Do We Take Anime Culture in America Seriously?

Do you actually take Anime Culture seriously? Anime Culture as in watching anime, reading manga, studying Japanese language, going to cons, buying figures, etc. Do you see it as something cool and foreign or as actual stories told by Japanese people using the medium of animation?

Just some background on why I am asking this. I’d been into anime since middle school, staying up late watching Adult Swim because I was bullied and could never sleep. I gradually started watching fansubs online when my mom brought us a computer. Switched from dubs to subs, I started buying books on Japanese culture and studying the language. A few years later I created a YouTube channel doing reviews of niche anime and manga, but it wasn’t popular. Due to the fact that the standard channels were talking about whose waifu is trash, fmk, who had the best teet-hair color combo. I refused to do that, plus in hindsight I didn’t promote the channel well enough. I was in film school at the time (I finished btw) but I would actually talk about character growth and development, plot events context in Japanese society and customs, etc. and it was dirt compared to people who squealed about mainstream show episodes by saying “the pacing was good, the animation was on point, the music – OMG – I was so hyped” to the crowd they catered to.

After college, I got a job at a Japanese cultural center for a year where I continued to take language lessons (I’m currently intermediate level and I will be trying for the JLPT N4 in December) and I had a good time there. I didn’t watch any shows, mainly because I didn’t have time but also because I felt like I was living in a Slice of Life. I knew a lot of customs (meishi koukan, correct amount of times to bow and the degree, how to accept or give items, how to be conscious of my body language i.e. not a lot of hand gestures, even nuances like how to refer to myself by pointing to my nose) and I knew literally all of that shit from watching anime and glazing older cultural books. My colleges were always impressed and I received a lot of respect. I had no problem surviving in the thick Japanese atmosphere where I heard Japanese spoken each day and dealt with businessmen and workers from well-known international brands. I had friendly convos with the older ladies in Japanese at local grocers by my job, could find my own non-English manga at book stores; I never felt out of place going to summer Matsuri or other ceremonial things. I didn’t feel like a total gaijin, even though we were still here in America.

When we had events for anime and those in the community showed up, they were looked down upon. It wasn’t fair, but it’s not a secret that Japanese don’t put a lot of stock into any sort of subcultures. The fans showed up in their Black Butler T-shirts and Shingeki no Kyoujin backpacks (which was fine) but didn’t even try talking to some of the Japanese people who were also there. There was such a clear divide between people with similar interests, where the Japanese were probably “too foreign” despite Americans consuming their media that does have a lot of traditional aspects in it. The Japanese were probably intimidated by the language barrier and thought it was a pain to try to speak to them.

Do you watch anime consciously knowing these stories are told by actual Japanese people, or do you just enjoy the aesthetic and don’t really care about the culture behind it? There are so many reasons why anime has educational value and why it is so popular. The bridge can definitely be crossed I think. I just don’t know if each side is ready.

Solarpunk and Capitalism – Who Decides the Worth of the Land?

I have been into the Solarpunk movement for a while now. Solarpunk is the hope of a green, sustainable future that relies on solar power, community gardens and living within our means. It is utopian in ideals, equality and a decentralized government. Heavy emphasis on agriculture and community bonds.

It’s so beautiful.

Who decides the worth of the land? Who decides which area is deemed “beautiful” and deserving of a multi-million dollar price tag while vistas of equal beauty in ‘third world countries’ remain free and open to the public?

What is the point of taking water, a natural occurring mineral liquid necessary for life sustainment, and putting a price tag on it? Why are the Coca-Cola Company and Nestle trying to privatize the largest water reserve within South America? Why is tap water that we pay for in-home or apartment utilities filled with fluoride and other unhealthy chemicals? Why is wanting clean water being criminalized? I think of Standing Rock as I write this.

What is the point of raising prices for national parks, such as the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Yellowstone? I know it’s apparently for infrastructure, but if the average person cannot pay to visit…what happens to the park then? Will the big companies have the privilege and honor of ravaging these scenic oases of the senses for profit? Steal all of the natural resources and then move on to the next?

Watching Hallmark movies on the Hallmark channel, I keep seeing commercials for ‘BuyBelize’. Promoting the sale of land in Belize to presumably upper middle class or wealthy Westerners. Do the people of Belize know that parts of their country are literally being sold in commercials like trendy sneakers? Is this their government allotting land that is being deemed unusable? Are Western countries lobbying for more space to utilize, destabilize, and destroy for consumption?

