Tuesday, August 11, 2015

New Blog Address

From now on, you can find post on my blog about New York City through this link, http://borrowingmanhattan.blogspot.com

Thank you to all who have read Land of Tomorrow.  It has meant a great deal to me.  

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The End and New Beginning

It's time for this blog to come to a close.  I'm simply not in Japan anymore, not in the Land of Tomorrow.  It's not that all of me has left, nor that there is none of me left in it.  I think both are true and likely will be for many years, if not for the rest of my life.  But being in America, again, I find that so many aspects of living seem different.  The context is no longer that of Japan.  My body moves more freely and creatively, my posture has more options, and I feel as though my face goes through more expressions, and my hands more gestures as I interact with and notice all the people around me.  

And the same seems to be true of these people.  I'm in New York City.  It is the next chapter of life and there seems to be no limit to the possibilities of human expression.  There are so many different accents, so many different clothing styles, ways of walking, topics of conversations.  And nobody seems to notice anyone around them.  There is no need to do so when there is no goal of fitting in or assessing oneself based on others, at least not in public circles.  To my early eyes, people seem brusk and to the point, but also quite accommodating and non-judgmental given the diversity of people with whom they must live.  No need to be friends, and no need to be enemies.  Everyone is just living together.

I was relaying to a friend a sentiment that I read of General MacArthur's regarding the Japanese people as he facilitated the post-war restructuring of Japan: that they are like children.  To my western eyes I can see what aspects of childhood MacArthur might have seen when he said this.  There is an innocence in the trust and collective spirit of Japan that we in the west seem to equate with childhood.  I see and feel this strongly in the contrast between Japan and New York City.  In the west I think there is an expectation in adulthood that you have strong values and convictions and that you assert them to others and live strongly by them.  And also that you take care of yourself, learn how to look after yourself in a world of, perhaps, less-than-trustworthy individuals.  But my friend suggested that there is also something very mature in the ability to express a collective spirit, to know oneself well enough and be willing to accommodate others, that part of growing up and adulthood is learning to work together, and that to Japan, westerners might also seem like children in our self-entitlement and belief in the absolute truth of our thoughts and emotions.  There are many aspects of childhood and many aspects of adulthood, and probably a great deal that both cultures can learn from one another about the balance of the ideas of individuation and communcal spirit as leaders for a collective good for every person.

I'm looking forward to this next chapter.  Last night I revelled in jet lag as I walked around the dark rooms of our Manhattan apartment, feet on polished wood floors, the ceiling high above me and the windows that connect them filled with the walls of apartments, windows with fans and air conditioners, the sky impossible, surrounded by people in a way I'd never imagined, surrounded by possibilities.  I imagined the air filled with snow, the crisp inhale of winter.  It seems that most people only live in New York for a short period of time.  Maybe it's a year or two, maybe ten or fifteen.  But it seems there are few lifetime New Yorkers.  Most people seem to be making something of and out of this city. Perhaps I'm wrong about that, but it is certainly a description of my projected existence here.  It will be fast, floating, just like Japan.

It still seems so magical to me.  Just as I was reopening my eyes upon leaving Japan, I find them in a ready state to take in New York.  The buildings seems miraculous with their decorated facades, the trees seem strong and hearty in their triumph over the cement and exhaust, the mannerisms of people tell so many stories and beg so many questions, the resources seem endless.  I'm ready and open to take it all in.  But just as I recently reflected on the familiarization that accrued in even the unbelievable land of Japan, so too am I aware that this will become home in the coming months.  And I want to watch it, to savor it as best I can, to see what can be learned, especially in the aftermath of such a different world.  

So as I end this blog, I will be beginning another one called "Borrowing Manhattan."  It will only be a short time that I'm here, about the same amount that I experienced in the Land of Tomorrow.  I'm still not home, and still wanting to take in as much of this incredible world while I'm here.  

