Lansdale, PA | Summer, 2005 | 20 years old
Hi there, folks. My name is Greg, and I have a confession to make: I am a recovering Japanoholic. Back in my middle school days, I, like many other nerdy folks, absolutely idolized that little archipelago, with the conviction that Japanese culture and media could simply do no wrong. Music, movies, television programs (as long as they were animated, of course). You name it, I was all over it like a college student on a combination-all-you-can-eat-buffet-and-coin-laundry-service that sells very cheap beer.
It got pretty bad, too. It all really kicked in right around the age of fourteen, which is of course when we all suddenly became the world’s foremost authority on everything ever. In other words, I got the whole “elitism” thing down pat, regardless of whether it was even appropriate given the situation or my knowledge. Boy, it sure was fun arguing the relative merits of subtitles versus dubbing in middle school when nobody involved in the debate knew more than about a dozen catchphrases of the source language! Now we use the Internet for such things, and as we all know, the world is a better place for it.
Then, about two years ago (either toward the end of 12th grade or the beginning of my freshman year), I just up and decided, “You know what? I don’t like Japan anymore.” Now, I’ll grant that it didn’t get nearly as extreme nor excessive as the reactions that others I knew went through (which, for the sake of good taste, I won’t be repeating here), but I became privy to the world of grown-ups who had been big into Japan at some point. As it turns out, study of Japan tends to take three phases:
Infatuation. Everything about it is fabulous. The workers? They’re dedicated! The food? It’s beautiful! The exposed power lines everywhere? I didn’t know about them! It was all neon signs and Fuji as far as I was concerned.
Rejection. Suddenly, you hate everything about it. You begin to describe your past interest unkindly, along the lines of “If Japan were a girl, I was interested in her mainly for her body.” You find out facts like “Japan was the world’s #1 creditor in 1990, but is now the world’s #1 debtor,” and you become disillusioned, even though you don’t bother to find out what standards are being employed to determine this ranking. You find out about the power lines, too, and how Japan’s the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn’t bury them. Japanese TV turns out to suck 90% of the time, and it turns out that there really is only so much animated material one can watch without losing their mind.
Realism. Gradually, it dawns on some people that “the more you learn about Japan, the less you like it” only applies to learning about the bad things which they try to keep under wraps. You come to realize that, hey, it’s just another country, and they’re just as weird as anyone else, or perhaps a little weirder. Most importantly, they’re still people. Japanese TV still sucks, but that’s okay, because American TV does too, at least for the most part.
I like to think that I’m well into the third stage by this point, and, though I do know more on both the “good” and “bad” sides of the equation than most people do, I like to hope that I’ll be able to give it the fair chance it deserves.
That said, it’s tough to be fair, because every time you read a guidebook about Japan, you learn completely different things, all colored by the various authors’ experiences. As much as I’d like to avoid the usual boring guidebook stuff (“Visible half a kilometer south from the town’s post office is the preserved ashen remains of the workshop of Hiroshi Tanaka, widely credited with the development of the three-pronged raised geta sandal, which was not successful due to its break with tradition”) and mistakes rookies tend to make when dealing with the Japanese (like the infamous “They’re all so very friendly and helpful!”) and writing untold scads about the “OH THAT’S SO CULTURAL!” activities like, say, ikebana, sumo, and eating rice at every meal, I’m going to be honest and admit that my experiences with Japan will be just as subtly colored by experience as anyone else’s, but I’d like to pretend I’m at least a slightly better judge of what is and isn’t interesting to read.
Yes, there will probably be the occasional bit of generic guide-book activities peppering my experiences (I rather imagine that living in Japan without being exposed to the Sumo world while it’s in season is like living in America and not seeing angry motorists), but I’d much rather write about the little everyday things, like the prevalence of vending machines, or made-in-Japan English phrases (technically known as Wasei Eigo). Maybe I’m the only one, but I always found things like that to be far more interesting to read about than, say, the history of bonito fish flakes and their many uses, as well as seeming far more practical when it comes to actually living somewhere.
So stay tuned for more! Hopefully I won’t scare anyone off from the idea of studying in Japan. That said, my flight to Kansai International Airport leaves August 19th, and I arrive at Kansai Gaidai in Hirakata, Osaka on the 20th. There’s still more left to say about the preparations, but still… wish me luck.