Saturday, June 27, 2015

2007 to 2017: A Decade Between Trips

In my last blog posting (with apologizes for the delay) I wrote about how I would like to see the WorldCon return to Japan in 2017.  
In today's blog posting, I'm going to go back to the trip that instilled that desire in me, which was the trip to Japan in 2007 to attend the WorldCon in Yokohama in that year.
Which actually started in 2006.  That was the year the WorldCon was last held in Los Angeles.  I was getting back into writing science fiction stories at the time, after a few years, with some degree of success, in writing comic book scripts.  I had been attending Comic-Con in San Diego for years, and still do.  But I wanted to go to a full WorldCon, spending the entire time there, to immerse myself back into the culture of science fiction fandom.  
By coincidence, it was also the same year that I started studying Japanese.  This was after a decades long interest in the history and culture of Japan that grew in me after I read the novel Shogun, by James Clavell.  I was thirteen years old at the time.  It was, come to think of it, the same year I read Tunnels in the Sky, by Robert Heinlein, the first science fiction novel I ever read.  I hadn't noticed how closely these two abiding interests were born.  
In 2006, those were my two goals.  To "one day" go to Japan, see the country for myself and use the Japanese I had started to learn, and "one day" attend a WorldCon for a week and get back into the genre that had inspired me to become a writer in the first place.  
I can't really say they were goals at the time.  More like dreams.  Wishes.  I put "one day" in quotes because I did not have any genuine plans to make either thing come true.  I did not see myself as a "traveler."  I could drive the two hours to San Diego every year for Comic-Con.  I could spend three hours on a plan to visit my family.  But to go to a foreign country as far away as Japan, or travel here and there, a different place each year, to go to WorldCon seemed something other people did.  
Even my first experience attending a WorldCon was truncated.  In 2006, the WorldCon was in Los Angeles.  Specifically at the Anaheim Convention Center.  Since it was so close, I figured it was my chance, but work and other schedules interfered.  Even on the one day I could go, a Saturday, I had to take care of some stuff at work in the morning.  I didn't start my drive from the San Fernando Valley until sometime after lunch.  
Fortunately, that year, the WorldCon in Los Angeles offered a "taster membership."  You paid something like twenty dollars for a few hours of membership.  If you came back before the time period was over, that's all you paid.  If you decided to keep attending, then you paid for the rest of the membership.  Since it was late in the afternoon, and it was the only day I could go, this seemed perfect.  
I enjoyed my little taste of the convention.  It whetted my desire to attend next year and go for the entire week.  But where would it be?  I was asking myself that question while wandering the dealer's room, looking at stacks of books, collections of swords and armor and costumes for cosplay, and other paraphernalia to assist in bringing the world you wanted to live in into the world in which you existed.  
It was then that I spotted a booth that had "Nippon 2007" in big letters overhead.  I went up to talk to the people there and discovered that the next WorldCon was going to be in Japan.  In Yokohama.  Next year.  
For sure?  Yes.  For sure.  
Here it was.  Two desires wrapped into one.  Going to Japan.  Going to an entire WorldCon.  One the same as the other.  
"I'm going."  
"Hai.  Good.  Good."  The guy behind the table at the booth smiled and nodded in encouragement.  He didn't realize that I had made the decision, right then and right there, that I would find a way to go.  Whatever it took, I was going to make it happen.  It was too much to resist.  
And I did make it happen.  Just like with that taster membership and spotting the booth for Nippon 2007, things just sort of came together.  I joined a tour with other science fiction fans that travelled around the country a week before the convention itself.  Osaka.  Kyoto.  Kanazawa.  Takayama.  Matsumoto City (in Nagano prefecture).  Then a week in Yokohama.  Right before I left, my anticipation was such that I started to getting afraid of being disappointed.  How could any trip meet the expectations I was setting for it?  
It didn't.  It exceeded them.  It remains the most fun trip I've ever been on.  
First, I discovered that science fiction fans are perhaps the most ideal group of people to go on a tour with.  In general, they are people that enjoy learning new things.  Who want to see and experience the things they've only heard or read about.  As one writer who was in our group said to me on the first day I joined the tour, "I'm treating this as if I were a space explorer on another planet, sent her to explore and find out the beings that inhabit it."  
Second, Japan is the most exotic country a "westerner" can go to that is as safe (if not safer) to travel around as you would be back home.  Or as I sometimes put it more colloquially, it's the most "different" place you can go where you can still find clean toilets.  
And it's Japan's exotic nature that makes it a particularly good place to host a WorldCon.  The cross fertilization of a cultural tradition that is very different from the one I was raised in, with futuristic technology that permeates everyday life in ways that seem to be taken from near future science fiction novels.  Vending machines that will talk to you about what you want to buy.  Robots swinging samurai swords.  Temple gardens where you feel that you have gone back in time to when the shogun ruled over the land. 
Since that trip, I have changed how I think of myself.  I have followed the WorldCon to ever city it has visited since 2007, and that has taken me to places in the world I would have told you in 2006 I'd probably not get to visit, like Japan, and Australia and England last year.  Each trip has been different.  Some better than others.  But they've all been fascinating.  And they've all allowed me to experience things I would have otherwise.  
That's why I think it's time to go back.  I would like to return, in a similar way to wanting to see human explorers return to the moon.  The first trip changed us.  Going back again, with the experience gained over the years, will allow us to deepen our knowledge of that "exotic alien world" as well as ourselves.  
A decade is long enough.  

