Paper: Japan and Cultural (Mis)Appropriation

Ok, so one of the heated topics, particularly within stateside otaku culture is the issue of cultural (mis)appropriation.

This is a valid, sensitive topic that I know effects my fellow classmates, with deep roots in colonialism and I don’t want to assume anything or say/do anything offensive or be insensitive.

The presentation on Monday, thank you for everything you shared and helping me to begin to understand and change the way I think about the cultures, communities and people that make up PI(A) and the broader API(A) cultures.

Asian and Asian/American studies, combined with film and media studies are what my BA and MA focus are. I would be an idiot, “baka”, to assume (mis)appropriation effects different cultures the same way, to think that within these cultures that all of the populace views the issue the same way and there are too many important components to generalize, anything.

So that I don’t generalize and ignore the intricacies of this topic, I’m going to look at (mis)appropriation from the cultures I have the most familiarity with, which is otaku, Japanese, American and my growing understanding of Asian/American culture.

Also I’ve noticed that the words “misappropriation” and “appropriation” are used interchangeably, with “appropriation” being widely favored in the media, despite having different definitions initially, so I will be using the term “(mis)appropriation” to acknowledge the use of both words and their combined meanings.

So, one of the main things I am, finally, beginning to understand no longer in vague, broad strokes, is that Asian and Asian/American culture are different. I knew they were, I wasn’t completely ignorant and culturally isolated, but I didn’t know how and in what ways they were.

For a little background on what previously shaped my perspective, most of my actual, not otaku, experience with Asian culture was with recent first generation immigrants and international students at my previous college. The students I interacted with the most were learning English as a second language, mostly from Hong Kong and South Korea.

Outside of the college, I worked with first generation immigrants where I learned, mostly about the conflicts between Japan, Korea and China, within Japan, Korea and China and very little on the history colonialism had in them, which to me seems either odd now or the absence itself is evidence of that colonialism.

Normally I would be embarrassed to say this, but prior to coming to Evergreen, I really didn’t know anyone who identified as Asian/American because there wasn’t anyone. If there had been, along with diversity in general, coming to Evergreen would have been, less of an adjustment than it has been.

An adjustment I’m glad to be going through, finally growing as a human being instead of being stuck in the rotting wasteland of a former logging town. Cause before I was used to either “Asian” or “American” and pretty much knew nothing of the “/”.

I’m sorry if I have acted or have been acting like a complete idiot.

Anyways, to bring this back into the topic of (mis)appropriation, and where specifically in otaku culture with Japanese culture, I could start to see where the issue on three very basic levels: the Japanese point of view, the Japanese/American point of view and the colonialist American point of view.

Because of time and space, I can’t go as in-depth as I would like (and need), but I will do my best to be clear and percise with my words to avoid misunderstandings.

Instead of the previous example I used, the example I will use is from July 2015 with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the debate over whether providing guests with kimono to wear in conjunction with the exhibit of the painting below, was cultural (mis)appropriation – MFA backs down over kimono event in response to protests


Claude Monet, La Japonaise, 1876

Here in America, and given that the painting is of a white women in a kimono, I, as mixed raced and otaku that has grown up in America, say that this is cultural (mis)appropriation with the kimono event and was ignorant and disrespectful to Japanese/Americans.

If the painting was alone on a wall as part of a normal Claude Monet exhibition, and given it was painted in 1876, I would not view it as an issue or even use it as a talking point to educate the public, not only on Japanese/American history, but also APIA history like our text “Asian American History: A Very Short Introduction” does. Also an introduction that does not mash up all of the different countries and cultures like “Moana” does with IP(A).

But once the museum added the wear a kimono fun day event during that summer, without trying to educate on the history of the painting, Japanese culture, the Japanese people, Japanese/Americans, how they were viewed at the time of the painting and the issues with cultural (mis)appropriation in America now, any acknowledgement, it became cultural (mis)appropriation.

That is my stance on this exhibit.

As an otaku though, I have a general understanding that the Japanese, meaning Japanese living in Japan with their own distinct mindset, politics, experience and history that is different from Japanese/Americans since this painting was painted in 1876.

For this I have this video from YouTubers Rachel and Jun, a Japanese/American married couple who live and make videos about their lives in Japan.

This was the video that helped me to understand, specifically in stateside otaku culture, why cultural (mis)appropriation and where otaku stand on it in regards to anime, manga and Japanese culture, is all over the place.

It helped me to start to understand how the Japanese view seeing their culture shared outside of Japan, which also gave me a clearer insight on why some otaku are “it’s fine to wear a kimono, I know I’m doing nothing wrong” and some cry “weeaboo!”

