The moment I finished writing that last sentence for Final Portfolio, I left out a sigh of relief and without conscious, I laid back so hard I fell from the chair. But fear not, I was not injured, instead, I was floating among joyfulness and just let my mind bubble in thoughts. Then I got up and sent my lecturer a message that I have finally finished the piece. At last! And because I have used up all my brain cells working with narrative theories and distress, this reflection will be a no-brainer effort to record my journey. Carry on reading at your own risk, you might find neither logical nor analytical thinking nor academic referencing here, only words filled with memories.
There is one thing I must confess before writing this reflection, that is I have been struggling to conceptualise the essence of this subject from its beginning. Although my tolerance towards ambiguity is relatively high, I find myself lost in the ocean of lessons taught in the past seminars. In seeking for the explanation, I can only think of one – my tendency to find a specific reason the subject exists or the so-called “subject learning outcomes” in the subject outline. Narrative is the spectrum I often consider to be an ordinary aspect of life, which we touch on every day but do not necessarily use it as an approach to studying someone. Thus, coming to this class, I brought nothing but questions and hopes. Two-third of the way, the answer to “Why narrative practice?” has become clearer.
I used to be a child too afraid of his own shadow that even mentioning the word “ghost” or hearing an unusual noise at night could have made my blood run cold. Never had I imagined that one day, studying Japanese mystical urban legends in Studio Ghibli anime, perhaps those with a sense of sinister, would ever help me learn about its culture. None the less, this apprehension of mine does not arise from the denial of godliness, but in the opposite, from my initial understanding of Buddhism and being exposed too early to acknowledging another “dimension” according to Buddhist ideology. Employing autoethnography as the primary approach to this research project, epiphanies as such enables me to understand certain aspects of the Japanese culture based on my cultural framework. While the two cultures (Vietnamese and Japanese) may be different from one another in many aspects, Asian religions often share the same definition of the demonic (Sutherland 2013). Ellis et al (2011) asserted experience having a significant impact on the trajectory of a person’s life – or the so-called “epiphanies” – encourage one to analyse their own lived experience, thus ‘the use of self’ becomes the main data source in autoethnography.
However, using epiphanies to connect self with others in autoethnography introduces certain obstacles to overcome in my research process. Apart from this methodology being criticised for being too self-indulgent and narcissistic (Coffey 1999, cited in Holt 2003), I – in the position of writing about myself– must disclose my genuine thoughts and feelings along the way, for this methodology allows researchers to dig deeper into their own experience and vulnerability add values to autoethnographic works (Ngunjiri et al 2010). Shortly after the previous blog post, I spent some time reading about urban legends in My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away before watching them for hours. While I learned about interesting notions that (might have) inspired the filmmakers – the Sayama incident and the assumingly depiction of Totoro as the god of death based on this incident, I have connected this with the folklores I was told back in the days. In these ancient Vietnamese folklores, in certain periods of time, spirits and god of death could be seen walking around in the living world, like how normal-looking (and even with a cute appearance) Totoro is in My Neighbor Totoro. To analyse this urban legend and understand the culture based on my not-so-pleasant cultural framework, besides looking at multiple facets of cultural experience, I am put in the position to confront my own self. This experience might cause me to reveal vulnerability sometimes in the journey, but it is necessary for this is the way stories can enable the reader to see the world from my point of view, even if this world does not match reality (Ellis et al 2011).
Having binge-read Case Closed/Detective Conan throughout my teenage years, I could expect the cultural artifacts of Japan to have a complex illustration, thanks to the three Japanese alphabets: hiragana, katakana, and kanji.
In Spirited Away, the urban legend is implied through the word “yu” on the door to the bath house, or the female workers in this bathhouse are called “yuna”. I must admit the inability to comprehend the language has imposed some constraints on the project. With further research, I found out the implication is about the prostitution life in Edo period (Hiding from Japanese Ghosts 2014). While my experience with Japanese written language and Japanese history is little, I could relate this myth to my former exposure to the prostitution concept in Chinese movies which present similar “bath house” in the same period. However, I do acknowledge that some Japanese words may not have equivalents in other languages, in English for example. Therefore, I believe Japanese-speaking audiences will have a different interpretation from mine because their values and experiences with the language are different. Looking into how others make sense of similar epiphanies to introduce facets of cultural experience is integral to using autoethnographic methodology, as suggested by Ellis et al (2011).
- Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095>
- Sutherland, G 2013, Demons and the Demonic in Buddhism, Oxford Bibliographies, viewed 20 September 2018, <http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195393521/obo-9780195393521-0171.xml>
- Holt, N 2003, ‘Representation, Legitimation, and Autoethnography: An Autoethnographic Writing Story’, International Journal of Qualitative Methods, viewed 20 September 2018, <http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/160940690300200102>
- Ngunjiri, F, Hernandez, K & Chang, H 2010, ‘Living Autoethnography: Connecting Life and Research’, Journal of Research Practice, vol. 6, viewed 20 September 2018, <http://jrp.icaap.org/index.php/jrp/article/view/241/186>
- Hiding From Japanese Ghosts 2014, ‘My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away Urban Legends’, Hiding From Japanese Ghosts, weblog post, 17 June, viewed 20 September 2018, <http://hidingfromjapaneseghosts.tumblr.com/post/89048135721/my-neighbour-totoro-and-spirited-away-urban>
“Vietnamese ghosts aren’t that scary as long as you know what it is that they want. If it isn’t staying dead then there’s probably a reason, and all you have to do is give the ghost the thing that it’s seeking – revenge, redemption, a resolution” – Violet Kupersmith.
Many of Vietnamese ghost stories revolve around powerful, ancient spirits of nature who require recognition and appeasement (Sutherland, G.H 2013). Early years of my childhood were spent listening to those myths and urban legends, though some might have rooted from actual encounters with the unknown entities. Thus, from the young age, I have unconsciously established a connection to theories and narratives about the demonic in Buddhism. Perhaps it has been the memories of hiding under a table or covering my ears whenever the story climbed to its climax and followed by sleepless nights reminiscing the horror once told.
My hands went clammy, I could hear my heart throbbing loudly. I swallowed down a gulp as my index finger glided across the pad and my mind went numb. Just one click away from knowing whether the rest of my university life would be miserable or glorious, yet I kept hesitating. That happens, most of the time.
“It took me a while to absorb the definition of ‘Creativity’, that is it cannot be defined.”
Three words to describe me: ‘sophisticated’, ‘outgoing’, and ‘creative’. The last one was given to me by my brother-in-law who is working in the creative industry, but I am, admittedly, muddled when someone refers to me as a creative person. It is not that I am unhappy with it nor I regard myself as a student with no ideas worth listening to. I simply hold on to a belief that creativity is a broad spectrum and so broad, it can only be appreciated and categorised, not graded nor measured.
Akira (1988) is, in my perception, the anime to be most distant from the Japanese pop culture I have known. Perhaps the aversion stems from my preferences, that is sci-fi films rarely fascinate me with their concept. Or perhaps the inclination I have for a captivity of history in arts hinders my making sense of Akira. A brief description of my experience watching the anime could be an amalgamation of feelings, mostly bewildered by the overdetailed violence. However, noted that animes in their golden age (1980s) could be much experimental and less audience-oriented than they are now. Not so long before Akira screening, I learned about Hadashi no Gen (1983), an anime details Hiroshima bombing whose horrifying graphics content caused me traumatised.