A Stupid Opinion about Japan

27 Sep

SOWP_Japan

From the ages of 23 to 26 I learned shouldn’t try to impress girls with my knowledge of film directors because they would always bring up Hayao Miyazaki. I don’t have anything against him or any anime, but it’s not for me. I let this mindset colored my opinion of Japan. Besides the premature nostalgia of cartoons, I never understood the appeal of anime. It just seem like a visually loud, poorly animated, overstimulating, lowest common denominator of violence with a touch of nudity disguised just enough to keep teenager’s parents from becoming suspicious, and watching adults with dyed purple hair reading manga comic books backwards on the bus led to my narrow-minded conclusion that I don’t want anything to do with Japan. I was just fine cherry picking Ninjas, sushi and the films of Kurosawa then writing off the rest of the country and culture. Let Gundam fanboys and admirers of large eyed girls in suggestive school uniforms have Japan.

SOWP_Miyazaki_5

By the time I arrived in Seoul, I told myself it was the alt-Asian city; roughly two parallels above Tokyo meant it must be the same international city with the same culture and substance. I held this stupid opinion even after I developed my own fanboy-esque obsession with Murakami. While in between reading his novels, I heard he was fascinated with Western culture, and I filed that away in my case against Japan, “The best writer in the country, loves Western culture so that just must prove that he doesn’t like his own culture.” I am fully aware that I’m exposing the flaws in my thought process and making myself look like an ignorant, spoiled, xenophobic American. Here’s to hoping the truth really will set you free.

So, last year, while reading 1Q84 I pictured it taking place in Seoul. I thought to myself, “Western cities have a general feel to them, a general layout, the differences are more aesthetic than anything, I bet that’s the same in Asia. Seoul, must have the same general feel as Tokyo, as Shanghai, as Hong Kong etc, etc, etc. So, I don’t really need to see them all. If I’ve been to one, I can throw a few generalizations at it and come up with something that’s close enough.”  And my accidentally racist thought process caused me to have even less interest in visiting Japan, even though it was only a three-hour flight away.

Then due to a forthcoming extended weekend at my job, overwhelming boredom with Seoul, and the sad reality that getting to Thailand required an entire day of travel my girlfriend and I decided to hop over the Sea of Japan to spend some time in the unappealing Toe-kay-oh!! I figured this was a perfect example of how much I’ve grown a) I was willing to do something I have little interest in b) Seoul has grown on me to the point of annoyance. I opened my mind to the Land of the Rising Sun.

My girlfriend and I forewent the typical Lonely Planets and the Poor Richard’s Almanac of Shinto Japan, we skipped a simple web search for commonly used phrases and entrusted our foreign communications to Styx, The Vapors and that one Simpsons episode where Homer’s face is on a detergent box (as any savvy pop culture enthusiast is wont to do). Instead, we decided reading a Murakami book was the best way to shore up any confusion we might face on our Japanese adventure. And we settled on Sputnik Sweetheart, based on its length and our limited time before the trip. The book begins with a character falling in love with a Korean woman firmly entrenched in Japanese culture. In fact, she is so entrenched she is considered, to quote Gladwell’s Tipping Point, a maven. This was all I needed to once again justify that Korea and Japan were basically the same place. Unfortunately, as the book progressed the story moved completely away from any part of Asia to the Mediterranean Sea on a remote island where Murakami-type things start happening. Our guide to Japan was turning into a travel log for Greek islands. In the middle of the book, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, I put it down to finish packing for my flight in four hours.

SOWP_Murakami_1

On the flight out, we were bumped up to pseudo-business class and despite the most relaxing flight I’ve ever taken, the book still wasn’t finished by the time we touched down at Narita Airport. And it took approximately one bus ride from the airport to completely reverse every stupid opinion I held about Japan. The city was amazing, and nothing like Seoul. We drove in on this small elevated highway that seemed to wind through the buildings overlooking street of classy neon nothing like the aggressive capitalism signs violating even the simplest buildings in Seoul. When we finally arrived at our hotel I realized the complete error of my way. By noon the following day I was a fully converted to the appeal of Japan. It is easily the cleanest city I’ve ever been it. It is beautiful, and the areas we visited put a real premium on trees and shrubs. I won’t bore you with the details of the trip, but the whole extended weekend was a wonderful experience.

Upon returning to Seoul, I returned to Sputnik Sweetheart. The story moved back to Japan, and I had a whole new impression of what was happening in the story. Now the Korean maven carried a new significance, the setting was just a bastardized version of Seoul and I was more sympathetic to the narrator. To somehow, albeit weakly, try to tie this back to pop culture; I let something I didn’t care for influence my opinion and keep me from enjoying something magnificent. Also, once I experienced Japan first hand, my perspective on something I loved prior changed as well. I don’t know what I’m trying to say here; maybe, travel more and consume less or jump to conclusions at your own peril, I don’t know I’m going to button this up before I start suggesting people should regularly go to church and avoid R rated movies.

Been to Japan? Love anime and think I’m an idiot for writing off Miyazaki? Do you know what those dumb extra long sideburns anime characters have are called? Or do you just think Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus should get a room already? Tell us in the comments below.

-C. Charles

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2 Responses to “A Stupid Opinion about Japan”

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