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The Asian ApertureWhat am I looking at?
POSTED BY JASON FETTERS, November 13, 2011    Share

I often get asked about how to understand the strangeness or the mystery surrounding Japanese and Asian pop culture. This is a problem for the viewer based on a lack of understanding. If you went to high school, there were probably no Asian Studies or Eastern Humanities courses offered. Even if you could find one, you wouldn’t put in the necessary time to study the texts involved. You have a better chance at the college level, but you would still need to read and engage in discussions to get to a certain point. A lot of Japanese movies, manga, anime, video games, and cultural icons have an ongoing relationship with history. There are two books that offer a solution to misunderstanding.

The oldest historical book in Japan is called the Kojiki and translates as “Record of Ancient Matters.” The Kojiki contains numerous myths and legends and offers the reader a wonderful source for the origins of Japan. For example, take the sun goddess, Amaterasu, who is one of the Shinto deities. She ruled over the Takamagahara, (Higher Celestial Plain) and is linked directly to the Emperor. Amaterasu is found in pop culture when modern idol singer, Kyoko Fukada, portrayed her in Ommyoji II (2003,) based on the ancient Chinese philosophies, Yin and Yang. Even the manga Urusei Yatsura and the ninja boy Naruto contain examples of Amaterasu. The once popular Castlevania series had a game for the Nintendo Gameboy Advance that involved a shrine dedicated to Amaterasu. So to better understand pop culture a little bit of reading the Kojiki can go a long way.

The second oldest historical book from Japan is called the Nihon Shoki and translates as “The Chornicles of Japan.” There are a lot more details in it when compared to the Kojiki. Written in Classical Chinese, the Nihon Shoki starts out with the creation myths and proceeds with the good and bad points of various rulers. The Nihon Shoki has an enormous influence on modern pop culture. One of the stories is about Urashima Taro, a young fisherman who saved a turtle from being tortured. The next day a huge turtle appears and magically gives Urashima gills so he can travel to the bottom of the sea and meet a princess. She gives him a box that allows him to travel through time. The legend of Urashima Taro went on to influence many anime titles like Dragonball Z, Cased Closed (Detective Conan,) and the previously mentioned Urusei Yatsura. The big influence for me is the beloved iconic character, Doraemon, the blue robotic cat who also time travels and instead of using a box, uses his front pouch to produce many helpful tools and items that aid the characters throughout different stories.

Both the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki have been translated into English and are valuable resources to better understanding pop culture. When you are watching a movie or anime or reading a manga or playing a video game and something doesn’t make sense. Stop right there and take a peek inside either the Kojiki or the Nihon Shoki and you just might find the answer right there in front of you. It will increase your enjoyment of current entertainment by briefly reviewing the past.

"The Asian Aperture" is ©2011 by Jason Fetters. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2011 by Nolan B. Canova.

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