Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Japan: Even Our Undead are Cute

I have almost finished reading the Twilight series. Perhaps now I can return to my regularly scheduled programming, i.e. life in general.

As with most topics these days, I wonder if and how Eastern thinking differs from the west concerning mythical creatures like vampires. I figured that if Big Foot doesn't exist in these parts, then vampires probably don't hold too much sway, either. (See my earlier blog entry, Big Foot in Japan?:

Some interesting "facts" foraged from the internet:

  • Vampirism didn't exist in Japanese folklore prior to 1930ish when Bram Stoker's Dracula was translated into Japanese...

  • ...except for some weird ancient river creature that would slip out of the water and steal farmers' horses and cows and suck their blood through their (egads!) anuses. Disturbed, I promptly quit reading about that myth.

  • Oh yeah, there is also an old story about a vampiric cat that is bent on revenge against some samurai who raped and killed a woman.

So, as you can see, a rich folklore concerning vampires does not reside in the Land of the Rising Sun. Recently, however, the vampire theme has infiltrated Japan by means of their anime (animated movies) and manga (comic books), both enormously popular with young people. Many of the tried and true western vampire themes have been incorporated into these media.

However, whereas American/European bloodsuckers are inhumanly sexy, the anime Japanese vampires are...really cute. Sure, they will drink your blood in a split second, but they will do so with huge, puppy dog eyes and light purple hair. That's just how the undead roll here.

I suppose that appropriate terror is evoked through the anime/manga writing because, afterall, the Japanese are creative and compelling story tellers. But jeez, if something with girly cow eyes and pastel hair comes near me with little bitty sharp teeth and a school girl skirt, I'm not going to flee in terror. I'm probably more likely to pat it on the head and give it a cookie.

This, of course, might be my ultimate undoing AND the most effective mode of world domination...

The Cute Shall Inherit the Earth.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Claire de Lune--Under the Sakura

Spring is here in Japan. It's signature scent, a combination of warm earth and water and baby green life, has returned.

The long-awaited sun and warm breezes have finally encouraged the sakura (cherry blossoms) to reach their pinnacle of loveliness. The girls and I spent Sunday celebrating their arrival with our Japanese buddies. We joined the throngs of people drinking beer and munching on snacks with their friends under the trees. I enjoyed the conversation at our gathering...yet, closing my eyes, I became even more content listening to the soft laughter drifting through the park. It is a joy to listen and watch people just be together in such a simple way.

As stunning as the sakura are in daylight, they are completely mesmerizing in the moonlight--so luminous, they glow. This evening, I walked home alone after eating out with some girlfriends--they were still game for some raucous karaoke but I was feeling quiet and introspective. I usually take a cab back to base but something compelled me to carry on by foot. The walk back to our apartment takes about 30 minutes. This evening, it magically seemed like three because my path led me underneath the sakura.

Gazing up at the moon through the resplendent blossoming branches, I felt completely at peace.

Although I wish I could have shared this joy with all of you I know and love, at the same time, I am completely aware that being alone in such moments is also a great gift.

Life can be sublimely strange.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Twilighting in Japan

I have a good excuse for not having written in a long time.

My teenaged girl has forced me, kicking and screaming, into reading the Twilight series. For those of you with no connection to all things adolescent (or perhaps, to anything involving popular culture), Twilight is the immensely popular vampire saga that has overtaken the teen literary world.

First, let me explain myself: I have not a gothic bone in my body except for a penchant to dress in black. Being a practical sort, I am mostly uninterested in vampires, werewolves, aliens and ghosts. Most of the stories bore me to tears. How many times can you read the cliches about the undead without thinking, I would rather be rearranging my sock drawer than taking in this drivel?

So, imagine my surprise when I became instantly hooked. I am on book four of four lengthy novels and I started the series a couple of weeks ago. Prosewise, the writing is fairly lame...and full of repetitious cliches that inspire a lit crit major to want to flee screaming into the dark (whether it's full of blood sucking creatures or not).

However, the author has a true talent constructing witty dialogue and engaging suspense. Plus, it reminds me of that long dormant part of me that witnessed unbridled passion, heartbreak and romantic redemption. It's pleasurable to feel those dangerous passions again without having to actually go through the heartbreak.

Claire, of course, is thrilled that I am addicted. I have been delighted to discuss plot, theme and characters with my daughter as well as the real life issues of sexuality, self esteem and true love. These themes are tricky now in her life and will continue to amp up in severity as she enters high school. I am thankful that we have a "safe" place to discuss them. Her finely calibrated "this is a teaching moment" radar doesn't engage while discussing hot vampires and werewolves.

Many of our discussions boil down to the age old question for women of all ages: Would you rather give yourself to the safe, dependable guy who allows you to be yourself or the exciting, "perfect", mysterious one who tempts you to change the essence of who you are? Can you have both?

Hmmmm. I wonder. Can you have the best of both worlds: human and eternal? Can you be simultaneously safe and passionate? Can you love both states of being equally and not ultimately have to make a choice between them? A part of me would like to think that it is possible to continuously live in that magical period between day and night...

What do you think?