Five Things

This past April my mother and I started having weekly phone calls. Every Saturday night at 10 o'clock I give her a call and we chat about recent events or whatever happens to be on our mind. It's something that I should have been doing for decades and even said as much on our first call. However, this is yet another one of those instances where "better late than never" is true; no matter how many years have passed since the last call, it's (almost) never too late to pick up the phone and reach out.

Yesterday one of the first questions that my mum asked was "How are you doing?". An innocuous inquiry that people will use to allow someone else to offer the initial conversation topics. My reply was quick and to the point: I'm feeling great. Better than I have in years. Maybe I should be sent to prison more often so that I can appreciate just how good people have it on the outside. Injecting a bit of humour into the start of a conversation generally creates for a more relaxed atmosphere, but the answer is wholly accurate. Despite the various struggles that can face a person at the start of divorce proceedings, I have enjoyed the past week immensely and feel pretty good. Aside from a 15 ~ 20-minute period of negativity on Thursday or Friday, my outlook on life has been remarkably positive. The 20 days of detention were certainly stressful and humbling, but the genuine appreciation I feel for my current freedom is absolutely refreshing. It will not be taken for granted.

So, with this in mind, on to the five things.

Hindsight on Dreams

During the final nights of detention, I would occasionally dream of returning home, only to wake up either as I read the front door or when I get to the mailbox just outside the front gate. Rather than see the inside of the house, I would see the inside of my cell. This was incredibly disheartening as I considered it a sign that I would never again return home. In hindsight, however, could this have been a vision of the future?

Dreams that repeat have often held a special meaning for people. In the Bible, the Egyptian pharaoh who released Jacob from prison did so after having his dream interpreted as a message that there would be seven years of bounty followed by seven years of drought. Thanks to the insight from Jacob, the people of Egypt and neighbouring territories were spared starvation1. Even today, there are numerous intellectuals who pay attention to the messages contained in dreams; particularly those that repeat.

Looking back at these unconscious visions, I do wonder if the dreams were trying to say "You will return home, but not just yet." This would certainly explain why I would wake up shortly before walking into the front door2.

Why Am I Here?

One of the questions that I've been thinking about since returning home regards my purpose in life. This isn't so much a "why do I exist?" sort of question, but more of a "what am I expected to do now that I have been gifted with a return to society?"3. There are a number of possible answers that have emerged from the recesses of my mind, and they all follow a common theme, namely …

Interacting With People

For the better part of four years I have been unable to interact with people outside the house in any meaningful manner. On April 12th, the family and I moved into this home and almost immediately became disconnected from the rest of the world. We would occasionally meet extended family, and I would have an opportunity to chat with neighbours while outside with Nozomi, but the interactions were always time constrained. However, as I am no longer expected to be a constant presence in people's lives, it has become possible to rekindle old relationships and also to build new ones. While I certainly lean towards introversion, there is something uniquely rewarding about meeting people, sharing ideas, and learning new things. This interaction also extends to calling family members more often, which has made it possible to learn about the people I grew up with but know almost nothing about4.

Re-Reading Important Books

Reading has been one of my favourite pastimes ever since I borrowed my first book from the library5 at the age of six. Over the last few years I've been reading books from people like Dennis Prager, Jordan Peterson, Bishop Robert Barron, and others. These books cover important and complicated topics and have helped guide me to be the person I am today. By going over these books again, there's an opportunity to appraise the decisions I've made, recognise what worked, learn from the errors, and re-examine the lessons to see whether they apply or not6. First were the two Rational Bible books from Dennis Prager, and I'm now in the middle of Jordan Peterson's first 12 Rules for Life book.

My goal is to continue reading books from people who are smarter than I will ever be in order to make fewer mistakes going forward. After reading the books that already exist in my library, I'll being expanding the pool of authors to better grasp the world we live in. I needn't agree with everything, but I do need to understand more perspectives in order to build a …

Plan for the Future

A number of people are strongly encouraging me to return to Canada. I still have responsibilities to tend to here in Japan but, depending on the final terms of the divorce, remaining half a world away from the nearest family member (that I'm allowed to see) seems illogical. My employer has been incredibly understanding and patient with me over the years but, as the global economy continues its downward spiral, they may need to downsize further7 in order to survive. If this happens, then I will need to act quickly in order to continue paying the mortgage, the bills, and everything else that creditors or society demands. So it is with this in mind that I am trying to collaborate with people to develop financially viable – not to mention ethical – software and services. There are four projects being discussed, all of which have potential. If just one proves to be somewhat successful, then it will become possible to pay the bills while also having the freedom to work from anywhere on the globe. It's a long-shot, but not completely outside the realm of possibility.

This past week has been incredibly productive with a lot of good communication with great people. Despite the challenges earlier this month, I feel positive and incredibly fortunate. So it is with this energy that I hope to transform the potential for good into something that is good. Given the patterns that are present in my life recently, this will not be a solo effort. There will be interaction. There will be communication. There will be learning. There will be disagreement. However, when it's all said and done, something truly interesting will have been discovered.


