Hello Kitty

By Jane Joritz Nakagawa

Although in part based on actual people and events, this is a work of fiction.  I did not strive to be factual.  The names Asan, Bsan, etc. do not correspond to real names of any actual person.  I do not keep a diary.  The “I” is in part based on myself as may be some of the other people mentioned in the diary.  The other people may also be figments of my imagination.  Who really knows? Life can be like that, or this. –JJN

Dec 9

Asan[i] said today he was going to attend the conference because it is outside of his comfort zone to do so.

Recently I have almost no comfort zone.  Except maybe when writing to you, dearest diary–

It is clear and cold today.  I try to avoid stepping in spit left on the pavement by middle-aged men (have you ever seen a woman spit on a sidewalk in Japan?).  Young boys wear short pants outside as if it is summer.

I walked to a local temple.  A man was trying to get money out of the saisenbako[ii]  (賽銭箱) by holding it upside and shaking it; he runs away when he sees me . .  . .

The bags full of daikon[iii], potatoes, brown rice, and apples are so heavy my shoulders feel like they will burst.

I walk past the pachinko parlor.  My lungs start to collapse when I get a whiff of the tobacco smoke that filters out into the street . . . .

Dogs outside houses sit on concrete, immobilized by short leashes.


Dec 12


Among the most humbling experiences of my life were becoming a teacher, moving to Japan, and learning about Jungian psychological type and multiple intelligences theories, I think.

Teaching was humbling because though I believe I was suited straightaway to certain aspects (developing interesting, useful and creative lessons; a caring attitude towards students; a sense of humor in the classroom) I was a mess at others (classroom management, organizing my things, managing group work effectively, using the time well etc.).  I cringe somewhat, or laugh!, when I remember some of/many of my early mistakes as a teacher.  It took me about five years of teaching before I started to feel I was close to being the teacher I wanted to be, and a few more years after that to feel I had basically mastered it, all the diverse skills and talents that go into teaching. 

Now I can enter a classroom with confidence and enthusiasm and feel relaxed about it all rather than nervous.  But there are still things to learn from really excellent teachers, and students, I’m sure.  Technology offers interesting new options too, perhaps, though recently I feel that there is in some cases too much technology in teaching and in some aspects of life–

Rows of people gazing into their mobile phones on the train . . . .


Dec 14

From an early age my only interests seemed to be teaching my imaginary students in the basement of our house, reading, writing, and listening to music.  These are still my chief interests although my students are no longer imaginary (I think;-) and my interests have broadened to include viewing visual art and other art forms, and being in nature (although when a child I had little interest in being outside except for enjoying the crunching sound of fall leaves; I was happy when it rained so I could read more books versus engage in sports).

And I only feel like I am in a basement.

These quarters are rather cramped . . .

The sun leaks into the room through tears in the shoji[iv] . . .

I have large welts from the dani[v] living in the tatami who bite me[vi].


Dec 15

Moving to Japan was humbling because at first I couldn't use the language at all and didn't know the culture well.  I didn't know how to “read” Japanese people yet.  In the U.S. as a worker I was valued for my ability to use my native language well and work well with people and I was good at reading them — I could tell what people's strong and weak points were and knew how to mobilize their talents, I knew this at an instinctive level.  All those skills disappeared or were mostly unnecessary after moving to Japan in 1989, which was a pre-internet era — Japanese people were not easy to read because the signals here are different.  I also eventually learned that I knew far less about almost everything than I thought I did.

Learning about Jungian psychological type (this occurred after a chance meeting at a conference in Hawaii combined with the fact I was working at the time with a difficult [bossy, bullying] expat colleague who I wanted to "figure out" — although I was to learn that Jungian type described healthy people and could not account so well for certain kinds of neurotic or psychotic behaviors – I believe now the colleague was sociopathic/psychopathic) was humbling because it caused me to learn more about my weaknesses (I already had a pretty good handle on my strengths), but ultimately that was a good thing — though there is initially an ouch associated with the bursting of that bubble the pain as it were can lead to growth eventually.

Having quit my job …. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on things including my weaknesses and what to try to do about them, time to read and study and learn.

I studied French before moving to Japan.  I had to learn the language here, while working full time.  There’s much to learn about Japanese literature, which may keep me going forever –.


      Black milk of daybreak we drink it at nightfall[vii]


I’m trying to read more French and Japanese poetry:

De vos pieds froids, accueille une horrible naissance




Dec 16

When I've brought this theory of Jung's up at conferences in Japan I've noticed most people respond well to it.  A few foreign (but not Japanese—and by foreign it usually means white men in this case) people in the past may have reacted a little negatively, I think defensively–I believe possibly or probably an ego defense (because it’s an initial, quick reaction, versus the kind of reaction you may have later after thoroughly reviewing something). Ditto for multiple intelligences theory tho Jungian type moreso.  One's sense of superiority can vanish when you learn these theories. 

