If you know me, you know I love Japan. I love it like you love football, The Beatles and a cold beer. Some of you accept this, perhaps even think it's kind of cool. Others ask me if "I think I'm turning Japanese" or did I just listen to too much Loudness in the 80s. Many have wondered why on earth I would want to learn Japanese. None of you have ever asked me why. I've decided the time has come to tell you, anyway.
When I was 7, I inherited my mom's cedar chest full of cherished toys. The most prized were the ones my grandfather had brought her from Japan during the Korean war. There was a gorgeous 10 inch tall Geisha mounted on a wooden platform. She wore a red kimono covered with flowers and geta. The same flowers flowed from the sticks stuck in her coal black hair. I used to wonder if the sandals hurt her feet and why she wore socks with them, wished I could have such white skin, such shiny black hair. Next was a fragile, opalescent, tea set. It's cups and saucers were the perfect size for doll tea parties and so delicate you could almost see through them. I always wrapped them in scarves when I tucked them carefully away, I treasured them so. Then there was, the jacket. It was silk. Real, honest to god, silk! A baseball style with a zip front, it reversed. One side was green and silvery grey with a map of Japan embroidered on the back. The other side, my favourite, was peach coloured with a crouching tiger under the word Japan. I wore it even though it was much too large and continued to for years after, until the knit cuffs and pocket lining were in shreds. These precious objects were the sparks that lit the fire.
I learned my first Japanese words from the Queen song 'Teo Torriate (Let Us Cling Together)' the last song on A Day At The Races. I must have played it a million times and can still sing it word for word today, though I haven't heard it in years. I had thought of learning Japanese then, sadly there were no classes offered in the little upstate New York town I lived in. In 1980 network TV provided fodder for my fire and inspired me to learn more of the history of Japan, specifically Edo period. James Clavell had written a novel called Shogun and a mini series starring Richard Chamberlain was made from it. I had already watched every Japanese monster movie aired in the US, but this was really about Japan, even though fictional. I was enthralled for the 5 nights it aired. Japan was beautiful, the buildings, language and clothing were lovely, elegant and enticingly exotic. This inspired me to search for real Japanese films, which led to my discovery of the incomparable Akira Kurosawa. Through Kurosawa and the films of many other talented filmakers, I've learned about Japanese culture and psyche. If you've never watched them, you should check one out. Those subtitles don't hurt a bit.
The one thing that really fanned my flames of interest into love, was rock and roll. I heard Loudness first, thought they were pretty good, but honestly didn't buy the first album. Then, I saw the video for a song called 'Flashback Heart Attack' by EZO. It was darker, heavier with a slightly evil vibe and sexy as hell. Masaki Yamada's voice and catlike grace on stage blew me away. I was thrilled to find they would be opening for Guns N' Roses on their 1987 club tour. EZO were heavier live and played the songs much faster. They did a cover of 'Ace of Spades' that surpassed any version I've ever heard. After they left the stage all I could think was, "Axl who?" Guns N' Roses didn't compare. I began to search out other Japanese bands after that and found two exceptional ones, Dead End and Gastunk. I didn't share my new passion for Japanese music with anyone, preferring to keep it hidden like a steamy, illicit rendezvous.
My interests diversified through the years, those pertaining to Japan were now centered around food and Soto Zen, until my children started watching a show called Naruto. It was an anime about a ninja training school and we all became addicts after a few episodes. The character's determination and loyalty to each other, their ability to suffer so much to achieve their goals was truly inspiring to me. I was going through a bad period in my life, approaching the end of my marriage, and this cartoon helped me believe I could get through it. I didn't have to stay in a bad marriage because I could do it on my own, if I believed in myself. The universe has strange means for sending messages at times, doesn't it? I found that same inspiration in other anime, especially one called Bleach. The lead characters' loyalty to their friends and families never waiver, no matter the danger or pain to be endured. Silly as it sounds, I wanted to be like that, wanted that strength of character. I still do and am striving to achieve it. Yes, all that from watching an anime. That fanned the embers of love to flame. What happened next, intensified it into a bonfire.
I happened upon Myspace next, which changed my life more than anything other than motherhood. I started discovering new Japanese bands, artists and DJs and decided to learn Japanese. Began adding kids that were into the same bands, then through them met people of all ages with similar interests. I've met so many wonderful people in Japan and worldwide, many of whom I can't imagine my life without now. My Japanese friends have been unendingly kind, helpful and understanding, never laughing at my mistakes in language or cultural faux pas. I've become friends with some of the musicians I first loved in the 1980s and many I've discovered since. Learning about cultural differences has been challenging and even embarrassing at times, but never, ever boring. Nothing about Japan is boring, the contrast between the traditional and the cyber modern is utterly fascinating. It's one love affair who's passion will never dim for me. I know I'm lucky to have something to feel that strongly about and I'm damn thankful to have found it. All my Japanese friends who put up with me, and my bad grammar, are precious to me. That's why I have to help them, help all their countrymen, in their time of need.
This is one way I've found to do that. I met a writer named Frankie Sachs on Twitter. She too has connections to Japan, was also retweeting important info after the earthquake and tsunami hit. She wanted a way to help with the great talent she has, her way with words. I told her to count me in and her friend Sessha said the same. This is what we came up New Sun Rising: Stories For Japan. It is an anthology of stories, poetry and art, with 100% of the money going to the Red Cross. Some amazingly talented people decided they wanted to help and we are blessed to have them. Please read here to find out how you can submit, who we all are and why we are doing it. Why they are, that is, because now you know why I am. If you can't submit, please buy a copy. Make a donation or just spread the word. Be there for someone else, even if you don't know them. It's good to care.
Had to post it :-)