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East to West: Connections, reconnections

July 31, 2013

By Angela Jeffs

Not only did the sun come out in June, it has pretty much not stopped shining since. Result? Now the locals are complaining about that too, along with the state of parched fields of crops, the lowest levels of water in lochs (lakes) for years, and our own burn (stream) dried to a trickle.

Too much sun, or too much rain. Nature and the world at large is out of balance these days, more often than not offering famine or feast. Which for us translates into work and visitors… none at all or a steady stream. With (recalling winter past) nothing much to speak of in-between.

Akii is getting a lot of translation work. For months there was next to nothing, then a ten hour job from Canada, followed by a steady flow… Of course it would be more convenient from, say, November through to Spring, but that’s not how technical manuals work: they are being prepped now for the launch of new models – audio systems, automobiles and so on – in 2014, so summer is the busiest time. Well (as I know only too well) it’s the way of the freelance life and beggars can’t be choosers.

But, wouldn’t you know…. just as he becomes glued to his computer screen, Midori and her husband arrive for a few nights. They have been traveling all over Scotland for a month, for Hideto to take photographs of castles and landscapes from which to paint through his own long hard winter in Japan.

I met Midori in 1987, when asked to teach a class English conversation in Hiratsuka, 100km south of Tokyo and just a short train ride from Chigasaki where I was living at the time. It was she who organised the sayonara party for me September last, to which some 20 of my former students turned up. It was extraordinary because we had mostly not seen one another for some 15 years, but there we all were, laughing at the fact that we were all so much older but our affection for one another unchanged.

After Midori and Hideto left – for Iceland! – we made a 700 mile trip of our own, driving south to Cumbria and the Lake District. With an acre of land, and much of it wild, I had booked a day-long course to add another string to our gardening bow: scything

Brilliant, right?

But I am ahead of myself, because we had taken a long lazy route down the east coast and then, turning inland to follow the estuary, stopped in Wigtown. In writing my book about my grandfather, Samuel Charles Edward Loader, I had learned that his wife (my paternal grandmother, Sarah Stroyan) had ancestral roots in the area. Did this make me part Scots, I had been wondering? Her own father and his brother had migrated from a sheep farm on the southernmost shores of Scotland to Liverpool in northern England, to open a drapery business. So this was where Sarah was born in 1880 and where and why and how she met Sam.

Hoping to find confirmation, I explored three graveyards, and in the second found several Stroyans resting comfortably in ancient tombs. It was the last that was the most exciting, however, with an even older headstone that read, JAMES STROYAN FARMER AUCHLAND. This farm, now spelled Auchleand, still exists. Auch means “field”, in Gaelic, so a farm of fields… perfect for sheep.

So yes, I am part Scottish. A part of me may even be home. How cyclical is that after near two centuries?

Just a few miles on from Wigtown (famed now as a Book Town with an annual festival – yet more synchronicity) we met with Carolyn in a coffee shop in Annan. A graduate of my writing programme in Tokyo, Drawing on the Writer Within, she has brought her daughter to stay with her parents for a year, both to deepen all their relationships and for Mia go to school locally to improve her English.

“This is so weird”, Carolyn kept saying, “so weird!” Referring to the fact that we had known one another in Japan for six or seven years and yet here we all were, transported from an Asian environment to one that was near 100 per cent Caucasian.

Even weirder to discover that her mother had a Stroyan connection, and the fact we had had to move countries to learn we may be related.

It was a similarly odd experience catching up with Heera the morning after our scything course. Having just arrived from Japan after 20+ years via the Trans-Siberian Express, she too was in a state of some dislocation. But with a rundown mill house to somehow turn into a bread-and-butter making B & B business, she was almost too busy to try and make sense of anything.

“Yes, it is frustrating,” she admitted. “When I left England and wanted help with say, heating, all I had to do was call the Electricity Board. Now there are 20 private companies offering different rates and services… But at least I can talk to them all in English!”

No sooner than we got back to the cottage, than Jillian and Hitoshi arrived for a night or so that turned into five. I had met Jillian at a wedding in Kamakura in the late 1980s. She was a translator and very busy; I was a journalist/writer and very busy. But our paths crossed every five years or so and in 2007 she did the first level of my writing programme.

Now based in New Zealand, but spending months at a time in Hitoshi’s hometown of Takeyama, in Gifu Prefecture, she was in the UK touching base with her own family roots. They used us as a base in their foray into Scotland, driving north to Loch Ness one day, and east to St Andrews and an antiques complex on another.

Now? They’re in Japan, soon to head back Downunder.

Oh, and right now my daughter and grandson are here from Toronto. And they are in Dundee for the day with my son and daughter-in-law, who drove up overnight through pouring rain for a very special event on July 28.

Remember my aunt, who died in her 99th year in late December? Yesterday, 15 of us climbed the hill behind the house she and her husband had built in the 1960s, but only lived in for four years before he died of cancer. As showers gave way to thin but insistent sunshine, we found the grassy terrace on which Charles’ ashes had been scattered so many years ago, and scattered Jo’s own, together with an abundance of rose petals and flowers from her beloved garden. It was her only request, her one unflinching desire: to be with him.

It was hard to let go of what remained of her physically. Her ashes, sitting on a windowsill, had become a part of my life, and I had found great comfort in leaving flowers and lighting candles every day. But let them go I did. And with her home emptied, and about to go on the market – a house, a field, a wood – it really is the start of something new. The door is not simply ajar, it is wide open.

When I see Buffy and Max off at Edinburgh airport on August 2, I have to nip back into the city to meet Kathryn – another friend from Japan, another DOTWW graduate… Also Don Morton – both a colleague from NHK in Tokyo and Metropolis film critic – informs by e-mail that he and his truck (US-customised home on wheels touring the UK) will be calling by any day now.

Honestly, it’s all go, and I haven’t even started to write about how my own work is progressing (which it both is and isn’t…)

Forget it for now, Angela. Go tidy the cottage and clean the bathroom before the horde returns.

If this is embracing transition, I’m all for it.

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 ninth installment. See here for part one, here for part two, here for part three, here for part four, here for part five, here for part six, here for part seven, here for part eight, and here for part nine.

Visit her facebook page to learn more about her latest book Chasing Shooting Stars: A South American Paper Trail.

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 ninth installment. See here for part one, here for part two, here for part three, here for part four, here for part five, here for part six, here for part seven and here for part eight.

Visit her facebook page to learn more about her latest book Chasing Shooting Starts: A South American Paper Trail.

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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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