Saturday, June 06, 2015

I Want To Go To Shizuoka in 2017

At Sasquan, the World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon) being held this year in Spokane, Washington, attendees will vote on the four bids to host the WorldCon in 2017.  
It's a very tough group of cities vying to host the 2017 WorldCon.  When the list came out, about the same time as the groupings for the last World Cup, people starting referring to it as the "Group of Death," taking the name from the tough opening bracket the United States team found itself in.  The four choices are, as listed on the WorldCon website: 
Shizuoka, Japan
Montreal, Canada
Helsinki, Finland
Washington, DC, United States
It will come as little surprise to anyone that knows me that my choice would be for Shizuoka, Japan.  I make no secret about being a Japanophile.  I'm been interested in Japanese history and culture since I read the novel "Shogun" by James Clavell at thirteen years old.  That interest spread to anime and manga and eventually lead me to (as best I can) learning the language in my mid-forties.  My very first full WorldCon was in 2007 in Yokohama.  The experience was so enjoyable that I've made a promise to myself that I would go to every WorldCon after it.  A promise I've been able to keep thus far.  
But even though I had been thinking about going to a WorldCon for years, what finally pushed me over the edge of thinking about going to actually going was the half a day I spent at the 2006 WorldCon in Los Angeles and seeing the Nippon 2007 both in the dealer's room and learning that it would be in Yokohama the very next year.  
Two desires collided, merged, became one and grew into something undeniable.  I created a new item in my budget entitled "WorldCon Japan" and set aside as much money as I could each paycheck after that.  I eventually joined a group of about fifty other WorldCon attendees in a tour of Japan, joining them for about a week traveling across part of Japan, going from Osaka, to Kyoto, Kanazawa, Takayama, Nagano and then spending another week in Yokohama.  Before I left, I started getting worried that my anticipation had risen so high that I was setting myself up for disappointment.  
The trip did not meet my expectations.  It exceeded them.  It became the most fun vacation I've had as an adult up till that time.  Only last year's month I spent in England before the WorldCon in London comes close.  
I think it's time that I...  We, all my science fiction convention attending buddies and I, go back to Japan.  
I know, however, there is resistance to this idea.  I've talked with my friends in the fandom about it since the bid listing was announced.  I've heard the objections and the reasons to vote for one of the other cities.  "Japan has had it before."  "Helsinki was cheated out of 2015."  "It's too far."  "It's too expensive to go."  "I'd like to go someone different."  
I get it, I get it.  We all have our preferences.  I have mine.  They have theirs.  It'll be decided when the votes are cast in August in Spokane.  The winner will be announced.  Like my mom has always said, "That's why there's a horse race."  
I've actually wondered why she's used that phrase to indicate the fact that everyone have their own choices to make in life.  People may choose the horse they think is the fastest, but isn't it the horses doing the running deciding the outcome?  I get what she means though.  
And I also know that just wanting it to be Shizuoka won't make it happen.  So, with this blog, and entries on this topic to follow, I am putting forth the following premise: 
Japan is the most ideal country to host a science fiction convention in 2017.  
I'm not just saying this because I'm interesting in the country, it's history, culture and people myself.  In a nod toward full disclosure I admit I want to visit the country again, several more times, to observe and participate its culture and practice speaking its language.  
But one of the reasons I enjoy Japanese culture, its language and history is because it is very much a place steeped in what I feel are the values and perspectives of speculative fiction in general, and in science fiction and fantasy in particular. 
