Sometimes you suddenly cross a line.





Yesterday, we decided on the spur of the moment – tempted by the thought of eating something different from the last twelve satisfying, but occasionally too predictable, weeks of home cooking – to just do it : go and eat in a favourite restaurant. I  had actually already broken my own hymen of taboo a couple of hours earlier.




I was lonely.





When D went back to work on Monday, I enjoyed being alone for about 45 minutes max,  then immediately felt too solitary and empty. For me, the best solitude is when you are not alone – when the other person is in another part of the house for most of the day, doing their thing, and you are doing yours, and then you meet up for coffee and meals at certain times and then watch something together in the evening. To me, this is the essence of happiness. You become completely acclimatised to it when you are together 24/7 for three entire months. It becomes natural – you are inseparable. And I felt both intensely restless yet also desolate on Monday, going down to the lake alone, trying desperately hard to concentrate on, and enjoy, reading. Yesterday, I couldn’t do it again and decided to just spontaneously meet him outside the school gates, something – unbelievably – I have never done before in 14 years of D working there.




I had been at home, looked at the clock as it ticked towards the afternoon and just thought fuck it – I am going to cycle down into Kamakura, even though it looked like storm clouds overhead and heavy rain, packing raincoats into my rucksack just in case and then just gliding down the hill at full speed past all the pungently fecund flowers that are out right now suffusing the air with their bee smells, all the moist greenery, past the temples and the people on the streets (still not so many, but some sitting spaced out in coffee shops, a sense of stirring and the lid being taken off the pressure pot now that the state of emergency has officially been lifted across the whole of Japan, a lightening in the air, a less tightening in the chest, a physically palpable sensation of cautious optimism and movement tangible in the shared space). I felt enlivened and bolstered, like we were all entering a new chapter.





People are cautious though. Which is obviously the right attitude to be taking. Even if it took quite a long while to get to that point. As reported here, when I was going crazy with exasperation from January onwards, the quarantined, disease-ridden cruise ship stranded at Yokohama Port dealt with the authorities with jaw-grindingly infuriating incompetence, the refusal of our schools to look the situation squarely in the face when I was permanently baffled by the willing oblivion that seemed to be the status quo for so long when it was obvious that the world was heading into a pandemic and there seemed to be zero trend towards social distancing and I feared a calamitous siege of the hospitals as seen in many other countries, somehow, people just kept their calm, gradually adopted the measures (most people wear masks here anyway, especially in winter and spring; people are naturally more socially distant in the sense of not shaking hands nor hugging and have for a long time had to learn how to negotiate space given the situation on rush hour trains on weekday mornings); somehow, the government’s policy – which I was melodramatically opposed to for a long while, and it did, it must said,get a bit hairy for a while with Tokyo hospitals becoming overwhelmed with severely affected COVID 19 patients – of limited, precision point testing, but treating those that obviously needed to be treated, while the population as a while complied with the lockdown, unlike the foolish protesters in some other countries who can only ever seen government intervention as a threat to their ‘liberty even though by doing so they are risking the shutdown of their lungs and then the failure and then perishing of their vital organs, leading to painful death in complete isolation – somehow ( I still can’t completely explain it to myself fully and will be re-analysing this for a while) , the country as a whole has pulled it off, the World Health Organisation making a statement the other day that in Japan, the coronavirus response had been a ‘success’.








Obviously, we are not ‘out of the woods’. Anxiety remains. Convenience stores and most shops have plastic surrounding tills and cashier desks; the employees are masked, and it has become natural to not stand too close to other people. But, as I said, the feeling was definitely different yesterday, and, seeing an outside table free, tucked in a corner on a woody veranda by itself, a seat directly facing Duncan’s school gate across the street, I made the split-second, unconscious decision to just park my bike, buy a beer, and sit down, watching the world go by, the masked teachers coming out one by one from the security guarded gate (there are no students there yet, and they are working reduced schedules, gearing up for a probable full return – like me – for next week. )







