EASTSIDERS

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In my sophomore year of college, I joined a playwriting class at Fordham. I’d never taken a class at the Lincoln Center campus before, and my focus leading up to the class was split between trying to look like I knew exactly where I was going and trying *not* to look amazed by elevators. When the class began, we were a small group of maybe seven or eight. A handful, like me, were taking the course as an elective. Others, like Kit Williamson, were playwriting majors.

Details of that first playwriting class still stand out bolded and italicized in my memory: the atmosphere of absolute non-judgment from my peers, the luxury of presenting just the barest silhouette of an idea and receiving full-bodied suggestions in return, and most of all, the knowledge that I was surrounded by passionate, talented people devoted to storytelling.

Kit was  (and remains) a year ahead of me, and I admired him for his skill in writing, his compassion as a person, and his sheer determination to succeed. His feedback in class was always insightful, carefully considered, and calmly delivered. In a classroom full of vulnerable writers putting their best and worst and strangest sides on full, florescent display, that kind of input was invaluable. I thought of him not only as a role model, but as the kind of artist who would shape the world with his work.

Kit’s current project, EastSiders, is so close to its Kickstarter goal of funding its second season, and I’d like to promote it here. They have five days left, and I truly hope they can achieve their goal and move forward with the story Kit’s created.

If you have the means and the interest in helping, please check out their Kickstarter page and watch some of the videos they’ve posted. ♥

THE KICKSTARTER LINK

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gorgeous japan

So, the Western image of Japan is pretty much:

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When, in reality, it’s more:

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Japan is a remarkable country. Home to practitioners of flower arrangement, sushi making, swordsmanship, and some ridiculously beautiful architecture. Such as:

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However, the number of those gorgeous old houses is decreasing and decreasing at a rapid pace. There are undoubtedly various reasons why, but I think there are three main ones:

1) Because of Japan’s high inheritance tax, many inheritors of old houses can’t afford to keep them. They put the houses up on the market, and a company will buy the land, bulldoze the house, and build a squat apartment building or a lovely new and Western-looking house on the property (depending on the area).

2) Old Japanese houses are a pain in the ass and a half to maintain. Tatami mats alone must be frequently cleaned, and will attract tatami mites if you’re not careful (and even if you are careful). You also have to replace them when they’re worn out. Apartments with tatami are much cheaper than apartments without, because tatami is a pain in the ass and a half and it’s seen as old fashioned, which brings us to:

3) Those houses may be gorgeous, but they’re old, and that makes them out of style. And this brings me to a point I find incredibly disheartening:

Many people in Japan prefer another country’s culture to their own. Not everyone, let me stress that. Maaaany many many Japanese people love their country fiercely and feel fiercely proud to be Japanese. It’s just that for decades, other cultures have been touted as popular and stylish, so a lot of people look to places like Paris and London and New York and California and fervently wish they could have lifestyles resembling the people they’ve seen in Hollywood movies and travel shows here.

Interestingly, on that point, there’s a strange irony in that, while many younger Japanese people will sigh and say, “Ahh, New York is so much better than Osaka/Tokyo/Nagoya,” those same kids will frown and balk at the idea of actually traveling to New York (because shy, language barrier, etc. – another topic for another post).

Meanwhile Japan is also a country where you can see posters of a Japanese guy with his arm around a white bride smirking over at the white groom, with a message that clearly reads as: “If you learn English, you too can lure yourself a white woman!” Of course, media in every country can be pretty heavy-handed and ignorant in terms of other cultures and sexism, so I guess it’s not all that surprising a thing to see.

There’re also the little comments I hear here and there: “Why did you come to Japan?” and the even more shocked, “You’re attracted to Japanese men?!” (That last one is, sadly, more justified than I first thought. I’ve met several white women who, when asked if they’re attracted to Japanese men, wrinkled their noises at the Japanese question-asker and said any number of variations on, “No.”)

I think part of the reason younger Japanese people may be less interested in sustaining Japanese culture is that, traditionally-speaking, art and practices tied in with Japanese culture take a long fucking time to do. A single kabuki performance can be more than four hours long, flower arrangement requires minute attention to detail, calligraphy takes decades to master, and so on and so on. For a generation who grew up with instant gratification and bullet trains and constant computer access, a lot of what defines Japan as a culture must seem like a lot of unwanted work to maintain. Many students have trouble even writing Japanese kanji by hand because they’ve been texting phonetically since they were children.

