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 Musings

Whirligig

Gumyo Tracks

The train tracks leading away from Gumyo, the little town I am living in now. The photograph doesn’t show you the incessant noise of the highway nearby, though.

Raindrops spray across the train window, the reds and blues and greens of street lights and neon signs, splayed across the glass panes, run like bleeding dyes, shimmering. The wind outside whips the water across the surface, distorting the night scene, tugging and streaking it, until the reflection of my face within the blackness is mixed like paints into the lights of passing neighborhoods. My good eye stares into a void, twixt the light and darkness, day and night, innocent making out with knowing. It is within this ball of calmness that the train hurtles through the empty hours, the limited express, destination: last call of the season. Leaves fly up in the train’s wake, whirling like bats, cold, helpless, and final.

Gumyo Station View

A town still asleep at dawn

House roofs and apartment buildings, telephone poles and high tension wires, train station platforms lined with dour-faced commuters wearing black coats, neon signs and clanging train crossings, all of them whip by outside the train windows. People nod off opposite me, others read books, or stare blearily out into the dawn grey. I follow their gazes, seeking… what? Clouds and birds, the sky untamed, rain imminent, a puff of cool air from the open doors when the train stops. It seems the years in Japan have always been characterized by the clackity-clack of train tracks, and I have always been following the single-file processionals along the rail lines, or waiting on platforms as my white breath dispells in the late autumn air.

Gumyo Bend

The main road from the station takes a slight detour along the train tracks. Here is where I discover the other face of Gumyo, the side that must once have made up the whole town here before the highway bypass ran roughshod right over the heart of the town.

Home seems far away all the time these days. Four weeks have passed since moving out to Chiba. The two pairs of pants and two shirts that accompany me for the week out at the guesthouse, the heavy laptop computer with its retinue of hard drives, mouse, A/C adapters, and notebook of serial numbers and passwords, the drawing case that holds a few pens and pencils for drawing and its sister journal, the two books I’m reading (I’ve been trying to get through “Queen of the Night” by Arturo Perez-Revert, but have been so tired that I always end up nodding to sleep on the trains as I attempt to read it), the change of socks, underwear, and t-shirts, the toiletry kit, the diabetes kit, the camera, and extra, warm jacket… are beginning to outstay their welcome on my back. I wake each night to the slapping of a stranger’s slippers shuffling to the toilet outside my bedroom door, sit every night with strangers at the dinner table in a room decorated with gold-plated clocks and cheap Chinese painting prints and dominated by a huge, wide-screen TV always running the same news program again and again, while these strangers puff away at cigarettes and overload on bottles of whiskey and shochu and vodka, and wait for strangers to finish in the bathroom so I can brush my teeth. It’s as if my life is not my own and my home back in Tokyo a place where someone else has moved in.

Gumyo Leaves

The first rays of the sun graze the brooding roof of a farmhouse.

Gumyo Jidohambai

Remnant of a town long gone. As I entered this area there was lots of wind and flapping sheet metal and rotten wood. It was too early to see most of the townsfolk, but those who had hauled themselves out of bed greeted me as if I was a regular neighbor.

Gumyo Grove

A carefully tended grove protected from the wind by thick hedges and windbreaks. Nothing moved, the leaves seemed to be holding their breath.

The key turns in the lock, waking the tumblers inside, and allowing me to pull back the creaking door. The air within the apartment is warm. An aroma of cooking curry greets my nostrils. As the door bangs shut behind me my wife steps out from behind the kitchen door and smiles. She looks both tired and sad, but full of life, as always.

“Welcome home,” she says quietly, in that self-assured way that always makes me feel safe. “Put your pack down and take off your shoes.”

I lower the pack and feel the weight of the day lift. Everything is familiar. My wife holds out her arms to receive an embrace.

“How are you?” I ask, a little shy.

She smiles, knowing there is no need to answer. “I’ve made some curry,” she says.

“You look tired,” I say. “Have you been sleeping okay?”

She lowers her head and forces her smile. “Same as you,” she says. “It’s strange here without you.”

“Yeah,” I agree. We stand holding each other without saying anything more, letting the sound of the wind rushing against the windows and the tap dancing of the water boiling in the pot in the kitchen play against one another.

