzki and 13 others like this.

Dale Favier: It’s amazing to me how easily the impulse to do something profoundly centering and important can be overlaid and eventually completely overwritten by the ambition to make some number, or be able boast of something in a sentence. How easily, say, a sitting meditation practice turns into wanting to be able to boast of sitting X minutes a day. It frightens me, how easily that happens. That’s how souls die, I think.
10 hours ago · Unlike · 3

Dale Favier: Anyway, what I meant to say — wonderful post!
10 hours ago · Unlike · 1

Miguel Arboleda: I think I’ve been aware of my soul dying for a long time. And it’s seems like I’ve been trying to fill the void with things like adding up the number of peaks I’ve bagged and scouring the Internet for hiking paraphernalia. But it’s always empty. I used to feel immense joy and a sense of completeness in my old walks. No one told me that it was what I was supposed to do; I just knew it, or felt it. And what was best about it was that my sense of self disappeared almost completely; I was, literally, “the world”.
10 hours ago via mobile · Like · 1

Dale Favier: I hear that. Though also I think we tend to remember more wholeness and joy than we actually had: I’m suspicious of believing too much in my golden past! Though whatever gets us to shake a little freer of “the world” is probably a good thing.
10 hours ago · Like

CNevin Thompson: I suppose if I were a comet, travelling along the elliptic, my moment of perihelion would have been the summer I was 31, just before our first son was born. Unfortunately, we humans do not get aphelion…
10 hours ago · Unlike · 1

Miguel Arboleda: Yes, I think I know what you mean. But I’ve never had a golden past, and have always been aware of great loneliness, bullying, and self-doubt. Even when I was 9 years old. To me, this joy in nature is not a state of perfection or silent timelessness. It is moving and ephemeral and fraught with hardship, danger, even death. But it feels right. I feel complete. And totally alive. Even today, when I slow down during my hikes, I always feel it, and can’t help myself laughing out loud, even singing. I do believe it is possible to live in synch with the living world. I think we’ve “thought ourselves out of” accepting that.
10 hours ago via mobile · Like · 1

Daniel Stuntz: Great post!
10 hours ago · Like

Bob Fourwheelbob Coomber: I write of that often – gauging a “good” trail day by mileage or whether you are first of a group to reach a summit…for me, I may hike a half mile and get in all the spiritual awakening I need. Whether from a flower, rock, animal or bird I find incredible beauty everywhere. And that frog? Surely would have made my hike memorable!
10 hours ago · Unlike · 1

Miguel Arboleda: Bob, you are another one if those people who seems to have incorporated that immersion into your life. Though I may not always comment, I read every one of your posts because of how you speak of it.

Some if the intense, beautiful, and peaceful moments in my life has been in a 20 meter square patch of garden when I was a boy. I learned more there than almost any other place I’ve been.
9 hours ago via mobile · Like

Viviana Lugo: That a very lovely statement
8 hours ago via mobile · Unlike · 1

Yohei Aoyagi: I agree. So I want the silence in the trail.
7 hours ago · Unlike · 1

Angela Beyer: Here here : ) when I was about 14 I had an awesome science teacher. One day he took the class to the bush behind the school. For that hour the lesson was to sit and listen. To hear as many birds and critters that we could – starting with the loud and close by… Then hearing those further away. It’s a fond memory and a technique I regularly use when walking or enjoying the wilderness : )
6 hours ago via mobile · Unlike · 1

Angela Beyer: Another time I was in Hokkaido with my bf and uncle. The bf (soon to be ex) had to climb Ashe Darke (the volcano thingy) to achieve yet another pin on his map. My uncle and I opted for a walk around the mountain and the beauty was spectacular! We sat on a rock next to 2 steam vents through the snow, drank coffee from a thermos and watched a bird in a surreal natural zen setting. I didn’t have a camera but that moment is etched in my mind forever – the serenity. My uncle and I often discuss that shared experience : ) Oh, The bf got photos of cloud… Not even a view for his efforts… And a tick in a box for mountains climbed lol.
6 hours ago via mobile · Unlike · 1

Miguel Arboleda: Nevin, do we not? I really wonder… Perhaps it’s not possible as hierarchy motivated, know-it-all ape.

Viviana, thanks. We live in a world that is far better than anything we could have up with.

Yohei, sometimes I want no trail, and no reason to be there. I don’t even want “me”, to spoil it.

