Dies irae: Amantes amentes

I recently finished reading the highly praised epic Dies irae, and what an epic it was. While a lot of it feels nothing more than action and redundant, generic speeches, there is a lot more going on beneath the surface of the plot which does not get revealed until the latter half. Moreover, many have bestowed upon it the title of the best chuunibyou story ever written. Contrary to what probably the vast majority of Western anime fans may believe, the chuuni genre is hardly limited to teenagers glorifying the idea of superpowers and magic words. Rather the genre itself is one which glorifies anything in the name of awesome for the sake of awesome. Rather than trying to be serious about the logic of the powers and plot, it instead has self-awareness about its own absurdity and plays that up even more. And so with stories like Dies irae, the superpowers are completely real, the stakes are as ridiculous as what they claim, and chanting psalms to unleash your true power is an absolute requirement – all because it’s cooler that way and nothing more. Even so, Dies irae rises above the rest of chuuni stories as being something that is incredibly well written. The prose is so elegant and grandiose, reflecting in its annals the embellished glorification of superpowers, and the English localization masterfully translates this immersive tone to the spectators of the Grand Guignol.

Before delving into the prophesized Day of Wrath, it is necessary to understand that Dies is heavily influenced by Also sprach Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche, as many of the characters, themes, and ideas are directly based off it. To be completely frank, a fully accurate and fair analysis is something outside my range of knowledge and understanding. I could never hope to do a proper philosophical analysis of it as it pertains to Christianity. But simultaneously, we must remember that Dies is also the pinnacle of the chuuni genre – a genre that is not supposed to be taken seriously. Thus, it is this comical dichotomy that creates a story engrossed in philosophy yet meaningless in its delivery. Any outlandish interpretation we choose to make of it can therefore be argued as viable not because that is what the work is about but because making such a claim would in the spirit of the work. In other words, the genre is not about speaking in red but speaking in gold. It is not about stating the truth but about creating your own truth.

To give a quick and horribly simplified summary of Also sprach Zarathustra and Nietzsche’s philosophy, it includes a harsh critique about Christian theology. Zarathustra is a man who speaks of the ubermensch, an individual who journeys to master himself and has complete power over himself. Humans are but the transition between monkey and ubermensch. Furthermore, the universe is always in flux and changing; nothing is fixed. Therefore, the ideas of an unchanging God and an absolute truth and even a fixed morality are all false. To be misguided by something claiming to be unchanging is to fail as an ubermensch. Finally, the universe is always recurring in a phenomenon known as the eternal recurrence. An ubermensch accepts this for he has no regrets in life and would be delighted to repeat anything in life no matter how much suffering it entails, going as far as to even laugh in the face of hardship. Therefore, the idea of heaven or hell after your life ends is an idea for the weak, those who cannot accept the reality of the present. To desire an end is to run from the truth of eternal recurrence. Okay, that is far from an acceptable summary, but these ideas are critical to understanding Dies irae and the following explanation.

Now I must summarize a 50 hour long VN in a short paragraph. Ren, the protagonist of our story, is forced to gain supernatural powers and fight against superpowered Nazis or let the world be destroyed by their leader. He is given the name Zarathustra and as an ubermensch, is able to alter the world around him with his own desires, by his own powers, as are the antagonists. Skipping over a million plot points, he will find himself facing off against the two leaders of the remnant Nazis: Reinhard the Beast and Mercurius the Serpent, references that are far from a coincidence. In the world of Dies irae, Mercurius is an enigmatic figure whose true nature is the god of the world who achieved the highest level an ubermensch can and paints the laws of the universe with his dearest wish: eternal recurrence. In the end, Ren puts an end to both The Beast and The Serpent, ending the eternal recurrence. His partner Marie takes the Throne of the universe and paints over the Law with her desire to envelop every person with her love. Wow I butchered that summary too but these are the key points I need to comprehend things

In Nietzsche’s work, Zarathustra accepts the eternal recurrence, but Ren destroys it. In other words, Dies irae can be viewed as a criticism of Nietzsche’s criticism of Christianity. The eternal recurrence which he speaks of is but a farce and ended by one who carries the very name of Nietzsche’s prophet-like protagonist. Furthermore, the eternal recurrence is created by The Serpent, who symbolizes Temptation.  In other words, in the world of Dies, eternal recurrence represents the cycle of sin as we constantly repeat the folly of our own actions (No doubt Taichi’s Channel has a thing or two to say about this). Indeed, the characters constantly refer to this phenomenon of eternal recurrence, stating they already have foreknowledge of a situation even if it is the first time they have experienced it. For the cycle of sin is the repetition of our folly and though we have foreknowledge of it, we still sin even while knowing exactly how it will go.

