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East to West: All Change

October 22, 2012

By Angela Jeffs

Not so long ago, Matsumoto-san carried my favourite  chair – a Morris copy, and a good one at that – out of our house, loaded it into his car, and backed off down the drive.

He must have seen the look on my face, because he called back out of the window, “If you get lonely (for the chair), look at the pictures (photos I had taken prior to his arrival).”

I did not feel comforted.

To explain, we are clearing our home of ten years here in Zushi, and I am dismantling the life in Japan I have created over the past 26 years. In the light of what happened on and after 3/11 last year, of course, it is nothing – no thing – of serious consequence. Far far worse happened. So many lost homes, businesses, friends, family members and relatives…

But still it is difficult.

Difficult because of our attachment to things. Correction: because of MY attachment to things.

And yet I know I am far less attached than I used to be. Raising my children through the 1960s and 70s into the early ’80s, I had a lot to feel insecure about. So first I worked like a dog to put down the deposit on a house, and then I worked equally doggedly to make the monthly payments on the mortgage.

I bought a lot of other things to try and help me feel more secure, more in control:  a car; antiques (not for investment but because I fell in love with each and every piece); pictures (I hesitate to call it art); a lot of “stuff”.

But then these insecure material foundations upon which my life was built crumbled and dissolved and I found myself adrift.

A year later a lifebelt floated by with Made in Japan printed on the side, and while holding on to with one hand, I used the other to disassemble my home, quite ruthlessly getting rid of much that it contained, and traveled half across the globe to start again, reinvent myself.

On 3/11 last year, after 25 years of living under the enchanted spell of this culturally rich but deeply conflicted country, once again foundations crumbled…

The nuclear foundations upon which Japan’s energy policy was constructed.

The political foundations on which Japan had placed its faith, but which in  the face of disaster displayed a hundred thousand facets of ignorance, ineptitude, self-serving corruption and deceit.

The cultural foundations, in part embedded in rule-books and ritual, together with a sub-consciously rooted aesthetic appreciation of death that allowed teachers to take children down into the path of the tsunami rather than up a hill and away from it.

Japan had also forgotten that even the most deep-rooted tree will topple at some point, either shaken by the wind or washed away, or simply because having passed its prime, it weakens over the years.

Contemporary Japanese systems and the society they created and generated reached their zenith in the 1990s. It has been downhill ever since, though most people – and I include myself here – chose to pretend that all was well and the last freefalling decade a mere hiccup.

We were wrong.

I am fortunate in that I have options. My Japanese husband says he is equally lucky because he can share these options. But most Japanese have no choice. They suffer so gallantly in large part because they know they have no-where else to go. All they can do in circumstances that would test most people in the developed world to the extreme limit  is literally get up, dust themselves down and start all over again.

That’s what we are doing. But not here.

And before any criticism kicks in, we have all number of considerations. It’s not just the state of the reactors and continuing tremors. There is our age… certain doors to employment closing (but hopefully others opening). The disconcerting fact that all our assets are in the UK and any transfer right now would be exceedingly costly due to the exchange rate. There is also my sole remaining elderly relative with whom I want to spend time, and at 98 she may not have that much longer to share.

Basically our period of transition between 3/11 and now is over, and we have decided to make a move. A new transitional phase awaits… the countdown to leaving, traveling and arriving in a new place.

It’s time to start over again. Again.

(Angela will be reporting monthly from Scotland)


About the author: After training in theatre and Laban dance, Angela Jeffs stepped sideways into London publishing. She worked freelance as an editor from 1973, then reinvented herself in Japan as a journalist and writer from 1986. She was a weekly columnist for The Japan Times for 22 years, and Japan Correspondent for Asia Magazine in Hong Kong from 1989-1996. Her book Insider's Tokyo, commissioned from Singapore, was published in 2001. Since 2005 she has been developing and facilitating a programme of therapeutic creative writing under the title Drawing on The Writer Within ( Her first eBook, Chasing Shooting Stars, will be published this autumn.
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