Every man ought to be a macho macho man,

To live a life of freedom, machos make a stand,

Have their own life style and ideals,

Possess the strength and confidence, life's a steal,

You can best believe that he's a macho man

He's a special person in anybody's land[x]

When learning about new age-y levels of consciousness it may seem many perhaps can experience all the levels possibly but to remain at top levels of consciousness if they truly exist seems impossible.  Are Buddhist monks able to sustain those through training?  Or is that a sham, something people want to believe?  As for me at my current age, I've learned to create a state of calm mind — or perhaps I've not really created anything, e.g. it's just a biological fact of my current age 🙂 ; through effort I try and usually can overcome negative or limited ways of seeing to a significant extent (love that book, The Optimistic Child…I have some women friends here who I think should read it). When negative thoughts enter my head I try to reason my way out of them. It's much easier to do now than when I was younger–


Dec 17

My home now is Japan but I have many different homes in my mind — home is where my husband is, home is where affection is (in all its forms including for friends, students, nature, animals, activities, etc.) is, love and art . . . . nature . . . .after health and the basics like food and shelter, what else matters?  I treasure friends now more than ever.  I’ve had periods of excessive loneliness in Japan of course.  Maybe that’s why I value friends so much. And because I jumped off a work treadmill in part in order to have more time for them, and for myself.


Dec 18

It can be very hard to have a marriage in Japan and a career simultaneously for a woman.  Quitting my job was a gut-wrenching experience.  I had however become physically ill which was in part due to overwork.  I had thought the only way to continue was to be single and devote myself single-mindedly to the job and make students and school the focus of my attention, put all my love energy and creativity towards them, live near the university.  What would have happened had I done that?  There would have been something very appealing of feeling to be of such service to so many students every year.  What would have happened when I retired however?  Would I have been like P-sensei[xi], still coming in to the university after retirement, volunteering to give free seminars to students, and taking up the valuable time of the busy teachers? Additional volunteering in adult education?  Could/should a life devoted to a school and students replace a family and friends?


Dec 20

It took me seven years to write a good poem: said by poet Art Lange, in the beginning poetry workshop at Columbia College in the 1980s

I wrote that it took five years for me to begin to feel comfortable with my teaching, and some years more to feel I'd perfected more or less my techniques. I don't know how long it took me to write my first good poem.  I started writing fiction as a very young child, and poetry in high school (I didn't know what poetry was until then) — my early poems weren't very good and writing poetry still feels like a challenge many decades later at least in some ways; I have learned there is more to learn, fortunately — that keeps it interesting – tho perhaps less to learn than before (I sometimes feel, not sure–) and my confidence has improved of course with practice and acceptances from journals and comments from poets I admire, positive reviews and so on.  These things show that one’s work is not only satisfactory to oneself.  As with anything that you do, including teaching, a lot, it gets easier and better over time if you have the aptitude for it in the first place.

The teacher of the Commercial Writing course at Columbia said that though one's early work may have flaws, signs of promise for those suited to writing appear from the outset.

Madonna said on the Ellen DeGeneres show (!) which I saw on Skapa[xii] the other day by chance when playing with the remote control something like that as an artist you are never satisfied but you simply keep producing, do your best work and let others judge it . . . . “ours is not to judge . . . . “ I find satisfaction (at writing) to sometimes be fleeting but that keeps a person going at it.  Poetry writing like teaching I think becomes more fun the longer you do it, perhaps since the stress of mistakes fades. My thoughts about being a poet are like what Madonna said. 

Singer Freddie Mercury said in an interview that being genuine is what wins.   Artistic poetry does not make money.  I was not born to be a best selling author–I rarely like best sellers, the writing seems poor / boring / dead to me.  I have to be me.  I don't have commercial tastes in poetry.  I like some popular things however, outside of poetry I mean.  Not so many however?

          Stalled at a lectern, a habit or price.

          Snow fill and blur and the sidelong currents

          from no direction, the direction of news

          spun into an appeal[xiii]

In Japan I've become a hardcore relativist.  Being rigid and judgmental is often connected to strife, violence, prejudice, bullying.  To each her own. I try to understand others.  I may fail, but worth trying.

Ecological poetry . . . functions with an intense awareness of space, seeks an equality of value between all living and unliving things, explores multiple perspectives as an attempt to subvert the dominant paradigms of mono-perception, consumption and hierarchy, and utilizes powers of concentration to increase lucidity and attain a more transparent, less anthropocentric mode of existence.[xiv]

What Japan seems to have given me or has helped to give me: a broader philosophical, intellectual, cultural, spiritual and aesthetic outlook, a happy marriage, chances to do interesting things and to learn, an exciting place to live, a good income for some time although having left my tenured full time job I have little income now, a much physically safer place to live compared to Illinois, interesting, broad-minded, and inspiring people to be with, an appreciation of the simpler things in life (a cool breeze, a nice meal, a lovely view), a love of nature, different and healthy food, a second landscape.

