Gimme Chocolate

The year is 1945.  Japan has been ravaged as a nation, and many of its larger cities have been bombed into an unrecognizable mess.  Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s core business districts are flattened wastelands of radioactive rubble, and hundreds of thousand of Japanese citizens have been killed.  Most of those citizens had nothing whatsoever to do with the war.  They were just living their live, and some politician somewhere decided they were going to go to war with the United States, as well as committing atrocities all over the pacific rim.

It was a difficult time.  The most hardship many in the US had to endure was some fear, economic hardship, and rationing.  The hardships those in Japan had to endure were… much worse.  Families were shattered, and children became orphans.  Or worse.

When the American servicemen came onto the shores of Japan, I’m sure they encountered many children who were in very bad shape.  They had lost their parents, may have been living in squallid conditions, and in a very real way, the same people who had been the day prior bombing the ever loving whatever out of their country were now their rescuers.   The servicemen had a difficult task ahead of them – to gain the trust of those who they had previously been enemies with.

I don’t know all the details of this time.  I’m not a WWII historian.  Frankly, I don’t think I could be.  It was a horrific time.  But after Japan was conquered, it became a time for peace, for reconciliation, and for reparation.

And the American servicemen brought chocolate.

The Japanese children didn’t know how to say much English.  In fact, I think it being “taught” in schools is very much a postwar thing.  But they learned how to say two words:  “gimme choco”.

See, the mind of a child, no matter what the nationality, is simple and uncluttered.  They did not understand war.  They did not understand what happened to their cities, or their parents.  But if you came to them offering to make their lives better – and with a little bit of luxury added on in the form of chocolate – the healing could begin.  We offered chocolate, and they learned that we had chocolate.  It didn’t make everything better, but it made things just a little better.

Adults deserve the consequences for what they do, but the children never do, and to their credit, the American servicemen understood this as well.  NO ONE likes to see children affected by a war, and those who do are sick indeed.

Babymetal is a “Kawaii Metal” band whose songs, well, pretty much everything about them, tends to be layered with many different levels of meaning, and their song “Gimme Chocolate” is one of them.  On the surface, it is simply a song about a girl wanting a little chocolate but is worried about her weight.

And then superimposed on that is onomatopaeia for machine guns.

Eighty years since, Japanese children say “gimme chocolate” not because they lost their home and parents, but because it tastes good, but they’re worried about their weight so they’re not sure whether or not they should have any.

The children of Japan in 1945 did not have this worry.  They had many more pressing things to worry about.

Eighty years later, few people live who remember those times.  Adults who are in their mid eighties might have been one of those children who shyly asked for chocolate in the only English they knew.

Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.

I do hope that in the future, children continue to be able to ask for chocolate because they want it, not because it’s the only comfort they have.

War is hell.  It was hell on everyone involved, and it still is.  And the children, of any nationality or race, do not deserve to be exposed to it.  It is good that Babymetal, in their own inimitable style, has reminded the Japanese of that fact.  The American media is asleep at the switch.  They are openly advocating for war, both internal and external.  Perhaps there should be, as uncomfortable as it is, a reminder of the horrors of what they are attempting to unleash.

And maybe we should start with a small Japanese child, clutching a ragged stuffed animal, which is maybe the only thing she owns, asking a serviceman for chocolate.

For that is what war wreaks.

This was a very hard post to write.  I hope you get something from it.

Idols

My first real introduction to Japan and Japanese was through idol culture.  Morning Musume, to be precise.  So it’s no surprise that I’m unusually knowledgeable about the subject.  I can name quite a few idols from Morning Musume, AKB48, Sakura Gakuin, and a few others besides.  And those that I can’t name, I might be able to recognize.

I know about the scandals of both Sashihara Rino and Minegishi Minami, and how they resolved.  I know why those scandals occurred in the first place, and I understand some of the cultural context behind them.  I have a few posts on this blog, even, about my thoughts about some aspects of Idol culture.  I’m not always complimentary, but as it’s my first introduction to the culture, it’ll always hold a place in my heart when it comes to Japan.

But it’s not something I really understood.  I still don’t.  But after thinking about it, I think I understand a little better.

