I’m currently attending graduate school at the Boston University College of Communication. One of the best things about BU COM is that it’s full of international students, most of them from China. As a result, I have a lot of Chinese classmates and friends. A few of them shared their favorite ghost stories with me for this year’s Halloween special. Continue reading
I just got back from Japan. Well, I say “just.” It was long enough ago that I’ve unpacked, but recently enough that I’m still wallowing in jet lag and not wearing pants most days. Anyway, I’m tired. And it took me ages to decide on a topic for this, my first post-hiatus article.
it needed to be something about Japan, that much was clear. But what? I considered writing about Rabbit Island, but that’s better conveyed by pictures (so many, many adorable pictures) than words. I thought about describing the pop idol show I attended, but really, you can get the gist of it by putting on some AKB48 and hiring a criminally underwashed quasi-shut-in to thrash around your living room. Anything having to do with anime was out–I only let my weeaboo flag fly on Tumblr, where it earns me followers instead of the everlasting scorn I probably deserve.
Finally, I settled on doujinshi.
Years ago, doujin (Japanese fan comics) weren’t even on the radar here in the States. I should know–I spent hours online looking for a few scattered pages of “the one where the dog goes Super Saiyan” or “the one where Sailor Moon has a Pokemon.” Once located, these precious scraps were downloaded, saved to a floppy disc labelled “MOM DON’T TOUCH,” and stashed in a dresser drawer beneath my training bras and a copy of Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul. These precautions were probably unnecessary. I doubt my mom would have known what she was looking at, even if she had known how to use a floppy disc.
Now that nerd culture has become mainstream, many people are not only aware of Japan’s massive fan comic industry, but have read doujin themselves. For those of you who haven’t, or who are curious to see some of the books I picked up in Japan, I offer you the following. Continue reading
The chorus thunders back and forth across the internet, erupting in reference to everything from cosplay to game shows to dating sims. “lol Japan is soooooo crazy!” subsequent verses exclaim. “They think weird things are normal and normal things are weird–and did you know they sell used panties in vending machines?” In the eyes of the web, Nippon is both glorious and surreal, a land of almost hallucinogenic strangeness, a place that severed all ties to reality the moment somebody slapped a cute anime girl on a body pillow, a country of loonies with coffin-sized bedrooms and Pocky addictions.
Sorry, internet, but I’m afraid I have to spoil the fun. Most of what is said about Japan in the Western media has been cherry-picked to reinforce a certain image. Not only are the “weird” aspects of Japanese culture less pervasive than Buzzfeed and its ilk would have you believe, but Japanese people are fully aware that those aspects are weird. No Japanese person looks at something like Cho Aniki and says: “Yeah, that’s a totally normal thing you see all the time here.”
In Japan, as in America, certain things are designed to be strange to elicit laughter. (The concept of humor exists in Japan. Bizarre, I know.) Assuming the Japanese take them seriously is like watching an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force and assuming it tells you something deep and meaningful about the American psyche.
That said, there are some genuinely strange and fascinating stories buried within Japanese culture. I’ve assembled a few of them below. There aren’t any used panties involved (yes, I once saw them in a super shady store; no, they weren’t in a vending machine), but if you can muscle past that disappointment, I’m sure you can find something to intrigue you.