  1. This is a gross oversimplification of the story, but the gist is mostly there.

  2. What's odd is that my dreams had me walk towards the front door. I never use the front door unless with Reiko or the boy. If it's just me, I enter and exit the house from the side door connected to my home office. However, when I returned home on June 15th, I did use the front door. This was because there were three other people with me; two police officers and an interpreter. Entering through the side door would have been awkward as there wouldn't be enough space for everyone's shoes. Did the dream contain all of this information? Or was it just a figment of a depressed imagination?

  3. Yes. I see my return home as a gift.

  4. More than fifteen years have passed since I've seen most of the people in my family. People can change quite a bit in this time. My sisters have been mothers for most if not all of this time, and raising multiple children will change a person. It's good to have an opportunity to learn about them again, even if it's just over the phone.

  5. The first book I borrowed was "Mr. Bounce", a short story written by Roger Hargreaves. It was borrowed from the library at the elementary school I attended in 1985. The things we remember …

  6. There is no book that I read and agree with 100%. The things I disagree with, however, are often topics that I think a great deal about afterwards to articulate why there is a disagreement. A rational approach to reading and introspection makes it possible to better develop the self, after all.

  7. There have been a number of downsizing efforts over the last year or so thanks to COVID, but it's gotten to the point where the next round of people will be those who cost the most and generate the least amount of income. The software I write now is not used by students or teachers, so the value I offer may not be worth the salary in the eyes of management.

Beauty

Try to make one room in your house as beautiful as possible.
– Dr. Jordan B. Peterson

The spaces that we spend the most time in tend to get messy rather quickly. We're usually bringing more things in than we take out and we're generally bad at dedicating time at regular intervals to organise and clean the area. For most people, this is just the way the world works. In my case, I tend to like things to be organised in such a way that I never have to ask "Where is X?", because X has its own spot and only leaves that location when I am actively doing something with X. That said, it would be terribly misleading to say that I didn't also suffer from the accumulation of stuff over time in the spaces where I spend most of my days. The home office is a perfect example of this.

Having the privilege of working from my house means that I could, if so tempted to, wear my pyjamas all day long, eat meals in front of the keyboard, and generally life in front of the computers. So much of what I like to do involves typing on a keyboard, and so much of what I'm paid to do requires the same set of tools. If I were to spend as many as sixteen1 hours a day in the same general space, that location would quickly become a mess. Rings from the coffee cup would form on the desk. Pages from the notepad would be torn out and stacked nearby to be put into recycling the next time I stand. A plate from a meal might be left because an idea captured my attention while eating. In no time at all, the office area would come to look very "lived in".

However, I do not do any of these things. I tend to wear proper clothing when sitting at the desk. Meals are consumed in the dining area next to the kitchen. Papers to be recycled are tossed in the plastic bin almost immediately. And the place where I keep my coffee cup and glass of water is always free from the rings that signify spillage. The home office is where I generally create things, which means that mess cannot be tolerated. Items must be in their proper place. Dust and other dirt must be cleaned at least once a week. By sticking to a routine, my workspace can look like this most of the time:

Image of home office

This is how I like to start my working day as it means there is no time wasted looking for hints of ideas that were paused the day before. The paper notepad contains a list of open tasks that must be tended to and the desk itself is ready for whatever I might do next, regardless of whether I need to use the keyboard or touchpad.

The space is functional. Things are laid out efficiently. But is it beautiful?

Two decades ago I would have thought this a gorgeous working space. The lack of disruptive wiring alone makes this a distinct improvement over a lot of the places I've worked over the years. However, the space tires me out after just six or seven hours every day. Just because a space is functional and efficient does not mean it's beautiful. What this place is missing is "life".

Up until a few months ago, this working space had photos and hand-drawn pictures all along the wall. This introduced colour and uniqueness to the space, making it possible to look away from the monitors and instead see a photo of a family member or something they had created with pencils and crayons. This would allow me to remember the story that describes the picture and enjoy the human moment that was captured. I miss the stories.

One of the rules from Jordan Peterson's famous Quora answer told us to make one room as beautiful as possible, and it's a good rule. Beauty inspires us to action. So, with this in mind, some new photos will be put up on the wall over the coming weeks. I'll find some of the better shots of the boy and Nozomi, print them out on some photo paper, then mount them to the wall with some adhesive boarding. A similar thing will be done in other rooms around the house as well. Because while it's true that this place is generally clean and organised, it's also monochromatic. Having some vivid imagery of the family during happier times will go a long way to making the house feel more like a home, even though it's just me here.


  1. I don't spend 16 hours in my home office. That would be excessive and unhealthy. That said, I do generally spend about 12 hours a day, five days a week in front of a computer.

My Problems Are Not Yours

During the last two days of interrogations at the police station, I was asked a number of questions that did not seem to be directly related to the case, but were instead used to better understand my thought process. One that came up multiple times was about the lack of aggressiveness during the three weeks of detention: "How come you don't get angry at any of my questions? If I were in your position, I would be pounding the table and shouting. You've been very calm for most of our discussions. It's almost like you're not defending yourself."

The investigator was quite right regarding the lack of anger and frustration that was shown during the questions. Given the seriousness of the allegations, most people would probably gesticulate wildly during questioning while also raising their voice as the consequences of a possible guilty verdict becomes more clear. However, this didn't seem like a logical thing for me to do, and I said as much.

