Recommended Reading (2)

Here’s my second recommended reading post! (Here’s the first: ‘Recommended Reading (1)‘.)

I’ll be introducing 2 pieces today: one poem and one personal reflection piece. Enjoy!

1. ‘Free Verse Poem: Emiri‘ by Stacia Reaching Up (10 November 2014 / fiction)

© Stacia and Stacia Reaching Up, 2013.

© Stacia and Stacia Reaching Up, 2013.

I am Emiri,
Just until the moment I am not. I think,
Pinching folds in my kippu as I wait
Behind the yellow line that whispers, ‘Danger.’

Dark walls fold overhead like a curled tongue,
Leaving a gap open to the sky above the tracks.
Rain rushes between the slit with such urgency,
Hitting the ground as though surprised
To be barred from passing through to Yomi-no-Kuni.

Sometimes I forget
That there were happy days
Before I was alone.

I imagine ghosts
Watching from the cave-like indentations beneath the platforms
Waiting to devour those seeking escape
In the case of an accidental fall,
Or a last-minute change of heart.

I catch the shriek of the train
And relax as a cold wind nudges me from behind.
Counting down
The ways of living
Days of dying—
My blue dress dances in the greying light.

I am Emiri.

Just until the moment,
I am not.

*kippu, a train ticket
*Yomi-no-Kuni, the Japanese mythological Underworld

© Stacia and Stacia Reaching Up, 2013.

In Japan, it’s always tragic when a person commits suicide by jumping in front of a train. It’s even more tragic when it’s entirely expected, a habitual occurrence, another reason to cluck your tongue in utter annoyance at your train being delayed on the way to work. For those familiar and in constant contact with this ill-fated phenomenon—have any of you ever stopped to think about what is running through the mind of the person about to jump? I haven’t, to be honest, that is, until I read Stacia’s haunting and disturbing poem, that rather than just being wholly despairing, paints a different picture—one that is much more complex than we might expect from someone set on ending their life.

That particular mid-section is, to me, the most poignant moment of the entire poem:

Sometimes I forget
That there were happy days
Before I was alone.

If these are indeed Emiri’s thoughts seconds before her death, there is something heartbreaking about the fact that as much as she yearns for a definite closure to her life, her current present, however short-lived it may be, is undeniably overshadowed by her past, which she has tried so hard to run away from. Notice how ‘Sometimes I forget / That there were happy days’ doesn’t mean she’s completely forgotten her past; on the contrary, she cannot forget her past precisely because of those once-happy days which ironically haunt her for the rest of her life.

The genius of these particular 3 lines is the lack of punctuation, leaving it open to multiple interpretations. Initially, you can read it straightforwardly as it is: ‘Sometimes I forget that there were happy days before I was alone.’ Emiri is looking back and reminding herself of the days of happiness she experienced before her subsequent solitude.

But if you were to add commas and full stops, you could also read it like this: ‘Sometimes I forget that there were happy days. Before, I was alone.’ The last line is said even more emphatically, the gravity of her loneliness weighing upon both her and us.

Even more radical: ‘Sometimes I forget that. There were happy days before. I was alone.’ What does she mean by ‘that’? There were happy days… before what? Was she alone in the past, but now doesn’t feel alone anymore—in fact, was she alone during her happy days, did she find happiness in solitude?

You might think I’m reading too deeply into it, but that for me is the beauty of this poem, allowing each individual the freedom to have her/his own interpretation. Again, she allows for a similar response in:

Counting down
The ways of living
Days of dying

I’ve never been particularly adept at poetry, writing and reading, but this is one poem that left a powerful impression on me.

(This ‘lack of punctuation’ technique—for lack of a better description—brings to mind Geoffrey Hill’s ‘September Song: born 19.6.32 – depoted 24.9.42‘ in which 10 words mid-poem can be interpreted in so many different ways. It’s magnificent:

(I have made
an elegy for myself it
is true)

Think that through.)

1492165_10153656322455437_379990704_oAbout the author: Stacia and I were classmates in elementary school, so the last time I saw her in person was probably more than 10 years ago. Recently, we reconnected through Facebook and were delighted to discover our mutual love for the arts. And truly, her authentic passion for writing shines through her blog, mainly through her poetry, accompanied and influenced by her hobbies of yoga, dance and photography. Enjoy the words and photos she painstakingly crafts and combines—something is bound to resonate in your heart.

2. ‘Learning to love other foreigners in Japan‘ by BradfromBradford (29 October 2014 / non-fiction)

Well done, Brad, you’ve made it on both of my recommended reading posts so far. His recent blog post documenting his thought processes and real-life experiences regarding his view of foreigners in Japan resonated deeply with my own. It’s both fascinating and amusing.

Being a white American born and grown in Japan, he’s had to deal with various issues, e.g. prejudices based solely on appearances, the distinction between ‘Japanese, Americans, foreigners in Japan like me, and foreigners in Japan not like me’, and of course, identity. For me, being Asian-looking has allowed me to play shiranpuri (feigned ignorance) and blend in a lot better than Brad has, but ultimately what he voices all ring true for me as well. A must-read for anyone interested in Japan—whether you’re just curious about the life of a foreigner in Japan or whether you yourself are planning to visit/migrate/live there.

Here are a few of my favourite passages. Brad talks about using the word gaikokujin or gaijin (used to describe ‘foreigners’ but literally meaning ‘outsider’) and how it differs when referring to us (Brad, me, the rest of us who are technically foreigners but grew up in Japan) and them (foreigners not from Japan):

On the surface, we used the same word: gaikokujin or gaijin. It was what we were known to the Japanese as, it was what we felt like when we went back to America or wherever we were ‘from’. We adopted it as our label, almost like a nationality. Gaijin. Outsider, but not. Insider, but not.

When used of those who hadn’t been in Japan so long, however, it was less reverential. Outsider, and probably proud of it. Someone who would never understand. A constant risk of embarrassment by association. A too-loud train talker.

In the following, Brad relates the realisation that his attitude and behaviour had been (in his own words) ‘despicable’, ‘hypocritical’, ‘betrayal’:

Culture by definition includes cues on who is in and who is out, and Japan is only one of many places where these cues are loud and clear. According to these cues, I am out. Or at least, I am the fringe. The periphery.

And so while people like me, examples of the imperfect nature of nationality as an organizer of humanity, should be at the forefront of playing down divisions according to nationality, in many cases we are its strongest advocates.

And in good faith, Brad busts a common misconception:

Not every gaijin is here because they can’t get girlfriends or boyfriends in their ‘home’ countries.

Well, yes, not every gaijin, but some of them…

0e02648c75ff332f04b2083ebda32b66About the author: Brad and I went to the same international school in Tokyo, then both found ourselves in universities in the UK. We’ve travelled extensively together around Europe and have had many good conversations, particularly regarding our TCK identities. He blogs at BradfromBradford and is also a popular YouTube vlogger, boasting an impressive 709,000 views on his ‘Call Me Maybe in Japanese‘ video (it was 686,000 3 months ago; the view count just keeps rising every time I introduce him on my blog—oh, the price of fame).

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