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DAYS

STAY SALTY ...... means column

Stepping forward at Baltic

Maya Column

from  Stockholm / Sweden

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Maya
IT programmer / interpreter

After living in the U.S. and China, she has been living in Stockholm, Sweden since the dawn of the new century.
Main occupation: IT programmer, occasional overseas location assistance, research, interpreter.
Private life: volunteer work related to pandemic.

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5.5.2022

DAYS /  Maya Column

Stepping forward at Baltic

When we sit back from a thousand and one peaceful days.

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There was a time when I preferred to read literature from the war times.

I was not a fan of warfare.

I was interested in the mutual help between human beings in the ravages of war, a renewed awareness of the preciousness of life, the resilience of those who survived against the odds, the joy of soldiers and their families who returned from the battlefield alive, and the desperate efforts of those who lived to the last breath.
I loved the human drama that I could catch a glimpse of in each of these stories.

At that time, I had no idea that I might be involved in a war, so I was only a bystander in the literature of the war times.

 

As an adult, I moved to Europe.
There are no earthquakes, no civil wars, few natural disasters, and not too many security problems.
The social welfare system is relatively leading.

 

The country I moved to was such a country.

That was the case, until recently.
There is still no civil war.
However, it is undeniable that the country is currently threatened by external crises, no matter which newspaper I read.

 

At various points in my long life, I have lived in various countries for several years at a time.
This country was relatively safe among them.
The topics of conversation during coffee breaks were often so monotonous that I could almost call them boring.
But now, looking back on that period, I am reminded that that was what we call a peace.
In that supposedly safe country, the topics of conversation during coffee breaks today are the location, size, and quality of shelters.
What kind of emergency supplies are stored in each household?

 

However, when the topic of nuclear weapons comes up, everyone shakes their heads because it becomes difficult and depressing to continue this specific topic.

 

Some people who own vacation homes in the countryside are planning to evacuate to the countryside in case of emergency, but recently the preconception that the countryside is safer is being overturned.

 

Someone once told me that Japan had been sitting on its laurels of peace for too long.
When I was learning the language of this country, most of my classmates were people who had come to this country to escape the war.
I also met a young woman who had lost her hearing due to the sound of bombing.

 

They were all fond of Japan and longed for a peaceful Japan.
I myself had been sitting in peace for many years.
I had never thought about the possibility that I might suffer from war.

 

Now, however, I am beginning to think about how to prepare myself.

 

According to the World's Safest Cities Index, Tokyo is the safest capital city in the world these days, no matter which data is selected.

 

Perhaps the best option in the current situation is to return to Japan.
It is possible to work remotely throughout the pandemic era.
This is only if the company one works survives, though.

 

However, at this time, I am the only one in my family who is permitted to return to Japan.
Due to pandemic entry restrictions, my family members are still not allowed to enter Japan.
Therefore, I cannot return to Japan either, because where my family is is where I belong.

 

However, when I look out the window at the world outside, the city is functioning as usual.
Men pushing baby carriages, elderly men walking their dogs, people dressed in suits heading to work, people riding bicycles, and people rushing to catch the bus.
When I go shopping at the supermarket, I am not particularly inconvenienced, except for a shortage of preserved foods.
Restaurants are open as usual, and popular restaurants are always full.
The banks of the Baltic Sea, glistening in the sun, are a walking path for walkers.
These are not so different from the scenes of 2019 that remained in the depths of my memory.
The only difference is that people wearing masks can be seen here and there in the streets.


I had planned to visit the Tohoku region of Japan for the first time in 2020. But due to completely unexpected circumstances, I had to change my plans. And now, two years later, I find myself in a strange situation that was completely unimaginable, again.
Last night I was rummaging around for an emergency radio.
I had no plans to buy such a thing in 2020.


When I look at the sunlight in the windows of the high-rise apartment buildings in the distance, I realize that spring has arrived even in this city where winter has been long.
The cherry blossoms are in full bloom.
The sunset time is gradually getting later and later.
Yesterday, the sun set at 20:30.


I hope that peace will come with the long days of sunshine.


I am sure that those who suffered in the war must have longed for peace to come with the long daylight hours.
Their wish regrettably did not come true.


Today, the situation continues to be completely unpredictable. 
What we can do now is to live each and every day with great appreciation.

 

4.5.2022

DAYS /  Maya Column

Stepping forward at Baltic

Moving to Sweden started with school.

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Sweden is a relatively easy country to live in. 
Although I understand this now, I often regretted not moving to an English-speaking country when I first moved here. 
I was a language expert in Japan, and I had assumed that I would not have any difficulties with languages if I would move abroad.

If it were a country with a linguistic minority, it would be a different story, but Sweden is a European country with a high level of education.
Therefore, I was optimistic that I would be able to find some kind of office work immediately after moving to Sweden.
However, when that "immediately" came over the course of several months, I began to feel frustrated.

After moving to Sweden, I first put down roots in a certain provincial town.  
In that town, I had been teaching at a culture school as a substitute when the full-time English teacher was unavailable.
However, it was only one course per week, and I was the substitute.
It is far from a full-time employment status. 
I also registered with the office for the unemployed. Type of jobs they proposed were in the food and beverage industry.
And everywhere I went, I was asked the same question.

Do you speak Swedish?"
I speak a little."

When I responded as above timidly,  they pointed me toward the exit, saying that I should study Swedish in order to apply for a job.

In the midst of this repetition, I received a suggestion from an acquaintance.

Why don't you study Swedish properly? There are free Swedish courses being offered here in town, too."

My future prospects, which I had planned to work full time immediately after immigrating, took a drastic turn here.
This was because I had to study for many more years before I could work full time.

I decided to take a "Swedish for Immigrants" course, which was held in a classroom of a local elementary school.
The class consisted of students from southern Europe and the Middle East, except for myself and one English woman.

The days spent with my classmates were congenial and enjoyable in their own way.
Everyone, including myself, was very poor, but young. 
After school, we gathered in the club room and were taken on excursions, and sometimes we even made pizza together for dinner.

There were no other Japanese in that town besides me.
I had no way of knowing that there were Japanese people working professionally in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö, and other cities, and my days passed quietly and comfortably in that town and in school life.


