A spiritual homecoming in December

Wednesday, January 02 2013 @ 08:49 AM JST

Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto

Flowers of camellia japonica are blooming
in my neighborhood with an air of Asian
When I defined my post-retirement project as a "taboo-free web journal," not a few people seemed impressed. They said it was cool. But none of them knew what was cool about breaking taboos. To begin with, they couldn't tell what taboos really are.

By definition, any issue you haven't addressed seriously before is taboo; and any conspiracy that's been "revealed" over and over by self-proclaimed truth-seekers is not.

I knew from the beginning that my blog would become one of the most unpleasant websites around because most taboo issues I would discuss there would be disheartening ones such as our mortality and the emptiness of our lives.

On the contrary, I wasn't really prepared for people's response when it came to potentially exhilarating subjects, such as my proposition about a new sociopolitical model. Only seven "specimens" gave me feedback, online or offline, direct or indirect, from the U.S., Japan and South Korea. I was really shocked to find that with a couple of exceptions, all they gave me were the same old non sequituri (the plural form of non sequitur) or casual by-the-ways. This is an unmistakable sign that in the U.S., and in other countries to a lesser degree, taboo-ridden people have armed themselves with fake ideologies out of fear of change.

Now I belatedly realized that I had been wasting the limited amount of time left for me with the wrong people. I'd intended to give a finishing touch to my entire life. But actually I was spoiling it altogether.

It took me a solid couple of weeks until the panic attack resulting from the nightmarish experience more or less subsided.

As I wrote in the post in question here, ideologies are nothing more than the cinders from the past revolution or war. In the last century, the American people and their government have been scavenging for reusable ideologies along with worn-out religious beliefs with which to conquer the rest of the world.

Guess what, Americans today know only two ideologies. One is to serve the purposes of busybodies as the pretext for intervention in the lives of their fellow citizens and the domestic affairs of foreign countries. The other one serves the purposes of crybabies as the alibi for their inaction against "morally obscene and financially unsustainable" interventionism on the part of their government. In short, these change-phobic people take it for granted that ideologies are the world currency.

Totally fed up with these warm-headed and cold-hearted prisoners of ideologies in the U.S., I came to the conclusion that if I wanted to keep my positive attitude toward life until I go to the other side of heaven, the only thing I would have to do was to get back in close touch with my fellow Northeast Asians. These earthly people may not be ideologically savvy by American standards, but most of them are still equipped with an unclouded wisdom inherent to this part of the world. Don't take me wrong, however. I'm not talking about these Oriental rubbish invented by Hollywood.

My utmost respect especially goes to the Chinese, who are flexible enough to mix up seemingly incongruous ideologies such as Maoism and capitalism, or the solar calendar with the lunar calendar or even the ancient Mayan Calendar. More importantly, they have kept their traditional principles intact all along, unlike the Japanese whose unprincipled way of importing foreign things and ideas has resulted in a "cultural salad" by now.

From my point of view, the beauty of mixing with Northeast Asians lies primarily with the fact that they don't have to be reminded of our mortality and the emptiness of our lives every time we discuss issues. As a result, I can pass as one of the most pleasant persons to be with even in this holiday season.

The Japanese are quite different from other tribes. This archipelago is the cultural crossroad where the East has met the West in the weirdest and the most unfortunate way. The Americans have always been able to expect them to remain the second-class citizens of their evil Empire.

This, however, is not to say the Japanese are all yellow Yankees. Some of them, if not many, still keep the traditional Asian virtues intact, especially in mountainous farmlands and remote islands. When American ideologues talk about the Japanese people, it's just a word that represents faceless vassals and serfs in their Far Eastern fiefdom. But to me, they are all faces I've known in the last 77 years.

Even as for the Japanese living in urban areas, I'm reasonably comfortable talking to them because most of the time we can resonate with each other much more congenially than when I discuss ideologies with the American people.

For one thing, these Manga-loving people never ridicule me as an opium addict when I talk about a brand new sociopolitical model, even though I can't expect them to grasp my argument either in political or technological context. They pay due respect for my proposition simply because they know nothing new comes out of the manifestation of delusions under the guise of an ideology.

