Our contributors come from a variety of courses and an even greater variety of backgrounds.
From the second incarnation of Gross National Cool:
Oscar Wilde's observation that “the whole of Japan is a pure invention” seems apt when I think of my early impressions of the country. From a young age, Japanese products created for me a vast world of fantasy, an alternative world. As with most of my peers, the fascination began with an obsession for Pokemon, and soon included a broader circle of Japanese anime and video games. The “Japaneseness” of these cultural products became like a mark of authenticity, the Japanese Pokemon cards or undubbed episodes of Gundam somehow stirring my young imagination, revealing a world with which my parents were unfamiliar, a distant, fantastic land that offered an escape both comforting and vaguely threatening. Discovering Visual Kei in middle school, a style of Japanese rock featuring androgynous aesthetics, furthered my impression that Japanese cultural products presented something wholly “other.” Appropriating these products in my own life, often ignorant of their original sociological context, served as a signifier of outsider status.
Hi! I'm Tori Szczesniak and I'm a junior double-majoring in Film Studies + Environmental Policy. I have my own professional photography business and I love anything that has to do with art + design: interiors, fashion, graphic design, sustainability, diy, etc.
I'm excited about Japanese culture and "gross national cool" because I have interests in Japanese film, fashion, and technology. I grew up on Miyazaki films, and one of my favorite films today is Departures (Okuribito) directed by Yôjirô Takita. I am curious about Japan's emerging role in our global economy, its impact on our artistic world, and its environmental initiatives.
My name is Mary Grob, and I am a film studies major in my last semester at the College of William and Mary. My interest in Japan developed later in life. I first saw Kurosawa’s Rashomon in in high school and immediately feel in love with Japanese Cinema. Over the next few years, I watched everything I could find from Ozu to Miyazaki. Once I came to William and Mary, I began to take classes to further my understanding of the culture and nation that produced some of my favorite films. I look forward to exploring more of Japanese visual culture and “gross national cool" this semester.
Lauren is a Senior at the College of William and Mary, majoring in Government with a focus on East Asian affairs. Her interest in Japan unknowingly started with her introduction to Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and, later on like most every child of the 1990's, Power Rangers. The corky Americanized Japanese export later influenced her to pursue achieving a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. In middle school, it had transformed to a love of dubbed anime series like Sailor Moon and Dragonball Z along with their respective manga series. However, unlike many "otakus," an interest in anime never really stuck and instead she took more of a liking to Japan's video games exported to the states. From a Government major standpoint, interest in Japan is nearly as political as it is cultural. With China becoming a dominate force in Asia, it is easy to ride off Japan as a "has been" power. Despite this, Japan remains a key ally to the United States and a cultural powerhouse that catches American interest on a daily basis; something China has yet to effectively achieve. She is fascinated as to how a nation that has seen better economic days can prove to be just as relevant today through soft power than it was in the 80's.
Boku wa Keenan desu. I've liked Japan and its exports since Pokemon. I captured them all, but they captured my heart. Since Pokemon I've indulged in an anime or seven. I've always had an interest in martial arts. I started with karate. At some point I think Taekwon Do happened too, but I eventually graduated to kung fu because it was prettier. Sorry, Japan...and Korea. I'm a pretty big fan of Japanese music, namely: Nujabes, The Pillows, and Asobi Seksu. I'm in my second year of Nihongo now. I love it because it's almost as malleable as English in regard to slang, and the senseis are pretty sugoi. Since entering college I've taken every Japan-centered course I could, and I've learned a good bit. I hope to study abroad soon, so I want to learn as much as possible as hayaku as possible. For those of you who read and clicked to the end, here's a picture of me as Jigglypuff.
Virginia born and Texas raised, Katherine had an interest in Japan from an early age, although she never dreamed that a love for Pokemon and Hello Kitty would take her as far as it has. Over the years her Japanophilia has transformed from anime, manga, and video games to a broader love for the culture as a whole. As a Anthropology major with a minor in East Asian Studies, her primary interest is in how Japan functions as both a traditional and thoroughly modern society. In taking Japan's Gross National Cool this year, she hopes to expand on what she has learned on her own and at her time at William & Mary, and to come one step closer to "figuring out" the culture she loves so dearly.