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

New York Beginnings

My transition to America begins in New York, a city similar in population density, and yet very, very different from Japan.  There are still seas of people in the subway stations and exchanges, yet this sea is one of pushing and pulling currents.  Everyone is so much much larger, their steps are so much stronger, their volition so much more assured.  There are garbage cans everywhere and yet still so much litter.   We walked and walked today.  Thirty blocks north to get some furniture, 90 blocks south for an adventure.  We stopped in a Hungarian bakery, got some free lemonade from a lemonade stand closing down, went through Central Park, and Hell's Kitchen, and Chelsea and along the Highline which walks above the streets.  We then descended to an Italian restaurant which claimed to have the best brick-oven pizza in New York.  Well, why would we go anywhere else?

Everyone is so different here that, as my mother put it, there is no point of reference for judgement.  In my Tae Kwon Do practice in Riverside Park this morning there were many friendly dogs and apologetic owners but no one cared at all that I was there.  Everyone seems focused on themselves.

photo bombing at St. John the Divine

walk along Central Park West

Columbus Circle

cranes rising 

"New Yorker"

Layers of the City

train tracks


Group effort lego project


23rd Street

I will be traveling to various points in the states in the coming months before finally settling in this incredible city.  I've yet to determine how to frame the coming experience of living here.  What will this come to mean, how will Japan frame what I see and how I respond?  This is a new chapter and the context is still unclear.  Hopefully in the next few days I will come to an understanding of how I might represent this return to America as it fades into a newly defined life.

I remember before I moved to Japan that a friend asked me to reflect on the reasons I was going so that I could reference them in times of challenge.  And perhaps now is another chance to reflect on the why of the next chapter.  It is still so undefined.  Perhaps in the next month something will start to form as I shake of the jetlag and awaken in America a little more fully.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


It was a frenzied morning at the airport to leave Japan.  But I suppose I won't have much more occasion to better adhere to my rule of arriving at the check-in 2 1/2 hours before an international flight with a cello.  I stood at the counter for about 40 minute while the staff worked to get my boarding passes figured.  At one point there were five people behind the counter, on the phone, with clipboards flipping through manuals.  I wish someone could tell me a universal procedure to help the process.  I go through this so many times and for the majority of airline workers, this is their first time dealing with a cello.

It I finished with the check-in around 8:25, 35 minutes before departure.  Close enough that a long security line could pose a problem.  I asked them about it and they agreed and had me go through an expedited lane.  I was still in the cradle of trusting that everything would be ok until on the other side of the scanner, the security staff said they would have to check my small luggage.  And then I realized to my horror that the hand-crafted Kyoto knives were in there.  And to airport security, they are not a souvenir, they are not a gift.  They are a weapon.  And now they are gone.  

If there had been more time, I might have been able to go back out of security and mail them.  If I were coming back to Japan, I might have been able to pick them on my return, if I had a friend in the lobby, I might have been able to call them and pass them back.  But there was no time.  I pleaded with security, not that they should allow me to take them, but to help in some way with a solution.  But there was simply no time.  I was in a time deficit and risked missing my plane as it was.  "Give it up," the man said, several times.  It was a hard thing to give up.

I went down the escalator and found long lines for immigration.  I waited.  8:35, 8:40...  I got to the counter and the man asked for my resident card.  Thinking I hadn't gotten back from the check-in (I didn't recall receiving it and had been told it would be taken from me) I tried to explain I didn't have it.  A phone call, the side office, "Please have a seat," 8:45.  And then I double checked and it was there! 

I gave it to him, had to fill out a quick form, he worked at the computer, 8:48, handed me my passport and my punched invalidated resident card, and I ran ran ran.  The signage saying that gates 26-41 were just to the right of immigration actually meant there was a shuttle to them.  8:50.  I jumped in past a confused woman standing outside the door and waited waited waited for the shuttle doors to close.  

We teetered and creeped to the next stop and I jumped out at 8:52 and started down the stairs, seeing a beam of light at the bottom holding a sign with my flight number.  I ran past her through the corridors to gate 39, 8:54.