Angela, since I met you in Victoria I’ve always loved the way you approached life. You don’t judge before you give something a try. The variety of your interests and experiences surprised me. You seem like someone who be happy anywhere.
4 hours ago via mobile · Like

Beth Adams: Miguel, please cross-post this wonderful and important post to your blog – I want to link to it for the Cassandra readers. It’s so crucial to get back to that deepest place inside us, to allow our soul to get back home. I’m glad Damon reminded you of things you already know, deep down; life makes us forget and wander away, but when the call comes clearly, we hear it.

Miguel Arboleda: Beth, thanks! I will. I was actually thinking on the train today, that I’d like to get back to writing these kinds of things on my blog again, and a little less often on FB. I’ll try to get up now, actually.

Journal Musings

A Walk in the Neighborhood

Kamiigusa Bar

It has been a month since I moved to Tokyo and settled into this neighborhood. The new apartment, big, bright, with space to stretch and sit alone if I want while sharing it with my partner M., offers the possibilities of moving on with my life and finding some satisfaction with what I want to do and with social interaction with people. The neighborhood itself is green and tranquil, with a strong sense of community that I hope I can eventually tap into. Right outside the apartment there are entirely too many people passing by and right across the street we discovered a metal cutting factory that we hadn’t realize was there, but if we can set up this place with all the plants and artwork and simplicity that we’ve both been seeking to make a big part of our lives, and also invite people over for dinner parties and gatherings, then maybe those drawbacks can be offset by the pluses. I may actually grow to like a place for a change, in spite of being in Tokyo.

Lan Daydreaming

It’s taking some getting used to living with a sick 17 year-old Shi Tzu dog named Lan (from Georgio Casellato Lamberti… as M. named him… a big name for a small dog, who has never barked, let alone sing!) who is also blind and deaf, and has difficulty using his hind legs. He has adopted the habit of crapping all over the apartment, wherever his presence has not yet been felt, his attempt at creative expression in new and untried ways. Other than that he just sleeps and eats and nothing else is very important in his life anymore. I personally don’t care much for getting up in the middle of the night and stepping in his contribution to prosperity, so he and I are taking our time forgiving one another’s shortcomings.

Mika Making Up

In my whole life I had never taken so long to get over someone who hurt me as with Y. Even now, four months later, I occasionally wake up from bad dreams of her or feel my face wet from crying in my sleep. I found out some things recently that altered my point of view of the entire period I spent with her and my respect for her. And for the first time in my life I never again want to see or hear from someone that I loved. Perhaps she is too blind to realize how she affects those she gets into relationships with, but I realize now, viscerally, why her former husbands hate her now and never want to talk with her again. How sad and wasteful. I have never thrown away photographs or letters or items given to me by those I was with, but I guess there is a first time for everything.

Naruto Sad Reeds

Half my belongings are still in boxes, but slowly I am finding places to put things and to start cleaning up and making the place look a little nicer. I’ve taken quite a few walks in the neighborhood, some alone, some with M., and we are both getting to know what the place has to offer. Today I dropped by a small café called Genro, whose owner has actively championed the use of traditional coppicing techniques that this area was once known for. Voicing an interest in putting in some coppiced trees on my balcony and getting involved with community traditions in the neighborhood, the waiter in the coffee shop called the owner, who came the store and sat with me for an hour to talk about both coppicing techniques and ways to get started and about nature education. He invited me to join in community events and get more involved with this new place I am living in. He also kept repeating how happy he was to meet me and that he hoped to get together more often.

Sounds like a good beginning!

Naruto Station at Night
Journal Musings

Six Years Today

I haven’t been writing in the blog lately and so almost forgot that today is the sixth anniversary of Laughing Knees. For those of you who keep up with me on Facebook, you know what has been happening since my last post, but for those who don’t let me just say that the smoke is finally clearing and I’ve made some huge changes in my life. I’m moving to Tokyo to work for a year at my university’s Tokyo campus, I’ve gotten a nice apartment in a nice area of western Tokyo (for those who know, it is in Suginami-ku, north of Kichijoji and Nishi-Ogikubo), and, a totally unexpected, last-minute decision last week (after two and a half months of fruitless seeking an apartment for myself) to move in with a friend who has really been there for me since February. There was a while there when I thought I had completely lost myself and would never make it back, but with slow steps, taking each day at a time, I’ve come back to myself and can get through the days without breaking down, even lots of laughter now. I never knew just how far you can fall if you truly open up your heart to someone. And I never knew, too, that until now I had never really opened myself to anyone.

