You’re here because you want to know the same thing I have for what may be half my life: What’s it like inside Japan? For many fans of anime and manga in the Western world, Japan is a sacred dream, a known source of wonder and delight, yet very much shrouded in mystery. Yes, we know it’s an island, that its capital is Tokyo, that the predominant language is Japanese, and—depending on how much anime we’ve watched and how many books we’ve read—we may very well know the names of its prefectures, its major tourists sites, how its education system works, and even its history.
But, along that vein, we’re aware that in the same way you can’t read a guidebook on Hawaii and expect to understand it as if you’d been there, you can’t watch anime, read manga, or even read multiple books on Japan and really know it.
Not, at least, the way you know your home country. At home, you know how the air smells outside your favorite eatery. You know the sound of traffic on the highway, or the endless expanse of golden-red sunset over acres of wheat and corn. You can guess what the average price of gas will be at the nearest fill station, or how much it’ll cost to take the bus across town. You’d know what holiday your country was preparing for simply by looking at the commercials on TV and the decorations around town.
This is how we want to know Japan: from the ground up. Not just the grand things, but the human things. Living spaces, popular foods, transportation, local amusements. How do you use the Japanese bus and train systems? What do their train tickets look like? What can you buy with 100 yen? What could you find to eat in Tokyo? What’s fun to do in Osaka? What are the favorite historical sites in Kyoto? Where do people go on holiday? What are they concerned about? What do they celebrate, and when, and why?
In one week, I’ll have the incredible privilege of moving to Japan for a year and hopefully finding some of these things out. Although you won’t all fit in my suitcase, it’s my intention to bring you into Japan through this news column, to be updated twice monthly.
I’m flying to Japan. Come with me!