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.

 

Anime

I honestly don’t have a whole lot of experience, or interest, in anime or anime-inspired things.  I have seen some anime, and I was impressed with it technically.  By which I mean, there is often a lot of care put into how the higher quality animes are animated.  I remember watching “Akira” and being really impressed by how well they animated it, and I also watched an episode of “Nodame Cantabile” which also really impressed me – those who animated it did their homework and actually animated the playing of the instruments exactly correctly.  There was none of that “Tom and Jerry” hit a random key on a piano with 40 keys and pretend like that’s playing – it was actually really well done.

In point of fact, Japanese folks have a rather amazing sense of attention to detail – I have come to realize that when it comes to artistic expression – idol groups, television shows, anime, manga, etc – there really isn’t a such thing as a “happy accident”.  What is shown is absolutely deliberate and well thought out – all of it.  This hit home to me when I was watching an idol group – I think a team of AKB48 – going to see someone for a reason I don’t recall.  They ran into a television personality, and he was very nice until he thought the cameras had stopped rolling, and then he turned into what could only be described as a douche.  I thought about that for a minute, and then realized that was included absolutely deliberately.  Japanese folks don’t make mistakes like that.  They wanted him to look bad.

So, I found an Anime inspired game on my phone.  I think it’s a fun and cute game, but I really do see it as just a game, and treat it as such.  It has a whole bunch of anime “girls”, most of which are rather skimpily dressed and have very big, umm…  assets.  Think back to what I just said – this is a deliberate choice.  The girls call the player “senpai”, which I find actually a bit cringey, and the voiceovers call the player either that, or “goshujinsama”, or an extremely polite form of “master”.  I find that really cringey as well.

Pulling up the comments for each girl, you can see people (and who knows if they’re serious or trolling), saying some pretty nasty things about the imaginary girls.  Like “stay away from her, she’s mine”, or much, much worse.  As I said, while being a guy I can’t say a little eye candy isn’t nice every now and then, I rather like the game play and simply see it as that.  I see absolutely no point in growing attached to a “girl” who doesn’t actually exist.

I think my point is that there are many people out there who see anime characters unhealthily, and that this unhealthy obsession with imaginary characters is something that is deliberately encouraged by those who create the characters.  After all, sex sells.  Sex always sells.

I honestly think this is why I’m not really a fan of anime.  Some of it impresses me, but I just don’t want feel like a “weeaboo”.  Everytime I watch anime, or play an anime game, or actually have anything whatsoever to do with popular Japanese culture, I rather feel like a weeaboo wannabe.  And I really don’t enjoy that.  It makes me feel a bit, um… squicky, for want of a better word.  And every time I see people celebrating anime character’s birthdays, etc… it just makes it worse.  I really don’t like that feeling.

I don’t like feeling like I’m even close to being associated with weeaboo “culture”, but, to be frank, the very act of learning Japanese automatically brings that association, whether I want it or not.  And I am most distinctly not comfortable with that.  I am not learning Japanese because I’m a huge fan of their pop culture.  But, that really doesn’t matter.  Many in America who are learning it are, and quite frankly, that is often not very good company.

Is Japanese a Waste of Time?

A couple of days ago, I got a pretty sweet invitation.  It’s the opportunity to go to Japan in a year or so, with a group.  The chance also possibly (depending on the ticket lottery) involves the chance to see the 2020 Olympics.

It is pretty much the chance of a lifetime.  I would have a chance to use the Japanese I’ve been working really hard on learning.  Maybe I’d even like it there…

… and I declined.  I’m not going.

The honest truth is, I have no expectation whatsoever that I will go to Japan before I die.

There are about three reasons that I had to refuse the invitation.

  1. I do not fly well.  By which I mean that I’m white knuckled on even the shortest of flights.  I cannot imagine flying fifteen hours and then knowing that my only way home is another very long flight.
  2. I will be in a country where I know almost no one, speak just enough of the language to get around, and if I get sick or something happens to be I’m screwed.
  3. Considering the amount of time such a trip requires, working around that with my job would be difficult.

