“Otaku Desu Ka?”

Did I ever tell you that I went to Japan for a year?

Given that information, do I need to let you know that I am a massive nerd with an anime addiction?

Wake up in the morning feeling like Gundam Wing

My weeaboo life started early and I have to admit, being an adult makes it a little harder to keep up that level of… erm… passion. For one thing, growing up means you have less time to devote yourself to multiple hobbies, so you either drop a few (NEVER) or let them all take a hit. I envy 15 year old me, having the time to learn all those anime opening intros and singing them in Japanese as the show starts. I envy 10 year old me running home to catch Toonami after school. I envy 6 year old me attempting to recreate all the transformation sequences in my living room.

Got my tiara, out the door, gonna protect this city

And so when my undergraduate professor asked me what I was interested in circa 2010, 18 year old me said “Japan, reading, Japan, food, Japan… and learning Japanese.”

“Oh me too!” my professor replied brightly.

We Japan nerds find each other eventually.

Before I leave, stuff my face with some oishii desserts

So he put me forward for a year abroad in Japan and in 2012 I was finally able to go!

Don’t worry. I’m not one of *those* fans. I didn’t go there with a full expectation that there’d be giant robots and busty magical schoolgirls on every street corner. 20 year old me had cultivated a love of the whole country and culture from the seeds of nerd-dom and had started learning the language, the history and the general workings of the place. I listened to the pop music and immersed myself into the culture as thoroughly as I could without actually being there. So when I finally arrived, after 20yrs of pining and 20hrs of flying, I wasn’t as culture-shocked as I could have been.

I was however very very homesick.

Cuz when I think I’m being kawaii I’m really being a nerd

You’d think being in the place I had dreamed of going to since I was very small and looking through my mother’s travel album (she’s been to Japan amongst many other places) would keep me in a perpetual state of joy for 12 solid months, but no. It was actually pretty hard sometimes. First off, I knew everyone would be smaller than me (and I’m not even especially big), but I didn’t really realise what that meant. Do you want to know what it meant? It meant bras above a D cup were non-existent, that’s what it meant. It meant my ass would get stuck in any trousers I tried to put on. It meant that a surprising amount of shirts wound up being crop tops. It meant that ASOS became my best friend because they didn’t charge an exorbitant price for overseas delivery.

Secondly, did you know that Japan is 98% ethnically Japanese? I did. Do you know what that looks like? I didn’t until I got there. It meant that I was often the only black person in a 5mile radius. This was as disconcerting for them as it was for me. This coupled with my habit of attracting strangers everywhere I go meant that a lot of people sat next to me and started chatting to me in a combination of awe and curiosity (NB this is something that only happened to me, no one else I knew got this treatment and I have no clue why). I remember feeling really proud when my Japanese was good enough to understand a woman saying to her daughter “Look at that foreigner reading that manga! How amazing!”… and having enough Japanese Skilllzzzzz to reply “Oh no, I’m just looking at the pictures. Kanji is hard.” I had people asking to touch my hair, and children asking to touch my skin, and people trying to practice their English on me. It was like being a minor celebrity, and I suddenly felt very sorry for the Kardashians because it got really old really fast.

Me whenever someone asked to take a picture of me

Speaking of Japanese skills, it’s definitely way easier to learn a language when you’re surrounded by it day in day out. I am by no means fluent, but I can definitely say that I went from being nearly ignorant to being able to find the toilet by myself in a matter of months. I’m independent to a fault so rather than bother anyone to come with me and translate things, I went out and threw words at people until they got the gist. I mourn the loss of what I learnt more than anything else because it was honestly really cool being able to talk to people in their language, and the genuine surprise with which everyone reacted with was a major ego boost. I got compliments on my painful attempts that were probably undeserved but made me want to try even harder. I’d continue to study it now but… I mean… anime comes subtitled now so…

I didn’t say they were good subtitles

Most of all I made some amazing friends. If you’re reading this, you know I’m talking about you! I met fraus from Germany and mademoiselles from France and dudettes from America in addition to mahou-shoujos from Japan and I honestly love them to bits. It was the greatest support system outside of my family I could have had, providing me with an outlet whenever life there got too much for me (“WHY ARE THERE INDIVIDUALLY WRAPPED BANANAS????”). We talk regularly, we send each other post, and we occasionally visit each other (Miami and Munich, I’m coming for ya). I never would have met them if I hadn’t left my comfort zone.

I’ve got a million stories of being an otaku(nerd) in Japan, of crazy professors, of part-time jobs, of climbing mountains, of sword-fighting lessons and of going to other countries and how different it was to home, and I can’t wait to share them, but if I did that this post would never end. I will end it by saying that this week marks my 4 year anniversary of achieving one of my biggest dreams ever and there’s something to be said about that. I think everyone should achieve one big thing that they want to do, whether it’s getting a degree, buying a house or hell going to Japan because you wanted to be Sailor Moon when you were 6. It’s so worthwhile, and if you feel like it’s difficult, just know that I’m rooting for you.

Also the look on people’s face when I burst into Japanese makes me giggle.


2 thoughts on ““Otaku Desu Ka?”

  1. Bonsai says:

    Imagine my surprise during my first visit in 1980 and then living on a remote island during the mid nineties! I feel for you on those crazy “M” sizes. I actually became anorexic for a time living there so my 6ft frame could fit into a department store outfit. Crazy right?


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