Art of Living Journal Musings Self-Reflection

Unsheltered Sky

Magnolia Storm
Magnolia visible from my living room window in April, just before blooming, Tokyo, Japan 2004.

It’s been a month of losses. Losses in time, losses in money, losses in confidence, losses in trust, losses in sleep. And recently a great loss for my sense of balance within my own home: the small, deserted lot just outside my living room window, over which I would peacefully gaze every morning as part of my ritual of waking up and feeling at least a little connected to the natural world, was suddenly converted into a two-story apartment building. Within one day the only view of the sky that I have in my apartment was wiped clean of any further connection to the horizon. And a disconnection to the magnolia tree that I have been gazing at every day for the past four years.

Here is what has been taking place (along with daily pounding of hammers and screeching of saws) You can see the magnolia tree in the back, between the scaffolding:




New House Building

Now my home is completely surrounded by windows and walls. With the recently moved-in family on the other side of the apartment, complete with four screaming little kids (promptly waking me each morning at 5:30, effectively drowning out the birds, and continuing unabated all day until the first crickets begin to try their tentative chirps), and my wonderful college kid neighbors upstairs who love rearranging the furniture at three a.m., I feel as if the spirit of Tokyo has flooded my sanity with its hordes of restless crowds. This also being Japan, however, you are expected to grin and bear it, taking it all down to “shoganai” (It can’t be helped). But shoganai it ain’t, because my heart and soul remember much freer pastures and greener grass. Certainly I’ve never in my life felt this hemmed in before.

To make matters worse, the hotel project I was working on came to an end, finally, only to leave me with the news that I will only be getting paid about half of what was originally expected. Still not sure about the logistics behind this, but I suspect a disingenuous spirit on the part of my benefactors. It’s been, to say it mildly, a crappy sort of day. Now it looks like I have to put up my dukes and fight it out for proper compensation, though I have the sinking feeling that, as has happened five times before here in Japan, I will lose the round. If anything this experience has confirmed in me a great disillusionment with design work and any sort of foray into advertising and such. I knew it when I started this project, but like money always does, especially when you really need it, I listened to the clinking of coins.

House View Gone

I do have to say, though, that taking a run later in the evening, along the darkened proliferation of reeds and vines along the river, cleared my head quite a lot. Bats and toads and feral cats and a bellowing American bullfrog greeted me along the path, reminding me of the simple pleasure of moving and smelling the cut grass in the night air. And as I ran the knot of anxiety and feeling of being wronged evaporated. Perhaps it was a good thing that the project ended with a flop. After all, it was never what I wanted to do in the first place. So I finished the circuit around my neighborhood and slowly came to a stroll. A gibbous moon hung pregnant in the sky.

Is it just me, or does everyone feel a primordial need to live close to the seasons and to the breathing of the Earth? Does everyone else also feel an almost unutterable ache somewhere in the interior when it seems as if your life is disconnected from the very source of its heartbeats? Why can I just not feel happy with this citified world that has heaved up around me? Why do I constantly, every single blinking moment of the day, and on a deeper, soundless level at night, feel that my life is unbalanced and shallow and hungry? And yet I can sense the source of satisfaction and joy somewhere around the corner. If only I wasn’t so groggy and full of fog. If only there was just me and the open door, all the stuff released behind me.

Home Places Japan: Living Journal Life In Musings People Tokyo

Breath of Fresh Air


Nogawa spring awakening
First greening of the Noh River and people appearing to sit out in the sun, Noh River, Chofu, Tokyo, Japan, 2004
Children Nogawa River
Children wandering imaginary lands, Noh River, Chofu, Tokyo, Japan, 2004
Sleeping sakura Nogawa
Sleeping under a blizzard of blossums, Noh River, Tokyo, Japan, 2004




After surfacing from a three day marathon designing spree with only 2 hours of sleep and three weeks of intense conceptual designing for the Keio Plaza Hotel brochure I’ve been working on, I’m just teetering on the brink of throwing in the towel. While design work is fun and stimulating, I can’t see why anyone would subject themselves to such mental and physical abuse. With an evening job teaching English, a day time job writing (after all, that’s what I’m doing all this other stuff for), and a non-negotiable regimen of exercise to stave off the horrors of diabetes (which I’ve none-the-less compromised by neglecting exercise for two weeks now because of all this work) personally I cannot handle the stress any more. I was so wound up on Sunday night, in anticipation of a big meeting yesterday, that I lay awake for three hours trying to get to sleep, but visions of brochure designs kept floating through my brain and finally I rolled out of bed to finish up some preliminary sketches.

All day yesterday it was a series of mishaps and blunders and micro-crises: I misplaced my keys before heading out for the meeting… then had a woman nearly run me over with her bicycle… then had trouble with the ticket vending machine at the station when it wouldn’t accept the large bill I had slipped into it… thereby missing the scheduled train… then took the wrong train to the wrong train exit (Shinjuku station is this huge rabbit warren that has more than a million people passing through each day) and was late for the meeting. The meeting itself went very well and everyone seemed happy with the design. That alone set my nerves at ease for the first time in days.

The cherry blossoms are erupting everywhere, like a slow motion counter strike by a peace-loving anti-terrorism contingent, tired of the inundation of terrorism news. I couldn’t let this go by of course, and so last week took two hours to try out my newly refitted folding bicycle and ride along the Noh River near my apartment.


Cherry Tree Tunnel
Arches of cherry tree limbs, Noh River, Chofu, Tokyo, 2004
Cherry blossom cascade
New opening cherry blossoms, Noh River, Chofu, Tokyo, 2004


What made my whole week, though, was a little encounter with a French woman and her son on the train home from the meeting. I first saw her pushing her baby carriage on the platform while waiting for the train. She carried an air of joy and nonchalance that resided in her eyes and smile, and in the way she coddled her son and kept kissing him. She even glanced up and smiled at me, which, if you know anything about Japan in public, is about as rare as good cheese and clean rivers.

I couldn’t take my eyes off her, so out of place this all seemed. While everyone else was sitting straight and still as boards, staring into the void, myself included, she and her Japanese son seemed to move outside of the general sphere. She brought her face close to the baby’s and they locked eyes, followed by many kisses. I kept thinking, “Wow, she’s so French!” (she was speaking to her son in French, that’s how I knew she was French) But it was more than that. I also kept thinking, this physical interaction with her child, this unabashed display of affection, this “skinship” as the Japanese call such a relationship between two people, is what lays the base for a strong confidence in oneself. This little boy knows he is loved and will most likely grow up feeling part of someone else’s intimate world.

In contrast there was a Japanese father and his son sitting just two passengers off to the side of the French woman and her baby. The father sat there dour and immovable, arms crossed, with a huge frown sagging the corners of his face, while the boy hunched and stared out the window. Whenever the boy slouched or moved to another position the father would reach out and arm him back into position, while sternly muttering, “Sit up straight. People are watching you!” My eyes traveled back and forth between these two and the French woman and baby, and exhausted as I was, I always found myself turning back to the French woman. She made me smile.

As the train ran through a gauntlet of cherry trees I closed my eyes and welcomed this delightful introduction to new life. I felt a stirring of laughter in my breast.