Japan has a rich history and it’s great to see it shared with people from different places. The Doki Doki Festival is happening on the 11th November in Manchester, and it’s celebrating Japanese culture. There will be talks on Japan’s history, anime and blogging conversations. The Comic Vault reached out to Sophie of Sophie’s Japan Blog to get her thoughts on talking at the event and what she loves about Japanese culture.
Thanks for agreeing to the interview Sophie. Your blog offers a great insight into Japanese culture. For anyone who’s not travelled to Japan, what kind of locations/festivals would you recommend?
Tokyo and Kyoto are obvious recommendations if you’ve never visited Japan but they really are wonderful cities that people return to again and again. They’re both big cities with loads to offer and are also great bases to explore other parts of Japan from. Japan has such a varied geography and climate, so there are festivals to attend all year around – from the Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido in February to the Obon Festival in Shikoku in August. But for your first visit, try and visit during cherry blossom season (usually from late March to mid-April).
You started your website after graduating from History. Have you found running a blog has helped with your personal growth?
Yes, in a lot of ways. Blogging is both an extroverted and introverted hobby! I’ve always loved writing and wanted to keep researching and writing after university. The idea of a Japan blog was more or less drawn out of hat but I’ve somehow managed to keep it up for six years. It’s helped me meet a lot of people (including other bloggers and industry representatives) and see a lot of plays and exhibitions I might have missed. It’s also helped to build my confidence as I’ve learned how to ‘pitch’ my blog!
I’m guessing you’re a fan of Japanese food. What kind of meals would you recommend?
Personally, I’m a big fan of okonomiyaki (a type of savoury pancake), takoyaki (battered octopus balls) and katsu curry. Anything with udon noodles is also good. I’ve recently started cooking more Japanese dishes at home, particularly ramen and donburi (rice bowl dishes).
I’ve noticed you’re a big Anime fan. In your opinion, what do you think has made it so popular in the West?
Like a lot of people in their twenties, my first foray into anime was Pokemon, although I had no idea that art style had a certain name at the age of nine. I just really liked it! I think one reason for anime’s popularity in the west is its distinct animation style; whether it’s something more refined like a Studio Ghibli film or something slightly crazier like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.
The second big thing is how anime opens a whole other world to you. The anime community is very open and friendly, so it’s not necessarily true that watching anime means you’re shut in your room all day and being anti-social. Anime’s definitely got more popular in the west in the last few years and I think the internet’s played a big part of that, particularly legitimate subscription websites such as Crunchyroll and even Netflix.
Have you ever cosplayed as any anime character and do you feel cosplay has mental health benefits?
I used to cosplay when I was at university but haven’t done it for a long time. My favourite anime cosplay was probably Ushiromiya Eva from Umineko no Naku Koro ni. I think cosplay definitely has mental health benefits – for some reason putting on a cosplay is liberating and often gives you new-found confidence to chat to people and make friends. The cosplay community is very open and accepting.
Something that’s always fascinated me about Japan is the idea of Bushido and the samurai. Do you believe the philosophy of Bushido still has relevance in the modern day?
It’s easy to write pages about Bushido but, in short, some of its disciplines are still reflected in Japanese life today. The ethos of bushido historically valued military spirit, bravery, self-sacrifice, obedience and discipline. It’s not as glamorous as some Japanese pop fiction will have you believe but it does still have an influence of Japanese contemporary life.
Japan is a very socially conservative society in many ways and is a ‘we’ culture, as opposed to the western culture which encourages individualism. I think bushido’s influence is probably best seen in Japanese business today, in terms of hierarchical structures, but even the system of bowing has origins in bushido.
The symbol of the cherry blossom is a big part of Japanese culture. Does it mean anything personal to you and have you been to a cherry blossom festival?
I’ve been to Japan twice during cherry blossom season and it really is beautiful! Cherry blossom viewing parties are deeply rooted in Japanese history and they’re just as popular today, with businesses sending their interns to parks in the early hours of the morning to bag the best blanket spots so their bosses can rock up later and start drinking!
There’s nothing like walking down a river canopied by pale pink blossoms or watching the delicate petals flutter to the ground. Whenever I see cherry blossoms in films or online, it makes me yearn to go back to Japan.
You’ll be attending the Manchester Japanese Festival as a guest speaker. Is this the first festival you’ve spoken at and how did it come about?
This will be the second time I’ve spoken at Doki Doki in Manchester and it’s still a fairly new thing for me. I often go to events like MCM and Hyper Japan as press, so emailed the Doki Doki organisers to ask about doing the same and was instead asked to speak as a guest! I’ve hosted a panel on blogging at Amecon a few years ago and also spoken at London Anime Con, but it’s not something I do that regularly. I prefer being the interviewer rather than interviewee but it is a good confidence builder!
Congratulations on speaking on the Japanese pop culture and blogging panels. If you had to sum up modern Japanese pop culture in one sentence, how would you describe it?
‘It’s a gateway to another world’! People might think Japanese pop culture is limited to anime and manga but it can spark an interest in other elements of Japanese culture, such as history or literature. That’s what happened to me!
What’s the best blogging advice you can give to someone who’s just starting out?
It’ll take a while to find your voice and style as a blogger, so have fun trying out different ideas with your first few posts. Blogging takes up a lot of time if you want to commit to a regular schedule, so pick a subject you naturally enjoy talking about otherwise you’ll give up quickly. You also want your blog to be presentable and easy for people to navigate, so have a look at other similar blogs for ideas. Don’t be embarrassed about asking other bloggers for help or even asking to contribute a guest blog (which will also help to raise your profile)!