I don’t know why I’m learning Japanese.  I don’t know anyone in Japan, I know few people from Japan, I don’t really consume anime and only a little bit of manga.  In the Austin area there are very, very few Japanese speakers – certainly not enough for it to be a necessary skill.  I basically picked the least useful, most difficult language out there just to do it.  And right now I’m having a crisis of confidence on multiple levels.

To be quite frank, there are better things I could and should be doing.  But I continue spending time on this interesting but dead-end pursuit.  It’s, frankly, no less a waste of time at the moment than staring at YouTube for hours on end.

I guess it’s a mystery and always will be.

The Heart of Japan

I tend to annoy my coworkers with discussions of Japanese and all things Japan.  Some of them find it interesting.  Some just recite “press 1 for English”.  But at the end of the day, the discussions can be interesting at times.

One of my coworkers made the statement that “the best representation of Japanese culture is anime”.  I vehemently disagreed.  He then asked me the very fair question, “okay, then, what is it?”  After some thought, I answered.

But before I tell you what that answer was, let me go down a bit of a rabbit hole.

I follow Sora News 24 (Sky News) from Japan, which tends to focus on otaku and pop culture, as many Japanese sites seem to, for whatever reason.  They had a very interesting link wherein a person found an American wartime propaganda film, and posted it to a social media site.  Many people responded “how have we changed in the past 80 years?”  Many Japanese folks couldn’t answer the question.  They had to admit that they really hadn’t.  An observation I’ve made here previously.

As wonderful as Japanese media is, there is this undercurrent of darkness that runs across Japanese culture, which is why you have the chronic problem of overwork, of suicides, of so many things that run under the surface of what is by all respects an ancient and proud culture.

I love the Japanese, don’t get me wrong.  Their contributions to culture and media are amazing.  Their contributions to technology are amazing.  I find their art to be more beautiful, their music to be more interesting, their written word to be more thoughtful and introspective, than I’ve ever found western pop culture.

And yet, something in their culture drives people to overwork, to a declining birth rate, to wartime atrocities that their neighbors still haven’t forgiven them for.  Just as there are some major things wrong with western culture, there are some major things wrong with Japanese culture as well.  And covering it with a layer of cute and funny doesn’t fix those problems, it only hides them.

I love kawaii!  Really I do!  When I’m looking for something to lift the seemingly never-ending depression, it’s really hard to stay depressed when seeing things like nyangostar, AKBingo girls going crazy (particularly that little cutie Ichikawa Miori), Gaki no Tsukai ya Arrahende…  and there are so many things they have to offer the world that I think we ignore at our peril.  Shintoism has some really interesting insights that we in the west should pay attention to – without romanticizing them like we do most Eastern religions.  I don’t say any of this because I hate the Japanese culture – I say these things because it’s so beautiful sometimes that the spots on it are almost unbearable.

My answer to the question above:  the best representation of Japanese culture right now is karoushi.  Death by overwork.

See, there’s no karoushi in America.  Do you know why?  It’s not because companies wouldn’t enforce that if they could.  I worked at a company in the LA area around 2008 when the economy crashed – they told us flat out that they were revoking some of the perks we’d grown used to, and the reasoning was “the economy’s worse now.  Where are you going to go?  You’re lucky you have a job!”, as they laid off half the company.  That’s not the reason.  The reason is that the workers would simply say “I’m not doing this” and walk out.  There is no karoushi in America because no one would stand for it.  Companies such as Amazon and some video game companies come pretty close in some cases, but they really can only go so far.

Yes, there are plenty of companies in Japan who treat their employees well, but there are plenty that don’t, and the point is, that people will not speak up, to the point where they kill themselves rather than say “you’re not treating me well, I quit”.

I know there are many social pressures in Japan that make this difficult, but that’s entirely the point.  Japan is a small and very densely populated country.  It doesn’t have the kind of wealth of natural resources that we have in America.  Its greatest treasure is its people.  And there are millions upon millions of people in Japan who will silently bear abuse, rather than speaking up and saying “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying we have it right in the west.  We take that too far.  Everyone seems to think they’re entitled to everything.  There are times when we should kind of suck it up a bit and be okay with minor inconveniences for the greater good.  Right now we take any kind of offense whatsoever as a grievous slight, and that, too, must stop.  But being worked to death, being bullied by superiors, that kind of thing, could not be classed as “minor inconveniences!”.