It is also why I didn’t use the Japanese themed birthday party example again (as also my views on what is and isn’t (mis)appropriation have changed since then) and instead used the Claude Monet painting.

It automatically brings in that critical historical dialog that is present and can’t be ignored today America, where as in Japan there is a different historical dialog and different issues that are the focus of present day Japan.

Japan’s willingness and encouragement of their culture being shared is a common sentiment, which those in the otaku community are generally aware of, but because the stateside otaku culture is just that, stateside in America, it is difficult to know where the line is, for those not Japanese or Japanese/American, for what is and isn’t cultural (mis)appropriation.

For the most part, in the otaku community, for special events such as conventions, cosplaying as specific characters, food, music, media, merchandise (and cats), are generally not seen as (mis)appropriation. This would include wearing kimono and participating in traditional Japanese activities at cultural events where the history, people and culture are acknowledged. It is often an excellent opportunity to learn more, and have a deeper appreciation and understanding of the culture that is very openly being shared.

Where things get dicey are with the American otaku who, for simplicity, would wear a kimono everyday in public and are not Japanese or Japanese/American.

Do they have the freedom to wear a kimono everyday in America, so long as their reasons are non-harmful? Yes they do, but while they may have that freedom with permission from the country of origin and enough understanding of Japanese culture to put on a kimono and wear it everyday, that person must realize they are in a country that still to this day (mis)appropriates in mass, regularly does not acknowledge the histories (and the crimes) it has committed against the minorities it (mis)appropriates from and still actively engages in colonialism.

So while it may be welcomed in Japan, here in America it would be insensitive and inappropriate on an everyday basis due to its long history of colonialism, and from my perspective it would be better to reserve wearing it for special occasions, like conventions and cosplaying.


Scissors: Random Ramune Ramblings

Well, not really sure what to put here. I know for break I want to do something less research intensive for my blog posts, so I have that energy for finishing my project. I’m extremely grateful I found a natural stopping point and the areas to edit down for flow. I’m also glad I wrote too much to start with so I could see everything laid out and then take out what wasn’t needed. Blogging helped too, I’ll probably use blogging as writing tool in the future.

I guess since I wanted my project to have a multimedia component, I’ll start to use this section to pull that in.

This video of the upcoming 2018 anime is a prime example of how anime is in the same cycle of franchise dependence, instead of creating original works (but yes I am excited for sequels, like FLCL and Shield Hero anime – which used to be only a light novel with a manga companion about two years ago,so very new as a franchise – but I still would like new anime started as anime, not manga or light novels too):

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Rock: Lost in a Galaxy Far, Far Away…

Ok, so it is the end of week 8, one week “break”, and I’ve been feeling kind of lost.

Mostly I think the feeling is because it’s near the end of my first quarter here at Evergreen, yet I’m already planning out my next two quarters plus summer and next year as it will be my senior year. And in all that planning, since it involves planning for graduate studies too, my brain is feeling maxed out.

And with the House passing a new tax law that turns tuition waivers into taxable earned income for graduate studies students, finding a feasible way to fund my tuition now without taking out extra loans to pay off, just the taxes on tuition waivers, it’s something everyone in graduate studies will have to deal with if the law sticks. And my, and many others, usual methods of self-employment through the internet, will more than likely be cut off if Congress dismantles the Net Neutrality Act, which will make the lag and bad wifi signals we all deal with now seem like a futuristic dream in a galaxy far, far away…

Whenever I start to feel lost in a sea of options, variables and the unknown, there is always one thing I turn to, to refocus. And as you may have guessed, that’s “Star Wars”.

Concept art from the original trilogy of “Star Wars”

“Star Wars” is the origin of my “home”. It was one of the first movies I watched as a kid, about age four, some of my first books, toys, games and it was one thing that has always been a safe harbor in my life. No one questioned it, challenged it, tried to take it away, persuade or discourage me from it. No one batted an eye or said anything otherwise when I decided to start celebrating “May the 4th” or “Star Wars” day.

I was never consumed or negatively obsessed with it, so no “fan boy” issues.

It is hard to describe without it sounding weird to myself, but for the people in my life who knew and had known me, to know me, was to know “Star Wars”, in a way. On the outside it is odd and even thinking about it, seems absurd, but these movies in many ways have defined much of my life, including my chosen career path going into film, despite it being a common inspiration among film students and that it was a choice I made at twelve years old.