Gumyo Sunrise Grove

A fallow rice field still holding rainwater from the storm the night before. Mist was rising over all the fields

Gumyo Dawn Fields

I couldn’t believe this was the same area I had been grumbling about for the past three weeks. The farther I ran the more the old towns drifted back into sight.

Gumyo Shrine

An old wooden shrine listed as part of the “Kanto Fureai no Michi” (Kanto Plain Communal Road), a footpath that arcs from the far side of Tokyo, up over the north along the Tanigawa range and extends down along the east side here, a distance of over 400 kilometers, much of it in the mountains and through backroad countryside. I never knew that Gumyo was the place where the path came to an end. So in many ways I had reached the End of the World…

Gumyo Fountain

…and found the Well…

It was dawn again. The wind still blew, but colder now. My pack bulged with the essentials again and sat by the front door. I lifted the pack, switched off the hall light, and pushed the front door open. A cold finger of the wind wriggled its way inside and lifted the cloth hanging over the kitchen door. Before it could explore further I stepped outside into the darkness and pushed the door gently closed behind me. I didn’t bother using the umbrella… it would only snap out of shape any way. The train was waiting, so I hoisted the pack into a better position, and headed toward the train station.

Gumyo Leaf Tunnel

My wandering took me away from the main roads into fields that welled straight up out of my childhood.

Gumyo Footprints

I love it when the tarmac slowly erodes away and turns to dirt, and then finally just peters out .

Gumyo Onions

The risen sun streaming light on a patch of onions.

Gumyo Crossing

Much of Japan once looked like this. I really miss walking along such roads. Now that most people rely on cars and the bypaths no longer connect little enclaves that once held the strings of communities together, there is a sense of desolation and emptiness, as if these places no longer hold value. All eyes now turn to Tokyo. As more rural communites turn into these dying landscapes, the future of Japan seems to hold no center. A city without its surrounding past, a rural community without its reason for being…

Gumyo Gingko
Categories
Journal Musings

Taking the Leap

Shetlands Puffin Beating Wings
Northern Puffin frantically beating its wings as it launches itself from a cliff and tries to make a soft plummet to the sea below, The Shetlands, Great Britain, 1995

I guess it was bound to happen. After years of uncertainty and longing to make changes in my life the pebble under the boulder that had been holding inevitability back finally let loose and the whole mess has started to come crashing down. It’s been two months since I was laid off from my ten-year teaching job, and very coldly at that. In hindsight I realize now that I’ve been a fool to hang on so long there; where I’d thought that I actually meant something to the upper level others I was working with, came the blow between the eyes that I was nothing but a convenient cog. It’s quite sobering to wake up to your own delusions.

On the same week I lost my job God played another hand, brushing away the rust from the spinning circle of doubt in my relationship with my wife. And, as such things inevitably go, with it came a torrent of pain and guilt, things which have orbited my life for far too long. The divorce now waits upon our convenience, which somehow never really seems to be the right time. How do you finally lay down the ultimatum to someone whom you still love and respect, and whom you never wanted to harm or, to be brutally honest with myself, abandon? Fourteen years. It seems like a lifetime.

That same week my diabetes took a bad turn for the worse, with blood sugars reaching into the stratosphere. I woke up one night with a pain in my stomach so bad I couldn’t walk. I kept retching up food and couldn’t stop coughing. This being Japan, with a two-month wait until my doctor would have an opening to see me, I was utterly terrified about attempting to go see the doctor for help, and, with the experiences I’ve had until now, just being given the same useless runaround about how to deal with my diabetic issues. So I decided to clamp down hard on myself and just do what had to be done. First I looked up possible diabetic complications with my symptoms and found information on gastroparesis, a result of neuropathy, or diabetic nerve damage from too much prolonged high sugars. I immediately cut out all sugar, excessive fat, high glycemic index foods, coffee, alcohol, and any snacks, and upped my intake of vegetables. I ate only what was necessary and no more, always going to bed slightly hungry. I started exercising, running every day, doing lots of stretches, weight lifting, and relaxation exercises. I completely stopped going to restaurants and instead of taking the train all the way from one place to another started getting off the train early and walking home.

The results are astounding, for me, and inspiring. I’ve lost three kilograms so far, gained some muscle, and can run ten kilometers again without huffing and puffing. The gastroparesis has completely disappeared and when I visited my doctor last week I was informed that for the first time in about a year my blood glucose levels have fallen halfway to the ideal level.