If Mercurius the Serpent represents Temptation then Reinhard the Beast naturally represents Satan. It is important to note that Reinhard, The Beguiling Light, was a normal man until he encountered the Serpent, whose silver-tongued words tempted Reinhard down the path of becoming Mephistopheles. As you may recall, Lucifer was originally an angel of heaven, and it was only when he listened to the temptations of his pride that he became the Satan of today. Furthermore, Reinhard is constantly referred to as being incredibly handsome; he is said to be the most beautiful man the characters have ever laid eyes on. Yet again, this description is fully intentional to make a parallel to his Biblical identity. Although, above everything else, the story outright calls him the Devil, making it less symbolic and more literal. Alongside this blatant parallel to the Devil, Reinhard is depicted as the ideal ubermensch: he is someone who accepts and loves everything equally. He does not regret and he does not fear whatever befalls him. Even when faced with death, he merely laughs in amusement, exactly as Nietzsche describes an ubermensch should. As such, it is clear that Dies irae is depicting Nietzsche’s ideal as the Devil incarnate, the one who rules over Legion.

Finally, with the destruction of both Mercurius the Serpent and Reinhard the Beast, the Throne of the World of Emanation is usurped by Marie the goddess who envelops all with her love. Most notably is that she chooses to envelop all the antagonists including Reinhard with her love as well. Her love does not discriminate against anyone. Sound familiar? By putting an end to the cycle of sin, the laws of the universe are replaced with infinite love – God’s love for us. Nietzsche’s entire philosophy is undermined by a power even greater than eternal recurrence: Christianity. Viewing the world of Dies irae a little differently, one could even call it a microcosm of our spiritual lives wherein we are initially ruled by the emanation of temptation, and it is only after a long struggle that we are able to put God on the Korsia of our lives and escape the Ghetto. Indeed, the story which unfolds is revealed to be but a theatrical act directed by The Serpent who grew wary of the eternal recurrence created by his own desires. We too will grow weary of the cycle of sin which tempts as daily, for no gratification in life can fill the gaping hole in our lives but Christ. We seek an end to eternal recurrence yet simultaneously do not choose to break free of it ourselves, even if the power of formation is buried in our souls. It is when the one who sits on the Throne emanates love throughout our lives that we can finally put an end to the deceitful cycle of eternal recurrence. Ren’s rejection of the supernatural and his return to the ordinary is depicted as the equivalent of the return of Odysseus to his wife Penelope. It is only through similar struggles that we too can return home to be the bride of Christ.

It may be easy to argue that my interpretation of Dies irae is wrong, but in the context of a chuuni story, does it even matter? Making pseudo-intellectual claims is the entire basis of the genre; with Dies being what it is, my entire argument could only be wrong by not being ridiculous enough. By making the original story of Zarathustra the basis of Dies irae, Masada is discussing Christianity in the way only a chuuni would. For the Light of the world is what birthed the story which he penned. Therefore, let this be my Beri’ah, the manifestation of my desires in the real world, so I’ll say it in gold:

Dies irae is a criticism of Nietzsche’s criticism of Christianity

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The Importance of Your Most Mundane Choices

This post will heavily spoil the content of the visual novel Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi. You have been warned.

She seems innocent enough…

Regardless of how much you know about what makes the visual novel Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi as interesting as it is, one of the main heroines Aoi immediately begins the story by talking about how they are in a game. Thus, the lurking suspicion of whether she is just being a denpa girl or actually breaking the 4th wall is there from the onset. However, no matter what she says about being a fictional character, or about how the game CGs or the “god” of the outer world, it is never clear which of the two it is. At least for the first third/route of the game, which features the cute childhood friend Miyuki. However, after you complete her route and begin Aoi’s, things slowly get weirder as you interact with the denpa girl. The natural conclusion is that she’s just crazy with her talk about god and needing sex to maintain her existence. Then the game reaches a climactic scene just after you’ve fulfilled her obsession for sex. Miyuki crawls out from under the bed (and now the Nitroplus horror begins) where you just did the deed, straight up murders Aoi and breaks the protagonist’s limbs with her baseball bat, accusing him of betraying her. But this is a VN, and on the Aoi route, you never got together with Miyuki. Yes, but she’s not talking about THIS route, and she’s not talking to the protagonist. She’s talking about the previous route, and she’s talking to the YOU behind the monitor screen, playing this game.