What value is my anger or frustration in this situation?

As one would expect, I was incredibly angry and frustrated at times during the 20-day detainment. Who wouldn't be? I was angry that I couldn't contact anybody. I was frustrated with the lack of things to think about. I was angry with some of the questions that were asked. I was frustrated with how repetitive many of the days were. What kept me balanced was what – and who – I wasn't angry at. At no time during my captivity was I angry at Reiko or the boy. I understood why I was arrested and it made perfect sense. As a result, the actions I had to follow were very clear.

I will be patient, respectful, and honest. Anything else is just unnecessary noise.

Like a lot of people, I was rather quick to anger as a teenager. Something would upset me and I would go off on a tangent, shouting expletives and stomping my feet like a fool. Not once did these rages result in a satisfactory solution. If anything, these outbursts pushed the people I cared about away. Who wants to be around an angry grouch, after all? So it was with great effort that I learned how to control and channel rage. By my late 20s, I'd become so adept at redirecting or burying anger that people would sometimes ask if I ever got angry. This control of emotion eventually went further so that I could mask just about anything, allowing me to present a calm and respectful demeanour under most circumstances. This was incredibly important during the last half of my marriage, too. While frustration would escape from time to time, my emotions could be "paused", making it possible for me to deal with them at a later time.

This is what I did in my cell when nobody was watching. However, even there, the anger and frustration did not come out in any obvious manner. I would walk around the cramped quarters, bouncing my shoulder against the concrete walls just for some sort of physical contact with the world while also making sure that there was just enough force used to create a bruise. In the mind's eye, every interaction was like a transfer of raw emotion from my upper arm to the building itself. In time the intensity would dissipate and I could go back to reading or running an imaginary coffee shop. The bruises that developed would heal after an evening or two.

One of the things that I've learned over the last four or five years is how to complain. Or, more accurately, when to complain and what to complain about and why I am complaining. For the vast majority of the problems I face, it makes little sense to communicate them to others unless I need help with a solution. For everything else, nobody cares.

There were a hundred things I could have complained about at the detention centre, but none would have resulted in changes. It's a jail, not a hotel.

There were a number of problems that I had with the way questions were asked in a manner to test a person's honesty, but complaining would not have resulted in better questions.

The prosecutor really got under my skin a couple of times, questioning my faith and intelligence as though I were less than human. Would complaining about this have resulted in a better dialogue during his questioning? Not in the least. Knowing him, it would have encouraged further line-crossing.

As one would expect, there were many what's to complain about, but never any when. Nobody would have cared. These were my problems, nobody else's. As a person in custody – as someone suspected of doing evil – there was no reason for anybody to accommodate my wishes. So, why engage in a senseless activity?

Being angry would have gotten me nowhere. Being frustrated would have gotten me nowhere. Acting on emotion would have gotten me nowhere. Complaining would have gotten me nowhere. Doing any of these would have likely resulted in the same consequences I faced as an angry teen. So, with this in mind, all I could do was to be patient, respectful, and honest. Anything else would have been unnecessary noise.

The Length of a Day

In 1955 The Righteous Brothers lamented that "time goes by so slowly", a concept that has eluded me since high school when it seemed that everything was getting faster with each passing week. The flow of time also increased noticeably when the boy learned how to play. Up until my 43rd birthday an entire week could pass by in what felt like a handful of hours, leaving me to wonder when I might find the time to complete the various projects I had committed to. However, after the family split on April 8th it seemed as though every day contained 30 hours. Then, by the end of last weekend, a single day seemed to contain enough hours to fill a week.

“When you sit with a nice girl for two hours you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.”
– Albert Einstein (or Helen Dukas1)

One of the oddities that I noticed after returning home from jail last Wednesday was a lack of time perception. We all recognise the feeling of watching a clock and thinking that the second hand has come to a stop or is moving backwards, but this is something I've yet to feel in my house. Over the next few days, time did seem to accelerate again, but it has yet to return to a state where a single day feels like a 24 or 30-hour period. Our perception of time is certainly relative, as the famous quote from Einstein reveals, and this has me wonder whether a person is more productive when time seems to drag on forever.

In March I felt that there was never enough time in the day. I would sit in front of my computer for 10 hours, invest an hour for Nozomi, three hours for the boy, two hours as a family, two hours for whatever demanded attention, then six hours for sleep. However, the days never seemed productive enough. By the end of the evening, I would check in my work for the day job and wonder if the things I just handed in actually needed 10 hours to complete. Now, though, I seem to complete everything I had planned to work on plus a number of additional tasks before lunchtime, then wonder what to do for the rest of the day.

A quick check of reality shows that there are still 24 hours in every day, with each hour consisting of 60 minutes. So how is it that I seem to be so productive now while each minute feels interminable?