I went to the counter. Paid my money. Sat down. The server brought me my drink. I sipped from my glass. Watched faces, others walking by – it felt humanising and stimulating. Still a little daunting, drinking from the glass. But hygiene has never been a problem in Japan, and the servers in the cafe were very cautious; I figured it was no more dangerous than handling the grocery shopping that we have been doing locally for the last twelve weeks – and anyway, the crisp, draught ice cold beer tasted delicious. I felt a sense of ‘general positivity’ for the first time in a long while: you realise that, yes, you might be alright Jack – and we were; in our suppressed dream routine, in the house and on the usual cycling route – but it is not the same as being a part of the outside world, which everyone, except for the most confirmed social recluse or hermit, ultimately wants. I loved seeing human beings again. A young couple, sat on the other side of the veranda, having an argument – both pretty and ludicrously petulant; I couldn’t understand why she was taking his aggressive taunts at her, and could picture them in old age, if they stayed together, encrusted with misery and resentment if they didn’t change their ways, but that was just my personal take – they were just immature and learning how to do relationships; they will doubtlessly break up ; the point was that I could look at them and listen to them, keep myself to myself, but be part of a wider picture. It felt hydrating.







Eventually, D emerged from the school premises, surprised but happy to see me, and we decided, rather than go straight home, to just take some random meanderings down the backstreets of Kamakura, taking pictures of things we had never noticed before, seeing new small details; taking them all in. We decided to just go and sit outside one of our favourite temples and just talk for a while, passing a Chinese restaurant we had once been to on the way and I suddenly decided: I WANT TO EAT CHICKEN IN THAT PLACE. LET’S GO. Normally, of course, this would be completely par for the course – you go out, you eat out. Recently, however, it has felt unthinkable; horrifying. Even yesterday morning. But it is interesting how the psyche works: sometimes you just move through the inhibiting membrane to the other side again without thinking too hard; it is a natural metamorphosis. I said, jokingly, I am willing to risk my life for some spiced Chinese chicken and dumplings and D, to my amusement, was also effortlessly persuaded.







So we mosied around further until it was open for dinner, dipping in and out of old temples sites or down the back streets or by certain points of the river, until it was time for opening hour, and we took the plunge. We went in. The only customers. The tables spaced out (exactly as they were before; I am a claustrophobe, so can only go into restaurants, bars, cafes or pubs where there is enough room to breathe and manoeuvre – I won’t even consider them otherwise; I know which places work for me ); open windows were letting pleasantly naturally temperatured air move freely about the premises; the staff were all masked and delighted they had some customers, and we sat down. We ordered. Ordering food. Later, some other people came in and took up some more tables- the restaurant had also been doing a take out service for people who wanted freshly cooked Chinese food on their way back from the office: a fair number of people cycling or walking by to stop and order their dinner. The background music was good – very eclectic, cool, not too loud – a frequent problem for me – the food was fine; not as amazing as I had been expecting, perhaps, but still extremely satisfying; spicy with chilli and they do a great lemongrass-infused, almond and apricot stoned annindofu : but it was rather the normality of the situation that was thrilling, the sense that the world had shifted a gear a little, that economic activity was resuming; that the inevitable interdependence of people in any society was starting up again. I felt kind of elated.







Also, I have to say, I liked the symbolic nature of the restaurant that we had chosen, which I think was semi-deliberate on my part, once I had thought of it. I am no apologist for the government of China: the regime is brutal, and now on a rampage:  God knows what is going to happen in Hong Kong; I don’t believe their death toll or infection figures any more than I do Russia’s or any other country’s; and it is obvious that the oppressive Communist party  were trying to conceal the true extent of the initial outbreak in Wuhan, and that the very reason that the majority of these coronaviruses exist in the first place is due to the circumstances in which livestock and wild animals are kept in wet markets in China and other regions in Asia, such as Vietnam and Indonesia. Though it will be extremely difficult to stop or reduce these cultural practices (try making Northern Europeans stop drinking heavily, or get Americans to give up their guns; ingrained tendencies are very hard to remove from any culture), the W.H.O must insist that action be taken in order to prevent a reoccurrence of this global disaster. They have to be pressured into doing so, diplomatically. Presumably, China, if only for its own interests, and to regain some international respect, will have already realized this too and will do their best to halt the trade in exotic species. If anyone has the militaristic power to stamp something out, surely it is China.






