The Beatles and Bond, 60 Years On

The above headline is taken from The Economist newsletter of October 7, 2022 (my 79th birthday!) leading a feature story that sixty years ago this week the Beatles released their debut single, “Love Me Do”, and the first 007 James Bond film “Dr No” premiered in London.

I recall both events that eventually had seismic cultural impact but never associated them with my birthday. Another interesting coincidence in my unexpected life.

Excited to be alive and healthy at 79, I will celebrate the day listing to my Beatles music collection and begin watching all 25 Ian Fleming 007 films that are now available free on Amazon Prime Video.

Happy Birthday!

Leaving America — What do I miss?

Another question: When will you return to America?  The answer:  I have no plans to travel anywhere outside of Japan.

“What doe I miss about America?” It is the most asked question I hear from foreign ex-pats and Japanese people.

In truth, I had not really devoted much time to the question.  Posting my thoughts on life in Japan after leaving America three years ago, I prepared the following annotated list.

People —

  • Family: Having maintained a distant relationship with my daughters for nearly 20 years, I treasure our e-mail conversations, exchange of photos and an occasional FaceTime call.
  • Friends: Sadly I have few close friends.  Maintain e-mail connection with some UMaine colleagues, follow other friends on social media (but I rarely post on Facebook); Happy to be connected with good friends from my ABC and Washington DC days.
  • Teaching @ UMaine:
  • Students –– they kept me young, alert and engaged
  • International Student Festival & Farewell Dinner –– my two favorite annual events; great performance; inspirational remarks and tearful goodbyes.
  • Graduation Ceremony –– my proudest moment as an “Accidental Professor” was walking with my colleagues dressed in academic regalia.
  • Hockey games –– Nothing compares to the noise and excitement of the Alfond Arena on hockey night, win or lose never a dull moment!

Places ––

  • Crystal Lake: listening to the Loons, gardening, my hide-away hobby workshop.
  • Woodmans: my Orono hangout; nothing comparable here, no place to keep my beer mug!
  • Falmouth Country Club: 18 holes of golf most weekdays on a great course; enjoyable competition and social engagement with a likeable group of fellow seniors.
  • Sanibel Island: Remains my most favorite place in the world; where I wished to “retire”; such wonderful memories; thankful house I built remains a family treasure, praying it survived hurricane Ian.

Food ––

  • 5 Guys hamburger/fries/milk-shake: lots of wanna-be American burger joints in Tokyo, but I have found nothing that compares.
  • White Castle hamburgers: admittedly an acquired taste, I have been eating these unique burgers since I was a kid; were available frozen at Sam’s in Maine, I have asked Costco to import them to Japan!
  • Italian sausage: all kinds of great Italian imported food available …. but no hot or sweet sausage???  great selection of other sausage types of little consolation.
  • Whole Food’s salad bar: often a quick and wholesome meal, salad bars here disappointing by comparison.
  • Hodgman’s Frozen Custard: it was hard enough to deal with their winter closing; soft-serve ice cream here is a poor substitute.
  • Soft-shell crabs: a seasonal treat missing from this sea-food paradise.
  • Roast turkey sandwiches on rye bread: one of my favorites; except for a one-time expensive restaurant turkey dinner in November, turkey is absent in Japan.

Shopping ––

  • Trader Joes: my go-to source for comfort food & “two-buck chuck”
  • Marshalls/TJ Maxx: finding everything I didn’t know I needed at fabulously low prices.

Things ––

  • My 1973 FJ40 Toyota Land Cruiser: feels like I forgot to bring a part of me to Japan.
  • My BBQ Grill: after nearly every day use, dealing with Tokyo outdoor grilling restriction is difficult.
  • My accordion: debated bringing; it would have been a welcome companion during pandemic isolation; could have been fun to be an occasional Tokyo park/street musician!

Life in Japan … Three Years Later

Taking stock of the past three years I ask myself if Tokyo is a source of fear or wonder?

The unlikely or even unimaginable events and developments in Japan, the United States and around the world that have run in parallel with move to Japan have caused anxiety, upset my plans and altered expectations of life in Japan.

Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic and forced isolation has complicated my transition.  It’s continued presence in Japan has restricted activities and resulted in a struggling economy.