What I have lost:  contact with friends and family in the U.S. is minimal compared to what it of course would have been.  Possibly in some ways my career would have been a little (a lot?) better in the U.S.  I still miss, after all these years, my best friend in Chicago.  I would have liked to watch my nieces and nephew grow up.

Lsan says I am happier when I am writing . . .


Dec 24

Went looking for Xmas cake for my husband. The stores are over-heated (I thought all of Japan was supposed to be saving energy!) and over-crowded.  The weather outside is quite nice however.

When I first came to Japan I was surprised to see items for sale outside shops and nobody watching them and the items not being nailed to the ground or anything like that.  I’ve lost my wallet and had it returned intact to me; I’ve left packages in public places by accident and retrieved them hours later in pristine untouched condition.  This would not happen in Chicago . . . .

Two British friends tell me London is too dangerous these days with stealing and stabbings . . .


Dec 25

Merry Xmas, dearest diary! Not that I’m really a Christian or anything:-) But I find I sometimes miss the Sunday group pancake breakfasts of my youth—the atmosphere more than the food ;-).  Confirmed atheist Rsan would kill me if I ever went to church! Maybe after he is gone I shall . . . Bsan said poetry is my religion.  Maybe.  Or the mountains in Yatsugatake[xv] area.  Perhaps I’m a Shintoist.


Jan 2

Happy new year, dearest diary!  We are eating vegan o-seichi[xvi].  It was so hard for me to give up cheese years ago, but I always felt milk was wrong.  “Meat is Murder,” so sang Morrissey.  What about the torture of farm animals?  Dogs in war?

If life turns out in the long run, it's because you paid no attention:  from a poem by Paul Hoover[xvii]

I adore irony in poetry and an ironic attitude may be key to a happy life (here I might agree with some of the new age thinkers). 

Tho content now, there have been problems, particularly in the workplace.  One will meet racist and/or sexist people anywhere of course.  It’s the latter (sexism) that’s been more of a problem for me however in the past perhaps—one has to get accustomed to it. The worst things I have experienced in the workplace are overwork, too much multi-tasking required of teachers, a lack of respect for teaching and research on the part of school administrations, unequal distribution of workloads among faculty members, organizational chaos, a lack of job descriptions fueling exploitation of teachers whose job can become whatever is asked by other teachers, administrators, office personnel and even students, cronyism, Machiavellism (and what I would call a masculine ethic here versus a caring ethic that may be viewed as more feminine), and at times a horrific amount of sexism, tho I have many good male friends here as I did in the U.S.  But at least out here in the sticks ideas about gender are with some people old-fashioned.

                   Cristine Lagarde’s rise to the top post of a global economic

                   institution . . . highlights the maleness of the circle of senior

                   officials at the agencies and central banks guiding the global   


I've listed above some of the reasons I left my tenured full time job, although another factor was having to live apart from my husband, which was great for a while but over time became tiring for us both.  I did not even have time to read the books I ordered with my kenkyu hi[xix] — a tenured associate professor who does not read books?!   To work only part time at a university you lose a lot of money potentially but can avoid the above to a large degree.  Unless you find a really good full time job.  Thanks to the low birthrate, economic crunch and teacher glut however the latter may be difficult to impossible now.

I remember reading a newspaper article in which some guy at Harvard University's medical school (I think the head of it) commented that thanks to a much larger number of female students and faculty members compared to in the past, the working environment became much more pleasant (more cooperative and nice, less cut-throat). Clearly all women are not cooperative and nice but there is some evidence that women taken as a group may overall bring different perspectives and skills to a job and much research showing the benefits of diverse workforces.  If there were many women in the workplace it would be different in good ways for women workers and I believe for men as well.  In Japan I've found that the men I worked with and it's mostly been men of course did not seem to value such feminine skills or had given up on it.  I was expected to become more more masculine.  But actually I did not want to become that.  I’m not a girly-girl, never have been, was always too bookish.  But I like the ethics associated with caring.

I've met of course competitive and Machiavellian expat women in Japan too and great expat men.  It appears that many Japanese women and men don't feel in competition with me, as if we inhabit different universes (which is true to an extent of course) which may mitigate against their exhibiting competitive behaviors toward me, though of course it has happened, if rarely really, with some Japanese men and women.  I may be competitive of course too.  I want to succeed but I’ve always believed if naively that I could achieve success by doing good work, that success did not depend on for example getting somebody else out of the way.   I know I don’t feel envy as strongly as some friends tell me they do.  I’ve always assumed everybody has their problems and never felt like I’d want to inherit somebody else’s.

A former male expat colleague said that men have rituals for dealing with competition that women don't have, and that makes relationships potentially easier between men versus between women. There is probably some truth to that.  (Western in my experience) women can be particularly passive-aggressive tho passive aggressiveness is of course part of Japanese society too tho it is difficult to make comparisons because in Japan there are healthy ways of avoiding conflict as well as the other kind.

