Japan: Living Journal Life In

I Am Not A Tree

Coppiced beech tree
Old coppiced beech tree on the way up toward Mount Jinba

Yesterday morning three men suddenly appeared at the my garden fence, climbed over it, and started dismantling the fence. I just happened to notice this as I was working on the computer in my study, glimpsing movement and hearing men’s voices just outside. I rushed to the living room door, threw it open, and demanded what they were doing.

“We’re going to put in two sewer pipes just on either side of the garden,” they replied, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world and what was I making such a fuss about?

“You’re going to what? Who are you and what right do you have to just walk into my garden unannounced?”

“We’re working for [some organization I had no clue about… I just assumed it was my ever insensitive landlord]. We were told to come here and put the pipes in.”

Sputtering with indignation I nearly shouted, “You don’t just come barging into my home and start doing construction work! You contact me first and make an appointment! You have no right to invade my privacy like that!”

They just looked at me as if I was another one of those insane foreigners, an altogether far too common attitude among Japanese. One of them, carrying a shovel, stomped over my rosemary bushes and brushed past me, ignoring the glare I gave him. He bent down, lifted away my compost pile, and tossed it over the other end of the fence. He started digging.

The thing is that my Japanese is just not good enough to handle such unfamiliar legal situations, especially when I am so hopping mad that I can barely get my English out. I didn’t know what to do. What were the proper social expectations here, since people’s ideas of privacy and acceptable behavior are so different from America and other places? If it was my landlord who was responsible for this, how could I keep my advantage as a tenant and whom could I turn to if something illegal had been committed?

Being unsure I let the men go about their business and called my landlord. He knew nothing about it and told me he would look into it, saying that it was probably the ward office, putting in public utilities.

“Yes, but without contacting me about it?” I asked.

“They were wrong to do that,” he admitted.

I had to go to work so I didn’t have time to stay around to see what the men were up to. When I returned I found the fence replaced, but two huge white concrete manholes planted in either side of my 2 meter by 8 meter garden. My rosemary had been ripped out of the ground, one of my zelkova saplings chopped down, all the plants on the ground tromped over, my shiitake mushroom seeder log left exposed to the sky, and my planter shelf upended at one end of the garden.

Something broke inside me. I stood gazing at all of this and for a moment I hated Japan and all Japanese. I just had enough. All the unending construction around my house for four years straight, with almost no days of peace, all the unfriendliness of the neighbors and their inconsiderate banging and conversing very loudly in front of my bedroom window at five in the morning and things like flooding my apartment with washing machine overflow from upstairs and not even coming down to apologize, all the monotonous attitudes and predictable behavior and obsessive concern with things cute and public propriety and staying within the lines on the notebook pages, all the times I’d been cheated by partners in my freelance work, while being subjected to racial disdain…aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! I felt like destroying someone else’s home!

Then it all collapsed into sadness and a kind of exhausted numbness. I’ve had enough of fighting and finding fault and using my mind and heart to shore up defenses and attacks. I’ve had enough of war of any sort.

In the light of day I stood outside gazing at the garden again today. All I could think was I had to leave. Soon. Find some way to make enough money to finally pull away from here. The avocado tree stood at one end of the garden, the remaining zelkova sapling at the other and I wondered how I would be able to keep them safe, bring them with me. But I couldn’t of course. They would have to take their chances in this garden of changes that has erupted around them since I planted them five years ago. I wish now that I hadn’t planted them; what a waste of hope and love and life.

What do you do when you try so hard to nurture serenity in your life and little things like this keep cropping up to challenge what you love? I know I’ve been pulling away more and more into my shell of a life, meeting people less, becoming reclusive and mistrusting, so I wonder if this is the banging on the door that I really need to get my attention and start engaging life headlong again. When did I ever become so fearful? Nothing scared me so much when I was younger. Change had always been a welcome development, a chance to breathe fresh air, meet new people, and reinvent myself. Just how do trees do it, lasting through the ages, looking on at all the familiar things being ripped up, and never once wincing? They surely must have more forgiving eyes than I do.

America: Society Iraq War Journal Musings

The Ugly Little Man in the Closet

American tortureI had to remind myself today why it is that Bush cuts so deeply into my soul. It felt as if I had almost forgotten. The zoetrope of news images, flickering by so quickly that one outrage blends into another cause the colors to mash into a sickly brown that no longer has any distinction. If you look back on the last four years, though, you have to ask how it is possible that so many American people could have systematically and so quickly forgotten something as stark and irrefutable (yes, I know nothing is irrefutable in political spin) as the torture in Abu Ghraib. It is as if nothing happened. No one of any consequence was held accountable. Like oily slivers of rope the leaders most responsible slipped away into forgetfulness, like so many other things they slipped out of. If you are at all a decent human being and sincerely believe in all the hype about American ideals and greatness how can you possibly turn your eyes away from this, or to even let it sink into oblivion, and then smugly go ahead and vote for the people most responsible for it?

I visited The Memory Hole again and sat for a long, long time whispering prayers to myself and for the victims in the pictures. I couldn’t turn on the news for fear of being presented with those images of Bush and his wife strolling about like royalty. I wanted to be sure that I was grounded in the reality of my outrage for Bush and to keep reminding myself why I can’t loosen my grip on the armrest. So many people tell me to relax and not let these things bother me, because there is nothing I can do about it. I just wish there had been someone there to tell that to people like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Geronimo, Chief Joseph, or Aung San Suu Kyi, or even Jesus Christ.

As a non-American living far away on the other side of the world the elections were more of a sticker shock value than a potential reordering of the universe. It was sobering and enlightening to report to work earlier this evening and have not one of my Japanese co-workers so much as mention the elections. It was sobering because the true place that America has in the world and in the hearts of people around the world was made abundantly clear: America figures not much in most people’s lives and the elections were nothing more than an enormous fiasco of people blathering to themselves. My sense, in the Japanese silence, was that Americans tend to take themselves entirely too seriously, raising themselves upon media pedestals all out of proportion to the honest reception that most people in the world are willing to give them. “Yeah? So what is new,” could have been the reaction here. It was simply perplexing to see this glittering pageant, like some kind of coronation, over-running the airwaves. Let no one say that the Americans have abandoned the monarchy or subservience to the overlord.

Perhaps it is the very desire to find conflict in every little discussion or statement that twirls Americans around with such contention. Even blogs, like this one, seem to survive on contrasts, and little stories behind the back. The entire Bush strategy resides within a bubble of inflated fear and controversy. In this climate it will always remain impossible for communities to flourish and nurture one another, or for diversity to strew an odd mix of seeds among the roots.

Let no one forget Abu Ghraib. Let no one render it merely an anecdote or a behavioral anomaly. When you find yourself wavering in the effort to nurture peace and understanding, or grow weary of the unrelenting madness of Bush, go back to the pictures of the tortures and remember how it all started. That should jump start the old cables and fire up that engine again.