Perspectives of/on Japan

So I realize I’ve been posting for about a month now, but my first entry was considerably delayed. What with Ishihara proposing that troublesome law and such, I had to deal with more pressing matters. So on with my planned introduction:

Japan is a nation far away yet close to my heart, sometimes too close.  What’s important to note, and what most people here in America sometimes forget, is that Japan is not America. You might say to yourself, “well of course not, Japan is the island techno-capital and the origins of what made cats on the Internet interesting. It’s nothing like America.” You’d only be half right.

Vladimir Putin is oh so exploitable to Japanese people, extremely manly to the Americans, and a attention hungry hack to the Russians. It's a matter of perception.

We sometimes forget that the Japanese don’t have the same sensibilities as Americans. Japanese people have their own mentality as a society; they have their own sense of humor and morals. The world is not a homogenous place. Where one country decries the mere thought of harming whales, the Japanese think of it as a way of life; it’s just like how we eat beef, we still do it, even if some people think it’s sacrilege.

This is where we all fail to realize the true meaning of: “you’re not Japanese.” You can read the Asahi news site, study Japanese, or you can even live there, but you sometimes just can’t be Japanese without the intangibly subtle nuance of just being born and raised in Japan. This, however, flirts with the slippery-slope of stereotype.

What we decry as “Orientalism” stems from this misconstrued theory that social scientists know how other people think, even in other cultures. The submissive Asian, the march towards Westernization and militarization of Japan during the late 19th century, that sense of exoticism with the other culture goes both ways. What we think as submissive nature, the Japanese called loyalty. What the Japanese considered was becoming civilized, was considered a paltry attempt at mimickry by a visiting Western dignitary during the Meiji period.

For the record, I cannot speak for a Japanese person. I am an American merely of Japanese descent with a strong background in Japanese modern culture. I can read manga and watch anime. I will get a lot of the references, but there’s a lot that goes right over my head like radiation into space. I don’t live in Japan, so I know little, short of what I garnered while visiting relatives, studying abroad, and from the manga and anime I consume.

By trade I am a writer; by schooling, I am an Asian media analyst (that’s fancy talk for a double major of Communication and Japanese). Combine the two and you have someone writing about Japanese media.

With that, I hope you can join me in examining Japanese media. I enjoy the obscure, and while I watch a lot of things “for the lulz,” I can’t help but regard its impact. What do we, as English speaking fans of Japanese anime, take away from Japanese media? What is it that attracts Americans, and what are the thoughts from the Japanese regarding it?

Perhaps a single YouTube video can tell this story. The video is titled “Japanese Gameshow Cat Weightlifting.”


Japanese Cat Weight Lifting – Watch more Funny Videos

The show it originated from, Hey! Spring of Trivia, featured ridiculous trivia being created in MythBusters-esque extents of scientific testing. The video in question was testing what the maximum weight of fish a stray cat can drag off (a reference to the theme song of a popular family anime). The title denotes the gap present between the cultures. It is misconstrued and enjoyed on a slightly different level from its original form. While one denotes a contest of prowess and strength for cats, the other lies on the humor behind the strangely serious act of testing the limitations of a cat’s hauling capacity.

There’s a difference there, somewhere.

For those of you wondering about Putin’s photo:
The Japanese Perception
The American Perception
The Russian Perception

About Tomo Hirai

For more than half a decade, Tomo Hirai has whittled his time away playing video games and reading comics. He has been writing about Japanese pop-culture since his start at the Nichi Bei Times working on Anime/Manga special issues.

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