About The Author
My very first taste of anything Japanese was because of my father’s love of television in 1976. He would wake me up early Saturday mornings when we weren’t going to the Italian Market to do food shopping to come down and watch the wrestling matches being broadcast from New York. Dad being the first person I’d have labeled “MacGuyver”, he had rigged the antenna on the roof of our house to turn in any direction — it would be 20 years later that I find out that he had not built it, but bought it that way — and we’d watch what is now known as the WWF. We’d watch wrestlers like Bob Backlund, Mil Mascaras, André The Giant, and many others throw each other around, and I just ate it up. Watching TV with Dad at 3AM, while Mom’s asleep. What more could a son ask for.
One night, I got the usual “shake” from Dad to get up, and come downstairs to watch TV. I managed to get quietly downstairs, and he already had the TV on and had just turned the dial to swing the antenna on the roof towards New York. Or, so I had thought. He instructed me to get in “my spot”, which was in his big recliner, while he used the couch on the other side of the room. What he turned on is where this all started.
“What’s this?” I quizzed.
“Ahhh, this is a movie I saw a long time ago called ‘The Mysterians’.” he replied.
“The Muh-what?” I asked.
“Mysterians” he said assuringly. “You’ll love it. It’s from Japan.”
Now, I wasn’t someone who knew anything about geography, especially at the age of five. So I did what any five-year-old would do.
“Japan? Where’s that?” I asked.
“Hmmm...” Dad said as he smiled in the darkness. “A long long way from here.” And then Dad pointed at the TV as the movie was about to start. I sat and awaited to see what this “Mysterians” thing was all about. I was mesmerized, and excited, and also forever changed. This was a great movie!
This was my first taste of anything Japanese. A sci-fi movie from Japan about an alien race looking to mate with our women to re-grow their people and fend off their enemies. What a load of things to expose a kid at the age of five to, huh? Actually, I’m glad he showed it to me because it’s this movie that got me watching movies and really paying attention to the story being told, and it’s gotten me to understand character development too. Well, after seeing “The Mysterians”, I needed to see more. So I saw Godzilla, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and many many more. Dad was a huge cartoon watcher too, so we shared a lot of our best moments together in front of a movie or a TV screen, and cartoons were something special for him. We could talk for hours about just one Bugs Bunny episode.
Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in this time, there were only a few TV stations, and not many played cartoons unless it was Saturday Morning. One great channel was Channel 48, which is where I was first introduced to The 8th Man, Speed Racer, Star Blazers, Robotech, Ultraman, Gigantor, Astro Boy, and Battle Of The Planets. All of these shows were from Japan, and until seeing Godzilla, and Ultraman did I realize that these shows weren’t being made here in the States. This lead me towards the lesser known comic books at the time, which were being put out by VIZ, and a few others. I was looking for better stories. I was sick of Superman, and Thor, and all of the Marvel and DC stuff I was reading. I wanted a darker, deeper story.
AKIRA was and still is noted for being one of the most influential pieces of Japanese animation ever to be created. It had a profound impact on me, how I viewed myself and others, as well as being one of the darkest stories I had ever read at the time. If you haven’t seen it, you should just go and BUY it. It’s THAT GOOD.
Over the years I’ve seen a lot of anime, and still watch some to this very day. Death Note being one I put up there next to AKIRA, Paprika, Ghost In The Shell (both TV and Movies), and many others.
Japanese: The Spoken Word
One night, Mom comes home from work, and at dinner proceeds to tell the family about her day at work. This usually consists of the soap-opera-esque drama of the corporate world. But not tonight. Tonight's news would be different.
She was excited about the news because she couldn’t wait to get everyone at the dinner table so she could finally say what this “news” was. When she told us, it made us all think.
“My company,” she started “has the opportunity to send an entire family to Japan, for a year!” At that moment, I think I had already left for Japan — mentally. Now having watched a lot of anime at the time, and only knew that “nani” meant “what”.
Dad pipes up. “And…” he asks, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“This can happen, if, I learn Japanese.” Mom finishes with a smile.
Dad begins to chuckle, I was impressed, and I think my brother was just plain stunned. Dad looked at Mom, and saw that determined look in here eyes. And to confirm this look, Mom said the words Dad didn’t like to hear.
“I’m serious, hon.” she replied with an even voice so that Dad could not take the wind out of her sails. Followed by “I’m going to learn Japanese.”. I was ecstatic that I was going to learn another language.
Dad knew that when Mom was “serious”, you may as well have said “hellbent”. Because there was to be no stopping her, period, end of discussion. This also meant, that my brother and I would be roped in somehow. Dad wasn’t big on change, and certainly learning a whole other language would not sit well with him.
So Mom signed up for night classes at Temple, and began taking Japanese. She came home from her first class, extremely excited, and we wanted to know what she learned that night.
“Soon…” she hinted, with a smile that ran from ear to ear.
Now that she had properly teased my brother and I, we had to wait until Sunday nights when we were both home, and not going anywhere. When we sat down at the kitchen table, she handed out these thin 3-ringed binders. She had taken her school books to work, and Xeroxed them — that’s a photocopy nowadays. She came up with the brilliant idea, that we were going to learn Japanese by helping her study Japanese. I absolutely loved it. My brother, on the other hand, I think had a different perspective.
Either way, she did her best in class, and was frustrated at the teachers she had, but she — as always — persevered. She finished the class (I think, I’ll have to ask), but was having a difficult time trying to remember the things she had learned. I — who had become almost totally immersed in what she started — left me wanting to learn more.
So, to sum it all up, both my Mom & Dad were big influences in the early years of my life, in what others would call an obsession with Japan, its culture, its people, and it’s seemingly enigmatic language.
From here, the journey has been the reward. I love learning Japanese, and I really like the culture as well. I don’t discount my own heritage, not even in the slightest of ways. I’m always seeking knowledge, and I’d like to learn as much as I can about Japan’s culture. When America has 1,000 year old statues, buildings, and the like, I’ll either get in line to see them, or I won’t be here to see it.