Swallows In the Rain

posted in: Uncategorized | 17

Failed Cafe

Okay, time to come out of my stupor and join the rest of the world celebrating spring right now. It’s hard to gel exactly what is going on inside my head and heart right now into something intelligible, because I myself still seem to remain out of touch with myself. I’ve spent so much time alone for the last few months, especially these last two months, with my school between semesters, and now full-tilt into the spring semester, that at times the rest of the world doesn’t seem to really exist any more. The loneliness and isolation is getting to me, badly. I’ve thought often of writing something here, but the thought of subjecting others to my personal complaints kept switching off any ideas I might have come up with for posts, that I could never get a word down. And the longer I put it off the harder it was to say anything worthwhile. Trying to talk about how I’m feeling to those close to me, like my family, just makes me feel that they will worry needlessly, seeing as I’m here in this ghost town (literally, most of the businesses have closed up, and walking around the town subjects you to street after street of shuttered and rusting shops). And since I have not felt welcome (except for a few people) or informed at the job I moved out here to take, not even the comfort of working with colleagues helps to offset the loneliness. The atmosphere of the job itself is heavy and secretive, with more than an inordinate number of people wary of voicing opinions or offering to participate in activities. I’m still trying figure out what keeps people there; the only thing I can come up with right now is money. I end up escaping the office, walking along lonely roads back to my town, and arriving at an apartment that reminds me every day of being cut off from friends and family. The internet has become a place of solace, where at least there is a little interaction with others and I’ve met some people with whom I can daily discuss hobbies and laugh a little. But it’s all virtual; I haven’t actually met or touched someone for several weeks.

Bamboo Greenhouse

So maybe cabin fever and isolation bring out two things I’ve been thinking about almost as if they both might reconnect me to real things, certainly the draw of the sensual: sex and traveling.

I’ve never written about sex here, and I rarely read about it in other people’s blogs, almost as if everyone actually never thinks about it. It’s weird, really, because without my even trying it colors a great part of what goes on upstairs every day, especially when I spend this much time on my own. When there is almost no possibility for it, it’s curious why it wells up more often than when splashed in front of me in plain view every single day. Is it an instinct, a willful detour from what we humans so foolishly call the more important aspects of society (like watching people blow each other up on TV or stuff themselves with unnecessary amounts of food), or blessing, or a curse? Sex has shaped our bodies and minds, acts as a staple for why we make decisions and how we feel about others, muddles even the most resolute hermit, and takes up every single free space in the environments all around us in other creature’s lives. Sex is everywhere and yet we’ve developed shame about it.

Let me be honest, though no one asked me to be… I do on occasion peruse sex sites. It’s not even a question whether a lot of others do, too. I have no interest in or feelings for people abused or shown being hurt or forced to do things they don’t want to do, but I will always feel that nothing is more beautiful in the world than a human body, especially, for me, a woman’s body, even my beloved mountains, and seeing it is something I can’t live without. Why that is I can’t really explain. Some people might call me a dirty old man (in Japanese “sukebe”) or tell me that I can’t see women for anything other than sex objects, but that is from people who refuse to know me or allow a man to be composed of many facets. The human body fixes itself in our minds as deeply as the joy of eating good food or recognizing the goodness of a baby. I used to get scandalized by pictures of people having sex, but after seeing it more than I ever imagined I would, I’ve come to see it as something as natural and beautiful as a sunrise or a flower. I no longer get bent out of shape when I see two people in the act, joined. Even the feelings about nude men has changed. I am by no means gay, but I’ve come to realize that there is a part of me that finds men attractive, maybe it’s my feminine side, whatever, but I see it more as an ability to now see people, women and men, more for what they actually are, than for what everyone around me expects me to see. The Greeks seem to have been able to see male bodies for their own beauty, while generations of western societies afterward all seem to be stuck on the idea that only women can possess erotic beauty, and that any male who professes being able to see the beauty in another male must by definition be homosexual. As if being homosexual was something evil and fearful and unnatural. And as if the male body was something ugly in itself. Very strange. Why do women get all the beauty and men nothing but brutish pictures? Where did this attitude develop that men must conform to this rigid, ankle-deep, emotionless caricature of being human?

