This month’s Japan Blog Matsuri theme is “Japan Firsts” and, as the end of the year is the perfect time for reflection, I thought I’d stop and think back to some “Japan Firsts” of my own.
People often ask me how and when I first became interested in Japan. It’s a difficult question to answer as I don’t feel I can really pin-point a specific time (I even asked my mum if she could remember – she couldn’t).
Was my interest first sparked while playing the wonderfully exciting Dreamcast game called Shenmue? In that game, I had a full reign to wander freely around Yokosuka, Japan, in the 1980s. I remember discovering “gatcha gacha” machines for the first time (well, we had them in England, but not like the ones in Japan!). I remember pausing in a park to practice some karate or stroke a stray cat – I’ve since visited tiny little local parks just like those in the game and had Shenmue flashbacks. If it was Shenmue that sparked my interest, it was around 1999 that I first became interested in Japan (so I was around 18).
Or, more likely, was it before that – in college? In college I first became interested in haiku, which led me to have the name “Haikugirl” today. I studied poetic form, and the haiku struck me as one of the most interesting. I also looked at sonnets, villanelles, pantoums, tanka and many others, but I liked haiku because they reminded me of snapshots. Each haiku is so complex, and can hold so much atmosphere or feeling, and yet it is so small. Just like a photo.
And so, somehow, some when approximately between my sixteenth and eighteenth years, I became a little bit interested in Japan. So how did that lead me to where I am today? Well, during that time when my interest was being sparked, I also had the fortune to be friends with a guy who was doing all sorts of traveling around the world to exciting places like Cambodia, Thailand… and Japan. I don’t know exactly when he was in Japan, but my friend Ed ended up living in Japan for four and a half years, until he got married and moved back to the UK. While he was living in Nagoya, he somehow convinced me to come and visit him.
I remember, Christmas 2005, Ed was home for Christmas and we sat in my mum’s living room talking about my first trip to Japan – my first trip outside of Europe, and my first vacation alone. I had already booked a return flight to Narita, but had no idea how to navigate my way around Japan for two weeks. Ed helped me a great deal in my planning.
Finally, I arrived in Japan in March 2006, and here are the first three photos I took:
I think it’s safe to say that my love affair with Japan has been a pretty long one – probably more than ten years. People often ask me why I’m so interested in Japan, but that still remains one of the most difficult questions to answer. My usual response is just that “Japan is so different from my own country”. That answer is lacking in so many ways. I think perhaps people can’t really understand an interest in Japan fully until they experience Japan for themselves. Some will like it, some won’t. Some will just fall in love and never look back. 😉