And thus the 4th wall is shattered as you enter the final leg of the story that challenges everything you thought you knew about this game. The game is actually forcefully closed and rebooted. The new loading game screen looks like some 8-bit game out of the 80s. You can try to load your old saves but they no longer exist. Yes, the game literally deletes all your save files. You start a new game that appears to be the same as before. However, if you click the wrong choice, you end up in an inescapable loop. You close the game because there is no way to exit the loop. The game will not close. There is literally no way to close the game other than doing a forced shutdown (at least, I couldn’t figure it out. Maybe there’s some gimmick). You reboot the game. Instead of what you expect, Miyuki appears and asks “do you understand how this world works now?” You are no longer playing a game. You are playing against Miyuki, and she knows exactly what you are doing and can control the game as she pleases.

怖怖怖怖怖怖

The rest of the game basically consists of trying to outwit Miyuki, in a loop of satisfying Miyuki’s yandere lust for you all while the game remembers every action and choice you’ve taken. Even when you think you’ve outwitted Miyuki, she still knows because she is the game. The final climax involves YOU the player, not the protagonist, choosing which girl you truly love. After the credits roll, you will find you cannot go back to replay anything. The only way is to completely uninstall the game and reinstall anew. In this way, the game’s story and message has a direct effect on the real world. In the end, what the game asks of you is that even though you are playing a game, to truly consider the meaning of the choices you make and care for the characters you interact with. While it comes off as an amusing and hilarious trick that makes for a memorable game, it is nevertheless something that is very interesting to consider on a deeper level.

How much do you really think about the choices you make in life? I’m not talking about the big ones like where to go for college, whether to buy a house, or whether to take that job on the other side of the world. But how much do you think about the small choices; do you even think at all? How much do you think about the daily conversation you have with your coworker, or about the momentary interaction with a stranger on the street? There is a natural inclination to care less about the decisions you make when it comes to people you are not too invested in or are not a big part of your life. After all, there’s nothing wrong with going through the motions that society expects of you for a person you may never interact with again. Who cares if it’s thoughtless when your paths will never cross again? Yet, this VN challenges that very inclination through fictional characters – people who are not people; characters who are purely programmed by a script.

Christians always speak of “planting seeds,” but seem to easily glance over the fact that everyone is always planting seeds. The question is what kind of seeds are you planting? What sort of effects are you going to have on others with your words and actions, for everything you say and do can be seen as the act of planting seeds. If Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi can teach you to treat fictional girls with even the smallest extra degree of respect, love, and thoughtfulness, then how much better should you treat the real people around you? When you start a new game in a VN, the characters do not remember what you did in previous game. It’s your chance to start fresh and try a new route to see a different part of the story. But the girls in this game remember what you’ve done and said. Your actions have left a permanent mark in their lives. In the same way, your actions can leave lasting impressions on people no matter how little you may think they do. While people may not remember all of their experiences in life, those experiences are still a part of what makes up who they are and who they become.

We don’t know the situations of those around us; even our close friends have personal thoughts and feelings that they do not share on a regular basis. Thus, our actions and words can play far larger roles in people’s lives than we realize, even if they are strangers. This is not about helping others, reaching out to them, or trying to save anyone, per se. What Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi wishes to convey is only that you be fully considerate of the decisions you make and the effects of those decisions on those around you.  Is this not right in line with living our lives out as followers of Christ? Being loving and thoughtful towards others is not something to be done when it suits us but rather incessantly throughout our lives. You don’t know what effects your decisions will have on the strangers around you, but at the very least, you should act with the awareness that you are an ambassador to Christ, and every action you make is representative of your beliefs. Strangers aren’t NPCs in a game, and in the real world, there are no re-dos.

 

Tamura Yukari and Life with Depression

Tamura Yukari aka Yukarin is one of the most popular seiyuu of our time and for good reason. In terms of sheer voice acting talent, she is one of the best, able to do everything from a cute innocent schoolgirl to a haughty femme fatale. Be it her acting, her singing, or her forever 17 looks, she is loved by anyone who knows anything about anime voice acting. Yet, I would wager a guess that these celebrity features fail to properly convey the real reason why some of her biggest fans love her.  When it comes down to it, Yukarin is human just like the rest of us, but she shows it far more than your usual celebrity. I wonder if part of it is that she entered the industry and fame at just the right time. She isn’t a far back veteran from the 80s/90s when seiyuu never really got the spotlight as pop culture media. Yet, she’s also old enough that she hasn’t been a victim of this recent trend of idolizing seiyuu and selling them based on looks, personality, etc. rather than talent. This generation of seiyuu is very interesting to follow, both during the early 2000s and in the context of the uprising newer generation; however, for me, Yukarin takes the spotlight when it comes to the hardest things in life.