The only thing I can think of is that there's less to think about. After Reiko left with our son and Nozomi there was a lot less to occupy my mind. I could focus on communicating with lawyers and neighbours, filling out paperwork, planning for the future, and more. Later, while sitting in a jail cell with little more to do aside from breathe at regular intervals, there was even less going on in the head. Indeed, by the end I was engaged only in a single thought at a time. This allowed for a degree of attention that was once impossible given the myriad of distractions that we all contend with on a daily basis. Gone were the electronic devices. Gone were the other voices. Gone were the colours of objects2 within view. This level of focus is not the same as one might experience when sitting with a loved one or absorbed in an activity, where time moves at a rate far faster than we perceive. Instead it's more like a Zen state; inner peace and calm while engaged in a single effort.

The price paid for this insight has been incredibly high but, if this tranquility can be honed and maintained, I wonder if the endless races against the clock that once defined my days and weeks can remain a thing of the past.


  1. This was Einstein's intermediary, and was likely the person who communicated this idea to the reporters who would often ask questions about relativity.

  2. The cells I resided in were not monochromatic, but they may as well have been.

29番

Between May 26th and June 15th of this year it was necessary for me to answer to two names; the one my parents gifted me with at birth and another that was assigned when I entered into the detention centre at the police station. My designation was 29番1 and it was the only way people could refer to me while in the jail. We were not supposed to share our real names with guards or other detainees. Most of us have been called far worse things throughout life, but there's something utterly dehumanising about being referred to as a number; as though we are no more significant than cattle.

Perhaps this is the point.

When a person is detained and stripped of the freedoms afforded by society, are they any more important to the outside world than a cow that grazes in the field? We are permitted the basic necessities of life2, a shared newspaper, a handful of minutes to groom ourselves, and a shower twice a week. Time spent in the cell can be passed by reading a book, writing3, sleeping, walking in circles, staring out a mostly-obscured window or – as I quickly discovered – spending exorbitant amounts of time in your head. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes watching primates within a cage at a zoo would find it interesting that humans will often do the same things as the great apes and orangutans might in order to get through the day.

The numbers people are assigned are handed out sequentially and, because they are relatively low, reset at regular intervals. The lowest number was #14, assigned to an elderly gentleman who I shared a cell with for the last five days of my detention, and the highest was #32, assigned to a man of few words. Knowing a person's number would give you some indication of how much time had passed since they last enjoyed the freedoms that so many of us take for granted, but asking directly was frowned upon. Still, I would occasionally think about the men who had been placed in captivity before me and wonder how they maintained their sanity given the lack of stimulus that was permitted. The old man would devour books. One would write a letter to a different person every day. Yet another would sit with this back against the wall and just stare into space. Everyone had their preferred way of passing the time.

When I was first placed in a cell, I had no idea what to do. There was a mostly-blocked window that I could stare through to examine the sky and power lines, or stand on tip-toe to see the tops of trees and buildings. When my muscles were tight from a lack of activity, I would walk in circles around the cell. Three times counter-clockwise, bouncing my right shoulder against the concrete walls as I went, then three times clockwise, bouncing the left shoulder against the same walls, then repeat. Later I would read books. Finally, to break the monotony, I would retreat into imagination where I ran a coffee shop that served good drinks and excellent sandwiches.

The books were a good distraction at first, but there seemed to be a theme of misery within the library. Only four books were available in English: Flowers for Algernon, Memory Police, Run, Melos!, and Animal Farm. I had read Flowers for Algernon in high school and couldn't read it again while detained as it was just … depressing. Memory Police started out as being interesting, but went in a direction that I really disliked and eventually ended with a depressing non-ending. Run, Melos! was a collection of short stories that had been translated into English with the most common theme being people who hated themselves despite all the good that surrounded them. So it is probably no surprise that I decided to borrow Animal Farm for the greatest amount of time, reading through the story at least twenty times in all simply to occupy the mind with something that wasn't related to the remarkable amount of loss that I was trying to ignore4. However, one can only compare George Orwell's "fairy story" to North Korea so many times before the tale becomes wearisome. So, as I was in desperate need of something to do, I created a job for myself.

Something I have always wanted to do is open a coffee shop. In my mind, I built a small cafe for a small town in Southern Ontario. The place was called "Jason's Signature Coffee", which had my signature – J²fi in a cursive script – on the cups. The place sold good coffee, healthy sandwiches, and all-natural juices. For breakfast there were yogurt cups that came with a small package of granola. At lunch there were various sandwiches, made with fresh-baked bread from the kitchen. In the winter people could also enjoy a hardy stew or chilli in a bread bowl. Connected to the coffee shop was a small classroom where I would teach kids how to program Lego robots and, when not tending to either the shop or the school, I would sponsor youth sports clubs and enjoy watching some games. It was a very busy place and there was always something to take care of.

The original concept started to take shape somewhere around Day 10 of my detention. Based on the comments and signals I was reading from the police officer and the prosecutor in charge of investigating the case, all signs were pointing to a five-year stay at a labour camp followed by a deportation. I needed something happy. I needed something to look forward to. This entrepreneurial enterprise was the best I could come up with, and it sustained me for a week. Various problems would be imagined, such as running out of bread at lunchtime or dealing with a break-in that emptied the classroom of all its Lego and supporting tech, and solutions would be played out. A number of "What If …?" scenarios played out in this fantasy town, including one where I met someone and considered starting a relationship. All in all, it was an excellent way to distract myself. Anyone who can see that a positive future awaits is in a better position than someone who is depressed.

