Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Search for Self

It was looking to be another one of those nights.

I suppose it was only fair, since it had been one of those days.

It was the first time in ages that my wife actually had a Saturday off, so guess what? It was the first time in ages that I ended up having to work on a Saturday. PTA general assembly and the first parent-teacher conferences of the new school year. In other words, there was no way out of it while conscious with all my extremities and internal organs intact.

I'd thought I could make it back home quickly. After all, all the PTA events were scheduled to end at 3:00. However, I hadn't heard about the meeting of the central committee of the Band Parents Society. I also hadn't expected that meeting to drag on and on and on and on and on and on...

By the time I made it back home, it was getting dark, there was a huge pile of laundry, the kids were trying to kill each other and the cat at the same time, and the Mrs. was totally wiped out. When she finally came to, she uttered those words I always dread:

"I'm too tired to do anything tonight."

In such circumstances it's perfectly easy and logical to suggest going out to eat, but then you have to deal with the problem of agreeing on a place to go. Mrs. Minstrel announced for what was probably the third time in a week that she wanted ramen, and only ramen. You have to understand; that would be like an American couple deciding to take the family out for dinner on a Saturday night only to have the wife/mother insist on going to Taco Bell. Much as I like ramen (and Taco Bell), it's not something I want to have for dinner repeatedly during a given week. Besides, unlike Taco Bell, ramen isn't very filling. There is also the matter that ramen is on the list of no-nos in my doctor-advised diet, which I'd already violated pretty heinously by eating the pork and egg bento lunch which my school had so graciously provided.

Unfortunately, my sense of chivalry is often stronger than my will. Fortunately, the ramen place was packed solid.

In the end, we wound up going to a place we had talked about going to ever since it opened about five years ago but somehow never made it there. It's a quaint, little cafe/pub/restaurant just across the border in Itako City. It's built to look like a Western-style house, and it has the smirk-inducing name "Ameri Kan" (kan in Japanese means "hall" or "lodge"). As it turned out, the interior, which was almost totally devoid of clientele, was an interesting mix of Western and Japanese styles. So was the menu. The Mrs. was able to get her ramen, and I was able to get a very good fish-entree dinner.

While we were waiting for our meals, I noticed a Japanese newspaper clipping on the wall whose title included the phrase "Oregonian sky". It was much closer to my wife, so she had a look and informed me that it was apparently an article about a novel of the said title. Not long after that, the kids noticed that a nearby bookshelf full of comic books, magazines, and children's books also included a whole stack of that novel. Curious, I took a copy and had a look.

The cover showed a picture of what definitely looked like the rugged, pine-forested area of Central Oregon. There was a very simple map of Oregon just inside which only showed Portland, and placed it about where Salem should be, but I was willing to forgive that. I had never, ever tried reading a novel written in Japanese before (despite having been here for 15 years), but I gave it a shot. To my amazement, though my pace of reading was a bit slow and labored, I was able to read several pages understanding every word until I finally ran up against a kanji (Chinese character) I didn't know. I was actually feeling proud of my achievement when the arrival of my dinner interrupted it. I had my daughter return the book to the shelf, and I happily attacked my salted mackerel.

Afterward, as I was paying the bill to the waitress/host, a man who must have been the chef/manager came out and asked me where I was from. When I informed him that I was from Oregon, his eyes lit right up.

"You know," he said, "I have a friend who spent several years in Oregon, and it really changed his life." He gestured toward the bookstand and added, "It inspired him to write a novel. This novel. I highly recommend it. It is a very inspiring book."

