At the edge of the horizon

At the edge of the horizon
At the edge of Japan

Saturday, September 24, 2011

"Why is the measure of love, loss?"

The title to this update is the opening line from Jeanette Winterson's book, "Written on the Body."  It's been months since I've posted a proper update.  I can assure you my dear readers that I have thought longingly about you every day, but have been exceptionally busy since June.  I admit I could have posted short updates, but I was thinking of a longer piece to summarize my year on Ishigakijima.  Instead, I left you all in the darkest corner of the darkest night.  A void where there should have been "being." A shadow in the shape of my heart  blog.

View of Kokusai dori

Naha, another view

Since last June, many things have happened to me.  Big things.  I moved in July to Naha, Okinawa and my life here is much more exciting and fast paced.  Naha is a really wonderful city and I live in its heart as opposed to its bowels.  Everything that was said about Okinawa mainland by those foreigners living in Ishigaki was bull honky.  It is a much better life for me for a multitude of reasons, some of which are obvious (I'm a City Girl in a City World!) and some of which are not.

View of Naha at night looking towards Makishi

Some of the obvious: there are many more food options for me, more people to meet, more places to discover.  Naha City is modern and not at all conservative like Ishigaki was.  I love my apartment (which I was able to choose this time and which did not contain the creepy remnants (mildewed furniture and curtains) and ectoplasm of prior occupants.

On Kokusai dori

City life

I also really like the other ALTs on this island.  There are some really great people who live on mainland and I'm happy to have met many of them (and am looking forward to meeting more).  The scene here is more proactive, more involved and for many reasons not so stagnant.  I was pooh-poohed and hushed (or should I say flushed) anytime I even mentioned I was sad or lonely during my year on Ishigaki.  As if one must always be super positive (do not trust those people...they are usually hiding the super negative tucked deep within the false positive).  Culture shock and isolation happen.  It's important to acknowledge and accept that and recognize it within others so you can reach out and offer empathy if you see people struggling.  These phenomena happen in big cities, they happen in small towns or the countryside.  Place is always a factor, but a sense of community is the most important factor in how you feel when settling into a new area.  If the town or city you are moving to has a vibrant scene and fits your personality well, you will undoubtedly have a much smoother transition than if you moved to an area that does not have any of those qualities.  I felt isolated on Ishigaki for a number of reasons (my job was not in one place so I did not develop a close relationship with co-workers; there was a very small pool of other ALTs on that island and for some reason I did not sense that anyone was very close to each other there; and Ishigaki itself is a city that is, in many ways, exclusive).

Ishigaki, for me, is a dream that happened 10 years ago.  I am happy I experienced its beauty as it is an island that one dreams of when thinking of paradise.  But I've left it and I've left behind the person I was while living there.  It feels so far in the past because my memories of it aren't always very happy ones.  Most recently, I went through a break up with someone whom I associate my time on that island with.   I have thought of how I could successfully document the ending of my story in Yaeyama with the ending of the story of our relationship but it has eluded me.  I had to come to terms with my loss as I was moving to Naha and I did it during a time of transition, so I was looking forward as opposed to feeling stagnant.  In many ways, I did not express my sadness in a way that most assumed I should.  I did not wear that loss on my face or openly for everyone to see.  I couldn't express devastation when all I wanted to express was hope for a better time.  I was moving to a new life and it was unfair to bring that part of the story into this new section.  So, I left it behind, but I still remember it.

Ishigaki Blues

I still think of him of course and associate him with the sunsets behind the island's mountains and night drives and the hope that I had for beautiful things to come.  I can't be angry about what happened.  Mainly because he was, in many ways, my savior.  His arrival coincided with an upswing in my time on that island and I feel only positive things when I think of him, even though the ending was not my choice and did bring tears.  Our time was mainly in Ishigaki (even after he moved away) which I realized on one of the last days as I was saying goodbye to the small city I had temporarily called my home.  I understood that in many ways, my departure from Ishigaki ended the narrative of that relationship.  At least that juncture in the script.

During that final week, I resolved to make a story of fragments and images about my longing for happier times, for a piece of my past that was fading from view, as I felt that narrative language failed in capturing my feelings. In a way, that seems apt.  I am not the first to claim this.  Memory too also fails as Lydia Davis captures in her book, The End of the Story, which is about the recollection of a relationship years after it is over.    Roland Barthes came up with the best way to write about love and loss in A Lover's Discourse:  Fragments as it is only through fragments that we build our narrative of love and naturally of the self.

“In the letters he sends to his friend, Werther recounts both the events of his life and the effects of his passion; but it is literature which governs the mixture. For if I keep a journal, we may doubt that this journal relates, strictly speaking, to events. The events of amorous life are so trivial that they gain access to writing only by an immense effort: one grows discouraged writing what, by being written, exposes its own platitude: "I ran into X, who was with Y" "Today X didn't call me" "X was in a bad mood," etc.: who would see a story in that? The infinitesimal event exists only in its huge reverberation: Journal of my reverberations (of my wounds, my joys, my interpretations, my rationalizations, my impulses): who would understand anything in that? Only the Other could write my love story, my novel.”  (A Lover's Discourse:  Fragments)

If anything, fragments are all we have to work with rather than a linear story of a particular time or place, a particular person.    The inadequacy of language, something that I am constantly dealing with while trying to learn a new language here in Japan, is built into every moment, every relationship.  How can I describe for you what I experienced?  How the sky that particular day was a blue from the dreams of my childhood (a Scandinavian sky from a childhood that I never experienced).  How can you, someone outside of this experience, sense the overwhelming joy, the innocence that hits me suddenly when I look up and see  in that sky something that is nearly inexpressible?


Oh language.  Oh memory.  Perhaps that should be the title of this entry.  Or maybe it should be, "On the Use of Literary Texts in Sorting Out One's Life."   I need to start reading Michel de Montaigne, I think.

I have so much more to write about besides this.  And I will.



  1. Hello! First I wanted to say thank you for the interesting blog and best of luck settling into life in Naha! I wrote awhile back on your blog:

    RhettandAlice said...
    Hello! I just stumbled across your blog and find it very interesting! My mother is from Yonaguni. I was an ALT with the JET program for 3 years - is this the program you are teaching for?
    February 15, 2011 8:30 PM

    秋 in Japan said...
    Yes, I do teach as an ALT through JET. Where were you? I love Yonaguni island! I'm heading there again soon to teach in a week or two.
    February 17, 2011 6:06 AM

    Sorry for the belated reply but I taught in Miyazaki Prefecture. Are there still any English teachers that go to Yonaguni? Does JET no longer go there?

    Thanks again,

    1. There is a private ALT now working on Yonaguni island who was a JET on Ishigaki last year. Unfortunately the funding for the Yaeyama area has been cut this year. :(
      I am now living in Naha, Okinawa but I still teach students from Yonaguni who are now living on Okinawa mainland.