Following celebrities, there is always some kind of wall between their stage personality and lifestyle versus their real personality and lifestyle. Especially in Japan, where the paparazzi exists at a much lower tier of obsession (even more so when it comes to the anime world, where there’s hardly any money to made gossiping about seiyuu. Unless you’re seiyuu A *coughMinorincough*), it is not uncommon for fans to be in the dark about their favorite actors’ lives. Take for example marriages and childbirth which are usually announced after they happen or shortly before, respectively, and come as a big surprise to everyone. Conversely, with the whole culture of radio shows and social media in Japan, we actually get an interesting and informative peek into their lives. It’s a strange balance, but I do think the anime culture that’s been fostered has helped fans be fans of people rather than actors.

As such, when it comes to seiyuu like Tamura Yukari, it’s really hard for me to say my favorite thing about her is her talent or voice. Instead, what I’m drawn most to is her real personality and how human and relatable she can be. Unlike most of her fellow seiyuu, Yukarin tends to be a lot more pessimistic about things. It’s pretty common for her to berate herself and comment on how she isn’t doing a good enough job. Moreover, on both her blog and twitter, she often says a lot of things that make it clear that she suffers from depression, even if she has never outright stated it. This, above all else, is fascinating, heart-breaking, and alluring simultaneously.

Nendoroid Yukarin

It is counterintuitive to the cultural expectations of society, especially Japanese society, that someone with depression could be so loved and admired. In fact, it seems counterintuitive that someone so loved and admired could even have depression. Yet, I think the phenomenon of Yukarin reveals a crucial truth about depression as a mental illness. In Yukarin is the embodiment of the fact that depression is not logical. As someone who suffers from depression myself, I know it tries to be logical when it can. A lot of the times, the lies I tell myself make a lot of sense, so naturally, I should be depressed. But other times, it makes absolutely no sense. Sometimes I will just be depressed and I can’t even figure out an excuse, true or false, as to why I feel the way I do. I just do. Yukarin is someone who is loved by thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands if we go by her 600k+ twitter followers, yet she’ll still talk of feeling sad, lonely, and worthless. Even someone as cute, cheerful, lovely, and popular as her can sometimes have these negative feelings and suffer from an illness that goes beyond all reason.

And that, I think, is exactly what makes her so appealing. Because if someone like Yukarin can feel that way, then it’s perfectly reasonable for a regular person to feel similar, negative things. This is not to say that being depressed and thinking negative thoughts is a good thing; however, it is reassuring for people to remember it is also a legitimate part of life. Particularly in the Japanese culture which has a difficult time even admitting mental illness is a real problem but rather blames such feelings on weakness, I suspect being able to relate to a celebrity who gets depressed and lonely is something that is very meaningful to many Japanese fans. Even for me, listening to Yukarin’s complaints and thinking about them in the context of how popular and “successful” her life is can be a much needed support. It really helps me to know that I’m not alone in feeling the way I do. It’s not a justification that depression is A-okay (though surely some might end up that way), but it certainly alleviates the idea that there is something wrong with me for feeling the way I do. Rather than becoming more depressed for being depressed, I can take a little bit of solace by remembering that even someone like Yukarin sometimes feels the same. Surely, many other fans feel similarly; our love for Yukarin is bolstered not by her successes in life but by her failures.

Anime Yukarin

Christians often cite depression and suicide as a major problem with Japan and a critical reason why the country is so in need of God. But I think Christians are often so concerned with fixing the problem that they don’t see some of the solutions that the culture has unintentionally discovered. As the responses to Yukarin’s own solitary actions show, there’s something about one’s own shortcomings that resonates with a lot of people. And while Christians try to do this too, they seem to forget about the powerful factor anonymity provides people, especially the Japanese who are so culturally fearful of drawing attention to themselves, or the importance of forming a meaningful connection. In some ways, Yukarin has done more for Japan than the average Christian missionary; in some ways, she has done more for me than the average fellow Christian. She is amazing precisely because she is not amazing, and that is a quality I think a lot of Christians can learn and grow from, not just individually but also in interacting with the people of Japan.

