Memoirs of a Gaijin

My Travels as an Expatriot

山の自分 – Myself on the Mountain

Earlier this week, I finished my first book in Japan, and though I started it in America before my departure, I read the lion’s share of Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore here in Japan. As I did with the protagonist of his 2013 novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, I find that I relate very strongly to Murakami’s protagonist in this novel: Kafka Tamura. Kafka, in the interest of distancing himself from his former life as well as finding some a sense of meaning for his life, runs away from home, and, though my own reasons may not be as dramatic or profound, I feel a sense of affinity with Kafka. In the same way that Kafka is on the shore looking out at the ocean trying to find answers about himself, I too am looking out as I also look inward to make determinations about myself; though my perspective is framed by the forested mountains of Gunma rather than the Pacific Ocean shore of Shikoku.

My time in these last three weeks has been a period of adjustment unlike any one I have experienced before, one which I do not expect to end at any point soon. I guess this is the same for everybody whether they are living abroad or not, as nobody will ever be 100% secure in what they do in life. This part of the human experience is expertly captured by Murakami through Kafka’s character. All throughout the novel, Kafka’s chapters are told from a first person point of view, and this allows the reader to accompany him as he navigates the inner workings of his personality and motivations. That Kafka, our 15 year-old protagonist, is confident and ambitious is never in doubt, but, as is common with many youths both within literature and without, he is solely focused on defining himself, convinced that he needs to find this definition; to reference Billy Joel’s The Stranger once more, he has yet to realize that Vienna will wait for him.

As a fellow youth, albeit one with seven more years of life experience than Kafka, I still fall into this pitfall of growing up, and in reading through Kafka on the Shore, I have been meditating on this aspect of my life with more focus than is usual. I have always been an ambitious person, and that ambition has been focused into both settling into and preparing for my job, as I will begin working as an Assistant Language Teacher next week. Though now that I feel I am adequately prepared, I find that there is a distinct absence of a target at which to focus this ambition. However, I have no doubt that one will come into my purview, and if one does not, I will seek out a target or create on for myself; if I cannot play with the cards I have, I will deal my own hand.

At the moment, this focus seems to be upon both starting my next book, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and working on and improving upon my Japanese skills, both those written and spoken. As I progress further in my job and make further discoveries in my new home, I am sure that I will find my niche within this cultural ecosystem, and I will change this ecosystem just as I know it will change me. I look forward to the ways in which these discoveries will inform and be informed by my decisions in Kiryu, but there is no sense in trying rush these things.

Vienna will wait for me, and for now all I can do is make the most out of every moment that I have, be it studying Japanese, exploring Kiryu on my bike, reading another book, or any other possible activity. Kafka is on the ocean’s shore and I am at the mountains’ foothills, each of us searching for some semblance of purpose or meaning. And just as Kafka finds his own purpose through his self-discovery in nature, I too will find a part of my own purpose through my time in here Kiryu; of that I have no doubt.

One way or another, I will find this purpose, and I will be patiently waiting at the foot of the moutains until then.

Song of the Week

Memoirs of a Gaijin Playlist

“Vienna” by Billy Joel

While it does feel a bit repetitive to include two songs from the same album twice in a single month, I feel this song is far too appropriate for this week’s post not to use. The lyrical content of the song is one which effectively captures the short-sighted ambition of youth, and, as someone who is deep in the midst of such an intrapersonal experience, the song is very emotionally potent. The simple piano accompaniment is a nice touch, especially when it punctuates Joel’s final declaration that “Vienna will wait for you,” and from this point on the piano gently guides the listener back out into the world, allowing them the time to process the meaning of the song like a pillow shot in a Yasujiro Ozu film. Such touches demark a quality song for me, and I love the way that the quality of this song resonates with me.

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  1. Wonderful writing, a pleasure to read. 🙂

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