One does not have to be a member of something.
(Donald Richie, Journals, March 21, 1992)
Japan [...] allows me to like myself because it agrees with me and I with it. Moreover, it allows me to keep my freedom. It makes very few demands on me - I am considered too much the outsider for that [...] - and, consequently, I become free. I become a one-member society, consistent only to myself and forever different from those who surround me. Our basic agreement permits an amount of approval, some of it mutual; our basic differences allow me to apprehend finally that the only true responsibility a man has is toward himself. (The Inland Sea, p. 42)
Yes, a one-member society, or: the realisation that, in the most essential things, you are irremediably alone, wherever you are. It's certainly not the easiest place to live in and make close friends, but something in this archipelago deeply agrees with me too. Japan is bearable for me because I am, and will always be, a foreigner. Again, I cannot but fully endorse Richie's view: "I think if I didn't feel like a foreigner, I woudn't be here. If I were Japanese, I wouldn't stay here ten minutes".
Once an English friend, after having lived in Japan for almost 15 years, sadly confessed: "I have no one I can call a friend here". A friend is someone whom you can trust and who trusts you, someone who has time and space for you, with whom you can go out for a leisurely walk in the forest or a picnic - and there are no such people in this country anymore, according to him.
Well, he might have been exaggerating a little, but I do acknowledge the pitfalls of friendship and intimacy in this island of "half-opened doors", as Pico Iyer calls it in his moving introduction to Richie's book. Yet, while I do agree with Iyer's suggestion that "the foreigner in Japan, more than anywhere, stands at the edge of an intimacy that is closing slowly in his face", I've also been increasingly pondering on whether our valued concept of intimacy might not be somewhat misplaced because too unilaterally western.
In any case, this eerie feeling of forever living between half-opened doors won't go away, and you've got to adapt yourself to this constant struggle with layers and layers of social conventions and unwritten rules, shyness, nervousness, reserve, diffidence, hesitation, fear, evasiveness, unresponsiveness, and loads of other sentiments and shadows I cannot even begin to fathom but which persistently hinder any feeling of an envisaged intimacy with the "other". It's like, say, contemplating the winter sun behind a thick glass door. If you resist the urge to give up and humbly return to wherever you came from, then you just have to go on peeling off layer after layer, with infinite patience, and in the vague hope there are - there have to be - exceptions to the (in)famous saying concerning the heart, the core of the onion: that it has none.