In the cult I grew up in, throughout my childhood, there were some very strict expectations about how one was to behave. One was always to behave in an “upright” manner – to be honest, the ideas of tatemae and honne are not really all that foreign to me, as I lived that as a child. One was to be “in the world, but not of it”. Practically, this meant we had our own set of traditions. For example, we would celebrate a somewhat bastardized version of the Jewish Holy Days (though, in some ways, our celebrations were possibly more accurate than the actual modern Jewish celebrations).
But being in the world and not of it had consequences, and some pretty severe ones. While we did have our own set of traditions, we did not participate in the traditions of “the world”, which is what we called people who were not of our cult. There was no Halloween, no Christmas, no Easter, etc. In fact, our idea of “celebrating” Halloween was to turn off all the lights and hide in the bathroom so trick or treaters wouldn’t knock.
As a point of fact, we kind of viewed those of “the world” as beneath us. They were the lost ones, destined for the lake of fire unless they repented. Of course, repentance meant to join our cut, but that’s not the point. They were dead in our eyes, only meant to be our servants and people we interacted with when we needed something those in the church could not provide.
School was, thus, a lonely affair. I went, of course, as was mandated by law, and I learned voraciously. But when it came to interacting with the other children, well, it kinda didn’t happen. I was well liked by most of the teachers, because I was a “good boy” who never caused any trouble (in fact, I got away with some things I probably shouldn’t have!), but the students, for the most part, hated me.
Were they right to? No, of course not, but it was understandable. Children are very mean to that which they cannot relate to.
As a child. I did not have the tools to express how I felt about the situation, and for the most part I always put on a pretty happy face, but I didn’t like the situation at all. I learned to accept rejection, and I even learned to welcome it in a sense, but I never truly learned to like it.
In my pre-teens and very early teens, I was pulled out of school to be home-schooled. There were reasons for this. Some of them were okay reasons, but one of the reasons was because my parents feared that I was becoming too much “of the world”. Read: seeking a form of normalcy with the other students. So they ripped that out from under me. Along with some other family situations that were threatening to rip the fabric of reality out from under me, all hope for any kind of normalcy was lost. And I fell into a deep depression that, to be frank, I haven’t yet truly pulled out of.
I’m certainly not the only one with this kind of problem. Many different subcultures are based off of trying to find normalcy and acceptance with other people who have never found normalcy and acceptance. This, of course, leads to dysfunctional communities which promise acceptance but never deliver. I found myself bouncing around through a bunch of these communities, trying to find acceptance.
But it turns out the cult mentality does not just apply to religion.
Finally I gave up trying to find normalcy, and became something of a misanthrope. Deeply mistrustful of people, as in nearly all cases, the fact of rejection is not an “if”, but a “when”. I learned to embrace being a misfit, because it is easier and more fun to lob arrows from outside a community than inside one. I learned that becoming too invested in a community only ever leads to pain. I rather prefer to be the outsider, watching with as much disinterest as I can muster until I inevitably find the weak underbelly of that community, poke and prod at it, find it wanting, then leave. There’s always another community to poke and prod at.
I learn much about people, and frankly, little of it is positive. People are, often, terrible.
So let me be brutally honest: Japanese culture, and the rather annoying offshoots such as otaku and weeaboo culture, are an interesting thing to poke and prod at. I found the soft underbelly of otaku culture very quickly, and decided I really, really don’t like it. It’s dysfunctional, it’s obsessive, and it’s kind of annoying. And weeaboos are, somehow, even worse.
But Japanese culture is a little more iffy, if I’m to be frank. It’s admittedly very easy to find the soft underbelly of Japanese culture. I’m not sure if they’re aware of it or not, as they seem to have a huge cultural blind spot, but the deficiencies of that culture are all on display for the world to see. If I were to choose to poke and prod at it, I could find, and have found, some pretty horrible things.
But I keep going back to the fact that the soft underbelly goes both ways. They are also a particularly, and oddly, vulnerable and guileless culture, in some ways. They value and cherish innocence in a way that many other cultures don’t – and I mean real innocence, not the “hasn’t been porked” kind of western innocence. They don’t like to focus on the past, so much so that it’s actually more to their detriment. They seem to believe that being polite and nice is valuable in its own right, even if that means introducing a kind of darkness by denying their own individuality. You poke at their soft underbelly and you find – a soft underbelly.
Are they terribly xenophobic? Sometimes. Do they reject me by default simply because I’m gaikokujin? Almost certainly. Will I ever find community or normalcy in the arms of Japan? Never. But are there enough beautiful things to be found that I can give them a pass on some of their more awful tendencies?
I think so.
And that’s why I keep studying Japanese. Because otherwise, I have poked and prodded at their soft underbelly enough to have found their weaknesses and to find them wanting. If there weren’t something to still admire about their culture, I’d stop today. And, I guess, that’s something.