Despite all of this, though, to me, only the most facile, and unintelligent person will reduce this pandemic to a China-hating trope. Racist people have such dull minds. Such limited thinkers. So unphilosophical, bigoted and trite. I despise nothing more. Things are never completely simple. Which countries colonised more vulnerable ones in the past and reduced their cultures to debt-ridden third world states prone to disease? MERS originated in the Middle East; Ebola in Africa; the opioid epidemic a complex economic web over continents and social groups. Where did malaria first come from? : who procured the mosquitoes? It could even be argued that the biggest global killers, such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes, stem directly from the Fast Food Culture of the USA and the global behemoths that deliberately spread the unhealthy practices that follow when such innutritious food is introduced into a society; diseases caused by the intentional spread for economic gain by poor eating habits surely account for far more deaths a year than this virus ever will. It is all complex; we are all interlinked; It is simply boring,  moronic, and not necessary to demonize one particular society ; the way that Trump leeringly pronounces the ‘China virus’, with extra sarcastic emphasis on the former word, is sickening to the human soul: people who actually think for themselves, and are not swayed by cheap, vile, impulses. The man is such a dick. Always the very lowest common denominator. Tacky. Corrupt to the marrow. Undignifying to his country. It’s almost as if the atrocious death toll in the USA is a spiritual reaction to his ‘government’s’ leadership;  a malaise made physically manifest. Perhaps I am going too far saying that, I don’t know, but in any case, to me, the answer is not to become more insular, more nationalistic, more racist, more full of hatred, more ready to blame and to avoid responsibility for one’s own mistakes, but to open up. Start the dialogue. And yesterday’s meal, which felt like a new beginning for me, felt like the ideal place to start.


Filed under inexplicable happenings, LOVE, postcards from the edge, Uncategorized


  1. Tara C

    I am so happy to read this! After all the fear and loathing, finally a beer and some good Chinese food. I could do with the same! It really does feel like we’ve turned a corner, and Japan has thankfully managed to come through without too much damage.

    Today I was walking through the park with the dog and came upon a large group yoga class, led by my favourite teacher from my studio (which is still closed). Since the weather has finally warmed up, she is doing classes in the park on Tuesday nights. I’m looking forward to joining in next week. Such a wonderful serendipitous thing. I feel like despite all our summer events being cancelled, I can still have fun and enjoy my life, something I didn’t feel a few weeks ago.

    • Fantastic also to read this. Delighted you can join the yoga class outside – honestly, I think that we will appreciate things more than we ever did before. It has been a terrible thing, but some positivity will definitely come out of it.

      I thought I would share mine.

  2. bibimaizoon

    Trump will say anything to get reelected. A malignant narcissist will never accept responsibility for his mistakes but rather blame or scapegoat them away. I just wonder if he loses the election will he actually leave? Or will he instigate his followers to violence, insist the election was rigged, and we’ll have to forcibly evict him from office.
    The chicken sounds delicious & well worth the brush with death. The Japanese seem to me to be a bit like the Scandinavians- there is a natural tendency to social distance built into their cultures? Is that a valid observation?

    • Absolutely. My Swedish friend Yukiro says that no one would EVER sit next to someone in the spare seat of the bus. It just isn’t done.

      I also completely agree about what you say about the remote possibility that our Donald won’t be re-elected. He will do exactly as you say. I swear he will be chosen again though as he represents a ‘solid brand’. He is amazing. Who else has that magnetic power? Who are you more fascinated by? Him or Joe?

      I rest my case.

    • PS. ‘The chicken sounds delicious & well worth the brush with death’ has been making me laugh all evening

  3. Tora

    This piece made me feel so good. To go out to a restaurant again!! I am so sick of my own cooking. I love to cook, and it is probably one of my best skills, but enough! In the olden days, (seems so long ago), my husband took me out to dinner once a week. I almost always chose Thai, or Vegetarian or Italian. Gosh, I really miss that. And the ending of your post, your comments about racism struck a chord, like a bell. The incident in Central Park two days ago when a woman went totally psycho because an African American man asked her to leash her dog, upset me so much. She was a highly educated woman screaming horrible things about this quiet, restrained Harvard graduate who just wanted her dog to be on a leash. I am really glad she was fired. Each time I hear of another man of color being hurt, or killed or yelled at I am stunned and horrified, even though it happens here so much. I agree with you, ” Racist people have such dull minds. Such limited thinkers. So unphilosophical, bigoted and trite. I despise nothing more.” I don’t think there is anything I despise more. Except for our president and his cronies.