 

Utawarerumono and God

The following is a guest post by my good friend and fellow VN enthusiast Japesland of Beneath the Tangles. When it comes to seeing Christianity in eroge, he is as weird as I am, so I hope you find his thoughts on the topic interesting. Utawarerumono is currently being localized, with the first 2 games already released and the final game scheduled for release this September. Naturally, the post will contain spoilers for the games, so you have been warned.

One of the craziest things about being a Christian is seeing Christianity in everything. I’m no psychologist. In fact, having only taken the most basic of psychology courses in college, I’m sure I know less about psychology than many with at least a basic college education. I’ve also been surrounded by Christianity and Christians for more or less my entire life. Those with more than my aforementioned level of psychology education could probably point out a physiological reason for why I constantly see the story of God and Israel all around me, and I could hardly refute that line of reasoning. However, that does not change the fact that I continue to see God no matter where I look, no matter how much I do or do not want to acknowledge it.

The most recent instance of this comes from finishing one of my favorite, in a guilty pleasure sort of way, video game series of all time: Utawarerumono.

Looking at the history of the series and its most basic premise would seem to indicate anything but a relation to Christianity. The series began almost twenty years ago exclusively on PC as an eroge with light strategic role playing game elements (notably, like some of its peers, the series has picked up some degree of popularity, so it no longer has to rely on porn as a selling point). The story essentially takes place in a fantasy Yayoi period, perfect for chuunibyo and nearly all characters feature animal tails and ears, making it appear marketed particularly toward a fetish-driven audience.

Yet in spite of all this, now that the series has come to its three-game conclusion spread over nearly two decades, I couldn’t help but be moved to my very core at not only an emotional, but a spiritual level.

The first game of the series has you playing an amnesiac human who has awoken in an unfamiliar world filled with unfamiliar creatures. Throughout the course of the game, you ultimately discover that this world is a post apocalyptic earth, and your character has only survived and awoken at this point because of his existence as a sort of god (the explanation is far too complex to explain here). By the end of the game, the climax has you sacrificing yourself, sealing yourself away with your more or less evil half in order to save the whole of society as it has managed to exist to this point.At this point the story is hardly Christian in nature. In fact, the concept of yin and yang is far more prevalent, necessitating that the good and evil halves of this deity be sealed away indefinitely.

Then enter the final two entries in the series.

In these two games you play as a human in the true sense of the word. Unlike the first game, you not only think you’re a human, you know you’re a human. There is nothing to indicate otherwise in the whole of the narrative. However, like the first game, you end up concluding the series by sacrificing yourself and ultimately sealing yourself away in a climatic conclusion that results in being killed by a great evil, returning temporarily from the afterlife, then returning to the afterlife as an exchange of sorts with the sealed main character from the first game (it’s worth noting that these games follow the first game by nearly 20 years, both in real life and in the context of the story. That’s a long time to wait for players and characters alike, and makes a more significant impact than my simple explanation does it justice).

Much more happens in the plot than this, but the Gospel connection that I just can’t forget, despite its analogous inconsistencies, comes down to matching each character with a Bible element. The main character from the original game is God as he interacts directly with his people, perhaps referred to best as the Holy Spirit. The main character of the second and third entries is the human element of God: Jesus. Both characters have similar, yet fundamentally different existences, in some ways analogous to the relationship of these two facets of the Christian God.

In Utawarerumono, the first game’s protagonist, Hakuoro, leads his people much like the people of Israel, through hardship and strife, enduring great loss, but ultimately into prosperity, then necessarily departing from their presence for a limited period of time (still there in spirit, but no longer leading in the direct fashion that he once had). Many years later, the protagonist of the final entries, Haku, leads a different group in a much different and more personal way, resulting finally in his own necessitated death. However, in spite of this death, he returns to life shortly after to “finish the job,” after which he returns to his afterlife state, exchanging places with Hakuoro, finally returning Hakuoro to direct contact with the people he led, now increased many fold.

Anyone with passing knowledge of the Biblical narrative, whether or not you call it “history” will see the connections here. Israel’s God once led the nation tangibly and directly before an extended period of several hundred years of basically “radio silence” following the last of the prophets. Then entered Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself for all, returning to life physically and as a human for a short time before returning to Heaven. At this point, in his place, He sends the Holy Spirit to lead the people, much like God had allegedly led Israel in ages past.

So am I crazy?