And I couldn’t give up on it. It had less, if anything, to do with how much I loved “Star Wars” and how much it had helped and impacted me throughout my life, and everything to do with what it symbolized to me. A life spent writing and creating stories for everyone to see.

A page from Carrie Fisher’s annotated script from, “The Empire Strikes Back”.

I love writing. I love movies. I love creating and drawing things. Photographing, filming, learning, studying, and just being curious about everything. As a kid I wanted to explore, travel, think, create and as I got older and understood the world around me better, I wanted to do something good that would make it less dim and give other people hope the way “Star Wars” had done for me and still does.

Donnie Yen or Yen Chi Tan, who plays Chirrut Îmwe in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” whose character is famous for the line, “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.” He is also the most favored character in the film according to the poll that is still open.

I didn’t care about making a bunch of money, or being famous. I wanted to create stories I could see, and not just read. The idea of being rich and famous in Hollywood, the pinnacle of the “American Dream”, had to be pointed out to me, but I could have cared less. If anything, fame and fortune scared me and that fear, plus the cultural pressure to “make it”, made it harder to focus on what I wanted really wanted to accomplish.

My goal was to create and share. Create and do something good to make the world better in some way for someone.

Here in America, in a culture whose nexus is wealth, celebrity and material goods, I know that sounds, well stupid and naive. Who wouldn’t want to be rich and famous? Like in the lyrics to the Nickleback’s song “Rockstar”: “I’ll trade this life for fortune and fame. I’d even cut my hair and change my name.”

And given Nickleback is Canadian, and though the song is referencing the typical things artists do to make it in Hollywood, like changing their name, the second part of that line does echo what many Asian immigrants did to be model citizens, such as the family in “When the Emperor was Divine” and the sisters’ names in “Forgotten Country”.

It makes me wonder, and then ache, at how much people have given up of themselves in pursuit of this dream that to me is a nightmare.

To give up who I am, the principles I believe in, and let the pursuit of wealth and status shape what I create, would be as bad if Luke had taken Vader’s hand in “The Empire Strikes Back”.

The scene, prior to effects and editing, in “The Empire Strikes Back”, when Vader asks Luke to join him and Luke refuses.

I would rather face an uncertain future where my hopes and dreams could still exist, than accept a present reality where they would end.

“Star Wars” and “Nausucaa” crosscurrents fan art.

Given that I will be turning 27 in less than a week, with my completed BA within less than two years, my graduate studies along with turning the age of 30 in front of me, I’ve been looking back, searching forward, wondering what it is I need to do now, so I can do what I want later and make an uncertain future, less uncertain, and maybe possible.

And honestly, it’s watch “Star Wars”, remember what is I want to do, why I want to do it and who I want to do it for.

Why has “Star Wars” been so important, not only to me, but to others.

How it is, that in this massive franchise, whose stories and universe have spanned almost half a century now, in the forms of movies, games, books, comics, toys, clothing, music, with massive space battles, intense light saber duels and weapons the size of moons and planets, that it is the quietest moments and the simplest words that seem to stick with us, or at least these ones with me:

“I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.” – Chirrut Îmwe, Rogue One

“Because it’s the right thing to do.” – Finn, The Force Awakens

“So this is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause.” – Padme, Revenge of the Sith

“Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is. Uncluttered.” – Yoda, Attack of the Clones

“Remember: Your focus determines your reality.” Qui-Gon Jinn, The Phantom Menace

“I can save him. I can turn him back to the good side. I have to try.” – Luke, Return of the Jedi

“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

“In my experience, there is no such thing as luck.” – Ben Kenobi, Star Wars: A New Hope

The right thing. No luck. Try. Do. Focus. Uncluttered. Liberty. The good.

I don’t know what my “Star Wars” will look like yet, but I know what I want it to have as I move forward.

Not the stories, the fictional universes they will take place in or the characters of the stories, though I have a few starting places.

I want stories that are about people as they are, not people forced into molds.

I want main characters from all sorts of places, with all sorts of identities and traits.

I want them in roles, genres, and scenarios we were told not to expect and would never work.

With a lens focused on a diversity that is absent of stereotypes, tokens, the words “progress”, “at least” and “more than before”. Because that isn’t diversity.

And one person’s concept of diversity isn’t diversity either.

It’s one reality shaped by many people, from many perspectives, from many places, many experiences, identities and ideas, working together in that paradoxical, juxtaposition of harmony of differences that means to be human.

The words I hope will be at the forefront is, “Why not now.”

And it’s not a question. It means, “Let’s do this and let’s do this for real.”