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A Love Letter to Japan

February 17, 2010

Today I fell in love with a song of the Bird and the Bee. It’s called “Love Letter to Japan” which of course caught my attention. The lyrics are quite simple and express a kind of foolish love for a country we don’t know much about. In fact, we’ve only heard about it and saw it in our dreams here we could even speak Japanese. We know about all the clichés like the patient and peace-loving Japanese, cherry blossoms and maybe some sugary Hello Kitty stuff. And now we are packing our bags to let this love affair finally start… I somehow felt a bit like this when I went to Japan for the first time, too. Well, I knew a little bit more than clichés but still it was a foolish love.

But what’s even more interesting is the video. (Sorry, I couldn’t add the video here…)

We see three asian-looking boys, maybe Japanese, walking down the street and turning into a game center like you find them everywhere in Japan. But as it says in the video that we’re in Los Angeles, California. Still, as the boys enter the game hall and the singer starts to sing, we are in Japan. You couldn’t make a difference from the inside of the game hall. So the boys walk through and stop at a Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) machine where they watch another boy dancing. One of the three boys, our protagonist, tries to dance quite awkwardly beside the machine and is taken away from the other boys. Seemingly frustrated he buys some pastries and thinks of the dancing game. Then he returns to the game center alone and starts practicing as nobody else is there. As he heads back home he’s dancing and jumping all the way down to a bus stop where it seems like he’s practicing all night. The next day, he runs into the game center, pushes away a boy who’s currently using the DDR machine and starts dancing skillfully. Then we see a nirvana-like dream sequence in which the DDR machine turns into Buddha. The singer now sings in Japanese and when this sequence ends, a lot of people have gathered and to watch our protagonist dance. He wins the game. The machine says perfect. But… He’s only second place… He looks disappointed and keeps looking at the game over screen for a long time.

So first, we learn from this video that Japan could be everywhere in the world. Just step into a game center and you’ll be in. Just like the lyrics say, we got a lot from Japan even if we’ve never been there: Gameboys, Sushi, Manga, Anime… There’s kind of an imaginary Japan anywhere you go. It’s not Japan and yet it is. At least, it makes us think we know what Japan is like.

Second, we learn that devoting yourself to something will bring you to nirvana but in the end you’re just second place… Now, this reminds me so much of freeters. Aren’t they struggling to get into a company? Devoting all their time to studying for entrance exams through all of their youth? And still, there are those who struggle as much as everyone else but don’t get a chance to work regularly. They are the second places. There’s in fact only first and second place. Win or lose. Kachigumi or Makigumi… And if you’d watch the video as a loop you’ll notice that the very first scene of the video is the same disappointed face of the protagonist as in the end. A reference to Buddhism again? We’re born over and over again but nothing’s ever changing. We try, we lose, we try, we lose… Life is pain. The only way to end this is to reach nirvana. How?

Just try.

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