Sayonara all over again


This is a poster for the Kyoto Grand Exposition in Commemoration of the 1928 Imperial Coronation. Given the nationalist path Japan subsequently took, it’s hard not to read this as pure imperialist propaganda. And it is also that.

Almost a century later, in 2025, Osaka will host another Grand Expo. Next year, Tokyo will host the summer Olympic and Paralympic games. Both cities are investing heavily in their infrastructure, preparing for the eyes of the world to be on them.

For those who don’t know, I’ve been splitting my time between Japan and the US for most of the last five years. I am returning now from another visit — this time just two months.

Japan is, for the Westerner, without a doubt the most relentlessly foreign country on the planet. Young people with no responsibilities — recent college graduates, mostly — flock there in search of canned adventure, a sanitized urban safari full of exotic but ultimately safe experiences.

Indeed, The Economist once described Japan as a Disneyland-like nation where everyone is not only painfully accommodating but seems to have a precise role to play, where the streets are perpetually landscaped and clean, where the trains run regularly and on time (but not so late as to encourage any mischief), and there’s a neon light show every evening.

In my experience, most Westerners don’t get past that. Many fall in love with the image of herself portrayed in anime and manga, which is exactly like falling in love with the Disney version of America (which many Japanese do).

I’m fortunate to have gotten a backstage pass. I’ve written here about the country and where she stands at this point in her history. But for me, it’s home, and I leave my heart there in the care of someone very special.