My Love Affair With Japan

"Shinjuku Skyline" by Ryan
I am absolutely infatuated with Japan. I have been for an incredibly long time and I'm not the only one. But why? What is it about this tiny country of extremes that draws the admiration of foodies, geeks, nerds and (supposed) normal people alike? How can one country make me feel the love that I do, especially considering how much I struggle with the language?

Before I jump into the bulk of this, if you are in a financial situation that allows, I implore anyone reading to please donate to the Japanese relief effort. I have been supporting The Japanese Red Cross although the Anime & Manga Bloggers 4 Japan are also doing some great work. My heart is still breaking for all of those affected by the devastating events on March the 11th.

"Age Old" by Ryan
My love affair started with Japan before I even knew it had blossomed. As a child I loved cartoons just as any child loves cartoons. My absolute favourites, however, were Transformers and Astro Boy. These are two series that, unbeknownst to me at the time, had their roots tied firmly to Japan, Tezuka Osamu-san's Astro Boy even more so. I would sit for hours and watch these series', Astro on Channel 2 and Optimus and the gang on Channel 10. It was a before and after school ritual. I would get up, eat my Vegemite on toast and watch my cartoons before getting dressed and deciding whether I wanted to take Hot Rod, Mirage or Grimlock to school that day. Grimlock, always Grimlock.

I watched Transformers: The (Animated) Movie an incredible amount of times, wearing out the VHS before too long. I loved that movie. Through my 6 year old eyes it was just as grand as The Empire Strikes Back. It had the touch, it had the power.

"All Aboard" by Ryan
Astro on the other hand was far more dark, a darkness that I never truly understood until I grew older. It was the perfect appetiser for a main course of Baker as Dr Who which usually followed.

Before too long I found myself being drawn to monster movies and the films of legendary director Akira Kurosawa. His samurai epics were just that. He recreated on screen a land and a time that I had never even heard of. To a 10 year old boy living in rural Halfway Creek, it may as well have been science fiction.

In grade 7 I enrolled in Japanese language class at school, a subject which only lasted 2 lessons due to a lack of enrollment. Instead I took Vietnamese lessons which lead me, strangely enough, back to Japan. Bao, the guy I sat next to, turned out to be a massive anime fan. At this time anime didn't even exist, and was instead known simply as Japanese cartoons. Bao came from a reasonably wealthy family who travelled to Hong Kong often for business. This allowed me to live vicariously through Bao, borrowing VHS tapes of Dragonball, Macross and Yamato all in Cantonese. This was the true dawning of my infatuation. I was beginning to understand what it was that I was falling in love with and where it came from regardless of the alternate foreign language it was screened in.

At the age of 15 I got a job at the local comic book store, a job that opened the flood gates that washed me into a sea of geekdom. I still haven't managed to get back to dry land and I don't think I want to. It was here that I was first introduced to Ghost in the Shell, Ninja Scroll and Akira. These films changed my perception of animation. I learned that animation was a medium and not a genre. It wasn’t married to kids or family films. It was happy and willing to play the field and it did.

"Like a Sardine Can" by Ryan
During these high school years I started to form an even stronger appreciation for Japanese animation through films such as Ghost in the Shell, Ninja Scroll and the incredible Akira. These three films are the holy trinity of anime. They are the three films that captured the hearts of most modern day anime nerds in Australia. They were animated features unlike anything that we had ever seen. Incredibly diverse animation styles that told no-holds-barred stories full of beautiful pictures, sex, violence and wonderfully fantastical stories the likes of which I could never have imagined.

My interest was now most certainly piqued. I knew what I liked and now I knew where it came from. Now I had to have more.

"Cleanliness" by Ryan
Yet another setback popped up in the form of monetary instability. I had kept in contact with my Japanese teacher who suggested that I apply for an exchange student program. I was ecstatic. I read all about the program before day dreaming about the possibilities. Later that month I sat a test to gauge my suitability and also in application for a scholarship. I gained a partial scholarship that would cover my tuition, study materials and a small amount of living fees. Unfortunately my parents weren’t able to pay the other relevant costs such as airfares, uniforms and spending money. I was gutted. I had my chance and it had slipped through my fingers.

Years passed and I continued to be infatuated with the land of the rising sun. I raided Asian grocery stores for Pocky (not the ones made in Thailand), I began writing reviews on anime and manga for the website of my local comic book store and located a nice handful of Japanese restaurants ensuring that each one of them sold glass bottled ramune.

Around four years ago Japan gave me the greatest gift that I could ever have imagined, my beautiful wife. Coming from Japanese/Australian bloodlines we met at college and the rest is history. She’s my best friend and very, very easy on the eyes. Sure, she may not be able to speak a lick of Japanese, in fact I speak more than her! Thankfully I finally made it to Japan, the country that I had so longed to visit. The missus and I have been there twice and neither time did it disappoint. It still boggles the mind that I could visit a 600 year old tea shop and the Universal Studios Osaka on the very same day.

Thank you Japan. Thank you for ramen, ramune and anime. Thank you for Kinokuniya, sukiyaki, okonomiyaki and genmaicha. Thank you for manga, Polysics, Beat Crusaders and Drakskip. Thank you for living up to my dreams and expectations and thank you, most of all, for my gorgeous wife.

I want to hear your stories about Japan. Please leave comments below and spread the love.

"Even Roofs are Better..." by Ryan

2 comments :

I was lucky enough to spend two and a half years in Japan back in the '60s. At that time it was sort of affordable. I could spend the weekend in the Tokyo Hilton even though I was only an E4 in the USAF. I loved the train ride from Tachikawa to downtown Tokyo. The architecture of the homes was like food for me eyes.
After leaving the military I studied Japanese at university for three years. The book 'A Japanese Inn' by Oliver Statler was pivotal for me.

28 November 2013 at 02:11 comment-delete

Thanks for sharing, Art! I've not read 'A Japanese Inn' but I'll certainly be chasing down a copy.

28 November 2013 at 15:36 comment-delete

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