They would say: "Maybe it's a pipe-dream. But what's wrong with dreaming? Is there anything more real and creative than wild imagination?"

Lara and part of me
at Bonenkai

My neighbor Lara, Chen Tien-shi is an ethnological researcher specializing in such issues as statelessness and the Chinese Diaspora. At the same time, she is a dedicated activist who has set up an NPO named "Stateless Network." Aside from the unparalleled intelligence that allows her to address these issues in all their complexity and subtlety, Lara has a very pleasant personality and an excellent eyesight.

One afternoon in early December, I walked past the Chinese restaurant owned by her parents. As usual she spotted me before I spotted her. She left her computer in the farthest corner of the shop, waving her hand at me as high as if she were a little girl who found her father in the crowd. She rushed out to say: "Can I expect you to attend the annual meeting of the Network?" I said, "I'm afraid not. I was just thinking about sending a proxy statement to the secretariat." "Then why don't you join us in our Bonenkai that follows the annual meeting?"

Bonenkai, literally translated as a forget-the-year party, actually refers to any get-together people have at this time of the year. I hesitated to answer in the affirmative because I wasn't sure if I could socialize nicely with other members of the group. Then I remembered I was badly in need of mixing with ordinary Asians even though most of them are typical Japanese.

Back home, I rehearsed myself for our empty conversation like this:

Me: "Ms. So-and-So, what do you do, I mean, for a living?"
Ms. So-and-So: "I'm a school teacher."
Me: "Oh, is that so?"
Ms. So-and-So: "What about you, Mister ...?"
Me: "Yamamoto is my name. I'm jobless."
Ms. So-and-So: "!!??"
Me: "By the way, this mapo tofu is very nice. Don't you think?"
Ms. So-and-So: "Indeed it is"

Now I was sure it would be a cinch to express my opinions on the matters that I can't really relate myself to if I didn't forget the killer phrase. In the past I've practiced a lot with my American audience on when to say, "By the way."

Actually at the Bonenkai, everyone was asked to introduce himself/herself.

When it was my turn to give a self-introduction, I said: "Actually all I have to tell you about myself is that I am the oldest member of the group." Lara quickly cut in. "You are wrong, Mr. Yamamoto." "Who is older than I?" She said, "My father is 90 although he had to skip this gathering for some reason." I said: "Thank you for correcting me, Lara. I'm the second oldest." I went on: "It seems to me there are at least 7 or 8 people among you guys who have Japanese nationality, either acquired or given at birth jus soli or jus sanguinis. Now I want to ask you a small question: 'Do you know what's going on here on this Sunday?'" Nobody but Lara could answer my question.

Lara grinned and said as if to cover for her stupid classmates: "GENERAL ELECTION!" "You bet it is. I just wanted to remind you that Article 15 of the Constitution guarantees 'universal adult suffrage.' You should never fail to cast your ballot. I hear the polling stations are open until 8 PM. For my part, the last time I exercised my voting right was soon after I reached my voting age 57 years ago. But it's a different story."

At that moment, Lara raised her hand to ask me something which sounded like a planted question: "Mr. Yamamoto, why don't you vote yourself?" "Thanks for asking. I don't vote because I'm a de facto stateless person."

NOTE: Later in the day, the election officials announced the voter turnout was a record low 59.32%.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees classifies the stateless into two categories, de jure and de facto, as if it were someone's responsibility to distinguish them from one group to the other. Based on the pointless definitions, UNHCR has been aiming at reducing the stateless population by promoting its 1967 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons as if they were pests.

Unlike their leader Lara, the predominantly Japanese members of Stateless Network are all gullible enough to blindly swallow UNHCR's dogmas which are, in fact, the worst possible combination of two ideologies, one for busybodies and the other for crybabies. They all believe they are supposed to carry out a lofty mission of helping the stateless persons around the world acquire second-class citizenship of the respective nation-states, as if nationalities were alms from heaven.