In recent years I feel more in touch with my feminine side and closer to many women here. But I find “women’s work” meaning housework, cooking, etc. to be duller than dull.  Tho I like cooking for people however as a kind of gift to them, especially if the meal turns out ok.  I’m not gifted at so-called “women’s work” nor suited to it.  Why should women be allowed just that one career while men presumably get to choose from many careers? It is not like all men are pressured to be police officers and nothing else.  And of course this makes women dependent financially on men, a situation that is not desired by all women or men.  There is still an expectation that women will perform most or even all domestic duties tho of course families vary in their practices and thinking.

I value the good relationships I enjoy with many Japanese women and men and expat women and men.  I've learned to realize the other stuff is "their problem," you know, it's not going to be smooth with everybody for all kinds of reasons. Though there is a part of me that wants harmony, I’ve learned to let go and learned to appreciate diversity more including in terms I mean of personalities of Westerners. 

Gosh my own weaknesses appear larger than life!  They seem clearer and bigger to me every day . . .

For this reason I can’t criticize somebody else easily.  I notice a bad tendency tho to sometimes do so (I think a reflection of the way I was raised, where faults are pointed out rather than praise given – interestingly that is to a certain degree the way Japanese culture can often operate too) and have to snap myself out of it . . . .

Lsan gave me an article from Amnesty International’s magazine.  It was about how men make women feel unwelcome in workplaces and other spaces. I was so grateful to receive this from him. 


Jan 6

There was a documentary program on NHK television channel recently about working couples in Scandinavia.  A married couple each worked 3/4 time and together received the income of 1.5 people.  This money was enough for their family and the easier schedule for both partners allowed both of them a more relaxing life and more time with their children.  The couple shared housework and childcare.  They also each got to do work outside the home that was rewarding and each earn a good income.  Although strictly speaking part-time, the system allows for 3/4 time workers to be managers and so on – to have positions of great responsibility and importance.

I believe this kind of system would be very good for Japan.


Jan 10

The blues had a baby . . .

F san is always complaining about her job. (Vegan rocker Chrissie Hynde said the other day on BBC’s show Hard Talk that nobody likes a whiner and women should just “do” feminism.) Fsan keeps buying lottery tickets, hoping she will win money so she can retire.  But she never wins money.  If I put all of Fsan’s complaints about her work as an EFL teacher in Japan into one song, this would be it:


Work so hard for the students and school

but can't afford a swimming pool


After all I do, such a pity

Expected to join yet one more committee


I spend my holidays preparing classes

But what are students doing except sitting on their **ses


I spent all week retyping syllabi

Used to be easy as apple pie!


My students still cannot distinguish "false" from "true"

What's a teacher like me supposed to do


To make the course schedule we do “blackboard race”[xx]

Better not try to get in my face


My colleagues think I can't speak Japanese

Nothing I do will ever please


No idea where I put that form

In the winter I'd rather be somewhere warm


In the summer it’s so unbelievably hot

Maybe you think I like this job but I do not


I think my colleagues all hate me the office staff too

About the workings of the school I haven't a clue


If I fail a student she may stab me in the back

My school mail account got a virus from a hack


Long ago, as a teacher, I was such a star!

Now I hope students don't use their pen knives on my car!


But it's all scratched up and so am I

Want to do a good job — always fail — even tho I try


Don't have time to make my research any good

I'd become president and cut my workload in half if I could


Don't know how to use the copy machine

My office is a mess, no time to clean


Every day feels like the wrong side of the bed

Need a vacation but school’s always in my head


My clothes don't fit, my socks don't match

After working so late the last bus I cannot catch


My colleagues' papers they think I have to edit

But when published, they will surely take all the credit


I realize now I'll never be promoted

At meetings my ideas are always out-voted


Students still, if rarely, ask me out for brunch

Don't they realize I've no time for lunch?


My colleagues still can't apparently remember my name

But when things goes wrong I will no doubt be to blame


About their studies students once were stoic

Now they merely take the TOEIC


Instead of spending the weekend getting rest

We have to proctor an entrance test!


The rooms and all are very shabby

No wonder everybody here is oh so crabby


The way work is distributed is just not fair

I've no time even to cut my hair


My house I don’t have time to clean

The guys at work are really mean


Not promoted due to mistakes in my paperwork

Instead of me they promoted a lazy jerk


Now he bosses me around all the time

No wonder all I can do is rhyme


Working so hard I hope for more pay

But anytime I ask anything the answer's always "no way!"


I'm hear to work, not to amuse

But at pachinko I always lose


If a woman gets a job they’ll say it’s affirmative action

They don’t check the facts, just a prejudiced reaction


If you do a good job in fact you'll be harassed

And as far as promotion, women are always last


So there is no way to win whatever you do

No matter what you are supposed to play the fool


I want to succeed, not to always fail

But I have to spend all weekend reading school email


The school is just an old boy's club

Wish I had time for a genuine back rub


Still hoping one day I can take a cruise

Right now hardship is my only Muse!