Both the man's words and his oh-so-very-warm tone of voice set off all kinds of alarm bells in my head. Only a few days before, I had blown up at a very polite but obnoxiously persistent telemarketer. I was also filled with horrifying images of religious (cult) proselytizers I had had to dissuade in the not-so-distant past. However, the chef/manager went on to explain:

"My friend and a friend of his went to Oregon together to study marketing, but he ended up finding himself instead. It was everything about life in Oregon, not in Portland, but in the rural areas. The culture, the way of life, the attitude of the people, everything. It's really a "take charge of your own path" sort of thing. It completely changed his view of himself and his direction in life. Now he's back in Japan, and he works as a career guidance counselor and also does work for a number of different non-profit organizations, especially ones dealing with troubled youth. His friend is still in Oregon, where he works for a group that tries to coordinate development with environmental concerns."

As the man went on with his description, I started to become intrigued, but just when I started to think about asking to buy a copy, he handed me one and said, "Here. I'll give you one. It's mainly directed at youths of high school age, but you might as well have a copy. If you're a teacher, maybe you can let your students borrow it. Besides, when your children get a bit bigger, maybe they can read it, too. Believe me when I say it can really inspire you."

I thanked him, paid my bill, and went home wondering about how my life often tends to take such strange turns. After getting home, I immediately got on the internet and did a bit of Japanese web surfing to see what I could dig up. As it turned out, there was quite a bit about Oregonian's Sky, and not just at Apparently the book, which came out in paperback only last February, is now widely recommended reading among high school and college guidance counselors.

Not only that, but it appears that a large and growing number of such counselors have adopted a term from the book, "Oregonian journey", to refer to a journey of self-discovery. It seems that, thanks in part to both this novel and a famous series of TV dramas set in Oregon back in the 80s and 90s, Oregon is coming to be seen in Japan as a place to go to escape the world and find your true self.

That's extremely ironic.

You see, in classical Japanese, dating at least back to the 8th century, the term for that sort of thing, i.e. escaping the world to find one's true calling, was "Kashimadachi". The term literally means "standing/being in Kashima". Yes, that's right. That Kashima. Home of the Kashima Antlers. The Kashima in which I do most of my working and playing.

So, now that I've experienced both Kashimadachi and Oregondachi, my true path in life should be about as clear as the skies in Central Oregon (blue most of the year), but it's more like those of Western Oregon (various shades of gray most of the year).

Am I missing something?

Maybe I need to go out into the woods somewhere and spend three full days meditating and fasting like Nez Perce men used to do to find their spirit guides. I'd do it in the eerie, sacred forests of Kashima Shrine, but my school is right next door...


  • Ultimately, wherever one is located geographically when they find themselves, they are still within themselves. "Wherever You Go, There You Are" as the meditation book's title says.

    I have searched the wide Pacific before realizing the answer must be within myself. Now I am searching within, but have found there is much more empty space between my ears than out there.

    I'll keep trying. I know I'm here somewhere.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 9:08 AM  

  • Choosing a place to live is a lot like trying on shoes. If you only try on one pair, you will never know if you could have found a more comfortable pair to wear.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:38 PM  

  • Sounds like a book review is in order since many of us will never be able to read it. I'm sure you have oodles of time for that. :D

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 11:12 PM  

  • Well, I had one of my Japanese co-workers read it so I could get his take on it. In a nutshell, he said something like this:

    "The author does have some interesting philosophical points, but I didn't think they were really all that special. Moreover, as a novel, it's anything but first rate. It didn't proceed at a good pace since the author obviously made his message more important than the story itself. He used Oregon as his setting, and he especially tied the character of the Japanese-American people of Oregon to his philosophical points, but he really didn't say much about Oregon itself, which was a pity. The restaurant owner you met said the book was geared toward high school students. I can see that. However, I can't really recommend it for our students."

    Of course, this same teacher is fond of giving his classes dramatic, philosophical speeches that leave the students scratching their heads and looking at each other in bewilderment. He's not known to be a very good judge of his audience.


    On the other hand, with a review like that, Oregonian's Sky may be destined for glory. Similar remarks have been made about James Redfield's The Celestine Prophecy, and look how successful it has been.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 10:42 PM  

  • You should have went for ramen.

    By Anonymous Jeffu, at 9:45 PM  

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