But thanks to my friend Lara, now I have learned that these local folks, who are cool-headed and warm-hearted relative to the Westerners I know, can help me avoid another midnight fright and recover some sense of reality.

Around the same time, I even resorted to temporarily un-disowning my elder son.

It was just an emergency measure. For 77 years by now, I've lived my life in my own way, always looking for something to live for. Some Americans seem to think I should suffer the consequence. I couldn't care less. But it's a different story when it comes to my own offspring. Who could accept it when your biological son thinks you deserve all this "punishment"?

I just said to him, "Why don't we have small talk over sukiyaki dinner?" He complied right away because there was no particular reason to decline. Since I took a precaution to avoid touchy topics, we just talked this and that about musical instruments (he is a baritone sax player) and the computer.

Earlier in the month, he had invited me to his concert that would be held at a decent hall located at the edge of Yokohama city. I would never have attended it if it hadn't been given jointly with a group of professional jazz musicians who call themselves "Glenn Miller Sound Orchestra."

True, it was fake, but since Japan's top-notch jazz men replicated the Glenn Miller Orchestra (1938-42) to every detail, not only repertory- and arrangement-wise but also presentation style-wise, e.g. two vocalists stayed sitting around on stage even when an instrumental number was being played, I found their performance even more impressive than the real one I can hear only on YouTube.

A schmaltzy old man though I may sound, I was deeply touched when the female singer started to sing:

Why do robins sing in December,
Long before the springtime is due?
And even though it's snowing,
Violets are growing,
I know why and so do you

These danceable tunes from the Big Band Era (1935-55) always bring back the memories of fine moments. One year after the Tokyo Olympics, I was briefly living with a former Miss Hokkaido as her live-in boyfriend in a fancy apartment located near the Olympic Stadium. To me she looked to be outshining Monica Vitti starring in the 1962 Italian film "The Eclipse." We spent a night at a Yokohama nightclub named "Moonlight." In the predawn hours. we were alone on the dance floor. Filipino musicians were playing Frankie Carle's "Sunrise Serenade" for us.

Whenever I recall those good old days, I say to myself: "Who could have asked for anything more?"

And also in December I didn't forget to ask for the company of DK, who helped me out of the first round of financial crisis when the tax-collectors at City Hall robbed me of 30% of my pension annuity. Without his aid which totaled 700K yen over the 9-month period from October 2011, I would have been sunk a long time ago. Since then I've been feeling as if I were a composer of classical music who failed to produce a masterpiece to reciprocate the patronage by a music-loving royalty. But he readily booked himself for a dinner together. He gave me a fine treat at a nearby Korean restaurant. Among other things, I loved the braised pork cheek meat served there.

DK isn't a college graduate, but unlike my uneducated sons, he can talk about a wide range of topics from languages, to religions, to literature and to technologies. As always he footed the bill knowing I'm now going through the second round of the constitutional/extralegal battle. When we left the Korean restaurant, he stopped a taxi for me at the sidewalk filled with December festivity and casually handed me two thousand-yen bills for the taxi fare.

Over the yearend, I also owed heartfelt thanks to two doctors, especially the selfless dentist. On New Year's Eve, my decayed tooth started aching intolerably. I knew that in this weird country, all doctors and dentists would close their clinics between December 28 or 29 through January 3 or 4, as if it's prohibited to fall ill during this period. So I sent a mail to the dental practitioner just to ask when he will resume his business. Quite unexpectedly his reply mail hit my in-box in the wee hours of January 1. It said, "I plan to resume business on the 4th, but I don't think you can wait that long. You can come to see me this afternoon." And the dentist in causal attire gave me an emergency treatment and prescription. When I said, "I want you to issue me a bill this time around," he said, "Oh, no, Mr. Yamamoto. It's a New Year's gift from me."

My physical and financial crisis is still far from over. But now that I resumed close contact with some local folks, I think I can prevent myself from being psychologically alienated any further from real life.

This is not to say, however, I have changed my plan to cross the Styx all by myself.

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