I’ve heard about people being in love. People in love with their best friend. People in love with celebrities. Even people in love with inanimate objects. But never have I heard about people being in love with a country. Not until I realized I was, at least.
It all began in 6th grade. Back in the good old days, a 10 o’clock curfew was not uncommon, in fact, it was much preferred. But Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends was running as a marathon on Cartoon Network, and I couldn’t miss it, so I made sure to watch every episode in the 12-hour marathon until it ended at 11:00 PM. My body didn’t care to obey me, though, so I ended up falling asleep against my will before the marathon ended, with the TV still blaring and Bloo doing something outrageous to disrupt the home of the other imaginary friends.
I woke up at around 12:40 AM, groggily rubbing my eyes and trying to find the offending source of light that awoke me. Yawning, I turned on the side to see a blond-haired teen and a suit of armor talking to some old man in a cartoon. But, it was a pretty cartoon. The art was nice, the lines sharp, the movement fluid. And, the blonde was cute. Intrigued, I watched. I had almost no idea about what was going on, there was some yapping about alchemy and the Philosopher’s stone, but I was too interested in the animation. Suddenly, the cartoon drew to an end, and the ending credits came on. Disappointed, I reached for the remote to turn off the television, but stopped. There were ending credits. But not plain and boring ending credits, no, they were small ending credits blended in with a video! With music! “…Futari wa aruki-tsuzukeru Ato ni wa modorenai kara…” I couldn’t understand anything, but the tune was nice, so I stayed to see the name of the show. Fullmetal Alchemist.
I stayed up every Saturday after that one, keeping myself awake through Sprite and Skittles, watching FMA. I became exposed to topics such as war, politics, and intense determination through watching this show, something educational and even inspiring that American cartoons fail to offer. At about this time, my best friend’s mother was dating a guy named Bill. Bill was cool. And he worked in the anime business. Whenever I came over to my friend’s apartment, we would watch anime provided by Bill. The first was Tenshi ni Narumon, or “I want to be an Angel!” We watched the anime with subtitles, because there wasn’t an English translation for the Japanese. It seemed eerily reminiscent of something…Of course! My Saturday cartoon! The ending song was in the same language as Tenshi ni Narumon, so when I YouTubed “Fullmetal Alchemist,” the Japanese version of the anime came up. The proper name, though, was Hagane no Rekinjitsushi. And like the name, it sounded way cooler in Japanese.
It went from there. I discovered other anime, such as Naruto, FullMoon o Sagashite (Searching For the Full Moon), Air, and many others. But what set anime apart from American cartoons was the depth of the content. It was much more thought-provoking and mature than what you expected. I fell more in love, and soon spent weekends with Dana and Bill in Chinatown, NY, shopping for artfully crafted figurines, amazingly drawn manga, and absolutely cute plushies. We’d sleepover and play video games fresh from Japan, which came out years before they did in America. It was absolute awesomeness.
Soon, I fell in love with the food. Sushi aside, there is much more to Japanese cuisine than rice and raw fish (though it does constitute a lot of the diet). There are udon and soba noodles, as well as sake and fried squid. But I found it hilarious that I wasn’t the only one obsessing over another country. The Japanese love Western culture, going as far as intermixing food. Squid pizza, anyone?
And if you’ve ever looked at Japanese fashion, you will most definitely think it’s all about self expression and variety. Evolving from the age of conformity, many Japanese teens love to dress “kawaii” (cute), and even control the trends. From Gothic Lolita (think Western Victorian dresses) to Yamanba (heavy tans, lots of makeup, and bright hair), what Japanese girls wear today becomes the style of tomorrow.
I believe I will forever be in love with Japan. I had always wanted to visit it, but doubted that I’d have the chance because of the cost and language barrier. My parents had wanted me to take Spanish, though a lot of my friends took Japanese. Wanting to be fluent in the language of the country I adored so much, I took on to studying Japanese on my own, borrowing the Japanese textbook from my school’s only Japanese teacher. I am still continuing studying for no credits, with hope of taking Japanese as an elective next year, seeing that I pass the proficiency exam.
And as for the travel? A couple of months ago, my chess club announced that it would be sending interested students to study abroad over the summer. Surely there most be a cost, I thought. Nope. It was all funded by the club. One and a half months living with a host family in Japan over the summer. I wrote an essay, filled out a million forms, and sent a bunch of pictures in the application. And now, I have an amazing summer to look forward to.
For anyone who’s seen any chick flicks, there’s always that same underlying message, “Don’t give up on your love.” And of course there’s the “Love is universal. It bypasses race, gender, and class.” And location, if I may add. What matters most is to never give up on what you love. Even if it is a country.