If you haven’t played the games yourself, it’s obviously hard to say, as my account is colored by my Christian faith in every way fathomable. But rather than claiming that these flawed connections between a dumb game and the Bible are evidence of God, I think it’s significant to note that this interpretation can exist at all. Did God influence the writer to include these distant allusions, or am I merely seeing what I want to see because it is what I believe?

Ultimately, I don’t think the answer to that question matters, because either way it is evidence to me not that there is a God or that Christianity is true, but that if God exists and Christianity are true, He and it can truly use anything to strengthen faith and understanding. Even Utawarerumono.

Tsuki ga Kirei: The Cultural and Generational Gap of Technology

I have mostly been enjoying the Tsuki ga Kirei anime with its depiction of first love between two awkward teenagers.  The worst part has been the CGI, the best part has been the dokidoki romance; the second worst part has been the NTR, and the second best part has been whenever the NTR gets mercilessly crushed by our main characters. It’s great, adorable, and fun romance. It’ll never reach anything amazing like ef~A Tale of Memories/Melodies, but it has certainly managed to be very good at what it’s meant to do – depict awkward teenage romance. One of those aspects of awkward romance is the texting, where just thinking of what to write or how to respond can take minutes or hours. They ponder what to write then erase it and ponder more. Before they know it, the day has passed. Or when they do send a message, they wait in anticipation and anxiety. When they get a response back, their stomachs fill with butterflies and they blush and rejoice at the simplest thing. This is painfully reminiscent of my own teenage years. But it is also a thing that is very new to the world of dating and childhood.

She’s so adorable

The progression and evolution of technology has been unbelievably rapid the past hundred years and especially the past twenty years. This has changed not just how we live as a society and culture but how children are raised, and this creates generational gaps that are increasingly more difficult to overcome. Many parents do not even understand the technology that exists. Just think of the stereotype of trying to teach your mom how to use a computer or a smart phone; it’s more often true than not. How could a generation that struggles to understand emerging technology possibly understand what it’s like to grow up with that technology as part of your daily life? The answer is they can’t. And as technology continues to progress with AR and VR and even the fast paced evolution of internet culture which changes by the day, I, too, will be unable to understand the next generation. In fact, I already experience this with teenagers using terminology and memes I don’t understand. My 2 year old memes and slang are already outdated. But more than that, I also don’t understand what it’s even like to grow up with the internet as it exists today. When I was a kid, the internet was new and everyone was exploring what it could do. On dial-up internet. Today, the internet is exponentially large in comparison, with all of it at your fingertips on demand. Of course I can’t understand what it’s like to grow up with that kind of technology, at a time in one’s life where you are still learning about yourself.

Throughout the ages, parents have a habit of casting aside their children’s complaints about not understanding them. Because parents have far more life experience, they know what’s best for their children and have the right to ignore what they have to say. But every now and then, that’s not true. Parents (or adults) are still humans, and perhaps more often than we’d like to admit, the kids may know more about the situation than we do. Even with this generational gap in technology, we adults might think that just because we use the same, new technology, we can understand what’s best. But I think that’s just arrogance speaking. The different generations will use the technology differently, and this will create an entire generational culture of how they interact with the technology, one that may be completely different than the one we see and understand. Now, as someone without kids, I’m not here to tell parents how to raise their kids. However, I do think it’s important to realize that these massive developments in technology mean children are going to have a completely unique and foreign experience growing up online. As a result, the interactions with technology as you understand it will not necessarily be applicable, and it will be important to make judgments as a parent based on the culture of the children rather than the internet culture that you understand as an adult.

In similar ways, there is a cultural gap when it comes to Japan and technology. Most people fail to realize it, but Japan’s use of technology is very different than the way ours works and they are still, in many ways, living in the 90s, largely because Japan has a staunch refusal to adapt to new methodologies. They still love to use the fax machine, for example, and their website designs make you feel like you’ve gone back in time. Although slowly changing, few people have their own computers. The PC never really took off in Japan, and consequently, Japanese people have some pretty abysmal IT skills. Email is something that many older people fail to comprehend beyond the most basic usage; they use it, but they can’t understand any of its more “complex” uses, like bcc or attachments (because bcc means someone is spying and attachments all have viruses). Even when I went to Todai, most of the students had no idea how to troubleshoot a computer or how to do a lot of things I would consider simple (at least for a student at a top university). At the same time, the younger generation lives on their phones even more than we do, whether they are gaming or texting or browsing the internet (in great contrast, much of the older generation still loves their flip phones).  As a Westerner, it can be surprising to see a culture that is so divided in their use of 21st century technology. I am no expert about the exact mechanisms that happened to cause this, and that is an entire topic by itself, but it is suffice to say that this is the strange reality. Therefore, with a culture so different when it comes to technology, a similar thing occurs with the aforementioned generational gap. In fact, I would argue this cultural gap is compounded by any existing generational gap, making it even harder for Westerners to understand how these people interact with the technology around them.

