One Year Later ….. Roll On

Part 4: Let the Good Times Roll! ––

So, one year later I am comfortable in these uncertain and unsettled times, confident that the future will allow me to fulfill my expectations for a long and interesting life adventure in Japan.

As life returns to a more normal state, I expect to actively use the opportunity to enjoy the many unique experiences the country offers, including an amazing variety of food!

I have successfully dealt with the risk of becoming isolated and depressed often associated with growing old.  Research has demonstrated that looking at old photos, listening to the music that inspired you in my younger years and reminiscing about your life has many benefits.  While I am focused on the present and the future, I have spent time recalling my rich and unexpected past, celebrating my many experiences, achievements and knowledge accumulated over a lifetime.  In a strange way those wonderful memories have made me stronger and come to life again. 

Growing older in Japan is a wonderful experience.  Unlike many western cultures, the Japanese value aging and look deeper into what it means to have lived a long life. In general, being a senior citizen here is something that is given authority and admiration. The elderly are respected and cared for in a different way, not simply focused on the physical and mental deterioration that those growing old are simply a societal burden.

September 21 was Respect for the Aged Day, a designated Japanese public holiday celebrated annually to acknowledge and honor elderly citizens.  I was presented with a gift from our new neighborhood community!

The Japanese language even reflects this attitude.  With three different forms of language (casual, polite and honorific), when addressing an elder in most cases a Japanese person would use keigo, an honorific form of language.

Finally, in Japan death is neither a taboo nor something to be feared or ignored. It is seen as an opportunity to contemplate and reaffirm life. 

It is a good feeling to have family, friends and strangers who acknowledge my age and professional accomplishments.  I am encouraged to express my opinions reflecting the belief that age and experience are valuable and that it is important for me to use the lessons I have learned in life to make a difference to future generations.  It has inspired me to continue work on “my story” for my grandchildren.

I am enjoying the twilight of my life, reflecting on the years gone by, living fully in the present and looking forward to the future.   As I approach my 77th year, I am grateful for where I’m at and excited about where I’m going.

I’ll close with the words from a song by B.B. King that is on my daily walk-run playlist:

Hey Everybody, Let’s have some fun.
You only live for once,
and when you're dead your done!
So whether you are young or old,
Let the good times roll.

Kanpai!  …. Roll on! May you too enjoy a long, healthy and happy life.


One Year Later ….. Covid-19

Part 3: Making the Best of the Pandemic Lifestyle Disruption ––

The other significant challenge is the Covid-19 virus.  Although conditions are less severe here than most other countries, the impact has been disruptive and the isolation and social distancing stressful.

Tokyo is a vast metropolis and discovering the capital’s many neighborhoods, best done by exploring, is both an exciting and daunting exercise. Unfortunately, the forced self-isolation and other restrictions due to the pandemic have remarkably impacted our “normal” lifestyle and my plans for experiencing Tokyo and other regions of Japan have been put on hold.

The pandemic has made getting connected and making new friends, Japanese or not, extremely difficult.  I am exploring a host of online networks that appear to align with my interests.  As soon as possible I plan to just join some groups, keep showing up, and expect that eventually relationships will develop.

Notwithstanding the limitations, one of the joys of my new Tokyo life is walking around our local area.  I have also found that I can walk or take my bike instead of taking the train to just about any Tokyo destination.  It is a lot slower trip but discovering the fascinating world between train stations also has health and fitness benefits! 

Also on the positive side, having Keiko working from home is wonderful.  We have used the gift of unexpected time together to get settled in our new home and enjoy life together with Toma a constant companion.

Our faithful Toma has adapted well to Tokyo and appears to enjoy his urban life-style.  The Japanese people are dog lovers and Toma’s friendly personality insures that we make new human and canine friends through enjoyable encounters almost every day.

Living in a “bubble” may seem boring for some; I have seen it as an opportunity.  Since I no longer have any need or desire to work, I have used the current conditions to pursue interests that satisfy my intellectual curiosity.  Although learning the Japanese language appears an elusive goal, gaining a deeper understanding of Japanese history, tradition and culture is a rewarding area of study, one that has encouraged me to embark on a journey of self-reflection and an opportunity to rediscover myself in the process.

As a lifelong Stoic, I have discovered a convergence between Stoic philosophy and Zen Buddhist teachings, adapting my daily lifestyle routine to focus on the shared elements of wisdom, justice, courage, kindness and temperance.

I have returned to a long ago practice of meditation, fulfilling the Zen proverb “to be calm is the highest achievement of the self.”

One Year Later ….. Living in Japan

Part 2: Living in a Strange Land ––

While moving to Tokyo was not as stressful as I feared, it was not a straightforward process. Some things were frustrating, but with Keiko’s unselfish support and assistance getting acclimated to Japan was surprisingly easy.

However, living in a strange land, particularly with no substantive language competency, has been an interesting challenge.  Fortunately, in Tokyo my use of limited communication skills is enhanced by an understanding of Japanese culture and observance of implicit expectations and rules of conduct.  Keiko is very supportive and her family and our Japanese friends most welcoming.

That said, beyond my circle of family and friends, I am quite aware that living here I am a member of a social minority, a “gaijin” or foreigner in a country where nearly 98% of the population is Japanese.  Having previously spent much time in Japan and also living in some other countries, I do not feel uncomfortable with my status and I try to avoid the stereotypical behavior of a typical American tourist, businessman or expatriate in terms of my behavior and appearance.

Clearly, I am treated differently, an experience the Japanese media describe as being “othered.” In no sense, does the experience of being “othered” feel like being the object of racial discrimination or being seen as someone that doesn’t belong or not worthy of the same treatment given to Japanese people.