So while one of the aspects of Japan I’ve admired most is their uniquely Japanese sense of art and perfection, I will admit that it does take patience, and a lot of it. From ikebana to Noh to kintsugi, you can see the painstaking results of an artisan putting every ounce of his or her effort into making something as close to perfect as it can be. In today’s world, that just isn’t as widely attractive a concept as it used to be.

But back to the old houses. Last night, I had a chat session with my lawyer/architect duo in Osaka. They’re both in their mid-sixties and they both grew up in those traditional old houses. Morita grew up in Miyazaki:

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and Okada grew up in Imaicho, Nara (outlined in red):

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During my talks with Morita and Okada (not their real names), I’ve learned a tremendous amount about juuuust-slightly-post-war Japan. Morita’s house was huge but old, and according to him, his village only had one store that sold pretty much everything.

MORITA: My mother would say, “Go get this from the store,” and I’d walk into town to the store. The お婆さん–[turns to Okada] how do you say it?
OKADA: Grandmother.
SELF: Maybe “owner” here.
MORITA: Ah, yes, the owner of the shop. She would give me one round candy. Then [chuckles] I would take it home and cut it into three pieces.
OKADA: [snickering]
MORITA: One for my elder brother, one for my younger brother, and one for me.
SELF: Aww, you’re a good brother.
MORITA: Yes! [beaming]
SELF: Did your elder brother ever give you something like that?
MORITA: [lets loose a good-natured laugh] No, never!
OKADA: [cackles]
SELF: [grins] You’re even nicer, then.
MORITA: [proudly] Yes!

He told a similar story once about his university days. He was accepted into Kyoto University (the second top school in Japan, akin to our Ivy League in the States) and moved from Kyuushu to Kansai. He lived in an old traditional house run by a landlady along with other Kyoto University students spread throughout the house. Since the house had no bath, they all had to go to the community bath house down the road before school every day. Sometimes, Morita’s younger brother would visit him in Kyoto and Morita would take him to the university cafeteria.

MORITA: Every time, I’d buy him curry rice.
SELF: How much was it back then?
MORITA: Two hundred yen! I remember, one hundred for mine and one hundred for his. I would treat him every time.

Aaand since all the best things happen in threes, one more food story from Morita.

MORITA: In that general store one day, my friend hit me on the arm and said, “Hey, oi, what’s that?” It was a poster with a bunch of bananas on it. He had no idea what it was, but I knew, because I’d seen them in a book. I said, “Those are bananas,” and my friend said, “Wow.” When I was ten years old, I ate a banana for the first time. My grandfather was in the hospital, so my family went together to visit him. Someone had given him a bunch of bananas as a gift, so he took one banana off the bunch and gave it to me. It was so sweet. I loved it. But back then, no one ate bananas. We used to say only dead people got to eat bananas. [Okada bursts out laughing] They were very expensive.
SELF: How much?
MORITA: Ahh, I don’t remember. Enough that it was impossible to imagine having the money for them. Now they’re cheap, but back then, we didn’t have the import connections to get them cheaply.

I know a lot about Morita’s childhood, but Okada’s more casual with his stories. “It was a long time ago,” he’ll say. But last night, I thought I’d ask just in case:

SELF: Do you remember much about your childhood home in Nara?
OKADA: I grew up in Imaicho. There was a large struggle there with Oda Nobunaga.
SELF: [Beams happily, for Oda Nobunaga is boss as hell.]
OKADA: [Grins, amused.] Now…it’s a ghost town. [Laughs] Many, many years ago, people would build moats around towns, so Imaicho never grew any bigger than it was when it was founded. When I was a child, Imaicho was so-so large city, and the next-door town Yagi was tiny. But nowadays, Yagi has over 100,000 people living there, and Imaicho has about 4,000. It can’t grow because of the moat. [Thoroughly amused chuckle]

It’s from them that I learned about the inheritance tax issue.

OKADA: It’s very high, and many times, it’s too expensive to keep old houses, so when the parents die, the children sell the house. A company buys the house, bulldoze it, and build a mansion. (In Japan, mansion=/=mansion, but mansion=apartment building. It’s a case of Japanese-English.)

