Japanese Writers

When I first became interested in Japan, I was only interested in Japanese animation and manga. It wasn’t until college that I decided to read Japanese authors to get a better perspective of Japan. Although I think that anime and manga are great ways to learn more about a culture, books have a unique way of presenting cultural information in a gentle manner; the reader gets to walk in the footsteps of a Japanese person, not just look at drawings of Japanese people. The thoughts and mannerisms of a Japanese are ingrained in the writing–if readers can read between the lines.

Haruki Murakami

Murakami is one of my favorite writers in general, let alone, Japanese writers. His works are very famous around the world, and almost every book I’ve read by him has amazed me. His most popular books include 1Q84, Norwegian Wood, and Kafka on the Shore. Each of his stories deal with the surreal, whether they encounter dreams, ghosts, or the character’s own tormented psyche.

Banana Yoshimoto

Though I would say that Yoshimoto is a female version of Murakami, her works stand well on their own. She also writes surrealistic stories, such as n.p., Goodbye, Tsugumi, and Kitchen, but she focuses on a situation that leads the main character towards different relationships with people. What I like about Yoshimoto is that her work is really honest and straightforward, something that’s difficult to find in writers nowadays. Her work is easy to digest, but don’t be fooled. There’s always a deeper concept playing beneath the surface of her words.

Kenzaburo Oe

Nobel Prize winner, Kenzaburo Oe, is a well-known Japanese writer with many of his works translated around the world. A prolific writer with heavy themes, Oe captures the depth of human psychology while infusing existentialism into his stories. His works include A Quiet LifeThe Changeling, and A Personal Matter. Although his works are more difficult to read–his audience seems to be for people above a tenth-grade reading level–Oe’s works are worth reading, especially for readers looking to find the gritty side of the human soul.

 

Yukio Mishima

Though this writer, actor, poet, and film director was born in the early years of the 20th century, Mishima’s works still breathe of lives that face the same issues of loss, death, and reality. Similar to Oe’s dark-themed works, Mishima faces his readers with brutal honesty that isn’t easy to absorb sometimes. Still, his books like Death in Midsummer and The Sea of Fertility tetralogy are worthwhile reads.

Amy Yamada

Although Amy Yamada isn’t so popular like Murakami or Yoshimoto, Yamada’s books are engaging and interesting. Her books, like  Trash and Bedtime Eyes, appeal to older women–many of her titles embraces life as a Japanese woman in the U.S. and the relationships she engages in. What I like about Yamada is her confidence in writing about gritty subjects, like sexuality, racism, alcoholism, and interracial coupling. She’s not shy about the reality of relationships, good or bad.

Yasutaka Tsutsui

Author of popular stories that spawned multiple anime and movie titles, Tsutsui’s books are more suited for the complicated teenage mind. It’s not the plot lines that I would suggest books like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time for the teen-book section. Simply, the English versions I’ve read are written at a fifth or sixth grade reading level with the same level substance. Like Murakami and Yoshimoto, many of Tsutsui’s books have a surreal quality, but more fantasy or science fiction is weaved into the stories. Unlike Murakami and Yoshimoto, who use simplistic vocabulary, Tsutsui hasn’t mastered how to create depth in the stories. As I mentioned before, I would only suggest Tsutsui’s books for complicated teenagers.

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Different Country, Different Candy

The wonderful world of Japanese candy includes a lot of Western candy, but the flavors are different. This Kit-Kat bar is a strawberry shortcake flavor bar, a flavor I have yet to see in the U.S. Even though strawberry shortcakes are notorious for their high sugar content, this Japanese spin on an old favorite concentrates on the taste, not the amount of sugar.

It’s Not All About Democrats and Republicans

It seems 2011 has been the party-hater year. When people start talking about politics, the first thing that comes up is ‘party’. “Oh, Obama is a Democrat.” And the second thing that comes up is ‘division’. “Oh, Obama is a Democrat. I‘m a Republican, so let’s not vote in a Democrat.” But when it comes down to deciding crucial plans that deeply affect the American people, Democrats and Republicans can’t ban together to make the best choice for their constituents. In the end, the division between Democrats and Republicans only makes the poor and middle classes of the U.S. suffer.

What I absolutely hate about party division is how making informed decisions takes a backseat to a party’s ego. For example, many people voted for McCain because they were Republican, not because of merit. Some people voted for Obama because they were Democrats, not because of experience. It’s almost useless to have a democratic political system if the people can’t see past the political party lines and find concrete reasons why a candidate should be granted the honor of being the president of the United States.

