Dancing Over Kyoto – Excerpt

D a n c i n g   O v e r   K y o t o

Looking down Asaki's main road from atop the Middle School. Early Spring 1991.

Looking down Asaki’s main road from atop the Middle School. Early Spring 1991.

from Part II, Chapter 6 – “Etsuko”

In the middle of the afternoon Beth and Lisa called from south Hyogo to tell me they wouldn’t be coming to my house after all: They were hanging out at some Culture Festival in Hidaka and told me to come south and join them there. I was exasperated at first, but shook off my frustration, walked to Nii Station, and climbed on the Bantan Line going south towards Hidaka. At Ikuno, the next station on the line going south, a few other friends climbed on the train (also having been telephoned by Beth and Lisa and invited to participate in the festival): Mark, Phyllis, and Phyllis’ dad, Mel. Mel was a widower and a fine soul. He was paying Phyllis an extended visit. We met Beth and Lisa in Hidaka, Sue and Kathy (from other Hyogo Prefecture towns) joined us. Kind Father Daniel was there, too. Father Daniel was Ikuno’s Jesuit priest. Belgian by birth, he was by now well into his seventies and had lived in Japan most of his life. He served a small but devout parish in Ikuno. A piano concert, an enormous taiko drum extravaganza, lots to eat and drink were part of the swirl of the late afternoon and evening. Then most of us caught the train back to my house and the party continued well past midnight. It was pleasant to occasionally get together and relax with people whose cultural reference points, and native language, are more or less in line with one’s own.

Renee telephoned me the following morning, Monday morning. Most of my guests had made their way to their homes before dawn, but Beth and Lisa had stayed over. We were drinking late morning coffee in my cozy living room when the phone rang. As soon as I heard Renee’s voice on the other end of the line, I excused myself from my guests and ducked into an adjacent hallway. With several afternoons and evenings of too much drink and not enough sleep weighing on my body and spirit, Renee’s voice was a gift, a charm, medicine to a man on the brink of collapse. My cobwebs lifted and the sun shone and I was happy. We started with small talk, with Renee saying she was pleasantly surprised to catch me at home on a Monday morning. I told her it was a holiday and blessed our mutual good fortune. After just a few minutes of catching-up Renee’s voice abruptly changed. It began sounding almost mechanical.

“I’ve decided that you need me, and that’s not good,” she said.

“What do you mean? Of course I need you. I love you and I need you and in a few short months we’ll be together again,” I replied. I didn’t realize she was springing a trap, or that I had confirmed what a new philosophy of hers had predicted I would say.

“There. That says it all,” said Renee. She sounded as though she had just trapped a hostile witness in the snare of a skillful cross examination. I could almost see her raising her eyebrows to compliment a knowing smirk. Beth and Lisa chatted in the living room, oblivious to my confusion, while 6,000 miles away in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Renee waited for whatever half-baked reply I would give. She was ready to pounce. I was hungover (again) and confused. An extremely long distance semantic argument commenced, and I didn’t even know how I’d gotten into it.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Renee. What have I said?”

“You shouldn’t need me, only want me. The fact that you say you need me shows what a bad relationship we have.” What made such words all the more jarring was the lack of emotion in her voice. I heard cold automation in her voice that did not sound like Renee and it frightened me. If there was any emotion, it was that of a confident prosecutor who had a defendant on the ropes at trial.

“Well, hell, Renee, ‘want,’ ‘need,’ whatever. I want to be with you.”

“Your needing me is bad. It’s patriarchal.”
“What??? Look, I love you, Renee. Sure, I know that I could breath and eat without you, but I don’t want to live without you. Is that a ‘want’ or a ‘need’? I don’t know, I just love you. Don’t you love me? How’s this gotten so complicated?”

“Well, yes, I suppose I do. But I can’t be with a person that needs me. Only someone who wants me.”

I assured her that whatever word she chose to use to describe my desire for her, it was the good, right and proper one. She sounded suspicious of me, but we ended the conversation on neutral ground. At least our conversation didn’t devolve into shouting or letting loose nasty slurs or any such thing. It ended with me feeling stunned-but-hopeful that I’d dodged some sort of strange bullet. On her end it seemed to end with her backing off a bit and reluctantly giving me a reprieve of sorts. This was all crazy and I knew it, but I convinced myself it was a phase. Patience and love would see us through.

