Normalcy

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.

So I watched some Anime…

I have some extra time on my hands at the moment, so I decided that I was going to try some anime.

The first one I watched was “Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid”. It was well animated. It was funny at times. And it was kind of dumb. I didn’t watch any further than the first episode (and not just because I couldn’t find an unsubbed and undubbed version).

The second one I watched was “Himouto! Umaru-chan”. It is about a perfect 15 year old girl who lives with her old brother, and when she gets behind closed doors, she turns into pretty much a spoiled brat. I couldn’t get through the first episode – what an annoying girl! Verdict: Funny at times, but dumb. I really didn’t see what the point was, honestly. On the bright side, I guess, it’s kind of wholesome in its way.

Then I found “Chibi Maruko-chan: The Boy from Italy”. I gotta say I really liked it. I was able to follow most of the plot from both context and understanding some of the language, which is a bonus! And it was a really sweet little story.

LIttle 3rd-grader Maruko ends up having to take in an exchange student from Italy, who is immediately attracted to Maruko, whose name sounds like that of Andrea’s dead grandfather, Marco. The movie follows the journey of all of the different exchange students as they explore Japan, but with a focus on Maruko and Andrea – who are trying to track down a restaurant Marco had ties to. Along the way they… I don’t know if you can say “fall in love” for children that young, but it’s definitely a kind of romance. It’s very sweet. And wholesome, too. There wasn’t an inkling of hentai in the whole thing, which was unfortunately a refreshing change. It really is a “slice of life” anime of a young girl, and nothing more.

It was in no way, shape, or form directed at otaku. And I loved that.

I think maybe my issue is – I don’t llike shounen. All the big, floppy breasts and action scenes and all that just don’t do it for me at all. But I liked that story. It was cute, and sweet, and I didn’t feel dirty or stupid after watching it. Maybe I need to find more anime like that.

Plus, sensei likes it too. That speaks volumes.

Tips and Tricks for Japanese Learners

Over the past ouple of years, I’ve learned a few things about Japanese that are not obvious to people just starting out in Japanese. Let me try to summarize them here. Maybe I’ve said some of these before, but I’ll just repeat here if so, I guess it bears repeating.

Okurigana

Okurigana are those hiragana characters on the end of Japanese words. Here’s the tip: An English speaker is going to be tempted to look at a kanji and think that it is a word. In many cases, it is not. It is a part of a word. The actual word is the kanji coupled with its okurigana.

For example, look at the kanji 見. It’s pronounced “mi”, and means “see”. But if you add okurigana to the end of the kanji, it can change both meaning and pronunciation. 見る (miru) means “see”. But 見える means “can see”, 見せる means “to show”, and 見つける means “to find” or “to discover”. This kanji has all of these meanings, but it’s the okurigana that distinguish one meaning from the the other. This is a difficult concept for learners to understand, as the question is often asked “how can one kanji have so many meanings and pronunciations?” The answer is that they are just building blocks for words, and almost never the words themselves. I say almost because some words do not have okurigana, like 桜 (sakura).

Jyukugo

Jyukugo are Japanese words that consist of two or more kanji stuck together. This is also hard to understand for Japanese learners, because when you combine two or more kanji, with some exceptions, they take an entirely different pronunciation – and the kanji together form a word that may have little if anything to do with its constituent kanji.

But here’s the simple rule: The kanji will almost always take an “on” reading (Chinese) in a jyukugu, and probably 95% of the time it’s the same “on” reading. So it’s kind of intimidating when you first start learning about this, but once you learn this trick, learning and reading jyukugo becomes much simpler. Learn the common “on” readings for the kanji, smush them together, and most of the time, you’ll be right.

Not always, of course, but it’s a really good start, and Japanese really is about learning the common rules and then when not to use them.

For example, you use the “kun” (Japanese) readings when one of the kanji is a body part. So 上手 (jyouzu) means “skilled”, even though one of the kanji means hand. But 右手 (migite) means right hand. Since “te” is the kun reading for hand, and you’re talking about a hand, the rules of jyukugo don’t really apply there. As I said, a few exceptions. But learn those and you’re golden.