Today, I was talking to my neighbor Madame about this gorgeous old house near our train station. It’s one of the only old houses in our area, because many were either knocked down to make room for apartment buildings or destroyed in the Hanshin Earthquake in 1995. She said the president of Asahi Shimbun (a huge newspaper company) lives there, and thus he can afford to keep it and maintain it.

As a result of these various elements, there aren’t many of those old-style houses left in cities anymore. You’ll find plenty in the countryside, but that’s because:

OKADA: The inheritance tax in the countryside isn’t very high.

So you wind up with cities that look like:

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And countryside that looks like:

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Of course, 1) cities require apartment buildings because fuckton-of-people, 2) old houses are a pain in the ass and a half to maintain, and 3) progress.

And Madame made an excellent point today. She said, essentially, “We inherited the style of apartment buildings from a foreign culture, so we don’t have the same sense and understanding of them as we do of the houses we designed ourselves. I think many apartment buildings aren’t beautiful because we’re mimicking a style we don’t understand. It’s like that for many things in our culture now. At the same time, many people are losing their sense of our own culture.”

I think that’s a common complaint around the world, really. When multiple cultures intermingle with a home-based culture, there’s often worry present about how to keep the spirit of the original culture alive. Hawaiian culture particularly breaks my heart, after I finished some reading on the history of how Hawaii became part of the United States. Japan, as a predominantly isolationist country that only comparatively recently entered the world stage, has gone through such a radical shift in such a short amount of time, I can see both pros and cons to adapting so quickly to various surrounding cultures.

That said, I think preserving culture is an enormously important practice, and I think there have been some genius moves around the world to keep culture significant while integrating foreign elements. It’s possible, but it takes thoughtfulness and time to let things adjust naturally. No culture can remain as it is forever, and as the world becomes closer and more intermingled, the evolution of culture can be a very good thing. After all, it was once part of English culture (among others) to marry daughters off for a dowry, and now it’s not. Some things do have to change for the advancement of an intelligent, forward-thinking society.

…The aesthetiphiliac in me just wishes Japanese culture could advance with some better-looking apartment buildings. I think if, for the next fifteen years, Japanese gaming designers were given full control over Japan’s architectural projects, Japan’d be so gorgeous it’d make Ghibli’s artists weep with jealousy.

Until then, I’ll try to see as many old and beautiful houses as possible while they’re still here.

so there’s this lighthouse

ImageRecently, during one of my private English lessons, we read a story about Ida Lewis, a famous female lighthouse keeper from Rhode Island. She and her mother inherited the job from her father who died when Ida was still very young. Ida didn’t just control the light, either, she actually went out herself and rescued people in a rowboat. Anywhere between eighteen to thirty-six people. That is some hardcore badassery, and she wasn’t even a full-grown adult when she started the work.

I love stories about badass women. They inspire all kinds of stories for me.

Aaaand that’s today’s post.

G’NIGHT!

 

transience

ImageWhelp! I saw it coming, and I’m glad it took about three months for it to happen. I didn’t update yesterday, and I have a good reason.

Karaoke. That is my reason.

Yesterday, for the first time in a long time (…two weeks, maybe?), I went to a karaoke place with some friends, some established and some new.

The friends I already knew are excellent human beings. They live together in a place walking distance from mine (that’s down a mountain, though, so…that should…probably be factored in). One plays guitar and one is a damn fine teacher with pretty impressive credentials, and they’re one of the sweetest couples I know. And they appreciate a good soul-baring game of Cards Against Humanity (my favorite card game and way to get to know new people). Yesterday, they were having a party in their newly-furnished apartment. …They moved in six months ago, but that kind of thing is pretty common here.

As I was walking home from karaoke at three in the morning, I started having Deep Thoughts and by the time I got home those thoughts had morphed into, PILLOW. PIIILLLLLOOWWWW, so no half-coherent blog update from me last night.

I saved it for now.

The walk from my friends’ place to mine can include, if one is creative, a shortcut through a shrine. It being three in the morning, the grounds were silent. But the shrine was still lit up. Intrigued, I took the photo up there and started thinking about the party and various things about living in Japan.

