Monthly Archives: February 2019

Guest Post from Michael Hoffman, author of Fuji, Sinai, Olympos


Inside the Book:

Title: Fuji, Sinai, Olympos

Author: Michael Hoffman


Genre: Essays

Format: Ecopy /Paperback

Travel companions on my journeys are four in number: Odysseus, Don Quixote, Huckleberry Finn and Basho.” (Travel) “He walked in priestly garb. Arriving towards evening at a town or village, he’d chant sutras until passersby gave him, or flung him, enough money for a flophouse bed, a little food, a bath and enough saké  to induce a measure of forgetfulness. ‘A beggar,’ he admonished himself, ‘has to learn to be an all-out beggar. Unless he can be that, he will never taste the happiness of being a beggar.’” (Walking) ‘“The pleasantest of all diversions,’ said the fourteenth-century Japanese priest Kenko,“ is to sit alone under the lamp, a book spread before you, and to make friends with people of a distant past you have never known.’ Reading is inseparable from reverie. ‘Sitting alone under the lamp,’ I was soon not alone at all, but hosting, I venture to say, as vivid and varied a company as ever gathered under one roof. (Genji, Myshkin and Jones) “Everest is nothing, mere seismology.” (Fuji, Sinai, Olympos) 



There are any number of things I could be writing about here, but only two which I am uniquely qualified to discuss: myself and my book. I therefore crave your indulgence.

I begin with the book because it is more interesting than me. The title, Fuji, Sinai, Olymposnames three sacred mountains – the three pillars that support and also unite the 20 essays that make up the book. Why these particular mountains? Fuji because it symbolizes my adopted culture (I live in Japan); Sinai and Olympos because they symbolize my native (Western) culture.

Humankind from its earliest beginnings have stood in awe of mountains. In mountains we conceive our gods, lodge them, encounter them, worship them. “To ascend is human,” I write in the book. The book is therefore itself a kind of ascent – at least strives to be. The essays complement each other, and yet each is a whole in itself.

At the core of the book lies a premise: that philosophy is central to human life, that, simply by virtue of being human, we are all philosophersI think, therefore I am; I am, therefore I think, I think, therefore I am a philosopher. It has nothing to do with earning a doctorate, mastering arcane terminology, or even being extraordinarily intelligent. Don’t all philosophers say somewhere in the course of their work that all other philosophers are fools? Bertrand Russell, that barbed philosophical wit, defined philosophy as “an unusually ingenious attempt to think fallaciously.” Taneda Santoka, the Japanese haiku poet, said, “Let us become more foolish. Better: let us revert to our original foolishness.” See what I mean?

No – I’m not making myself clear. I won’t apologize – obscurity, in moderation, is no bad thing; it’s bracing, stimulating. But I think of it like this: Socrates said philosophy is learning how to die; I say philosophy is learning how to be “more foolish” – to “revert to our original foolishness” – to recall our original foolishness, again in the spirit of Socrates, who said all learning is recalling what our souls knew before birth.

I say of myself that I am a philosopher because I am human. I am a thinker – not, I hasten to add, a professional thinker, or a professorial thinker (on the contrary, very much the contrary: I am a student, a perpetual student, a lifelong student; I never got out of college; studentcy is my natural and native mode), but a thinker in the sense that thoughts come to me, invited and uninvited, from books and from the void, from thinkers, poets, dreamers, saints, rogues, or none of the above, or all of them at once; they seduce me, these thoughts that come to me; I write them down raw, brood over them, rewrite them a little less raw, put them together, take them apart; years pass and I see, or rather feel, that they’ve become something – what? I don’t know – something – and that, that obscure but urgent feeling, is the sign that  it’s time to start writing.


Michael Hoffman has lived in Japan since 1982. His columns appear regularly in the Japan Times, irregularly elsewhere. His previous books include “In the Land of the Kami: A Journey into the Hearts of Japan;” “Other Worlds; Little Pieces: This Side of Japan;” and “The Coat that Covers Him and Other Stories.”


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10 Things by Douglas Baign, author of From Straight-laced to Cross-dressed

Inside the Book:

Title: From Straight-laced to Cross-dressedAuthor: Douglas BaignPublisher: Virtualbookworm.comGenre: Biographies/MemoirsFormat: Ecopy /Paperback

From Straight-laced to Cross-dressed tells the story of a disturbed adult in therapy seeking to understand and prevent his desire to commit suicide. Douglas starts by knowing that it has something to do with sex but soon discovers that he can’t talk about his sexuality without first discussing his religious beliefs and drift away from strict Christian Fundamentalism.The overlapping issues dredge up a confused morass of anger and love, abuse and sex.


10 Things You Didn’t Know About The Author Or The Book.

  1. Writing this book was definitely a form of therapy. I was going through normal talk therapy while writing it anyway, but there were several times when I had to lay aside the book while I worked through issues.  Once done, I incorporated them into the book.
  2. The entire process was emotionally grueling.  I wept several times while keyboarding and talking or writing about it now still brings an ache to my heart.
  3. The abuse and self-abuse the book describes was actually much worse in reality.  In fact, my editor refused to work with the original manuscript because she thought the material was too sensationalist. I had to censor it quite a bit before editing even began than we toned it down further at least twice more before the final draft.
  4. The 1975-80 dates are real, as are the love letters and I still have the pen-and-paper originals. Yup. I really did cart all this stuff around every time I moved (lots) for 30 years under the theory that I’d need it someday to write a book.  I did and I did.
  5. I keyboarded everything from 1975-80 into the computer to use as reference material.  This ran into a hundred pages or so, which means I was very selective about what actually got included.  That material still exists, so I suppose I could use it somewhere else. But it’s doubtful
  6. I tampered with most dates written after 2000. I wrote this material piece-meal, one entry at a a time in no particular sequence then shuffled the pieces into different pictures as I drafted.  I tried tracking this but gave up, and simply re-dated everything once I completed a draft.
  7. The only person in my family who knows I’ve written this book is my wife. She commented that she was glad she didn’t play a large part in the book and that I respected her privacy when she comes on stage.
  8. The book contains several ‘easter eggs’ – hidden puns or references. Sorry!  I won’t tell you what they are.  My test readers caught most of them but there’s at least one they didn’t catch and it may well stay hidden for a looong time.
  9. I prefer to stay anonymous for two reasons.  The most important is that the book is deeply personal and discusses my mental illness. I don’t want to be pointed at or singled out as crazy. I have enough problems dealing with crowds as it is now. Secondly, these are real people in the book.  There’s no reason to violate their privacy.
  10. I avoid participating in writing groups partly because I’m crowd adverse and partly because I don’t feel like my viewpoint is close enough to share.  BTW, the success of the writing classes I took as an undergrad depended more on the teacher and on my fellow students than on the subject studied (poetry, short story…).


Coming from a long line of teachers, Douglas Baign has a Masters degree in Education but spent his career testing and documenting low-level software. He likes looking at anything basic then challenging assumptions. Doug also has a BS in Cognitive Psychology and a deep and abiding interest in History and Physics.

Douglas’ super-power is breaking things, especially computer code, but he prefers to create books, poetry and music. He also enjoys travel and photography.

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