Unfortunately, the fantasies would always end the same way: "Number 29; it's time to eat." A guard would interrupt my train of thought to let me know that it was either noon or 5:00pm; time for a meal.

Jason's Signature Coffee is one of the few positive memories I have of my time in a Japanese detention centre. It was an escape that allowed me to feel purpose. It was an exercise that allowed me to examine a possible future. It was an opportunity to possess a name that people could call me by.

My name is Jason. Not a number.


  1. Pronounced "ni-juu kyuu ban", meaning "Number 29".

  2. This would include food, clothing, and shelter.

  3. All writing had to be readable by the staff so, if I were to write anything in English, I would need to pay to have it translated so that the warden and guards could make sure it didn't contain anything that should remain within the confines of the detention centre. Suffice it to say, I did not write anything as I was not keen on spending untold sums of cash on translations.

  4. In the space of two months I managed to lose my wife, son, dog, and freedom. This was compounded by the fear of losing my job, house, and financial security going forward.

How Do I Write About It?

On Thursday May 26th at 8:00am sharp, my life came to a very sudden halt. At the front gate to my home stood 9 police officers, armed with a search warrant, cameras, boxes, and the authority to take anything that might be of interest from my house. I had just stepped out of the shower when the buzzer told me of their arrival. Naked and completely unprepared, I asked them to give me a moment while I quickly dried off and put some clothes on. A moment later, I opened the front door to be presented with the warrant and allowed them to enter the house without complaint.

Yes, this actually happened. And, after the investigators had collected everything on their list, they asked that I travel with them to the police station to answer some questions. There was no arrest warrant presented, but it was clear that my best interests would be served by getting into their van.

For almost three weeks, I did not see the horizon.

On the twentieth day, I had given up any hope of getting out of jail before 2027. Based on everything I had heard and everything I had seen, 90 days of detention followed by an all-too-predictable court case1 would have resulted in me being moved to a labour prison where I would spend my days on an assembly line making things that nobody wanted. My proclamations of innocence appeared to go unheard because they didn't line up with the details that I had slowly learned about during the course of the interrogations.

Yet here I am, sitting in my home, almost 60 hours after being released back into the world.

It still doesn't seem real. I want to write about the experience. I want to put pen to paper and explore why I had slowly given up all hope of returning to society before my 48th birthday. Yet the words fail to materialise. The question I struggle with is how to communicate the experience. Do I write chronologically? Do I write in blocks of topics, examining the interrogations, the detention centre, my cellmate, and other aspects of imprisonment as single items spanning a period of time? Do I write about how I spent my isolation when not answering questions or reenacting events for an audience of investigators? Do I write about the tears I hid from almost everybody as I thought about my son growing up and saying "My dad's in jail" every time someone asked about his father?

There are a number of half-scribbled notes on a pad of paper that I keep near the computer that contains some of the details that will likely slip my mind as the memories begin to fade. Notes about the food, the four English books available to read, the professionalism of the officers, the prosecutor, the handcuffs, the things I thought about to pass the time while stuck in a cell that measured 15m²; 20% of which was used by the semi-concealed toilet area. When it comes to preparedness, these sheets have me covered for at least 10,000 words worth of blog posts … or even a book written in a first-person narrative. Yet it's difficult to know how to approach the subject.

The last few nights in the detention centre were incredibly long. Lights are out at 9:00pm and they don't come back on for ten hours. Detainees are expected to remain lying down this entire time unless using the toilet. As I had nothing better to do, I'd often fall asleep by 8:15 and wake again after six hours so that I could examine the concrete wall nearest my nose while the old man behind me snored up a storm.

During the brief periods of REM sleep, I would dream about returning home. A dream on Day 17 involved standing at a bus stop waiting for a vehicle that never came. The timetable always showed the next bus to be five minutes away. On Day 18 I dreamed about walking from the detention centre to my home, a trek of 18.3km that I know rather well because I've travelled the actual roads for 15 years. As I approached the front gate and checked my mail, I reached into my pocket for the keys and … woke up to see a concrete wall less than 30cm from my face. On Day 19 – the last day of interrogations – it was much the same; I couldn't go home.

Day 20 was hard. This was the last day the police could hold me. One of two things were going to happen:

  1. They would find they had enough evidence between the testimony and DNA samples to indict me, resulting in another arrest warrant being issued where I would then stay in the detention centre until my court date 6 ~ 8 weeks in the future
  2. They would release me

Everything I had been told by the prosecutor and the lead investigator had me believe the first was the most likely case. My prayers to God would go unheeded, likely because my ego needed to be humbled. My house would be seized by the bank for failure to pay the mortgage. My job would be lost. Everything I had worked so hard to earn or build since moving to Japan in 2007 would be gone, with the added insult of being deported from the country at the end of my sentence2; penniless and utterly unprepared for whatever future might await.

As with the previous nights, I woke around 2 o'clock in the morning to see the scratched up concrete wall I would lean against during the day. The prayer I had said thousands of times during detention started looping through my head:

Lord, please grant me the strength, the courage, the patience, and the humility to accept these coming years.

