As the plane began it`s final descent into Narita airport, my mind raced with vivid images of what Japan would actually turn out to be like. It was 2001 and I was making my first trip to the country with only a semester of Japanese language study, $500 spending money and visions of anime, manga and Kurosawa dancing in my head. After three in-flight movies, forgettable airplane food and an immigration card hastily filled out, there was nothing left to do but stare through my window as one looking into what felt like an uncertain future. The sun was setting and reddish-orange rays shone through revealing pillars of smoke from the factories below. I recalled a scene from Ridley Scott`s “Black Rain” that played out in a similar fashion as Michael Douglas`s character entered Osaka. Would this be all there was in common with the impressions of Japan that I and many in the western world had come to know? Could the place really meet my expectations? Should it even?
Well, fast forward to the present and I can confidently tell you that Japan or Nippon, roughly meaning “sun-origin”, has both met and challenged those expectations with flavors of sophisticated beauty and bewildering contrasts. To explain, elaborate and dissect the many shades and colors of Japanese culture would take scores of books, college courses and many, many cups of coffee (which I am not a huge fan of). Even after I finally did return to university, studying Japanese language, history and culture as my minor, at times I continue to experience that sensation of being submerged underwater while living here, like being in a dream. So, why not ease into this dream and make ourselves at home, humbly accepting the fact that it would take a lifetime and beyond to fully comprehend the many things that cannot always be put easily into relatable English? Or, why not just join me in this new monthly series that will attempt to explore Japan`s inner world? From the 500 year old board game of shogi and onsen hot springs to the overwhelming kawaii or “cute” pop culture abounding in the neon-lit streets of Tokyo`s Harajuku district, past and present facets of the country`s aesthetic character will be spotlighted every month. I`ve heard it`s common for foreigners to have lived in Japan for years and never truly experience more than just the surface, so lets go a little deeper. I sincerely hope you`ll join me!