LINE is really popular

Thus, I come to the main focus of what I wish to rant about. From what I have seen from Japanese churches and missionaries, the majority utilize Facebook as their social media of choice. It is the largest and most successful one, and we can easily see how useful it is in the West. However, I would argue this is an incredibly large mistake being made by people who have fallen victim to this generational and cultural gap of technology, or in this case, social media. By far the most used social media in Japan, especially with the younger generation, is Twitter and Line. You see both of these in anime on a fairly regular basis, and Tsuki ga Kirei features Line quite heavily as well. The obvious reason for that is what I’ve just stated: these are ridiculously popular in Japan. If missionaries want to reach out to the Japanese with social media, then they should really be using Twitter and Line, not Facebook.

In fact, I would argue using Facebook is not only a lesser choice but a counterproductive choice. Culturally, Japan does not use Facebook the way we do in the West. Many of them use it closer to LinkedIn, as a professional profile and/or blog. This is fairly dependent on how “Westernized” the individual is, but it is also worth noting that this means they are very unlikely to engage with things that will be perceived negatively by the public, i.e. Christianity. Thus, a Japanese person is actually motivated to avoid your Facebook page, regardless of curiosity. The same is not true of Twitter or Line. It is here that they can live out their online personas. In fact, this phenomenon is seen to a smaller degree in the West, and I am willing to bet most of you are more willing to show off your anime interests using online names rather than on Facebook. The anonymity of the internet is incredibly important to people, and so it follows that the Japanese would be more willing to engage with Christian content when their real names are not involved.

Yet, this power of anonymity goes even further. As someone who follows a number of Japanese people on Twitter, I know for a fact that many people are willing to open up to the internet about how they are feeling, what they struggle with, and their concerns about the future. I am not even talking about conversations; they post these things on Twitter for all to see without any prompting from others. Missionaries always talk about how hard it is to get the Japanese to open up and talk honestly, how hard it is to befriend them and have these kinds of conversations. They are right, but the power of the internet and anonymity makes this orders of magnitudes easier and simpler.  These people are already talking about exactly the things Christians claim are difficult to learn about, yet there are practically no Christians listening to them. So why are churches and missionaries not utilizing these social media over Facebook?

The only conclusion I can draw is because there is an enormous cultural and/or generational gap in understanding how these people interact with technology.  So in case you haven’t realized by now, I am once again criticizing Japan missionaries everywhere for their ignorance about the country they claim to love so much. Granted, I know there are examples of Christians using Twitter as a form of outreach, but for every one of those, I know ten others that prefer Facebook. I have said it before, but I often wonder if Japan missionaries have become too complacent and accepting of the smallest victories. They have used the excuse that Japanese people require years of work and friendship before opening up to others (which is generally true) such that they do not consider their current methodology is inefficient for reasons besides the aforementioned excuse, trapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy of miniature gains. All of you Japan missionaries who don’t use Twitter and Line clearly don’t know what you’re doing, so please fix it.

We Are All Terrible Communicators

The more I study Japanese, the more I realize how bad English translations are, not entirely at the fault of the translators. The languages are just so different and the nuances simply aren’t conveyed the same way. But more than things being lost in translation, I am learning just how much is lost in everyday communication, when the language of the speaker and listener is the same. In the anime Seikaisuru Kado, this idea of miscommunication and loss of information through language is used during the communication of humans with the higher dimensional being Yaha-kui zaShunina. He explains that no matter how effective language is, it can never communicate 100% of the intended information. Without a full understanding of an idea, miscommunication will certainly occur. As one of the main characters Shindo tries to communicate with him and find proper terminology, Yaha-ku zaShunina (I really don’t want to write this name out any more) often gives out scores for how accurately the information was understood, constantly noting that their communication is imperfect.

Nisio Isin of the Monogatari/Zaregoto series actually has an interesting quote on the matter of communication as well

People can’t express their thoughts a hundred percent, and what does get expressed isn’t going to make it across a hundred percent; in practice, you’re at sixty percent for each if things go well, which would mean the audience of a work gets only thirty-six percent of what the author is thinking. The other sixty-four percent is made up of misunderstandings.