In the meantime I managed to secure a new job at a university out in the country. It’s not quite in the mountainous area I was hoping to start living in, but the job seems interesting and respectable, with quite a few more challenges than I’ve had until now. It’s a chance to finally start moving in the direction I’ve been needing to go, to pay off debts, to gain some valuable experience, to do some traveling, and perhaps meet some interesting people and make much-needed friends.

So I’ll be moving in September, making the break from this awful apartment I’ve been railing against for four years. And most likely a separation from my wife. That is the part that shakes my confidence and resolve. I don’t know if I have the courage to do it. Or the meanness of spirit. Or the blinders of a selfish fool. I know lots of people have gotten divorces, but I honestly don’t know how they manage to survive it or even know in their heart of hearts that they are making the right decision. After all, my wife is a kind, gentle woman who loves life and likes herself. I’ve learned a lot from her. I can’t imagine life without her.

But life has to feel right, I guess. I can’t forget myself or stop trying to find my personal balance. It’s been unbalanced for so long that I no longer really know what balance it is that I am seeking. I keep looking back at old memories of when I was happy and try to work them into who I am now and find that they just don’t go far enough. I need to challenge myself with new goals and new ways of perceiving. And to find some kind of nourishment that will wipe away my growing cynicism. I sense strongly that a much more rigorous connection with the natural world is imperative to my sense of fulfillment. But the question is “How?” How can I be close to the natural world and make a living at the same time? Must it always be an unacceptable compromise? Must I always be where I don’t want to be? Must I always settle for jobs that, as my mother recently stated, “most people in the world are not happy with”.

What is it exactly that makes up a satisfying and meaningful life? Is it still possible to reach the end of my life and say, “Yes, I lived my life fully and as best I could.” and to die with a full heart? Is the modern template for what constitutes a “successful” life the only option? For so much of what I see seems completely insane to me. So much of what so many people think of as important seems dull and without imagination, apathetic and blind to the world around.

I look out of my window and watch a bumblebee gather nectar from the flowers in the garden. The flowers bend under its weight and tip back their petals in perfect conformance to the bumblebee’s act, as if genetically everything was dancing to the same tune. A robber fly makes passes at the bumblebee, but turns back, perceiving the danger. Hoverflies and skippers flit among the fronds, whizzing through one another’s trajectories and circling these islands of green. A sulfur butterfly flutters along the ground, laying eggs. And beyond the houses come the electric buzzing of cicadas and the throaty calls of jungle crows. And I don’t know why but so often when I see such simple things I want to start weeping, as if I recognize that I am no longer a part of that world, but I need desperately to get back to it. It is a world that exists in and of itself, all components and members sharing in the workings of its web. Humans are part of this, I know in my head, but the presence of people always feels like a jarring off key note. I keep asking myself, “Where do I fit in? Why do I feel so unnatural?”

Perhaps that is why the teachings of the Buddha ring so much more relevantly with me than those of Christ. They talk of reconciliation with this world rather than the next. They say live today, here, rather than tomorrow and there.

Ah, a black swallowtail descends from the rain clouds into the garden like a dark angel, beating her filmy wings above the reaching hands of leaves. Then she is followed by a tiger swallowtail. And I have it. This one place, like all places, offers food for the gods. To find your own place, you have but to make your own, unique offering. It is the thanks that makes life worthwhile, not the satisfaction.

Categories
America: Society Journal Musings

A New Step

Gingko leaves on ground
Gingko leaves piled up along the edge of a bridge. A de-saturated photo, in real life the yellow of gingko leaves is brilliant

Ever since the avalanche of disappointment following the defeat of Kerry in the U.S. elections I have been pondering what it is that so disappointed all of us and what exactly it was that we expected. For the hope seemed to include more than the sum of American voters themselves; there was a worldwide investment in the expectation of a peaceful, healthy, and prosperous future for the planet as a whole, and the defeat of Kerry let down a lot of pent up frustrations.