I have been into the Solarpunk movement for a while now. Solarpunk is the hope of a green, sustainable future that relies on solar power, community gardens and living within our means. It is utopian in ideals, equality and a decentralized government. Heavy emphasis on agriculture and community bonds.

It’s so beautiful.

Solarpunk ideals would also fit swimmingly into the Afrofuturism movement. Afrofuturism reclaims people of African descent’s place in sci-fi and the future. Because for some reason, it seems sci-fi is determined to erase the presence of black people and make them somehow alien. Along with sci-fi, it combines historical fiction, Afrocentrism, magical realism and fantasy to define the black future and black experience.

I’m so thankful for the movement Marvel’s Black Panther has reinvigorated.

It has surged people’s interest in the future of the African diaspora, and what can truly be achieved and brought into our collective realities.

There are also a lot of great resources and books on the subject of Afrofuturism.

Octavia E Butler wrote Afrofuturism themes in many of her work. Seed to Harvest is a series I’ve heard great things about! You could start there on your literary journey, as I will begin here as well.

Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture by Ytasha L. Womack is also a great read from what I’ve heard.

Black Quantum Futurism by Rasheedah Phillips also seems to be an interesting read; focusing on methodologies and theories in the genre.

Maybe I will do a review of these works here once I am able to purchase them.

Sun Ra made music to elevate the African diaspora to another plane of existence.

Solarpunk and Afrofuturism are ‘newer’ genres, but I believe they can change our future and our realities. They truly give me comfort in these troubling, disjointed times.

Also

I have been working on several novellas and graphic novels. They have mainly African-descended protagonists and heavy Solarpunk and afrofuturistic themes. I use the term “African-descended” and not just “Black” because in my stories I am trying to fill the gap between Black American/Black – ____ and the continent of Africa. I write about people who know they have African ancestry, but like me…it’s jumbled and lost. I want them to feel a connection to their mother continent, and not a connection to a term that like negro, coloured, etc before it – has been placed upon them by their oppressors. Connections to a term that evokes images of land, seas, skies, cultures, and foods…not a color found in a fucking crayon box. We are so much more than that.

I am so excited to share them with the world but also very scared. But I feel like I need to share them. Please look forward to reading them when I finish them! (=

 

 

Will Kingdom Hearts III Disappoint Us?

I would consider myself an avid Kingdom Hearts fan.

I would consider myself an avid Kingdom Hearts fan.

Not a hardcore fan, as I could not afford it. It was most likely 2003 when my mom purchased the game for 9 or 10-year-old me. About three years later the second main story game came out in the series, and I was able to play that as well. There was a slew of spin-off games that no one asked for. All of these games for some reason were on various different platforms, another thing no one asked for. I played Chain of Memories, as I owned a Game Boy Advance SP but that was the last game I played.

In my last lengthy article entitled “The Importance of Chopsticks” I delve deeper into my relationship with Japanese media and subculture. Kingdom Hearts was the first game I played where I knew it was consciously Japanese. Sure, Mario 64 and the like were Japanese but I found that out later on in life.

Utada Hikaru’s “Simple and Clean” could send any fanboy or girl into a dancing frenzy. I played Kingdom Hearts and felt a shift in my consciousness. I started using forums for the first time posting my own fan theories surrounding the many mysteries the game left us at the time. I created my first email address with my favorite character’s name in it – Riku. I used almost all of our home computer’s printer ink printing out a high-resolution image of Kingdom Hearts 2’s CGI ending. The gang was reunited once more.

Talks of the third game were on the horizon, and the hype was at an all-time high. Every trailer for the main story was analyzed with scrutiny.

But as the years passed, the whisper of “Kingdom Hearts 3 Now in Development” was not enough.

And people gave up.

Sora 1
Sora, Kingdomhearts.com

People slowly stopped talking about it, the fandom slowly decayed on Tumblr.

There was some excitement when Japan decided to export a Final Mix game, and I eagerly brought KH Final Mix 1.5 and 2.5 to watch the stories of the games I could not afford to buy in the past.

Timeline explanation videos began popping up on YouTube. Trying to make sense of the entire series, just in case we actually got KH3.

It became a running gag. KH3 would be released with Half-Life 3. Our grandkids would love KH3. KH3 would be the launch title for the PS7.

No one expected anything.

