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Thursday, March 17, 2005

JAPAN: IT'S NOT JUST GIANT MONSTERS, BLOODY VENGEANCE, HELLO KITTY, AND PORNOGRAPHIC CARTOONS! 

AND THERE'S MORE TO TOKYO THAN SCARLET JOHANNSON HANGING OUT AND BEING PRETTY.

Mushtown Media Corp. has devoted quite a bit of room to Japanese culture lately, becoming in the process a little Jap-heavy. I've got links to the Meiko Kaji fan site, engrish.com, and Sanrio, the company that makes Hello Kitty. And representing America culture, I have a link to the Hulk's blog and I recently wrote about ... the Paris Hilton phone photos.

Japanese culture is fun! The Japs feel the same way about us. We've been through a lot together, the Yanks and the Japs. In the 1850s, the U.S. sent war ships to intimidate the Tokagawa ninja government and dragged them kicking and screaming into the 19th century, and they've loved us ever since. We provided naval officers to the Japanese navy in the 1890s, helping the Japs to take advantage of Chinese incompetence to win Japan's first modern war. Theodore Roosevelt brokered a peace agreement in the war between Japan and Russia in 1905, thus earning the thanks of a curious world, eager to see what Japan would do as a world power after a thousand years of being ruled by ninjas in a Kurosawa movie. They were our friends in World War I, happily helping the Allied Powers in an invasion of Siberia that helped to ... what were we doing in Siberia in 1919? Oh, well. It's just one of those historical mysteries.

Aside from a little unpleasantness in the 1940s, we have always been great friends. Now, we can look back at those old times and laugh. Hiroshima, Manzanar and the Bataan Death March were all a long time ago. The period of the 1940s was, in the historical scheme of things, just a little spat that should be expected among the many diverse members of the family of nations.

"Remember when we were killing each other by the thousands in the Pacific? And remember all those awful stereotypes in the comics and the movies? It was just part of the plan, what's a little racist wartime propaganda between friends? It was all in fun. No offense. We were so young. Those were great times."

"And I don't even remember what it was about!"

"You know! Me neither! It probably wasn't anything important."

Both sides should just think of the Second World War as a learning experience. (But not the Germans. They were mean and should be shunned forever. Fortunately, they make really good beer and yummy sausage and have been largely forgiven. We can just chalk it up to Teutonic growing pains.)

Japanese culture is really weird. Every Jap I know will admit this freely. Yeah, sure, every culture will seem weird to other cultures. But non-Japanese cultures are weird in a "That's kind of strange. Why do the Russians hate the Jews?" kind of way. The differences that denote weirdness are really just a few odd and jarring details. But the Japanese are more like science fiction weird. Sometimes, they seem like an alien race from an episode of Star Trek.

And there isn't anything wrong with that. Otherwise, we might get Japanese culture confused with other Asian cultures, the way that Americans don't known the difference between Korean, Thai, and Chinese food.

Recently, I have discovered some Japanese literature that I never heard of before. (No, I'm not talking about the Sailor Moon comic where the little Catholic schoolgirl is attacked by demons from Hell who rip off all her clothes and rape her in every orifice.)

I have been reading "I Am A Cat," by Natsume Soseki. It was written in 1905-1906 and it is the adventures of a cat, living in Tokyo during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. This nameless animal narrates his adventures in the neighborhood where he lives with a school teacher and his family. It is really good. Soseki really captures the essence of cats in his hero. "I Am A Cat" is funny, perceptive and thought-provoking. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to read something that's a bit different.

I am about 100 pages into it, and there have not been any giant turtles or naked schoolgirls attacking each other with katanas. (There was one scene where they talked about hanging.) It may be a bit tame for some fans of Japanese culture, but I like it anyway.

Sayonara!

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