The behavior of Japanese people is completely different from western countries. I find Japanese people polite and friendly, welcoming, patient and willing to offer assistance.  While one may occasionally have the sense of being tolerated or ignored, you quickly learn that this attitude is often really a reflection of their respect for individual privacy.  It is difficult to describe the experience with words.

With Keiko by my side, life here is no different from when we lived in the United States.  The roles are reversed and I can and do depend upon her.  However, as she did in coming with me to America in 2002, I have successfully gained sufficient capability and confidence to function independently.

Without question, the significant challenge for me is the language barrier.

Although many Japanese people do understand some English, few have sufficient proficiency to have experience with or confidence in conversations.  To mitigate this problem, I have adopted a technique to effectively use my cultural sensitivity and limited Japanese vocabulary.  By speaking English slowly and using words that are easy to understand, the approach leads to conversations, albeit short, but that result in successful and mutually satisfying communication.  

With preparations for the Tokyo Olympics and tourism a major economic sector, English is widely available in signage and train announcements.  I also use an English language directional application and new very smart simultaneous translation technology.

Consequently, when I am “on my own,” I have the confidence to enjoy everyday life like any other Tokyoite.

One Year Later …..

“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better take things as they come along with patience and equanimity”.
–– Carl Jung

On September 30, 2019 I boarded a JAL flight for Japan, arriving in Tokyo on October 1st.  It was the final step in a thoughtful plan.  The decision to leave America for Japan was a deeply personal decision reflecting what I believed was best for Keiko and myself as I faced the autumn of my years.

One year later, I want to share in a series of posts some personal reflections about leaving America and a new life adventure in Japan.

Part 1: Missing America? ––

“Do you miss America?”  A question I have been most asked in Japan and in e-mails from family and friends around the world.  It is a difficult question to answer and the opening Jung quote speaks to the complexity of my feelings that underlie the answer.

On a deeply personal level, I do miss my immediate family.  However, since life circumstances and living in Maine had already created a degree of separation and self-isolation from my family, the distance of 6500 miles may have strengthened those inter-personal relationships.

I realized that in today’s Facebook-reality culture, the term “Friend” has lost meaning. I really don’t have many friends; I have thousands of acquaintances; but few friends.

There is a marked difference between acquaintances and friends. Most people really don’t become friends.  They become acquaintances, people we meet, enjoy, and can easily leave behind. I say this because in a friendship you get to know the spirit of another person and friendship grows deep roots.

Over 76 years most of my “friendships” were or have simply evolved into acquaintances.  I know those that are true friends because it doesn’t matter what the physical distance or how much time goes by, we still connect like we just had spoke yesterday.

When in 2003 Keiko and I arrived in Maine from Tokyo we knew not a single person.  Being “from away” in a place with no roots or history, we developed a network of friends –– a close-knit  group brought together by our Japanese wives, neighbors on Crystal Lake who adopted Keiko and I like family, colleagues and students at the University of Maine who respected me as a teacher, and many professional associates, particularly from the entrepreneurial community, who valued my contribution to their enterprise activities.  I treasure the memories that made for a wonderful life in Maine, a place where I arrived as a total stranger at a difficult time in my life.

Beyond family and friends, on a less emotional level there is a small list of some things I do miss:

  • Resting on Crystal Lake listening to the haunting cry of the loons;
  • the ability to grill anytime;
  • and White Castle hamburgers!

While there are times I miss FaceBook as a means of staying in touch with distant family and friends, I do not regret abandoning the social media platform as a communication method.

Along with the constant distraction of advertisements and unsolicited “news” that diminished the benefit and enjoyment of the contact with friends, I was outraged by the way the platform was being used to undermine democracy, human rights, privacy and public health. Zuckerberg’s failure to prevent bad actors exploiting Facebook and leveraging user trust to spread disinformation and hate speech, to suppress voting and to polarize citizens has confirmed my decision.

I now regularly hear from my family and occasionally from some friends through e-mail, FaceTime or Zoom video calls, or sharing comments on my blog. is my little corner of the world.

In the one year since I left so much has happened in the United States.  Beyond the unrelenting human devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic, I am shocked by the social, political and economic chaos that dominates the news.  I can’t imagine what it is like to be living in America today.

Although I try not to be cynical, with political fear driving developments, even IF Biden wins and can assume the Presidency, it may take years for anything like normality (whatever that is in a post-pandemic world) to return.

On the global stage, American influence as a force for world peace and progress is now openly questioned by international observers and analysts who interpret current events as a sign of further American decline leading to the diminishing geopolitical, military, financial, and economic power of the United States.

So, do I miss living in America?  The simple answer is no.  I am grateful that I am not forced to face the distrust and divisiveness my family and friends must deal with in America today. In these extraordinary, sad and tragic days, I am safe, healthy and happy in my adopted homeland.

US-Japan Alliance Puzzle

Another book full of extraordinary revelations about the Trump presidency, “Rage” by Bob Woodward, will be published September 15.  It is based partly on 18 on-the-record interviews between December 2019 and July 2020 with Donald Trump.

Among the pre-released excerpts and recordings of interviews is one that should capture the attention of Japanese officials.

In a discussion with Woodward, Trump called the U.S. military “suckers” for paying the extensive costs to protect South Korea. “We’re defending you, we’re allowing you to exist,” Mr. Trump said of South Korea.

Trump’s statement and sentiment reflects his cynical attitude about alliances and allies and is consistent with earlier indications that he also wants Japan to pay substantially more for U.S. military “protection.”

This is just one of many issues with the U.S.-Japan security pact and U.S. relations in general that Japan must address to protect its defense, geopolitical and economic interests in light of growing regional tensions.