I think for many people, moving to Japan means a lot of transience. Most foreign residents don’t plan on living in Japan forever. Whether it’s because of the language barrier, the culture barrier, romance issues, etc., I think many people just find that life is trickier to navigate in Japan than it would be in another country.

There are a vast number of reasons foreigners don’t stay in Japan and they vary enormously from person to person. For example, one friend of mine lived here for two years and then felt she could do more good for the world elsewhere. One left because she was forced to. One was fed up with the glass ceiling for women. One didn’t want to teach English in Japan for too long and make herself unemployable, an unfortunate situation that many people who live here fall into.

More than half the friends I’ve met in Japan have moved home, which makes for some tearful goodbyes and some excellent travel opportunities in the future. There’s something really moving about meeting someone in a foreign country and then meeting that person again on their home turf. It brings out a very different side of people, and it’s always upped my affection for my friends to see them in their home element.

However, that element of life in Japan means a lot of people are coming and going, and that means that living here means living in a constant state of greetings and goodbyes.

When I was in Spain, the stylist who did my hair told me that he and his boyfriend lived in England for two years but only really befriended other ex-pats. When I asked why, he said, “Well, we made the mistake of having this conversation over and over: ‘How long are you here for?’ ‘Oh, just a year, probably,’ and then no one wanted to invest their time in a friendship with people who’d leave soon anyway.”

One of my best and dearest friends moved back home last year. We met about three years ago and she quickly became a fixed point in my life. Secure, funny, smart, and absolutely one of the warmest people I’ve ever known – and it was heartbreaking when she left. A year before her, I said goodbye to two friends who’d been my Japan Parents (roughly my age but wiser and more mature and adultlike than I am) and that was utterly heartbreaking, too. Recently, a friend I met last summer had to leave through a truly unfortunate bureaucratic situation, and even though we’d barely known each other a few months, I already felt very close to her.

Every goodbye I’ve said has been difficult in its own way. I can always visit them, of course, and Skype is a thing and so is social media and whatnot, so it’s not like a 1920s movie where I watched their steam train puff out of the station forever, but it’s still pretty rough on the heartstrings.

As much as it hurts to say goodbye, though, I see it as a good thing for two reasons: 1) it taught me that the true friendships will last regardless of time apart or distance between you, and 2) that heartbreak sweetens life.

The darkest moments of my life have been the ones I wanted to learn from most. Because even though I can’t always find something positive about a situation, I can find something to learn from it, and that’s positive enough in my mind to count.

…Y’know, crazy thing. This was going to be an entry about Japanese history. Where the fuck did those thoughts go?

Ah, well. Sleep tight, citizens of sweet heartbreak~

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the mystical explosion of many photographed images

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So I managed the herculean task of connecting my camera to my computer, so today’s post is, as the title outright proclaims, a mystical explosion of many photographed images. The mysticism is from…the…I don’t know. TIME FOR PRETTY THINGS.

That first shot is from the play I saw in Tokyo, Takizawa Kabuki. Those gold thingies are gorgeous pieces of confetti that rained down from the ceiling during a part of the play I think of as the Japanese Robin Hood scene. Nezumi, the sexy ninja-looking dude who robs from the rich and gives to the poor, stands atop a roof onstage and flings out some gold pieces, and then thousands of gold pieces flutter down from the ceiling of the theater. Sitting in a shower of ancient Japanese money – I have to say, it was one of the most magical theater experiences of my life.

I like shiny things. A lot.

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While I was in Roppongi for lunch, I saw a fashion show rehearsal, and this performer whose identity I don’t know. I actually kind of like not knowing who she is, honestly. I don’t know what it is exactly, but it was almost like being in a movie, seeing this happen from the sidelines.

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Here’s where the aggressive gorgeousness begins. This is a park behind Roppongi Hills, and it’s like a miniature Central Park. Miniature, mind you. Very miniature.

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I saw so many fathers hanging out with their kids that day, and it warmed my heart. So many kids looked either elated to be around their dads, and others, like the kid above, just seemed to enjoy having his father nearby. I happened upon these two while I was walking around – the son led his father by the sleeve to the water, then they watched the fish together. They didn’t say anything, but they had a remarkably palpable understanding between them.

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Another father-son duo I saw not long after the first two. Same comfortable quiet, and the son kept a hand on his father’s shoulder for a long time while they looked into the water.

