I think every thoughtful human being on this planet experiences, at some point or another, some sort of identity crisis. We are naturally hypocritical beings, and as such it’s difficult to pinpoint just who we are, and perhaps even more difficult to communicate that identity to others. Every time I compose an article (it’s been a while now) or record an episode of The TangleCast, I begin to wonder, “Is that really what I believe?” Sometimes weeks, or even days, after an episode goes up, my opinion has already changed from that which it once was.
Though this unstable and hypocritical identity is not exclusively my own problem, it is a problem of which I have become increasingly aware through my recent move to Japan as a businessperson and teacher. And it bothers me.
Quite some time ago I penned an article entitled, “Confessions of an Exclusivist, Christian Otaku,” and if you read through that article you’ll likely note that it touches on many of these themes. It absolutely reflects the idea that I’m a hopelessly inconsistent hypocrite (consistent at least in acknowledging my inconsistency!). While I’ve changed to some degree since August of 2014, I still tend to misrepresent my interests to others. In fact, this misrepresentation often centers around my various day-to-day audiences, which can be generally separated into three categories (obviously these don’t cover all of my social life, but certainly the majority, and they certainly serve to illustrate the point which I am about to make):
- Christian English speakers
- Japanese speakers
And this is where the “triple life” kicks in.
Christian English Speakers
Perhaps the best illustration of the way I paint myself differently to others is the way I describe Beneath the Tangles to inquirers. For those at my church back in Pennsylvania, many students at my Christian alma mater, and the English-speaking Christians I interact with here in Tokyo, Beneath the Tangles is “a ministry dedicated to reaching those with an interest in Japanese media.”
Over the years I have honed my wording for when people inevitably ask me about my interests and hobbies and Beneath the Tangles comes up, so each of these words has been selected to garner a certain response from certain people, even if I didn’t realize that was exactly what I was doing when I ultimately began referring to the site in this way. None of this description is untrue in the slightest, but it definitely doesn’t communicate what Beneath the Tangles is in its entirety.
First of all, I use the word “ministry” because it’s a hopelessly popular buzzword in the Christian community. You volunteer for a nonprofit? That’s interesting. Oh, wait, you’re doing that as a ministry? That’s a kingdom focus right there, I want to hear more! Christians also tend to like if you use the word “calling.” It’s hard to argue with someone about their plans if they say it’s God’s “calling” for them.
Second, though the vast majority of Beneath the Tangles’ content centers on anime, I’m always afraid of losing credibility by using that forbidden word. We’re not one of those weird, nerdy websites. We focus on various Japanese media. Culture! Not anime, culture!
While Beneath the Tangles doesn’t frequently come up in conversation when I’m speaking Japanese, partly because I’m too busy answering all the other foreigner-in-Japan questions (yes, I learned Japanese via self-study, I work for a small corporation, I’ve been here a month and a half, I’m from Pennsylvania, and I like natto), and partly because explaining complex topics in Japanese exhausts me, it has still arisen on multiple occasions. Speaking in broken Japanese, of course, I describe Beneath the Tangles as “a website that connects Japanese media (like anime) to religion.”
Just like my description crafted for English-speaking Christians, this description is also not incorrect. However, it’s quite obviously different in nuance.
First, it’s not a ministry anymore, it’s a website, and it’s one that deals with “religion.” In Japan, Christianity doesn’t necessarily have the negative connotation it has with many English-speaking Westerners, particularly in the anime community, so Christianity will probably slip in the conversation somewhere. Of course, if the Japanese speaker is a Christian, then I might throw in some katakana English and call it a ミニストリー (minisutorii). But the fear of associating myself with a group that my conversation partner has negative presuppositions regarding often wins out.
We discuss plenty of religions here, and it’s, in fact, a present goal of the staff to increase the amount of content we have on religions outside of Christians, but we are first and foremost a Christian site. Thus, another side of me shows its face.
Second, while I still try to refer to the site’s content more generally, the reasoning is a bit different. Japanese people are much more familiar than Americans with the concept of otaku, which is not relegated to anime but certainly goes there quickly. A true blue otaku in Japan is often unable to function socially to the degree expected from society, and that sort of otaku is associated with an absolutely unhealthy obsession. Plus, foreigners that come to Japan for anime don’t tend to have the greatest reputation, so I selfishly try to distance myself from that as much as possible.
However, I’m still willing to at least throw anime out there because I can pull the Ghibli card. Spirited Away? Oh yeah, I’ve seen that. In fact it’s one of the first things that got me interested in Japan! Oh, you like it, too? Miyazaki makes some great movies, huh… Have you heard of Omoide Poroporo…?
Let me first clarify that I’m using the American definition of otaku here, meaning that I’m referring to people who love anime (and perhaps related Japanese content), but aren’t necessarily obsessive about it. Under that definition, that includes every member of our staff, and most likely most or all of our readers. To this audience, Beneath the Tangles becomes “a site about anime and religion.”
For the same reason outline above, I’m often inherently afraid to call Beneath the Tangles a Christian site, lest I scare people away. We’re much more scholarly than that Christian bunch you’re probably thinking of! We talk about plenty of things other than Jesus, I promise!
Finally, I’m also not afraid to use the word “anime,” and even get into the nitty gritty of other related mediums like, one of my favorites, visual novels. Here’s an audience I can really connect with! Let’s talk Mushishi and Haibane Renmei, Little Busters! and Clannad, Is the Order a Rabbit? and New Game!, Re:Zero and Sword Art Online. Let me show you my figure collection, what games I’ve been playing recently. Jesus who?
The Skinny – tl;dr
Perhaps another way of outlining these three faces of mine is through my social media.
Facebook: I post rarely, but when I do it’s usually mellow expressions of faith and interesting things about my life in Japan.
Line: I love to use my anime-style messenger stickers, and to talk about mainstream games and anime, or to touch on occasional topics of importance.
Twitter: This anime sucks. Insert otaku meme here.
I don’t think this is unusual, and in some cases it’s not necessarily even bad. If everyone broadcasted everything about themselves all the time, that would prevent numerous relationships from ever gaining the foundation necessary to ultimately sharing true interests and beliefs.
Even acknowledging this, though, it’s frustrating to realize that I, as a unique individual with strong opinions and feelings, am a different person in these different contexts. To those of you who had the wherewithal to read to the end (unless you skipped straight to the tl;dr), I’m not going to ask you to change who you are. That’s something I’ve long since realized is not impossible by any means, but is far beyond a normal human’s capacity. But I am going to ask you to consider if you live a double or triple life.
Perhaps there are some people who you talk hobbies for hours on end who would like to actually hear what you believe about the afterlife. Perhaps your roommate would like to actually hear about that cute-girls-doing-cute-things anime that’s airing this season. You’ll never know until you ask.
In case you were wondering, this article was the first in a new column entitled “Letters from the Editor.” On the second Friday of every month I will be writing about various topics in editorial form, drawing from my experiences as a business person in Japan, Christian, executive editor of Beneath the Tangles, and, of course, otaku. I hope to make this into a rather personal experience, both for myself and for our readers, such that I can shed light on topics that don’t often get the exposure they deserve.
I look forward to sharing more with you next month in the next entry of “Letters from the Editor!”