Togane Evening Tree

I have tried participating in adult meeting sites and while talking to some of the others has opened my eyes to the great variety and possibilities of how people interact with one another, in general it is decency and gentleness and friendship which I aspire to and moves me when I get close to someone, and the empty talk of sex over the internet just seems like an excuse. So much of it seems made up of people who constantly think only of themselves and use the anonymity of the internet to draw in the emotional needs of others. Some of the introductions that I’ve seen women write of themselves makes you wonder if the men they desire might have any kind of personality beyond catering to the women’s hunger, demanding total loyalty before they have even met, in spite of the women themselves breezily and openly trying out as many different men as the internet time allows. I suspect the men on these sites tend to follow very similar patterns, with sex and conversation taking precedence over friendship and long-term trust. After conversing with a number of women I’ve decided that enough is enough and this is no way for me to try to meet people or spend my precious free time outside work.

Naruto Station

Instead dreams of travel keep welling up, some of them old dreams since I was in high school. In 1978, after a month-long bicycle trip in 1977, at 17, around the north island of Hokkaido, Japan, I had started saving up and preparing for a round-the-world bicycle journey. The route had been all laid out, starting here in Japan, crossing into China and making its way through Tibet, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and destinations west. Afghanistan still held the imagination of adventure travelers then and many of the places that today have been overrun by war, still allowed wayfarers the option of the overland route. While I was naive about many of the dangers of the world at that time, the dream filled me like water and seemed to give me purpose.

Naruto Goat

My father didn’t agree. He insisted that I finish college and secure an education for myself. We had a big argument and in the end I gave in and ended up studying for eight years at the University of Oregon, right into a masters of architecture. University definitely shaped my outlook on the world and helped to expand how I see things, but throughout the time there always something vital seemed to be missing and I never seemed to be able to find my own pace and sense of purpose in the same way that my dreams of travel and my love of nature always had. Even today I feel locked in ill-fitting shoes, constantly repeating tasks and responsibilities that fail to make use of what I am best at. And I’m not sure why I never make the moves myself so that I can secure the type of lifestyle and philosophy that mean most to me.

Rice Field to JIU

One of the things I decided when I made the big changes last year was that I would try to get back to those things which make me feel whole when I do them. Life is too short to constantly be doing only things that make you feel empty. Perhaps I am lucky in that I know what makes me happy. This summer, with a month off, I hope to set out on a long walk, perhaps along the Camino de Santiago, or in the Austrian Alps, or maybe even Nepal. It has to be something bigger than the little walks I take here in Japan, something approaching the dreams of my youth. And I’ve begun dreaming of something even more ambitious, too. Perhaps a bicycle trip around the world is not impossible. Can I do something like that with diabetes, at my age? Can I dare to imagine a path around the entire world and to dream of a chunk of my life under the stars again? I just can’t imagine myself stuck in an office for the rest of my life, always feeling broken and hemmed in. I have to believe that there really are many ways to live a full life.

Storm Over Naruto

17 Responses

  1. I think the thing that is so drawing about your writing is the realness of it. Down to earth yet, realalisticly (sp) poetic. Our lives are so full of starts and re-starts, each one has it’s own meanings and fullness. Perhaps to make the next re-start more important…

    As far as internet meetings… you never know what is on the other side of the door , er mountain , (in your case ) until you go there…

    gambatte!

  2. I say, go for an adventure! Why not!?

    Don’t settle. Settling down is okay, when you’re ready for it, but don’t ever settle…

  3. Good to read this. Loneliness can be such a dark place, I know, and I’m glad you’re writing about what has been going on with you. Just taking one small action like this is sometimes enough to start to break up the logjam. I hope you travel this year (bicycle or walking) and, selfishly, I hope you blog the trip when you do.

