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    Learning about Love in Japanese

    I don't know what to make of Japan - a former regional empire, rebuilt as an economic dynamo or an aging country that is rapidly being overtaken by their former whipping boy, China. They rapidly embrace and adapt to Western culture but also seek to maintain their racial purity. They raped Nanking, kept comfort women in Korea, and bombed Pearl Harbor, but after being defeated in WWII and losing two cities to the atomic bomb, purport to have rejected armed conflict.

    My daughter is immersed in their anime culture, which means I am immersed, too, because she talks about little else. Just as I was glued to Astro Boy, Marine Boy and The Eighth Man, she has had me watch Sailor Moon, Tenchi Muyo, Gundam Wing, Pokemon, Dragonball, Naruto, Bleach, Blood+, Tsubasa, Detective Conan, Code Geass, Death Note, Outlaw Star, Full Metal Alchemist and most recently, Monster. Some of these series, like Outlaw Star, which is frequently compared to Josh Whedon's Firefly/Serenity, are based on westerns, and as such almost instantly familiar to Americans. Others, like Code Geass, involve characters struggling internally with conflicting loyalties to nation, class, family, lovers and way down the list, self, and are numbingly foreign to our unabashedly self-interested culture.

    We recently dressed up as characters from the cute but vicious anime series Higurashi no Naku Koro ni to attend Otakon with 29,000 of our closest friends.

    Otakon 2010

    Higurashi, aka When Cicadas Cry, or When They Cry, concerns a handful of children in the small, cursed village of Hinamizawa. A newly arrived teenage boy, Keiichi, joins several girls of various ages at a small school - learning together in the manner of frontier kids in the one room schoolhouse. In each episode there is a lot of teasing, posturing and flirting, then some sort of creepy mystery, then a gruesome murder or suicide with lots of manic laughing, pleading and blood. Then in the next episode, everything resets back to normal, everyone is alive again, another mystery develops, ... and someone else gets killed.

    Just what you want your kid to find on the internet.

    While her mother simply banned her from watching the show, my instinct was to watch some episodes with her to find out what was going on. Though she loved one character's manic laugh, she mostly responded to the romantic tensions in the story (the 'ships) and spent a great deal of time mimicking the squeaky voices of the younger girls. She seemed no more affected by slayings than I was by seeing crewmen vaporized on Star Trek - but I let her know that I found the violence disturbing.

    For Otakon, my daughter dressed as the green-haired Sonozaki Shion, while I went as the stoic, but largely ineffectual Detective, Ooishi Kuraudo. She was pleased that her costume was recognized often, and I was stunned at how many obscure anime and manga costumes she could point out to me. I was also surprised by her outgoing demeanor. DSM has recently reclassified her Asperger's Syndrome as High-Functioning Autism. Autistic kids are not known for being outgoing, but she talked to everybody as if she had suddenly returned home after a long absence. And they talked to her, too - some of them in Japanese. My daughter has been teaching herself to speak Japanese via these series and a few dictionaries, and I gather she's making good progress.

    One can only draw so many conclusions about a culture from its fantasy literature, but today I read that some Japanese men have chosen a fantasy lover.

    Love +

    Only in Japan, Real Men Go to a Hotel With Virtual Girlfriends

    Love Plus+ re-creates the experience of an adolescent romance. The goal isn't just to get the girl but to maintain a relationship with her.

    After choosing one of three female characters—goodie-goodie Manaka, sassy Rinko or big-sister type Nene—to be a steady girlfriend, the player taps a stylus on the DS touch-screen in order to walk hand-in-hand to school, exchange flirtatious text messages and even meet in the school courtyard for a little afternoon kiss. Using the device's built-in microphone, the player can carry on sweet, albeit mundane, conversations.

    Korean barbecue-inspired restaurant Hien says a quarter of its customers are currently game-related.

    For 5,000 yen, customers get a special Love Plus+ menu of Japanese beef and side dishes.

    Kanji Nagasawa, Hien's owner, says he is accustomed to making small talk with customers, but the Love Plus+ crowd often sits in silence and plays the game while eating.

    "We've been stunned," Mr. Nagasawa said, "how happy this makes those customers."

    The idea of techno-GFs is nothing new, of course. I used to watch Bob Cummings fend off amorous Julie Newmar as Rhoda the Robot in The Living Doll, and Harcourt Fenton Mudd had all his robot twins on Star Trek (Kiss? What is Kiss?). Melanie Griffith starred in a really bad flick called Cherry 2000, in which she helped some yuppie retrieve his fully-functioning female robot. But real guys, actually taking their Tamagotchi babes to the beach is a far cry from fembots on TV.

    Or is it? In one of Asimov's Elijah Baley novels, the detective traveled to a planet to solve a murder. Life was different there, because people led highly solitary lives, communicating only by technology, hence someone being murdered was a big deal because it involved the physical intimacy of being close enough to someone else to get murdered. I forget who did it, but I thought that was a really bizarre lifestyle in the 1960s.

    Life on Solaria doesn't seem so bizarre now that I walk down sidewalks and see people talking into their headsets or cell phones. I spent several years only seeing my wife and daughter on odd weekends, and mostly talking to them on phones. I spend many evening chatting online with folk I've never met. It seems unlikely that LisB, Dickday and Moat are just programs created by Ukrainians to delude me, but it is at least possible.


    Virtual Girlfriends are not a far cry from Geisha.

    In a weird twist of irony, I was actually created by Objectivists, but then I went rogue.

    I believe that's referred to as going "double-Galt."

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