Revisiting a Pleasurable & Transformative Past Life


From 1984 to 1987, the eastern neighborhoods of Nagasaki were home.  I landed a job at Kwassui Women’s University teaching English, and had a university-supplied “mansion” as part of the deal…right beside the famous “Hollander Slope.”  Nagasaki was the only port from roughly 1603 to 1866 for the Tokugawa regime, with foreigners sequestered on a landfill island called “Dejima.”  The Hollander slope drew tourists at all hours of the day and night, so we decided to find a country house to escape the hustle and bustle (and stifling heat in the summertime) of Nagasaki.

We had wheels required by my previous gig in Hamamatsu, so exploring the coastlines eventually revealed the farming community of Osaki, facing Amakusa bay and Mt. Unzen, a highly volatile volcano (and now hot spring resort).  We found an empty house, got the embarrassed farmer to rent it to us, and spent many enjoyable weekends and holidays there.  

This “Sea House” or “Umi-no-uchi” (it has a better ring in Japanese) was high on my list of priorities for this trip.  I didn’t even know if I could get there via memory of a time 26 years ago.  But a rental car, dodging a streetcar and bus and mad biker, and twisty country roads after exiting the city, took me back in time to the beach we called our own.  



A bit up the hill, I walked the narrow lanes and paths until running into a woman who filled me in on where everyone was (all still in this world and prospering) and what had happened to Umi-no-uchi.   Seems it became too much to maintain and so the owner tore it down, as well as the main house behind it (where a ghost resided), and turned the property into a field.  We may have postponed Umi-no-uchi’s ultimate fate by a few years, and for that I’m eternally grateful.  It’s the spot where my son learned to swim, to have confidence climbing rocks, and to hang out w/ older and younger kids in a kind of flash mob that would appear and disappear at random throughout the day…even though he was only about 2.5 years old!  

On the way to Osaki, I stopped to revisit a particularly dramatic “candle rock” (rosoku-iwa) that featured in my first documentary film on Shinto.  It’s a sign of the time that the paths made by fishermen were invisible from the road, so I had to use considerable skill to slither down the side of the cliff, holding on to roots, crashing through spider webs w/ huge spiders in the middle, and trying not to injure myself in a place no one would ever find me.  The sea was high and rough, so that further complicated the approach and position of the photo.  Back in the day, I actually climbed that rock…but I’ll settle for the photo this time.


And the point of all this?  

That sometimes an inspiring place works on a person’s psychologies in unforeseen ways.  Although my teaching job was boring as hell, it motivated me to start research at Suwa Shrine by attending as many rituals as I could.  Umi-no-uchi gave me the time and perspective to see that this work might be of interest to others, even though I hardly thought of it as anthropological fieldwork.

But that’s what it was, and it was enough to catch the attention of George DeVos, who sponsored my entry into UC Berkeley in 1988 after we returned to the states and had done a year of part-time teaching in the Chico, California area.  It wasn’t until 1995 that I could publish the book, but it’s still in print and available on Amazon.  (Once I figure out how to make a link on this blog, I’ll add that as well to shamelessly promote this first book, as well as my latest).






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