Mapping the Country. Saving its Soul.
No. He and I are not buddies, but I could say we are at least acquaintances. Every now and then a gentleman will come along and greet me. He'll ask me the same questions a hundred others like him ask me. And I'll give the same responses I always give every person like him who asks me. In other words, I will always be a foreign guest in Japan no matter how long I live here. And that's okay with me. I like being a guest.
Although this post is not necessarily about this person, but more of a lead up to what I want to blog about. Mr. B is what I'll call this guy. Japanese men have a refined dignity about them that they show in how they dress and how they carry themselves. Most are pleasant and polite with the occasional crazy person sitting somewhere neatly dressed. Mr. B is an alright guy to me though.
So he stands up out of his chair and opens his jacket to reveal his physically fit midriff to me. I thought I said Japanese men were dignified...? He says " look at me! I'm a picture of health and fitness. All of my life I have worked and been a model citizen in Japan. I am retired now and am collecting a pension for the rest of my life." I nod my head and slurp the last remaining Jack n Coke from the straw while making that "slrrrrrrrrp" sound at the end. I poke the ice with my straw while looking down into the glass. I glance over at him and said " And..? How exactly do you want me to respond to that comment?" The look on his face turns to befuddlement. He sits back down.
Here in Japan, the Japanese pride themselves on longevity, as you all may know, but they do not put a lot of focus on the here and the now. They work all of their best years away thinking that life is going to be better after they turn 60 and 70. They think they'll pack up and tour the world and life will be like a box of chocolates. "The best years are behind you Mr. B, " I chided back. Look. You don't know the future. It doesn't exist yet, but it's nice you made preparations for it, but what good is it if you left all the most important years behind?
He orders a 2 finger Jack n Coke. We toast and he says to me, " I come to this bar because I feel like I am entering another world. When I have a chance to use English I feel like I can live vicariously through you; like a mini vacation. I can speak English and drink American cocktails and escape my world." I retort, " but Mr. B, you are retired and have all of the pension. Most of all you are a picture of physical beauty...? Why can't you just up and go see the world right now?" I guess planning for retirement and actually carrying out those retirement dreams are different...
Mr. B, " My wife is disabled and I have to take care of her for the rest of my life with my pension. The only time I can get out of the house for a drink is when she is sleeping under heavy medication."
I was gobsmacked. His wife became ill recently and all of his retirement plans were dashed. I wonder if he remembered those precious years when they were young and free? This is what happens to a lot of pensioners. It's never like what they say about those ' Golden Years.' Mr. B's story is the reality for millions of Japanese and it's tough.
For me personally, I have learned that you have to cherish every single waking day and hour, so after arriving in Japan I decided to map the country, and to showcase the most beautiful aspects here. I don't rely on the future to bring me my golden years, they are already behind me which brings me to my topic. Back in 2008, I self-published both of my books. A big 300 page coffee table book compendium of onsen throughout 80% of Japan and a sake and food pairing guide. These books sold through Yurindo Bookstores, the second largest in Japan. Sold out in two weeks.
Even after publishing these books I continued on traveling to the far reaches of this island nation, even southern Europe, and each year became better and better. Never any problems. The breath and girth of this country is stunningly beautiful as well as its Jukujo. The term Jukujo was redefined by me over a decade ago is now mainstream in the Japanese vernacular. It could be said that I am the godfather of the genre since I am the only person to establish it as mainstream and the only person to ever write on the subject!
Act like a visitor, live like a native is the only way to really experience Japan. Visitors of today will never see nor witness the Japan I have seen. Never! I was around at a time when nudity in onsen among the sexes was normal. Now girls are scared to look at themselves naked, let alone with their own boyfriends. One of my female friends ( I have a lot of discussions with many females) about her relationship with her boyfriend. One of their trips to an onsen was to a 4-star traditional Japanese-inn. Her bf likes to ' spread the coin' and splurge on expensive accommodation, so he booked a private bath just for the two of them. She had refused to enter the private bath with him out of shame of her own body! I said, but he has seen you naked before, why would you be ashamed to be in a bath with him alone? She said... " I just couldn't. I would never do that for my boyfriend."
Times have changed here...There's no more innocence. I've grown old with the old-timers. I'm at the point now where I am teaching Japanese about Japan, and it's uncomfortable for both me and them. Literally. You'll never understand this fact. I tell you.
My point, finally, is that you need to act like a visitor, live like a native is the only way to really experience Japan. You do that by avoiding the tourist traps laid out by overzealous tourism experts. If everything is written out in English you lose a bit of the challenge and the charm of living here. Those unmarked footpaths you should take are what's important. Those tiny little bars where old-timers go is where you should go. Avoid the gaijin hunters like Mr. B. He won't forget me. Follow the path that leads to great Japanese sake, Jukujo, and onsen, I say, is the only way to experience the real Japan. The soul of Japan. In its cuisines. I can smell the fragrant shampoo in her hair(s) ;) I can see the tiny little plum blossom with a dew drop. I smell the essence of spring and the green of summer. I can feel winter's bitter kiss across my frozen cheek bones. The aromatics of Jukujo permeated through my soul.
I can see the Japanese national flag fluttering in the crisp cool breeze under a brightly lit baby blue sky. I can smell the Taiyaki, okonomiyaki, and the takoyaki, in the air. This is Japan. This is the only Japan. Now, I have to go teach Japanese how to be Japanese....sigh;)
To be continued....