Japan and the West: Star-Crossed Lovers Still in Love

23 Oct

[Another Re-Post from my Sidelines Magazine writing!  Have fun!]

Let’s jump into deceptively shallow waters for a moment. I know I’ll get a lot of interesting opinions on this one, so I’m putting my swimming cap on. Ready? Set? Jump!

Japan and the West have a mutual relationship that can best be described as that of star-crossed lovers. Each country has been infatuated with the other for over a century, waxing poetic and declaring the other exotic and mysteriously attractive, even going through a stage of intense hatred that usually is only engendered through passion and misunderstanding. We exchange philosophies like business cards in our popular entertainment. We look over each other’s shoulders constantly in fashion and design. We marry each other in hopes that our beautiful children will bridge the gap between East and West, and they often end up straddling it precariously. Japan loves America. The US loves Japan. But neither understands the other, and sometimes, neither really wants to. The love is there, nonetheless.

How can I say this with any authority? Well. In a youthful age of anime-fueled interest in Things Japanese here in the West, and hyper-tanned B-Kei girls and Hip Hop-dressed ‘Fro-wearing youth hanging out in Ueno Park and Harajuku, I am an old Japan Hand, as they used to say. Never a “hen na gaijin” – in other words, never a “Japanese Wanna-Be” but a proud mostly Black and Native American woman well-versed in Japanese modern culture and ancient literature through, first, a childhood friendship, then a stint as an undergrad at an Ivy League school and at a Japanese university, then as a full-fledged employee in Tokyo at a Japanese company, and most integrally as a young woman formerly but seriously in love – and loved – by a Japanese man, I kind of know a little of what I’m talking about.

Japanese is my second language, and if you ask my children who, unlike me, are all into Japanese anime and pop culture (and Korean and French and others, too – we have that kind of family), Japanese is my first language at home with my kids when I’m miffed or exhausted. My older kids understand quite a bit of what I call “Mama Japanese”. The younger ones are obstinate about it, but like their older siblings, they know what “Shirimasen” and “Nenasai!!” mean. As a matter of fact, many a time I have heard my oldest say, “Mom, we already know you’ll only speak Japanese by the time you’re in your 90s. We’re getting ready.” I don’t know why, but Japanese is my language of release, even if it is 20 years rusty and I am firmly and irrevocably American. (You need to taste my sweet potato pie…)

So, when I say that Japan and the West are star-crossed lovers, I say this because star-crossed lovers are legendary in how they passionately pass through heaven and earth to meet each other, to swim through each other’s emotional waters, to be a part of each other – only to be frustrated in the end. The leveling and deceptively mainstreaming powers of the media – TV/Film/Internet – notwithstanding, cultural exchange in all its glory notwithstanding, at the very least Japan and the US have much in common now, but they are still very disparate in values and culture. Our human ties bind us, and forever will, but I believe the two will forever remain star-crossed lovers. But then everyone loves a good Love Story.

Other perspectives?

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Posted by on October 23, 2014 in Uncategorized


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