After school, I used to borrow my then spouse's car and go out to the lakeside outside of town. 
As I stood on a bench by the lake and watched the sun set, I was filled with a strong sense of regret.
There was not even a store in town where you could buy Japanese rice.

I wondered if I would have to live as a foreigner in this town for the rest of my life.

In Japan, I was reasonably well respected as a linguist and had a fixed income. Almost every Friday, I would meet up with friends in Tokyo to explore new restaurants.

I missed the hustle and bustle of the Japanese city.

Recently, I have been reading blogs by Japanese people who write about their daily lives in the Swedish countryside.
They are often very resilient and positive in their outlook on life.

However, I was too young to be able to enjoy the quiet town life. 
Although it was too quiet, it did not mean that clubs, discos, etc. did not exist.
However, even when I did go out to clubs and discos, it was extremely difficult to become friends with Swedes. 
As is the case in rural and regional areas, it takes time for strangers to be accepted.
Moreover, until I became fluent in Swedish, I had to speak in English, which was a burden for the conservative Swedes in the countryside, who were not so used to speak English.

A few of my classmates had been displaced from their countries because of the civil war.
They behaved cheerfully on the surface, but at a moment's notice, I would catch a glimpse of their hatred for the war enemy. 
At such times, their usually jovial and gentle classmates seemed as if they were different people.
Their hatred was very deep-rooted.

It was a year in which I realized that there is nothing but hatred for hatred.
Is this becoming an ongoing process?  
As a very average Japanese person working for a company in Japan, I had to go through the school gates again after becoming a working adult.
I studied side by side with war refugees, whom I would have known only from the news if I had been living in Japan.

This was my first experience in this world after moving to Sweden.

My study of Swedish did not end after this one year, and I would continue to go to school and work on my Swedish language skills for several more years.
It seems that a language does not improve unless you are passionate about it.

When we finished the first year of the beginner course, we started a new life in Stockholm.

 

3.6.2022

DAYS /  Maya Column

Stepping forward at Baltic

Employment in Scandinavia  Back to Square one

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Emigrating abroad, working abroad, international marriage.

What sweet and glorious sounding words, I thought when I was a student.

I had a vague idea that it was the U.S. that I longed for and that I would emigrate to the U.S. when I grew up.

However, life does not always go as one has planned, and I moved to a country where a third language is spoken, although I preferred and was good at English.

The country where many enterprises are contingent on speaking the language of the country.

Some companies used English as the company language, but this was only if one had some special skill, and as a former English-Japanese interpreter like myself, it did not help me in any way.

But if you had to do something for a living, the restaurant industry was the first relatively easy place to find a job.

So, I followed this example and sought a part-time job in a restaurant.

It is often said that the right person is in the right place, and it is said that a restaurant is a place where both the person serving and the person being served have difficulties unless the serving person is quick and smooth.

I am not so sure that "quick and smooth" is in my nature.

I survived a busy week by spilling cold water on a customer's coat on a bitterly cold day and making a mistake in an order.

Although it was only a lunchtime job, I received the equivalent of 3,000 yen for the week, which was my first salary in Scandinavia.

When was the last time I worked part-time in a restaurant?

It was probably when I was 16. It was at a café by the station where I lived.

I was not so pessimistic at the time though, because I had not yet passed the age of 20 for many years.

However, if I were still serving at the restaurant twenty years later, I would have had very complicated feelings.

In Japan, as an interpreter, I could earn that amount of money in an hour.

In the restaurant industry, becoming a manager is a different story.

Whether it is a restaurant or a café, it must be very rewarding to be able to run a business at your own discretion.

If I had wanted to be involved in restaurant management, I would have concentrated on serving as a waiter at first as part of my training.

However, I am not a quick and smooth person, and I am a linguist by profession, so I wanted to continue working using my expertise.

Therefore, working in the restaurant industry was not more than a stopgap for me.
As far as I know, there were two other Japanese who worked as waiters in restaurants when I first moved here.

There are probably many more.

Let me tell you about the paths taken by these two persons.


The first person, she was born to work in the restaurant industry.

When she was working in a restaurant, she always had a big smile on her face as she interacted with customers, and her quick wit made her a valuable asset in any restaurant.

He had begun looking at several restaurants in Stockholm with a view to becoming a co-owner of one of them in the future.

However, after the divorce from her husband, she was forced to change her life plan.

She was very good at baking and returned to Japan with great ambitions to open a Scandinavian café.

However, when she returned to Japan and looked around, she found that the kind of café she had envisioned already existed everywhere.

It was shortly after then that she left the restaurant/cafe industry behind.


The second, who was not married, was invited by her boyfriend to move to this country.

For her, too, the part-time job in the restaurant was temporary, and she actively went to recruiting fairs and sought a full-time office job.

The route she chose after leaving her boyfriend astounded everyone around her.

Looking as slender, fragile, and dainty as a Japanese doll, she connected with an international aid organization and went to Africa.

The country had previously been the scene of a violent civil war.

After staying in that country for a few years, she moved to the UK to pursue her Ph.D.


In my case, I remained here for many years after they left the country and became an employed full-time office worker.

We worked in the same restaurant at the same time, for longer or shorter periods of time, but we all departed on our own separate paths.

I sometimes pass by the restaurant now, and I guess many generations have already passed since then when it comes to the ownership.

However, when I pass by the restaurant, I recall the time when I moved here with a mixture of sweetness and bitterness in my heart.

At the time, I had no idea what the future held for me beyond my part-time job at the restaurant.

I still do not know if being an office worker is the end of the road for me.

However, I was able to achieve a certain degree of economic stability.

Strange as it may seem, I have recently been thinking about getting involved in restaurant management.

I have come to a point in my life where I even long to be involved in the restaurant business, which should have been a stopgap measure.

Ones' values change over time.

If you are one of my colleagues who started your life abroad in a temporary job, and you are still stuck in the middle of the line, I would like to say a word for you.

Please don't lose your ambition until the end.

 

2.5.2022

DAYS /  Maya Column

Stepping forward at Baltic

In the hands of the perfect insurance agent.

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In the past ten years, I had never been absent from work due to illness.
I thought that the only health concern was a pandemic.