But it’s Spring and all the possibilities ring through the air! Let’s see what this coming year brings and what I can make of it. WIth a little effort, I think I might just come away feeling that everything was for the best.

Journal Musings


Around the Moon

After going through it numerous times in my life having someone break up with me ought to get easier. And at times it has. I can see the signs as the experience grows, I know what’s coming. And I protect myself from the blow by backing away before it happens. I’ve avoided getting married to certain women that way and I’ve sidestepped getting fully involved in many relationships as a way to protect myself from future pain. But all of these relationships have always proved to be unsatisfactory, inherently calling out the pain that I had tried so hard to deny.

This time I let myself go without reservations. I flung myself into the river and, flailing, often scared, I let her take me where I never knew the heart could go. I knew the risk very well. I even said to her once, when she first starting voicing her lack of confidence, “If I fall from this I’m going to fall hard, very hard.” Nevertheless I forged on, trusting in the possibilities she represented and ignoring the telltale signs that were ringing bells all throughout my head.

Then it came, the fateful afternoon when she insisted that it wasn’t working and that she wanted out.

It was a dignified break up. In keeping with my mostly dignified interaction with her throughout our relationship, never once losing my temper with her even when she was unfair or unkind, we quietly discussed the circumstances and spent hours listening to one another. I left with as much poise as I could muster, with the insistence that we were good together and that if she ever really needed me I wanted to become part of her life. I think we were speaking different languages: I pointed out the advantages of being together and how well we both got along… she saw the realities of disappointment and making money and having time for one another over long distances. Both of us had good points, and neither of us was willing to give.

Gumyo Gingko

So here I am trying to be intellectual about something that tripped me up very badly. A week after breaking up the pain got to me and I panicked like I’ve never panicked before. I realized I was losing something that I had wanted for a very long time and that she had offered a way of living that I had needed. Desperately I contacted her, begging her to reconsider. And, as all such desperate pleas tend to do, it did nothing but turn her cold and more distant. The last time we spoke she hung up the phone on me and we’ve never talked since. To end it that way, after it had at first ended with such dignity, snapped something inside me. I went mentally completely numb and couldn’t so much as lift a sponge to wash the dishes. I got home and there I was alone as ever, but this time with this hulking emptiness that threatened to consume me. I cried and cried all night long, more crying than I’ve ever done in my life and it wouldn’t stop. The next day when I had to go my university to proctor semester finals tests for large numbers of students I stepped into the room with all those faces looking at me and suddenly, without warning, everything came shaking loose in my head. All the bad decisions and mistakes, the unhappy jobs and failed relationships, the drifting from my original purpose in working and living, my failed marriage, the years of fighting, the arrival here at this dismal place and the resulting, soul-eating isolation.. all of it came crashing down and right in front of all those students I lost every remnant of courage that I had and fled from the room. I just fled, bumping into walls, oblivious to students saying hello, sobbing and very alone. I needed to speak to someone, anyone, another human being whom I could trust without question, just feel that there was something and someone left without her to latch onto. I stumbled right into my boss’ office and she agreed to talk to me.

We talked for a long time, with her listening to everything I said and offering to help me out. “Why don’t you work on the Tokyo campus?” she suggested. “Get a year contract there and then we can work out something for you to move on to from there.” It was completely unexpected. A chance to get out of this place and jump start my life again? Was there really someone that nice at work who would help me out? Could I finally get away from the isolation I’ve been in?

Gumyo Temple

The need to be with someone was so great and the prospect of another night in my coffin of an apartment so distressing that I called my wife and asked if we could stay together. She said, “Of course! You are always welcome here.” Right then and there I went all the way into Tokyo and spent three days with her. We talked. About everything. And I spilled my heart about the woman I loved, knowing that the story would hurt my wife, trusting that our friendship was real and that she would understand. My God, her forgiveness and generosity were almost too large to bear, and yet she was there and she listened to me for two days straight. I sobbed over and over again until there was nothing left and I felt sapped of all emotion. She was just there, within reach, always ready to touch. Another human being. A friend. Someone who saw me and let me know that I would be all right.