The events and news from the United States has saddened and worried me. I was deeply troubled by the attack on Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.  I had never imagined that I would find America in such a sad state of affairs.  Socially fragmented and politically adrift, it seems to me that the America that I believed it to be is no longer the America that exists.

Finally, I cannot escape the unsettling state of world affairs, from the war in Ukraine to the extreme weather resulting from climate change, with the potential implications for living in Japan.

In response, I have adopted an academic non-emotional approach to world events that has kept me engaged with the world while enhancing my intellect and limiting feelings of depression.

All in, the new “normal” is far from what I had anticipated when I arrived in Tokyo three years ago.

Today, I am a stranger in Japan, invisible in an unknown world that surrounds me, at times feeling uneasy and apprehensive.

After three years, I am getting my bearings and feeling more at home.  I find things interesting and am beginning to appreciate and understand the subtle rules governing life in Japan.

However, my deficient language skill is clearly a major handicap. I confess to having an intellectual disability that prevents me from improving my use of Japanese.  The deficiency makes many social interactions a stomach-churning, anxiety-filled experience. Fortunately, I am generally unaffected by the distracting rush of Tokyo life and most of the Japanese I encounter avoid me without making it too obvious.

My life is a well-ordered peaceful routine and, except for some petty frustrations, little happens to disrupt it.  Keiko is my life-line and Toma remains my most loyal and comforting companion. I have very few English-speaking foreign or Japanese friends.

I struggle to forge an identity for myself given the somewhat precarious nature of my life in Japan.

The imposed isolation of the COVID pandemic made it easy for me to create my own self-contained world where it is possible for me to wander around somewhat indifferent to the real world that surrounds me.

I had pictured a new and challenging life adventure on my arrival in Japan.  Given the good, the bad, and the ugly of the past three years …. reality has far exceeded my expectations!

Through it all I remain safe, healthy, happy and focused on the future.

I enjoy strolling quietly through Tokyo, observing all around me. As I get older, and more aware that my time on earth is finite, I now appreciate ordinary experiences and the amount of joy and contentment they produce.  I’ve come to see the wisdom in not just seeking but finding joy in the mundane, in the unremarkable, even in the frankly boring. I have learned to appreciate the moment.

I remain active.  A sports club membership, tennis lessons and play with a group of tennis friends, golf practice facilities and a senior friendly (affordable) golf course, cycling, and a disciplined fitness walk routine help keep me physically fit.  Along with excellent medical care, a weekly Japanese massage appointment and regular hot spring bathing help keep me in good health.

Once in a while, I will sip some sake and slip gently into a contended state; far from drunk, but not totally clear headed either.  I become agreeably mellow, achieving a more relaxed manner that enables me to enjoy the evening with a degree of pleasure.

I am finally comfortable with the notion of “retirement” – though I still reject use of the term.  When I now look at myself in a mirror, I no longer see a face and eyes reflecting feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, jealousy, regret, anger, sadness and bitterness.

It is amazing what a difference it makes to wake up in the morning feeling-engaged with life and the world, rather than slowly retreating from both.


Leaving America … Three Years Later

I left America the afternoon of September 30, 2019, arriving in Tokyo Japan on October 1, 2019. As the third anniversary date neared I contemplated my decision to leave America and move to Japan. There were multiple reasons but ultimately it was an escape. I was running away, not in hiding, but nonetheless giving up all my former life.

It was not the first time I sought to make such a significant change. I saw Japan as yet another chance at a new life adventure. This time, I vowed, I would not make the same mistakes.

Perhaps the notion was embedded in my DNA. That I was just following in the footsteps of my grandparents who escaped from pre-World War II Russia and immigrated to the United States in pursuit of the American Dream.

I was the first person on either side of my family tree to receive a college degree, albeit one from a state college that was designed to prepare me to be a public-school history teacher. I never made it to a classroom. Thanks to my extraordinary college experiences and a small cadre of teachers and mentors I encountered, I was driven to try to create a future more hopeful than my present; to build new and hopefully better paths, some beyond my imagination; to dream big dreams.

As graduation neared I faced many challenges, including being drafted to serve with the U.S. military in Vietnam. I gratefully escaped from New Jersey for Washington, DC in 1966, where I spent twenty-five unforgettable and rewarding years in the Nation’s capital.

The drive to change course was to be repeated a number of times in my life story.