 

At the beginning of last year, I was very busy with work.
I sat at my desk until 10 p.m. every night, staring at the code.

My situation was about the same on weekends.
My pride that I was still young and healthy compared to my colleagues made me push myself even harder.

One spring morning in the beautiful sunrise, I finally collapsed.
And efter I collapsed, what happened?
My health insurance company contacted me.
From then on, my calendar was jam-packed with appointments.

And by appointments, I don't mean glamorous ones like dates.
I did meet a man with toned muscles, but it was not a particularly exciting encounter.
In other words, Monday's appointment was with a tightly muscled male physiotherapist.
He was probably about to retire on his pension.
As a man in such a profession, he had a lot to talk about and enjoyed talking to various patients.
The man was able to calm down at one point while I was trying to unwind my aching shoulder blades.

Tuesday's appointment was a video dialogue with another physical therapist.
She opens with this interrogation.

'The breathing exercises we trained together last time, of course you practiced them a lot, didn't you?

I couldn't say, "Of course.
I hadn't practiced it at all, on the contrary, I had completely forgotten about it.
Moreover, I couldn't even remember the name of the physical therapist.
'I'll repeat it then,' she began, 'it's a breathing exercise.
'Yes, then I laid down on the bed and exhaled slowly. The physical therapist kept on talking to me,  "You can feel the warm heat coming up from below, can't you?
The sound of her voice instructing me on the other side of the screen slowly faded away.
I fell into a deep sleep.

 

Wednesday's appointment was a video conversation with a work environment specialist at home.
Since I had to show her my room on the video phone, I had to do a lot of cleaning beforehand.
I cleaned what I could see, and got myself ready for the conversation with the specialist.
She took a quick look at the working environment in my room and made a checklist.

- A desk with adjustable height.

- A 27-inch computer monitor.

- Ergonomic keyboard.

- Ergonomic chair.

'As for the adjustable desk you recommended, I don't have room for an 80cm x 120cm desk in my small room, I stated.
'Then you should look for another type. There are a lot of companies that have gone bankrupt recently, so there is a possibility that you can buy a desk from one of those places.
'How do you find them? Most office desks are even bigger than 80cm x 120cm, aren't they?, I asked.
'Try searching in districts with a lot of offices. Yes, it could be quite large., she answered leaving much space for questions.

 

Thursday's appointment was a video conversation with a specialist who was going to inspect my posture during work.
"Do you have any cushions or anything in the house?"
She said,'Try putting them under your buttocks, see if that balances the height of your arms and the keyboard, and pull your chair forward more.
I grabbed two cushions from the living room and put them under my buttocks.
'I can't because the legs of the chair hit the desk.
'Then can you get another cushion and put it on your back?, she suggested.
As instructed, I put the cushions under my back and buttocks, worked on the computer for a few hours, and when I stood up, I suffered from extreme back pain for a while.

 

Thursday's appointment was to visit a physical therapist who specializes in acupuncture.
I met with this person several times, but each time, it ended up in a chat about health aspects, and in the end, not a single acupuncture session was performed.

 

Friday's appointment was a face-to-face meeting with another physical therapist who specializes in acupuncture.
Since the clinic was quite far away and it took almost half a day to visit, we ended up declining the appointment.
I also wondered why the appointments had been made with two different acupuncture specialists in the first place.

The first thing the woman asked me was this:

'Welcome. By the way, who introduced you to me?

I had no choice but to reply, 'I don't know.

Invitations to doctors or physical therapists are sent through the mailbox at some institutions.
Sometimes it was an email, sometimes a cell phone app, sometimes a cell phone message, and finally I couldn't even tell where the referral came from.
There were several different health insurance companies that had jurisdiction over me, and my home doctor also sent me invitations, so much so that I needed a secretary to keep track of them all.


There were many things the physical therapists had assigned me.

'Do you remember the breathing exercises I taught you last week?

'Didn't I tell you to change the position of the computer screen?

'Didn't you ask the company to buy you an extendable desk yet?

'When you're working on your computer, do you try to look at something 20 meters away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes?

'Do you do this stretching exercise for 20 minutes at a time?

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

 

If I were to use all of these instructions, how would we find time to work?

Since I could not find time to work during the day, I naturally had to work at night.


Furthermore, what would be the downside of having such a full schedule every day?

Double-booking.

Once, while I was visiting a physical therapist, another physical therapist called me on the video phone and said, "Come on, it's time for your session.
It was first then that I realized that I had been double-booked.
I had to apologize profusely to the person who had made the reservation via video phone.

Also, there were so many reservations that I completely forgot to schedule a visit once.
Here, if you don't show up 24 hours before your appointment time without calling, you will be fined the equivalent of 5,000 yen.
It was an unwanted expense.
After collapsing due to excessive stress, I asked for help from my health insurance, which ended up escalating my stress level even more.
It's the other way around.
Why does one have to be so well-equipped, eat so well, work so well, and train so well in order to live and work normally?

I continued this full-booking lifestyle for a few months, but exercised very little rehabilitative training, and remembered nothing about breathing exercises.
I didn't even buy a new desk, which I had been urged to do many times, and I couldn't find one that would fit in my room.

So, were these months of dialogue really a waste of time?

During a pandemic, there is a large number of people, not only pandemic patients, who fall ill due to unusual lifestyles, which also puts pressure on the medical budget.
In such dire times, nearly a dozen medical professionals had been working diligently for several months to help me alone.
Regardless of the outcome, I can only marvel at the fact that they provided me with such blissful health insurance.


I was not an exemplary patient, but I suppose it was not a waste of time to have so many conversations with so many specialists.
My lifestyle has improved somewhat compared to this time last year.
Most importantly, my eating habits have changed considerably.
I used to look sideways at people who ate grains like bird food as their staple food, but now I find myself eating that bird food.

But most of all, I have stopped being overconfident in my health.
No matter how young you are, no matter how little medical history you have, if you keep pushing yourself too hard for too long, your body will eventually scream.
I would like to remind young people that once you lose your health, it is not always possible to regain it.

Anyway, I am now trying to avoid being taken care of by insurance companies for the time being.

 

12.5.2021

DAYS /  Maya Column

Stepping forward at Baltic

I was supposed to go to bed early that night.