I thought of my son, who would live into the 22nd century thinking I was a horrible person. I thought of my dog, who would likely pass away before I would see a horizon again. I thought of my father, who might also pass away before I could return. I thought of Reiko. I thought of my mother. I thought of the extreme isolation of being so far from anyone who might be able to help or, at the very least, pay me a visit.

In addition to the prayer for strength and courage, I would often say another one when standing at the barred-off window that allowed me to see little more than power lines and sky:

Lord, please allow me to leave this place and return to my home.

But something in me died that morning. Just like anyone who has spent time in a prison, I wanted to leave and return to my home. I wanted out. But I no longer felt I was going to get out. I lost hope. I lost confidence. I had to accept that the coming years were no longer in my control. This decade would be remembered as replacing one tyranny with another.

The prosecutor had the final say as to whether I would be indicted or not, and he was a tough man. His stare could freeze stars. In his office I had seen a calendar with details about my case, and on June 15th – the last day of my detention – there was a note to make a final decision in the afternoon. Based on what the officers and inmates at the detention centre said, a fax would likely be received mid-afternoon to announce my fate.

At 10:20am, the warden approached my cell: "Number 29. You're being moved."

My heart sank. They said I was being moved, which means the prefectural prison had enough space for someone to await their court date. I would be driven from the quiet detention centre at the police station and brought to a place with hundreds of men who would likely laugh at a broken white guy who rarely speaks except to say "I didn't do it."

The cell door was opened. I returned my blankets to the closet and gave one of the guards the styrofoam cup I had been using for three weeks. From there I was lead to the room where people are frisked and then put into handcuffs before transportation.

Except the room was laid out differently. Rather than seeing a mat on the floor with feet spread wide for people to stand on while being checked for contraband, a bench was pulled out from the wall and all of the clothing and belongings I had come to the prison with were laid out.

"Where am I going?" I asked.

"We can't tell you."

"Why are my clothes here? I'm going to another prison, aren't I? Where are the handcuffs?" I looked around and didn't see the metal detector wand or the specific set of restraints that the guards had dedicated for my use.

"You'll find out soon enough. Please sit down."

Two guards then went through a binder containing an inventory of everything I had handed over when I was first brought into the detention centre. My jeans, shirts, belt, watch, wallet, money … everything. Then I was asked to change out of my prison garb and put on my clothing.

You sick fucking bastards, I thought. You'll have me dress in clothes I wore as a free man to transfer to another prison, where they'll be stripped off me so that I wear somebody else's underwear yet again.

Never once in my twenty days of detention did I exercise my right to remain silent. Nor did I ever refuse to cooperate with a warden, guard, or police officer. These people were in charge of my life and, if I made too much of a fuss, it would only hurt my chances of early release. So, keeping my thoughts private, I got dressed.

Mere seconds after I finished putting on my shoes, the warden came into the room and held up a piece of paper loaded with complex Japanese characters:

"This is for you. Jason Irwin, as of 10:48am on June 15, 2022, you are released from detention and free to go."

I didn't know how to respond, so I asked the first thing that came to my head: "This is a dream, isn't it? I'm dreaming. I'll get to my home and then wake up in my cell again."

The warden shook his head. "No, you're free to go. There are some officers in the police station who you need to talk to, and then you can go home."

Is this how I should write? Narrative? In the first-person? This would allow for an exploration of thoughts as well as what happened in the real world, but I wonder if it makes sense on a blog. On this blog.

The twenty days of detention have changed how I think about things. Time moves differently. Sound is different. I pay much more attention to what people say when they communicate with me. I still feel broken, as though I lack the confidence to venture very far beyond the confines of my very, very, very large house. But each day brings another opportunity to try and reclaim some semblance of normalcy. On Wednesday, just a few hours after I was dropped off at my home, a neighbour from across the street stopped by with some snacks and asked if I was okay. She had been outside when the police had escorted me to their van so she knew what was going on. Yesterday I went to the nearby convenience store to pay a bill. Today I took a bus to city hall to pay some overdue taxes. Tomorrow I will venture into the big city to meet a friend for coffee.

As a free man.

As a normal man.

As a man who has no idea how to write about these twenty days of scrutiny and confinement.

But maybe this post can be a start.


  1. Japan has a 99% conviction rate, which is pretty much unheard of in the western world. If you go to court in Japan as a defendant, you're pretty much doomed.

  2. Although I have a permanent residence visa in Japan, being in prison for more than 365 days would result in a revocation of the privilege and a forced deportation back to Canada.

Peace of Mind

Two weeks ago Reiko stopped by to pick up "a few remaining things" and wound up grabbing far more than was implied. I was out for the morning to meet with a friend in town and figured my absence would give her the chance to collect the last of her clothing as well as some of the things I had packed up for her that she might need, such as an expired passport, the batteries and charger for the DSLR camera she took, the DVR with all of her recorded TV shows, and the like. When I returned home mid-afternoon I discovered that she didn't come alone, but brought her parents and sister to help out. Everything that could be taken was grabbed. Dishes, silverware, curtains, my medical and taxation records, Nozomi's medical records, plus any last reminders of the boy. It was a wholly vindictive ploy. I spoke with the lawyers about the legality of taking all of my paperwork in addition to already grabbing the title to the house and other legal ID during the first "house cleaning", and they shrugged their shoulders as if to say "What are you going to do? Have her arrested for theft?"

