Saturday, February 13, 2010

My Japanese January

I don't live in Japan, but living in New York is the next best thing. We may not have an organized Japan Town the way LA and San Francisco do, but there are a ton of Japanese-related things to do here. We've already turned the first page on the 2010 calendar – and we're nearing the completion of the second week of February! – and I've taken a moment to reflect upon the cultural highlights of January. Among the highlights: I wrote my first story for Baseball Reflections, met a Japanese singer who dresses as a maid, was interviewed by a major Japanese television network, heard Bobby Valentine speak at the Japan Society, saw a Japanese dance performance, and attended the aforementioned maid's show at a karaoke place, and had a couple of great Japanese classes.

"I'm just a bunny who doesn't speak English very well . . ."
In my ongoing attempt to learn about Japan's (and New York's) otaku culture, I met Reni-chan. I've written about Reni and her Japanese "Maid" Shows for examiner.com. I decided that in order to learn more about the phenomenon of cosplay culture in NYC, I should get to know more about Reni and why she dresses as a maid with bunny ears. Reni's manager, Agent Sato, was kind enough to arrange an interview at NHK studios in Midtown Manhattan. NHK followed Reni around the entire month of January, recording her every move for New York Wave, a documentary that is scheduled to air in Japan in early March. Meeting her was a treat, and she told me that she felt more comfortable being interviewed by a female.



The interviewer becomes the interviewee
Agent Sato scheduled my interview with Reni at the NHK studios so that the New York Wave documentarians could record a portion of it. I'm thrilled by the prospect of appearing on Japanese television, but I realize that the editors have a month's worth of footage for a twenty-minute program. Therefore, the likelihood of my face ending up on the cutting-room floor is high. The premise of the show centers around New Yorkers – not necessarily Japanese, not necessarily American – who have become successful through creative ideas. Hiroshi Noguchi, the director of the documentary, first learned about Reni after his daughter saw her at the New York Anime Festival last September. He was intrigued – as I was – about how a Japanese person with limited English speaking skills can come to New York and create a niche for herself among an obscure fan base. When he asked me what interested me about Reni, my response was, "I'm fascinated by people who are fascinated with Reni."



Japanese Maid Show at a Karaoke Bar
A few days after meeting and interviewing Reni, I attended her Maid Show at Karaoke Top Tunes. There I met people who are fascinated by Reni and with Japan's anime and cosplay culture in general. Many young people were dressed as their favorite anime characters and sang along with Reni and her guests. Although many people there seemed unashamed of their costumes, I spoke to a couple of people who don't like to advertise their love of anime. "I'm an adult; I'm a professional," says Brandon, someone who considers himself an otaku but admits it to only likeminded friends. Ari, who played football in high school, kept his otaku leanings and cosplay activities a secret until he met friends in college who shared his passion. The show was actually more entertaining that I anticipated, and Reni's performance proved to me that she's actually a good singer. Make no mistake; Reni isn't just a bunny. She's an intelligent, talented person who seems genuinely devoted to her growing fan base. My study of otaku/anime/cosplay continues, so you haven't heard the last of Reni.



Q&A with Bobby V.
The highlight of last month was by far Bobby Valentine's lecture at the Japan Society. A few blogs linked to the blog entry I wrote. I thought that was cool. MetsBlog.com and Amazin' Avenue used one quote from the Q&A blog entry to speculate about the possibility of Bobby V.'s return to managing the Mets. I think it's amazing how one quote can spark a conversation.



The second week of February is nearing an end, and my Japanese cultural adventures continue. Learning to speak Japanese. Food forum at the Japan Society (article forthcoming). My next installment for Baseball Reflections.

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