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It was such a week that I was not feeling good, and not making much progress at work, so I decided to at least go to bed early on Sunday night.


In the evening, without warning, my phone rang with a message.

"Would you like to go to a concert with me tonight? I have a guest ticket.

The message was sent from a musician friend whom I hadn't seen for a while.

I asked her if I should bring the musician some flowers to thank since the guest ticket was "free".

But she replied, "No need for flowers (laughing emoji).

This shows how little I knew the routines concerning concerts or gigs.

My decision to go to bed early was overturned in an instant.

I jumped out of bed and started to put some color on my pale face.

A friend, whom I had regretted not having the chance to meet, finally contacted me.

If I refused, I wouldn't know when I would see her again.

 

She looked more glad than I had seen in a long time.

She is a musician herself, but it is not so easy to make a living in a foreign country as a single woman.

When I used to see her frequently, she did not look so happy.

The last time she invited me to a concert, it was a charity concert for her church.

Suddenly I realized that we were sitting surrounded by homeless people who were carrying all their wealth in big IKEA bags.

The concert was a charity concert to help the homeless people.

 

She was always involving me in extraordinary things without warning.

 

The concert that night was for a band led by a Canadian, Alex Henry Foster.

She had met him through the internet media among musicians.

 

I thought it was a concert hall with reserved seats, so I dressed up a bit and went out.

I was surprised when I entered the hall.

It was standing room only.


The last time I visited a concert was for Frank Zappa's son, Dweezil Zappa, and at that time there were reserved seats, although the venue and the audience were large.

I would have liked to go to his father's concert, but I was born in the wrong era.

 


The concert was in full swing.

I looked around and saw everyone nodding their heads and shaking their heads back and forth along the rhythm.

Men and women of all ages were mingling.

I thought it would be a good way to relieve my stress if I tried to get into a state of euphoria like that, but it was my first time listening to this music, so I couldn't really get into it, and I still had a migraine, so shaking my head wouldn't be good for me.

 

Our height was that of average Japanese women in the late Showa era, but if we stood behind the tall Swedish men, we would not be able to see anything, so we stood in the front next to the speakers.

Eventually, I began to worry about something.

If I stood here for several hours, would my hearing be affected?

The volume of the sound was unbelievable.

However, I was trying to convince myself that being surrounded by the heart-pounding sound was the best part of the concert, but when I looked around, I saw that more than half of the people were using earplugs.

I wondered what kind of moral it was to come to a concert and use earplugs, but later I learned that it is quite common practice to use earplugs at concerts and gigs.

Since I didn't know that, I had to endure without earplugs for a while, but eventually it became quite difficult.

Then my friend gave me a piece of tissue paper.

She told me to roll it up and stuff it in my ear.

She was the type of person who did not like studying and only cared about music, and I was the type of person who only studied at schools and had no special skills, so we had almost nothing in common. However, we have known each other for a long time.

She is very handy and makes all her own cosmetics and hair dyes.

She eats ecologically friendly food, and has even made me some natural sweets that are not too sweet for my taste.

Her speech has no inflection, and to the casual observer she seems emotionless, but compassion does not always appear on the outside.

What kind of music is this? Death metal?"

"I don't know, I guess not."

 

When I looked at the flyer later, it said the following.

 

For Fans of

Post-Rock, Progressive, Nu Gaze, Psych

Nick Cave、 Radiohead、 Sonic Youth、Mogwai、Swans、 Godspeed You! 、Black Emperor、 King Crimson

 

So, I searched the internet to find out what Post-Rock is.

I found a description like, "A genre of music that is a hassle to explain.


If I listened to it a few times, I might start liking it.

If you are interested, you can find a few videos by searching for Alex Henry Foster.

 

He was the front man that night, and after the concert, he came up to us with his arms outstretched.

His hair was frizzy like ramen noodles, and sweat was dripping down his face.

Nice to see you!" he gave my friend a hug, and then he gave me a hug as well, which soaked my cheeks.

 

The next concert was coming to an end and we were thinking of going home to sleep.

Alex came over to us again, and we were taken to a sort of break room where we were introduced to all the members of the band.

 

The band members asked, "Are you a musician as well?"

I replied, "Well, I write code." Code is code, but it's programming, not a lie.

 


Some of the band members could speak Japanese fluently, so I asked Alex if he liked Japan.

"Oh, it's a long story," he said.

They are very fond of Japan and even visited the Sanriku coast three weeks after the Tohoku earthquake, to offer comfort.

I heard that they even sent Christmas cards to the people in the disaster area.

 

My friend was also impressed, "Alex is really a nice boy.

I'm not sure if "boy" is the right word, since his age was quite unknown.

 

It was a very strange day.

When I woke up that morning, I had not expected such a turn of events.

It was meaningful to see my friend again, whom I hadn't seen in a while, but it was also meaningful to meet musicians who tour the world and treat me like an old friend.

I asked my friend why she had invited me.

She replied, "Because you're often open to invitations.

If I would ask people to go to a concert on a Sunday night without warning, they would usually not say 'yes'.

I do not usually go out without reasons, and I've never been known or told that I'm outgoing, but I try not to turn down an invitation to an event unless I have a prior engagement.


You never know what wonderful people you might meet there, or what unknown world you might encounter, or what destiny-changing experiences you might have.

 

Life is so unpredictable that you never know what will happen tomorrow or tonight, which makes it worthwhile to continue.

 

11.5.2021

DAYS /  Maya Column

Stepping forward at Baltic

How a friend became a millionaire overnight

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One winter afternoon, when Stockholm was covered in a fragile sunshine, the funeral of an acquaintance was held in a small wooden church in the forest on the outskirts of Stockholm.

The deceased had passed away peacefully, loved as a faithful husband, a good father to his children, and a trusted boss.

 
When the funeral was over and I was walking out of the church from my seat in the front row, I was grabbed by the arm from the back row.

I looked back at the owner of the hand that grabbed my arm, surprised because I had not expected this.

 

The owner of the hand was my old friend Tom.

"What happened?"

His eyes were red from crying and his face was bloodless.
His hair was much thinner than before and his skin was rough.

He looked impatient.

"Will you listen to me sometime?"

