You know what I love? Being able to listen to a song whenever I want. The other day I remembered a song I discovered in high school. I think it was high school. College? I don’t know. Anyway, it was Forbidden Colours by Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Sylvian from the soundtrack of Merry Christmas, Mr. Laurence. I was very into the band Japan and lead singer David Sylvian in high school. My friend Steve had turned me onto Japan. We listened to a lot of obscure music. So, I found the song on Spotify and it took me down a Sakamoto rabbit hole. I started to think about my lifelong love affair with Japan.
I suppose it has something to do with my dad’s love of asian culture. Growing up, my brother and I went to Judo class with my dad every week. I learned a few words in Japanese, but mostly how to count to ten. The Japanese family that ran the place were so warm and friendly and I was very in awe of the two teenage daughters who were black belts. I didn’t make it past the white belt. But I have such fond memories of going to the dojo, that smell of sweaty canvas…
My dad was fascinated by the Samurai ‘Way of the Warrior” and tried to instill in us the values of discipline, selflessness, honor and knowledge. I remember sitting through Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai when I was 6 or 7 years old. It was subtitled. Everything we did, or said we couldn’t do, my dad encouraged us to focus, to persevere, to approach it with resolve. That Zen mindset was repeatedly instilled in everything my dad taught me.
In addition to Judo and Samurai and Buddhism, my dad loved asian food. He still does. He taught himself to cook when he became a single father and so my brother and I grew up eating stirfry tofu and cabbage and many other things white kids living in the 70s never heard of. He cooked a variety of Asian dishes and shopped at the neighborhood Japanese market, the Mikado. We ate with chopsticks a lot of the time, and the running joke in my family is that my dad eats ice cream with chopsticks.
Later, I became more than a little obsessed with Japanese fashion when I got a book on it for Christmas that introduced me to designers like Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawabuki and Issey Miyake as well as the rich tradition and history of Japanese clothing. I almost chose a career in fashion.
I went to art school and majored in photography. It was in college that I tried Sushi for the first time. I worked for a photographer who would treat us to dinner. One time he asked me, “Do you like Sushi?” I had never eaten raw fish but didn’t want to look uncultured so I tried it. To this day, it’s my favorite food. It was also in college that I studied Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima. I read The Sound of Waves and Forbidden Colors and I saw the movie about his life, Mishima, Life in Four Chapters which was like nothing I’d ever seen.
After college I saw the movie Dreams by Akira Kurosawa. It’s a compilation of short segments based on his dreams, ranging from beautiful to terrifying. And later I saw probably his most famous movie, Ran. And I rewatched Seven Samurai. I appreciated it more as an adult. It’s so good.
My brother got heavily into Japanese anime and convinced me to watch My Neighbor Totoro by Hayao Miyazaki with my kids. It was a big hit. So amazing. I loved it. So was so unlike anything made for kids in the US.
That’s just a few things that I love about Japan. Now, if I could just find some way to visit.