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The adorable child whose shirt reads: “Trouble.” I have no idea what the backstory is but I’m thoroughly content living with the numerous possibilities.

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I loved this dog on sight. While his lady and I set up very different angles with our cameras, the dog kept trotting happily in my direction. Eventually, the lady laughed and gave up on her apparent goal of a cute sitting photo.

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One of my favorite spots in Japan (the favorite is in Namba): a bridge in Omote-sando, Japan’s street-shaped love letter to the Champs d’Elysees.

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Paradise/Desigual

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Shibuya Crossing

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Aha! Now we get into some photos from the Rainbow Pride event in Tokyo a little while ago. These two were brutally adorable.

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Originally I wanted to walk in the parade. There were several branches of the parade, with the marching band first and then something like a dozen groups that followed. Then I had an idea – I wanted to see the reactions of the people on the sidewalk. What expressions they’d make, how they’d respond, etc.

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Some were blankfaced but curious, some smiled and waved, and some walked by without any reaction at all. Standing out isn’t a thing generally smiled upon in Japan anyway, so I wager a gay pride parade was particularly discomfiting for some.

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My idol

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Aaaaand let’s make a huge skip ahead to today:

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This isn’t a good shot. It’s too blurry and too dark, but I’m including it because it was an adorable thing that happened. I was leaving the grocery store a few hours ago and I heard the sound of metal clanging and people shouting and I knew the festival floats that had been traveling around my neighborhood earlier in the day were nearby now. I saw lanterns glowing down a side street as I carried my bags to the bus stop, and I glanced at my bus anxiously. I really wanted a night shot of the float, but I also knew once that bus left the next one wouldn’t go for about another fifteen minutes. Ultimately, the desire for photos won out and I perched on the edge of the sidewalk and got my camera out of my purse one-handed while three bags anchored my other hand down.

While I was watching the float go by, I kept snapping photos in the hopes that my night settings were set up right. When I finally managed to look up at the actual stuff I was photographing, I saw this cute guy my age smiling at me with his arms tightly crossed across his stomach. He winked, and I grinned back. He gave me one last playful eyebrow lift and then the moment ended. He walked off with the float, and I headed home on the bus (I also caught the bus before it left, so whoo!).

On the trip home I thought of how many moments happen because of split-second “yes” choices. I’ve had a multitude of small, happy moments just because I chose to do one more lap around the park instead of going home or saying yes to a trip when I wanted to stay in and laze around.

So even though the photo is objectively kind of terrible, I like it anyway.

I also like his biceps.

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The End!

Zzzzzzzzz.

wolf children (part 3)

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Back to Wolf Children!

Tolja I’d come back to it.

THE STORY

What I love most about this movie is that it’s exactly the kind of story I’ve been getting more and more interested in over the years. It doesn’t follow the tradition dramatic structure of Rising Action, Turning Point, Falling Action, and Climax.

The way I think of the plot in my head is separated into three parts:

Part 1) Woman meets shapeshifting wolf guy, falls in love, has two wolf kids, shapeshifting wolf guy dies horribly
Part 2) Woman moves to a ramshackle house in the countryside with her kids to avoid prying eyes, is gradually accepted into the community
Part 3) Kids steadily grow up, daughter finds her place as a human, son finds his place as a wolf

I have a number of favorite scenes in the movie, but I think this is one of a few rare instances where I’d prefer to watch it start to finish every time I rewatch it. With some movies, I can watch them in pieces. Watch twenty minutes here or there as I’m doing other things. But with this movie I actually want to focus on only this. Miyazaki movies are like that with me, too. Spirited Away is one of my favorite movies and it has earned every iota of my attention span.

Recently I saw Saving Mr. Banks on a plane. I have mixed feelings about the movie, both for the tweaks it made to history and the way it portrayed Writer vs. Corporation with the emphasis of good heavily weighted on the corporation’s side, but there’s one line that’s stuck with me. The character Travers throws the script of Mary Poppins out the window and demands, “Where’s the heart?

That, I think, is what Wolf Children has in spades. This movie had me in tears more than once, and I loved the effort they put into showing Hana mature as a mother. But it also showed her devotion to herself. From the beginning of the movie, she is simply portrayed as a kind person. She isn’t overly awkward or comically ditzy. She’s a college girl with an incredible sense of composure.