こんにちは ! My name is Jenny Lee, and I’m currently an English major at the College of William and Mary. As a child, I had always been exposed to Japanese merchandise and cartoon shows, which ranged from magical heroines like Sailor Moon to the adorable electric mouse Pikachu from Pokemon. However, I was never aware that all these things were Japanese – or Asian, for that matter. Back in middle school, I used to be an avid fan and collector of anime goods like most American otaku do today. Though nowadays, I consider myself a “closet” anime fan. I also admire acclaimed filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, particularly for his adaptation of Howl’s Moving Castle by British author Diana Wynne Jones, and also for his own enrapturing fairytale, Spirited Away. But besides cartoons, the reason I decided to join this class was in hopes of wondering how Japan became such a dominant cultural superpower in such a small amount of time – and in a highly efficient way. Additionally, I hope to learn more about the ways in which the Western views of Japan continue permeate our society today . . . and also to know how other people perceive this super 'cool' and 'kawaii' country!ヽ(● ω ●)ノ
As a child, I largely missed out on the prominent expressions of Japanese soft power around me- rather than memorizing Pokemon or watching Dragonball Z, I spent the bulk of my time reading and absorbed in the invention of progressively more ill-advised rubber-band guns. When I was eleven my (normally pacifistic) mother, apparently in the throes of a temporary bout of insanity,
My name is Gibson Haynes, and I am a sophomore majoring in Linguistics and, prospectively, Asian and Middle East Studies. My first interaction with Japanese export was that ubiquitous commercial phenomenon Pokemon, which hooked me from the beginning. I found the films of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli soon after, and life thereafter contained on-again off-again touches of popular Japanese exports (Final Fantasy, Naruto, etc.). Most of my experience in the study of East Asia has revolved around Chinese, however, and I have always heretofore studied Japan through the lens of China. Considering I have no extensive knowledge of Japanese culture, but plenty of interest in acquiring it, I signed up for the course. I hope to gain a stronger understanding of Japan as it presents itself to the world.
Hey all, I'm Dylan Reilly in case you missed the title for some reason, and I'm a freshman here at W&M. As far as majors and such go, I'm looking into Global Studies, concentrating on East Asian and Hispanic Studies. So...this would be where you all get to learn how Japan has influenced my life. Well, it's definitely influenced it a lot. Like many, my first entry into Japanese culture would be through Pokemon at the age of 6; from then I was hooked. I watched many of the popular Japanese shows brought to the US, like Digimon and Yugioh, and played video games throughout my childhood, the majority of which were - you guessed it - Japanese. As I grew older, I discovered manga and the sheer multitude of anime that existed at the time, and my fascination only grew. Soon, however, I developed an interest in the language, food, and some of the culture of Japan. By age 13, I had learned katakana and hiragana as well as becoming more or less addicted to sushi. I would also find myself doodling characters in an anime style to the best of my eighth-grade ability. I'd still say a lot of that interest has stayed with me - I still read manga, and watch the occasional anime, and certainly play games, but I've found myself more interested in the pop culture in general, some of its music, its food, and of course the language. I'd find it safe to say Japan doesn't dominate my life as it may have in the past -- but regardless, it's continued to shape me in some ways even today.
As a bookish kid in suburban Virginia, I grew up surrounded by the enduring influence of exported Japanese culture-- albeit the 19th century Japan of ukiyo-e and samurai that had inspired Western artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as part of what might now be called a "First Wave" of Japanese National Cool. A reproduction of Mary Cassatt's The Letter used to hang outside my room, and I recall my mother explaining the visible influence of bijin-ga woodblock prints, imported to Paris as the "cool decorative accessory" of their day, on the flattened picture plane and the stylized pose of Cassatt's sitter. At the library I read Japanese history, daydreamed about samurai, and occasionally turned in haiku for literature-class poetry assignments (motivated as much by their fleeting, transparent profundity as the form's appealingly brief length). Meanwhile, through friends willing to lend me their Game Boys on the bus ride to elementary school, I gradually began to become familiar with another Japan-- notable, as it had been in the 19th century, primarily as a source of New Things That Were Extremely Cool- chief among them the Nintendo 64 and the Tamagotchi.
Hello! My name is Claire Dranginis and I am senior majoring in East Asian Studies with a minor in Management and Organizational Leadership. My introduction to the Japanese language was in high school, when through the strange power of the internet I became a fan of the the "Visual Kei" band Dir En Grey. I soon started listening to many other Japanese rock bands, and my interest in the language that all these groups were singing in grew. I decided to give learning Japanese a shot, and started to teach myself. My study of Japanese has led me to a greater interest in Japanese culture outside of the weird rock bands that I loved as a high schooler. I was fortunate enough to be able to study at Keio University in Tokyo last spring semester, and my experience there both gave me greater insight into Japan and left me with more questions. I look forward to thinking about the answers to those questions in our class this semester!