    • And the president is most definitely racist, and has not really pretended otherwise.

      I mean, racist incidents are everywhere. They were before the coronavirus, and T loved stoking the fires – as he ONLY thrives on negativity – but this has exacerbated them and it goes both ways. Initially, it was Asians being targeted in American and Europe, but when those became the primary infection points, Westerners now look terrifying to Japanese, who are supposedly safely protected on their island. I was quite shocked a week or so ago when a couple saw me at a crossing, turned their backs and faced the other direction until the lights changed, then, once I was safely ahead, turned ahead again. I felt like a leper.

      To some extent it is understandable, I suppose; I know fear does things to people, and the fear of catching corona has been quite terrifying. We have been very nervous about it, so it was weird that we suddenly just made that split second decision to go in and EAT. Like you, though, I just wanted a different taste. When do you think you will be able to go out to eat again? I thought Donalda said that initially there were 15 cases, ‘but soon it would be zero’. He even, when asked how he would rate his handling of the situation, answered modestly ‘I think I would give myself a ten out of ten’.

      I am not sure I agree with his assessment.

      Going back to racism and nationalism again, I really do think that people who hone in on people who are different to them and then make that difference the locus of their hatred are just insecure, and haven’t done enough thinking about what it is to be human. It is so obvious to me that we are all just human beings that happen to be born in one particular place, with its own arbitrarily evolved customs that we take on as though they were etched in gold; hence the variations from place to place. It is so BORING to hate someone because of it. Tedium beyond imagining. Intolerable. Just read some books, get a fucking hobby instead and do something creative and enjoyable you truncated, limited fools!
      T H I N K

  4. Reading this was delightful. Firstly, I am vicariously enjoying a beer and Chinese food with you; it has been almost three months since we have been “outside”, with the exception of that one drive a couple weeks back.
    Everything you said in this is so on point that I have to applaud you for being so aware of what it is like in this country; we will hopefully see change this November, if not, Nate and I are planning on moving abroad. We can not be bothered with the atmosphere of hatred that has been rising and encompassing all in the past few years, not that it wasn’t there before, now it’s just overwhelming. As you said, “Racist people have such dull minds”, that is spot on and it has made us weary.
    Oh, how I would love to be enjoying a delicious Chinese meal right now.

    • Glad to at least have given some vicarious pleasure! It WAS fun, really wonderful actually to be out, and I felt so much lighter when I woke up yesterday and started writing the piece – I truly felt something had lifted (still with a SLIGHT worry about having been out in public, eating in restaurants….there is some lingering doubt, obviously…..)

      The thing is with Donaldella is that it’s not even a question of Republican Vs Democrat any more. I think it is probably pretty obvious which direction my politics lie in, but do think that before, although Bush wasn’t exactly loquacious nor especially bright, I don’t think his SOUL was corrupt in the way that Orangutan is. I doubt he is even a Republican, or at least wasn’t initially. He just panders to the vilest contingents and is ONLY for himself. He sees death tolls as a direct affront to him as they might affect his popularity, not as a tragedy for the country he is supposed to care about. At least Boris Johnson – though also a true buffoon – does seem to exhibit some empathy and intelligence.

      I think I would also find it hard to live in a society where the divides are so toxic and extreme : an ‘atmosphere of hatred’ is no good for anyone. At least Japan doesn’t have that: yes, the country is possibly too docile and compliant, but at the same time people cooperate with each other, work together, suppress selfishness for the common good (which means you can then have total privacy – something the culture respects). As long as you don’t fuck up the delicately equilibrated status quo, you can do whatever you want and nobody will judge you for it: hence issues of sexuality/morality are left to the individual; this is also why so many fascinating subcultures flourish and the neon aquariums of Tokyo with all the nightlife and underbelly; it isn’t perfect, but it creates a society in which people can just flow from place to place without any aggro whatsoever; no one is barking in anybody’s face, and I would say the atmosphere is ultimately positive rather than negative. I hope the US somehow finds a way to overcome its blistering divides which seem to be rending its soul in half.

      And we all know which man is not helping.