I gave Renee a last, “I love you,” swung back from the hall into the living room, placed the phone back in its cradle and looked over at Beth and Kathy. They just smiled and said, “Who was that?” I said, “Oh, just Renee. My fiancé. She just called to chat.”

They both said something like, “Wow, you and she have such a great relationship!”

.   .   .

Two weeks later I was in the teachers’ room when one of my colleagues called me up to the front of the office. There was a call for me. I rarely received telephone calls at school. I picked up the receiver and said, “Moshi moshi!” (Japan’s telephone-only “Hello?”). Renee said, “Richard? Is it you?!”

I was floored, stunned. She sounded so happy. So much like she didn’t sound in our last conversation. Hearing five syllables from Renee, sweet, kind syllables, put me in a state of bliss, standing there in the teachers’ room. “Yes, yes!” I said. “What are you doing calling me here? How’d you get this number? This is wonderful, but what’s going on?”

“I was so worried!” she said. I heard about that train accident and I knew that it happened near you and, well. . . ” she started to get choked-up. She couldn’t finish. The day before an awful train accident had occurred in Shiga Prefecture. Forty-two people died in the impact and twisted metal of two colliding trains. It was not only all over the news in Japan, but had made the news in the United States. I had been to Shigaraki, the town near where the tragedy occurred and years later would venture there several times more, but it was between two and three hours away from Asaki. I reassured Renee that the accident had happened far from me and that I was safe and sound. The relief and love in her voice was a balm to my increasingly screwed-up heart. When it came down to it, when the essential things were at stake -life, my voice in her ear and hers in mine, our devotion to and connection with one another -we were rock solid. An awful thing, tragedy and death, had made Renee realize again that I was as important to her as she was everything to me. That’s what her telephone call to me in the teachers’ office on May 15, 1991, told me. . . .


Dancing Over Kyoto is my Ebook, published under my pen name, Richard Russell. It’s a memoir spanning 30 years, taking the reader through Japan and all manner personal experiences there. Part IV takes readers on several India and China (mis)adventures, with the final part, Part V, winding up back in Kyoto, awash in water, ablaze in fire, and, finally, hanging on to hope.

Dancing Over Kyoto

    Dancing Over Kyoto

Snow in July. . .

Friend and author, Michael Gillan Peckitt (@peckitt), lives in Suita, Japan. He posted this photo today (Wednesday, July 30, 2014) on Facebook of what the weather’s like there (33C is about 91.5F, by the way). Warm enough.


I this deserves a photographic response, a scene from the small town where I lived some years ago, a February photo from Asago, Japan (called “Asaki” in my book). Consider this a cooling respite from the dog days of summer, which are now upon the Northern Hemisphere. . .

Nii Station. Winter '91. Shortcut to town center.


Godzilla Week


Several years ago I interviewed Godzilla. That link just linked, that’s the interview, which I re-posted a half-a-year ago or so. I hope you’ll read the whole interview so that you can get a good idea of what makes the Big Guy tick before going to the theater to see him act.  I found him incredibly candid and much more open than his reputation suggests. He could get prickly, but he’s been through a lot Here’s a short excerpt from the interview:



Whether or not deserved, you mentioned you prima donna reputation. Where do you think that comes from.


(Sighs) Oh, a number of things. Most of them should be pretty obvious. I win all my fights. Hey, it’s in the script, you know? Plus a lot of the actors I’ve worked with over the years, God bless them all, seemed to have this little thing in the back of their head where it was, you know, real. So they’re like thinking if they can beat me, and I mean really upstage me, in a fight scene, then they’ll be the next Godzilla. I blame The Method.


You mean “method acting?”