Hey! My name is Chris An and I'm currently and undecided transfer student as of last semester, but I plan on entering the business school next Fall. It's interesting how I became interested in Japan. Like many, it started out with a fascination for Japanese animation, which was so incredibly different from many of the cartoons I watched when I was younger. It all started out with the series Neon Genesis Evangelion. While the show itself was incredibly fascinating, what captivated me the most was the OST. I didn't have too much interest in music at the time, but it was something what had captured my interest.While my interest in Japan grew, I was met with opposition from both my parents and my grandparents. Being a Korean-American, born in the United States, my grandparents had lived through part of the Japanese occupation of Korea. As you could imagine, my grandparents were not too happy to find out that I wanted to learn Japanese and learn more about the culture.
Howdy! I’m Charles Fliss. I’ve always been interested in Japan. When I was younger, the Samurai and their weapons were amongst my favorite of ancient warriors and I actively quested for plastic katanas with which to do battle. As I grew older my interest expanded as I was exposed to anime – first in the form of Pokemon, then in the films of great Japanese directors such as Miyazaki and Otomo. Soon I was sucked into the wonderful world of manga and enthusiastically discussing the deeper meanings of the Final Fantasy games with my friends. In spite of my exuberance, my experience had always been bound to history texts, movies, comic books, and the occasional convention.
Arthi Aravind is a sophomore planning to major in Literary and Cultural Studies. Ever since she discovered Pokémon and early Studio Ghibli films as a child, she has been fascinated with Japanese culture and is interested in learning more about it in an academic setting. Her specific interest is in visual culture, so she hopes to learn more about advertising, art, design, and media in Japan. She enjoy anime films and TV shows (most recently Death Note, Ghost in the Shell, and Paprika) and plays new Gameboy games on a regular basis. One of her favorite foods is inari sushi and she likes reading about kitsune myths.
Arielle Kahn has a confession to make: she is a Japanaphilia noob. She knows next to nothing about Pokemon, Doraemon, or Hello Kitty. She didn’t watch Power Rangers or Sailor Moon as a child. Her range of video game experience is limited to Super Mario 64 and Kirby and the Crystal Shards. She didn’t discover Miyazaki films until an embarrassingly late age. She does like the anime Cowboy Bebop a whole lot, but only knows it exists in the first place thanks to a more Japan-savvy friend. All in all, she is totally unprepared to take this class—which is precisely the reason she’s here. As a third-year linguistics major, and having just finished her fifth semester of studying the Japanese language, Arielle realizes that language and culture are inextricably intertwined, and figures that it would probably be fairly illuminating to study their intersection. Also, she is feeling left out and wants to get in on the party that is Japanafandom and see what all the fuss is about. And she wants to play more Nintendo. Oh, and eat more sushi. Always there should be more sushi.
Born in Virginia during the infamously Orwellian year of 1984, my formative years were spent during the Cold War/Reagan/Thatcher/Bubble Era being exposed to the anime mish-mash of “Voltron” and the exploits of four adolescent, anthropomorphic shelled reptiles skilled in the Japanese arts of ninjitsu and American art of pizza consumption. The cable boom of American television brought documentary channels into my home and with them histories of noble warriors in brightly brocaded armor, taking one another’s heads, dying for their loyalties (sometimes at their own hand), and taking the time amidst it all to fix a cup of tea and write some seriously emo poetry. These images and tales were so much more arresting to me on a Saturday morning after the animation petered out than watching Zach Morris and rest of the Bayside Gang hang around The Max and bear witness to the peaking of Mario Lopez’s career. In my youth I graduated from blowing dust out of Nintendo cartridges to Super NES and N64, from coaxial to VGA, along side rest of the home entertainment industry. Through the local video store I saw Bruce Willis allegorize World War II by tossing an evil German off of the top of an ultramodern Japanese monolith and defend a nation’s flagging cowboy pride in the process. I sat with rapt attention as a teenager, watching the immortal and interminably scruffy Mifune swagger across Kurosawa’s quicksilver frame for the first time the same year the man himself died quietly in a metropolitan hospital half a world away.
From the Freshmen Seminar Japanophilia:
From the first incarnation of Gross National Cool:
From JAPN 401