In the 2012 presidential elections, Americans shouldn’t be looking at the candidate’s party. The people should be looking at the candidate’s political track record, their platforms, their plans for executing their platforms, their intelligent diplomacy, their ability to be cool under pressure, and their ability to lead without an ulterior motive. None of the things that I’ve noted are about the candidate’s religion, sexual orientation, skin color, gender, former occupations, personal assets, or physical appearance. These things are not important compared to being the representative for the top First-World country. A candidate needs to prove to the American people that they can concretely change America for the better by mending the broken economy through creating jobs, increasing the middle class population, and ceasing useless spending on tarp and “world policing”.

My husband, a Democratic voter, and I, an Independent, are considering voting for a Republican candidate if that candidate has all of the noteworthy qualities that a president should possess in meeting the needs of the people. We’re not here to pick sides or play the blame-game. What my husband, myself, and the American people need to do is strip each candidate’s campaign down to their essence and ask, “Can you meet the needs of the people in a realistic and timely manner?” No frilly rhetoric. No beat-around-the-bush speeches. No more talk. The American people need action–and the American people need to be the action by being intelligent about politics, not political parties.

The Personal Side of Being an “Expat in Japan”

There are many expats in Japan, many of which are under the guise of the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. I happen to be one of those expats. It’s not so much the fact that I’m outside of the United States, my home country, that makes me an expat. It’s based off of a matter of choice; I wanted to get out of the United States. I felt suffocated being there. Don’t get me wrong, the United States is pretty cool. Home of the Free. The American Dream. But sometimes, there’s a deeper calling in life than the commercialization of everything that was once precious. I decided that I wanted to develop outside of American culture because there was a whole world to experience. Why not go to the country I’ve always wanted to live in?

Now that I’m here, I’m glad I made the choice. Some things I’ve come to realize aren’t tangible or measurable. I came to Japan, thinking the same thoughts as all otaku think when they arrive in the Land of the Rising Sun: “Oh my God! I’m in Japan! Anime! Manga! School girls! Weird stuff!” Of course, Japan’s culture isn’t just about those things. There’s a quiet respect for people–though, some people will argue it’s a facade–and people will come to help someone in need without expecting something in return. You can’t find that freely in the United States. Also, there’s a need to connect to and respect nature, such as appreciating the flowers and the rich, green landscape that can unfold in the middle of nowhere.

Besides those extrinsic aspects of Japanese culture that I’ve come to love and respect, I’ve realized more about myself. This was my first time striking it out on my own without any of my family members to guide me. I was making my own money (which wasn’t new, by the way), but I was responsible for everything–rent, utilities, food, and entertainment funds. I had to learn how to ask questions. If I didn’t ask, I was bound to miss something and pay the price, literally and figuratively.

Not only did I have to come to terms with my responsibilities, I had to come to terms with myself. I had rid myself of the negative aspects of my American life. No more nagging, nosy mother. No more people assuming because I’m black, I’m stupid or lazy or like all of the stereotypical things. No more having to deal with bummy guys. I was separated from those things, and I could develop into someone that I thought didn’t exist. This development prepared me to accept certain aspects of myself that I saw as faults, as well as accepting others more, like marrying and living with my husband. (Let’s just say that marriage is a whole different blog post to begin with.)

Aside from my personal growth, the things that were tangible and measurable became more apparent with life in Japan. My husband and I realized that being in the United States at this time period was devastating to working people. The economy is currently disastrous, and even some of our friends are having difficulty finding a minimum-wage job, though they have a Bachelor’s degree. Frankly, being able to save up in a different country is fun and economical, especially when the dollar is so weak and federal taxes give you a “pass” card the first year abroad. In monetary terms, being abroad is great. On top of the savings, there’s gaining work experience in a prestigious field along with learning Japanese that makes being an expat in Japan pretty appealing.

But being away from the United States gives any open-minded expat a common foundation: there’s a new perspective on the United States waiting to be scooped up. It could be a positive perspective, like seeing how people the U.S. are free to speak out, or simply understanding more of the good points of the United States. The perspective can also be more negative, such as realizing how spoiled Americans can be, or realizing the bad aspects of American cultures mostly visualized through obese people and the growing numbers of prisoners. Either perspective that expats choose to acknowledge, being an expat in Japan is one experience that can never be forgotten.