Rendaku

This is something that, for some damn reason, beginners are never taught. You’ll have to figure it out for yourself. But, dear reader, let me explain what is maybe one of the most outwardly puzzling but eminently sensible things about the Japanese language.

You may notice that sometimes voiced consonants will change to unvoiced consonants (adding the two little dots, or tenten) when they are part of a jyukugo. 紙 (kami), or paper, becomes 手紙 (tegami), or postcard, when turned into a jyukugo Why is this, you might ask?

It’s simply, and solely, because the Japanese really don’t like to waste mouth energy.

No, seriously. That’s it. That’s the whole reason.

It’s harder to say “tekami” then “tegami”, so they turn it into “tegami” so it’s easier to say.

You’ll find this is actually the case for almost all cases when voiced consonants are turned into unvoiced consonants. For example, “n” is turned into “m” when put before certain syllables to make the words flow better. “ganbatte”, for example, is harder to say than “gambatte”, so “gambatte” it is.

This changing of voiced to unvoiced consonants is called rendaku.

There’s actually a whole “law” (Lyman’s Law), I believe, that says when and when not to use rendaku, but generally, when you have two kanji, and the second has a voiced syllable, you just change it to unvoiced (add a tenten) and all is well.

Japanese has a few rules like this that no one explains, and for the life of me I have no idea why. It just makes life easier to know, don’t you think?

Dialects

Japanese has a few dialects, and by a few, I mean a metric buttload. Most of them aren’t really important unless you’re planning on travelling all over Japan, but there are a few that are kind of useful to know. Kansai, for example, is one of them. It is well represented in media and comedy because, as a native Japanese I know puts it, “they’re proud of themselves and their dialect so they refuse to change”. Regardless of the reasons why, you’ll have to reckon with it at some point. It has a different pitch accent and syllable emphasis, so I’m told it sounds a bit more sing-song than Tokyo standard.

For the beginner learner, it’s probably best just to know that it exists, and the reason you can’t understand comedy you see on YouTube or whatever isn’t entirely your fault. But it’s still a really useful thing to look into if you have some spare time.

Otaku aren’t Normal Japanese

This is really an important thing to learn, and it’s taken me a while to figure this out. Many of the things you’re going to be exposed to in Japanese media are things otaku like. Some of it might be funny, cool, all that jazz, but at the end of the day, most Japanese people kind of look down on Otaku. They’ll say something like “Well, I guess if they’re happy…”, which for a Japanese person is something like “Holy SHIT are they weird!”

By the same token, anime is hit or miss when it comes to Japanese. Some of it is good colloquial Japanese, but a lot of it is stuff you really should never be using as an example, as it will teach you bad habits, or things that you really should only use under specific circumstances – but those are context specific and the anime will never tell you what those circumstances are. Don’t try to learn Japanese through media. It’s self-selected by otaku and weeaboos, and generally you’re not going to be served well by it.

If it’s all you got, though, I guess it’s better than nothing! Japanese are often just happy you’re trying, so they’ll forgive a lot from a learner.

Native Japanese don’t know everything!

My sensei is a native Japanese, has degrees in Japanese pedagogy, and has been teaching for many years. And I still teach sensei things sometimes. For example, sensei had no idea what a “small ke” meant, and when I looked it up and explained it, well, sensei learned something. Never be afraid to ask questions, and if a native Japanese speaker does not know, it does not at all mean the answer isn’t to be found, and sometimes easily! It just means the native speaker never bothered to find out.

And that’s fine, of course! I only recently learned what a gerund was, for example, and I’ve been speaking English for mumble mumble years!

Sometimes you’ll be told “I don’t know”. Look it up. You might be able to teach something yourself.

Have fun with it

I only recently learned about something called Japanglish. It contains phrases like:

  • yamete kudastop
  • arigathanks
  • don’t itashimention it
  • nani the fuck

Of course, this isn’t real Japanese. It is almost but not entirely unlike real Japanese. But for all of the ragging I do on otaku, etc., they do have one quality that should be emulated. They have fun with it. They’re not really as concerned with the rules as they are with how cool it is. And so you come up with a list of things like this that are nothing like Japanese except on the most basic level, and yet, people are having loads of fun with it. Respect the culture (which gaikokujin otaku generally don’t do), respect the people, give it your best go, but at the end of the day, remember that if you can’t have some fun with it there’s really no point. And let me be entirely frank – if a native Japanese doesn’t like that you’re not taking it seriously enough, they can just ざけんなよ. Being irreverent is not the same as being disrespectful.