And she only gets stronger from that point on. She has a character arc, of course, but it’s not as drastic as it could have been, and I think that makes it a more realistic movie. She begins the story in a comfortable life, and she’s transformed into a deeply strong person by moving into a more challenging life. She meets obstacles, breathes in deep, and looks for an alternate route or some way over those obstacles. In that way, she’s an easily-relatable role model.

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I’ll take back what I said earlier about only watching it start to finish – I could watch the middle part over and over: from the moment Hana and her kids arrive in the countryside until Yuki starts school, that’s my favorite part. It reminds me of the opening of Totoro, that calm, domestic feeling. I love seeing that sense of tranquility portrayed in stories.

AHA!

I have uncovered another reason why Hosoda Mamoru is an excellent human person.

He also worked on the movie for Yuu Yuu Hakusho.

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…Hands up if you didn’t expect this review to end with a spirit gun.

the single story effect

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I just finished watching this TED talk on the dangers of the “single story” given by a novelist named Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. To briefly sum up, she talked about the danger of giving only one side of people. To say only, “They’re poor,” or, “They’re weak,” or “They’re primitive,” over and over until that’s all those people are. Her talk is beautifully delivered with emotional sincerity and a number of wry jokes, and as she spoke, I listened as a fellow novelist.

I grew up surrounded by a smorgasbord of white protagonists to identify with. Many were male, but some were female. Because of my taste in stories, most of the characters I spent my childhood with were Disney princesses, and I saw myself most easily in Belle. I practiced that Reading Without Looking Where the Fuck I’m Going trick for years (…and years…). I saw myself in her because she loved adventure, and she wanted to explore the world, and she loved to read, and she wasn’t afraid to shout back at a beast four times her size (math may not be accurate). However, first and foremost, she looked like me. Brown hair, big eyes, white skin. Boom, done.

When Mulan was released, I loved her, too. I’d just turned eleven, and I still had no idea that the vast majority of Disney heroines were catering to girls like me. Aurora, Belle, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Alice, Wendy. The non-Disney ones, too. Nancy Drew, The Babysitters’ Club, Clarissa Explains it All, The Wizard of Oz, Pollyanna, A Little Princess, Labyrinth, The Secret Garden, Anastasia, Harriet the Spy, etc. I wasn’t aware of the racial bias, and I didn’t see Mulan as any different from the other female heroines I loved. The same was true of Jasmine and Pocahontas. My understanding of Mulan, Jasmine, and Pocahontas physically was, “Pretty!” and then pretty much ended there.

Their races didn’t matter to me. They were interesting characters, and that’s all I noticed.

But their races do matter. For every girl who’s ever done what I did when I was a kid and looked for the Disney princess who most resembled her physically, it matters incredibly. It matters so that one day, it won’t matter. A character will be of any race and the audience will love that character based on their personality and their strengths and struggles and…why hasn’t this sunken in yet?

Adichie was born and raised in Nigeria. When she was nineteen years old, she traveled to the States for college. Her white American roommate asked Adichie about tribal music and marveled at Adichie’s ease with English. In Adichie’s own words,

She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way.

Based on countless experiences like Adichie’s, I’ve got to believe we’re only at the very dawn of human existence. Chauvinism, racism, homophobia – when we, as a species, have overturned these problems, then I think we’ll get to the real substance of what it is to be alive: truth, joy, trust, love, etc. As a species we’re still maturing, still growing, still realizing the world we could create. Our prejudices distract us from the truly Good in life.

But we are gradually blending. Centuries ago there were isolated villages, and little by little, those villages are uniting and evolving. Many of us have grown to see each other not as enemies or rivals, but as friends and family.

Take this as an example:

There’s a Japanese performer that I admire. He’s primarily a dancer, but he also sings and acts and travels to Spain and gives lectures at universities and performs for royalty when he has the time. He devotes himself entirely to his craft and is tirelessly determined to improve himself in every possible area, and I easily count him as one my role models. Now, when I first found out about him back in college in New York when I didn’t speak more than five words of Japanese, my interest in him began with, “I like this song,” and ended with, “He has great hair.” I didn’t know anything about his personality or his ambitions or his background, so whenever my friends asked me to describe him, “Japanese” was one of the first adjectives I reached for.

