Letters from the Editor: Leading a Triple Life

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):

  1. Christian English speakers
  2. Japanese speakers
  3. Otaku

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!

Japanese Speakers

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…?

Otaku

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!

I’ve been slowly rebuilding my figure collection since I moved, though this is the first time I’ve shown anyone what I’ve collected so far.

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!”

16 thoughts on “Letters from the Editor: Leading a Triple Life

  1. A very interesting article! When I first started anime in 2013, I didn’t think it would take me 2 years
    to tell some one about my hobby. I guess it felt weird to tell someone about this hobby of mine, so when I told it to some one, I was curious to see what he would think about it; he didn’t really care, I recommended him an anime and that was it.

    The things you wrote about social media are also something I can relate myself to, but if I may add something to it: Your social media in relation to your real life vary often too. Although this might be a little ‘retarded’, since a lot of people have already talked, if not, wrote about it, I do think it’s important we don’t lose sight of it since social media is getting more important for us everyday.

    I’m looking forward to the next article of this column!

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    1. This concept is definitely not just relegated to anime, as I think most people experience it with something they feel embarrassed about. “I’m not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ,” but it’s easy to be a little too timid to mention it 😛

      Social media is a whole can of worms of its own, certainly. People have so much potential to change (often for the worse, though not always) when online interactions are added to the mix. Thanks for stressing that!

      I look forward to writing next month, and to reading your next comment!

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  2. I tend to talk about BtT the same way to anyone who asks about what I do: “It’s a blog/website where we talk about anime and religion from a Christian perspective.” The word “ministry” might not come up until they ask whether I’m being paid—though I’m starting to preempt that question and say, “It’s a ministry, just volunteer, but I really enjoy it and believe in what we’re doing.”

    As someone with a creative writing degree and an interest in working with words for a living, I often emphasize the writing/editing aspects. This is especially true when I’m talking with friends from school, other writers, or older adults who keep asking about my future, how I want to use my creative writing degree, etc.

    I rarely feel like I’m leading a double life, even online, where my name and profile pic are different. I have information I withhold from Twitter/aniblogging folk for the sake of safety, and I have information I withhold from Facebook because I don’t want to flood people’s feeds with things they’re not that interested in. Offline, I just try to work on my conversation skills and make sure I don’t talk someone’s ear off when they show interest in anime or what I do at BtT. I continue to learn how to balance my openness with sensitivity to time, place, and audience. If I find that there are aspects of my life I haven’t been talking about much (ex: my faith), it’s usually because I haven’t spent enough time focusing on it in private, rather than because I’m consciously or unconsciously censoring my thoughts.

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    1. That’s an interesting (and totally Annalyn-esque, I might add) perspective you bring up. Though I would hardly consider myself an extravert, over the past 5 years or so I have certainly become a much more social human being than I once was. Perhaps my sensitivity to this subject has to do with moving through that transition.

      As always, I admire your honesty and thoughtfulness.

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      1. I can see how becoming more social could affect your perspective. I suspect you’re more aware of other people than I can be, and perhaps more sensitive to the need to adapt behavior in various settings. That’s a strength, especially, I imagine, if you’re often in a business or foreign setting.

        I approach social situations with this theory that if I’m honest and comfortable with all aspects of who I am, the people I’m with will feel more comfortable being themselves, too. Then we can get to the really satisfying conversations. On the other hand, if I only ever show one side of myself, the person with me will probably follow suit, and we’ll both lose. My other theory is that people won’t be disappointed in me if they learn my flaws and various interests early on. While most people may hide parts of themselves because they fear rejection, I overshare because I fear rejection. I’d rather they run away immediately.