    I like the photos, particularly the second one from the bottom.

  4. Butuki, Your writing is as always interesting and there is ample material for some discussion in this post…

    First of all, I’ve noticed how different your pictures are lately to anybody else’s blog from Japan. You are living in a very rural and – as I can gather from your writing – sleepy and backwards area of Japan and your pictures show not only the places, but also your mood in these places very well. It’s a world that most foreigners never see in Japan.

    About the sex sites… I don’t think that there is anything wrong with looking at some of these sites online, since after all it is all part of human expression. If there is something one doesn’t like, look away and don’t support these sites, but if you like it, why not? It’s not like these are new phenomenons – some of the Roman villas in Pompeii have wall frescoes so raunchy that they are permanently off the tours given to visitors since they are bound to hurt somebody’s puritanical tastes…

    I’ve never visited any of the partner search/chat sites online, but I can imagine that these are not the easiest places to find a person for a long relationship. The anonymity and immediacy of the web brings out the best and the worst in people…

    Traveling… yes, by all means! If you have the chance to take a few months off, you should definitely hop on a bike/train/plane and see the world. I’ve had a chance to travel extensively in the late 80s and early 90s during my student years and enjoyed every minute of it, even during the very bad parts.

    Biking around the world is doable nowadays, but is definitely still dangerous and if nothing else, hard work! :-) I’d suggest to go west-to-east to follow the prevailing winds. I’ve seen online accounts of bikers going the other way, and going up into the Himalayans is no fun with the wind in your face!

    Should you set out on a longer trip, I (selfishly!!!) hope you will take us along for the ride by posting here from time to time. I love your writing about the environment around you when you are hiking or even just taking a walk – you are a gifted observer/writer and a longer trip through your eyes sounds very promising…

    As always take care, and enjoy spring time as what it is – nature’s celebration that we are all still alive!

  5. It’s nice to have you back.
    The first photo grabs my attention with the painting on the wall of the dog and cat dining. The caption ‘failed cafe’makes me smile and think perhaps they should have included people at the table.

  6. Butuki — great to hear your voice again.

    Just for the record, everyone I’ve ever met online, including my husband, has turned out to be wonderful in person too. This experience is not, I know, universal, but I think I have a large enough sample size to encourage you not to give up on it as a concept.

    Bikes:

    One of the advantages of setting off round the world on a bike at a very young age is that you’re too young to know (or care) what the risks really are. One of the disadvantages of considering it when you’re older is that you’re no longer so clueless. But lots of people have done it. There’s a coworker of mine here who’s setting off to do just that in about three weeks. (He’s younger than we are. He tracks mountain lions for a living, or at least has been doing that up till now.) Go for it, say I…

  7. Sorry to take a little while to respond. Haven’t been feeling well. My diabetes doctor announced the other day that I have peptic ulcers and the pain has debilitated me somewhat. My mode of existence for the last few days has been: get up, heavily walk or bicycle to work, trudge through my classes, finish preparations, walk or bicycle home, fall into bed, struggle through the night, and repeat… great, something more to be concerned about. Still, yesterday evening after work I leaned my bicycle against a guard rail and spent some time wandering with my cell phone camera among the rice fields. Really calmed me down. I need more of that.

    I’m a little divided about the sex sites. Part of me sees absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying the feelings that come with being male and seeing a female. As you stated Thomas, it’s part of human expression. But all my life I, and all other men, have been hammered with finger-wagging parents (though to be fair, my mother always understood and encouraged my brother and I to learn about this aspect of ourselves) and the outraged chorus of women who feel that the women being depicted are being exploited. I understand where they come from. Too many men actually act upon treating women like chattel and so little room remains for allowing male eros to run unbridled. If any of you have ever experienced or seen the molestation and surreptitious groping of women by men on trains here in Japan (and it happens every single day and you can always catch someone in the act if you keep an eye out for it) you can well understand women’s reactions.

