Letter from an Existentialist in Japan #6


“It’s not the experience that happens to you. It’s what you do with the experience that happens to you.” – Bertrand Russell

Dear Bob,

I’ve arrived at the halfway point and a distinct part II of the experience, because now I’m having it with someone else. We met shortly before my departure (serendipitously delayed 3 months) and fell in love, as one does when one is funemployed and set to depart. So rather unaccording to plan, I’ve gone from doing this whole thing alone to living, teaching, and being alone together with someone I frankly don’t know that well. I will certainly come to, at least in relation to me (and vice versa…I pity the fool).

Of course it’s enriching and just more fun to share. But I can’t help but feel like I’ve failed at being alone. I didn’t accomplish what I meant to with my freedom and solitude other than revel in it and now I feel like I’ve missed my chance. And it’s all because of what a terribly undisciplined person I am; a “slave to my [base] desires” (according to Ms. Matriarch).

Maybe that’s all I am. I prefer to think of myself as who I would be if I could, and I just need to put myself in the right circumstances to flourish, but here was my chance yet again, and it seems I have failed to prove my higher desires as more than merely a wanting to want. My fear that I am just an empty vessel after all and that any joy de vivre I experience is actually only from the expectations I set up about the future that inevitably fail by my own lack of followthrough, which is to say, lack of actual desire…seems closer to true than ever.

My language acquisition is going pretty poorly too. I’m just not a studier, never was. I will only learn if it’s incidental to fun or necessity. Like I’ve grown attached to the unusually existential children’s show character Anpanman  (pan = bread = his face, which he feeds to starving children), whose great theme song senpai translated for me literally to teach vocabulary and grammar. And I learn the things I wanna say in class, like “gutaitekini” which is “be more specific”. I love when there’s just one word for a thing.

Teaching is going ok I think. Again, how am I to know. I just know that my classes are way better than when I first started and what I thought were great ideas at the time I’ll never do again. But for some reason I am so much less satisfied. It can only be failed expectations. Also, this assembly line format, having so many different classes each day only once a week, makes it really hard to really grok each student. I need the relationship or else I just feel kinda useless and expendable. I know that’s a lot to ask wherever I teach, but’s already hard enough with the language barrier. Anyway, I have enough longer classes with some real gems that I won’t get depressed over it or anything.


The freedom of it all (teaching & living) really does come at a psychological price for me. On one hand, it’s what allows me to be the teacher and person I will naturally become/what is most suited to me/meant to be(?). But then who’s to say that this person is the most effective to achieving the outcomes that you really want? Maybe I/we all would be better off with some steering, or limits. At least when there is constraint then you can shoulder the blame to the circumstances and not feel so responsible. With freedom, the degree to which you can be satisfied is virtually limitless, and what is satisfaction but a feeling that you have done everything in your power?

Ugh, enough of this! I could think myself senseless if I let myself. I need better control of my thoughts, then I’ll have a chance with my actions. I’m dabbling in meditation now. Well, I’m on day 8 of the app I’ve had for 2 months. Just 10 minutes a day. I’ve been told by too many people I respect over the years how necessary it is, but I’ve always been skeptical. Then I realized that so many intellectual skeptics swear by it too – including my number one, Sam Harris, so I really ought to give it a real go. I’m kind of desperate here. Maybe desperate enough to delude myself into a clear mind if I try hard enough.


Sorry I’m not writing more about life in Japan. It’s just life now (one I am so grateful to live seriously it’s the outer life of my dreams) and I’m back to being a neurotic, dissatisfied, self-loathing person of unknown intent. Wow, happiness isn’t dependent on external circumstances? What a revelation!

I just wanna write. Whatever comes out when I manage to sit myself down and open up a Word document and place my fingers on the keyboard is the only kind I can really do unprompted. I just hate forcing things, always have. I’m not bragging, it just sounds better than “I hate trying”. But it doesn’t feel good to be so excessively self-indulgent like this. I have so much else I want to talk about. I’ll try and write something more anthropological about Japan next month*. And I’ll try to be a good partner.

Thank you for reading anyway, and ’til then,

Processed with VSCO with s3 preset

  • Jess

  • If there is anything in particular you or y’all would like to know about my experience so far as it has to do with Japan or teaching, please ask in the comments and if there’s enough I can do a little Q&A

4 thoughts on “Letter from an Existentialist in Japan #6

  1. An existentialist, eh? I wonder. So much of this month’s letter seems Cartesian! E.g., I could think myself senseless if I let myself. I need better control of my thoughts, then I’ll have a chance with my actions. I’m dabbling in meditation now.

    What’s that cliche? “Actions speak louder that words”. Enjoy the moment.

    “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
    ― Samuel Beckett

    I too thank you for a thought provoking letter. Honest.


  2. Pingback: Thank You! | Episyllogism

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