My favourite subject is, without a doubt, 「日本の文化」 JAPANESE CULTURE.
Where has my passion for this country first started you ask? It is a very long tale indeed, one that starts with two little girls completely immersed in Manga and Anime culture.
My best friend and I met in grade 1 of high school. We were both quiet and shy girls but with a common thread: we both had been introduced by a third friend to Japanese pop culture. I remember clearly, my first Anime was Fushigi Yūgi, the “Mysterious Play”. I gained my first “Japanese” nickname from this show, Miaka, and shared it with the main protagonist.I remember being completely in love with the characters and the storyline, having never encountered such animation styles in the West.
However the real defining moment was when my best friend and I discovered Cardcaptor Sakura (even now seeing artwork of this series makes my heart flutter with joy). My friend and I enjoyed countless hours talking about this series and its characters, listening to both the French and English dubs on T.V. and collecting artwork from internet.
After some time, I was introduced to Rumiko Takahashi‘s work and became completely enthralled with her stories of time travelling and magic. I started with Ranma ½ in manga format and then discovered Inuyasha through television.
However, my love of these manga/anime unknowingly led me to misinterpret Japanese culture. In fact, 3 out of 4 of these series focuses largely on Chinese culture and practices rather than Japanese ones. This then falsely led me to believe that Jysenkyo (a cursed spring in Ranma ½) was a place in Japan and that Syaoran’s and Ranma’s style of combat were Japanese Karate (when in fact it is a form of Chinese wushu).
- Fushigi Yugi -> Miaka is a Japanese high schooler who is transported back to Ancient China via a book
- CCS -> Sakura is a Japanese school girl, Syaoran is a transfer student from China
- Ranma ½ -> Ranma is Japanese but has trained all his life in China and has mastered Chinese martial arts
By this point, it became very difficult to differentiate between both cultures. However, this allowed me to fall in love with both China and Japan at the same time. The turning point came when I did a school project about Japan in my Home Ec class back in my 3rd year of High School. It is then that I discovered that the Maneki Neko (money cat) is in fact Japanese and that the Yin-Yang symbol is Chinese.
At the time I was watching and reading these series, I didn’t know any Japanese and had no clue what “Inuyasha” meant (FYI: “Dog Demon”) nor did I understand the cultural components portrayed in them. Inuyasha, which was the most traditional/cultural Japanese series I knew of dealt with kami (Gods), tamashi (soul) and yokai (demons), all of which were set in a Shinto frame of mind. Kagome was the granddaughter of a famous Shinto Shrine and as such, had the powers of a miko (priestess). All of this was unknown to me back then, and sounded like pure fantasy.
That is probably when I became interested in Japanese mythology and started studying in order to better my understanding. Of course, studying mythology when you’re 13-14 years old, and Asian one at that, is highly difficult do to its complexity. In order to understand all the kami and their roles in Japanese culture, you have to possess greater knowledge about the country itself, which leads to studying its history. However, studying Japanese history 1 hour a day during lunchtime is quite difficult, and requires language skills which, at the time, I did not possess. Therefore the process of educating myself in Japanese folklore was quite difficult and usually went as follows:
- Find a God (eg: Inari Ōkami)
- Figure out his purpose (God of Agriculture)
- Figure out the name meaning (稲荷大神 -> Great God bearer of rice)
- Place him into historical context (gained popularity during the Edo period)
- Research time period (Edo -> 17-19th century, is the ancient name of Tokyo)
- Find a new God and start over
Very painful and arduous? Yes. Was it worth it? Most definitely. As a matter of fact, I still follow this system today, even though I’ve since been studying the language, been to Japan and watched so many documentaries I can’t count them anymore. Japanese mythology is so deep and rich, there is just no way of mastering all the hundreds of legends and Gods. It is a continuous learning opportunity, one which I gratefully embrace.
I think that it is important to find what is most interesting to us in life and pursue that with all of our strength. Ten years after my first encounter with Japanese culture I am now even more in love with it than I ever was, following a path that makes me happy and complete. One day, this knowledge that I have been gleaning all of these years will be useful to me, when I become a Jap/Eng literature translator. I hope one day I can become an inspiration for people who think that their dreams are out of reach.
To my readers, I hope that all of your dreams come true as well!