    This is an age-old argument, of course, part of the difference in how men and women see and experience the world. Personally, and most of my male friends, I have tried hard to conform, at least partly, to the wishes that women have of men, but in many ways it’s as fruitless trying to, let’s say, convert someone who is at heart a quiet person into a noisy one. In spite of my best intentions to keep my eyes averted from beautiful women, I can’t help but notice them. I know of few men who can resist looking. It’s as if the need to look and get excited is built right into the wiring. I’ve always found it strange to have society tell me that this is somehow unnatural and socially destructive. So I end up hiding it and sating the need by visiting sex sites. This is especially true here in Japan where the joy and play of flirting, as it exists in America and Europe, is almost non-existant in most public places. There is such a strong line drawn between men and women interacting in anything other than their sexual counterparts that it becomes impossible to see each in anything other than an object of desire on the far side of a taboo. Which is part of why I think there are so many men here with disfigured sexual appetites.

    In spite of knowing this in my head the need to see women as sexual partners is undeniably there. The proliferation of sex sites on the internet definitely shows how strong the need is for people, men and women, to share this with one another. I always find it kind of funny how envious I feel when I see two dogs on leashes unabashedly having at it with one another while their two human partners, obviously attracted to each other, can’t even say a word about how they feel.

    The sex meeting sites are different from other meeting sites. I’ve met a lot of people online through other avenues, including through blogs, and like you said Pica, my meetings with most people has been wonderful. I’ve made some good friends, including some of you. The women I’ve ended up talking to through the sex sites have all been nice and friendly, but there is an awkwardness from starting a conversation with an assumption of sex behind it before you have even met that person. So much of what I’ve seen of the sex sites I visited revolved around protecting oneself from what a lot of women call, “The Weirdos”. You have to wade through an invisible sea of countenances that you can’t even be sure are male or female. And then you have to find a balance between the feelings that brought you to a sex site in the first place and the need to be a decent, trustworthy person. Most of the women that I ended up talking to switched things off completely the moment I even hinted at sexual attraction… and I think I am consistently very discreet about that. The women I talked to the longest dove right into the sexual banter, but after only a week of talking demanded that I commit myself to them. Before we had even established what out relationship was or had met in person! It just seemed like an unnecessary amount of tap-dancing to do before getting to know someone. Almost like the opposite of what happens when you meet people as friends first or in real life.

    I don’t intend to let my age get in the way of following my dreams. I’m just more scared now and a lot less confident. Diabetes has taken away my faith in my ability to make it through without mishaps. I still don’t know how I’m going to be able to complete a trip like this and get the proper medical care I need for diabetes. Where am I going to be able to find insulin? What happens if someone steals my insulin or I lose it? What do I do when I find myself in a place where I can get food for a day or so and thereby cannot take my insulin? Or if I do take the insulin and don’t have enough food and thereby fall into hypoglycemia? These are very scary things to consider that most people never have to worry about. Still there have been others who have done it, even with diabetes, so I guess it’s just a matter of planning and making contacts. There must be way to work through this.

  8. Thanks for coming back butuki. I’ve been keeping an eye out for you. I’m enthused along with your other readers to think of your upcoming travels, and hope its a good continuation of this painful yet evolving change you’ve embarked on.
    Thanks for sharing the comments others have; they make your blogging even sweeter to read their insight and know of their support for you, and they make me want to work on my own voice.

  9. Hi Butuki,

    Ulcers, hm? Well, one more thing we can share… I got myself an ulcer close/in my duodenum by being careless with antibiotic capsules a few years ago. (When they say “take with lots of water”, they mean it!)

    Living with an ulcer is like having an automatic brake system built in. When my life gets too stressful or if I worry too much, the ulcer will become active and I will pay with a lot of pain for weeks afterwards. It has taught me to slow down, to control my (bad) emotions and to stop now and then for a few minutes and collect myself. People now always tell me that I’m sooo calm, but that is not just part of my nature, it’s me keeping some sort of grip on ulcer pain.

