Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them.
I went for a walk around the local castle park this morning. Usually, the park is full of people having picnics under the trees. Not this year. Gatherings are banned due to Covid. There were quite a few people walking around taking pictures. I don’t often have time for cherry blossom viewing – I normally just see them in the park when I go for a run, but I made time this year. Here are some photos I took.
My native language is English, but my language of habitual use is Japanese. It has been for the past 20 years. I am a translator, so I spend most of my days reading Japanese documents. I’m so used to it that I read Japanese at the same speed I read English.
At the beginning of the year, I thought about spending the year reading only Japanese novels. The idea is appealing. I love reading in Japanese, and some of my favourite writers are Japanese. However, I decided against it, and chose to alternate my reading – one book Japanese, one book English, etc.
I’m doing this because reading in English is a kind of study for me. I translate from Japanese to English, so my English must be as good as it can be. Arguably, a translator’s skills in the target language are more important than those in the source language. Words and phrases can be looked up. Good writing skills can’t.
Another reason I chose not to read only Japanese works is because I write novels and stories in English. Seeing how other writers express ideas and concepts, and structure stories in English, is an important part of the learning process. This learning process never ends. I gain something linguistically from every novel I read, be it pacing, turns of phrase, or the weaving of ideas.
So, I am reading in both languages this year. I soon hope to make it three or four languages though. I’m learning French and Chinese. I read a lot of French literature which has been translated into English, but I would love to read Camus and Sartre (to name a few authors) in the original. A whole new literary and linguistic world will open up!
I’m reading a Japanese book at the moment. It’s a collection of short stories by my favourite Japanese author Matsumoto Seicho. I don’t often read short stories (although I write them for learners of English), but I’m enjoying what I’ve read so far. I might even add some short story collections in English to my “to read” list.
The golden tint that still glows on waters abandoned by the setting sun is hovering on the surface of my weariness. I see myself as I see the lake I’ve imagined, and what I see in that lake is myself. I don’t know how to explain this image, or this symbol, or this that I envision. But I know I see, as if in reality I were seeing, a sun behind the hills that casts its doomed rays on to this lake that dark-goldenly simmers.
One of the perils of thinking is to see while thinking. Those who think with their reason are distracted. Those who think with their emotion are sleeping. Those who think with their desire are dead. I, however, think with my imagination, and all reason, sorrow and impulse in me are reduced to something remote and irrelevant, like this lifeless lake among rocks where the last light of the sun unlastingly hovers.
From The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa (translated by Richard Zenith)
The novel I’m currently planning takes place in a Philosophy department in a university. Although it’s going to be light on actual philosophical thought (because I don’t want to alienate the average reader), I still need to know what I’m writing about. So, I dug out some of my old philosophy books. I did a Master’s degree in Philosophy about ten years ago. I got rid of a lot of books, but luckily, I kept around 50 of them. I must have known they’d come in useful one day!
It’s good to get back into the books. It reminds me of a stressful, yet eye-opening and fulfilling time of my life. During the two years of study, I learnt so much about myself, my thought processes and the culture into which I was born. I’ve been doing karate since I was nine, and l’ve been living in Japan for 21 years, so I’ve kind of been immersed in Eastern thought and ways of living. It was good to study Western thought, and discover thinkers and philosophy which I had overlooked in my attempt to understand the East.
I’m doing the reading in my writing time. The books are definitely not light reading, which I do for an hour to relax before I sleep. I need to be alert, otherwise my mind drifts. I feel that I can’t begin the actual writing until I have the philosophy sorted out. So, on I read…..starting with Sartre’s The Imaginary. It’s like being back at school, and I love it!
I had a spare few hours around noon, and didn’t feel like writing, so I went to the gym instead. If I have time to exercise, I usually go out running – I like the fresh air, but it was raining, and I wanted to do some weight training, so I went to the gym. It is run by the city, so there is no need to join and pay membership fees. You just pay 300 yen each time. I hadn’t been for over a year. I think it was closed for most of 2020. I expected a few changes due to COVID, so I wasn’t surprised at what is the new normal.
First, the number of people allowed in at any one time is ten. The training room is not so big, so it’s pretty crowded if there are more than ten anyway. Before you enter, you have to fill out a form with the date, your name, phone number, and gender, and hand it in to the staff. They then take your temperature, and unless you have a fever, they allow you to use the facilities. Oh, and you have to wear a mask when you are not exercising. When you have finished using a machine, you have to disinfect it.
Speaking of facilities, the rowing machine and the sit-up bench have been removed to ensure there is enough distance between machines. The stretch mats have been reduced from three to two. A few exercise bikes were missing.
I can understand why they have made these changes, but I didn’t really feel like I had exercised after I left. I missed the rowing machine and the sit-up bench! I want to go twice a week, so I guess I’ll have to make more use of the machines that are available. I shouldn’t complain. At least the gyms are open here. In many countries, they aren’t.
Today my soul is sad unto my body. All of me hurts: memory, eyes and arms. It’s like a rheumatism in all that I am. My being isn’t touched by the day’s limpid brightness, by the sheer blue sky, by this unabating high tide of diffuse light. I’m not soothed by the soft cool breeze – autumnal but reminiscent of summer – which gives the air of personality. Nothing touches me. I’m sad, but not with a definite sadness, nor even with an indefinite sadness I’m sad down there, on the street littered with packing crates.
From The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa (Translated by Richard Zenith)
The coastal area of the city where I live is dotted with fishing villages. Many of the villages have coves and beaches. Sometimes, I drive out there and run along the shore of one particular village. I never see anyone else. No one else is out enjoying the beach, so I have it all to myself.
Actually, I never see anyone in the village. In the daytime and early evening, the village is empty and eerily quiet. All I can hear is the gentle ebb and flow of the sea. Wandering through the village, you get the feeling that time has stood still for the past 30 or 40 years. It certainly has for the past 20, which is how long I’ve been going there. In those 20 years, I have seen no one, and seen nothing change. The wooden houses which line the narrow streets are the same, the one shop in the village, which is just a dark room of a house with a few bits and pieces, and no one around to serve customers, is the same. The shore front is the same. It’s as if this little corner of Japan is in its own bubble. When I go to the village, it’s so easy to forget that there is a world out there, beyond the sea. A world with countries, cities, people, businesses….life….
When I run along the shore, it’s just me and the sea, and my thoughts. I can forget about everything else going on in my life and just be at peace. I like to go in the late afternoon when the sun is slowly sinking. The shadows, like those of time, are long, and the birds overhead squawk to each other – the only sign of communication I’ve ever seen there.
After a run, and a walk by the water to cool down, it’s time to get back in my car and return to the real world. But for an hour or so while I’m at the village, the world ceases to exist. And in a way, that’s a good feeling.