Thursday, September 27, 2007

Embarrassing Truths

Embarrassing Truths

Some years back, I read a blog for the first time in my life. It was maintained by a coworker, an American colleague who was teaching English in Japan and pursuing his interest in karate.

What struck me about this blog was the naivety of its exposure, the direct access to the unprotected person.

As a rule, any creative writer tends to present a public face to the world, a synthetic face which is not that person's real face. In the case of the writer Ernest Hemingway, for example, his public persona was that of a hearty, brawling hunter and fisherman ... an image that was certainly a world remote from the comparatively insecure, sensitive and rather bookish person that he really was.

If you are a creative writer then you can have your cake and eat it, in the sense that you can peg yourself out for public display while, at the same time, selectively hiding facets of your life or aspects of your personality that you would prefer not to have out in the open.

In my own case, I've been choosing, for some time now, to live a public mistruth, pretending to be gainfully employed as an English teacher in a conversation school here in Japan.

However, successfully maintaining this masquerade is becoming increasingly problematical, as news of what seems to be the impending financial collapse of the company in question has reached members of my family in New Zealand.

So I've decided to come clean.

The embarrassing truth is that I no longer work, and, instead, am spending my days as a house husband. Which comes in handy on occasion, as when three-year-old daughter Cornucopia needs me to stay home with her because she is not quite ready enough to return to daycare life.

I quit the company a couple of months back. At the time, I did not know for certain that its financial collapse was probably on the agenda, though I had seen, one time, a notice on the teacher's room corkboard apologizing for the delayed payment of one tranche of wages.

I came to Japan to live and work over ten years ago, and, because my wife is a civil servant who spends her life dealing with tax matters, she made very sure that I went and signed up for, and paid, all the taxes I should have been paying.

Consequently, because I had been a good boy and had paid all my taxes, after my eyesight got trashed by radiation therapy, my wife was, after a rather involved paperwork exercise, able to extract from the system here in Japan a small disability pension, and this money, though modest, is sufficient to balance the household budget.

When I first came to Japan I needed sponsorship from my employer, but, after I married my Japanese wife, the elegant Murasaki Nishikawa, I moved to a spouse visa. That, however, did have to be renewed every few years.

This year, however, my wife did the laborious paperwork involving for an application for permanent residence, and, after a hiatus of six months (they check you out pretty well) I was granted permanent residence.

Although I will still need to apply for a re-entry permit to facilitate any trips in and out of Japan, my days of going to Immigration and applying for a visa extension are now over.

Regarding the disability pension, there is in Japan no such legal category as "legally blind," no "you are or you aren't" categorization of the kind that we have in the West.

Rather, in Japan, there is a sliding scale of disability, divided into six levels, called dans. Depending on the degree of your disability, you can get some kind of financial assistance, and you can qualify if you fit into either or both of the following categories:

(a) you can only see really big things or (b) you have a significant visual field defect.

I have (b), and have been assessed as being on the third dan level of the visual disability scale. On account of this, my wife has been able to negotiate a small disability pension for me.

In addition, I have a disability carnet, a little photo ID booklet, which gives me free travel on local buses (though I never use the bus), free access to many municipal swimming pools (though I never go to the pool), free access to the Ueno zoo, a ten percent discount from many taxi services (such as the one up in Gunma Prefecture where my mother-in-law lives), and half-price travel on trains if me and my wife are traveling together (two can travel for the price of one.)

As mentioned above, question marks are hanging over the financial viability of the chain of English conversation schools that I previously worked for, and my guess is that the organization will have gone down the tubes before the end of the year, if not earlier.

Similar question marks are hanging over the long-term viability of the Japanese welfare state, but, for the moment, the cranky machine is lumbering along without any sign of imminent breakdown, and, for the present, it serves my purposes well enough.

Well, enough for the world of embarrassing disclosures. Back to the world of the closeted artist, keeping to the recipe that we associate with James Joyce: silence, exile and cunning.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for setting my mind at rest as I had read about the failure of the language schools in Japan here in Australian newspapers and hoped that you were not being affected.

But you have already escaped the impact of the company's over expansion.

Salutations to your wife for her wisdom!

10:42 PM  

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