My parents always said I'd never amount to anything good

It's true, I'd make my living as a poet if I could


You'd better not end up like me

From the school system you had better flee


I got the school blues, the school blues,

Goddess Almighty, got the school blues!!


Got the school blues, got the school blues

after all these years still paying my dues!


Got the school blues, got the school blues

After work all I can do is booze!


Got the school blues, got the school blues

Got a colleague's mail but I don't know whose


Got the school blues, got the school blues

Would teach only once a week if I could choose


Got the school blues, got the school blues

Teachers on strike, that would be great news!


Got the school blues, got the school blues

I'd quit now, but at gambling I always lose…


Jan 12

Childhood is certainly not the happiest time of one's life

That sentence I found in an EFL textbook as something for students to debate.

Looking back I have to admit I was a depressed child. My life began when I left home at 17, became independent of my family psychologically and financially, and then found myself in college.  At the first university I attended the intellectual nerds I related to were mainly foreign students and some teachers.  Many of the ordinary students were like rich jocks who didn't seem to be interested in studying all that much, but were in college because that is what you do after high school and because their parents were paying for it.  After transferring to art school I met a greater variety of students and many people like myself, tho the level of intellectual rigor in some courses seemed lower unfortunately.  But experiencing both of these environments was useful for me.  As a grad student I attended a large urban state university and then a summer program at an Ivy League university before moving to Japan in 1989.  These experiences were good although the courses at the state university were mostly disappointing to me — yet there was a notable exception — my one elective course, called Philosophies of Composition, taught by William Covino of the English dept, and the courses of one of my linguistics professors, tho only lecture style, had the positive point that he was a real activist type of teacher as I am and served as a kind of role model in that way.

I learned critical thinking mainly from the teacher of Prose Forms in art school.  Interesting that such a course would be the vehicle.

                   lopsided applause

                   an example of bone

                   flowers controlled by blunt formulae

                   ending in effigy[xxi]

Most of the literature courses I took at the private Catholic university were in my view terrible.  Just listening to the teacher's thinking about literature. Teachers never explained how and why they came to their conclusions about lit so we did not learn how to evaluate anything ourselves.  A main reason I left that university for art school as if I had stayed to finish my undergrad degree in lit, I would have had to take more such courses. 

A female teacher doing the performance of lit courses however was great, a wonderful experience to meet her and also to take Joanne Devine's course in linguistics.  There were also some other good courses at that university offered by philosophers and theologians, a historian, a political scientist, a smiling bearded psychologist–unfortunately those subject areas were not my major.  Even environmental chemistry was more interesting than most of the lit courses.  Nobody made me hate lit however, just the teaching of it.     However this experience taught me what to do and not do as a teacher myself so was useful at least in that regard. 

Role models for my own teaching ended up being Paul Hoover (advanced poetry workshop), William Covino, two high school social studies teachers, the Prose Forms teacher (Randy Albers) and a high school art teacher, because I really learned something valuable from these teachers and they used some type of active learning versus just having learners listen to them talk, plus the sociopolitical outlook of linguistics / TESOL professor Elliot Judd.


Jan 13

My main and a somewhat minor fear in Japan is being hit by a bicycle. They come very close; should I suddenly stop or change course I could be hit . . . I heard elderly people in particular are sometimes injured or killed by bicylists.

I was once hit but not seriously injured.

At the 7-11 a guy in a wheelchair made small talk with me.  I assumed maybe he saw me, a white woman who sticks out just like a Japanese guy in a wheelchair in Japan does, as another Other.

I recommend the books Beauty as a verb: the new poetics of disability and The rejected body: feminist philosophical reflections on disability.[xxii]

The only smiling face I used to see at the Aeon supermarket was the face of a worker living with Down’s syndrome.  And the friendliest worker at the old people’s home a guy living with autism who is more chatty with me than anybody else (W-sensei says he likes women!).


Jan 15

Esan said the first word of Japanese he learned was kokujin[xxiii].”  Fsan told a story about how she was called a baka na kokujin[xxiv] at her local train station by an employee, even though she was correcting a mistake somebody else had made.  Jsan said she’d like to do a presentation about being black in Japan.  I’m really interested in hearing it.  Lsan told me that her kids (half black half Japanese) who grew up in the mountains were very strong and studied hard.  They ended up going to high ranking universities and embarked on prestigious careers.  Nobody managed to pull them down.  Rsan told me that most of her friends with so called international marriages put their so called multiracial (I don’t like that word) kids into private schools to avoid the bullying they expect is part of a public school education.

Tsan said at one job when trying to hand her resume over to an office worker in an attempt to apply for a tenured job at her university, the worker, Usan, told her she should quit and have babies while she still could, since she could always go back in the future to teaching eikaiwa [xxv] (a subject she was not in fact teaching). 

Bsan complains that at her current job the Japanese faculty stereotype her as a dumb American and her white male colleagues stereotype her as a scary and strident feminist. She is contemplating quitting her job at which she has begun to feel excessively lonely.

