Japan has long been a mystery to me, but I’m OK with that.
I grasp their recent history. I know in the 1860s they abandoned their feudal tradition in favor of a unified legal system based on Western principles. I know they began their rise to superpower status roughly when we did – right around the turn of the 20th century. I know they began gearing up for what became World War II in the 1920s, and finally attacked the U.S. in 1941. At the end of the war, the Allies demilitarized the country and further Westernized the nation, which created the Japan we know today.
Japanese culture mixes Eastern tradition with Western ideals, sometimes with disastrous results. Their suicide rate, tied closely to economic fluctuation, is up there with former Soviet bloc countries. There’s an entire genre of manga that draws Japanese characters with Western features and Koreans and Chinese with exaggerated Asian appearances. For so long they’ve seemed unsure of their place in the world, an Asian tiger with baseball leagues and a 150-year-old infatuation with a culture they never quite absorbed.
And since I’m a poster boy for the West, I don’t get that confusion. As far as I can trace my family line, it’s existed in the hotbeds of a culture that’s dominated half the world for thousands of years. I live in a country that’s defined the worldwide cultural agenda for 60 years. I’m swimming in the deep end of the Western ocean; I can respect and identify Eastern waters, but the idea of a people that mixes the two to create their own primordial soup puts me on my heels before I even get a chance to experience it.
In that way, they’re a cultural estuary; East mingling with West in a way that’s no longer forced but is still bizarre. Stuff lives in Japan that can’t exist elsewhere. Like poisonous puffer fish and tentacle porn and a megacity visible from space. It’s all strange and beautiful, like the first fish that grew legs to walk on dry land. But for me, a Western sea dweller, I don’t think I’m evolved enough to fully appreciate it, even if it may someday destroy me.
Luckily, The Escapist has reached out to writers more advanced than I for issue 145, “It Came From Japan,” in which you’ll discover some of Japan’s latest wonders. Gia Manry investigates yaoi, manga porn written by women, for women. Zac Bentz introduces us to a host of Japanese bands poised to break onto the American charts and change our music forever. Emily Dettmar looks at the differences between Western and Japanese children’s programming to determine each culture’s ideal girl. Erin Hoffman returns to profile every girl’s favorite Japanese icon, Hello Kitty. And Khristopher Kirkland tells his story of how a Japanese class changed the way he viewed not just Japan, but his peers as well.
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