What are some tips that you think people should know that would make their Japanese learning life easier?

Sometimes I’m Wrong

I like to say that I’m never really wrong – as my decisions and opinions are nearly always right based upon the information I have. But sometimes I don’t have enough information, so as I get more information, my opinions can change. That kind of makes my previous ones wrong. I don’t really mind all that much because I did my best with what I have, but it still requires some acknowledgement.

I had the opportunity to ask my sensei last night about the whole “brother/sister” thing, and I have never seen sensei laugh quite so hard as when I mentioned the name of the hentai anime “imouto paradise”. It turns out that sensei does not really watch all that much anime at all, and particularly not hentai, which I totally understand. And this morning, I saw a video by “That Japanese Man Yuta” (a YouTuber whom I can usually take or leave, honestly) about anime songs, and most Japanese people could not identify “Motteke! Sailor Fuku!”. The interviewer said “it’s popular amongst otaku”, as if they were some kind of weird, foreign thing. My sensei seemed to share that opinion.

By its very nature, I have mostly been exposed to things otaku and weeaboos like, because this is what tends to get subtitled over to English or posted to English sites. Because of that, it’s very easy to forget that otaku are actually a rather small subculture of Japanese culture, and while their media influence is outsized, it’s not really reflective of the way most Japanese people see the world. It’s understandable because idol culture is quite literally how I was introduced to Japanese culture, but perhaps it’s time to look for things that have nothing to do with the things otaku like.

This does not mean, necessarily, avoiding anime, manga, etc. It means avoiding the anime and manga that otaku like. Maybe that will be a better reflection of average Japanese culture than the frankly unbalanced tendencies of otaku, weeaboo, and idol culture. It’s no reflection on the idols, I hasten to say. They’re doing what their market demands. But it’s not really a flattering reflection of Japanese culture, and perhaps I should seek out other things.

As my Japanese gets better, that should become easier, I suppose.

So, I should probably rethink some of my opinions. They’re based upon a faulty sample set.

Perhaps the first thing I should do is find manga and anime where the main characters aren’t barely adult women with an F-cup and straining blouse buttons. That’s… harder than it sounds, actually. Native Japanese might not understand this, but that is most of what seems to be imported to America. Maybe I can find better sources.

Life

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this before, but there is a thought that, if I pursue it with any seriousness at all, can lead to insanity. In fact, as I pursue the thought, I can feel just the barest tendrils of insanity taking hod and I have to pull away from that thought. It makes my heart race, it makes my mind start to spin out of control, and ultimately it is one of only a handful of thoughts I am not capable of following through to any degree. I don’t know if anyone else has this problem, because I honestly am not sure most people have the intellectual capacity to realize exactly how maddening this thought is.

That’s not a slam on most people, by the way. They’re better off.

The thought is this: The fact that anything exists at all has to be an absolute impossibility. And yet, here we are.

The fact is, there has to be an origin to anything. That origin may, in fact, not be temporal, but in order for something to exist it must have come from somewhere. But it’s turtles all the way down – where did anything come from? Where did God come from? That thought, right there, is where the insanity comes from. It’s not that I think that God is by any means physical, it’s that there is something out there that is just simply impossible to comprehend in any meaningful way, and one of those things is, the nature of God and the realm in which he exists. I can’t fathom the question of where he comes from, and in fact, whenever he’s asked who he is, he just said “I am”. What more can he say?

As an aside, I believe the arrogance of atheism is to think they even know which questions to ask, much less answer them. I think it speaks for the dearth of intellectual capacity in most of the atheist “thinkers” out there that they just dodge the entire question. It leads to insanity for a reason. It’s also why I consider some of the most celebrated thinkers and philosophers to be fools. Not because they’re not intelligent, but because they think they’re more intelligent than they are. They don’t understand the place of science, and refuse to.

