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And I'm back! After a week in hot, sunny Scotland (I'm not kidding, the weather was very un-Scottish) I'm back in Canada. I'm here for about two weeks, and then I'll be packing up again and heading to Japan for the rest of the summer to do my study program fellowship. So here are some impressions of travel, looking back and looking forward. This does get to be about anime eventually, so bear with me here.

So, I went to Scotland to attend a conference of the new Postcolonial Studies Association on the topic "Networking the Globe: Information Technologies and the Postcolonial," at the University of Stirling, which was great, right up my alley. The venue had a special resonance for me, since I'm from "New Scotland," Nova Scotia, where the regional culture is basically pretending to be Scottish. I knew all the songs the bagpipers on the streets were playing, and felt Highland dances stirring in my muscle-memory. I found the food heartily familiar: meat pies, mashed potatoes with everything, huge sides of battered fresh fish, shortbread cookies, all my grandmother's specialties. I loved the landscapes, the bluffs and fields, not because they were totally foreign, but because I could easily imagine the early Scots seeing the Cape Breton Highlands in NS and finding it like Scotland.

It was ironic that this was a postcolonial conference, since what I experienced -what I always feel when I go to the UK- was the uncanny strange-yet-same of a settler-colonial going back to the "old country." It isn't home any more, hasn't been for generations, but it has home-like elements, elements of longing. I'll admit that sometimes, here in the Prairies, it makes me cry with homesickness for "back East" to hear "My Heart's in the Highlands." I sing it when I'm sad. The lyrics to that song, a Robbie Burns poem, hung on the wall in my B&B in Stirling. I'm not Scottish, but I share those songs and stories, and it's a powerful bond.

I would be easy to say that I have nothing like that for Japan. During my last visit to Tokyo, just about a year ago, I was impressed above all by the strangeness of the food and the land. A simple thing like a salad from 7-11 had vegetables in it I couldn't name, and I saw glossy-leaved plants growing outdoors that I've only ever seen potted in Canada. For someone used to the long summer days of the north, it got dark unnaturally early. Everything seemed a contrast to what I knew, instead of a comparison.

But then again, there were these striking moments of recognition. Tokyo Tower. How many anime have I seen Tokyo Tower (get destroyed) in? Or UFO catchers. Or just a common side street, or a train, like I've seen in so many movie backgrounds. Of course Akiba was full of familiar faces, since I was there when Rebuild of Evangelion was coming out, and those characters I've known since I was a teen were everywhere. In fact, Tokyo is full of signs with cute little characters, like cartoon tanuki on the subways warning you to keep your hands clear of the doors, and the design of those characters is touchingly familiar to a girl who grew up loving My Melody and Hello Kitty. I may not know the traditional songs, but I know the contemporary images of Japan through the global media that I grew up with, and so I feel tied to Japan, too, from my earliest childhood.

There are rafts of scholarship about media soft power and cultural imperialism. To go from my experiences of Scotland, born of the historical colonization of Nova Scotia, to my mediated childhood "Japanization" seems to invite comparisons of old and new imperialisms. But what I'm trying to say is, this a process of negotiating different identifications and affects for me. For whatever reason, these places are on my emotional, social "mattering map," as Lawrence Grossberg would say, and because of that I feel a certain tentative ground for engagement with the people and cultures there. I'm hoping to build on that and fill in some of my vast areas of ignorance about life elsewhere. Upward and onward, then. I'll try my best to be a tabibito!


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April 2014

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