This is something of a big statement to make, perhaps.  But I believe it to be true.  And I want to convince others of it.  Convince them to the point that they'll choose Shizuoka to host the 2017 WorldCon.  
This is the first in a series of postings in my evangelistic effort.  I'll put forth my meager opinions, experiences beliefs, examples, shameless offers, and maybe an outright lie or two (I am a writer, you know) to get whomever reads my blog (both of you) to go to Spokane in August and vote for Japan in 2017.  
I will start with this personal experience I had during my trip in Japan before the WorldCon in Yokohama in 2007.  
Our tour group was in Kyoto.  For anyone who doesn't know, Kyoto is the cultural heart of Japan.  It's what the other cities in Japan might look like if not for World War Two.  Then Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, had honeymooned in Kyoto.  His influence allowed it to be spared the bombing attacks directed to other Japanese cities, including removing it from the top of the list of targets for the first atomic bomb attack.  Hiroshima took its place.  
We were walking along "Goban Dori."  That's Japanese for "Fifth Avenue," and like the Fifth Avenue in New York, Goban Dori is a very stylish, uptempo place.  Clothing stores.  Restaurants.  Bright lights.  Glitter.  Cars whizzing by.  Well dressed people filling the sidewalks.  If you ignore the signs printed in "not English" you could be in a number of big cities world class cities around the world.  
But one thing you notice about Kyoto is how the old and new exist side by side.  This is a city where you can meet someone whose family has owned the same house since the year 1500 (I had tea in this man's house).  
Walking down Goban Dori, I came upon a mon gate.  These gates mark the entrances to shrines or temples.  It was in front of a narrow alley next to an upscale fashion outlet.  I had just finished eating at a very nice shabu shabu restaurant with my group.  And even though we'd already visited numerous temples, I decided to go inside.  
I was immediately enshrouded in silence.  The cars.  The people.  It was like they had vanished behind me.  When I looked back, the gate was gone, hidden behind an unexpected turn.  I strained my hearing to verify the street, the very modern world I had been in but a few heartbeats ago, was still there.  Nothing.  I turned around and followed the turn...
Into a place I could only call exquisite.  A temple garden that looked like it had been preserved since the age of the samurai.  A pond, clearer than any mirror reflected the bow of the moon, like a samurai's weapon readied to let his arrow fly.  The temple itself was across the water, cloaked in shadows, lit from within by what had to be flickering lamps shaded in rice paper.  I heard the thunk of a bamboo water pipe, hitting a rock and dispersing the water inside before rising to be filled again.  I shivered as much from the chill air as the sense that I was somewhere very far away from where and when I had been before.  
I enjoyed that moment of peace for a bit.  Then, remembering my group heading back to the hotel, I turned around and followed the narrow way back outside.  The city lights through the mon gate made me blink, they were so bright.  But I still couldn't hear...
The cacophony of modern sounds made me wince after the silence of the garden.  Some trick...  Maybe the closeness of the two buildings towering overhead, blocked the sound.  But I hadn't remembered noticing them when I stood up in the garden.  I looked up to gauge their height, noticing the gibbous moon, a day or two from being full, fighting to be seen through the glare of the street lights.  
Gibbous moon?  Only the barest sliver was missing from its edge.  But...  Inside...  Over the garden...  I'd seen a crescent...?  
I looked at the mon gate, its opening dark and secret.  I had to get back to the hotel.  We were waking up early to drive to Kanazawa the next day.  I shivered again, though not from any chill air this time.  I've wondered what I would have found had I entered the gate again and gone back. 
Maybe next time I'll find out.