The thing I think many foreign otaku, and foreign fans that are not otaku (such as me) don’t really understand, is a very simple fact.  Us gaijin can keep up with idol culture, and they might even acknowedge and be appreciative of that, but at the end of the day, we are not the target audience.  Idol culture is Japanese.

Take, for example, the garish and gaudy costumes that they were.  AKB48 wears a colorful pastiche of a Japanese school uniform, and Morning Musume tends to wear outfits that hurt to look at.  But Japanese students wear very conservative and conformative school uniforms.  While those costumes are garish and over the top to our western eyes, to a Japanese eye, perhaps it is that very garishness that they like.  Because it is a slap in the face to conformity.

Celebrities in a culture often represent something to non-celebrities that the non-celebrities would like to emulate.  Sometimes they’ll even live vicariously through them.  Japanese idols are no exception.  They offer something to their fans that is otherwise lacking in their lives.  Something that we in the west only dimly understand.  Idols are very cheerful and energetic, and their youth is infectious.  These are things we in the west understand and appreciate.  But to a Japanese person – I get the impression that they are something more.  Perhaps an ideal Japanese person that they were always told existed, but never found outside the carefully crafted narrative of idol culture.

Of course that’s speculation.  I’m not Japanese.  But there’s a reason why so many otaku glom onto idols that they will never have even the slightest chance of exchanging more than one or two words with if they’re lucky.  And I think it’s a little more than just desperation.

I’m not sure the idols know exactly what they are to Japanese culture.  But I do think most of them understand what their role is. And for those who will “play ball”, it can be very lucrative.  After all, for the services celebrities offer, they are often extremely well paid.

It just needs to be understood that those services have little to do with what they’re actually getting paid for.

Racism and Leftism in Japan

I have been, for the most part, specifically avoiding this topic on this blog, and being very careful about how I engage with it elsewhere.  The environment right now is very toxic, and quite frankly, it’s not really on topic for this blog (or, if we’re to be honest, many of the other places it’s being discussed right now).  There’s a lot of virtue signalling going on right now – like, an almost intolerable amount of it, and I do not have any desire to get on that bandwagon.  Plus emotions are running very high, and it’s impossible to have a productive discussion on any topic when one or both sides are primarily driven by emotion.  Emotion is, by its very nature, irrational.

Unfortunately, a few days ago, it became topical for this blog.

Japan does not have the same kind of racial struggles that the United States does.  In actuality, our racial struggles are somewhat unique, as we have a history that many other countries do not have.  It is an unfortunate fact that, until somewhere around the mid 1850s, we were a country of people that kept slaves.

Even though the slaves were freed and no one currently living has any memory of either keeping saves or being kept as slaves, the consequences of that unfortunate fact continue to be felt.  Recently, because of some events in the news, this has come front and center in the consciousness of my country.  Some discussions that have been happening have been productive.  Some, unfortunately, have not.  And some have been violent, which should be in no way condoned, and it is one of the greatest failures of the leadership in my country – from local to national – that it has been tolerated as much as it has.

It is, however, an unfortunate fact that the discussion has been hijacked by those with an agenda that has nothing to do with furthering the discussion, and, instead, has everything to do with promoting other, very destructive, leftist “ideals”.  And that is being exported to other countries.  Like Japan.

Japan does not care about our racial struggles, nor should they.  As they have some struggles of their own that have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with hakujin or kokujin.  In fact, from what I can gather, they really can’t or won’t tell the difference in a very real way.  So us trying to import our particular brand of activism to their shores is not being taken very well.

I can’t say I blame them for that, to be honest.

But this exposes a different issue.

Japan does have racism, but it does not look like the racism that exists in my country.  As I said, it has nothing to do with “white” or “black”, but instead nihonjin and “everyone else”. This is very ingrained in their culture and has been for centuries.

Japan belongs to the Japanese – of course.  And far be it from me to be overly critical of their country when mine seems to be (almost literally, in some places), in flames.  It is, and should be, very offensive to the Japanese that some elements of my culture our trying to export our brand of activism to their shores.  On the other hand, racism in their country is very real as well, and I would hope that they would reflect on that fact.

