With a total area of 235,000 square miles, the nation of Japan has a land mass roughly the size of Montana. Within that slender length of rock, rice and snow, which stretches out like a luxuriating cat in a 2,000-mile arc from the frozen wastes of Russia down and around the cradle of the Koreas and into the emerald tropics of Southeast Asia, live 127,433,494 people, give or take. Of those, 99.5% are native Japanese. The rest are outsiders, like me.
I arrived in Japan exactly two months ago today, a willing exile from America. Leaving behind a desk at an alternative newspaper in Charleston, SC, a white Jeep Liberty, a shorthair American calico named Tori, a Blackberry PDA, my family and seven years’ worth of friends and work colleagues, I’ve come to Fukui, Japan for a crash course in Simplifying Your Life (a pre-requisite for which may or may not be Navigating Your First Mid-Life Crisis). My token excuse for such a willfully irresponsible act was to work with an old American friend – now a married expat father here – on a multimedia internet startup he recruited me for. But the truth of the matter is that I wasn’t ready to resign myself to spending the rest of my life in my hometown, even remarkable as it is. Neither was I interested in watching my future career potential congeal into the claustrophobic, cocoonish niche of a small-town newspaper writer and editor, as much fun as that job could be at times. In short, I wanted more. Or at least the chance for more.
So here I am, a 6’2″ blond gaijin, 7,000 miles and 13 hours ahead of everyone I know, unable to find shoes that fit me, carless and cellphone-less, all contact with my former home limited to pixels, HTML, and Skype – surrounded by people who don’t speak my language and drive on the wrong side of the road and bow to each other and eat anything (and I mean anything) they pull out of the ocean, and who may also be the friendliest, most sincerely helpful human beings I’ve ever met). To the degree that I’m able to offer any insight into these strange, fascinating, perplexing, contradictory people or their country on this blog, I will. I’ll also try to provide some idea of what’s going on during my own waking hours, for those few who are inclined to care about such things. And I expect you may have to indulge the occasional fits of sentimentalism, navel-gazing and self-flagellation, as I have a history for that sort of stuff, but I promise to try to keep it to a manageable minimum. Mostly, I just hope to open up a small window into my remote corner of Japan.
Say something back once in a while, won’t you?