It made it worse that Nomura Tetsuya was more occupied with the Final Fantasy series than his own series. The hodgepodge series of Disney characters and Final Fantasy characters we adored. The characters with awkward oversized boots and zippered pants that would make any Hot Topic goth mad.

Is Hot Topic even a thing anymore? The store in my local mall closed years ago.

Nomura not working on Kingdom Hearts 3 is akin in my mind to George RR Martin working on Wild Cards instead of finishing the A Song of Ice and Fire series books.

In retrospect, Nomura was working on Final Fantasy games before Kingdom Hearts, and George worked on Wild Cards before ASOIAF. These simple truths, however, do not quell the salt in my heart.

February 10th, 2018.

Disney’s D23 Expo in Japan drops the Kingdom Hearts III ‘Monster’s Inc’ trailer. Utada Hikaru has signed on with a new song. Riku has a new outfit. He somehow broke his keyblade and is going to leave it in the darkness for his…heartless? His nobody? Xehanort? The real Ansem the Wise? Aqua? A member of Organization 13? Didn’t they all die in the second game?

But then in the new trailer Marluxia says it’s good to see Sora again, but Sora also forgot the plot and has no clue who he is. Unless that duel to the death in Chain of Memories was against Marluxia and Riku – my chain of memories is weak. Then in a cutscene, Sora recognizes Vanitas – except it’s not Sora- it’s probably Terra inside of Sora’s heart…who is different from Roxas who was Sora’s nobody that was created when he lost his heart in Hollow Bastion in KH1 to release Kairi’s heart.

Speaking of Kairi, maybe she’ll actually have a role in this game. Other than being Sora’s ethereal emotional support in KH1 and running around a beach before getting kidnapped and literally dragged into the story in KH2.

Bottom line: I am happy we got a substantial trailer. I am not happy that we have a release date for the release date, which is this summer’s E3 convention.

Whatever may happen, I’ll reserve any further excitement and anticipation for this summer. It will determine whether or not I’ll go out and buy a PS4 for the game that may never truly be.

“Stifle”

How do you tell someone about a ghost? The reincarnated soul would not even understand.

You are left haunted by the lingering memories. Alone. Stifled.

Stifle

make (someone) unable to breathe properly; suffocate.

restrain (a reaction) or stop oneself acting on (an emotion)

They say that writing coloured with emotion can be some of your greatest works; because they are your realities on the paper. Even so, sometimes it’s hard to come to the self-realization that you even have pent-up emotions. What if even now, you are stifling yourself. You are absolutely stifled. You do not want to be overtaken and swept up in lost emotions.

Stiff. Stifled. Shuffled. Shit-dismayed.

You want to talk to someone, but it is physically impossible. They are a ghost. Not that they are in the spirit world, but that they no longer exist in the form you once knew.

The magic, the energy, of encounters past haunt you in the most peculiar moments.

One moment you are drinking tea, the next moment you are reminded of the way their body smelled in a warm car on a cold, winter night. Both sheltered in a little alcove away from the rain. Safe, drinking warm tea and watching traffic pass by.

Why? Why then. You were just trying to enjoy a cup of tea. Why would that memory decide to resurface?

How do you tell someone about a ghost? The reincarnated soul would not even understand.

You are left haunted by the lingering memories. Alone. Stifled.

So maybe you should write about it?

However…

Do you even want to read what you’ve written? Do you want to lock it away in a mental vault instead?

Vaults get old; they rust.

They leak your treasures, one way or another.

So what to do, what to do.

Go to the sea, set it aside for me.

Find me a bottle, an old green glass bottle.

Send them away, raise them to the tide.

Look at your reflection in the side of the bottle.

See who you are now, let go who you were before.

If you can. If you can’t,

If you can’t;

 I know not what to tell you.

You’ll just be stifled.

As am I.

& What a lonely existence it shall be.

You came back at the worst possible time, I thought I was free.

Two Ghosts Haunting One Another.

“Inscrutable”

“impossible to understand or interpret”

“impossible to understand or interpret”

I believe that it is inscrutable to have the audacity to think you can truly ever know how another human being is feeling.

We are non-verbal creatures by nature, not by habit. Unspoken gestures register with our brains faster than our vocal chords can form speech to question it.

English is such a dull, dead, emotionless language.

Mourning and Morning can be pronounced similar depending on your accent.

Monday and Mundane can sound similar.

The old languages, the languages of our non-English speaking ancestors had a strange power to them.