 

Tom was a friend of mine who had founded an IT company about fifteen years ago, which had been acquired by a major IT company and had literally made him a millionaire overnight.
He was much older than I, but I was pleasantly surprised by his attitude of talking to everyone equally.

His wife, Lisa, was not seen there.

"Where's Lisa?"

Tom shook his head instead of replying.

Instead of asking back, I assumed that she was sick.

I remembered that it was not long after they had become millionaires that she had become "sick".

 


Soon after they became millionaires, they showed their gratitude by inviting all their relatives and our friends to a hotel in a resort area.
In fact, more than a hundred people were invited.

 

The second big event was when Tom celebrated Lisa's fortieth birthday, again with more than a hundred guests, a pony, people to pull it, a bartender, and even a large trampoline.

Lisa, a lovely brunette with short hair, seemed like a very happy woman.


"Here comes the star of the day!"

Tom announced.

Then Lisa appeared on stage in a dress that looked like a simple casual dress.

On the stage stood a lovely brunette woman with short hair.

"Oh?" I felt something strange.

She was still as lovely as ever.

But her face was showing signs of exhaustion.
And her ribs were embossed on her dress.

 

Some time later, I ran into Tom again.

He told me that Lisa was rarely home these days, and that the family life of the two children was not running normally.

They are a very wealthy family.

They should be able to afford to hire a domestic helper if needed.

However, I understood that Tom was referring to Lisa's presence and role as a loving mother to her husband and children.

Lisa had gone to a self-improvement seminar held in a local city for two weeks out of the month, where she had spent a camp.

Tom's facial expression was dark.


Both Tom and Lisa had lost their very important person in unforeseen accidents when they were around twenty years old, though in different places and under different circumstances.
I don't know if it's because of this, but they didn't give me the impression that they were genuinely cheerful.

The lives lost cannot be exchanged for money.

However, I honestly hoped that when they became millionaires, their joy would at least alleviate some of their sorrow.

 


Lisa left her long-time job at a financial firm and instead began taking science programs at the university.

I didn't really pay attention to the reason for this, as it is not that unusual in Sweden to start university after the age of 40.

Once, I happened to run into her near her university.

She told me that she was dropping the tempo of her university program.

"When I asked why, she frowned and nervously replied, "Because my complicated situation makes it difficult for me to complete the program at a normal pace.

 

My complicated situation?

I couldn't help but find that statement puzzling.
She was, as far as I knew, in good health and under the protection of a kind and sincere husband.
Her two beautiful children, as far as I know, are growing up properly.

If it's too much work to pick up and drop off the kids, they can afford to hire someone to do it. She does not have to work either.

Several years have passed since then without me getting an answer to "my complicated situation".

It would be more awkward to ask any more questions now.

"You have everything, what do you have to complain about?

It would be quite normal to ask such a question, however, what looks happy from the side is often not proportional to what is actually happy.

   

I remembered Tom and Lisa when they were young and still poor.

They came to Japan to visit me in my apartment in Yokohama, wearing tattered sweaty clothes, dragging worn out sneakers and carrying a big dirty backpack.

They were poor, but the two of them got along well.

Lisa was out on the balcony smoking a cigarette.


I wish Lisa would quit smoking," Tom said softly back then, but this time, there must have been some circumstances that prevented him from asking her to quit the self-help seminar.


Apparently, the self-help seminars were very expensive.

If they had not become wealthy, if she could not afford to attend such seminars, what would have happened?

Instead of attending such seminars, would she have been able to join hands warmly with Tom, or with their families, so that the family would be of comfort for Lisa, instead?

  

"I hadn't heard from Tom in a while after he grabbed my arm at church and said, "Will you listen to me?

I think what he wanted to talk about was Lisa.

Maybe he thought that I, as a woman, could understand Lisa's feelings better than he could.

I could also understand why it would be easier for her to confide in me if we didn't know each other well.

It's like when you sit next to a stranger on a plane and you tell them something you've never told anyone you know.

In fact, I would like to know more about Lisa's feelings.

The reason why I hadn't heard from Tom after the funeral was probably due to the pandemic prevention regulations that came out right after the funeral.
I thought that during the period when teleworking was encouraged, Tom and Lisa probably had more time to spend with their children and spend time together as a family.

I hoped that the increased family time would help them resolve the issues that Tom had been trying to discuss with her. 


But...

"I haven't seen you since the funeral, do you have a minute?

Tom finally contacted me.

After all, the problem was probably still unresolved.

I decided to go and talk to Tom.

All I can do is listen to what he has to say.


There are many things in this world that cannot be solved with money.

 

10.5.2021

DAYS /  Maya Column

Stepping forward at Baltic

As if it were good old days

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It was a dazzling day in the morning light.

Because there was a need, I went out into the world outside the mansion before 7:30, which was unusual. When I used the stairs to go downstairs, I almost collided with a young man who had just come out of the elevator. He briefly apologized and ran out of the mansion door and ran to the other side of the road. A red city bus swiftly moved my view from right to left, blocking sight of him.

The young man was running because he was about to miss the bus. I had never seen him before.

I walked down the street, a young woman wearing a trench coat, holding a black attache case, walking dashingly with high heels. This woman may also be on her way to work.

When I entered the side street from the main street on the way and walked for a while, I felt some movement of people in the building near the sidewalk. When I looked inside, the young people in the cook's uniform were divided into groups and cut the vegetables and meat on the cooking table.

In the classroom next to it, many students were listening to the lecture side by side at the long table. It was not a large auditorium, but a seminar room that barely held 20 chairs.

And I continued walking after that, I sometimes passed by men and women in suits.

 


I had a hard time suppressing the urge to scream because of the discomfort that springs up.

It is a super-daily life that is not worth mentioning at all.

Why does this evoke such a sense of discomfort?

This is because it was not the daily life of 2021 but the daily life of 2019.

In other words, if this was 2019, it would be a scene that passed by without looking into the inside from the window and looking back.

Where did you go in 2020, in the spring of 2021?

The people coming and going are natural and continue their lives as usual, that is, before the outbreak of the pandemic, as if nothing had happened in the last two years.