The thought did cross my mind, but it would require me to stoop to her level. The last thing I want to do to our son is to have him witness his parents wielding the law at each other. Instead I did the next best thing; I jumped online and bought some new locks for the doors.

When Reiko first left the house, she kept the keys which I foolishly assumed would be used responsibly. However, when I returned home two weeks ago to discover a mostly empty home, I was reminded of the time my home was robbed in Southern Ontario. Upon returning home on that day 21 years ago, a police officer escorted me into the basement apartment to ask what might have been taken. I walked around and pointed out what was missing, including a few bottles of beer from the fridge, and asked if there was any chance that anything might be returned. The officer shook her head and said that it almost never happened because anything of value would be sold within hours and tracing ownership back to me would be darn near impossible for anything that wasn't one-of-a-kind. After the officer left and my landlord came home to find that his place was also stripped of some items, I drove to the nearby Home Depot to get some replacement locks for the door.

This is what I did two weeks ago as well.

Door locks in Japan are a bit more door-specific than the ones I was familiar with in Canada, but one shop a couple of prefectures over offered to sell me the sets that fit my doors. $200 later, they were ordered and I was left to play the waiting game, wondering every time I went out whether there might be an unannounced visit. Fortunately there hasn't been a repeat of two weeks ago and today, after waiting two weeks for the locks to arrive, I was able to quickly dismantle the doors, switch the tumblers, and get everything re-assembled.

Back Door Locks

This is what peace of mind looks like for the back door, which leads into my home office.

With the locks changed, I now have one less thing to worry about when I go out for a walk or to meet with people. There is still a risk of break and entry, of course, but that is something that lawyers will not shrug off as a "mild consequence of divorce"1. It's unfortunate that this was necessary at all, but such is life.

Over the coming weeks I will continue to petition for my paperwork and access to the bank accounts in my name. I'll also aim to regain the title to the house as I'm the one paying the mortgage. Bringing Nozomi back is another priority and, if at all possible, some visitation rights with the boy … even if it's supervised visitation to ensure I don't try and leave the country with him2.

With any luck, I'll look back at these first few months of separation as a time of mild frustration that ended with an amicable agreement with Reiko. This is highly unlikely, but anything is possible.


  1. If they do, I'll find some new lawyers.

  2. Kidnapping is quite common with international divorces, I'm told. Not sure how I could smuggle the kid out of the country without anyone knowing ahead of time that it was happening, though. I don't have a private jet, let alone one that can cross an ocean.

There Is No "Delete"

Over the last couple of decades there has been a concerted effort to rewrite entire swaths of history to fit various objectives and agendas. This generally starts by examining an event completely outside of context and adding a great deal of hyperbole that is passed off as "fact", followed by mob rule attacks on the subject, followed by a retelling of events to suit the needs of those who believe they've been aggrieved. This sort of activity is often seen during and after wars as various groups seek to claim power of some sort. A family member recently asked if I would go back through the posts on this site to remove any reference of being married, effectively masking the whole reason I moved to Japan. According to their logic, doing this would allow me to "reframe" my purpose for leaving Canada and setting down roots on the other side of the planet.

In other words, would I lie in order to hide the fact that I was once married? Would I "cancel" Reiko?

The question struck me as odd, given the fact that there are plenty of other posts on this website that should probably be deleted if I wish to avoid the wrath of a history-diving activist. What possible value would removing a few hundred posts featuring my ex-wife have? She and I were married. Despite the stress, anxiety, anger, and hurt that was inflicted over the years, we had a lot of really good times together. It's because of these good times that I remained by her side for nearly 14 years of marriage. Removing her means ignoring the happy times. It means removing any posts featuring our son. Going further, it could mean removing any posts about Nozomi, as she was initially adopted into the family to offer Reiko some company in an otherwise empty house while I was working 30+ kilometres away in Tokyo.

No. There will be no rewrite; no purge of posts that might show that the early years of marriage had more ups recorded than downs. Marriage allowed me to mature into an adult. It allowed me to put someone else, and later several someones, ahead of my own wants and needs. The story of who I am today would be wholly incomplete without making reference to the responsibilities that I voluntarily accepted. John Donne said it best almost 400 years ago: No man is an island.

Some people do find it therapeutic to delete or destroy photos, burn cards, and toss possessions after a break-up, but I do not. What happened happened. Nothing will change this. By leaving the posts in place and publicly accessible, I am sharing with the world a piece of my history. More importantly, by leaving the posts in place and publicly accessible, I'm showing the world that I am not projecting a manufactured image. What you read is what I am. There are minimal filters in place to ensure things remain clean and family friendly, and that's it.

People don't visit websites like this one for fictional accounts of events.