        “Annalyn-esque,” huh? Guess I’m consistent! ^_^

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  3. I totally get the feeling of living a multi-faced life, particularly via social media…. I mean, I’ve gone so far as to not just filter what I post online and where I post it, but to also actively be selective about which of my social media sites link to which other social media sites…. my staff excerpt links here will link you to my Twitter, dusty personal blog, also-dusty DeviantArt, etc., but my Facebook? Far too personal. All the sites linked from here contain little to no info about who I am in real life, offline. I also in all fairness had a second “personal blog” I used for a while, with no ties to my real name or who I really am, where no one I know offline knows the URL. Why? I could show a different face there – a slightly more authentic “look, I’mma be honest and whine about something for a bit” face without a backlash of “this isn’t like you!” from people who (think they) know me.
    Recently, however, I tried to kind of sync up more of my social media. It’s sort of been a challenge to myself to be a little bit more authentic. I may be showing a different “face” on each platform (e.g. I use Twitter for mostly re-tweets or short funny sayings, Facebook for posting more personal stuff or longer funny stories, and DeviantArt and Tumblr for the purpose of posting my poetry), but I’ve come to realize they are all faces of me. On top of being a challenge to be more authentic, it’s also been a challenge to learn to deal with criticism against me and who I am better. Less filtering and more “So what?” if I get negative feedback (e.g. “I can’t believe you agree with ___” or “wow, did you really post something that embarassing?”) for being authentic.

    Anyways, I enjoyed the authenticity here – definitely no two-faced-ness you need to worry about. 🙂 And since you seem to be somewhat concerned about it, I think that these “Letters from the Editor” will help you work on that! 🙂

    As a side note: Your clarification about meaning “otaku” in the sense of the “American definition” made me laugh. Upon them striking up a convo with me around anime, I called myself an otaku in front of someone I had JUST met at a Christian YA group. They looked at me like I had two heads and said something like “…. isn’t that usually a bad thing to be?” Turns out they were unfamiliar with the American meaning, assuming I meant it in the Japanese sense. We cleared it up and laughed it off, but it was pretty funny, since I’d have never even thought to clarify it had he not said anything. XD

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    1. I appreciate your input and experience on the topic. It’s nice to hear what someone else has experience regarding something similar 🙂

      As far as the word “otaku” goes, I’m a firm believer that language is fluid. The word has a rather negative connotation in Japanese, and can mean a number of things (it’s not just limited to anime and related media). Once it got imported here, and then anime slowly built up popularity over decades, people started using it to mean people who like Japanese media a lot. I think it still contains a trace of the negative connotation, but I also don’t think there’s a need to “correct” people with the original meaning. Just go with the flow, I say! So yeah, we’re all jolly otaku here (and some of us probably オタク as well)~ 😀

      Now go have a conversation with Kaze about “moe” 😛

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      1. Yup! You’re definitely not alone in it! 🙂

        Haha same! I have a t-shirt with it with the more American definition of it (someone with borderline or fully obsessive interest in anime, manga, and video games). Yup. Definitely a オタク. 😛

        Hahahaaaa no. I did that already. Never again. 😛

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  4. Although not entirely the same situation, I can empathize with where you are regarding how you define BtT and I had the same problem with Otaku Collision. To non believers, both online and in my daily life, I kept on trying to keep a tricky balance between faith and anime, like walking on a tight rope or weighing food on a measuring scale. I wanted the blog to have a focus on anime and sprinkle enough Christian faith so that people would begin to think outside of their comfort zone without scaring them away. For a long time, I thought that this approach was the correct method, but, in fact, I began to realize that it was doing more harm than help. I was compromising the truth and losing sight of true purpose of Otaku Collision, which is to share the Gospel through anime to non believers. And when I would freely proclaim how my blog was a Christian site devoted to seeing lives changed and for God to move, I quickly saw the double life that I was leading in regards to the identity of my blog.

    Now, even in the midst of the atheists, agnostics, Hindus, and those of other religious/non religious affiliation that visit my site, I’m not afraid to show my Christian colors in the open and raise the banner for Jesus. I saw that when I hid these for the sake of “not offending anyone” or “keeping the peace”, I was living a double life myself. The same is true now for when I explain what my blog is to other people. To all, I tell the purpose of the blog and don’t withhold or manipulate information simply because of the different groups that I interact with.

