Somewhere at the confluence of Anime Fan (or ‘otaku’ if you want to be pretentious about it) and Martial Arts Fan is the odd territory of Japanophile. This is a person who is fascinated with, studies, and generally loves, all things Japan. From its history to its culture to its myths. There are other roads that lead to that strange land, but these two seem to be the most common.
I don’t know when my fascination with Japan began, but it definitely blossomed in my post-high school and college days (unlike many peers, I didn’t go into college straight out of high school). And I didn’t study Japan all at once, I grew fascinated with elements of it. The martial arts, the anime, the language, the history, the culture, back and forth. Pieces at a time, really. At no point would I consider myself a real Japanophile; merely focused on one aspect of Japan’s world, with a journeyman’s awareness of other corners of their world.
Any study of Japan will invariably involved studying the rest of the Orient. There’s no history of ancient Japan that won’t also involve tremendous study of Korea and China. Likewise, there’s no study of modern Japan (say, Meiji Era onward) without study of Russia, the Philippines, and similar lands.
Similarly, to understand the Japanese martial arts (which we will lump Okinawan arts into, which is problematic to do, in and of itself), you have to understand Chinese and Korean styles. Languages, same thing. To understand how Hiragana and katakana were developed, you have to understand the patriarchal role of kanji and it turns into this whole matter unto itself.
Even the study of anime leads one to eventually studying other areas. To understand why anime evolves across decades, one has delve into the history (and politics) of American animation industries, as well as Korean and Vietnamese animation.
What this teaches the Japanophile is to appreciate that Japan does not exist in a vacuum. It’s easy to dismiss many of Japan’s “quirks” as remarkable elements of a foreign nation (which is debatably racist, but that’s another discussion) or perhaps rationalized as throwbacks to their isolationist periods. In reality, no element in any nation’s history exists in isolation. Even if only defined as being ‘not what they do over there’, it still exists in context to something else.
If you follow the topic and not the land, this becomes illuminating. If you follow, say, the topic of martial arts, you go from studying Karate (Japanese striking art) to Kempo (Okinawan striking art) to Kajukembo (Hawaiian striking art) to Panantukan (Filipino striking art). Suddenly your studies of one field in one country has led to a whirlwind tour o the Pacific. Delving into each style will get at the cultural and political histories of these individual nations.
I don’t recall when I first heard the term ‘rim countries’, but I was originally repulsed by it. It was applied to countries that were geographically or politically connected to larger, more prominent nations. To consider this in the Orient, consider Japan, China, and Korea. Now consider Cambodia, Laos, or Burma, which would be considered Rim Countries. They exist on the cultural rim of these more hefty movers and shakers. I’m definitely prepared to believe this is an imperialist term, but at the same time, I cannot deny that it addresses nations that, at least to general audiences here in the western world, are rarely spoken of. Heck, I can name every nation in the world (no, really) and I have studied Asian history extensively and I’m not confident I could place Cambodia accurately on the map. But through studying Japanese martial arts, this led me to learn about Bokator and Khmer wrestling.
As I ready for Katsucon this weekend (where I will be announcing the results of the Rhest for the Wicked Short Film Kickstarter), I’ll be talking a great deal about Japan and the Japanese world as part of the Japanese Cultural Institute. Yet this lifetime of loving Japan has led me to appreciate a far larger world. I’ll always love the Land of the Rising Sun, but there’s a whole lot more out there and through studying Japan, I learned to love so much of it.