Coming full-circle

Last night’s karaoke was momentous. At a little hole-in-the-wall karaoke place in Ikawa that’s out of the way and easy to overlook, I discovered, and went on to sing, music from the Yoroiden: Samurai Troopers anime series.

Why is this so momentous? Because that anime is pretty much the reason I’m in Japan right now.

Back in 1995, it was probably the first anime series to be aired (under the name Ronin Warriors) that people widely recognized as being from Japan and therefore distinct, following on the heels of the Sci-Fi Channel airing the film Akira. I’d never seen anything like it before, so I was drawn in. It was a short-lived show, with just 39 episodes and 3 OAVs, but I loved it. It was my first anime “craze,” which took hold the summer before 9th grade.

Sailormoon started airing that fall, which I fell for even harder, but may not have watched if not for already being acquainted with Ronin Warriors and being more aware of anime from that point on.

And then I met a few extremely hard-core Sailormoon fans who got me turned onto the idea of studying Japanese independently. We’d write letters that we’d trade in Spanish class, and one of them gave me a chart of the katakana and hiragana characters, as well as copies of the Japanese (kanji/kana) lyrics to songs from the series with English translations. I was intrigued by all of it.

(Yes, this is me admitting openly that the reason I started studying Japanese was because of Japanese animation. It’s something I’m pretty embarrassed to admit.)

Not much later, I discovered a show on Georgia Public Television called Irasshai: An Introduction to Japanese. I started watching it regularly and even procured a notebook specifically to take notes on the show, and I studied it regularly.

When I went to Georgia Tech, I was able to get into introductory Japanese during spring semester–and it was then that I realized that Irasshai was backed heavily by the Georgia Tech Japanese department! (Years later, I found and checked out several of the episode videos from the central library in our county, and I recognized Kikuchi-sensei, one of my professors, as a “guest star” on the show, assisting with example dialogues and situations.)

Time went on, I got sick of Sailormoon (though Ronin Warriors/Yoroiden: Samurai Troopers was still dear to my heart, and by now I’d actually seen the original Japanese, and after that, the show and OAVs were released widely on DVD in the US) and moved on to other anime, and by graduation, I’d settled on a few series and films that I enjoyed, but I was fairly sick of the genre as a whole, and how many American viewers seemed to embrace it as the only viable form of 2D/hand-drawn animation and Japanified a lot of western animation series to “fit in” or “be trendy.” On the contrary, though, something about the Japanese language and culture had grabbed me–it just clicked into place and became something I enjoyed learning more and more about.

And then, in my final-semester Japanese History/Geography/Government class, my professors brought up the JET Programme, which they’d mentioned a few times over the years…and I figured, why not give it a shot? While applying for jobs, I simultaneously applied for JET. When I was home this winter, Hamza and I went to the Starbucks on 14th and West Peachtree in Atlanta where I’d sat and finished my paper application while sipping tea one winter afternoon in November 2004.

And here I am, heading into the second half of my second and final year on the program. In my travels, I recognized a lot of historical names in museums and the like that the characters in Yoroiden: Samurai Troopers were supposed to have been descended from, since the show revolves heavily around references to Japanese culture, history, and mythology. I found a DVD from the show at a discount bookstore on Rte. 55 this summer on our way back from the Sayounara Party for last year’s outgoing ALTs, but I figured that was just a fluke, because it really isn’t a very well-known show in the history of anime in Japan. For some reason, finding 6 or 7 songs from the show while doing karaoke last night really impacted me. It was a very, very cool moment, and I really don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

Travel musical snow friends who are missing their boxer shorts

I cracked open an envelope I received from HIS/No. 1 Travel regarding my upcoming Seoul trip, and I just had a brief period of panic, because inside was a credit card application, and the agent hadn’t said anything about it being optional. I immediately sent Julie an e-mail and then called her, and it turns out it’s just part of a campaign–if you apply for a JCB card (I’d misread it as JTB, Japan Travel Bureau, which was why I hadn’t thought anything of it, though I should have wondered why an agency would send me an application for a competing company) you can get a ¥3000 discount. I won’t be applying for that.

Julie and I have been discussing trip points daily for the last few days–it’s definitely time to start planning my trip to Okinawa (most likely solo) and Julie’s and my joint trip to Kyushu. We were thinking of either flying to Seoul and catching the train to Pusan and the ferry to Fukuoka, or just meeting Sara and her friend in Seoul, but then we realized that it actually will be cheaper for us to do the roundtrip Osaka flight and catch a shink from Shin-Osaka to Fukuoka/Hakata. That simplifies things greatly, especially since Osaka should have luggage storage and we can ship our Kyushu bags to the airport for them to hold, until we pick them up and drop off our Korea bags to ship back to Tokushima. SWEET.

Today brought the first snow of 2007 to Ikeda–and I greeted it in a long skirt and knee socks. I’ll be a bit wiser tomorrow.

Today, I also successfully booked tickets for five of us to go see Muse–one of the best bands ever, and one of my all-time favorites–live at the Zepp Osaka on March 15! (By the way, the music video for “Knights of Cydonia” is one of the greatest I’ve seen in a long time–it’s slightly NSFW, though. I don’t know if a music video has ever made me laugh like that.) I’m so indescribably excited–Kirsten’s seen them 4 times live in England and swears up and down that they’re the best live act she’s ever seen, and I’ve heard recordings from their show at Glastonbury, which sound fantastic. It’s going to be such a fantastic evening.

I called Hamza in Auburn tonight–he was suffering from insomnia, unfortunately. We talked on and off, but he watched Heroes and I caught up on my daily websites, and there were long and very comfortable silences–it was almost as if we were in the same room, just doing our own things. It was really nice, to sort of “have him nearby” for a while like that.

Yesterday, my JTE and I were walking to one of our classes when we saw some blue cloth lying in the hall. As we (and the math teacher, coming from the other direction) got closer, we all simultaneously identified it as a pair of boxer shorts. We all were completely stunned, and just burst out laughing. The first-years’ homerooms are located right next to the changing rooms (formerly homerooms, now vacant due to a decreased number of students over the years) for the students to change into and out of their gym uniforms…and apparently a second-year boy decided to go commando while on the field. (Nice.) Once in the classroom, we forgot about it, until we got back to the teachers’ room, where a female teacher was handling the boxer shorts very gingerly by the waistband as she put the pair into an envelope and handed it to a male teacher (one of the two homeroom teachers, I think, and the staffroom comedian) to give back to its owner. He turned to me then and said in his broken but enthusiastically flamboyant English, “Five years–one time. This is big happening!”