    I would just encourage you, Japes, that whatever you choose to do that you would make sure that the reason BtT was founded be how you explain what you do to others. I truly believe that that will give you the closure from “leading a triple life” and give you a peaceful conscience.

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    1. Thanks for your input, Micah!

      There’s a tricky balance to be had. I think it’s valuable to be completely open and honest, but I think there’s also a way to be open and honest without being overbearing. In a unique position like Beneath the Tangles’, I think the most appropriate approach changes depending on your situation, but in mine it is striking that balance.

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    2. Good explanation here! Thank you for doing what you do on your blog, and in Jesus name many will come to know the Truth, peace and healing through their Heavenly Father.

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  5. Interesting article. I will be enjoying this column, and it helps us to get to know more of you as well.

    Leading different lives is a full topic that many deal with. May I suggest something to you, and take this or not but it’s just my personal opinion. Do not be afraid to mention words or phrases that people will be put off to. If they are, then whatever, but especially when it comes to sharing Christ with them don’t let that “what will they think?” question come to mind. Just share who and what we are, and that we are unashamed of the gospel of Christ because it’s salvation to those who don’t know.

    I love sharing about our site when I get the chance, though I rarely meet someone who is into anime to be honest. I think only one of my friends actually watch any, excluding those I chat with on the BtT staff (which I consider friends as well!).

    God bless.

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      1. Japes…I think I kind of understand how you feel. You could say that my original arrival on Beaneath the Tangles was the arrival of one of my three lives. There are, I suppose, currently three:

        (1). The legal professional and skilled writer with a disability.

        (2). The dorky, intelligent, infectiously excitable writer known by close friends, who is accompanied by the meta-fictive alter (‘Meta’ as in drawn from an overarching trope and not a specific character, ‘fictive’ as in initially sourced from fiction, although it’s one of those cases where that’s supremely debatable) known as Mar and has been for well over six years.

        (3). The quasi-religious seeker of information who wonders if there’s something more complicated going on than a mere accident of brain chemistry, and is intrigued by the stories provided by the group of people who say that they too have met a being of spirit. And that He saved their souls, a narrative strangely parallel to things I have heard.

        If you want to get really specific, there are at least two more lives I live, depending on how much information I care to tell. But in general I wonder if this is something that many people who enter a different subculture than the one they came from, or straddle multiple subcultures as you do, face. There are many posts on here about how the otaku subculture’s worldview is quite different from the Christian worldview, as a general rule— And about how to reconcile that. Indeed, how to reconcile the fact that many otaku are people who were badly wounded by a Judeo-Christian culture…..with true Christianity.

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        1. I think that there’s also an element of such “triple lives” that’s meant to try and bridge a gap between the intensely personal and private and the rest of Reality. None of the above three “mes” that there are fully represent my true self, which only Mar and God Himself ever see. Most people try to hide how self-obsessed they really are from other humans, try to mask their Pride— We are ultimately ashamed of our own level of egoistic conceit. Like Adam and Eve hiding behind leaves in the garden, we each hide ourselves behind selfless Jungian “personas” that society can tolerate.

          What an irony, then, that it is that person that God loves and wants to meet and forgives, and only that person who can really believe that they specifically were courted by the Almighty…And only that person who can love and worship with total abandon.

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          1. This reminds me intensely of the Japanese concept of 建前 (tatemae), where people put on a public face that masks their true feelings in order to fit into society. There’s a part of this that is necessary in an imperfect world, which I think you alluded to in your illustration of Adam and Eve, though the closer one’s “personas,” the less taxing it is on your psyche.

            Acknowledging these different (and sometimes conflicting) sides is the first step to figuring out a way reconcile them all, I would say, as I have been slowly doing in my own life.

            Thank you so much for sharing your own thoughts! I think you touched on some areas that, should I rewrite the article now, I would absolutely include!

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