Hsan and Jsan said all the white men are condescending towards them at work, even though or because their qualifications and skills are superior.  They said they’d do almost anything to get them to shut up to not have to endure anymore unsolicited and unnecessary advice.

Anita Allen wrote in a book published in 1994 titled Multiculturalism[xxvi] about the loneliness of the black female academic.  She wrote of how women like her feel, have been made to feel, “out of place,” “unwelcome.”  I identified with much of what she wrote even though I am a white woman with what is called white privilege.

In a conference presentation I included data showing how college textbooks which purport to teach American and/or British poetry, published in Japan, exclude or sorely under-represent the work of women and the work of non-whites.  I feel Japan has imported racism in this way, in other ways. 

I want to learn more about how non-white and non-western foreigners in Japan feel.

Msan said he thinks a preference for white male English teachers here is blatant.

I miss my university office:

                   The sanctity of an eight mat room[xxvii]

                   faint stench of mold

                   leap! large cockroaches scurry across the floor


Jan 18

The weather was beautiful today, not cold and not too dry as it had started as a rainy day that cleared up.  There is something still fascinating after all these years about simply walking around in the city. The city still looks foreign if less than before.  Strangely pruned trees, odd shiny roofs . . . .

I don’t hear gaijin[xxviii] whispered or yelled in my presence anymore like I used to.  Things have changed.  I re-read some old essays I’ve written and see how much I’ve changed also.

I hope I don’t get dani welts on my face . . . .


Jan 19

I had the same dream again last night, the one where I go to class but forget what class it is, don’t have my handouts, forget what I am supposed to be doing so the students start to get restless and then to leave, and then I’m scared that somebody in the school will see the students are leaving well before the bell has rung.  This dream is much worse than the one where I go to school and my office has been “moved” and nobody will tell me where it is, that I wrote about in a long prose poem[xxix].

Msan injured herself and cannot use the stairs at the university.  However when an office worker suggested she move her office to a building with an elevator, her colleagues complained that would inconvenience them!  Psan commented that a pregnant teacher or a student in a wheelchair would be unable to attend classes in that building . . . .

Csan commented that life appears structured around the whims and perceived needs of heterosexual able-bodied men . . . .

I wonder if the dominant social group has thought about what they themselves are missing out on . . . .


Jan 20

Bsan told me she feels she is hopelessly naïve.  I’ve felt like that myself at times, though I’ve seen so much I’m probably more jaded in a way now but more like to try to find those pockets of support and focus on those and try to ignore everything else.

Wsan told me she had an abortion without telling her husband. She cried but there’s nothing wrong with doing that: her body, her choice.  The number of Japanese men doing the work (other than providing money) of raising kids in Japan is believed to be very small, probably minuscule, after all. 

Ysan told us she is getting a divorce and moving back to her home country.  She said she’s only been waiting for her last child to graduate from high school and has gaman-ed[xxx] long enough. She said she will never come back to Japan.  None of us can believe that!

Wsan told me one of his friends told him he doesn’t want to work for a female boss.  Oh gosh what century is this?  Why did he come to Japan—to indulge his conservative attitudes about gender? Did those attitudes exist before he came here, did they get worse here (likely so) after being encouraged to be sexist by sexism in his midst? Thank the goddess I have some cool white guy pals.  But I meet this type, the ones who make sarcastic comments, the guys who try to make you feel unwelcome in the school and/or in the academic society, they want you to leave.

There is a sports documentary on NHK TV, on after the U.S. PBS broadcast.  They usually interview male athletes.  I saw one however where they interviewed a female athlete.  The interviewer asked her why her legs were so futoi[xxxi]. She is a tennis player who made it to Wimbledon.  Her legs look like those of a tennis player.  Why doesn’t he ask male athletes such stupid questions?  The tennis player got embarrassed and also asked the cameraman to stop aiming the camera at her legs.

Some days I think I have almost become blasé about the soft core porn-ish magazine covers featuring bikini clad women’s torsos at the convenience store.  Just seeing them used to make me so mad.  I’m concerned that I don’t get as angry as I used to—that’s not good.  But they still arise something, a strong dislike.

I’m getting blasé about removing the knives conservative men insert into my back at my conference presentations which almost always have an obviously feminist slant to them.  It basically has confirmed my resolve to keep preparing these because it makes them feel all the more necessary.


Jan 22

About 19.3% of women have been raped at least once in their lives, according to survey results released Friday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 2% of men have been raped during their lifetimes, according to the survey conducted in the USA in 2011.[xxxii]

Jan 23


Most of the time when we read about, hear about and when we talk about ‘crime’ and ‘criminals’, we are actually reading, hearing and talking about men and men’s behaviour.


