A mix of cyberpunk dystopian Tokyo cityscapes, motorcycle chases, explosive psychic powers, and a grab bag of questions about who and what we are, Akira, directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, was a landmark film. The 1988 instant classic was one of the first movies to make anime popular outside of Japan. Moreover, it had an incredible influence not only on later anime but also on popular Western films like The Matrix and Looper. In the last scene of the film, the main character, Tetsuo, finally gains control of his psychic powers and, disappearing into a new world which he creates, he says: "I am Tetsuo."
I watched Akira for the first time my freshman year of college. It was an assignment for a Post-war Japanese film and literature course that I was taking toward my East Asian Studies major. Japan and all things related were my sole, all-consuming interest. And then, when I got back from my year abroad in Kyoto, I took a Philosophy of Action course. This changed everything. Inspired by my new love of philosophy, I spent two years earning an MA in philosophy at Northern Illinois University before continuing on to PhD work at the University of Southern California. At the present moment, I have been at USC for three years.
About a year into studying philosophy at USC, I decided to get in touch with a friend of my undergraduate advisor who works on Buddhism in USC's religion department. I took an independent study on Buddhist philosophy with her my second fall and, encouraged by her feedback, applied for a fellowship to study Japanese over the summer at UCLA. The moment I began that course, I realized how right it felt to be studying Japanese. I realized that I want to devote a lot more time to this. So, I began studying Japanese Buddhism a lot more seriously and applied to IUC's Yokohama program--a 10-month long language program for professionals who require Japanese language for their career (https://web.stanford.edu/dept/IUC/cgi-bin/). Tomorrow, I am leaving to start the IUC program in Japan and this blog's purpose is to chronicle this trip.
However, let's get back to Akira and the name of this blog. The word for "philosophy" in Japanese is 哲学 (tetsugaku) and the word for "philosopher" is 哲学者 (tetsugakusha). So, the title of the blog is a kind of punny reference to Akira. I am not Tetsuo, but I am a philosopher. I like this pun in particular because it is a very Japanese kind of pun. There is a term, kakekotoba, for a device frequently used in Classical Japanse poetry, which means that a particular character or word has one meaning when combined with the words before it and another meaning combined with the words after. This kind of device is one of the ways that Japanese poetry can be so expressive while being incredibly succinct. Now, the title pun isn't quite like that, but I chose it for the fact that it is reminiscent of this kind of technique. I also like that the pun only works when it is written in English and not when it's written in Japanese. The name of the character Tetsuo is 鉄雄 where the first character "tetsu" means "iron" and the second "o" means "hero." So the "tetsu" of Tetsuo is not at all the same "tetsu" of "tetsugaku." This odd mismatch reflects the kind of stumbling that I'm about to embark on. Going to Japan for a year is going to be a wonderful adventure but I will likely be doing it with characteristic awkwardness which I hope to convey on this blog. In a way, like Tetsuo, I am disappearing from the world I'm used to and going on to create a new life elsewhere. I am Tetsugakusha.