Shopping for Christmas gifts back last year, I wandered into the audiobooks section at Barnes & Noble. It dawned on me -- what perfect gifts! Everyone loves a great book to salt the time wasted driving places! No more surfing AM radio, hoping to find Art Bell.
I scanned the long, full shelves. The titles ... Self-Help through Eating ... Top Up Your Toupee ... and one with no title just an image of a clown looking out from inside a doghouse ... a bit like cable TV, nothing seemed right for anyone I knew.
Between Fashion Forward Tales from New Zealand and Understanding Childhood Diseases, I found an unabridged Moby Dick. But still there was no one on my shopping list that would appreciate the 24 CD set. Except me. Hmmm.
On the way home, the terrible traffic seemed distant as I listened:
whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul… I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.
And there I was, just two weeks away from my final divorce hearing, three weeks from getting on an airplane to Japan for two months. Seems that I quietly take to an airplane. And where does Ahab find and fight the impenetrable White Whale? Off the coast of Impenetrable Japan, of course. Coincidence? Serendipity? or Conspiracy! No. Just fortuitous. I can't think of a greater book about seeking meaning and rebirth than Moby Dick.
Long ago this blog veered from tales about hiking in India to meditations on meaning, high school reunions and hiding knives in airports. My apologies, however insincere. While I have no plans to seek the white whale in Japan, cute or frightening as they may be, or geek out over Japanese woodworking traditions (still, you have to admit some of their complex furniture joinery will at least make you say “wow” in that expressive manner meant to affirm my interest and express your complete indifference. And I'm good with that), Mondaugen’s Woodworker is now reborn as Mondaugen’s Japan, where my bandwidth will widen a bit to navigate the land of competitive high school sports programs and modern band music, though these could also be examples of that renowned Japanese politeness and manners. Or of ergot poisoning. I’m not entirely sure. I will attempt to find out while I am there.
You may have heard that Japan is a strange place with strange social customs, a range of strange foods and odd beauty trends. However, on my previous visit, I came away with the feeling that the Japanese are not all that different from us. Consider that America is the home of olive loaf and Kraft singles. We also throw parties in parking lots and ask our leaders pardon turkeys. And consider The Eyes of Tammy Faye Bakker--our first lady of religious broadcasting. I believe that we have just as much to explain to the Japanese. The mind-bend that is required to enjoy a Japanese spaghetti popsicle is much the same as a fluorescent blue snow cone at a country fair, no?
I make no pretense to explain Japan to scrutable Westerners, or explain much of anything. Divorce is a somewhat humbling process. So I plan on simply living (living simply?) in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture. I will just see and do things. And tell you about them.
We all know that happiness does not comes from a life focused on success or achievement, or from a life focused on friends and family. Nor does it come from being a good person or contributing thoughtfully to public discourse. No: Happiness comes from watching Japanese game shows, and better -- becoming a contestant on one.
My first step is to learn the language...