So, what is human existence, then? Semi-animate life, created out of a Universe that seems to have come into being under improbable circumstances, with not only the seeds of life but the seeds of death built into its very programming. The idea that any animate life itself has value, honestly, is laughable on its face, because while it is precious in its uniqueness, the cavalierness with which nature itself treats it is shocking. One must come to terms with the fact that animals kill each other – often violently. It’s not because the enjoy it, it’s becuase it’s their nature. Whatever it is that we have been dropped into the middle of, it’s a very violent world, and I think we’re well justified in asking “what the eff, God?”

But there is beauty, too. Would life be the same without an orange sunset? Without the deep blue of lakes or oceans, combined against the lush greenery of a forest? What about mountains? Flowers of every imaginable color? Animals that have beauty baked into every feather, every hair on their furry little bodies? And don’t get me started on women, some of whose bodies are the most absolutely beautiful things ever created.

But everything I just said was a value judgement. I perceive beauty, so those things are beautiful. What does my cat consider beautiful? Is that why she chews on and crinkles plastic? Are those sounds and textures satisfying to her? She loves food, and spending time cuddled with me. Are those things that are beautiful to her experience? She can’t see the colors that I do, but she can hear much better than I can. She hates it when I whistle, for example. Is is beautiful for her when she can catch a particularly challenging mouse? (thankfully, for me, I don’t have mice. Does she resent that?)

I wish I could answer the question of why we are here, and what is to be accomplished with this world. It doesn’t seem in God’s nature to do something without a purpose, but yet the purpose of this world seems to simply be to exist. Is this it? Is this all there is?

I wish I were like people who could just ignore this question and take things at face value. Unfortunately, I can’t. But the questions can’t be answered, and the only thing to be taken from them is misery. Don’t wish for intelligence, folks. It’s not a blessing, it’s a curse. At some point you run smack head first into questions that you know are important, that you know are fundamental to the whole human – and universal – experience, and at the end of the day you can only be just smart enough to know that you’ll never, ever have the answers that you seek. And then you have to, somehow, learn to ignore the questions and the lack of answers and eke some meaning out of a life that, on its surface at least, has none and will never have any.

About the only thing further I can say is, never, ever trust people who think they do have the answers. They’re lying – either to themselves or to you. They don’t know anything at all. Maybe God revealed something to them, he has given me a few juicy tidbits, but I’ve come to realize that even those tend to be intensely personal and are rife for misinterpretation. Only the most arrogant people are certain of the answers, and only the most stupid people think they have life figured out. After all, the most impossible thing is the most true, and that is the paradox that underlies all of existence. We should not exist, and yet we do. There’s no substrate for us to exist on, and yet we do. How to answer any questions based on that when the very core is a paradox?

Entirely Removing Third-Person Pronouns

I mentioned a while ago that I was going to attempt to remove third person pronouns from my everyday language as much as possible. There are several reasons for this. The first is that Japanese and other languages get along just fine without using them as an ordinary part of speech. I mean, they do exist, but they tend to have connotations that our pronouns don’t and are generally used more sparingly. So it’s possible and seems like an interesting experiment. The second is that some snowflakes got their knickers in a twist about who uses what, and I think rather than having that inane and silly argument, I’ll just do and end run around the whole thing. My attitude about that, by the way, is that your pronouns are most certainly up for debate, as you do not live in a societal vacuum. You make your request, I choose whether to honor it. I may, may not, or just won’t play. Obviously, I’ve chosen the latter option. Make it a minefield, I’m taking my toys and going home.

I have found that removing third person pronouns, under most circumstances, is not only a simple thing to do, but it makes my writing clearer. There are some circumstances where it’s very difficult to do so without changing the meaning of the sentence. Often, though, it makes the sentence clearer, as using the pronoun actually involves using more words and makes the sentence more indirect. I guess what this experiment has actually done is made me much more aware of when I speak about someone to a third person.

But as long as I am aware, I am able to write entire posts, emails, etc., without once using a third person pronoun. It’s not a common thing, it seems to exist mostly for convenience. And I really don’t miss the construct all that much. Considering I don’t really care, honestly, what a person’s gender is when speaking about someone unless I’m planning on getting them out of their clothes, this deprecation of gender as a necessary part of language is useful.