Grandpa

My father became a grandfather almost a quarter century ago, but I've never really thought of him as being an "old man". In my mind, his voice hasn't at all changed since the 80s nor has the colour of his hair or body shape. My out-dated mental image of the man does receive small updates every so often when we have an opportunity to chat with video, but this is the exception rather than the rule. My father has remained in his late-30s for decades, and this is the way that I picture him in memories and hypothetical scenarios despite the fact that I am now in my mid-40s. That said, this morning the image was drastically altered this morning when I heard his real voice for the first time in at least six months. As one would expect from someone in their mid-60s, he does not sound like a man in his thirties. In fact, I was shocked by how old and tired he sounded.

The passage of time is inescapable. There are no medicines or creams that will allow us to hold onto the energy of our youth. Over the last couple of months I've even noticed that the reflection in the mirror is looking much older as of late. Silver and white strands of hair can be seen mixed with the brown. The lines around my eyes are more pronounced. The pores on my skin are deeper than before. My hands, which most certainly feel like mine, appear as though there's just a little too much skin to cover the muscles. Regardless of how I might feel about the matter, I most certainly look my age. It seems only natural that my father would also look – and sound – his age.

Yet there's no denying that sound of his voice this morning took me for a surprise. Because of his medical status, because of the things he has done throughout his life, his body is tired. And this is what I heard this morning during our call. A voice I will forever recognise, but aged beyond anything I've ever been willing to accept.

Not that time gives a darn of what we might be willing to accept.

After our call came to an end I wondered how my son might remember my voice. Will he imagine it as it is today? Will he imagine it some other way, as a five year old child might imagine an ideal father? Someone who is present? There is no way for me to know the answer to this question, but I do wonder. Children often look up to their parents and emulate the behaviours they see. Like a sponge, they absorb all kinds of mannerisms that we are completely unconscious of1. Has the boy absorbed enough time with me to have built a semi-static representation of a father figure?

When the situation at home calms down, I will make an effort to visit my parents again. I have not seen my father nor step-mother since the trip to Princeton four years ago, and I haven't seen my biological mother or step-father since … I can't remember. At least 22 years have passed. To say that I've failed to maintain an honourable relationship2 with these people would be an understatement, but there is still a bit of time.

The older I get, the more I see that it's not what we do with our time that is most important, but who we spend that time with. Perhaps I can say this now because I've been employed for so long and had the opportunity to make a name for myself in a narrow field. Or perhaps I can say this because, like Joni Mitchell sang in the 70s, we don't know what we've got 'till it's gone … and I've lost access to the people3 that I care most about. Regardless the reason, the one thing I can say is that hearing my father's "grandpa voice" today was like being shaken awake. I need to re-think my priorities, get things done, and selfishly set aside blocks of time to be with the people who mean the most to me.


  1. The boy used to bring a camera bag with him every time we left the house. He wore it over his shoulder like I wear my shoulder bag. It took me a while to realise that he was emulating this. He saw me carry a bag, which would contain my wallet, an iPad, some spare masks, and other supplies in the event the boy needed something. So, thinking "that's what people do", he repurposed an old camera bag to do the same. Inside he would have a magnifying glass, because he liked to pretend he was a detective, along with a notepad and a pencil. One day I should write about how the boy reflected my own behaviours in such a way that I could see what was good to emulate and what I needed to change.

  2. The fifth Commandment is "כַּבֵּד אֶת אָבִיךָ וְאֶת אִמֶּךָ לְמַעַן יַאֲרִכוּן יָמֶיךָ", which reads as "Honour thy father and thy mother" in many English translations. How a person does this is largely up to them but, no matter how I think I've honoured them, I recognise my failures. I seldom call. I have never sent gifts back for birthdays or Christmas. All in all, I've been disconnected with much of the family since leaving Ontario in the summer of 2002. While there was the stigma of shame twenty years ago that prompted the move to western Canada, there's no need for this anymore. My ego today is nowhere near as large or insufferable as it was back then … though it can still be a bit much at times.

  3. This includes Nozomi, though she is not a "person".

Twelve

Twelve years ago, somewhere in Miyagi prefecture, Nozomi was born alongside her brothers and sisters. It would be just 107 days later when she would join the family and bring a smile to my face every day since.

Nozomi in the Park

Almost a month has passed since the last time I saw her. My final act was to give her a little bit of breakfast before heading outside on the day that Reiko and I split. In retrospect, I should have brought her with me. However, in retrospect, I could have done a lot of things differently. Still, I really hope that Nozomi is doing alright despite the distance. Last weekend I cleaned up the home office and rearranged some things so that she would have a great deal more space for her bed when she returns, and there will also be fewer barriers in place to prevent her from exploring the house1.

There's no timeline for her return, nor do I know if she will return after the lawyers work out who gets what. However, I do hope that Nozomi can enjoy her 12th birthday with a nice treat and maybe a little more attention than she normally receives. In the event she can come back to this house, I'll make up for the time we lost together. She'll have a new pair of bowls, extra long leash, and her favourite dinner waiting.

Hopefully we won't have to wait too long.


  1. Nozomi has been pretty much limited to just the home office the last five years, as she's been kept separated from the boy. A few days after the house was emptied out, I removed all the barriers. Not only because they made it harder to get into and out of the office, but because they were annoying as heck.