Then I steadily learned more about him. He joined the entertainment industry when he was thirteen. At his audition for the talent agency he belongs to now, the CEO of the company singled him out and complimented his dancing. He appeared on TV shows and in magazines, all while attending high school and barely scraping by enough to graduate. He struggled with the demands and stresses of a job that, in his words, “Created a gap in my heart between who I was and who I was supposed to be.” Over time, he’s shifted from introverted and withdrawn to introverted and confident. He has an insatiable drive to make himself better, stronger, and wiser. He’s a perfectionist, passionately devoted to his craft, and fervently adherent to his own high standards.

So, when anyone asks me to describe him now, “Japanese” isn’t part of the explanation. It is, of course, important that he’s Japanese. His heritage partially determined the way he thinks about himself and the world around him, and it undoubtedly has subconscious and conscious influences on him now. But his heritage had nothing to do with how much I admire him; that was all about him.

(His name is Imai Tsubasa, by the way. Last name first.)

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All this has been in my mind as I’ve plotted my books. I have twenty-two novels-to-be in progress. Some have chapters, some are outlines, and some are still only ideas. All of them began with an idea.

And the more I see of the world, the more I think, “Why should my entire cast of characters be white?” Because all that matters is making characters who are whole. Keeping this in mind, I sketch out their personalities first. Their ambitions, their backgrounds. After that, I decide on race.

And I want to make their races clear in the text. Because while race doesn’t matter in my fictional worlds, it matters in reality. Initially, I thought, “I’ll name him Kaito and it’ll be clear he’s Japanese.” However, the world we’re in now is one where a manga character named Akira who lives in Tokyo can and likely will be cast by a white actor and the setting will be changed to Manhattan. We’re in a world where the casting call for Katniss was only open to white actors. A world where Avatar the Last Airbender full stop. So, obviously the race of a non-white character might have to be stated more adamantly.

Of course, I haven’t even finished any of my novels yet. I don’t know what, if any, impact they’ll have on readers. But regardless of the future, I want to be in the habit of going into every book with the intention of inclusion. I want a Japanese female protagonist in one book and a black female protagonist in the next. I want male and female protagonists, and protagonists that identify as both (after all, that’s exactly what one of my favorite books did).

Because race does matter so that one day it won’t.

Last example: Zoe in Firefly. Calm, composed, deadly, sarcastic, and breathlessly badass. …And black. Does it change Zoe’s character one iota if a black actress plays her? No. Inside the fictional world of Firefly, it doesn’t matter that Zoe is black; in our world, it matters a lot.

It matters because there are movies about black slavery. There are movies set in Africa. There are historical movies based on black people. There are roles that specifically call for black actors.

But “female first officer of spaceship ~in the future~” doesn’t specifically call for any race. So why automatically make that character white? You don’t. You give it to an actor who best fits the role and ideally demonstrates some chemistry with the rest of the cast.

I know the gap between us is shrinking, but it hasn’t vanished yet. What will help it do so are stories that tell multiple angles, stories that include as many angles as possible, and stories that avoid one single shape.

 

 

(…I’m going to finish the Wolf Children review, I swear.)

owner of the thumb in this photo

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Today, since I just got home from the local onsen, I thought I’d leave the rest of the Wolf Children review for tomorrow and tonight talk about someone spectacular: the owner of this computer thing.

So! What’s all that typing up there look like to you? If you’re a stenographer, it means coherent stuff! If you’re not, it looks like the results of a keyboard-dancing cat who’s super excited about the space bar.

In fact, it is stenographer stuff, and my best friend Owner of the Thumb made that stenography stuff. She’s still in school now, but with hard work and a pinch of personal excellence, she should be graduating by the end of the year (success is determined by how fast and accurately you type and not on how long you study). I wanted to see her in action, so I got a book and read her a passage.

Believe it or not, all those jibberish-looking things actually make up words. When I finished reading the passage, she read it back to me from the screen. I’m deliriously happy for her, because she’s stuck with this for years without losing motivation or drive even when her life was more complex and immensely more stressful. I want to see her hard work pay off in a huge way.

And I believe she shall, for she has the confidence and the commitment and the badassery to achieve anything.

CARRY ON, OWNER OF THE THUMB.

Carry on.