The most challenging thing is that it can lead to awkward constructs if one is not careful. Using the proper name too much, for example. If you just replace a pronoun with a proper name, that can work most of the time, but not all the time. It requires some thought. It’s a very deeply ingrained construct in the English language.

I think when I have figured out some general rules for how to do this, I’ll post them here. All told, I think this is a good experiment and I plan on continuing it. I will consider it successful if I can completely excise third person pronouns from my language, eventually, without anyone even noticing I’m doing it. I’m not there yet, but I’m catching myself more often when I use them, and that’s a good first step.

You might ask, “why don’t you just use ‘they'”? The simple answer is, that’s still playing the game. I don’t want to use third person pronouns at all, not in any form, and not in any manner. It may not be a fully achievable goal, but I think it’s worth trying. The one exception to this is when I’m writing a story. I may try that as an experiment, but I don’t think it would work well, because you kind of have to use the pronouns if you want to keep a good narrative form.

Edit: after writing this, I went back through some former posts and realized I’d failed. Didn’t even think about it when I wrote them. I did a bit of rewriting. I wonder how well I succeeded. Oh well. I never said it was easy or not a work in progress.

Mikan

Today, if this post goes how I think it will, we’re going to start with mandarin oranges and little Japanese children, and end up with deep philosophy.

Last night, I couldn’t sleep well, and the song “Mikan” by Morning Musume popped into my head. So I looked it up. Mikan turns out to mean, basically, “satsume”, or a type of mandarin orange. And if Wikipedia is to believed, which is usually isn’t, the song is a reference to Japanese childhood memories, of eating mikan next to a kotatsu.

Not gonna lie, that affected me a little.

See, here’s the thing. I have my own set of childhood memories. I’ve talked about a few of them here. Many of them are pleasant, most of them are vivid and all of them are intrinsic to what makes me, me. For example, I am pretty sure my love of music comes from the fact that the cult/church I grew up in was, even if incompetently, very music centric. Certain aspects of music got tied indelibly with certain very positive emotions, and I’m not sure that particular set of associations will ever be removed.

But I have no memories of eating mikan next to a kotatsu.

But many Japanese children do. They may have memories of going to festivals, and hearing the taiko drums and chants, or being dressed up in kimono and eating many delicious Japanese delicacies. They may have good memories of shougakko, and maybe have a fond memory of a teacher or two. Japanese children are as precious as American children, even if their memories are entirely different.

See, they wouldn’t understand mine, either.

I could play the hymn “Declare his Works to All Nations”, and nevermind Japanese folks, 99% of you wouldn’t know what is so powerful about it to me. Because it’s a childhood memory. As much as I resent and regret my time in the church, it’s special to me in its own way. Just as the different, vibrant colors of tulips and other flowers are, just as going to religious festivals in different resort towns are, just as… just as I look back in it and wonder where the vividness of the world went.

My mind has been turning to the idea of perception lately. Let me run through two different mental exercises with you. Let us say, first, that there is nothing but space. No stars, no matter, not even your body You are just nothingness floating in a sea of nothing. You can see, but what can you see? You can feel, hear, taste, etc., but what can you see, here, feel, taste, etc? There is nothing to perceive, so in a very real way, do you exist?

Let us say, secondly, that there is nothing at all. Not even space. You exist in a void, of which there is not even space. There is still nothing to perceive, so the question now, is: is there anything functionally different in existing in an endless void devoid of matter, or an endless void devoid of space itself? Perceptually, there would be no difference. You may exist, but there is nothing to the existence.

So then, it becomes clear that self-awareness, or in a real way, existence, only makes sense when it is reflected in the perception of an other.

I think this is, in a way, why the notion of little Japanese girls eating mandarin oranges next to a kotatsu affected me so much – well, apart from the fact that I’m switching medicines and am probably a little weepy to begin with. It’s because their experience is so different, and yet it is so much the same. I don’t remember that experience, because I didn’t have it. But I can imagine how… treasured…. it must be to those who actually have it. Such a simple thing. I remember eating cottage cheese salad on a summer day. It was very simple to make – just lettuce leaves, with cottage cheese and fruit on top, and pineapple juice. Nothing worth writing home about, but I liked it.

Such a simple thing, and I think, maybe the simplicity of being a child is where beauty is to be found.

