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Essays

Although woodblock printmaking takes most of my time, and provides most of my income, in recent years I have been spending an increasing amount of time at the keyboard of my word processor.

I originally started writing because I had to produce pieces to accompany the woodblock print I send out each month, as well as stories for my newsletter (Hyakunin-Issho), but after getting requests from one of Tokyo's English-language newspapers (The Mainichi Weekly) to contribute short essays, I was encouraged to write about a wider variety of subjects. One thing led to another, and I now find I have quite a shelf full ... In addition to the Mainichi, I have had pieces published by The Japan Times, The Daily Yomiuri, and various magazines.

I'm not a very 'serious' essayist, and you will find neither deep social commentary nor biting satire in any of these pieces. They are familiar in tone and quite light in weight. I don't really know if there is much interest in them, although the responses in the 'Letters from Readers' column in the Mainichi seems to indicate that there might be.

Take a 'nibble' at a few of them at random. I would be interested in hearing your comments.

(And if you enjoy these, there are a _lot_ more over on the A Story A Week website!)

Dave

The general layout of this index page follows the one you see at the 'Arts & Letters Daily', a highly recommended site offering links to a multitude of interesting items on the internet. Don't miss it ...

Shorties

Most of these very short pieces were written for the 'cover spot' in the Mainichi Weekly (a space that only allows about 400 words) ... very good training to try and say something concisely!

"Your train for Shinjuku has arrived, sir", intones my imaginary servant. I thank him, and step aboard ...


You buy your ticket from a machine at the door, then go and stand behind one of the diners as he sits at the counter eating.
Stars! Until that moment, I hadn't known what the word meant.
They do the same things, eat the same things, and say the same things, over and over again, in an endless, mindless routine. [Living Fossils]
... anybody willing to get down on the floor and wrestle with him like Terry does is going to be his true friend for life.
I believe I heard the word 'vinegar' muttered under his breath ... [Man of no Taste]
... one of the major signs of the changing seasons, and people seem to become quite nostalgic when they first hear them each fall. [Autumn Friends]
... a never-ending source of amazement that Japanese houses, even quite new ones, can be so cold and uncomfortable. ['Insular' Attitudes]
Grey dust and white, charred bone fragments - all tumbled out together. [Grandad's Last Journey]
No sooner do I step through the door into the shop, whether small local one or large department store, than I can feel the sweating start.
... rough and tumble on public transport in order to get a place; using elbows and umbrellas to cut in past 'weaker' people; and men arguing with women for the last seats on a bus.
... surrounded by models, robots, and books on dinosaurs. Now there's a kid I could talk to! [Childish Children]
This is a very wide and spacious country; there are many peaceful places in which to unwind. [The Great Escape]
He wore heavy work gloves, reached out to each branch of the tree, and quickly stripped it of all the leaves. [Hand-picked Convenience]
How is it that our traditional calendar seasons so poorly match the reality around us? [Out of Step]
... magically transported from dirty, dusty Tokyo, to a place far away in the clean countryside. To a country valley in autumn. [Take a Deep Breath]
Even though my 'rational' mind understands how it is done, with radio, satellites, fiber-optics, etc., it still remains a mystery. [Around the World ...]
... a wide swath of white hair, in a place where I know there had been none earlier in the day ... [Step Right Up!]]
... these people simply amass a large pile of stamps, stick them in albums, and aim mostly for quantity.
Visitors to our home watch wide-eyed. "Ii, desu ne!" they inevitably say. [Three out of Four ...]
Or is it just that I am such a boring, unadventurous person? Perhaps I'd better not probe too deeply ... [Locked into a Routine]
I finally, finally had the experience that I have been waiting for ever since first setting foot in this country back in 1981. [At Last!]
Japan is currently in a kind of golden age, just as England was about forty years ago, when I was a very young child. [Golden Age]
... some of them joke about the length of the rainy season in that country ... 12 months! [Grey Skies]
... just about the most gloriously happy music ever written [200-year old Sunshine]
I made the trip full of high expectations ... for some glorious meals! [Great Expectations]
... just grit my teeth, and look forward to those delicious hours of silence [Happy Listening]
... nothing more important than ensuring that they grow up with knowledge of how to live in harmony with nature. [Key to a Better World]
I'll try and pretend that I'm ten years old again ... [Don't Shoot!]
I did encounter something though, that I hadn't expected to ever see in a typical Japanese family home. [Cold Outside ...]

