Interlude: No Fixed Abode

Smilingly excluded here in Japan, politely stigmatized, I can from my angle attempt only objectivity since my subjective self will not fit into the space I am allotted…how fortunate I am to occupy this niche with its lateral view. – Donald Richie, Japan Journals, 2005

No observer of Japan, and perhaps no other non-fiction writer appreciated the power of objectivity, the ability to observe and describe without indulging in partiality more than Donald Richie. As I continue my soujourn in Britain I think a lot about Richie’s words. I have begun to notice that I now think of myself, if not an outsider, certainly a stranger in Britain. I have a British passport, I speak English, so in some ways, I cannot call myself an outsider, bureaucratically at least, I ‘fit’ in Britain, there is a space for me. But yet at times I feel estranged from Britain. 

This sense of estrangement is not something I can give an example of, but it is something I become aware of feeling quite recently. On my journey up to Scotland from Doncaster, from Edinburgh onwards I began chatting with an academic from Robert Gordon’s University. Being an academic myself and curious about the state of academia in Scotland we spoke for sometime. Since he asked what university I was affiliated with, I said Hull and Osaka. When he asked how did Japanese academia compare to Britain’s I found myself starting a sentence like this: ‘With British academia there is a culture…’

Not ‘here in Britain’ or simply ‘here’, but ‘With British academia’.  Even as the words rolled off my tongue, which they did quite naturally, I became aware that I had removed myself from British academia, I was at best, observing British academia. And yet just seventeen months ago, I had a position at a University in Northern England, and I still hold an honorary position there. Seventeen months seems a short time to find oneself a stranger in your ‘home’ country.  And yet I do not feel a sense of loss about experiencing this estrangement. I do not feel that I am missing out on some vital part of experiencing the world, the world could only have been experienced this way by me. At worst it is a surprise that it only took seveteen months to begin to thik this way, but it is a pleasant surprise.  Instead of mourning the loss of my British identity, I hope to able to write about Britain with the objectivity that Richie holds so dear. The same distance from the subject matter that I have as a foreigner in Japan, I now also find is afforded me here in Britain.

By having no allotted space, to be writing from a place of no fixed abode here in Britain, I hope to be able to understand Britain better.


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