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 My 2 year old memes and slang are already outdated.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.

Why Every Japan Missionary Should Read Sakura no Uta

Is that title too sensational? Probably, but lately I have felt it to be true, so if you want to disagree, you’ll have to actually read the thing and tell me why I’m wrong. “Oh but it’s in Japanese.” Well, yeah, and I don’t really see an English translation doing justice to Sca-Ji’s genius prose, so you better read it in Japanese. If you can’t commit to learning the language, I’m not sure what you’re doing as a missionary in Japan. “Oh, but it has porn scenes.” Fine, then skip them. It’s not that hard, and it’s not like I’m telling you to read Subarashiki Hibi instead where the porn is actually important.  If a little porn is going to scare you away, then again, why are you in Japan of all countries? Walk into a conbini and you will see shelves of gravure every time. “Oh, but it’s so long.” Welcome to the world of visual novels. If you can’t invest a simple 50 hours into reading what is the most philosophically heavy story that has hit the otaku market in years, then I will take that to mean that you have zero interest or intention of ministering to the otaku subculture. And while that’s possibly true of a lot of missionaries on a surface level, you probably don’t realize how much that sub-population is growing in Japan. If you’re a missionary in Japan, chances are you’ve met some closet otaku. It’s too bad your impression of them is so wrong. Maybe if you actually read Sakura no Uta, you would have a better understanding of the people around you.

Okay, that’s enough patronizing for now. While I admit I intentionally used that tone to get a rise out of a certain audience, I will also say that the otaku side of me often gets very frustrated when Japan missionaries demonstrate an astonishingly low or even non-existent understanding of otaku. I mean, I guess it’s fine if you were a normal person living out a normal life, but if you’re intending to reach out to people and understand their culture and you still have the mindset that visual novel = eroge = porn game, then you’re going to have a hard time when you talk to otaku. Of course, even Japanese natives have this misconception, so as a fan, I can’t help but throw my hands up in the air and reiterate that you people have no idea what you’re talking about. But that’s okay, because Sakura no Uta exists.

There are two major reasons why I believe every Japan missionary should read this work. The first is because it’s, well, simply a masterpiece. In terms of story and writing, yes, but even more so in terms of themes and life lessons.  Sure, Rewrite, exists, and if you know me, you know I’m a huge fan of it because it was the most spiritually enriching piece of fiction I have ever read. I could praise it all day, but I will simultaneously admit it has its flaws. It’s no masterpiece. Sakura no Uta, well, okay, it has flaws, but they are so vastly overshadowed by everything else, I am still caling it a masterpiece. Every time I think about it, I am amazed that it can touch on so many ideas and yet have those all be encompassed together so perfectly as it poses the question “what does it mean to live out your life?” The story is heavy and painfully realistic at times; it pulls no punches in reminding you of how easily life can bring you down. Yet because of this, it brilliantly asks some very hard questions about how you as an individual choose to live out your life and what your decisions mean to others and to yourself.  I could get into more specifics, but I want to avoid spoilers as much as possible. Suffice to say; reading this novel ruined me for months as I was forced to completely re-evaluate everything about my perceptions of and choices in life. Personally, it was doubly powerful because I then had to reconcile those answers with my own Christian faith. Sakura no Uta demands introspection like nothing else, and so I cannot help but place it above every other story I’ve ever experienced. Therefore, it is my firm belief that giving an honest and unbiased reading of this story (that is, not going in with any intention to hate it) will be the best possible example of what visual novels and the otaku culture has to offer people. The medium of visual novels is not just “entertainment” or “sexual gratification,” (though both exist as real reasons) but there are also things on a far deeper and philosophical level than you would initially imagine. And if the story hits too close to home, you might find yourself re-evaluating things about your life that you never thought a “porn game” could make you do.

The second reason every Japan missionary should read this is because Sakura no Uta does something really, really ingenious. It starts off with incredibly clichéd romcom scenes with stereotypical characters that seemingly have very little depth to them. Sure, there’s the occasional suggestion of something on a deeper level. I mean, the opening itself has references to Oscar Wilde, Emily Dickinson, Kenji Miyazawa, and more. Sca-Ji loves his classical literature, and he is truly a scholar to the point that I am sure he knows the Bible better than many Christians. But I digress. The story takes this incredibly anime-esque setting and turns it completely on its head. It uses those very things as the foundation with which to spur the aforementioned questions about life. Those questions can then be turned back around and asked about those very clichés and stereotypes within the anime culture. And when you understand the context of those questions, you will understand the entire otaku culture on a completely different level. Granted, most people are kind of already aware of these things. High school is considered a prime time of one’s life; it is that springtime of youth where things like first love can lead to happiness. The cliches of anime seek only to reflect the most glorified time of people’s lives. I hear things like this about Japan a lot. I’m sure you have too.

But Sakura no Uta has some very powerful things to say about these ideas. In the same way it forces individuals to re-evaluate their lives, it forces a re-evaluation of the industry itself and the stereotypes of the anime culture. Because in the end, the entertainment used as escapism and the individuals who are drawn to it are intrinsically tied together.  As a result, this all triples back onto the main audience of visual novels and eroge, i.e. the otaku population. It forces introspection on the reader due to the struggles of the protagonist, then on the state of the otaku market that got turned on its head within the story itself, and finally back on the reader as one who consumes those very things. It seems ridiculous that a single story can have so many layers to the introspection it demands of its readers, but like I said, this is a masterpiece.

A Christian missionary with superficial understanding of the anime culture may only be forced into a third of that introspection. However, that is perhaps enough of a start to begin a re-evaluation of your own understanding of otaku and the subculture and how these interact with the greater Japanese culture at large. Again, I don’t want to spoil unnecessarily, but this introspection of life that I keep referring to includes the struggles, regrets, valuations, and dreams of individuals. Thus, Sakura no Uta is a story that can completely change your understanding of everything about the Japanese population and even more when it comes to the otaku population. Even if you somehow legitimately have a strong, empathetic understanding already, at the very least, a “porn game” will have reaffirmed some heavy truths about Japan that you know to be true. How’s that for some food for thought?

Still, I doubt many Christians will read this. The majority of you will give up due to various reasons like length, boredom, porn, or a lack of time; well, the majority won’t even bother to try. I don’t really mind that though because then I’ll be able to constantly respond to everything regarding Christian outreach in Japan with “well, if actually read Sakura no Uta…”  I mean, seriously, please try to prove me wrong or something because I probably won’t stop saying that. This is my challenge to anyone who is serious about Christian ministry in Japan. It is truly the greatest piece of fiction I’ve ever read and will be something I constantly refer back to in life not because it has answers but because it poses hard, necessary questions about what it means to live out life.