It’s been three weeks now and the pain still rolls in in waves. Every woman on the street looks like her. During a yoga class earlier this evening the instructor turned out the lights at the end of the session and as I lay there in the dark, breathing and relaxed, the room suddenly filled with memories of her and a tear began forming at the corner of my eyes, but then I let it go. Enough crying. She had never taken the time to get to know me better and just wouldn’t have any idea what a loss it was for her. Because I’m beginning to remember what it is I have to give and how much living I want to do, with or without her. Before we stopped even our friendship, she had asked, “Can we still go hiking together?” And I had said, “Of course!” That is gone, too. She’ll never really know why I love the mountains so much, and how much I could have shown her about that side of me.

I leave for Tokyo at the end of March. I’m packing up this apartment and getting ready to say goodbye to a place that brings back two year’s worth of reasons to forget. This is another chance. I hope I don’t screw everything up again. For once I want to get it right and live lightly and a part of something other than just myself.

Naruto Train Crossing SIgnal LIght
Journal Musings

I Am Forty Eight

Gumyo Tracks to Naruto

A little less than a month ago I turned forty eight. That morning I woke and lay in my bed as the dawn lit up my bedroom window and thought about nothing, just letting my breath draw in and release. I lay like that for a long time, until the town morning bell, which always sounded at 6:00, brought me back to this world and it was time to get up and head to work.

I hadn’t expected a memorable day. I had to work, after all, and most days at work left a lot to be desired in terms of getting through it with any sense of accomplishment. But for some reason my birthday seemed to shine this time, and by the time I got home later in the evening I couldn’t have asked for better time spent. All day students whom I hadn’t imagined thought twice about me outside of class dropped by to talk and wish me happy birthday, and two of them, who have started to become real friends, even asked me to join them for lunch and had a makeshift celebration waiting for me. All the well-wishes and casual greetings followed exactly the way I like interactions between people: simple and unpretentious.

JIU Office Clouds

It’s been a harrowing few months since I last wrote here. Harrowing and wonderful, all in one. Back in August, after the weeks of being bedridden with an infected leg I met a woman online who changed my life. Neither of us had expected it. One moment we were writing a few emails back and forth, the next minute we met and couldn’t stop talking with one another. It seemed everything clicked… our ability to open up to one another, our interests, our attraction as a man and a woman, our goals, even the way we laughed and got angry at one another… it all worked as if we were made for each other.

But like all these dreams, reality held its end of the bargain and we had to take a hard look at whether or not we really could make this work. She has a child and before anything else that is what we, especially she, had to consider. On top of that we lived a considerable distance apart and it wasn’t easy to both pay for and make the time for the journey as often as we wanted. More and more I felt that if we wanted the relationship to work then I had to take the plunge and head out to live near where she did, so we had enough time with one another, but also to make it possible to get to know her daughter.

Things didn’t work out that way, at least not yet. She wants time to think it over now and to decide whether to stay with me or not. We haven’t seen each other for more than a month now and for the past two weeks she asked me not to contact her. The waiting is absolute agony. While I perfectly understand why she needs to do that, the thought that the only woman in my life whom I, now 48, have ever been absolutely sure of might now slip out of my grasp just when I found her, hurts more than I can put into words. I have enough experience in life to know that there is nothing I can do but wait and hope, but I wonder what my life will be like afterwards if she leaves. I have never met a woman who made me feel this way before… so much so that for the first time I realize how much I’ve needed and wanted a family, even if the child is not my own, and, to my surprise, I’m not scared at all about dealing with the obstacles of living with a child. I even welcome the prospect of getting to know her daughter, with all the reactions the daughter will have… so the chance of my meeting another person like this is quite slim. And the truth is I just don’t want anyone else. I can’t imagine anyone else.

Naruto Tracks

All my life until now my life has been about me. Even when I got married, it was mainly about me. I’ve always focused on what I wanted and put my money and time into pursuits that mainly interested me and often didn’t take into account what my partner needed or wanted. Though I’ve always been aware of and tried hard to work on my partners’ feelings, often I stopped short and hurt the people who were closest to me. It was only recently as I was forced to take a good, hard look at who I am and what I wanted, needed, and had to do for my and my partner’s future, that I suddenly came face-to-face with my own selfishness. It was like a big, scary ogre just sitting there waiting to ruin everything. And I realized that all my life I had never really held something that was more important to me than I was myself, that I would unreservedly give my life for. Now I have. And I’m shaking with rue and humility. How small I am. And how much a fool I have been.

