Snow CabbageI’m having trouble getting started on my research this morning. The problem is, I’m in love. I got married nine years ago, and my divorce was completed just about eight years later. Through that entire time I’ve been in love, and not with my husband.

I’m in love with Japan. People have always asked me what it is about Japan that I find so attractive, and my answers have changed over the years. It’s not easy to verbalize love, you see. Many people thought it was anime or manga that attracted me. In the purest of senses, they might be right. When I was sixteen I dated a boy who loved Japanese anime. The theme song to one of these cartoons was the most passionate, exciting song I had ever heard. It was a battle song full of energy and hunger and in the chorus it sang, “nami wo tate osou yo!” The word “nami” hung in my mind. What did it mean? Why was it so powerful? It took me years to find out.

Japanese is not a language that is easily penetrated. I graduated high school, started college, transferred to Yale university, failed my Spanish entrance exam and enrolled in an intensive Japanese language course. I studied for ten hours a week and practiced speaking and listening for another six. Nine months later I stepped off an airplane on the other side of the world. Alone, young, naive and full of wonder I entered the country that would steal my heart forever.

What is it about Japan that I find so enthralling? I still cannot put it entirely into words. It is a feeling. There is a feeling at once of being alien and welcome, of belonging and of separation, of circumvention and of freedom. Today I learned that other foreigners have fallen in love with the same things I have. They have given me some words to describe my experience, and in doing so, validated it.