When I was a young kid my family life was turbulent and often my mom had to drop me off at my grandmother's home. My grandmother had a host of mental issues due to a tragic childhood of her own which resulted in her second marriage to an abusive man who was my step-grandfather at the time. This disturbance passed on to her son born late into the family, my uncle, a teenager at the time, who bullied me harshly. His metal music blasted from large speakers which tortured my small ears, and violent or perverted movies were beamed from a large TV screen, further adding to the hellish environment. The pantry and refrigerator held expired food, which made me vomit. The house was a hoarders den, there were stinking animal droppings, from cats and rats, hidden under piles of magazines, unemptied shopping bags, and mattresses, shit stains on the carpet from a sick dog that dragged its hind on the floor due to an anal issue that would not be treated until death.
My grandmother had Japanese next-door neighbors with a boy my age, and one day they hosted me for dinner. Everything in the home was so clean and nice! The floor was spotless, the air was pleasant and clear, my body felt physically safe and untense from the lack of danger and allergens. Soft conversational sounds of the family contrasted dramatically with the insults and metal music at my grandmothers. The poorly lit walls, dark carpet stains, and demonic Spawn comic figurines that lined my uncles room were now cheery pastels, beautiful wood grains and boxes, and happy technicolor anime toys of the neighbor. Japanese video games on a smorgasborg of Nintendo systems were played. A wonderful Japanese dinner was served, where we sat on the clean floor, and I was taught table manners and how to use chopsticks. On further occasions where I was left at my hellish grandmother's house, I returned to this paradise a few more times, until the neighbors moved back to Japan.
Western Orientalism-like fascinations with Japanese culture usually grow out of an initial contact with some popularized media, often anime and manga. It is an attachment to a modern Japan, a capitalized postwar collection of exotic cultural paraphernalia filtered through the lens of Western Christian consumerism. The 1965 masterpiece horror anthology Kwaidan was produced during the crux of the immediate postwar era, where evaluations of Japan's past and future was a primary question for film, and culture in general. The film is a lush and haunted painting of "strange happenings" (specifically "Kwaidan" denotes horror or ghost stories compiled during the Edo period) adapted from a book anthology produced by an Greek-Irish man named Patrick Lafcadio Hearn. The original stories themselves were copied from old Japanese texts, oral accounts, and Buddhist karmic parables. Does appreciation of Kwaidan or other postwar media gain from an outsider hack at a Japanese historical and cultural context? I'd say so. Japan's history and religious traditions, and the understanding of Difference from a Western context, amplifies the interpretation of media like Kwaidan, however much contemporary critical theorists insist that Westerners falsely Otherize exotic foreign worlds and fantasies. Utter difference moves us from one world to the other, and the Other is very real.