We get so wrapped up in our own experiences, our own troubles, and sometimes even our own joys, that we forget how little meaning the have if they’re not shared.

Japanese Rail

After writing a post absolutely excoriating certain aspects of Japanese culture (and rightly so), maybe this is a good time to post about something I really love about Japan.

One of my favorite things to do of late, especially as I’ve been a little ill lately, is to watch YouTube videos of the Japanese rail system. No talking, no narration, just hours of trains going through the Japanese countryside and cityscape.

America really could never make such a system work. It’s simply too big. Even as we’re planning to build a shinkansen-style high speed rail in Texas, even that’s just from Houston to Dallas. Which, I suppose, is about the same distance (give or take) from Tokyo to Nagoya. That gives you an idea of the scale of America – just two cities within Texas are about a third of the distance throughout the entirety of Japan. Japan is a small, dense country. The United States is a very large, sprawling country

So I don’t think to myself “why does Japan get such a comprehensive rail system and we don’t?” I already know the answer. But that doesn’t mean I don’t absolutely love the Japanese rail system.

As a child, I used to be a roadgeek. Still am, to some degree. I would judge a city by two criteria: the size of its downtown, and the complexity of its freeway system. I few up in a city in Ohio that didn’t have much in the way of interesting roads, so I would love to go to places like Detroit or Cleveland that had cool roads and interchanges. The country has changed a lot lately, and we have taken to favoring aesthetics and social concerns over complexity and sheer impressiveness. I understand the reason for that, but something special has been lost. The cities in America just aren’t what they used to be.

Japan’s road and rail system still has some of the aesthetics of American cities that were list decades ago. Dense, narrow roads criscrossing all over each other. Rail stations, one after another, teeming with people. In densely populated areas like Shibuya and Shinjuku, the rail lines go underground, overground, left, right, crossing over and under, expresses, locals and even shinkansen jockeying for position and yet somehow managing to make it work with almost clockwork precision. It’s damned impressive. Here in America we have… Amtrak… and a few light rail and subway lines in cities that don’t even come close to the comprehensiveness of Japan’s rail system.

The sad thing was, at the turn of the 20th century, we were well on our way. We had streetcars and passenger rail systems that were the envy of the world. But auto manufacturers paid cities and states off to remove the rails, and switch to an automobile-based infrastructure. That’s why we have such good roads and such horrible rail.

Something was lost. But not in Japan. There, it’s still going strong.

I don’t know if I’ll ever go to Japan. It’s not looking good for that eventuality. But I can’t imagine not taking a Shinkansen across the country, hopping the enoden or the “romance line”, taking a rail line around Mt. Fuji, or even the nichinan line around the south of Japan. Seems like a fun thing to do.

Maybe someday.

What in the Ever Loving @#$%

Okay, if you’re a weeaboo or otaku, you won’t like this post. I don’t care, but you can consider this a “trigger warning” if you want. I’m not going to pull many punches on this one.

Let me preface by saying one thing, before I get into my rant: I’m not too familiar with anime. I have seen some that impressed me with its attention to detail, intricate storyline, etc. Before you say “not all anime is like this”, spare me. I know that. But it doesn’t matter. What I’m going to talk about is anime, and if you want to defend it, frankly, it says more about you than me.

So I’ve mentioned that YouTube has gotten it into its algorithmic head that I like anime, and has started recommending anime to me. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s because I occasionally click on vtuber clips, and it says “hey, if this person likes vtubers, let’s toss some anime and see what happens!”.

But it’s not recommending wholesome anime. It’s recommending stuff that makes makes me both laugh and say “what the hell is wrong with the Japanese folks?”Probably the worst example of this is an anime called “imouto paradise”. Imouto means “little sister”, and whatever you think this is about, well, you’re right. Thankfully the clip I watched only showed the intro, no “bad” parts, and that was just bad enough. The plot is pretty simple: clueless guy (as always seems to be the case) has five little sisters, and all of them are, shall we say, thirsty. Every single one decides to pursue him. The sisters demand a choice, and when one is not forthcoming, all the sisters just decide to share him, and the clip ends with said clueless guy getting jumped by all five sisters. At once.