Men commit more crimes than women. In 2002 male offenders in England and Wales outnumbered female offenders by more than four to one … Men outnumber women in all major crime categories. Between 85 and 95 per cent of offend- ers found guilty of burglary, robbery, drug offences, criminal damage or violence against the person are male. Although the number of offenders is relatively small, 98 per cent of people found guilty of, or cautioned for, sexual offences are male. (National Statistics UK 2006)

This pattern for serious crime is repeated in the US 88.8% male and 11.2% female, and even infanticide, often assumed to be a maternal crime, is much more often committed by men – 61.8% of child killers (US Dept of Justice 2007).

          Yet despite that overwhelming domination of crime by men, it is very rare that masculinity is the focus of blame or explanation . . .[xxxiii]


Jan 24

I had stopped noticed people staring at me until Ksan pointed it out and now I’m feeling eyes on me a lot on the street.  When I feel these eyes boring into me, usually but not always the eyes of middle aged and elderly men, I try to stand as straight as I can (not easy with this crooked back!) and put a cold empty look into them.  Tho I’m always wearing sunglasses.


Jan 25

Hsan invited me over for a vegan lunch!  I was so touched.  She’s not a vegan, but a good cook. How sweet to prepare a meal just for me!  It doesn’t happen often, and I don’t expect it to of course but—


Jan 26

I re-read much of John Kinsella’s book, Disclosed poetics[xxxiv].  It’s nice to have a vegan friend even if only via his book, tho of course I have a few vegan Jfriends.  He’s my white guy vegan poet pal from afarJ

Fsan started gossiping about everybody not at the lunch today but her stories are so funny! Nobody takes it seriously.

My email account was hacked again.  I continue to stay off Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc.  Why do women use 20 year old photographs of themselves for their FB pages and poetry blogs?:-)  Read The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf –

At my job the office staff expected us to check email all day long, even it appeared when teaching, on lunch hours, at midnight et cetera…. It was a horrific situation.  The university was praised for its paperless office. However . . . .

Gsan said his relatives keep asking him when he is going to move back “home” to Canada.  But we’re here we’re here we’re here!


Jan 27

The 70th anniversary:







Fuhrer furor



I think I may well be a Jew (Sylvia Plath, in her poem “Daddy”)

Jewish people



Jan 28

Most of my female students said they had experiences with chikan[xxxv].  One student said her mother had also.  I would be in the same age bracket; I also had an experience, but the chikan was a young white male in Tokyo!

I did not ask about rape or attempted rape.  So many women I knew/know in the U.S. experienced rape or attempted rape.  Recently in the foreign news have been reports about rapes on U.S. college campuses, especially in conjunction with drinking parties.  One of my relatives was raped after being slipped one of the so- called date rape drugs by a bartender.  In the U.S. I was almost raped.  Others have been less lucky. 

I think I am a lucky person . . . .


Jan 30

Some really great teaching presentations recently.  I’m amazed by the talents of some EFL teachers in Japan.  They are true teachers, much like some elementary school teachers are.  But often get so little respect.  


Feb 2

I am looking forward to future chances to share my research about Sylvia Plath and femininity.  I learned a lot writing the monograph plus preparing offshoot papers and speeches[xxxvi] about it, something I’m still very much involved in.   The research has made me think a lot about my mother, her era, how her generation’s social norms affected and continue to affect women of my generation . . . In some ways little has changed actually . . . . 

I recommend the book The road winds uphill all the way: gender, work and family in the United States and Japan.[xxxvii]

I hope my speech at Nagoya University in March goes well, and my February presentation at the Liberlit Conference.


Feb 20

Dearest diary, I’ve been very busy! Elder care, other tasks . . . More soon . . . .


Feb 22

SAN FRANCISCO — Many women in technology believe Silicon Valley is stuck in the past. They say they are rarely hired, promoted or taken seriously, and are confronted on a daily basis by sexism and harassment. They feel demeaned and discouraged.[xxxviii]


Feb 26

Peter Caws wrote: “Every ‘first’ or ‘native’ culture . . . is imposed from without . . . Consequently an identity that depends on it cannot be one’s own identity in the strong sense . . . the development of an authentic identity . .  will require the transcendence of one’s culture of origin” (in Multiculturalism, ed. Goldberg, 1994). The fact that many of my ex-pat women friends have created a unique hybrid identity is what binds us together.  However the fact that probably many feel marginalized and uncertain in particular ways sometimes perhaps creates rifts.  I re-read Chesler’s Woman’s inhumanity to woman.[xxxix]  Some of my relationships with expat men are less complicated sometimes maybe because their experience is different as is true of my relationships with Japanese people.  

I’ve always had a strongly male side.  Even some of my poems come out in a very male voice although that’s another topic that would take time to explain . . .  Gender is more complicated than most people realize because a lot of people don’t think about it deeply . . . .

I’m waiting for the snow to melt in Yatsugatake.  I feel an intense longing for the forest. I hope I have captured well enough this longing in my forthcoming poetry book[xl].  I am trying to feel content walking my favorite paths in Nagano in my mind til April begins and my feet will touch the roads I love so much . . . .


[i]  I use “san” after names in this diary as a sign of respect, even though or especially because the people named in this diary are not real people.