I found my seat at the back of the airplane, stowed my security-approved luggage and sat down, hot, shaken, and still upset at having made such a careless, regrettable, and irreversible mistake.  What was I thinking?  I sat there processing my emotions, thinking through the loss, acknowledging my feeling of stupidity and with that the feeling of entitlement for being flawless.  What a feeling it is to lose something you hadn't realized you had.  

And then I looked out the window.  And I realized I was about to leave Japan.  I realized I had just lost my residence status there.  This was where my mind had been when it wasn't thinking through packing clearly.  And now that it was focused on the loss of this material thing that really had no personal value to me, it was distracted from another very real separation that was unfolding at that very minute.  

The stress of the acute loss is still with me.  I keep replaying that feeling of dread at the security line over and over again.  It is an easy sort of loss to fixate upon.  A clear having and a sudden not-having. But the loss of Japan still hasn't hit me.  I no longer live there.  It is no longer my home.  And it is no longer a place from which I can miss my home of America.  There are so many things in Japan.  In the place, in the people, in the history, in the word itself.  My point of reference for the past three years is gone and as I sit in this airplane in the sky, I've yet to touch down upon another one.  

It is difficult to give up something.  I wish I had just thanked the security personnel for whatever help they could give and moved on, but I could not yet relinquish my ownership.  It was mine only a few minutes ago.  Mine.  But I'm not entitled to anything.  Japan was never my home.  I only borrowed it with kind permission for three years, and the knives have become a piece of that.  I can understand what I've lost materially in the last 24 hours, but I don't think I have any real idea of what I'm leaving.  

What is of value to us?  Why?  How do we watch over it?  What does it mean to lose it?  I already miss Japan, and yet somehow wonder if I will ever comprehend its meaning, its significance, or the loss of it.   

Monday, August 3, 2015

Hotel Nikko Kansai Airport

Here I am.  Back at the Kansai airport hotel.  Slightly less than three years ago today I was marveling at the Teachings of Buddha in place of the bible.  I had figured out the kanji for "day."  I was beginning this blog.

Where am I?  Have I traveled anywhere since then?

After my housing check-out (the culmination of lots of organizing, careful garbage planning, helpful friends, strategic packing, and lots and lots and lots of cleaning) the women from the office asked what I would do next.  I said I was taking a bus to Nishinomiya to get my cello before busing to the airport.  They looked at my two large suitcases and smaller one and backpack and bow case and offered to give me a ride.  But they had another housing check-out to do and it would be about an hour-and-a-half before we could go.  Fine by me.  So I got some lunch and ate off my incredibly clean floor while I stared at the empty rooms.  And then I did one of my favorite things to do: lie on my tatami floor and stare out the window.

I remembered the first time I did this three years ago, while I waited for the same people to come help me with my internet connection.  Then as now, I was taken with the apartment, and with the tatami room in particular.  Looking at the thick summer sky I felt incredible gratitude to begin this next adventure.  Gratitude for the teachers that had helped me deserve this, gratitude for the organization that made it possible.

And today it was the same.  Only this gratitude was for Japan.  For all the people that I've met here, for all the kindness that has been shown to me, for the opportunity to have had this incredible experience.

The women that drove me back to Nishinomiya were actually so nice that they allowed me to keep my luggage in the car while I stopped in the mall to make one last purchase, and then joined them at HPAC to pick up my cello.  I stuck my head in the office to say goodbye before we went back to the car and everyone got up from their desks, gave me a hug and then walked to the entrance of the lounge where they did a familiar wave-until-out-of-sight sendoff.  The two women drove me to the bus stop and pulled all my luggage out of the car for me while I bought my ticket.  And then they parked the car and hugged me and waved goodbye as I boarded.