I really, really would not like to see some kind of extreme activist movement popping up in their country and wreaking the kind of havoc that has been wreaked in mine.  Because the very justifiable offense of racism seems to have the unfortunate effect of opening a toehold into much more unsavory things that have nothing to do with racism and everything to do with an incursion of leftist ideology.  America is very robust against those kinds of incursions, as even with the full complicitness of the government and the media, it is being greatly resisted.  Because of the particular way that Japanese society is structured, I am not sure how resilient they would be to such a thing.

I hope, for their sake, that they can withstand the disruption that is almost inevitably coming.  It seems that no country, right now, is immune from disruption.  I don’t know if it’s too late for the US yet, but I’m rooting for them.

Gaijin

I heard a story.

This is a story that appeared on one of the Reddit subreddits that are dedicated to stories.  It could have been MaliciousCompliance, or ProRevenge.  I can’t remember.  It’s not important.

Our protagonist was working at a Japanese company somewhere in California.  The managers there were Japanese nationals, and the employees were gaijin.  As far as the Japanese managers knew, no one there could speak Japanese.

So they basically ran roughshod over everyone.  It finally came to a head when a manager who had it in for the protagonist tried to railroad him out of the company.  But what they didn’t know was that he could speak some Japanese.  So when they had their big meeting, he mustered up all of the Japanese he knew and told them that the manager was lying.  He then quit.

Apparently the very fact that someone there could speak Japanese and they didn’t know it put the fear of kamisama into them, and they pretty much reformed how the branch was run.  And they sent the problem manager back to Tokyo to become a “window-watcher” (someone who has to come to work every day but has no duties, and then has to give a report every day on what they’ve done to their manager.  It’s a way to shame people into quitting, apparently.)

I’ve heard this story in several different forms.  Japanese people looking down on a stupid gaijin until they prove they can speak or understand Japanese, often in a way that is very embarrassing to the Japanese person.  I read this story once where an American (or some such) was in a Japanese store, and they insulted him in Japanese – and when he called them out in Japanese they were extremely apologetic.  They got caught.

It’s almost as if it never crosses the mind of a Japanese person that a gaijin might be able to speak Japanese.

On the one hand, this is an atrocious attitude, and in my view it is right and proper to call Japanese people out on it.  Us gaijin are not stupid.  We’re just different.  We mastered a language (well, most of us did, anyway) that is at least comparable to Japanese in difficulty, and we have managed to build a pretty cool society – if we can keep it.

On the other hand, sometimes they’re not wrong.  A gaijin coming to Japan without having learned even the basics of Japanese and their culture is nothing but a disrespectful tourist who has money to spend – and I think it’s perfectly legitimate to say that those who visit – or even worse – live there without learning any Japanese is showing absolutely no respect to the Japanese people, and they’re at least somewhat justified in having no patience with that.  It’s important to the Japanese people, and at the end of the day, it’s their country.

The Japanese culture is very ancient, and was pretty much literally dragged kicking and screaming by America into the modern age (look it up!).  I think I can understand some resentfulness to this situation, as for reasons I don’t understand, not having grown up in their culture, their cultural identity and their homogeneity as Japanese are extremely important to them.

Unfortunately, the world is moving on, and they’re having to move on with it.  That ship (literally, come to think of it) has sailed.  But the least we can do as gaijin is to recognize this, and at least have enough respect for them to come to their country with a basic understanding of their language and culture.  It’s just the right thing to do.

And in return, I don’t think we’re out of line in expecting some basic respect in return.  I’m not going to say we’ve earned it, but I will say that our effort should not be dismissed.  We’re making the effort, and that should count for something.

As for the “window-watchers”, well, that’s a really Japanese thing, I think.  A way to address the problem without actually addressing the problem.  Kind of like “fixing the glitch” in “Office Space”.  I guess the problem just eventually resolves itself.  It’s interesting to me though that wasting salary on a deliberately unproductive worker is more acceptable than actually removing someone from a company.  Certainly not something we in the west would tolerate.  But as I’ve pointed out many times – they have many of the trappings, but at the end of the day, they’re not western.  They’re East Asian.  With all of the cultural perks and baggage that that entails.

Kawaii Aidoru

YouTube is an incredible distraction throughout most of the issues that have been going on in the world, and in my country.

