Chapter 77 – Tragedy Strikes


1. The House in Amatsu
2. A Disaster Occurs
3. Leukemia
4. Tribal Exclusion
5. A Failed Operation
6. All is not Doom

In a long career I have been fortunate to meet some wonderful women who have cared for me, helped me with language acquisition, assisted in book writing. Without their help none of what I have achieved would have been possible.  

I would happily have stayed with several of them. Only the need for my movements between the continents forced us apart.

But Yasuko was different from them. She had been my introduction to Japan in that difficult 1966 year.  

It was her simple charm and honesty that brought me back to Japan at a crucial stage in 1969, and kept me here. It was she who helped and tolerated me so much in the many years since.

She had done much of the work in raising our two sons while quietly going about her studies and writings about education in Africa

Family New Year party Dan and wife on left, Ron and wife incenter, Yasuko to my right

Family New Year party Dan and wife on left, Ron and wife incenter, Yasuko to my right.  

She had helped me enormously in my writings, and translations. 

Sharing my views on life and politics, at times she could introduce me to materials crucial for my works. 

She had joined me in my passion for mountain climbing and even approved somewhat of my mania for jungle clearing.

A good friend of ours, John Slee, correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald, a man who had lived a life even more turbulent than I, once told us how the sight he most envied was a man and woman working happily together in the fields.

Yasuko and I had done that, literally working together in the fields.  But we were also working together in the fields of writing, and raising two bilingual children, not to mention surviving together for more than forty years in that complicated society called Japan.  

And now it was all going to come to an end, in the saddest possible way. 

1. The House in Amatsu

Amatsu is just another of the hundreds of small towns in Japan struggling for existence.

It has a surfing beach, three fishing ports, and lies towards the semi-tropical south of the Boso peninsula.

But when they built a by-pass it lost much of the reason for existence.

The town council asked me for ideas.  I said turn one of the unused ports into a marina (Japan lacks marinas for a nascent boating community).

But with typical conservatism they said no, the fishermen’s union might object. So it continued to decline.


We had bought an old two-storey beach-side house there for occasional holidays and surfing.

While I was over-extending myself with various commitments Yasuko would like to spend time in there, reading and looking after Benben, our 30 year old family cat approaching the end of his days.

2. Disaster Occurs    

The call arrived when I was fooling around with my various activities further up the peninsula.

‘Your wife is in our clinic injured badly.

‘She walked here all the way from your Amatsu house.’

It seems she had a dizziness fit and fell down some stairs which I should have protected with railings.

‘Her condition is not good. Influenza has set in’

Even though she had hurt herself badly she had not waned to cause trouble (meiwaku) to anyone by calling for ambulances, or seeking help.

She had walked all the way to a local clinic.

Fortunately a first class hospital was nearby. 

We spent the night by her side as she fought the influenza

Then came the first bad news: ‘she may die unless we open her throat to allow her to breath. But it we do that she will have to spend the rest of her life on breathing machine.  What is your choice?’

We took the risk, knowing how strong she was. She survived.

3. Leukemia

But then we got the really bad news. A blood test showed she had been struck by leukemia. This had caused the dizzy fit that had caused her fall.

It is a dreadful disease. Despite constant transfusions it cannot be stopped.

We spent the last night all together in the hospital by her bedside, holding hands and signing songs.

When she died I suffered not just the burden of grief. There were also the self-recriminations for not having done more to discover and enjoy her presence when she had been with us. 

It was a presence that seemed to attract all who knew her. The people living around the Amatsu house had dubbed her favourite cherry blossom tree the Yasuko tree and sent me photos each year.  

The lecture circuit and other distractions had kept me away from her for too long.  Now it was too late to be going back.

But in my grief I did one sensible thing.

It was to place a eulogy to her on my website, translated to Japanese by son Ron.  

Today those words and her photo mean more to me than any number of ceremonies and gravestones. And they are more permanent.

Every time I look at that lovely photo of her above the eulogy – a photo of her innocent and open happiness in the Boso countryside – I feel something break inside me. It says so much about her.

My words can only try to describe the depth of her presence, and my sorrow over its loss.

4. Tribal Exclusion

Losing Yasuko was one thing; I was also losing the other reason for my Japan existence.

With the Sankei Shimbun attack the mood had clearly turned against me.  Virtually all the contacts and outlets I had had during the golden years had disappeared.

Japan really was a tribe – sensitive to the mood, the atmosphere (kuuki), of the moment. 

I kept up with some of the clubs and committees I had inherited from the former golden age. But they were a fairly meaningless exercise.

Being asked to resign the position as outside director of Mitsui and Company was an ugly blow.

The tribal bone had been pointed.  I no longer existed. 

5. A Failed Operation

I started to do something about neglected health. 

A doctor had said an X-ray had shown how a stiffness in my leg which I had suffered (but ignored) for years was due to a bone I had broken in my youth.

(How he knew it was in my youth I do not know. But if true it was almost certainly because of that pig farm my father insisted we should have and where I had to carry heavy loads no 12 year old child should handle.)  

It was starting to effect my beloved squash. Worse, the broken bone was pressing against the central nerve in my spine as the body contracted with age. 

Another millimeter or two and I would be a quadriplegic. 

The doctor seemed unperturbed; I had to assume he did not want the difficulty of operating.

I had the same response for five other back doctors I contacted at Tokyo’s main hospitals. 

Only at the special government-run back and spine unit did the doctors have to consent, and they warned how difficult it would be.

The operation required a network of stents to allow cut bones to fuse.

But with work to do in Boso I had been unable to stay still for the six months needed for the fusion to take place.   

I was left with more pain and walking difficulty.

As if this was not enough, the failed operation seemed to have triggered a very rare, crippling nerve disease known manly by its initials (CIDP). The immune system attacks the nerves at the extremities of the body (feet, hands etc.), and if not stopped will continue to attack the rest of your body.

It was only with much difficulty, and luck (via the Internet), that I discovered it could be controlled by weekly injections of a newly discovered immune system control liquid (Hysendra) imported at great expense from Germany and paid for partly by the Japanese health system.

And that there were only one or two doctors in Japan able to handle the procedure.

But that left more pain and walking  problems… and this time they could not be easily cured.

6. All is not Doom

But at time of writing the German cure is slowly working.

Carolina, from Peru, whom I met years back working in Chiba, is now helping to look after me. 

So all is not doom.