Rana, over at Frogs and Ravens, in her usual eloquent and challenging way, asks what direction the blues might take in the dealing with the many social questions and problems that America and the world face. Her post approaches the question from a mainly internal American point of view, and focuses on how the American governing system might be changed. The comments that follow attempt to answer her with various analyses of American history and government structure. Rana herself questions the wisdom of continuing with the present government system and suggests working with a new group of progressives who might reform the system.

In my own reading of articles on the internet, blog posts, listening to discussions, watching the news, and going over the whole shebang in my head, more and more I return to the cause of the great disappointment people all over the world felt. Why was it that the path America, a separate nation, chose to take meant so much to so many billions of people? The most common and immediate answer invariably is that, with America on a rampage around the world and with Bush manning the guns, self-preservation and altruistic concerns for countries like Iraq would be the motivating factors behind everyone’s wishes. And rightly so. In just four years, Bush has managed to upset nearly everyone and seriously undermine worldwide peace.

But I’d also like to suggest another motivation behind people’s bated breath before the elections: The world is ready for a great reformation. Countries all over the world are beginning to let down their guards and talk about opening borders. Europe has already taken the first step with the formation of the E.U., overcoming millennia of enmities and cultural differences to attempt to work together and seek a common vision. South America seems to be taking the first steps toward pulling themselves out of poverty and corruption, toward a continental unity that could well put America’s rhetoric to shame.

Perhaps what most infuriated people around the world, including a huge portion of the American people themselves, was America’s blatant refusal to bide by the world community’s carefully established and hard-won rules of communal governing. Humanity’s first honest attempts at tackling such huge global problems as environmental destruction (the Kyoto Treaty), human rights (the World Court), and nuclear disarmament (the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) were simply brushed aside by the American government, constantly putting itself above the common rules. America wants to impose its standards and desires, but will not respect those of any one else.

I’m wondering, though, if what so many people want is a better way to deal with things like terrorism and environmental destruction, instead of feeling helpless all the time. It is time that some kind of system was enacted which allowed people all around the world to, on a grassroots level, have a say in what goes on in the world. The election of Bush, for instance, is a decision that deeply and directly affects all people around the world and, as many have suggested, solely leaving his election to the American electorate is unfair to the rest of the world, to say the least.

With the internet vastly improving transfer of information around the globe participation by people around the world has, for the first time, become a growing reality. Would it not be possible to form a global network of citizens, each acting locally, but participating at different levels of global involvement, that would allow all people around the world to have a direct say in what happens to their world? For international issues such as one country attacking another, putting it forth to the entire population of the world and allowing their votes to determine what ought to be done or prevented? Isn’t it time we stop thinking in terms of petty borders and think of the world population as one, with every man, woman, child, non-human, and element of the Earth carrying an equal share of the rights American espouse so much?

I believe that the reason no one can find solutions to the dilemma of such dinosaurs as the American or Russian or Chinese governments right now stems from a deep satisfaction with inbred ways of thinking. We have become a global community, whether we like it or not. It is antediluvian for us to still think in terms of “us against them”. While local cultures and government surely must continue to deal with the day-to-day workings of local communities, and national governments must still maintain a coherent order according to cultural realms, global problems like global warming and war cannot be left in the hands of unilateral decisions. The world is too close-knit for such sensitive and potentially disastrous decisions to be left to a few, self-interested individuals. This world belongs to all of us.

I am not suggesting revolution or violent action. I am suggesting a parallel, worldwide civic movement and, hopefully, eventually, citizenship of an organization that works mainly on information and keeping citizens informed. If the vote is truly as effective as it was meant to be then setting up a system whereby people around the world can vote for worldwide matters might stop people like Bush from regaining or gaining power.

Simply protesting is not enough. People all around the world need to have a say in all the matters that affect us all. And peacefully saying no and affecting worldwide decisions with methods similar to those employed by Gandhi to motivate the Indian populace against the British might possibly bring about a reformation in global politics and stewardship.

