Like most thoughtful people here in the States, I've spent some time thinking about Japan. Its people, its language, its culture, its business, its philosophy. I haven't done much of that lately. Now would be a good time to review much of that. With Kikka here, it is a prime opportunity. I have no conclusions about Japan, only impressions and observations on things I have been presented. Here are some that stand out. What are yours?
Firstly, and most unfairly, the most obscene film I have ever witnessed and one of the few movies I have ever walked out on was the infamous 'Legend of the Overfiend'. There is some segment of Japanese society that gets to us via pornography and this piece managed to get a screening at the Angelika Film Center in NYC back in the 90s. It was barking mad. It was so degenerate that it operated at the level of racial paranoia - without much consideration for American perverted demand, it immediately made me hate the Japanese and wonder if they had ever evolved. What kind of sick mind could make such a film and what kind of disgusting society would allow it?
The emotions I have associated with that evening remain powerful. I am going to have to stop writing in order to clear my head.
Secondly, I read Clavell's Shogun many years ago as I was living through a period of disenchantment with American culture. It began as I left college and looked to understand what exactly was beautiful and true about America. I now understand much more about what odds I was against in finding that out from the kind of institutions I had attended. So I had this period of romance with things Asian in general and a few things Japanese in particular. I gained a particular affinity for the martial order of feudal Japan, which in retrospect makes me feel weird - I should examine that. I also studied Sun Tzu and meditated on a daily basis. For a short period of time I had a Japanese girlfriend, but the language and cultural barriers - well it was only slightly more than jungle fever. In all of that, I was seeking what I used to call the 'arena of honor' something I found profoundly lacking in American popular culture. Something resonated in me reading about the life of Mishima, in the silent beauty of Kurosawa's 'Dreams' and in the hope of youth in Otomo's comic masterpiece Akira.
Thirdly, I grew up in a black- and Japanese-American neighborhood. My younger brother's best friend was Japanese American and although we were kids and there wasn't much of what one might deem real cultural exchange, I had the advantage of recognizing Japanese from other Asians. Southern California does have that advantage.
Like many Americans, I came to understand and respect Japanese (via Deming) manufacturing and business practices. I've worked at Toyota and Mitsubishi and recognize the cultural differences of shadow management & group commitment. I've had female relatives work and live in Tokyo and I know my teppan from my donburi.
On the whole, I don't feel a particular affinity for Japan or the Japanese people. They don't quite get me in my soul - which is odd because I feel it for Russians whom I understand less well. Nevertheless, there was a time when they signified a great deal more in my life, through my late 20s a time of great searching for me. I almost feel as if I have unconsciously abandoned them. I haven't done anything to familiarize myself with their music, language or literature of late. I used to follow a blogger who wrote about 'inscrutability' as simply the laziness of American journalists who fail to study the language and appreciate its subtlety. I have had the suppressed desire to study Aikido for half my life and it is something I have never fulfilled. There seems to be something Japanese out there that I've streteched out my arm towards a dozen times but never really bothered to grasp. And so I am merely one step beyond stereotypes. Something, but not much.