I’m often asked of how I became interested in Japanese culture.
I know a lot of people get into it because of their interested in Japanese animation, the music, cinema and often pop culture-related.
I think it would be a shock to some if I say that it was actually from unfortunate circumstances.
But before I explain of how, let me give you a background of my life growing up and my connection with Japanese culture.
My father was in the Navy and he was stationed in Japan. Because of that, we were brought up by my mother and my grandparents in California.
I remember the things he would get us as children from Japan and it was a culture most foreign to me. While I was aware of my Filipino upbringing and raised primarily with an American lifestyle, thanks to my Lolo (grandfather) who was a chef, my uncle and aunts that I lived with were primarily American. My uncle was in a rock band, my aunt was a cheerleader and the other uncles were in the military.
So, these things that we would get from Japan freaked me out. There were these geisha women figurines enclosed in glass, I was frightened of them as a child because I never saw Japanese culture or clothing in my life.
I remember turning the case backwards, because I couldn’t look at them because I was scared.
In the late ’70s, I remember watching Pink Lady and we would have albums with Japanese kana, which I couldn’t read. And there was also an interest in the animation such as “G-Force” and toys such as “Shogun Warriors”.
And then in the ’80s with “Voltron” and “Robotech” and the numerous Sho Kosugi ninja films. In fact, the kids at school loved ninjas so much, we would all purchase ninja clothing and even weapons such as ninja stars (which I ended up getting in trouble by my parents who didn’t want me near those type of things).
But around the mid-’80s, America had economic trouble and many Japanese companies purchased American companies.
This led to widespread racism where certain Americans started to attack Asians because they felt the Japanese were buying all American businesses and it was a threat to American livelihood.
While we were Filipino living in an area were people of all cultures hung around with each other, we woke up one day with vandalism to our home and cars. In big letters “Go Home Japs” were spray painted on our back wall, power lines were cut, water lines were shut off, sugar were put on the gas tank, nails on our tires and all the police could tell us that it was a hate crime and they suspected a white supremacist group.
My parents had a hard time understanding why we were targeted but there first instinct was not because we were Asian, their thought was it must have had to do with me being ninjas with my friends.
For me, it was a state of confusion. Why would they target us, we are not Japanese? Sure, you hear jokes about how Asians look the same but really? We are Filipino? Most people that grew up in our town were Filipino. But it made me wonder about what is it about Japanese that these people would do something so bad? And that peaked my curiosity.
Unfortunately, that incident and another messed up situation was enough for my parents to have me moved to Southern California and live with my father’s side of the family.
That was a culture shock as I attended high school during turbulent times and coming from a small town, I wasn’t sure how to live in a big city. My grandparents were very strict and overprotective that they tried to keep me home and many Saturday evenings, all I could do is do homework, read a book or watch television in my room.
I had a small tiny television to watch and very little channels were received on that television and one of them was KSCI. Many know this channel as the international channel in Los Angeles (which unfortunately ended in July 2017) and Saturdays were Japanese programming. Japanese music shows, dramas that were English subtitled, it was all that I watched on Saturday and I started to enjoy it so much that I wanted to watch it more and more.
But it was an unfortunate incident and watching KSCI that provided the initial spark that got me interested in the culture.
And from then on, my passion for Japanese culture has never waned.