    I’m not sure if that jibes with diabetes well, but I found that short-brew black tea with lots of honey does wonders for my ulcer. I’ve never tried to research this, but I think that the enzymes in honey reinforce the stomach functions. No idea, but sure works for me.

    Traveling with diabetes is probably mostly a logistical challenge, as you are pointing out in your post. Definitely, theft and loss of insulin are too major worries. One approach is to maybe make a virtue out of it: Model your travel plans accordingly (How long does insulin keep in a backpack?) so that there are major cities at regular intervals (this may mean you can’t bike the Gobi, but south-east Asia for instance is very dense and developed). Maybe there are local diabetes groups that you can get in contact with. Or try and find a travel buddy(ies) to limit the theft problem when traveling on public transport…

    Well, as with all these things, we’ll have to play with the cards we’ve been dealt and make the best of it. Gambatte!

  10. So much to respond to here. First is: not touching *anyone* for months is dangerous to your health. Seriously. I don’t know how things work in Japan, so I don’t know what your options are, but I hope you can find something. Human beings aren’t designed to run indefinitely without touch. We don’t simply die without it, once we’re past infancy, but we don’t stay healthy, either.

    The problem with porn sites is not the exploitation so much, to my mind — I mean, good God, we’re wound into such a dense web of economic exploitation, that that level of exploitation seems quite mild, to me – but that it places you *outside*, looking wistfully at something beyond your reach: it trains your sexuality to hunger exclusively for unreachable beautiful young women. (More unreachable for us, with every passing year :-). Visiting those sites, and drinking in that sort of stimulation, arises from loneliness but also reinforces and deepens the loneliness. It fits very nicely, in other words, with the paradigm of addiction — a hunger that you worsen by appeasing.

    I’m a little at a loss about your experience of woman as unaccepting of male sexuality. It’s not my general experience. They dislike of course the implication that because I might have any particular predilection, that lays an obligation on them — that would be sort of the pyschological equivalent of the pawing on the subway you’re talking about. But most of the women I know are perfectly fine with the bare facts of being visually oriented & zero-to-sixty in fifteen seconds & so forth, so long as you understand and accept that their wiring is somewhat different. I have a notion you’ve been unfortunate in your partners.

    I’m with Pica — everyone I’ve met online has turned out as wonderful, or more wonderful, in real life. I don’t find it difficult to establish whether I’ll like someone in real life by meeting them online. Whether I’ll be attracted to them… that’s another story.

    I hear you about the diabetes complicating the traveling, but I think with sensible precautions you could still swing it. An exciting idea!

    Anyway — really nice to hear from you.

  11. Huh. No idea why a few lines appear scored through, up there. Not something I meant to do!

  12. Thomas, I tried your suggestion of using honey… it really works! I’ve also been being a little gentler on myself in terms of work responsibilities… giving myself the time to rest and take moments for myself. Seems to be working.

    Dale, your words are wise as always. I agree with how unhealthy it is not to touch anyone for months, but how in the world do I overcome it? It’s not like I can just go out there and “find me some skin”. I’m not into that. And I don’t know how much you know about Japan, but it can be quite a cold country, especially for foreigners, and more espeically out here in the countryside. Unlike in the States where you can meet people every day on the streets and buses and stores and coffee shops, you almost never meet people in every day places here. People are friendly out here in Chiba where I live, but rarely does anything turn into more than polite greetings. And that’s just for making friends. Forget thinking about touching anyone! Japanese don’t even hug each other in their own families. Two years ago there was a national public service commercial on TV calling for parents to hug their children when the children were sad! Coming from a very warm and close-knit family where everyone hugs and kisses each other, and having lived with someone or other for most of my life until now, it is really hard to be living like this now. Like you said, people were not designed to be alone all the time. I spend a lot of time talking to myself now. (^J^)?”

