Saturday, March 29, 2008


I recently read a newspaper story about a young Japanese man who makes cheese in a small town in France. He used to work on a farm in northern Japan, but he didn't like the way that they went about their business; they didn't treat the cows, or the cheese, properly. One day while watching the Tour de France cycling race on TV he saw the riders glide through a small village. The cows ignored the riders, but the Japanese man watched the cows. They looked happy. The life seemed peaceful. He went to France to take a cheesemaking course, then came back to Japan for a few years to work at a Toyota plant to save enough money to move to France for good. Eventually, he did. And now he works by himself making cheese in a tiny French town, and is considered one of the best workers in the business.

Something about this story moved me.

Japan is a notoriously group-oriented culture. To decide to just take off, move to France, make some cheese -- not an easy decision, I'm guessing. Yet, the ones who don't fit in here, TRULY don't fit in. So some of them move on and find their own life.

How much of our decisions are based on what those around us are doing? How much of our lives do we live drifting when we should be gliding?

One advantage of living abroad is that you can't attempt to do what those around you are doing, because they are of that culture, while you are merely in it. To attempt to blend in is a fool's game.

Eccentricity is often simply doing that which others would not normally do. And those 'others', invariably, are your family, neighbours, peers. Every so often, living in Asia, studying Japanese, I feel I'm on a tangent, and I wonder where the main road lies.

But now I think of that Japanese farmer in the fields of France, watching his cows, then going back inside to make his cheese. He has found his main road, a little off center.