Naruto Train Crossing and Tracks

Last week my wife and I made the final decision to get divorced. It’s been a very long time coming, especially with these last two years living apart, still not one hundred percent sure. We both still love each other very much and perhaps that is part of what has made it so difficult to face. Neither of us wants to hurt the other or see the other hurt. Probably if we hated one another breaking up would be so much easier. We don’t hate each other, though, and never could. But for so long now we have coexisted with no real communication and no sense of being a man and woman together and no plans or goals whatsoever, the breakup was inevitable. And probably better for both of us. When we sat talking together last weekend we both openly hoped the other would find a partner so that neither of us would end up alone. I guess this is a different kind of love, one that let’s one another go without jealously guarding the bond.

Naruto Train Crossing and Moon 1

Reaching forty eight has opened my eyes to the passage of time. And little of it there is left. I realized on the morning of my birthday that there weren’t many breaths like that to go and that each one of them was precious from now on. Maybe that is why the whole birthday was so peaceful and full of joy, and for those moments I was very aware of how special every single detail of being alive was, that nothing was wasted or insignificant. It didn’t really matter if I was standing on top of a mountain or lying in a bed somewhere, all of the different manifestations of living held a complete mandala of time all its own, and it was perhaps my responsibility to recognize the preciousness in whatever situation I found myself in. As the younger years fall away behind me surely there must be value in what I have learned so far? Perhaps that being alive, loving someone, and being loved, are all that really matter.

Naruto Vending Machine

I can wait. Wait for her, wait for a daughter’s trust to flower, wait through the night for the dawn to come, wait for whatever I thought I knew about myself. Even wait for my wife to gather up the courage to say good bye. It no longer matters what I think or what I want things to be, what matters is that the ones I love are safe, that I can see why the dawn is so beautiful, and that, when all is done, I can admit that I really didn’t matter at all, that none of it was ever about me.

JIU Office View of J Building
Blogging Journal Musings

Year Five

Today my blog is five years old. I’m amazed that I’m still at it after my first post in 2003. Since that time the blog worked its way into an important aspect of my life and the way I think. It helped me meet new friends and challenged me to sometimes think deeply about how I saw things or how I acted. Much more than a diary, it grew with my thoughts and often branched out from interactions I had with others. Intellectually and perhaps emotionally the blog acted as a slate to compare myself to.

So much has changed since I started the blog, so much of what I wanted to do here has mutated and adapted, so much of how I feel about myself and the world has evolved. The rage against the war has quieted and my very lifestyle has taken a big sidestep way off the path I had earlier imagined my life would be. If I am honest I can’t say it was for the better, at least not yet. I just spent two months almost totally solitary, without anyone to talk to or go see (my university doesn’t allow the teachers to go anywhere during the two month break). I’m just barely hanging in there mentally and with the university school year starting up again tomorrow at least there will be contact with people to offset the loneliness. But it is a rather empty poultice due to the school’s awful indifference to its employees and the terrible morale. In my whole life I’ve never worked in a place so unorganized, full of discrimination, and rife with resentment.

But I realize it is just a stepping stone and I must endure for a while. In the meantime I am making plans. I hope to get a degree in environmental education and eventually work with place-based education, hopefully while still using my background in writing and art. I’ve been researching online degrees and, for later, resident degrees at different educational institutions, places like The North Cascades Institute and The Antioch New England University Department of Environmental Studies. I’m not sure I can follow up the education with good jobs here in Japan, though I do hope to spend some time with Kevin from One Life Japan and learn a bit more about alternate lifestyles in Japan. I’m not even sure that getting yet another degree will help me in the direction I want to go at all. I’m more interested in grassroots education than the big, disconnected world of academia.

Socially Japan has been a disaster for me and as I see it right now it is time to move on. In August I hope to take a few weeks and visit Vancouver, Canada and take a look around at possibilities. I think it has all the advantages I am looking for in a place to live, including all the natural wandering grounds I need so badly, a diverse culture, a softer political atmosphere, connections with Asia, and relative proximity to my mother and brother on the east coast of the States. I also have friends there so I wouldn’t be starting out completely alone. I still think about New Zealand, and want to visit possibly next winter, but it is awfully far from family. But I haven’t completely ruled it out yet. Of course, I still have to find a way to get into any of these places I am looking at.

