Thursday, May 03, 2007


I'm not still in Japan (see my post below), so I've moved my blog to the following address:

Wondrous things await you.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

late spring

I started this blog about two and a half years ago, living in a borrowed room at a friend’s house, translating for free room and board, living on about $100 a month, rewriting essays until three or four in the morning. And now I’m sitting down to finish it, living in a borrowed room at a new friend’s house, my life stuffed into a backpack. In one week I'll be on the boat to China, not much sense in keeping a blog about not leaving Japan.

I wish I could write more, or better, about what it has meant to live here for close to five years, but I don’t know that it did mean anything. If my four years of liberal arts education in the states was spent putting the world together into discrete and simple stories, battles of justice and freedom over greed and self interest, then the last few years have been a slow dismantling of that. I’m sitting here in the late spring, having graduated from a life in Japan with a first level certification in Japanese, volumes of stories, a better sense of who I am, and a profound confusion over what kind of world we live in.

In August of 2002, the White House was scrambling for an excuse, any excuse, to invade Iraq. The nation was just entering the screaming session over American lives, Iraqi lives and the right to wage war. I had just moved to a village in the mountains of central Japan, to teach rural Japanese schoolchildren the language of America: the language of the modern world.

It would be easy to give a timeline, provide a list of places I lived, experiences I have had, but I don’t think you or I would learn much from that. I lived these four years outside the reach of television, at the most lazily catching news from the New York Times online or the tabloid ads from the train on my morning commute. When did bother to think about it, I brushed the whole thing off as the noisy clutter of the media. I refused to get the internet installed at my apartment. For close to a year I spent whole days, whole weeks, wandering Tokyo with a film camera, taking pictures and trying to figure out what I was doing, what this meant, what I wanted to see. I read books by Herman Melville, Mark Twain, and Montaigne. I bought several editions of the Best American Essays series. I renewed my work visa, twice. I wrote in this blog, but not very often.

Last year I began to get very tired. I was working limply at a desk job, every morning and evening coursing through the veins of Tokyo’s commuter rails with millions of other people. People who were born here, people

who feel the tug of this country in their bones, who see America as an abstraction, a caricature. The future, the other, the big, the liberated. Where Conan the Barbarian becomes governor and no one blinks, they’re just shocked to hear he wasn’t born in the US. When push comes to shove their fears are not my fears, I have my American burden, they have their J

apanese ennui.

We shared the life of this city Tokyo, the apocalyptic city. A city whose imaginary death has been played out thousands of times in film and television and my occasional nightmare, and whose real death has been played out twice in eighty years, in earthquakes and firebombings. It is the safest metropolis on the planet, and it feels like it is going to explode.


I was hit by three visions of doom in the past month.

The day I finished reading Jared Diamond’s Collapse the world around me looked about as sturdy as a sand castle. Twenty years ago our visions of apocalypse involved the world ending in a single nuclear blaze, mankind killed instantly in a car crash with destiny. Now it doesn’t look like we’ll have it that easy. Things look like they will be slow and painful, trapped on a globe as the elements thrash around us, rising seas and unbelievable storms.

That very night I decided to calm my mind and rent a video. After watching it, Children of Men didn’t seem like the best choice, but now it does. I spent the two hours literally gripping my knees in horror, as I watched a near future world tearing itself apart. This was the only science fiction movie I have ever seen where the future didn’t only seem plausible, it seemed like it could happen next year. Immigrants from crumbling societies scramble to get into the last remnants of peace and civilization, only to be pushed out by a police state desperately clinging to what they have. Far beyond the immigrant holding pens a government official attempts to gather and preserve Western civilizations greatest artworks, sipping red wine beside the screaming bulk of Guernica, happily oblivious to very real suffering all around him.

Also last month, an album was released by a rock band whose lead singer is exactly my age. He has also moved through twenty seven years, but somehow he has moved himself to a place where he, his wife and his friends can make music that echoes the same feelings love and terror in mine and almost makes me weep in pity. There have been all sorts of extreme reactions to The Arcade Fire’s second album Neon Bible, but for me the hardest blow was knowing that this was made by Americans almost identical to me in age and upbringing. And here they are singing songs that seem to have risen out of my unconscious.

“I don’t wanna fight in a holy war.

I don’t want the salesmen knocking on my door.

I don’t wanna live in America no more.

Cause the tide is high,

And it’s rising still,

And I don’t wanna see it out my windowsill.”

I didn’t either, but looking away hasn’t helped. It’s time for me to get out, take a look at the world, and see what needs to be done here.