Categories
America: Society Art of Living Iraq War Journal Nature Society Stewardship

Statement

Winter Cherry
Bare branches of a cherry tree in a kindergarten near my home, Chofu, Tokyo, Japan, 2004

I’ve had a lot of time to think. And the conclusions are not quite so cut and dried that I can claim enlightenment, but there have been some tightening of convictions and brushes with clarity. Here are some of the pebbles of insight into myself that I found:

• I love the Earth. Ever since I can remember it has been a more than average, deep anima within me. When close to the natural world, when interacting with other living things, when walking between the ground and the heavens and no human intervention to obscure the view, when the childlike excitement and fascination envelopes me while I crawl through thickets or wade up to my waist in swamp water or climb a tree to get a closer look at a nest or walk for days and days along a mountain ridge, those are the times I always feel most alive. I live in the heart of Tokyo now and am denied these things. It goes against my nature. Like Dersu Uzala (from Kurosawa’s film and the book by V.K. Arseniev) something dies within me when cities are the only connection to life that I have access to. For those who love cities this is impossible to explain.

• I love the human race. People can be capable of so much beauty and grace and generosity. When they open their minds and care for one another and the places they live in, our imaginations are limitless. As a integral participant in the dance of the natural world, our role is as the steward of this world, with the means and awareness to protect all that is around us. Other animals have their place in the scheme, ours is to protect. And therefore I want to see that I position myself within my own life to fulfill my role as steward. And to resist with all my heart and intellect and abilities those who would destroy our world.

• The planet is in danger. How long are we going to sit around squabbling about this? It is not some parlor room debate where the “winner” gets to make a toast. It is the lives of millions and millions of our fellow creatures and our very own survival that is at stake. The danger is NOW! And yet we sit around like crash victims, staring with disbelief out the window. Meanwhile we play like fools with our weapons, our chemicals, our water, our air as if there isn’t a care in the world. The whole scenario seems to be following, step-by-step, Kim Stanley Robinson’s warning, from his Mars series books, where the Earth falls into worldwide catastrophe. We are on the verge of meltdown and still denying it. The planet cannot take this abuse any more.

• My anger is not impotent or inconsequential. When I react with anger to what the United States and Bush are doing it is out of pain and love for the planet and for all people. I cannot sit idly by while there are those who would destroy it all. Meditation and a letting go of self is all important of course, but what self will there be to let go of if there are no people to examine themselves? Before Hitler took control so many people had opportunities to voice their anger and prevent him from coming to power. If the Blacks in America had not voiced their anger at and opposition to their suppression, where would they be today? Certainly much worse off than they are. Or the Indians. If Gandhi had not seized upon the strength of his anger with Britain, where would the Indians be today? No, I will not back down and whimper in a closet. I am angry. I am opposed to what is happening and, though I am but a small voice and cannot do much, I will do what I can to oppose the world order that the United States is forcing on everyone. This in no way means that I am not angry about other countries and what they are doing, or that I think other places are perfect, but the United States poses the biggest threat to the world today. If the United States cannot learn to live in harmony with the rest of the world, if they continually shake the tree without thinking of others or the tree itself, then I will work to oppose it.

• Bush is a criminal. Not just a local criminal within the U.S. itself, but an international war criminal. He has attacked and murdered thousands upon thousands of people. He has started two wars, based on lies, and defied the international community. He has upset the balance of the entire world, possibly putting the stability of the world’s economy in jeopardy. Personally, I believe that he was responsible for the New York tragedy… there are just too many coincidences, lies, and sleights of hand to see it any other way, much as Americans are just too horror-struck to admit the possibility of such a heinous act on the part of their own president. Almost no one in America has even entertained the possibility of this, in spite of the awful lies and acts that Bush has already committed. The fixed election; denying access to the information about what happened before the New York tragedy; tripping up the investigations; planning the attack on Iraq long before the tragedy; the inability to find bin Laden (who was in the employ of the CIA for many years…which is suspicious in itself); the convenient death of Senator Paul Wellstone; the illegal and humiliating internment of people denied even the most basic human rights at Guantanamo; the backing of Sharon’s atrocious subjugation of the Palestinian people… just how many more outrageous and “evil” acts must cross the television screen before people wake up and inquire into the goings on behind all these things? Bush should be subjected to an investigation at least… really he should be facing trial in an international court.

I am certainly not going to back down and quietly “accept” the state of affairs. Bush losing the election this year allows a great criminal to get away without answering for his crimes. That simply is not enough for me. Someone has got to say something, even if the outcry is ineffective. At least I am trying and not simpering in some cage. If Bush manages to get you to cower, then he has won. He’s managed to gain the crown without even really making much of an effort.