Have you ever listened to them? Heard the chimes of words long forgotten in your dreams? Have you ever hummed the melody to an unknown song?

Have you heard the power in modern versions of non-English languages today? East Asian languages for instance – oft times it is how you say the word that conveys its meaning.

Indigenous languages sound as if the beat of the earth is what fuels their linguistic thums.

But I digress. This was about understanding one another as humans, not a tangent on the lifelessness of the English language.

It was careless to inject my internalized archaic thoughts of our world order into a thinly veiled commentary on humanistic relationships.

To think anyone could understand where my headspace is today was indeed inscrutable.

But, I hope someone tried.

Someone did indeed try to understand.

The Importance of Chopsticks

If you’ve had any interest in Japanese culture via exported anime Americanized into your favorite childhood memories or by other means, you’ve probably heard the phrase ‘Gaijin Smash’ in some context. So, for reference, let’s talk about this phenomenon. 

If you’ve had any interest in Japanese culture via exported anime Americanized into your favorite childhood memories or by other means, you’ve probably heard the phrase ‘Gaijin Smash’ in some context. So, for reference, let’s talk about this phenomenon.

A 外人 or gaijin, is a foreigner to the Japanese. The kanji is a literal combination of ‘soto’ (外) in romanji or outside and ‘hito’ (人) or person when translated into English.  There is a P.C. term for this word that is learned in most formal classes, which is gaikokujin – 外国人- or foreigner. In spoken Japanese, this simply adds the counter for person. The literal kanji reading however, changes to outside country person.

Why is this important? Honestly, on the surface it’s not – it is simply semantics. When we dig deeper however, it is a pretext for one’s journey of delving into Japanese culture in an attempt to assimilate.  Unless you are a Japanese living in Japan – you will never be Japanese. I have even heard whispers of Japanese leaving Japan to go abroad and upon returning home experiencing considerable cultural shock. Mannerisms shift, polished nuances like the back of your hand are suddenly gone – a feeling of being alien in your own world. For the visiting American going to Japan, knowledge necessary to abide by Japanese social norms is not expected. This leads to a ‘Gaijin Smash’ of the rules; you are not expected to act as a Japanese person would. Sometimes that can be endearing and even refreshing in favor of cultural exchanges.

Working at a Japanese cultural center, I was surrounded by American co-workers with so much more tangible ‘experience’ with the country. Japanese majors who had studied abroad, JET Programme alumni who had lived in small rural villages where the thick, old world vibe of eras past was strong; co-workers completely fluent in the language and customs. In comparison, I was quite the odd-ball. I vividly remember one of my first weeks on the job being asked:

“So, what is your connection to Japan? We all have one working here”

I staggered. How could I say it came out of re-discovering anime that I thought were American cartoons while watching Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim late at night in middle school? Graduating from ‘dubs’ to ‘subs’ when getting my first computer at sixteen? Countless hours spent on the floor of my local Barnes & Noble with friends reading Japanese language books and English translated manga? Watching as much admittedly illegal – Crunchyroll wasn’t even legit during that time and fan sub teams ruled the landscape of the early internet – anime, J-drama and Japanese films for cultural context? Trying to learn hiragana and katakana by pausing the ‘流れ星’ – Home Made Kazuko’s – “Shooting Star” Naruto Shippuden season 1 ending to write the sing along characters on flash cards to study continuously? Watching raws of episodes in terrible 240p quality and refreshing the link hours later hoping it was subbed and not taken down for copyright infringement? Listening to J-rock bands over and over trying to make even one word stand out in my mind so I could automatically translate it and to pretend to sing along? Making translation notes in antiquated cultural and custom books? Gravitating toward anything Japanese at NYCC and even laminating a travel map I received at a tourism booth to hang up in my computer room to glance at for times when I felt particularly hopeless in my studies? How could I encapsulate a ten plus year passion ignited within half madness into a few spoken sentences that wouldn’t make me sound like a complete loser?

“Oh haha, I’ve always just been really into the culture ya’know?”

Clearly she did not know.

I received a mildly bewildered and disapproving look from the former JET who had been with the company around three years.

I kept telling myself that I would not tell anyone how I arrived to the destination I was at – the journey truly embarrassed me. Sometimes people who enjoy Japanese subculture are looked down upon, and the ‘weeaboos’ and ‘American otaku’ of the world do not help this. With this in mind, I was determined to show everyone just how much I knew about Japanese culture; what I had learned from what I believed to be looked down upon media. Something that for years was my own treasure trove of solace that helped form the world I’ve build for myself today; my reality.