Granted, the context of the quote is about authors commenting on their own work and how different people inevitably end up interpreting the same work differently (a topic that perhaps deserves its own post). However, in the context of communication in general, I find the quote to be equally relevant. Perhaps the numbers are a bit too arbitrary, but the basic sentiment holds true. Some people are skilled at expressing themselves with words, but many of us are not. How often do you struggle to find the right words only to realize you still chose the wrong ones? How often do you think someone meant one thing, only for them to counter with “that’s not what I meant”? Additionally, language itself is not perfect. Sometimes the perfect words still fall short of your intended meaning, and sometimes the clearest words will still be misinterpreted by people with a different understanding of how those words are used. I mean, we live in a world where the usage of a word like covfefe can evolve overnight.

Communication is arguably the most important thing when interacting with other people, but it takes far more effort than we like to admit, and that’s largely because so much of it involves miscommunication. Even so, disagreements are often attributed to differences in opinions, ignorance of opposing parties, or even stupidity. And sometimes these may very well be true. Everyone is ignorant about different things; we can’t all understand every topic. As harsh as it sounds, some people are less intelligent than others and can’t comprehend complex topics as easily. But if we are to acknowledge the miscommunication that arises from both a speaker’s inability to fully express their thoughts and a listener’s inability to fully interpret those words, I think we will find that many arguments are simple (or perhaps, complex) misunderstandings. Even how a word is used and interpreted differently can cause these kinds of misunderstandings.

Take for example, the term “Christian.” It should be a word that clearly denotes devotion to Christ and belief in the Gospel message. Yet somehow, it can mean a million different things. Which denomination are you? Do you go to church? Do you hate anime? Do you celebrate the idea of sinners suffering in hell? Do you believe in Christ? (I have had “Christians” tell me that their denomination does not…) A great deal of clarity is required to determine what kind of Christian you are talking about; by itself, it means almost nothing. People have all kinds of different ideas of what a given word means to them. Even though language has dictionary definitions of words, the fact remains that definitions change based on how we choose to use words, and that flux is further dependent on things like culture, beliefs, and personal experiences.

If a single word can cause confusion without follow up clarity, you can begin to imagine how many problems can arise with the added complications of context (or lack thereof), tone (which can be both helpful or detrimental), cultural differences, and worst of all, things being left unsaid entirely due to whatever human emotions we have like embarrassment or distrust. Unfortunately, we take language and communication for granted and more often than not assume what we interpreted is true, simply because the words have a clear meaning to us; in fact, this is the very crux of miscommunication as there is no reason to doubt out internal interpretation of what we hear. It is surprisingly easy for this misstep to snowball into a back and forth argument that sounds like the two are talking about the same thing but in their heads, they really aren’t.

I suppose no matter how much I write, you are likely to misunderstand some of the things I am trying to say, making for a rather ironic post. When we consider that the original quote from Nisio was in Japanese, we have an added layer of lost information and probably a pun or two because what else would you expect from Nisio? Even so, if we were to score ourselves on how accurately we interpret words around us, I think an assessment of 36% as an overall average is not too far from the truth. Especially when it comes to abstract things like how or why you are feeling a certain way or why your opinion on something is the way it is, it simply isn’t possible for language to communicate these things with 100% accuracy.

It is only natural, then, that Christians are just as vulnerable to this as much as anyone else. Yet, far too many Christians are too quick to judge what others are saying without considering that miscommunication is possible. Whether this is trying to reach out to others or listening to your pastor on Sunday morning, we internalize what we perceive to be true without questioning how accurate those perceptions are. It is so easy to misunderstand the intent of what is said because of these issues of communication, our own prejudices, and the influences of our own desires on interpretation. This extends to every aspect of our lives, and it is dangerously easy to think nothing is being misunderstood. As Christians (or even as humans), we need to make sure we understand the feelings and thoughts of those around us if we want to properly build community, and that can only be obtained through proper communication.

Therefore, I want to challenge everyone to critically think and question your own perceptions of everything you hear around you and in turn, realize how poor at communication everyone really is. The only real solution to poor communication is to communicate more with an open mind and an earnest desire to understand others.  Especially as Christians who are called to love others, it is imperative that we do not act on misunderstandings. In order to truly build a bridge between Christians and non-believers, it is necessary to have clear and precise communication, something that is often not addressed completely when Christians speak of outreach and missions. Communication is hard, and we will never truly get over this barrier; however, the more aware we make ourselves of this problem and educate others on it, the better we can close the gap of misunderstandings.