21 November 2011

Commentary: What's in a Name?

I've been thinking that it's about high time I explained my blog's name. No, indeed, I did not just randomly stick two words together in a lame effort to make something "unique." Forget about sad attempts to come up with quirky, catchy nicknames, et cetera. I've never been particularly skilled at naming things, so when it came time to creating a name for my blog, I went with something that actually holds personal significance.

I'm one of those people who's into Japanese anime and manga. I read way more manga than I watch anime but I think both are super; I've always just been much more of a reader. I grew up watching Doraemon, although I'll admit now that I watched the episodes dubbed in Thai and therefore thought that Doraemon was a Thai creation. The first anime that I watched and consciously identified as such was probably good ol' Sailor Moon.

I didn't start really reading manga until high school. One summer, my sister gave me the first volumes of three different manga series in the hopes that one of them would pique my interests. I received Cowboy Bebop, .hack//Legend of the Twilight, and Fruits Basket. I had already seen and thoroughly enjoyed the Cowboy Bebop anime, so while reading the manga was fun, I wasn't all that invested in reading the series through to the end. .hack//Legend of the Twilight was a very entertaining read but it didn't provide me with the level of emotional and mental depth I wanted from a series. Fruits Basket--I clearly remember reading Fruits Basket for the first time and being blown away. The artwork was amazing and the storyline was fully engaging.

Fruits Basket came into my life at the perfect time. I'm not going to say I was in an "awkward phase" in my life--"awkward" doesn't even begin to describe all of the things that were going on (and such a statement could imply that I'm no longer awkward). I was in a very troubled period where I had a lot of inner turmoil to deal with. I've never been good at talking things out with people. I have intense trains of thoughts and conversations with myself but when it comes time to resolve issues with other people, I hit a wall (sometimes literally but not so much anymore). It's not healthy to run away from your problems but everyone needs an avenue of solace. Fruits Basket was my ally. The series followed me through the tough times in high school right on to the end of my undergraduate education. Reading the last volume of the series was bittersweet since it marked the ending of such an important part of my life but by the end, I felt that I had matured much in the same way the characters had.

I still don't have a full understanding of myself--what makes me tick, et cetera, but I do have an identity now and I know what it is. I have defined core beliefs. I have some roots firmly sunken into the ground. One of the elements of the series that stuck with me was the idea that everyone is seeking a place where they belong. Fruits Basket expresses this sentiment through the heroine, Tohru Honda, and the trauma she experienced as a child while playing the game, "Fruits Basket." I never played the game as a child but in Fruits Basket, Tohru recalls how she always looked forward to playing the game. The other kids in her class would designate the fruit that each other would be (e.g. apple, orange, pear, et cetera). Tohru was always designated the onigiri or the rice ball. When the game began, the children would sit in chairs arranged in a circle around the person in the middle who was "it." The person in the middle would call out the name of two fruits and those children would have to get up and run to switch places. While they did this, the person in the middle would try to take one of their spots. Whoever ended up without a chair would be the new designated caller. Since Tohru was the onigiri, she always sat and waited patiently to be called on, but she never was. It wasn't until she was older that she realized the other kids had purposefully made her the onigiri and then had chosen not to call on her; they excluded her from the game by reasoning that there is no room for an onigiri in a "fruits basket."

Since this experience had a big impact on her, Tohru comes to think of herself and other people as onigiri walking through life. We all go through our lives seeking a place to belong and thinking that we're nothing special. In Japanese culture, onigiri often have an umeboshi filling. Tohru imagines that this umeboshi is placed on the backs of onigiri so that we are able to see everybody else's umeboshi and feel jealousy without realizing that we have an umeboshi on our own back. The metaphor illustrates the classic idea that it's much easier to see admirable qualities in other people than in yourself.

These life lessons may all sound pretty elementary to you, but for me, it's not just about hearing or repeating the lessons, the words--it's about living them. I chose "Onigiri Basket" for my blog title because we're all onigiri and I, for one, believe we shouldn't have to worry about whether or not we fit into a "fruits basket." There's a basket right here, just waiting for us.

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