There are so many, pardon my French, fucked up things about this that I don’t even know where to start. What is it about the anime fascination with, shall we say, siblings getting it on? In what world is this even a little appropriate? And the worst thing is, animation isn’t spontaneous. Someone didn’t just start doing a nice, fun anime and just somehow come out with this. There are voice actors and actresses, animators, writers… the works. This was entirely deliberate.

Before you say “But this is hentai! It’s not all like that!”, I would point you to some episodes of AKBingo, a pretty straightforward and popular variety show. They had this segment called “phrase museum” where two girls would say cute things that the viewers sent in. And in more than half the cases, the girls would have to say something like “onii-chan!“, after which would be something like “It’s scary out there. Can I sleep with you tonight?” onii-chan means older brother. It’s mainstream, at least amongst otaku. It’s not just restricted to hentai anime. And I feel a little dirty just thinking about those girls having to repeat those lines and act cute. It’s just disgusting.

So, I’m not really all that sure what to think. Japan has a rich and storied culture, with things such as rakugo, fairy tales, and other things that are well worth learning about learning about and exploring. But this – this just makes me want to swear off anything anime or otaku. And, considering the Tokyo metropolitan government branded “imouto paradise” an “unhealthy publication”, it would seem that at least some Japanese agree with me. I’m not going to, as there are some aspects I actually like, but for the most part, I think anything but the highest quality anime should probably just be studiously avoided, by me, at least. It’s not worth the effort and expanded mindbleach budget just to have some Japanese to listen to.

If you don’t like it, watch what you want. But consider me turned off. Bigtime.

Rant over. If you don’t agree, please feel to toss your complaints in that circular bin over there. I already said that not all anime is like that, and I already said that there are some good anime, and even things I could like. But I’m not going to excuse that filth. Ever. My limits are pretty liberal for the most part, but this crosses every single one of them and sticks its middle finger up as it crosses the line. Just too much.

Vtubers confuse me

So lately, I’ve found a subset of Japanese culture called vtubers. This really wasn’t voluntary, and they confuse the snot out of me. As near as I can tell, they are different anime-like characters that are voiced and acted by real people, they have different personalities, and they stream. Like, a lot. And people seem to like them. A lot.

Now, let’s be clear: I understand this, a little bit. My favorite vtuber at the moment (and I hope I don’t watch enough of it to change my opinion, frankly) is Inugami Korone. The character is supposed to be a dog. A dog-girl. A doggo. Or something. Damned if I know. Occasionally the dog-girl does cute and funny things. Same with another named Luna. There was much confusion about how to say “OK Google”, and it was insanely cute. And sometimes, like the AKB48, etc., idols, they’ll let you in on a little of their real life, and I guess those things are good for otaku, and much for the same reason. I can sort of, a little, see the appeal, though I really have no intention of interacting with that community any more than I have – which is to say, watching random stream clips and laughing my butt off as, say, Korone falls over laughing at a bird sound. (HUUWAAAAAAAA) That is funny.

But people throw a lot of money at these characters. There seems to be a loyalty there that at least rivals that of idol groups such as AKB48. And, quite frankly, that I just don’t get. They just stream and act silly – or sometimes, frankly, lewd. Maybe that’s worth a few bucks every now and then, but sometimes people throw hundreds of dollars at those characters, and what for?

It’s not just vtubers, though. For some reason, Japanese media and culture seem to encourage unhealthy, and frankly obsessive behavior Who wants to throw hundreds of dollars at a vtuber? Who wants to buy hundreds of AKB48 CDS just to have tickets to vote in the senbatsu sousenkyou? How about considering anime or other characters their actual girlfriend, or referring to them as waifu? I’m confused. And I think I’d rather be confused, because if I understood this, I’d just be sad. There’s some cultural undercurrents here that I’m just not sure I think I’m better off just letting be.

Different strokes for different folks, I suppose, but this obsession is, frankly, just a bit too close to actual mental illness for comfort. So I guess I’ll let Korone entertain me if I see something particularly amusing come by on YouTube. But I think that’ll be the extent of it. I’m just not impressed with the culture. Not even a little bit. And if I ever start to get anywhere near that obsessive, I hope someone slaps me. So far, so good.