Living Together

A single father with two teenage daughters - certainly no shortage of things to write about!

... at bath time one evening very soon, they will kick me out, from that day on taking their bath together, leaving me no option but to have mine alone. [Three's Company]


... pre-ordained more than eleven years ago, the day I found out that our yet-to-be-born child was an 'XX' type ... [A Permanent Problem]
If my father had written little personal essays like these during the years I was a child, would that now help me to understand who he was ... who he is? [The Real David ...]
I took a pencil and went through the list marking those items that sounded to me like they would be a good name for a young girl. [What's in a Name?]

In their eyes, I am thus a bit of a 'troublemaker', blurring those previously clear roles, and stirring up problems. [Off to Market]


I couldn't keep my eyes away from the clock. It was moving so slowly. Was it broken? [Time Stands Still ...]
This leaves me in the somewhat uncomfortable position of holding all the 'power' in the household. [Needy Children]
... hearing words come out that make you think that this kid must have been living with somebody else for all these years? [A Man's Work ...]

General Interest

Things to say ... and stories to tell ...

Her voice was soft, but she spoke with confidence; her clothes were quietly elegant. This Fading Flower moved about with grace ...


When we get near the end of the line and look back, will it be the 'free and easy times' that we recall with pleasure ... [Cultivating a Satisfying Life]
... they seem to have created a formula for living and working together that very few others have been able to find. [Partners]
... for some reason I was playing by Japanese rules in a western world. [Yes or No?]
... far more than those more overt propagandists, it is actually the 'familiar' essayists who are the most effective at philosophical guidance.
.. couldn't we somehow set up a society where I could be productive without having to behave like a robot ... [Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho ...]
I am waiting for that big day when the astronomers will announce the news that they have finally discovered evidence of other civilizations out there in space somewhere. [Just Like You ...]
We should not cry, "It's such a shame!" when we hear of a master craftsman with no apprentices by his side learning the trade. [Traditional Craft ...]
... the stuff just seemed to come welling up from inside him, to spill over and flood the room with melody. Every note the guy played was musical.
It seemed like the normal thing to do. After all, everybody has a job, don't they? [Get a Life]
And there on the back of his truck, was a brand new mountain bike. A 21-geared, super-lightweight, mountain bike. [Re-Cycle Adventure]
Do two kids who sleep side by side, study side by side, play side by side, and bathe side by side, have a different relationship than two who have private rooms for these functions? [No Place like Home]
Although it would symbolize full entry into this society, real practical acceptance could only come from one's actions: from living among Japanese people in a Japanese way ... [Fill in the Blank]
Oversize pointed ears, tiny beady eyes, and a mouth bristling with needle-like fangs, none of them longer than a millimeter, but appearing huge in the tiny visage of this Unusual Guest.
It seemed as though we were rather sitting in front of a fireplace ... glowing, mysterious flickering motion in a darkened room ... [Fire and Water]
Each item a simple accessory for living, but taken all together ... what a monstrous pile our Possessive Possessions make!
... during the conversation you find yourself in the ridiculous situation of bowing to somebody you can't even see! [All Together Now]
... hiding peas one by one atop the wooden support bars under the table top ... [Carrots, Again?]
... they must have had some kind of bad experience in a similar situation at a previous time, and had thus been 'trained' to expect trouble from foreigners. [Troublemakers]
There are great opportunities for personal expression in this slipper-donning ritual, and the performance can actually reach virtuosic heights. [Green Plastic of Home ...]
... as one learns characters and words, one by one they become visible, until finally the complete picture stands clear. [Book a Train Trip]
The music I've been writing with the assistance of my new computer certainly isn't going to climb very high in the 'charts', but that's not the point. [Becoming a User]
No sooner is that last line written ("I want only to be with you!") and our name appended, than the desire to have the letter safely delivered to her waiting hands starts to mount. (For she is waiting, of course!) [Romeo, Romeo ...]