• I will find peace. If I hold fast to my convictions and practice loving what I love, if I get out there and protect the world and people who mean so much to me, if I don’t let someone bully and intimidate me, I will find the steadfastness within me and know who I am. THAT is what I will meditate upon, not some wilted stem that forgets who and what it is.

But it would certainly be easier and the going a little lighter if others of you would join me, if we would join hands and stand up together. Many small voices can chorus into a roar. Even mice have strength in numbers.

Categories
Journal Musings

Heart Massage

Irori House

I want to wish everyone a hearty

Happy New Year!

Thanks for all your wonderful company throughout last year and your heartwarming support during this rather difficult end/ beginning of the year. I’m still quite surprised by the number of responses to my last post, but it is very good to know that we have all formed a close-knit community and that most likely if we all lived near one another we’d be getting together and clashing glasses of champagne or beer. I look forward to a time when that can actually take place.

It wasn’t exactly the best of holidays. It wasn’t awful, like last year… I guess I’ve learned how to take things as they come and adjust my mind to them… but I wouldn’t exactly say the time was a barrel of laughs. I spent most of the time holed up alone in my apartment with the flu, followed by a bad, lingering cough that just won’t let up. Since without exercise my diabetes tends to get worse, my immune system hasn’t been exactly up to the challenge. I’m wondering if I’m missing important nutrients in my diet (I know that I don’t get enough vitamin B’s), so I started looking for good sources of information on maintaining a balanced diet. After watching a program on the Discovery Channel about ayurvedic medicine (interesting that the spell checker doesn’t recognize this word…) I wandered about the web and Amazon seeking information about ayurvedic cooking. Would anyone have any suggestions on good nutritional and eating information?

I was hoping to get out to the winter mountains this vacation, but it looks like that will have to be postponed for now. Maybe it’s a good idea to start the year off small. But this year I want to make a difference in my life and, hopefully, in the lives of others and to the planet itself. Beth said in her latest post about 2003 that for her it was the Year of the Blog. Yes, indeed it was, and it will be fascinating to see where it goes from here. But it was also the Year of Lies and War. I am not an American and so have no recourse to voting Bush out of office, but I will join the ranks of millions who will do all we can this year to remove Bush from office. What happened last year was intolerable. I’m sure a lot of others must also feel that our inner resources have been renewed and that clearly it is important that something be done about the current political climate. Perhaps I can’t do much, but I can speak and, at the very least, I will open my mouth and try to add weight to tip the rolling boulder.

Then there are two landscapes that I want to try to nurture back to health. My body/mind and something somewhere of the Earth. Buddhism has figured a lot in my thoughts over the last two years and, seeing as I live in a Buddhist land, I might as well take advantage of the institutions that exist here. I’m starting to look around for some temple or organization that I might get involved with that appeals to my cosmopolitan outlook and that doesn’t base its philosophy on evangelical, money-grubbing hocus-pocus. I know very little about what is available at the moment, so it will take a little while to winnow through information.

For my body I hope to get out to the mountains as much as possible this year. That means getting into a vigorous routine of daily exercise and as many weekends as possible out among foothills, because walking with a loaded pack is really the only way to train for this. Of course, just getting out there, being among the trees and under the sky is reason enough to get out.

But I am also thinking of taking up a martial art, such as shorinji-kempo (the Japanese version of the Shaolin Kung-fu… similar to aikido, but with less emphasis on ground work) or possibly, if I can find a good instructor, (difficult here in the land of the the katana, the Japanese broadsword) taking up fencing again, which I used to do in college. I’m thinking I need a sport which not only strengthens my body, but also requires an immersion in mind exercise, an evaluation of self and surroundings.

This year ought to evoke a lot of self-exploration and harder questioning and looking about at the world around. It is no longer enough just to talk about things; it is time to actually make things happen.

And thereby I also want to contribute something real to the planet. Another face of last year was clear evidence of global warming. If I really love the Earth and its creatures as much as I’ve said I do I must practice with my fingers in the soil. Maybe plant trees. Maybe clean a river. Maybe develop my little garden into a haven for birds. Maybe start an educational gathering or getting out into the villages and helping to revive the traditional husbandry of the commons. There is so much to do. And it seems I’ve been sleeping for so long!

