From the lounge of the cancer ward on the eighth floor of the Japanese Red Cross Medical Center in Hiroo, Tokyo, we have a great view of Mount Fuji. Beyond the modern cityscape and a distant line of hills, that peak which evokes so many emotions and memories rises now in snowy white symmetry on the horizon.
This is a very pleasant lounge, designed as a place where patients can have tea or coffee and share time with visitors. Well, that was until the hospital went into lock-down due to COVID-19 and visits stopped. It must be tough for people with children or for those with parents or grandparents whose cancer is terminal. Mine (at least for the time being) isn’t.
I go back home to Kurohime in northern Nagano Prefecture in a couple of days. I’ll pop in and out of hospital for continuing treatment after that, but otherwise I can go back to life — and mine is full. Every day is precious.
We have a woodland burgeoning into spring, and a tangle of outdoor programs for visitors and guests that needs to be sorted out — this virus is complicating everything. After winter, the horses will also be eager to get back to work in the woods, where, apart from logs that need extracting, there is a smorgasbord of fresh spring greens for them to snaffle on their breaks (and whenever else they manage a cheeky chomp).
Besides, I have to finish writing a book I’m already a few hundred pages into, and for that I need my study and the accumulation of field notes, logs and diaries I have kept haphazardly since I was 17.
Here in this clean, bright, safe and sterilized tower overlooking the greatest city in Asia (I came here for the first time in 1962, and perhaps I’ve become attached to the place …), I still get my copies of The Japan Times and there is a television constantly broadcasting Japanese news in the lounge, so of course I wonder, and worry, about goings-on outside.
My concern isn’t limited to Japan. A friend who phoned told me that even the parks are closed in Vancouver, British Columbia, where she lives. Another dear friend who is an Inuit leader returning home from conferences in Thailand and Japan is really scared about what could happen if the virus reaches Nunavut, Canada’s largest and most northerly territory in which the vast majority of the 36,000 population are Inuit. People there will never forget what past epidemics of measles, mumps, tuberculosis and influenza did to their otherwise pristine communities. At least Arctic cruise tours have been canceled, which is a good move — but it’s also a punch in the guts for struggling communities.
However, despite the abundance of depressing news I am quietly confident that there are enough sincere, selfless and dedicated people around to ensure that humanity will manage to overcome and survive.
Surrounded as I am right now by caregivers, my gratitude and respect goes out to all the people looking after others all over the world.
What can I do? Born in Britain, and now approaching my 80th birthday with Japanese citizenship and a woodland I’ve been caring for since 1986, I’ll try to love and appreciate the nature around and to reach out to others with similar feelings.
Perhaps having to go on living while struggling with cancer for the last four years has awakened me to the fact that there is still so much goodness and beauty here on Earth, and there are still so many people of all ages, races, creeds and whatever who still care. Bless you all.
What do we need now? I’d say it’s good, strong leaders who can bring us all together, at least when it comes to the truths and facts and needs for survival.
I am reminded of an English poet and writer, a man of the 19th century, prolific and hugely popular in his time but often popularly dismissed or sneered at in our justly anti-colonial 21st century.
Even so, the first line of the verse that both opens and closes Rudyard Kipling’s long 1889 poem “The Ballad of East and West” is frequently quoted despite being, to my mind, misused and misunderstood in light of what follows:
“Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!”
Now, in 2020, we surely need strong men and, even better, strong women. But lord help us if U.S. President Donald Trump or North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are the best we can muster.
Postscript: The first of these Notebook columns appeared 18 years ago. I thank The Japan Times for giving me my soapbox in the park, and especially all you readers who have written to me or stopped to talk to me in Japan or even far-flung places like Cardiff Airport. Without my editor throughout, I could easily have gone off the rails, so thanks, Andrew (Kershaw), for being the best editor and best friend ever. And finally, I’ll still be rambling in the woods and beyond, but let’s all look out for each other wherever we are. Old Nic.
This is the final installment of Old Nic’s Notebook. To stay updated about Afan Woodland Trust, visit afan.or.jp.