Saturday, February 17, 2007

Better Later Than Never / Meglio tardi che mai

[English version; per la versione italiana abbiate un po' di pazienza]

I should have started this a long ago. Fourteen years ago, to be precise, that is when I came to Japan to improve my limited Japanese speaking skills, secretly hoping to find a job and settle here for good. Fourteen years have passed already, and many things have changed in my life, both inside and around me. Most importantly, I’ve nearly lost any capability to detach myself from my surroundings and see things from the outside in. It has come to the point that when I see a foreigner on the subway, I tell my wife “Look! A gaijin!”, as if I wasn’t one myself. As the world’s best-known Japanophile, Lafcadio Hearn, once said, if you really want to capture and put on paper that feeling of novelty and excitement we all have when we are first introduced to a new place or society, you have to start writing as soon as you set foot on that land, while your sight is still pure and your look on things is not distorted or weakened by habit, prejudice or any other kind of cultural or psychological filter. Routine is a dangerous beast that insinuates itself in every aspect of our life.
I actually tried to follow Hearn’s advice back in 1992, but at the time I knew almost nothing about zines and independent publishing, and blogs didn't exist yet. I actually was young and na├»ve enough to dream that everybody back in Italy was only waiting for me to write a Tokyo guidebook. You see, I wanted to start from the top. So I contacted several publishing houses, and at the same time I began to furiously read books at the Japan Foundation library and take notes, while tirelessly exploring the city. Then the replies from Italy finally came back, and I found out that nobody was really interested in my genial idea. I came close once, but that publisher had just commissioned a guide of the whole country to a fellow expat, so... That was pretty much the end of my ambitions as a writer, and then, as I said, routine set in, and I began to take even Tokyo for granted.
I don’t know where all those notes and half-written pieces are now. I probably must have lost or thrown them away one of the three times I moved. It doesn’t really matter, anyway, because at the rate with which Tokyo changes, at least 70% of that information would be useless today. What is important, though, is that after a long lethargy, my curiosity for this city and appetite for urban exploration have come back to life, stimulated by a series of recent occurrences:
- my relatively recent acquaintance with the world of zines has made me finally understand (better later than never…) the importance of writing for myself first, and secondly as a means to communicate, putting aside any dream of fame and financial success. Also, not only zine-making has given me the desire to share my knowledge with other people, but also the cheap, DIY tools through which I am finally able to reach readers worldwide;
- in 1603 Tokyo – at the time still called Edo – was chosen by shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa as his power base and the site for his castle, thus becoming the de facto capital of the country (even though the imperial court remained in Kyoto until the fall of the shogunate, in 1868). 2003 was the 400th anniversary of this event and more than 700 events were organised over a 15-month period. Well, you know what? I live here, and if I hadn’t read about it in the paper, I would have never known it. These so called celebrations – mainly small festivals and exhibits – have been so subdued that nobody here realised there was anything in the works (the people who rule Tokyo are obviously not as proud of their city as the ones in Paris...). That’s a pity, if you ask me. Therefore I decided to give my modest contribution to this anniversary;
- joining the international zine and blog community has made me aware of one thing: many people in Europe and North America are still very much fascinated with Tokyo and Japan in general. For better or for worse, Japan is still seen as an exotic land full of strange, weird and wonderful things. I do hope my little labour of love will not only help me express my love for Tokyo, but it will also bring people closer to this unique city.

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