If you were wondering, I did give her a proper answer months later during a job interview for her position. I didn’t get it, but it felt good to set that disapproving look straight in my mind’s eye.

I believe my work ethic changed many people’s minds about the initial impression I seemed to give off. I am a woman of color with natural hair who had no access to any facets of Japanese culture outside of the digital and literary world. Why would I know in the local Japanese groceries to hand money (or any object really in a multitude of situations) with two hands “the Japanese way” instead of throwing the money down with one hand as is unfortunately the American way? Regarding this practice at work, that had always received mixed responses.

From other gaijin, the response garnered a knowing smile and sparked deep conversation of how they had lived in Japan or studied there and warm feelings of that life experience. Others would bow back and say a quick ありがとうございます before continuing the interaction in an American manner. In an American manner being to remain in American contexts. This is a counter to a Japanese interaction that could include a polite bow the length of a simple head nod or simply acknowledging the sign of respect and continuing the interaction how they would with a Japanese person. It’s a very strange phenomenon to try and explain on paper when I cannot clearly articulate the exact implicit differences in these interactions.

Others (usually Japanese) would exclaim “the Japanese way!” with a beaming pride. Pride for me? Of course not. Pride that I had knowledge of this social nuance and it reminded them of home? Most likely.

Others however, would suddenly act as if I had shown them the road to El Dorado on Google Maps. “How did you know to do that? Were you taught that as part of your training? It’s great that they taught you that!” were some of the dismissive things I heard. Again, why would a person of color know anything about Japanese culture despite working at a Japanese cultural center? For the most part I did not have to deal with many of those types of people for extended periods of time, and for that I was grateful.

The correct amount of times to bow and名刺交換meishi koukan etiquette were things I also thankfully had knowledge of.  From film and anime I learned the ideal angle to bend when bowing and when stuck in an ‘infinite bowing politeness loop’ to bow up as to not inconvenience the other person. If I kept bowing deeper that meant the other person would have to return that bow out of social obligation and for fear of losing face. The biggest thing I think I’ve learned working around Japanese is just how easy it is to accidentally slight someone and cause them to lose face from a simple misunderstanding. I won’t go into the details, but one of my first days at the company a misunderstanding caused one employee to write up an incident report to another Japanese company, apologize, and caused the employee to literally not talk to me for months.

Although I knew I could have Gaijin Smashed my way through that situation, after seeing the fallout I decided to try my hardest to assimilate to the thick Japanese work culture. I mentioned the American portion of my co-workers had tangible experience with Japan, but the other half was mainly Japanese people from Japan with a few Chinese people sprinkled in for good measure.  If there was a delivery from a sake company or a Japanese guest for one of the cultural center’s many departments I made sure to address the guest by their last name if that was the name given and if handed a business card I tried my best at emulating meishi koukan I’d seen in media. Meishi koukan can be translated as Japanese business card etiquette. It boils down to accepting the business card with both hands, studying it front and back for a good amount of time, and then placing it in front of you or in view of the other person. Only when that person leaves would you put it away, as to not offend. In the same vein, whenever the administrative assistant received paper deliveries she never put the papers away in the closet until the delivery man left as to not offend. Putting those newspapers away would signal that they were worthless and not deserving of being out on display. In an American context, that sounds silly. In a Japanese context, it is a courtesy to save face and be considerate of the delivery man.

When at my work station, I tried my very best to assimilate culturally. In the kitchen break room however, this slightly slipped whenever chopsticks were involved.  Forget to bring plastic utensils and can’t grab freebies from a store on the way to work without reproach? There were the traditional Western metal utensils to wash, but being the germophobe I am I always went for the plentiful wooden chopsticks. Were they cheaply made? Absolutely. Did they get the job done? Absolutely. Did I know how to use them? Absolutely not.

Honestly, chopsticks had always been the absolute bane of my existence. I remember my parents bringing Chinese food from a few towns over home and I would always dig into our utensil drawer and fish out a pair of antiquated wooden pillars with writing unbeknownst to me. I used what I referred to in my head as the scissor method – both sticks together side by side in a queer position using a peddling method with my fingers which hardly yielded any rice. After a few attempts the hunger would always get to me and I would grab a spoon in defeat and lovingly lay the chopsticks in the sink for washing later. I made the mistake of bringing this mentality to work.

