Zachary Eller

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.

As I grew older I gained an appreciation for a more traditional side of Japanese culture, and I began to collect books of ukiyo-e and haiku. Eventually I developed an intense interest in Zen Buddhism. These expressions seemed to both complement and clash with the other Japanese things I loved, anime such as Neon Genesis Evangelion and Serial Experiments Lain, or the films of Sion Sono and Shunji Iwai. I saw both continuity and departure.

Over time my interest in Japan and Japanese products has been influenced by my passion for critical theory and postmodern philosophy, as I try to understand what sociological trends lie behind my impressions. The diverse and manifold expressions of Japanese art still seem dauntingly varied and complex to me, and I always feel like I’m uncovering new worlds (recent fixations have been noise musicians such as Merzbow, Hijokaidan, and Keiji Haino and the manga of Suehiro Maruo). Studying the Japanese language has in a way grounded my interest(s) in the culture(s), and I hope to visit the country as soon as possible.