 

Last week, I received an in-house email that started with "Welcome back!" In other words, from the beginning of October, it was a recommendation email to return to the office.

Finally a recommendation came out. Is that the long-awaited end of the pandemic? Do colleagues, or employees of other companies, want to return to the office?

Regarding this issue, we took several questionnaires in 2020. At that time, I remember that half of the people wanted to return and half wanted to continue working from home. The main reasons for those who wanted to go back were that they missed them, that it was more efficient to meet and talk to them, and that they had small children at home, which made it difficult for them to concentrate.

In my case, I was working from home in the early summer of 2020, but returned to the office in the fall. And before winter, I returned to work from home again.

The following week, a colleague working in the next seat was caught by a pandemic.

Perhaps because it was a good time for me to return to work from home, I have not been affected by the pandemic at this stage.


As of 2021, if I take a questionnaire,

"Do you want to go back to the office?"

The majority of the answers are "No".

This is because the foundation for working from home has been established. Some colleagues have decided to keep pets. Once they get back to the office, it will be difficult to take care of their pets.

What about me?

After working from home, the habit of going to bed late at night and waking up late in the morning is becoming established. Life is much easier now than when I had a tight office suit and was stressed by the time press.

However, I liked the liveliness of the employees dressed in suits moving around in an intelligence building. That was also the scene of overseas employment that I had dreamed of. I vaguely believed that I would eventually return. Some of the office clothes I bought at the end of 2019 were never worn.

I am part of an evacuation team in my office.

Sweden generally does not have an earthquake, but in the event of a fire, we are expected to quickly evacuate the personnel in the office.

What is the biggest challenge for us evacuation guides?

In the event of an emergency, how to rescue colleagues who are physically handicapped safely. For example, people with disabilities are more likely to be exposed to risk than usual.

For those who have some kind of inconvenience, not only evacuation in an emergency, but also the act of repeatedly going up and down the elevator and commuting by subway from a distance should require considerable labor and mental burden. 

If they want it, they should be offered the opportunity to continue working from home as much as possible. We have been working from home for over a year and have proven that it is possible, nevertheless with some inconvenience.

 

Regarding the choice of the workplace, if one should think about it rationally, it might be an equation like this.

If working in the office achieves a higher work efficiency, higher satisfaction socially, and better health, one can consider returning to the office.

In the opposite case, one might want to continue working from home. I hear that some parts of the United States recommend working from home.

 

I walked for a while in the dazzling morning sun that morning, and the street scene was still 2019. People walking quickly in suits, blonde students chatting in a group, and children being drawn by a teacher in a large group.

Maybe, really maybe, the days like the good old days may come back as if nothing had happened.

 

With such expectations, I approached the pedestrian crossing.

I saw one woman approaching a man nearby.

"Excuse me, could you tell me how I get to the ICA supermarket from here?"

I say that the man who was asked for directions seemed to casually step back about a meter and a half, before replying.

 

That's right. Prompting you to return to the office with the email saying  "Welcome back!" does not mean that you can go back to the good old days overnight. In the transitional period, there should be many issues to be solved.

 

The words of one boss came to my mind.

"It took much time and effort to get used to the transition from office to home in the spring of 2020. I think there will be a lot of difficulties in the transition from home to office. But eventually we should get used to it, because we humans have been acclimatizing to the new environment for hundreds of years. "

 

8.2.2021

DAYS /  Maya Column

Stepping forward at Baltic

The road I walked again and again

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With the lake glistening in the evening sunlight on my left, I set off for home.

As I walked more slowly than usual, passersby passed me from both sides. This is a country with many tall people. Their stride is wide.

I'm not eavesdropping, but since it's a narrow corridor, I can't help but hear a sliver of their conversation.

"How was your test?

"It was okay. It would be great to live in an apartment around here.

"Yes, it would. Yes, it would be a luxury to be able to sit on the terrace every night and enjoy the view.

The young men who were having this conversation behind me walked past me.

One of them had his pants down very low, they were probably young students.

Shortly after, a woman walked past me on the phone.

She said, "My presentation has gone on too long and I've been advised to stop again. The time limit is too short for my presentation.

This woman is completely absorbed in the world of herself and her cell phone. The outside world does not exist for her.

All conversations were about trivial topics related to school, housing, work, and life in general.

 

 

But I felt strange.

Why?

This time last year, the most frequent conversation I heard was, "I can't stand living like this anymore. I wish the pandemic would end soon.

In other words, it was a desperate sentiment. Since the beginning of this year, I haven't heard much about it.

Perhaps it is because human beings are animals that get used to things, perhaps they have given up, perhaps they feel that they will fall further if they speak out their despair, perhaps they believe that the pandemic will end soon, or perhaps they feel that it is futile to talk about it.

But,

the day before yesterday, my friend, who I thought was very strong and stable mentally, finally revealed his weakness.

"I'm tired of walking the same path day after day.

My friend, like me, has not used any public transportation such as subways or buses since last March. Therefore, his range of activities has become quite limited.

Since I live on an island, I can walk from east to west, north to south, and south to north, and I can see the beautiful ocean and lake. For the past year, I have been walking in these directions repeatedly. Whichever path I choose, the colors of spring, summer, autumn, and winter are always on display.

In the spring, summer, and autumn, it is possible to go cycling, which means that you can extend your trip to the neighboring islands. In the spring, summer, and fall, it is possible to cycle to the next island, and when it is not raining or snowing, it is possible to cycle to the next island.

Nonetheless, it is undeniable that I also get tired of it a bit.

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Just before the pandemic began to spread, I picked up a new hobby.

It was making videos.

Until then, whenever I encountered a beautiful landscape, I would casually take pictures with my cell phone camera and be satisfied to some extent.

These were not images to be enjoyed, but video recordings to remember where, when, and what I had done.

Winter in Sweden is long.

And the feast of lights decorating the windows of every home is dazzlingly beautiful.

The lights of the apartment buildings reflected in the water on the other side of the lake are very magical.

However, it was impossible for the cell phone camera to reproduce what I saw as it was. The main reason I decided to buy a camera was that I wanted to take pictures of night scenes.

However, I could not have imagined at the time of purchase that this decision would alleviate the agony that would follow the following year.

When you buy a camera, you want a tripod.