One thing I’ve been watching is Babymetal reactions.  It’s quite amusing to see someone reacting for the first time – “Well, this is a band with… three girls?  And they’re Asian?  Korean maybe?  Well, I have no idea what to expect…”  “SOMEONE GIVE THOSE GIRLS SOME CHOCOLATE”  Anyway, I find it amusing.

There’s this one guy, NeonReaperGaming, who has been really going down the foxhole – to the point where he’s diving into Sakura Gakuin’s stuff, just to see where Su, Moa, and Yui came from.  He comments all the time about how cute they are – and they are!  And there’s nothing really wrong with that.  I find some of Sakura Gakuin’s stuff to be super cute as well.

But something doesn’t sit well.  It’s something that hasn’t sat well with idol culture for me, for a long time.

All we see of idols is exactly what they want us to see.

Are the members of those idol groups (Morning Musume, AKB48, Sakura Gakuin, et al.) cute?  Damn right they are!  But are they really cute, or have they been trained to be cute just so we can have a dose of cute?  Is it really respectful to them to look at what they present to us and judge them solely based on that?

I saw a video once of one of the lesser known AKB48 members.  She made a video where she was crying that she didn’t have enough money for chicken nuggets and matcha cookies.  While I felt a little bad for her, and thought it was a little bit cute, I remember it.  Because that was a look behind the scenes, when the curtain falls.  Even though her concerns were a little trivial in some ways, she was actually sharing a little of her true self with the world.  All she wanted in life at that moment were some chicken nuggets and matcha cookies.  Don’t we all experience that every once in a while?

And I value that genuineness much more than artificial cuteness.

Manufactured cute is a distraction.  Real cute is what melts hearts.

It’s an industry that can chew up young girls and spit them out when it’s done with them.  I’ve even written a few posts (one of which is really popular) about just this topic – I’ve wondered if Akimoto Yasushi is doing the world a service or a disservice by coming up with the AKB48 groups.  It’s an industry that can lead to, to put it charitably, unrealistic expectations, both of the girls and of the relationship the girls have with the fans.  It’s an industry that, I imagine, can put a lot of pressure on young girls to perform in ways that maybe they’re not ready or able to.

It’s an industry that, quite literally, sells cute and innocent.

Is cute and innocent something I want to consume, as a product?  Those girls are someone’s daughters!

I don’t know.  It makes me uncomfortable.  But at the same time, it’s nice to know there’s a little bit of cuteness in the world right now, even if it’s manufactured, packaged up, and sold with a little sailor-uniform bow.

But I most treasure those little moments where the mask comes down and you can see who they really are.  Because those are the few moments where they’re not producing, and I’m not consuming.  It’s too bad that those moments are, by their very nature, one-sided and rare.

Majime

When I was a teenager, I used to attend what could laughably be called a Bible Study. I say “laughable”, because it was for teenagers, and I may have been the only person in that room with a Bible, and ready to study.  I didn’t know what that meant, but that was the purpose of the meeting, and so, I was ready to do what was necessary.

That did not happen, though.  They did everything but.  They played stupid games, they announced social events, they did absolutely everything but study the Bible.  And every time I left that meeting, I left feeling like those who I was stuck with were absolute idiots.  Not only including the ministers, but especially the ministers.

Truth be told, what they were probably doing, was trying to keep the youth from leaving entirely – and too much studying of the Bible would probably have done that.  I even recognized that at the time, but my attitude was, “let them leave, if they’re not interested in doing what they’re supposed to!”.

This is an attitude I’ve carried entirely throughout my adult life, for better or for worse.  I come to a job to do the job, and I’m not too interested in any social events or niceties, except as they directly pertain to the job.  For example, the company I work for has a nonprofit, and every year (except, obviously, this one) they hold different social events to raise money for the nonprofit.  I don’t mind doing this, but that’s because I see doing so as a part of my job duties, when I’m doing it.  But there are other events, some of which pertain to “social justice”, and some to other things, that I do not participate in. It’s not job related, so I don’t care.  It’s not what I came there to do.  My attitude is “do it on your own time”.  Obviously many people disagree with me.  I think that is a cause of my ongoing anxiety.