As the political climate in the capital began to become toxic in 1991, I decided to end my successful career as a lobbyist, uproot my family abandoning Washington, DC for Nashville Tennessee, and begin anew as a business executive. Perhaps not the best parenting decision, but one that set the stage for yet another unexpected chapter in my extraordinary life story.

The move was the first step in an unimaginable eleven-year global experience as a marketing executive that began with a move to Nuremburg Germany, an extensive and demanding assignment in China, the launch of a new corporate entity, a Herculean globe-hopping effort to promote a “they said it could not be done” sponsorship of the FIFA World Cup, and ended in Tokyo Japan.

Having accomplished more than I had ever believed possible, I wanted to retire, sell a very large house in Morristown New Jersey, and move to my home on Sanibel Island Florida. However, destiny intervened and in 2002, having left my job and dealing with a divorce, I moved instead to a pristine lake in a small town in Maine to begin another new life experience with Keiko, the wonderful woman I had met in Japan. We accepted the dubious welcoming road sign message, “Maine, the way life should be!” and became among the increasing number of newer arrivals who “true” Mainers label as being “from away.”

Unemployed for the first time since college, I gave up looking for a job and decided instead to use my experience and training to make a meaningful societal contribution by helping others to realize their dreams. The decision led to the another, totally unintended, change: In 2004 I became an “Accidental Professor” at the University of Maine Business School. What started as a chance to teach one semester course resulted in a rewarding eleven-year experience as a full-time faculty member!

Despite my decision to leave UMaine in 2015, I continued to work as a consultant to aspiring entrepreneurs for three years until I felt I was being marginalized because of my age, being treated as a spare part put on a shelf to be forgotten. I devoted my time to community service, playing golf, and engaged with my hobby workshop. Despite my efforts to enjoy “retirement,” I was bored and restless.

That unsettled feeling was compounded by the growing civil strife and polarization across the country resulting from Trump’s election as President. I was deeply troubled. Although I never imagined how much the country would change, I feared that the social and political conflict would only get worse.

I began to think that it was again time for a change; the only question: did I have the commitment to do that again?

The tipping point came in the fall of 2018.

I was disturbed by what I saw when I looked at myself in a mirror. My face and eyes reflected feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, jealousy, regret, anger, sadness and bitterness. I accepted the consequences of aging but wanted to be an old person who was content, happy, kind, grateful, connected to others, and interested in the world around them. The idea for the change to be moving to Japan was a romantic notion that I was obligated to bring Keiko home to her native land.

These revelations led to a serious discussion of the many practical considerations involved in such a move, and although I could not understand or speak the language, we decided to sell our home, dispose by means of sale, donation or trash of cars, furniture, art, un-needed and most other possessions and leave America for Japan in 2019.

Everything came together very quickly, including Keiko’s employment, and on September 30, 2019 Toma and I departed on flights from Boston for Japan. (It was already October 1 in Tokyo.). Fortunately, our container of goods also departed and would arrive in December before the COVID pandemic could strand me homeless.

As I reflect on this life story I often find myself wondering how odd my life is! I leave America and then, all of a sudden, the country is beset by a series of incomprehensible events and the world seems to be falling apart!

I recall sitting on that final JAL flight, relieved but experiencing a touch of anxiety about the uncertainty of change and what lied ahead. I reflected on how I had gotten to this point in my life. Earlier in life I had looked forward to experiencing something new or uncertain. Soon to be age 76, I had some doubt.

I spent the remainder of the long trip reading and contemplating the message of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem Ulysses, a dramatic monologue detailing the Greek hero’s escapades. Tennyson succinctly offers his view that humans are shaped by a combination of all life’s experiences.

The following excerpt from the poem seems a proper way to end this post.

I am part of all that I have met;

Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough

Gleams that untraveled world, whose margin fades

Forever and for ever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,

To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!

As though to breath were life. Life piled on life

Were all too little, and of one to me

Little remains: but every hour is saved

From that eternal silence, something more,

A bringer of new things; and vile it were

For some three suns to store and hoard myself,

And this grey spirit yearning in desire

To follow knowledge like a sinking star,

Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

The closing line is inspirational and exciting.  We may not know what’s out there but we’re going to search for it.

As I sat on the long flight with these private thoughts running through my head, I decided I had no need to dwell on the past and to only look to the future.