When you buy a tripod, you want a bigger tripod.

When you buy a gimbal, you also want a video camera with a built-in gimbal...

You buy editing software, and the number of equipment, photos, and videos grows rapidly.

But my photography skills have not improved at all.

 

As for the videos, I have been criticized by my acquaintances as "just beautiful and uninteresting.

But it's not a video to make you laugh.

We were making greeting videos of the situation here, or message videos for weddings and funerals that we could not attend, mainly for acquaintances that we could not meet under the current circumstances. 

We also made promotional videos for acquaintances whose businesses had slumped due to the pandemic.

One of them was a promotional video for a good friend's sushi restaurant.

I don't know if they managed to obtain more customers, but it was very worthwhile because it involved the musicians and Sakura.

 
I'm glad you took such beautiful pictures of the sushi," said the owner, my friend's husband, with a smile in his eyes.

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The owner of the restaurant was a Japanese man who did not usually show much emotion.

Due to health reasons, he had not been in the restaurant for several months.

He is a man who had an interesting experience as a hippie in the 1970s, running street stalls in various countries before drifting to Sweden and setting up his own sushi restaurant.

After the promotional video, I had asked him if I could interview him about his history.

 

However,

the video interview never came to fruition because a week later, he was taken to the hospital as an emergency patient and could not return home or to the sushi restaurant.

The promotional video, which was completed in time, took a lot of time and effort, and I was exhausted.

However, it was worthwhile and meaningful if it was able to shed some light on the last week of a Japanese man's life who struggled for 50 years in Europe.

If the completion had been delayed by a week and the promotional video had never been seen by him, I would still have felt regret.

 

It was this little hobby that added color to the path I walked over and over again, without ever getting bored.

And this little hobby was able to unexpectedly make someone smile, even if it was only for a moment and only for one person.

For various reasons, I will not be able to return to Japan for the time being.

This means that I will have to continue walking the same path I have walked many times before, and many more times to come.

I don't know if it's because of the pandemic or not, but what I find most precious right now is not so much the great successes in life, but the fact that I can make someone else happy through my small actions.

Furthermore, if I may wish, I would like to continue walking in good health tomorrow and the day after.

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7.2.2021

DAYS /  Maya Column

Stepping forward at Baltic

Midsummer in Scandinavia   Where Do the Cicadas Voice Come From?

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Even under these circumstances, the Midsummer Solstice comes to Scandinavia.
The Swedes around me are in high spirits.

One of the reasons why I returned to Japan every June was that it gave me a good reason to avoid participating in the Midsummer Festival.


Travel brochures about Scandinavia often include stereotypical images of the Midsummer Festival.
Perhaps because of this, the image that most people have in mind when they hear the word "Midsummer Festival" is as follows.

In the Dalarna region, where the traditional red houses are characteristic of the region, young and old blond men and women, dressed in their local traditional costumes, hold hands and dance happily around the maypole, singing the Midsummer's Day song, around the Sirian Lake.

Two wreaths of flowers in the shape of testicles were hanging at the top of the maypole.

There should not be any problem with that, should it?

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After putting the children to bed, the adults drink until late into the night, or until the next day, red-eyed and talking redundantly about bizarre things in a slurred speech.

Here, there is no competition in their careers, no nobility of profession, everyone is equal, half asleep, discussing trivial matters.
People talk about stocks, politics, sports, horse riding, cars, plumbing, and the latest news of mutual acquaintances who are not participating.

In addition, there can be scenes here where a man and a woman, whether they know each other or not, disappear into the depths of the forest or towards a lake.

In fact, I once witnessed such.

The man was an accomplished juristic person, tall and dark-haired, giving off an aura of elite status just by being there.
The woman, blond and blue-eyed, was hailed by many as a beautiful woman.
The Swedes rarely comment on others' appearances, so this assessment of her left a lasting impression on me.

They discreetly disappeared hand in hand into the woods, deep into the Scandinavian forest where the sun did not set until late, and further into the lake.

They were both engaged, and about to get married, each to a different partner.

Apparently in Sweden, almost 30% of all children are born almost nine months after the Midsummer Festival.
 

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It was well past midnight and there was no sign of the festival coming to a close, so I went into the hut I had been assigned to sleep in and laid out my sleeping bag.
The hard wooden floor didn't bother me too much, but it took me a while to get used to the melancholy aroma of the borrowed sleeping bag, as I am overly sensitive to smells.

What bothered me even more was the fact that I had to lie in the shape of a river with two other people in the small hut, and for some reason, I had to sleep in the middle of them.
They had once been lovers.
Even though I couldn't grasp the situation, I tried to get some sleep and waited for morning to come.

 

When I couldn't speak much Swedish, I wasn't used to talking with Swedes, and I couldn't hold a conversation for long.

How did I pass the time when I couldn't carry on a conversation?

I made up for it by drinking beer and pretending to enjoy the conversation.

There is a small room that I feel compelled to visit when I drink too much beer.

On this occasion, however, I was forced to endure it for the rest of the night.

 

No matter how bright it was outside, I could not dare to go to a remote cottage in the forest (a toilet that is furnished with a fertilizer refinery) alone in the middle of the night.

I tried to wake up the people who were sleeping next to me and ask them to escort me, but they were snoring and sound deep asleep.
I'm sure their blood alcohol levels were not half bad.

 


Gazing into the depths of the forest at night, I often have the illusion that a man wearing an ice hockey mask is about to appear.

Recently, I heard that a horror movie set in Sweden's "Midsummer" has come out.

If we don't break the habit of associating similar landscapes with horror movies as soon as they come into view, it will be difficult to live in nature.

 

The next morning dawned before the darkness of the night had time to completely cover the forest.

I went to breakfast in a daze, hungover and sleep deprived.

'Good morning, how are you? '

The Swedes greeted me with a well-rested face and refreshing greetings.

It is said that northern Europeans and Japanese have different amounts of ALDH2 (aldehyde dehydrogenase), which breaks down alcohol, on average.
The difference in the degree of resurrection is quite remarkable.

'Good morning, I feel great, except for the severe vomiting feeling.'

I barely managed a smile, and responded briskly.