I believe so strongly in this that there is a certain line that I will not cross, and leave a job before I cross it.  My company has not hit that point yet, but given the current climate, I’m planning for the eventuality, as it may be inevitable.

There was or is (I can’t be arsed to look it up, Sorry Okada-san) named Okada Nana.  She had a very “serious” character – which apparently extended to her off camera persona as well.  She seemed to have that same attitude of “I came here to do a job and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability”.  In fact, that seemed to be so ingrained in her that they pulled a huge prank on her by having someone in a pretend position of authority continue making more and more unreasonable demands on her.  She never broke, she never cracked, in fact, her smile never left her face.  She did exactly what was asked of her to the best of her ability.  She took her job so seriously that she was pushing all of her ego aside and just did her job.  She did seem relieved when the dokkiri was revealed, but that doesn’t change the fact that she was extremely serious about what she was doing.

And, as I said, that extended to off camera as well.  She was a member of AKB48, and she would scold all of the other girls when they would cuss or behave in a yankii manner – except for those girls who were trying to develop a character that needed those “unsavory” qualities.  Not only did she take it seriously, but she demanded the people around her take it seriously as well.

She was teased for this, obviously, because every idol in the public eye eventually gets teased for something (they got Takahashi Minami good with a chair prank) but this was something that they seemed to value about her.  I think this is a Japanese cultural thing.  You do your job, whatever it is, to the best of your ability, because that’s what you came there to do.

They called her “serious”.  I believe the Japanese word they used was “majime”.  This word can also mean “dedicated”.

In my culture, there seems to be no such thing.  People do not seem to come to a job to work – at least not entirely.  They want to have fun, do extracurricular stuff, etc – “work hard, play hard”, they say.  I don’t fit into this way of thinking, and I don’t think I ever will.  I have a job to do, and I intend to do it to the best of my ability – and then I intend on signing off and not having to think about work and coworkers again until I sign in the next day.  I’m just not interested.  I have a job to do.  And I’ve had to lower my expectations, again and again, as the people I have worked with simply don’t seem to have this kind of ethos.  Don’t get me wrong.  They do their jobs, they’re often competent, but they just don’t seem to take it as seriously as I do.

Now, that sense of majime causes problems, too.  I don’t tend to build close (or even casual) relationships with coworkers, and I resent it when they try.  I stay away from all extracurricular activities unless required, and leave at the first opportunity.  I’m sure I come across as hard-working, but aloof.  I don’t mind this, personally, but it’s really not a way to get ahead, at least in American culture.

Maybe it is in Japanese culture.  At least to a little more of a degree.  They do have extracurricular activities, but these are kind of regimented, and you know what to expect.  Just as you would expect from Japanese culture.  I don’t drink, so that could be an issue, but otherwise…. eh.  Who knows.

I have much more in common with Okada-san, in that regard, than I do with probably ninety-nine percent of my own countrymen.  Which makes me seriously wonder if I’m in the right culture.

The Westernization of Japan

I watched an interesting thing on YouTube about the history of Japan on my lunch break today, and in doing so, I discovered something really interesting.  It was Americans that kind of forced Japan’s hand and caused them to open up after several centuries of self imposed isolation.

Japan has always struck me as a really interesting mix, but I haven’t been able to figure out why.  It is almost as if they would like nothing more than to retreat back into their period of isolation, but can’t.  There’s this odd combination of enthusiastic assimilation of Western culture, and a seeming cultural fear of getting subsumed by it.  I wonder sometimes if that leads to a kind of schizophrenic view of western people – on the one hand, an admiration and respect, but on the other, a kind of subconscious understanding that we represent an existential threat to everything their culture ever stood for.  Some Japanese seem to resent westerners, and I wonder if even for good reason, to be honest.

I think we westerners, though, don’t really help.  Many tourists go to Japan without ever bothering to learn even the most minimal of Japanese – forcing them to learn English if they want our sweet, sweet tourist dollars.  Japanese is a difficult language, and of course it’s not reasonable to expect any tourist who goes there to be fluent.  It would, however, be a great gesture of respect to learn the basics.  Even the most minimal of effort goes a long way.