Perhaps it was good that Bush and company stomped all over the world. It’s woken me and others out of our stupor, determined to protect what we love. A tranquil heart is required, and compassion. A great wing of water to douse the fire.

May this year bring peace and hope for everyone. Come warm your hands at the hearth, and let’s talk.

Categories
America: Society Ecopoesie Iraq War Journal Nature

The New Tide

Seaweed Gatherers
Fisherfolk gathering seaweed, southern coast of Boso Peninsula, Chiba, Japan, 1977.

So many roiling emotions and thoughts lately about identity and the direction we need to take in the world today. The thoughts are rough and fleeting, like a cloud of bees, clarity alighting here and there, then flitting away into obfuscation, so that writing comes heavily and plodding. Several days ago I read the poem post by Madame Butterfly at Nehanda Dreams about the world’s tribes declaring pride and love in who they are, and then later her comment on my “Thunder” post, questioning the idea of race. It was a question that every non-white in the world, when subjected to the white world or other homogenous group, daily thinks about, in constant comparison to some amorphous image of perfection hovering over the psychic world.

Yesterday, as if on cue, I just happened to come across Barbara Kingsolver’s selection of essays “Small Wonder: Essays”, a last copy hidden in the corner of the bottom shelf of the tiny nature section of the Kinokuniya bookstore in downtown Tokyo. I thought the book was mainly about nature, since that is Kingsolver’s domain, but upon starting it, it became clear that this was her response to the New York tragedy, and, over time, an effort to comprehend what is happening in the world today. In the opening lines, her wounds are very fresh from the New York attack and still raw with grief and anger. I have to remind myself that her book appeared before much of what the United States is doing now took place, and that through the examples of her earlier work, I must remember that her mind is open to the minds of people in other places.

Then, today, I was watching yet another Discovery Channel documentary of one of our world’s smaller tribes, this time the Tauduram hunter gatherers of Palawan, the Philippines. In the last scene the narrator Phil Borges compares a shaman’s inability to heal a tribe member’s liver disease he had never encountered before, with the surrounding destruction of the forest. Borges wonders about the spiritual effect on these people, who until recently lived in intimate relationship with the mountain forests, of having suddenly to switch to a slash and burn economy and destroy the very forests that constituted the spirits of their ancestors.

It got me thinking about why it is that so many Native Americans lost the desire to live after the Indian Wars, and so many of them gave up after Wounded Knee, with alcoholism and domestic violence reaching epidemic proportions. I understood the sense of despair, but I couldn’t personally compare it to anything that I could empathize with. Until I thought of the New York tragedy and how Americans, and people all over the world, reacted to it. How the sense of the world coming to an end engulfed us all and wrought shock and despair. That must be how it felt, and still feels, to the Native Americans, their world toppled by an abrupt (if seen from their 10,000 or more years of history) and violent attack.

In addition the values that the Europeans brought with them, the very de-personification of the Land, of killing the spirits and gods as if the Land could be anything without them, must have shattered the foundations of what constituted their understanding of the world. What the Europeans brought forced them to adopt a world view in direct opposition to all that was true and right, in comparison almost as if a Christian were coerced into accepting the Antichrist as their god.

Madame Butterfly’s exclamation of “amandhla!” perhaps provides a glimmer of hope, a tiny first step for people around the world reclaiming their heritage and standing up to put the Christian god back in its place, as one among many in the pantheon. With her question of how we might understand race, I claim that we are now delving into something new. The old adages and proclamations need to be redefined, and a new understanding of what the human race is and how it needs to name itself demands discussion. People are mixing among themselves all around the world… the distances are foreshortened. It no longer means everything to claim you are American or I am German or she is Japanese or he is Nigerian. The borders are blurred.

So we are something new. The inability to clearly enunciate what this is illustrates just how new the changes are. Many people deny it and those who do recognize that all aspects of our relationship to ourselves, to each other, and to the planet are evolving, often react with anger and violence, out of fear.

But we are changing. And we must adapt. We must clear our minds of cobwebs and address the mounting problems that are overtaking the world. And we must learn to redefine what we are, once and for all ridding ourselves of the ignorance and intolerance that have plagued our history since we first formed societies. This is the new and fearsome frontier, blessed with peace and prosperity if we can truly learn from our mistakes.

Otherwise…

Categories
Gender Journal Society

The Company of Men

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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