Often there would be food leftover from events, or co-workers would bring back omiyage in the form of finger snacks. A couple of months in, there was Americanized Chinese food left over from an earlier event. It was myself, one of the maintenance staff and my Chinese department head in the kitchen grabbing food. I thought I could Gaijin Smash my way through the meal without reproach.

I was wrong.

I got what many would refer to as the subtle ‘glance of disapproval’ from the department head. I ignored it, surely it didn’t matter if I couldn’t use chopsticks correctly, right?

Wrong.

Feeling self-conscious with glances that suggested I should have known better, I noticed the maintenance staff member holding the chopsticks correctly. I put my head down and when they both left used the bastardized scissor method best I could and finished what was on my plate. Did I go home and try to learn the correct method of holding chopsticks?

A fool, I continued to tread down a dark and dangerous path.

The chopsticks came back to haunt me months later during a language class I attended.

The sensei had always treated me like a co-worker, as she did a Chinese girl who volunteered in the language center after her internship ended. Interns were generally truly part of the company environment and were treated as actualized employees. I know many companies boast that their interns receive the full employment experience but they are lying – interns there were valuable members of the company.

I was always greeted warmly by this sensei. Many cultural points we covered in class it was assumed I had some knowledge of, and I was even told お疲れ様 which can translate to “thank you for all of your hard work today!” in English. From an American lens, this means absolutely nothing. When looking at the Japanese cultural context and thinking of the rigid social hierarchy and system of honorifics, it was an amazingly welcome gesture. I’d only ever heard this spoken from one Japanese co-worker to another, and honestly I was very touched the first time it was said to me.

I felt so included.

Overall, I did not feel like a complete gaijin working for the company when I tried my best to weave and bob through the social nuances and unspoken methods of saving face. All those years of anime had paid off, as cheesy as that sounds to write or even to read for you out there. ☺

At the end of semester party, we were each asked beforehand to bring snacks to eat during that day’s lesson. I choose to bring senbei, or Japanese rice crackers. I first tried senbei years prior when I brought my mom with me to a conversation cafe at a prominent Japanese organization that offered language classes. It was an acquired taste and I had picked up an affinity toward the cheap and plentiful varieties offered at the local Japanese grocer in proximity to my job. Of course, I was the only American who brought something super un-American to the palate. My Chinese friend who worked at the center brought lychee fruit gummy candies. It was the second ‘exotic’ food at this gathering that included vegan American sushi. The vegan sushi had two different types, the hypnotic purple colored one proving to soon be my undoing.

Glancing around with subdued hawkish tenor, I observed that many of my American classmates also had not mastered the use of chopsticks.

I foolishly thought I was in the clear.

During a break in lecture we all assembled around the table to grab from our combined store-brought bounty. I watched one classmate fumble for almost two minutes (I slyly glanced up at the clock) when trying to obtain one of the vegan sushi rolls. It was my turn, and using the scissor method, I smugly tried to grab one piece.

It failed.

It was a lot thinner than it looked, and I didn’t want to break the piece in the process of trying to bring it to my plate. I struggled and this had caught the attention of my Japanese teacher. As I valiantly persevered, I heard the words spoken that would bring me to shame:

“シャノンーさん、だいじょうぶですか“

Translated from Japanese to English, this means “Shannon, are you alright?” to which I replied yes I am.

“はい、だいじょうぶです。すみません。”

From a Japanese cultural context to English, I interpreted this exchange as “Shannon, I see you are struggling trying to grab the sushi with your chopsticks. Is there something preventing you from completing this task?”

I was embarrassed.

My inability to use chopsticks caused me to lose face, and inconvenienced my sensei to the point that she asked if I was alright. I thought I could employ the Gaijin Smash amongst Americans that had no knowledge that I worked at the cultural center, but soon realized that I could not have it both ways.

I could not just turn off my brain to cultural nuances I had knowledge of when there were people in the room who knew I knew better. For the remainder of the class my Chinese friend barely spoke to me and the sensei did not call on me as much.

For those of you wondering what was so bad about being asked if I was alright when I was clearly struggling, I will try to explain it.

One, no one else in class was held to this standard or essentially called out for their inability to use chopsticks. They are Americans taking a Japanese course. I was an American employed at a Japanese cultural center who had demonstrated knowledge of cultural customs consistently.

