Thursday, October 7, 2010

How I'm spending my 10th year in Japan.

I read somewhere that Dan Brown spent nine years researching and writing The DaVinci Code. Nine years! For all the research and writing. Dan, you shameless slacker. I've devoted an entire nine years just to the researching of the various shades of mystery comprising the cultural anomaly known to most outsiders as Japan. (Those of us who live here tend to use the more accurate term ‘This F+++ing Place.’) Only now do I feel the time is right to nail down and expose in words the secrets imbued in this silly society.

It's true I've paused now and again to offer my sometimes witty and always superficial insights into my adopted home – an underdeveloped habit which by all evidence has kept both people who have been reading my stuff irascibly satiated if not outwardly hostile. But beyond my early, impetuous mass emails to the folks back home and my recent and impossibly ungraceful back flip into the blogosphere (and, if my memory is correct, a sake-induced letter-writing frenzy somewhere in the middle there) I've managed to keep my trite perceptions to a blessed minimum. Today, however, I decided this had to change. I'm not sure who would want to follow me through a year of unraveling life in small-town Japan, but why let that stop me? I've traveled alone before.

I've been meaning to do this since those first few days and weeks here in Zipang, when everything was fresh, new and exciting – like the sight of a pair of a drunken salarymen on stolen bicycles, clattering wire baskets and aluminum fenders, rumbling over the bumpy yellow blind people strips in the sidewalk, flying at me like two human knuckleballs (this all makes sense once you've experienced it, trust me). But just like assigning my students homework and filing my income taxes, week after week and year after year writing it all down was something I just never quite got around to.

True to rational form, I get to it in the midst of a wild bout of jet-lag.

They say by and large people are driven to act not by the potential for gain but by the fear of loss. And it is the prospect of leaving Japan, the ever more tangible sense that my time here is running short, that spurs me on to this year-long endeavor. (It was also the idea of maybe moving back stateside that put me back in touch with Uncle Sam after seven years.) (I'm still leaning toward Europe though.) I've got no schedule set. I don't have the vaguest idea when I might find myself packing up the family and heading for the horizon. But returning to Japan yesterday, more than any other time I've returned from a place that made infinitely more sense to me, I felt the need to take a good look around me, to see and understand this f+++ing place better than I have for the last nine years.

Ironically, starting now, this may be the most uninteresting of my years here in Japan. This is not to say life will be boring with two little boys in the house, one of them just beginning to crawl and the other preparing to stomp on his fingers if he goes near his toys. But this sort of thing is the same anywhere, just with slightly different toys and health care systems. In previous years I biked over mountains and alongside oceans; taught doctors, businessmen and professors during the week and chatted with farmers and fishermen on the weekend; lived and worked in a dozen cities and partied in many more; witnessed centuries-old traditions and slept in temples twice as aged; dated a truck driver. And while much of this makes for good stories to tell (and better stories to keep secret) they comprise a disjointed tale of what it means to live in this ridiculous, amazing land.

Just what I need, another writing project to add to the pile.

If either of you is beginning to worry (or thank the Lord) that I am changing my tune here, let me add that I fully internd to continue tossing out half-witted, entirely superficial bits from time to time, about whatever I feel the world needs to know at that specific moment. But starting today – or okay, whenever the jet-lag eases – I'm going on a year-long literary walk around Japan, in search of the things I've missed these past nine years.

I hope you'll come along.

Both of you.