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In the daytime, when I open the door of the cottage in the forest (the toilet for the fertilizer refinery as stated above), I am reminded of the long history of this forest.

When I opened the door of the wooden toilet, I found several calendars with almost naked actresses on the back of it.

All the calendars were faded and the studs were missing in some places.

All of the calendars were from the 1960s.
I wondered who had put them up, and what their families had said about them.

The only sound around the cottage was the decadent chirping of cicadas.
Time had stopped there since the 1960s.

In other words, the history of this family had been engraved in this forest for a long time.
Not that they are exclusive, but this history belongs only to them.

Similarly, the Midsummer Festival is a traditional Swedish event, and it is as important to the Swedes as the New Year's Eve event is to the Japanese.

Companies are closed and stores are closed.

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Although I was invited to the Midsummer celebration, and danced around the testicle wreath in imitation of others, I don't have the same genuine feelings about Midsummer as the Swedes do.

This makes my participation in the Midsummer Festival seem heavy and hypocritical.

 

Unfortunately, this year as well as last year, I can't use the excuse "I'm not in Sweden, so I can't participate" as a reason for refusing to participate in the Midsummer Festival.

However, since the Midsummer Festival was cancelled due to the pandemic, there was no need for me to attend anyway.

 

Now that the Midsummer celebrations have been cancelled, I can't deny that I feel a sense of desolation, even though I had avoided this event for so long.

This is because Midsummer is a uniquely important traditional event for Swedes, and I think that we should respect the traditions of other peoples as much as possible, even if we do not feel the same way about them.

 

6.2.2021

DAYS /  Maya Column

Stepping forward at Baltic

From the Japan sea to the Baltic sea

When I hear seagulls on the balcony, I know that it's time to get up.
There are no seagulls in sight. 

Half-asleep, I head for the living/dining room where the coffee dripper is.
The building across from my window is illuminated by the morning sun, and they have changed their outfit since last night. 
It's going to be a bright day, I thought, feeling uplifted.
For those of us who live in Scandinavia, the short moments of sunshine are bliss. 

I open the window of my living room and lean out a little, and through the buildings I can see a stretch of the coastline bathed in the morning sun.
People walking their dogs or running along the beach appear from the right side, disappear to the left, back and forth.

Three years ago, I moved to my current apartment.
It was to start a second life. 

This is a new residential area known as the 'Riviera of Stockholm'.
Stylish restaurants stand in front of the beach which is also famous for its design.
In the summer, it turns into a trendy district where swimmers from all over the city gather to compete for physical beauty. 
I hand over the beach to them in the summer, but in the spring, fall, and winter, the beach ought to be returned to us who live in this area. 

It would have been possible to buy a condominium overlooking the entire coast instead of just a section of it, if I had increased the amount of my mortgage loan or bought a much smaller condominium, but I decided not to do so this time. 
Why? 
Because buying a condominium that overlooks the entire ocean would be the ultimate ideal in my life.
My life is still in the midst of its aspirations.
I am not aware of what my aspiration really is, but I have my own jinx without any reason that when I find it, I will be qualified to buy a condominium overlooking the whole ocean.

****

My father was born and raised in a seaside town by the Japan sea, where dusk turns the whole town red. 
But, 
at the time when neither seaside estate nor mountain estate were so expensive, my father chose to buy a mountain villa estate. 

My father, who was an engineer, took a leave of absence from his job and spent a year alone in the mountain to build a log house without using a single nail, which had been his dream for a long time. 

After it was completed, we had to frequently drive up to the log house in the middle of the night, via the dense fog of the Usui Bypass with cold sweat running down our spines.In my youth, I may have spent more time wearing mountaineering knickers than swimsuits and dresses. 

The more my father nurtured his longing for the mountains, the more I longed for the sea.

A few years after my father's death, my mother called me and said, "I went through his working room. You know what I found? I waited for her next words."I found model ships, many of them. Your father might have longed to go back to the sea. Actually,Born and raised in a seaside town by the Japan sea, my father was never tired of the sea.On the contrary, he must have loved the sea.However, he could not give up his passion for the mountains, so he stayed away from the sea a bit too long.

Twenty years have passed since I put down roots in this seaside town. 
This country used to be called a good model of a social welfare state with the symbolic phrase "from cradle to grave".
However, this northern country has not always been warmly welcoming to foreigners who do not understand its language and culture. 
I don't have any conflicts with this country, but there have been times when I cried in places where no one could see me.
Some of my friends returned home because they could not get used to this country.

However, every morning when I open the window, feel the warm sun on my cheeks, and look out over the beach with a cup of coffee in my hand, I am reminded of something. 
"This is what happiness is all about. 
I try to find something that makes me feel lucky, even things that might be trivial to others. 
"I didn't get a migraine today.
"My family is healthy today.
"The sunlight from the balcony reminds me of a painting I used to love.
"The orchid that I thought was dead is in full bloom this year.
"Today's rice cooked crystal clear.
"Suddenly I remembered the name of a song I couldn't remember.
"My friend, who I thought disliked me, contacted me.
"I finally finished writing a Christmas card.
"A stranger helped me when I was stranded in the deep snow.
"A randomly chosen restaurant turned out to be more delicious than I expected.
"I found a well-stocked Asian grocery store.
And so on. 
Infact, when I made a list like this, I found that I was surrounded by much fortune.
Each of these little boxes of happiness that I have collected and preserved is what I call happiness. 

Before my father died, he asked my daughters and me, "I wonder if you are ever going to come back to Japan.
I have always tried to fulfill most of my family's wishes, but this was the one thing I could not do.

In the morning, the color of the sea from the window was greenish for some reason.
Then, from noon to evening, the surface of the water gradually turns to the color of the sky.
The name of this place is 'beach', but the name of the water is Lake Mälaren.
But this water passes through a sluice near the old town and connects to the Baltic Sea. 
And all oceans are eventually connected somewhere in the world.

This morning, I went down to the beach before ten o'clock.
In Japan, it would have been just before nineteen o'clock, the time when the sky would have turned red.        
I offered cherry blossoms and sake to the shore, and spoke to the sea solemnly, 
"I couldn't make it back home this year either for some reason, 
but I'm living happily on the other side of the ocean in a nearby town, so don't worry.

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