 Yeh. I mean I’m not totally dismissing The Method, I’m just saying that there’s getting into a fight, and there’s getting into a fight, and for too many it was the latter. You know that King Kong broke one of my teeth, no, it was two of my teeth, shoving a tree, a freaking ginormous-ass tree down my throat when we did our thing? That was not in the script. I came this close to walking, but we only had a few more days of shooting left and he got all weepy and apologetic afterwards, so I let it go. Anyway, The Method kind of takes egos and ramps them up a few notches. Seems to me. But that’s the thing, I’m the one who gets walloped on and yet I’m the “prima donna.”


Well, you did hurt a lot, how many thousands? during your career.

 Hey, nobody got hurt that didn’t get in my way first. Let’s get that straight.


So what did you think about the American-made 1998 Godzilla, the one staring Mathew Broderick?

If you think you’re going to get a rise out of me, you’re wrong. I thought it was a joke. Sure, I didn’t and don’t appreciate them using my name. And my lawyers won’t let me talk about all that. But I know who I am and everybody who inflicted that movie upon themselves knew that that wasn’t Godzilla. I tried to watch it. Hand to God, I tried. But I couldn’t sit through it. Couldn’t decide if that was CGI or Adam Sandler in a rubber suit. Either way it sucked.






Happy New Year 2014! ・ 明けましておめでとうございます!



Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!

Happy New Year!

2014 is the Year of the Horse!


I took this photo at some friends’ house a few years ago. Newtown, Connecticut.


In 2013 I published a book, a memoir of 30 years back and forth between Japan and the U.S.  (with a few India and China chapters). The book was, and remains, Dancing Over Kyoto. I published it as an Ebook. In 2o14 I plan to publish an expanded edition of Dancing Over Kyoto in hard copy form. I’ll update this site in the spring or early summer when that gets done.

Japan Noumen Newton 01y - Copy

It was “Health & Sports Day” (体育の日 Taiiku no hi) in Japan.


The second Monday in October marks Health & Sports Day (体育の日- Taiiku no Hi) in Japan. It’s been going on since 1966 to commemorate the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.  Taiku no Hi means Sports Days (Undoh-kai 運動会) at schools throughout Japan.

These photos are from October 15, 1990 (the second Monday in October), from Asaki* Middle School’s Sports Day. It was cloudy and muggy that day. The photo above shows the principal being saluted by the boys as they marched by during the opening ceremony. Asaki Middle School’s girls were integral to Sports Day, too. The photo below shows the commencement of a synchronized calisthenics display.


*My year in Asaki, teaching at Asaki Middle School, is covered in the eight chapters of Part 2 of my Ebook, Dancing Over Kyoto. I’ve slightly changed the town name.Oct91_SportsDay_2.1

_Dancing Over Kyoto_ – A new, just published Ebook.

Friends and followers of this site know that this has been a work-in-progress for some time. A love letter, tribute, homage and tragicomedy.  Link to the Amazon purchase site below.


Available at Amazon.com.  Dancing Over Kyoto:  A Memoir of Japan, China & India.

To Kill a Mockingbird ( アラバマ物語 ) – On this Day (May 1) in 1961

On May 1, 1961, Alabama author Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird won the Pulitzer Prize.  In Japan To Kill a Mockingbird is called アラバマ物語 (Arabama Monogatari, or “Alabama Story”).  In 1999 Library Journal readers voted it the “Best Novel of the 20th century.”



“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” —
Attorney Atticus Finch (see Gregory Peck above, in the 1962 film) in To Kill a Mockingbird


I didn’t read To Kill a Mockingbird until I was 21, when I happened to be an exchange student at Kansai Gaidai (university) in Japan.

I had found a copy at some campus used book sale for, I don’t know ¥500 or something (then, just a couple of dollars). Lying there late at night in my little room at the Nakae’s (my host family) home in Tsuda, Japan, reading about the fictitious Maycomb, Alabama (my Alabama home town is the very real Slocomb) and the quiet courage of attorney Atticus Finch (my father, was also a courageous attorney from South Alabama) was a strange, but wonderful thing. Reading about the cowardice of the racists, Atticus’ resolve and his instilling the sense of Justice over mob rule to Scout, it made me both alternately ashamed of how my adopted state could be, and so very proud of the kind of people is was capable of producing.



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