He was walking back and forth among the tree branches overhanging the building, carrying a small, flat basket. [Autumn Leaves]


... to program computers and fix motorcycles, to study physics and learn silkscreen printing, to learn geometry and how to cook a meal. [Head vs Hands]
I still haven't been able to get over the feeling that I am living somewhere 'special', somewhere very, very special. [Exotic Shinjuku]
Not if I live to be a hundred years old will I ever be able to afford to buy a piece of land here adequate for building a comfortable house. [Homeless ...]
... 'game over'. I had completely failed at whatever it was the program was expecting me to do. [Level Playing Field]
Once I felt ready to start work, I began with the most important place - the bookshelves! [On the Shelf]
... so super-critical of his own compositions that he burned many of them rather then permit them to be heard in public. [When, Oh When?]
... some mad machine, spinning faster, faster, faster, until one day it must inevitably fly apart in chaos. [Faster! Faster!]
Park Interlude

Japan could retaliate, spraying grass killer over parks overseas ...
I don't think he really understands well what has happened to him over the past couple of years ... [In the Park]
Archery Suite

... in the sixth and final lesson, he might perhaps let us fit arrows into our bows, and try shooting. [Seeing is Believing]


If I have on something with no buttons down the front, they know that it must be Wednesday ... archery lesson day! [On the Hot Seat]
... slowly raised my bow, tried to think of nothing, and let the arrow fly, unconcerned about where it would strike.


I had been emulating Mr. Mitty during my carving hours somewhat more than I'd care to admit. [How to Lose Friends]


A limb of an old and gnarled tree stretched out, and some of the gates and doors stood ajar, allowing glimpses of silent gardens and ancient buildings. [Walls Within Walls]
... coming home from school, I would open the house door and know instantly what was waiting in the kitchen. [Oooh, That Smell!]
I do not find the concept of 'self-sacrifice' a particularly noble idea ... [In the Red]
... how much they need editing; how clumsy many of the sentences are, and how poor I am at expressing ideas clearly. [Who Cares?]
... diving head first out the door at 10,000 feet for a free-fall lasting nearly a minute, swooping and sliding around the sky, and then opening the wing-shaped chute and flying it home to the target spot. [Golden Boys]
It's just simply pleasure to be together with an interesting, intelligent and attractive woman. [Side by Side]
Whether I had turned left or turned right that day nine years ago, I would probably still be in pretty much the same position now. [Left, Right ...]
I stuffed coins into every pocket I could find in my trousers and jacket, front back and inside, and then started home ... [Sing for your Supper]
The double doors opened out away from us, pulled back by unseen hands, and we rose to our feet ... [Imperial Poetry Ceremony]

Canada '96
Snapshots and Impressions

Impressions of Canada after a return trip there ten years after moving away. Our Japanese friends might find them entertaining, and who knows, perhaps they might be encouraged to visit that beautiful place themselves ...

I have never really liked the traditional idea of being forced to bring back an o-miyage, a souvenir, for every single person in the community back home. [Introduction]


There are a few causes for the Tokyo cheating - the first and strongest of which is the extremely high cost of transportation in this city. [Trains of Two Cities]

... the contrast between their display of rather scrawny (and very expensive) vegetables and the mounds of fat, juicy and very healthy-looking ones here couldn't be stronger. ['Capers']


... a horseshoe-shaped counter with red-topped stools arrayed around it, along one wall a half dozen booths, and up on one wall a menu board made of some kind of grooved black material in which white letters were arranged to spell out the 'Daily Specials'. [Lunch in a Time Slip]

A few seconds later, I stood back in amazement and stared. There was my rock, balanced 'upside-down' on a small point. [Balancing Act]


Even though I thus have no actual photographs to show you, I do have a collection of remembered 'images' [Snapshots]
They find a cheap hole in the wall space on a back street somewhere, clean it up, put in a few tables and chairs, scribble a menu on the wall, and go to it. [Where to Tonight?]

Also in the 'collection' ... these other pieces ...

  • 'Seditious Beauty' - a piece that tries to show the impact that art can have on society ...
  • 'Karuta' - a story on the Japanese playing cards, written for the Japan Quarterly magazine
  • 'Art Jottings' - a column containing short pieces about my printmaking work that I wrote for the Mainichi Weekly for one year from April 1995 ...
  • 'Honobono Life' - more short pieces for the Mainichi Weekly
  • - The keynote speech given at the inauguration of the Hamura International Exchange Association

(This 'Baren' link always takes you back

to the main menu of this website ...)