In elementary school, I was infatuated with anime graphics —the shoujo, the shounen, and the ikemen. Wide-eyed, I watched magical girl transformations in Wedding Peach and ogled at long-haired guys saving girls in Flame of Recca. I was wowed by heroines too —from the badass girl-mechanic in Fullmetal Alchemist to the yoyo-wielding dolls of Super Doll Lica.
At eight years old, I had a crush. And it was a 2D character.
Come high school, I got my hands on Japanese dramas. I saw Wallflower and Detective Conan. In 3D. The ridiculous stunts from the anime and the tsundere attitude translated into real people made my heart dance. Wow, so it can happen in real life! said high school me. I was falling in love with the actors.
At 16, I had a type. And it was a skinny, tsundere Japanese guy.
I pretended to be mature when I came to university. I started learning Japanese culture and language in depth. I took nihongo classes, attended cultural nights, took Japanese studies, tried bunraku and noh, and started appreciating the literary beauty of dramas and anime like Kurosagi and Fullmetal Alchemist. I was so into it that I begged a panel of professionals to let me study in Japan. I got one of my biggest rejections two weeks after when I received a text message saying I didn’t make the exchange program in Nagasaki University.
At 19, I got my heart broken. And it was via text message.
I moved on, but I never forgot. I was in and out of my love for Japan —its anime, its language, its culture. When I started working, I told myself I’d save up enough so I could go there using my own money. Simultaneously, I was also telling myself that I’d take the Japanese Language Proficiency exam (JLPT). Neither bore fruit for several years.
At 26, I got tired of saying next year. We – Japan and I – would reconcile this year. And it was going to be at the Kansai International Airport.
When I first met you, you made me feel comfortable. You welcomed me with a Mario Kart race track and a very convenient train from the tarmac to the immigration area. I knew right then and there that this wouldn’t just be a reconciliation but a rekindling.
You were warm, Japan. Even though you were fluctuating between 12° outside and 27° inside. I loved discovering you—your curves and edges, your façade and your secrets.
You made me feel safe even though twilight falls early where you live. Even in the dark, you entertained me. You showed me that dead trees in autumn could be beautiful with Christmas lights. You sold me a show of lights, architecture, and LED ads along the Dotonbori canal, and you flashed pedestrian lights so I could cross and get home.
You held my hand yet you made me feel independent. Thank you for the English translations; you knew I couldn’t read the kanjis yet. Still, I tried to connect with you with ginger sumimasens and sincere arigatous; and you appreciated it. I saw your smile from the convenience store clerk near Shinsekai; I saw it from the kushikatsu chef at Naniwa Kuishinbo Yokocho; I saw it from the Japanese-speaking immigrant at the kimono rental place; and I saw it from the polyglot airport staff before I left.
You amazed me with your tech. You showed me an invisible lock. You flaunted the magic of dissolving toilet paper. You captivated me with a moving Gundam in Odaiba. You amused me with that Pokémon arcade game—especially since I got to bring home two pocket monsters. And after that 7° rainy night in Shibuya, I appreciated why you heated toilet seats.
Most specially, you awed me with the opportunities you create with your tech. With reliable trains and elevators, you allowed people to travel and do things in their senior years. You made me appreciate vending machines and automation. Because with those, people could think of the things that truly matter; with the fundamental things covered, you allowed me to just enjoy myself. And this, you showed me, is how it is to live.
At 26 years, 218 days, and 2 hours in Manila traffic, I thought that maybe trying to learn English is more of a blessing to people like me than an advantage for you.
An Old Admirer