Somewhere in Japan

Dispatch № 38: As-Is

35°51’12.0″N, 139°39’18.8″E

Many people say they love Japan, but really only love a particular, highly distorted concept of it. They don’t realize it, and they don’t like it when you point it out. Often, they are also disappointed when they come here and realize that Kyoto isn’t all geishas and temples at sunset, that Tokyo isn’t a neon cyberpunk wonderland, and that anime isn’t real life.

Unless, of course, they’re so completely committed to their expectations that they just see what they want to see, anyway, and reality goes unnoticed.

A big part of the problem has to do with the most popular sorts of images people see. These are the over-saturated, cherry-picked views of Japan that dominate much of the internet. If you look around at Japan-related feeds on Facebook, Instagram, or Reddit, you’ll quickly see what I mean.

It’s very common and very human to hold idealized, romantic fantasies. We all do it, and within reason it’s fine. It’s often taken to an extreme, however. These images express a fantasy about Japan some people want to believe in, and the depiction is about as truthful as a bad made-for-TV movie that is based on a true story, but only technically, and only just barely.

What good do these fantasies do, for us or for what we love? When we prioritize fiction over fact, we don’t really love what we claim to. We only love the idea of it, and an inaccurate idea at that.

Just as the overly retouched images in fashion magazines distort perceptions about bodies and beauty, popular images of Japan distort what people think of this place and its people.

If you really love something and believe in it, then kill off your fantasies. Let the truth stand on its own. Love it as-is, for what it is. And if you think you love Japan, that’s great. Just make sure you love it for its own sake, not for what you expect it to be.

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Picture of David R Munson

David R Munson

Photographer, essayist, wanderer, weirdo. Everything is interesting if you give it an honest chance to be.

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