Two, だいじょうぶ is often a word I associated with feelings or social situations.

Ex: “先生、宿題を忘れって。すみませんでした。”

“だいじょうぶです。”

These rough sentences translate to something along the lines of:

“Sensei, I forgot to bring in my homework. I am sorry.”

“It is alright.”

In this format, it is fine. It is referring to an action. Now in the situation I described earlier, a verb like 出来る which denotes the ability to complete a task or knowledge of a skill could have been used.

Or hell, maybe I overthought the entire situation and it really was just a genuine question of concern over not being able to pick up a slice of purple vegan sushi with cheap wooden chopsticks.

 

That night, I went home and literally Googled how to use chopsticks. I came across a video on RocketNews24 in 360p that demonstrated the agreed upon correct way to use chopsticks in Japan. I practiced with those old wooden Chinese chopsticks in my utensil drawer at home until my hand was sore.

Next event involving food at work, I showed off my skills gingerly. I sat up straight and tried to emulate a swan, graceful in my movements and daintily clumping sticky rice into balls to plop into my mouth.

Once I was alone, I placed my chopsticks down to give my hand a rest. For some reason, my American hands were determined to resist the proper way. For the remainder of my time at the company, I never received another disapproving glance when using chopsticks. My usage no longer set off internal radars that boiled over to subdued glances of inner fury.

Japanese language and culture relies heavily on context and nonverbal cues. I’ve also heard that this is true for other East Asian cultures but I do not have first-hand experiences to speak upon that prevalent belief.

So, what was the point of this self-deprecating retelling of a cultural mishap in relation to the Gaijin Smash I wrote of earlier?

I mean it to be a cautionary tale.

Wry tone aside, if you do ever travel to Japan, or any country foreign to your own – it is best to try to learn a bit of the local customs. It will go a long way, even if you don’t think it will.

In my case of working at a cultural center, the Gaijin Smash stopped being an option long ago.

I’ve noticed that when you truly immerse yourself in a culture, you will try your best to not offend and assimilate. This is common knowledge, yes, but it was not common knowledge to me in regards to how I was already perceived by my co-workers. I was perceived to essentially know better than to feign ignorance in something so basic in most Pan-Asian cultures.

I was perceived as someone who tried their best at having social fluency in Japanese culture and lost face by having no knowledge of how to fundamentally break bread.

If I went to Japan tomorrow and ordered a bowl of ramen, would I be looked down upon if I misused my chopsticks and did not slurp loudly to show my appreciation for the food in front of me?

Probably not, I am just another tourist gaijin.

Gaijin smash rules would be in effect.

If there was ramen brought to the workplace, would I find my co-workers slurping loudly? Probably not, no. At least not in my presence. That is not American culture, but properly holding chopsticks would be a must. It is that simple dichotomy that taught me the difference between when and where not to try to employ Gaijin Smash while at the cultural center.

It taught me the importance of self-examination and questioned my own sense of cultural integrity – a lesson I will not soon forget.

 

 

 

An Introductory Love Letter to AfroFuturism

Let’s think of the stars and the universe in the sky. Think about how it relates to our own being…

I think AfroFuturism will indeed save this world and our futures collectively as a whole.

It gives me hope in these trying times, and something to look forward to in the future.

Whether this future be our timeline or elsewhere, it is much obliged.

Solar punk, lunar punk, magical realism – I want all of these wonderful things to be a reality one day.

I want to see trains that run over overgrown foliage, stones of unknown sources illuminating golden flecks cast over sunlight.

I want to see clouds leading one’s eye to the stairwell of the stars we see when we close our eyes.

I want to see the planets move – jumbling in an ornate archaic tango as they realize we can finally see them; we can finally bear witness to what our atmosphere has hidden long ago.

I want to feel the magnetic energies of the earth, hear the whispers of the trees and see up close what the stars have been trying to show me.

I want to learn that the stars were trying to show me what is inside of my own body.

My own mind, my own heart; my entire being.

I want to be immortalized and freed by the elements once more.

I want to leave my earthly body and transverse the solar plane, the ethereal plane, the plane we visit while we rest.

I want to re-discover metals and gems and precious stones long forgotten by history.

I want to create stories and worlds and share these precious slumbered memories deep within our hearts.

I want to find others who feel the sense of yearning, the sense of faltering doubt in an alternative reality.

&& I will.

With these writings, these stories, these shared lunar memories –

we will become whole again.