Sunday, April 13, 2014

Why Japan?

Before I start making more posts about my Japan experience, I think it would be fun to reflect on my decision to come here in the first place.

I was raised Jewish with both my parents from Eastern European backgrounds so the exposure I had to Asian culture was a result of the area in New Jersey where I grew up.  I think my first experience with Japanese culture was when I became friends with a girl named Yumi in my kindergarten class.  I remember loving her hair accessories and that sometimes at lunch she didn't want to eat her onigiri (rice balls) and gave them to me.  Yumi and her family moved back to Japan shortly after.

It was after that when I discovered my first anime- Pokemon, Sailor Moon, and Card Captor Sakura.  Because I didn't have access to the internet like younger people do now, everything I knew about Japanese culture I learned from anime.  I think it was my attraction to the anime style of artwork that really sparked my interest in Japanese culture.  When I finally got a Gameboy Color, Pokemon Yellow was my first game.   If you were to go back through my school notebooks from when I was younger, you would find Sailor Moon, Kero and many versions of Jigglypuff, Togepi and Pickachu drawn in the margins.  When my family went to Japanese restaurants, I always tried to order onigiri because it looked so good on TV but none of the places ever had it and usually the wait staff were really confused by my request.  Now that I'm older, I have figured out where to find them in America when I need them.  Thank goodness.

These are the kinds of things I made in my ceramics class

Pretty sure we were supposed to be making bowls.

I spent far too much time downloading Sailor Moon remixes off of Limewire and looking at merchandise I knew I couldn't ever afford at the age of  10 or so.  I did manage to collect a good amount of the dolls as well as some small figures from both Sailor Moon and Card Captors.  It was hard for me as a child to believe that I wasn't even a little bit Japanese.  I was a little Polish, German, Czech, and Russian (which was good news during my Anastasia phase) but according to my parents, who I have now accepted are correct, I am not even a small percent Japanese.

with artist M. Alice LeGrow at NYCC 2008

In high school,  once I talked my parents out of forcing me into taking more Spanish after freshman year, I took 3 years of Japanese.  I went to a couple of anime conventions in high school but I feel like my interest in it dwindled once I encountered people who seemed to be overly passionate.

Anime had lost most of its appeal but my interest in Japanese culture remained and I wrote my college application essay about my Jewish identity and interest in Japanese culture.  It got me into 8 out of 9 schools so I think it must have been pretty good but I can't find it in my email now to prove it.  The college I chose to go to didn't offer Japanese language so I had to unwillingly return to Spanish studies to fulfill my graduation requirements.

Goucher requires study abroad for graduation so I took this as an opportunity to travel to Japan because there really was nowhere else I would rather visit.  I spent 5 amazing weeks in Kyoto during the summer of 2012.  My trip was right after I completed a difficult Asian art history course at school which opened my eyes to older Japanese artwork and how it inspired contemporary pieces I love so much.   It was also amazing to be able to see many of the places and artwork I learned about in person.  As a result, I have a new appreciation for Japanese architecture, woodblock prints, and paintings.  My trip to Japan was only a bit after I began to be really interested in Japanese fashion and music so it was nice to go with some knowledge of current pop culture since my initial interests in Sailor Moon and Card Captors had become rather irrelevant.  Since my trip, my knowledge of Japanese art, music and fashion has grown exponentially.

making friends with deer in Nara (photo by Yvette Brion)

I even got to meet up with my kindergarten friend Yumi at Tokyo Tower!

While abroad, I studied digital photography and intermediate Japanese which was really difficult considering that it had been a few years since I had last been enrolled in a Japanese language course.  When I returned from Japan, I was exhausted by the idea of taking another semester of Spanish and opted to take my last semester of language at another university to fulfill my language requirement.

As I completed my last year at school, I had become increasingly interested in Japanese artwork beyond the anime that initially caught my attention.  If you were to ask me, I could go on listing artists who are Japanese- Junko Mizuno, Audrey Kawasaki, Yoshitomo Nara, Takashi Murakami, Macoto Takahashi, Hanamizz (Yurie Sekiya) and Hikari Shimoda, to name possibly more than a few.  After visiting Japan, I experienced first-hand how artistic subcultures encourage creative self-expression.  I found that kind of mentality both intriguing and welcoming to me in some way.

with Junko Mizuno at her opening at The Cotton Candy Machine (my last night working </3)

Although I have strong interests in certain subjects, I feel like I don't have a specific career goal in mind, I felt like returning to Japan was what would make me happy.  My options for finding work were limited because of my level of Japanese language ability.  I was adamant about not wanting to teach but that's the way many foreigners find work in Japan.  Realizing that seemed to be my only option, I decided to apply for a position knowing I didn't have to take it once accepted.  After my application was in, teaching in Japan started to seem like an increasingly good idea to me.  Not only would it be a chance to experience something new, I would be able to have a whole year's time to give back my culture to the country who had inspired me so much throughout my life.

Tomorrow is my first day of work and I have to teach 4 elementary school classes as well as eat lunch with the students.  I've accepted that it's going to be really rough for the first few classes but that I have to get through it in order for it to get better.

I am thankful for everyone who has been supportive of me in my decision to pursue this opportunity and hope that I can share my experience as a thank you.  If you are interested in viewing photos of my adventure, this is where I dump them all.  Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions too!


  1. Hi, Carly! I loved reading this and wish you all the best. Please let me know how the teaching gig is going. - Jonathan

  2. I loved this little reach-back and explanation! Can't wait for your next entry - please be sure to announce when you've posted via fb!

  3. Oh my gosh the photos and history was so great and cute heheh I hope to do a post like this myself one day in the future!!

  4. Omg I loved this so much ;w; <3 Good luck darling!!!