If I were blind to any other indiction, it would seem that I have a family here.  But when will I see them again?  Can I make an assumption about connection and commitment like I can do with my own biological family?  What makes a family a family?  What makes something familiar?  How can we learn to trust?  Does it matter that I may never see my Japanese friends again?  Does it matter that we have completed our exchanges of giving and receiving?

This has been a forgivingly slow transition home.  It has been a long process of sifting through the apartment to return it to the beginning.  There have been several "last" concerts (last subscription, last opera, last last), and last rehearsals.  Several final social gatherings, final classes, and farewells.  Last night there was a going away party and then another going away party.  There were many times to say goodbye.  Many times to reflect on the swift end as it has been coming.

And today I merely left Akuradanchi and Takarazuka, not yet Japan.  I did Tae Kwon Do at the river one last time with a brave soul who tried for the first time with a 6:30am workout after a late night of partying.  It was a pleasure to share the morning air with her.  And a last farewell to the apartment, and to HPAC (again) and to the Nishinomiya Gardens shopping mall, and the bus ride over the symbolic bridges to the airport.  And yet I still have one last night in Japan.  Still 14 hours of being in this country, surrounded by this culture which seems more and more familiar to me.  More and more like family.

It's taken a long time to get here, but did I ever arrive?  And now it's time to go back.  Now is the time.  Tomorrow morning will be the last last.

Sunday, August 2, 2015


It's almost 2am.  This day is much longer than usual and the night will follow suit.

This was the last time to walk on the stage at HPAC.  And the last time to stare out at a full audience of Japanese faces, a sight that has become so familiar to me over the past three years, like a friend. I wonder if any feel the same way about me.  We are so anonymous to one another, and yet so familiar.  Familiar.

Afterwards, one of them whom I had briefly met on the train one night and then subsequently at another concert, but not seen for two years, managed to send a bass player after me to bring me back to the stage, to meet him at the edge of a dwindling audience heading for their trains.  He wanted to say goodbye.

I had been crying.  As musicians we learn to control the fire with which we work.  Audience members may become caught up in a moment, but if we are to do so entirely, we might lose it and all it's worth.  It's a difficult balancing act to perform, to be within and without at once.  But sometimes, one permits it.  And today I did.

I don't know what it means to be good.  I don't know what goodness is, but sometimes I feel like I can touch it, and today was one of those moments.  There is something so good about playing with other people.  And something so sad about not seeing it.  I feel a little like I am dying and realizing how much I love to live, wishing I had the clarity to see all that I love so much.

And yet it is time to go.  There is something else waiting for me.

Tomorrow morning I will say goodbye to the river, goodbye to my apartment, to Akuradanchi, to Takarazuka.  And after one more night, goodbye to Japan.  The folds are closing, bit by bit.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Nodame Concerts and Audiences

One Nodame concert completed, one more to go tomorrow.  This is a very interesting concert premise to me.  Based on an anime series about conservatory music students, this concert features some of the major pieces that are featured in the series, along with sketches projected on a back screen.  It also serves as an adult Wakuwaku concert with a fair amount of talking by the conductor.  We play some excerpts from the pieces and alter them to see if the audience can spot the difference.  The conductor speaks with the soloists after they perform, and whenever there is a solo in the orchestra, the instrument and player's name are projected on the screen, sort of like when someone makes a great play in sports.  At the end of the concert, as we play the encore, credits roll along with pictures that were taken of us during the orchestra rehearsals.

It's an interesting idea for making orchestral concerts more accessible.  We do play entire works.  But things are broken down a little more and personalized a little further as well.  It's cool that classical music can be the basis for an anime series in Japan and great that such a concert (two of them) can sell out for it.  I wonder if such a thing would be possible in America.  It's the golden egg to figure out how to sell out orchestral concerts in America, and it happens without fail here.  Just trying to take note.  Perhaps there is something deeper than anime to answer why there is such an appreciation for classical music in Japan.  Whatever the reason, I appreciate this appreciation.  Many thanks to all the people who listen.