It’s really too bad that I couldn’t find my place here in Japan. Maybe it is bad luck or maybe it is my terrible social skills. It doesn’t help that I am shy or that I don’t like pushing my ambitions on others, though I know that in order to survive and get your way in the world you have to be aggressive. That’s the Japanese aspect of my personality, I guess. The only thing is that it doesn’t work if you’re not Japanese, so I end up being humble without the benefits. But who needs benefits? (^J^)/”

Keeping at the blog for five years has been an interesting ride. It still hasn’t ended yet and I hope to organize it better so that I can post more regularly and keep in better touch with those who visit. If anything it is the people I have met here that have made it all worth it.

Family Journal Musings


It’s like a path out of the mountains that you just finished. You look back and the rain clouds have obscured all signs of where you came from. But if you trace your route back you can find the places where one path separated, or joined, or veered off.

I got a letter from a cousin the other day detailing my family history back ten generations, something I didn’t even know was possible because my paternal African-American and Filipino sides had been so ruined by my ancestors having been slaves and a populace taken over in a colony. No records had been kept of family lines here. But my great-great grandfather in South Carolina, where my African-American family is Gullah, from Hilton Head Island, was a white Jew named Driesen. I going over the records my cousin was able to step back ten generations, 1621, to a couple in County Cork, Ireland, Teige and Elizabeth Cantey.

You can imagine my reaction… “I’m part Irish???”

I wonder what traces filter back down through the genes as one generation flows into the next. Is there such thing as genetic memory? Or do ghosts of a person’s experience and sights burn into the film of the next generation’s life plate? Does it mean anything that somewhere in the mists of time two Irish people nudged my existence with their children and then made the frightening crossing over to North America?

But there is something deeply comforting in catching a glimpse of the trail that led me here. All these years it has been a blur. I feel more connected to the earth now, as if my cells now lead further back and I am not just an afterthought.

Journal Music Musings

Absolutely In Love

When I came across Andy’s reference to the new Swiss instrument called the “Hang” (pronounced like “hung”, meaning “hand” from the Bernese Swiss dailect) or “Hang Drum”, I was immediately enthralled. So much so that I think I might even save up to buy one. Now I have three instruments (besides the guitar that I’ve been playing for about 33 years and have a reach a plateau that I want to grow beyond, perhaps next learning classical guitar or flamenco) that I really want to learn: the hang, the duduk, and the quena. I am not the most coordinated finger artist around, though, so I don’t know how well I can learn to play the hang, but I would really love to learn. The only problem with acquiring one, though, is that until this year you had to contact the only builders of the hang in the world, Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer, directly by snailmail and then go to Bern, Switzerland, to handpick one. It seems this year they may be starting up shipping them again, with the third generation of the design, the integral hang, which doesn’t require each individual instrument to be picked for its unique tuning. From the things I’ve read on the internet so far the popularity of the instrument is going through the roof! There really still is magic in the world.

Thanks so much Andy.

More information here, here, and here.

Some of my favorite YouTube recordings:

And this site (in Japanese), by Hayato, has an impressive list of YouTube recordings.

I wonder if it’s possible to hear the instrument live here in Japan somewhere?

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.

Japan: Living Journal Life In Musings Tokyo

Crossing Borders

For six months my next door neighbor, a land baron who gives little thought to the quality of the community, selling off the farmland he inherited to make a fortune, has been building ticky-tacky housing lots in the tract of land outside my window. One of the reasons I took this place was for the unimpeded view of the rice paddies that extends all the way to the horizon. Now half the rice paddies are gone, replaced with newly graded streets and aerating mounds of new housing lots.

I think the land gods have got it in for me…

For the last three nights, wanting to test my tarps and tents for my upcoming trip to the Alps, I crept out onto the soft soil, alone in the darkness, and set up the shelters. For this short time the land was mine. The wind blew, the shelters luffed in the gusts, and the sky opened above me without a roof to break the expanse. Orion watched with approval.

Then, in defiance of the distant lights of houses and apartments, I unzipped my fly and urinated in a full arc. There, unto thee I water the world!

Now I can go home and hold in my heart: to pee where no one has peed before!