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East to West: Slow, Slow, Quick-Quick Slow

March 27, 2013

By Angela Jeffs

As I wrote in an e-mail this morning (as yet more snow falls to beautify the landscape and freeze our socks off), where do the days go?  What is accomplished?

There have been some hard days of late, as we move ever slowly into Spring and I angst about how little progress feels to have been made since I arrived here October last.

So many frustrations…

Frustration in trying to sort out BT telecommunication tangles – an ongoing confusion that link as many call centres in India as in the UK. My husband just finds it all just too bizarre: “I don’t see the problem.  This would, could never happen in Japan,” he starts to say… (Me also, but trying hard to catch myself so as not to get caught up in the “In Japan…” trap).

Frustration in trying to get my book published online – finally accomplished but only after two months of sleepless nights and endless expense. Now I have to promote it, but where and how to start when too cold to even think, let alone act.

Frustration in trying to get the self-same book coded for electronic readers -  also an ongoing hassle but finally getting there (maybe).

Frustration in trying to get a new blog up and running – I want to be writing not struggling with new technology, resenting websites that claim to make the process easy when they’re not, or rather are but only when you know how.

Frustration in trying to get some initial workshops set up for Proprioceptive Writing. Finding venues not such a problem, but having to find insurance cover as a teacher/facilitator is a first. Also seeking ways around fire regulations that forbid the use of candles… (I thought Japan a kindergarten society until I came here; now I appreciate just how open, tolerant and yes, adult, it could be.)

Other frustrations:  the secondhand car that may not be quite the brilliant buy I imagined (side light failing, steering wonky, a bit falling off).  The cooker hood (brand new) showering me with bits of plastic. Deer munching my newly planted bamboo…

And then there was – still is and always will be – the weather. On the same latitude at Sapporo, the snow comes and goes, comes and stays and goes, comes and stays and stays and stays… and it is very very cold.

On the plus side, Akii says he likes it here. He likes being in Nature, the three pheasants, five partridges, numerous songbirds and even a red squirrel that now regard our patch as sanctuary and turn up every morning for breakfast; the lighting of bonfires; chopping of wood; the marvelous landscape of the Lunan valley where we live and ever-changing views as we drive to tai chi class on Tuesday morning, or to buy salmon pate at the smokery in Dunkeld. He orders Japanese food from Mt Fuji, an import company in Birmingham. Work comes on a more or less regular basis from a company in Canada.  He skypes with his brother and aunt and uncle on Sunday mornings.

He doesn’t miss Japan at all, he claims.

But I do.  Understand though it’s not about missing friends, the house, my bike, temple bells, etc. All that I’m keeping under control.  No, what I miss most is a meaningful life. A life that offers balance, recognition, kudos even. Here I am without my story, and ego finds it hard to bear. We are trying to puzzle it out together, support one another, find a new way to move along together, but it’s not easy.

This is the first time since I began working part-time as a teenager that I have not had an income. The assumption of everyone I meet is that I am “retired”. Retired? I have not retired from anything. I have simply moved on, and for the moment at least am just a little bit lost. I know reinvention takes time, but so many months without any money coming in?

So many days through February into March when I just wanted to cry because progress appeared so slow. More often than not there  seemed no progress at all. Yet when I sit back and bring my new life into focus, stop comparing past and present and worrying about the lack of clarity with regards future, there clearly is movement.

Slowly, steadily, difficulties are being resolved. I have a book, for heaven’s sake, with a Kindle version on track.  My messaging service is back. I and my students are insured should the tea-lights (the compromise effected) set the building on fire. And finally, miracle of miracles - after months of slow, slow, quick-quick slow - my new website (incorporating a blog)  is due to become active on April 1st:

All the rest is simply the day-to-day stuff of a normal life anywhere.  I need to count my blessings, appreciate what I have, stand back and smile. Book another retreat, this time in May in Denmark. Send off a cheque to cover the scything course in Cumbria booked for the end of June.

Give Akii a hug and agree how fortunate we are (all things being relative) to be in such a beautiful, clean, fresh, stable and relatively safe place. Because as a friend in Tokyo noted the other day, Nowhere is wholly safe. Such is the world we have created for ourselves and those who follow.

So this is what I do: give thanks. And hear of warm days in Kanagawa and cherry blossom promising to be the best is years without a qualm.  Japan does not feel too far away at all. I have only to open Facebook, skype, lift my phone, reach out my hand…

Until that is, the van arrives with 127 boxes of our belongings from Zushi, having crossed the ocean from Tokyo to Southampton. The vehicle is massive, with four beds, a mini-kitchen and toilet, and two sweetly burly Scottish drivers desperate to get home to Aberdeen after a two-week trip to Paris. Tired but affable, they ignore sleeting rain and unload into our garage. We stand and watch, wondering where on earth everything is going to fit in the already fit-to-bursting furnished cottage.

The next day, we begin to unpack a few of the boxes from the past into the present – Angela’s boxes, Akii notes pointedly – and reality strikes home.

Late summer 2012 writer and journalist Angela Jeffs moved from Japan, where she lived for 25 years, to Scotland from where she reports monthly on how her life is changing. This is the sixth installment. See here for part one, here for part two, here for part three, here for part four and here for part five.

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 latest book, Chasing Shooting Stars: A South American Paper Trail into the Past, can be ordered via
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