  13. Butuki, would you consider getting a pet? It would not be a human, of course, but the affection and companionship are real and there can be genuine physical closeness.

    I’m not bothered about the sex sites and I’m glad you were honest enough to talk about it. Sex is a basic human need. I trust that you will eventually find a way out of your loneliness and isolation, and that is certainly my wish for you! The travel sounds very exciting and definitely possible with good planning. I had a peptic ulcer a year and a half ago and have learned to manage my stress and stomach better; in a way I am grateful for it because it’s like a warning signal. What you say about “needing to do the things that make you feel whole” is true for all of us; your pictures always remind me of what that is for me, too. Sending you love and my best wishes for physical and emotional health. It sounds like you are on the right path.

  14. Beth, man, I would love to have a pet! Somewhere in the corridors of my imagination I was visited by the spirit of a grey-eyed border collie and ever since I’ve wished for the opportunity to meet this long-lost partner. But this being Japan where trying to find a rental apartment that allows pets is like pulling teeth (you will often find signs that say: “Pets and Foreigners not allowed”) just the thought of getting a pet means a serious amount of time and planning and money just to get it started. That and the fact that I am away most weekends hiking just wouldn’t be fair for a dog. It would be fine if I had a car and could take the dog along, but I use the trains here (at least for now… living out here in the countryside I’m finding that getting by without a car is very limiting). Also, I’m just not sure how long I’m going to stay here; part of the reason why most of my stuff is still in boxes is because of the sense of moving on. I don’t want to lay down too many roots here if it means that I will have to rip them all out again. A dog is a long-term comittment and like starting a family I just couldn’t do that to a dog, or any other pet I would bond with. If I’m going to actually carry out a round-the-world journey then the problem becomes even more pronounced. Kind of sad, though, when you think of it. I’ve never had a dog of my own, though I’ve taken care of several dogs, once for a year. I really love dogs.

  15. Miguel,
    Got plans for the weekend of 海の日? If not, I can offer a suggestion that may knock a few wishes off the list…
    *Biking and Travel: Get on your bike and ride out to my house…
    *Physical contact: Wrestle with my kids, arm wrestle my neighbor, hug my wife… Hell, I’ll give you a hug and a pat on the back just for showing up. There will be a bounty of kids to roughhouse with, and a couple of toddlers to carry around. You can play “horsey” and give my kids rides around the house for hours, it will save me the backache!
    *Sex: No promises, but who knows, we may be able to find an interesting single gal for you, or at least someone who knows one… And if not, you are always welcome to peruse my porn collection :^P

    Seriously, if you can, come on out. We are planning to have a BBQ that weekend, and it would be great to see you again. I will send you more information by email, as we can’t afford to feed all your readers. ;^)

  16. Shucks :-(
    I was just ready to pack !

  17. Steve, sounds like a lot of fun! Would love to go. I’m still not sure about that weekend yet, though. Originally I was planning on taking the Friday before off (Thursday is my kenkyu-bi) and go for four days to Vietnam, but I just realized yesterday that that weekend is the last day of Spring semester (unless the measles epidemic hits our university… we’ve already had one student call in with the measles, so everyone’s on edge), so I can’t go anywhere outside Japan and can’t take that Friday off. It all depends on a friend of mine, who I might ask to join me if I do end up going to your place. Would that be okay?

    As to biking out to Yamanashi… that might be something fun… the only thing is that I have no wish to negotiate the Tokyo sprawl between me and you. I just might rinko-bukuro it (bike bag) to Hachioji and take it from there. Should take about a day to ride out to your place from there. If I do go by bike, I will be alone.

    So count me in for now, but don’t hold your breath. Well, do hold your breath, but for the hibachi smoke, not for me!

    By the way, which day is the BBQ on? Have to set out early enough so as not to miss all the food!

    Going to have to start those sit ups… don’t want the children collapsing my back!

    Will email you, too.

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