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.  


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