David Chadwick, a Texas-raised wanderer, college dropout, bumbling social activist, and hobbyhorse musician, began his formal Zen study under Shunryu Suzuki Roshi in 1966. Many years later, Suzuki Roshi’s successor, Zentatsu Richard Baker, shaking his head, said of Chadwick: “Years of expensive Zen training gone to waste.”

In 1988 friends and supporters underwrote Chadwick’s journey to Japan so he could begin an open-ended period of voluntary exile and remedial education. Since that time he has taken up residency in a house just outside a Zen temple near Okayama, where he studies with Harada Shodo Roshi. He and his wife, Elin, support themselves by teaching English. This is an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Thank You and OK!, to be published next year by Viking/Penguin.


My first trip to the Okayama Driver’s License Test Building had been spent mainly helping the clerk do an analysis of my passport, enumerating the countries I’d visited, the dates I had gone in and out of the U.S., and so forth. The stopover in Hawaii for an hour on the way to Taiwan three years previously was properly noted. The space of time between the Taiwan trip and my arrival date in Japan was marked down. My month in Thailand and the side trip to Malaysia, as well as the times of visa extensions in Japan, were not neglected. It was a curious procedure. This was local government, not Immigration, and I really did not get the point. But mine was not to reason why.

I was told by the precise and bespectacled clerk that I had the honor of being eligible to apply for a Japanese driver’s license, although I would have to come back on another day to do so. I made an appointment and thanked him for his assistance; he expressed gratitude for my cooperation and handed me a form in Japanese which he said I should fill out before my return.

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