Being at Kansai Gaidai and being in Japan in general, every day is a new experience even in a small way. I can’t control my environment the same way as I did in the United States and stick out when before, all I wanted was to get by peacefully and to complete my little mission. Being goal-oriented isn’t a bad thing, far from it, but it is nice to wake up in the morning here and not know what I’m going to do for once.
I’m learning to love the uncertainty and find myself with more time than I ever had in the U.S. I wonder if it was that I didn’t have time, or that I just didn’t gift myself any. I had started a sketchbook over a year ago that normally I would have finished in a few months before college, but I’m still only halfway through.
It might sound strange coming from a self-proclaimed animation-enthusiast and artist, but last semester when I noticed a decline in the quality of my work because of my inability to consistently practice, I was starting to feel like maybe I’d chosen the wrong career path. That what I had to offer wasn’t good enough because there is always going to be someone who is better than you. So, when do you call it quits? When will I finally prove every elementary teacher right, that I should stop scribbling because it is impacting my ability to focus on REAL things. That I shouldn’t spend so much time doodling and writing in my little notebook about people who don’t ACTUALLY exist.
Needless to say, I think if you grow up hearing that you start to internalize it, and when you’re down you remember and wonder, were they right? I was starting to feel that way and imagine what my life might look like if I put my pencil down altogether. In school, they’ll show you the hierarchy of needs, in career development workshops they show “in-demand positions”, in college when you say you’re an English major you get comments about how there’s too much reading and are asked, “Oh. What do you plan on doing with that?”.
In Japan, I’m surrounded by beautiful stationary stores everywhere and manga books sit right beside “real” books like on things like career development or learning another language. My craft is treated like it has value in public sphere, which is a first for me. My first week here, I saw an elderly man reading through a Shonen magazine, laughing to himself on the train. I’ve seen signs advertising the next big hit or volume of a well-loved series, I see Moomin characters and cartoons everywhere and there are numerous character-themed stores throughout the country. Obviously, there is a demand for new stories from people outside of the creator-bubble. It warms my heart to see how there are opportunities to contribute to society in the way that I most equip for. It is good to feel welcome and wanted.
With this glimpse of a life where the things I care about aren’t silly, it feels like I can be real person, like I can show my love for creativity without shame. I remember how every story I’ve read has changed me and why telling stories is so important to me. I really don’t know who I would be without them, and I imagine that if I feel this way, then surely there are many more who do even if they only engage from a consumer end.
So, when I think back to my sophomore year when I felt devastated about my future, when a someone told me that my exams weren’t as difficult and I shouldn’t be so stressed just because I was studying English and Studio Art instead of Neuroscience, I realize that those words can’t hurt me anymore. Your individual purpose has value, even if some people can’t see it or don’t appreciate it. Creative career paths aren’t selfish just because they don’t involve brain surgery, nor are our jobs frivolous because we aren’t earning millions at the start. We have the important job of making something that makes people feel less alone, or teaches them, or makes them chuckle to themselves on the 5 o’clock train back to Hirakata Station.
I’ve grown tired of having to explain why art or story-crafting has value when it is something that enriches society, even ones that don’t view it as vital. I think about how happy that old man was, flipping through the pages as the sun passed through the train car windows. The responsibility we have is unique and deserves to be appreciated as much as any other profession or hobby.
The more time I spend in Japan, the more comfortable I become with the idea that positive reception towards my work begins with me. It’s important to never forget that you have to be certain in your abilities.
*The photo is from my sketchbook’s most recent instalment. Thank you for reading!