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Japanese Culture: The Seduction of Exoticism

Over the past few years, My thoughts on Japanese culture have taken a very definite arc. I started out with a general sense of admiration, but then decided that I wanted to learn more about their language and culture. I immersed myself into learning as much as I could about it. Unlike some “Otaku” or “Weeaboo”, I always kept a sense of balance about it, but there was always this kind of undefined yearning that I couldn’t quite place.

I’ve never been to Japan, but for some reason, many things about that country held a great deal of appeal for me. I loved the sakura trees, the food, Tokyo, the countryside around Hiroshima. Not everything about the culture appealed to me, but a great deal did.

But as I learned more about the language and culture, I found myself becoming a little bit more jaded. Yes, Japan is a very beautiful country. I think that will always be true. And yes, there are some very beautiful aspects of their culture. That will always be true as well. But I think a part of me began to realize that what attracted me the most about Japan and its culture, is that it’s not here.

I’ve moved all over the United States. I’ve lived in five states. The first time I moved to another state, I moved to a city about 2,500 miles away where I knew no one. My major criteria for finding a place to live was that it was as far away from the place I grew up as I could make it. And I got along there – for a little while.

But eventually everything caught up with me. The challenges of establishing myself in a new place were enough to stave it all off for a little while, and I was even kind of happy for a little while, but it caught up. And soon I found myself picking up and moving to the next place. Always running away from my problems, always running away from myself. Eventually I ended up here, but with the realization that I couldn’t run away from my problems, and with the realization also that my culture is my culture and it’s always going to be my culture.

Japan was, and is, just another step in that journey of running away from myself and my culture.

Japan is, by Western standards, a very exotic place. They do many things very differently than we do. But at the end of the day, they’re still people, and the more I become familiar with Japanese culture, the more I realize that the exotic aspects are just an illusion. It’s a different language, a different country, a different culture, a different way of doing things, but at the end of the day, I’d still want to run away from there too once I got established. So what would be the point?

This is also, I think, why I have so little respect for “Otaku” and “weeaboo” culture. They are running away, too. And there’s many aspects of the Japanese touristy culture that encourage this. But you can’t escape. You can’t run away. And eventually you’re hit square between the eyes with the realization that what you’re pining or is no better than that which you’ve left.

And what then?

My motivations for learning Japanese were not wrong, per se. But they were always going to lead to this outcome. Maybe I’ve never been to Japan, but I’ve been immersed in it for the past few years sufficiently that it lost it’s exoticism, and all that’s left now is the realization that they’re just like me. I can’t escape there anymore. Maybe I will continue studying, but my motivation must be entirely rethought.

Basing any decision on any variant of “I’m running away from my own issues” is a recipe for disaster.

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