Many tourists also go to Japan without understanding Japanese history and our role in it.  Japan is a very modern country in many ways, but it’s not America.  They just see the world differently.  That’s not to say their way of seeing the world is better – it is in some things, ours is in others – but it’s different.  And every American who goes to Japan without understanding, or caring to understand, those cultural differences makes another Japanese person who thinks we’re baka gaijin – and perhaps rightfully so.  Logan Paul is one example, but there are others.

I don’t always like Japanese culture.  But I try to at least understand it, and the roles my ancestors have had in its evolution.  It can be ugly.  Very ugly, in fact.  But mine was no better. There are many things in my culture that we are still trying to work through today.  Japanese culture is no different.  I just hope we can learn to respect each other more than we do.

Shades of Grey

Not of the “fifty” variety, sorry.  Maybe that will be an appropriate topic in the far distant future, but not today.

Over the past few days, my country has been in the throes of a great deal of civil unrest.  It was precipitated by a very unfortunate event in Minneapolis.  I don’t really want to talk about that, as there’s nothing productive that can come from it.  Instead, I want to tell some of my personal story.

I was raised in a very small, but very controlling religious cult.  They controlled every aspect of our lives, and the “community” that they created was pretty much my entire life for my entire childhood.  Because of that, I have a very unique background that is, and was, maybe shared by about 250,000 people around the entire world.

I know about one hundred songs, almost by heart, that no one else knows, and they have a very specific emotional context to me that no one else knows about.  I was taught very damaging things that few others were, and they have colored my worldview so deeply that I haven’t been able to live a truly “normal” life, ever.  No one understands my point of view, no one understands my perspective, no one understands my personal traumas (of which there are many), and no one understands my “lived experiences”.

And there is a large group of people out there who don’t care, because my skin is a certain color.  It doesn’t matter how much I have suffered, and am suffering, in life.  It doesn’t matter my background.  Since I am a certain skin color, and not another skin color, I’m immediately lumped in with every one else who is my skin color.  That is, by the way, the very definition of racism.  Or, at least, the only definition I’ll accept.

Over the years, I have grown to accept the fact that few people will see the world as I do, and even take a certain sense of value out of the fact that since my perspectives are so different, I have something very unique to offer the world.  I haven’t yet figured out how to actually offer it yet, but my experiences make me. me.  I could choose to be a “victim” and decide that since my church and family has, in a very real way, ruined my life, that I’ll just spend the rest of my life making sure that everyone else knows it, and trying my hardest to make those who destroyed me feel guilty, or pay in another way.  Or I could just accept the fact that no one else will ever understand my point of view, that my experiences are unique, and perhaps that makes me a unique person who can make an impact on the world in my own way.

Life is hard for me, very hard, in a way that even the people I interact with on a daily basis do not and cannot understand.  Just because I don’t share a particular set of problems (and yes, those of other races or cultures have their own unique set of problems) doesn’t mean I don’t share another, equally troublesome, set of problems.  My skin color does not define me.  My culture, and my experiences, are what define me.  As well as my decisions.

And this is why I am staying mostly silent on much of the stuff going on around me right now.  I don’t feel guilty, I don’t feel ashamed, I don’t feel as if I owe anyone anything.  I don’t feel a responsibility to atone for others, nor do I feel a responsibility to do anything but be my own unique self, and contribute to the world what I am able.  The rest of it, will have to work out in its own way.

And that is, God willing, all I will ever say here on that topic.

Motteke! Sailor Fuku

I don’t think I can describe how bad 2020 has been in so many ways, both personally and on a macro level.  But I don’t have to, because most of you have experienced it.  First a virus from China showed up and pretty much shut the world down for a few months, and now idiots in my country are rioting and looting in many major cities.  What next?  Will an asteroid land on New York?  (And yes, those who are looting and rioting are morons.  Now peaceful protests, etc., are a different story, and not one I will get into here.)

It’s too much, it really is.  It’s getting to me.  I find myself waking up early in the morning wondering what’s going to happen next.  I am lucky that I live in an area that has both not been hit too hard by the coronavirus, and is not a choice target for the rampaging morons, but that doesn’t change the anxiety.  There’s just so much to worry about anymore.