So the thing that most represents Japanese culture is karoushi.  And that makes me tremendously sad.  I love Japan, I love Japanese media, I love Japanese people.  And right now, I really don’t ever want to visit.  The darkness would cripple me.

オタク… 何?

One of the most fascinating things about Japanese culture, I think, is the otaku.  I’m not one by any means, and I don’t at all understand them, but I find them fascinating.  I’m not sure in what way – I think it’s at least in a “what the heck makes them tick” sort of way.  I don’t dislike them or hate them, I just don’t understand them.

I don’t understand cosplay, for example.  To me, it’s just a waste of time and effort.  Why bother with it?  I’ve seen people spend a lot of time and energy on makeup and costumes, and sometime they even get into character and act the part.  I had a coworker who once tried to get me to go to a “Ren Faire” (where they cosplay as medieval or renaissance people) with the rationale “the women there are easy!”.  I declined (that, for me, was an argument against), but I still just don’t get it.

There are certain aspects of anime that do impress me, I have to admit that.  There is an anime called “nodame cantabile” that impressed the hell out of me with their attention to detail – they animated a guy playing a complex Rachmaninoff concerto on the piano – and got every single note right.  But I don’t understand the huge and complex fandoms that have sprouted from the artform.  I don’t understand the half-clad figurines, the anime character pillows, etc.  I just don’t get it.

I don’t at all understand “waifu”.  In fact, I personally think this is an aspect of Japanese otaku culture that is as endearing as it is disturbing.  I don’t understand fans who appear to think that they can date idols and anime characters – to the point where the idols aren’t even allowed to date because it might destroy the fantasy that many otaku have built up around their favorite idol.  Perhaps there’s something I’m missing.  There probably is.  But on its face, it just seems rather sad to me.

It really does seem to me that otaku culture is mostly a way to take money out of lonely people and put it in the pockets of certain kinds of media creators.

All that said, I’m trying to keep an open mind.  Next January, there is an anime convention here in Austin (I found out about it because I was driving down the street and there were cosplaying people heading to get something to eat) literally within walking distance of my apartment.  Ikkicon 2018, to be precise.  I intend on going, just to see what all the fuss is about.  I won’t be cosplaying.  I may even just keep to myself and observe.  But I really want to understand it.

Right now, I don’t.  My attraction to Japan is its history and culture, of which otaku really isn’t a large part.  But it’s a part, nonetheless, so the more I understand, the better.

Japanese Food and Stores in Austin, Part 4

Today I decided to “pop” into Anime Pop, a small store dedicated to Anime on Airport Rd. just north of Koenig.

When you walk in, there are two aisles full of anime stuff.  Figures, magazines, books, pins, plushes, the works.  If you are interested at all in anime, this is the place for you in Austin (though Gift World might have something you’re interested in).

Perusing the figures, the thing that struck me the most is that nearly every single female is scantily clad to various levels, to the point where while some of the figures were extremely beautifully done, I would have felt a bit ashamed to bring one home.  So I didn’t.  Instead I bought a pusheen plush, of which there were several.

I chatted briefly with the guy behind the counter, and got the impression that he’s pretty much an otaku – doing what he loves doing.  He expressed a desire to someday get J-pop stuff in, and I agreed with him that that would be cool.  He said he would like to have an Oshima Yuko (AKB48) figure, and I countered that I would love to see a Suzuki Kanon (Morning Musume) figure.  We laughed a bit – like that will ever happen – and I left.

Of course, said figures would probably sexualize the hell out of them, so I’d probably pass anyway, but it’s a nice thought, anyway.

Anyway, it seems to be a decent place run by a knowledgeable guy, so if you like anime stuff, that would be a good place to visit at some point if you’re in Austin.  There are also Anime Pop places in Dallas and San Antonio (as far as I know), so maybe it’s a Texas thing.  Even if so, cool.  Maybe I’ll stop by every now and then, even though anime is not and has never been my thing.