[ii] A box for collecting money left outside temples and shrines in Japan.





[iii] A large, long Japanese style white radish





[iv] Japanese style window panel screens made of paper and wood





[v]  A type of mite





[vi] Japanese straw flooring material





[vii] A line from a poem by Paul Celan, translated from the German; visit: http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/fugue-death (retrieved 2015 Feb 20)





[ix] From a poem by poet Tamura Ryuichi: http://poetrykanto.com/issues/2008-issue/tamura-ryuichi/tamura-ryuichi-田村隆一-Ⅱ (retrieved 2015 Feb 20)





[x] Lyrics from the song “Macho Man” retrieved 2015 Feb 26 from http://www.metrolyrics.com/macho-man-lyrics-village-people.html





[xi] I’ve added the Japanese suffix (form of address) for teacher





[xii] Sky Perfect TV, a satellite television company in Japan





[xiii] The opening lines of the poem “Typography,” by American poet Ann Lauterbach; see her book titled If in Time, p. 7 (Penguin Poets, 2001).





[xiv] From “The ecology of poetry” by Marcella Durand on pp. 117-118 of Ecolanguage Reader, ed. Brenda Iijima, Portable Press/Nightboat Books, 2010.





[xv]  A mountainous region in Japan





[xvi]  Special food eaten during the New Year’s holiday, although this food is rarely in fact vegan and veganism is not currently popular whatsoever with ordinary Japanese





[xvii] a poem titled “Thirty-Three” in his book Somebody Talks a Lot.





[xviii]  from “Why is it so rare to see women in top economic jobs?”, online:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/why-is-it-so-rare-to-see-women-in-top-economics-jobs/article591853/ (2015 Feb 26)





[xix] A research budget attached to a full time job in Japan





[xx] “Blackboard race” meaning everybody running up quickly to, in order to write something [such as an answer to a question posed by the teacher] on, a blackboard; although here used in a teachers’ meeting as a method of teachers writing their names on a blackboard next to the names of courses they want to teach it is usually a classroom activity





[xxi] a stanza by me, from my poetry chapbook wildblacklake (Hank’s Original Loose Gravel Press, USA, 2014; contact me for details: janejoritznakagawaATgmailDOTcom).  A review of the chapbook together with a review of my seventh full length poetry book FLUX (BlazeVox, USA, 2013) can be read online at:






[xxii] See my interview with Beauty is a verb co-editor Jennifer Bartlett in the online poetics journal Jacket2: http://jacket2.org/commentary/jennifer-bartlett-conversation-jane-joritz-nakagawa (2015 Feb 26).  Thanks to Diane Nagatomo for the 2nd book, The rejected body by Susan Wendell (Routledge, 1997).  Diane was very kind to give me this book from the collection of her now deceased colleague at Ochanomizu University.





[xxiii] black person in Japanese





[xxiv] stupid black person would be a direct translation





[xxv] English conversation: a subject some English-speaking foreigners in Japan teach for money and/or for love





[xxvi] Multiculturalism: a critical reader ed. Goldberg, 1994, Blackwell.





[xxvii] In Japan room size is often indicated by the number of tatami  (straw) mats or the equivalent size





[xxviii] the word means “foreigner”





[xxix] published in my fourth book of poems, titled The Meditations (Otoliths, 2009).  All poetry books published by Australian poetry publisher Otoliths, including my 4th poetry book The Meditations and my sixth titled notational are for sale at lulu.com.





[xxx] “gaman” is a Japanese word meaning “endure” or put up with something bad





[xxxi] thick or fat





[xxxii] “CDC: Nearly one in five women raped” in USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/09/07/cdc-rape-women-statistics/15239361/  (retrieved 2015 Feb 26)





[xxxiii] from Introducing violence gender and justice, online: http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/24560_01_Wykes_&_Welsh_Ch_01.pdf

(2015 Feb 26); emphasis in the quoted excerpt is mine





[xxxiv] Disclosed poetics: beyond landscape and lyricism by Australian poet John Kinsella, Manchester Univ Press, 2007.





[xxxv] perverts who ride crowded trains in order to grope women riding on these





[xxxvi]  I have a monograph out in March 2015 with The Argotist Online (UK) on the topic of Plath and gender: http://www.argotistonline.co.uk/DYING%20SWANS.pdf





[xxxvii] published by the MIT Press, 2001, written by Strober and Chan





[xxxviii] “Ellen Pao Suit Against Kleiner Perkins Heads to Trial, with Big Potential Implications” : http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/23/technology/ellen-pao-suit-against-kleiner-perkins-heads-to-trial-with-big-potential-implications.html?_r=0

(retrieved 2015 Feb 26). 





[xxxix] Published by Chicago Review Press, 2009.





[xl] My eighth book of poetry, titled Distant landscapes, has just been released in spring, 2015 with Theenk Books, a U.S. poetry publisher.  Contact me for details (janejoritznakagawaATgmailDOTcom).