But a few days ago I found a song called “Motteke! Sailor Fuku” and I can’t seem to stop listening to it  It’s silly, it’s stupid, it’s banal, the lyrics make little sense in Japanese and even less when translated to English, and it’s essentially about a high school girl’s sailor uniform.  But I can’t seem to stop listening to it because it’s stupid, it’s banal, the lyrics make little sense in Japanese and even less when translated to English, and it’s essentially about a high school girl’s sailor uniform.  And it’s catchy as hell.

I did not have a good childhood, and my teenage years were even worse, but it was simple.  Apart from the artificial worries my parents and church imposed on me, there wasn’t much to worry about, really.  And the thing about that song is, it manages to capture that simplicity very, very well.  When you’re in early high school, who worries about mortgages, about politics, about work, money, all that stuff?  You just worry about getting to school, doing your homework, and playing at being adult even though you have no idea what adulthood is all about.

I don’t wish to go back to my high school years.  But I kind of wish to go back to the idea of high school years.  They’re stupid, banal, your worse worries are often what kind of grades you’re going to get in school, and even though often everything feels like it’s going to be the end of the world, I’d rather have that in favor of what’s going on around me today.

If I could look back at the 80s and early 90s, knowing everything I do now…  we didn’t know how good we had it.  Now it’s all going to hell, and all we’ve got is the shadows of things that were.

And thanks to the Japanese for encapsulating them so perfectly.  It’s such a great distraction, right when I really need one.  Now, if you will excuse me, I need to figure out why three centimeters is a rule you can overlook.

 

Matsuri

My formative years were troubled.  I have many horrible memories, of which I refuse to go into here – they’re personal, and it’s not appropriate.  But the memories were not all bad.

Every year we had a religious festival – we called it the Festival of Tabernacles, or the “feast” for short.  It was in some ways a rather staid affair – but it was a festival, and it was a celebration.  Some people treated it as an excuse to get wasted for seven days, but for the most part, it was intended to be a reflection of how the world was to be after Christ returned.  And, to be quite honest, it succeeded at that far more than I would care to admit.

What I remember the most about it was a sense of anticipation beforehand – and then the feast happened, and it was truly a seven day celebration.  People were happy – or as happy as they could be.  There is a certain spirit in the air when ten thousand people are in the same area for even marginally wholesome purposes.  It permeates the whole city, and I think even people who have no idea it’s happening can feel a change in the city for that short period of time.

I am so conflicted about Japan and its culture, but I can’t deny that I have a visceral emotional reaction to things Japanese, and I can’t figure out what or why.  I think it is because, while the dark is very dark, there is a spirit of celebration to the things that they do for entertainment.  The performers are not performers, it’s almost literally like they’re cheerleaders.  I don’t think there really is an analogue in western culture.  In our concerts, we’ll either politely and quietly stare at the performers (as in classical music), or we’ll mosh around in the audience as the performers do their thing, but in Japanese culture, it’s as if the audience is invited to celebrate with them.

I’m not even sure what they’re celebrating.  Maybe it’s the music.  Maybe it’s a sense of gratefulness for being able to do what they do.  Maybe it’s just how they’re trained.  But at the end of the day, they sing, and they dance, and we’re pulled into their little happy world for just a little while.

And I think that’s why people go otaku.  It really is infectious.  I don’t consider myself otaku, and certainly not weeaboo, but when seeing cute young girls or women dancing around on stage and singing their little hearts out, it’s really hard to not get pulled into their world, and just forget everything for a few minutes or an hour.  It’s just so happy.

I think maybe this is the spirit of Ganbatte.  We translate that in English as “try your best”, but it’s more than that, so much more.  It’s putting everything you have into what you’re doing.  And it really does show.  Japanese entertainers put everything into what they do, they don’t phone it in.  And it draws you into their happy world, and just for a little while, you forget everything sad and bad, because their energy just washes it all away.

It reminds me very much of the festivals I grew up in.

It’s all manufactured.  I get that.  And I know that the darkness of Japanese culture sometimes shows through, in unfortunate and even tragic ways.  But at the end of the day, it’s the gift they give us, and it would be rude to not accept and treasure it for what it is.