      • I have to say honestly, the blistering divides of this country are pretty much rooted in its DNA. Since it was “discovered” there has always been this attitude of the civilized white man against the red/brown skinned natives. It is just too deeply ingrained. There is just this weird sense of pride and entitlement felt by too many white people; honestly, pride in ones skin colour, how dull.
        I think for as many changes that have happened over the last century, many mindsets have still remained the same, and its just truly sad.
        As far as the orange shit funnel goes. He would pander to anyone that supports him in his racist, xenophobic ways. Just today in a NY Times piece, he is being held upon high by a White Nationalist group who supports him and his views entirely. That is the difference between him and other Republican leaders we have had in the past. None were outright were endorsed by White Supremacist groups.
        I don’t know if the country will ever be the same again. Now we have all seen what truly lies underneath many peoples facades, and it is horrible.

      • Tora

        What you said is so true. Since our Slaughter of the American Indians, the slavery of Africans, we have just shown ourselves to be horribly xenophobic and cruel. I do have high hopes that there are enough sane people in this country to get that mother f***** out of office. That’s all I want for Christmas.

      • It’s what the world needs.

      • Yes, that is what I wonder, actually. And he did it deliberately. To think he is being endorsed by these groups really does make you think of World War II. Shame on him.

      • Truly shame on him, but since he is a creature without conscience or humility he shall never feel shame.

  5. Robin

    “But it is interesting how the psyche works: sometimes you just move through the inhibiting membrane to the other side again without thinking too hard; it is a natural metamorphosis.”

    That’s pretty darn good, N. So true. That mental barrier just disappears in the act of doing the thing. I’m not sure why that should be, why the resistance wouldn’t amp up instead, but it’s a beautiful, counterintuitive, miraculous thing that it doesn’t. (Most of the time. I know sometimes I wish that inhibiting membrane would have kept me from doing something when I knew better!)

    I love that it feels like such a novelty, a treat, to do something so normal. For me, it’s a bit of a high. A touch of adrenalin, even. I hope I can hang on to that sense that the everyday is newly-minted. I found it a bit of a thrill to stand next to a neighbour, as I did yesterday, at daringly close range (a few inches closer than the two metres advised), and talk about the warbler I saw in his tree. It felt almost intimate. It was a heady thing not to feel that tinge of trepidation that has been a constant presence when I’ve gone out during these last months. A relief.

    It’s a bit of a cruel contrast to think of people whose countries are just now starting to see skyrocketing infection rates. I was reading about Nicaragua. What a bloody nightmare. Add Daniel Ortega to the list of sociopathic leaders whose governments have refused to impose measures to halt the coronavirus and are now actively trying to conceal its spread. It’s victimization, squared. It revolts me. The suffering, all the suffering that wouldn’t have had to be, and it’s just the beginning for them. I can’t wrap my mind around it and I don’t want to, and yet I think about it and wish that somehow those people could be rescued from their future.

    • So beautifully put – I am welling up reading this.

      I know: exactly – all of this. So many assholes in power – I can’t stand it!

      At the same time, much as we can empathise, there really isn’t a whole awful lot we can do right now, realistically. And we probably shouldn’t feel guilty about these gorgeous moments you are describing here. x

      • Robin

        No, true, you’re right. My recent joy in talking to my neighbour as though he were just a neighbour and not a potential source of a murderous virus does not mean someone’s granny in Haiti must die a horrible death from COVID-19. It is not a zero-sum game. My feeling rotten about the plight of much of the rest of the world right now is clearly delineated in my own mind from the happiness — and civic pride, it must be said — I take from the improving situation we’re experiencing in this teensy backwater. We’ve tried hard to help each other stay safe and optimistic and I really do think, as pollyanna-esque as it sounds, that it’s brought our community together in a lasting way. The rest of the world deserves the same happy fate. Unfortunately, not everyone is going to get it. And that is shitty, non-zero-sum or no non-zero-sum.

        I do want to say again how much of a relief it is to know that you’re safe and Japan is doing so well. When I think of what could have happened to Tokyo, Kanagawa, et al. There was room for a hell of a disastrous outcome and you managed to avoid it. Phew. Yes, some spiced Chinese chicken was indeed in order.

      • Thanks Robin.

        I think we are actually being a bit TOO cavalier – we went for an Indian tonight as well…..

        So strange to be on the emptier trains, the plastic sheeting everywhere……but yes. We are lucky. Both you and I. There is no other way of saying it.

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