Sakai Diary: A city for old men

Members of the Japanese elderly group Ohama Koen Walking no Kai gamely pose before journalists from Asean countries who are in Sakai for the Sakai Asean Week 2013.

SAKAI CITY, Japan – Osamu Okada treads the trail with a smile and a casual gait. Looking at him, it’s hard to believe that the retired salesman is already 80 years old—and that he’s climbing a mountain.

Granted, Sotetsu-yama is hardly a mountain by world standards; but here in Japan, it is categorized as such. At only 6.84 meters above sea level, it is officially recognized as Japan’s lowest mountain and an important landmark in this sprawling city in the heart of the Osaka prefecture. But despite its miniature size, Sotetsu-yama (Mount Sotetsu) still boasts of a rolling landscape, lush greenery, and ample shade.

Ahead and behind Okada are some 15 of Sakai city’s elderly residents, some walking in pairs, others in groups of three or four, all chatting and laughing as they gingerly navigate their way toward a certain meeting point.

It’s a slightly drizzly and bitterly cold Thursday morning, but for the members of the Ohama Koen Walking no Kai (Ohama Park Walking Group), it’s walk-to-the-mountain weather, creaking joints be damned.

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I always get this wide-eyed, incredulous look every time I tell friends that I’ve been recording my life daily since 2002. It’s either they find it amazing, cute, awesome… or another manifestation of my OC behavior that most of them detest. I choose not to care.

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I tell my wife: “If ever I become a Dead Famous Writer, publishers will be tripping over themselves to get their hands on those notebooks and planners. Entertain only those whose offers are more than seven digits.” A joke, of course. In all likelihood I’ll just be another Dead Obscure Writer (or worse, a Dead Wanna-be Writer), and those notebooks and planners will only be good for termite chow.

But as long as I’m breathing, those books will be strictly for my eyes only.

The Big D

As I write this, I’m looking at a bottle of Gran Matador and trying to figure out if it’s half empty or half full…

Such is the need to calm my nerves on this humid Monday afternoon while listening to an empty house breathe and sigh.

Things have not been running smooth in my life lately. I just quit my job of three weeks and am now officially unemployed. An incredibly unprofessional thing to do, I know, but something that must be done in order to preserve myself.

Somewhere out there, a blacklist with my name on it.

It was depression, an affliction a St. Luke’s psychiatrist said I was suffering from back in 2008, rearing its ugly head again, perhaps triggered by the new environment. The insomnia and late-night sweats, the lost of appetite, the morbid fear of getting out of the house. It was depression by way of social anxiety, it could not have been anything else. Visited my mother last Mothers’ Day, and all she could say was how gaunt and terrified I look. It was not the sort of special reunion I had in mind. And in my head came the dolorous clanging of alarm bells.

So I quit work. It’s either that or have another breakdown. Just like in 2008.

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