Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Japan Disaster

The Japan Disaster
By: Jason Spencer

By now, I’m sure everyone has heard of or seen images of the devastation in Japan. This truly is a catastrophic event. First a 9.0 earthquake, then a 20 foot tsunami wave, and now they’re on the brink of a nuclear disaster. We can only hope and pray that the Japanese people can overall come these trying times and rebuild their lives.

I can’t help but feel some sort of connection to Japan. I have never stepped foot in the country, nor can I speak the language. This might cause you to ask, well why would you feel any sort of connection? The answer lies in their culture.

Many children in the United States have watched or at least been aware of the Power Rangers franchise. If you grew up in the early 90s, you most certainly were aware of the phenomenon that was their meteoric rise to the status of pop culture icons. The series continues to this day, but has lost a lot of its original luster and perhaps meaning. If it were not for Japanese culture there would never have been a Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers television series, nor would there be a long standing Power Rangers franchise. That’s because the source material and costumes come to us from the long standing Japanese franchise, Super Sentai.

Super Sentai is celebrating its 35th Anniversary, which closely lines up with the 20th Anniversary of Power Rangers. The show, like Power Rangers, has had many ups and downs in its illustrious history. However, having been on the air 15 years prior to the birth of Power Rangers in the States, I would have to say that its popularity in Japan would most certainly have been a factor in Haim Saban’s decision to repackage it for an American audience. Think about it, would you spend a ton of money to repackage a show from Japan that was a dud? I don’t think so.

Having watched Power Rangers for 5 straight seasons when I was young, and having seen it grow and explored its fandom for fan fiction research, I can honestly I say that I feel like it was more than a major influence on me. I feel it helped shape my personality and my imagination, and perhaps some extent still does. Watching episodes of both Super Sentai Gokaiger and Power Rangers Samurai as an adult seem to bring me down to Earth, likewise watching reruns may give me that awe-inspiring nostalgic feeling, it reminds me of how simple life used to be.

In my tween and teen years, I had shifted away from Power Rangers, mostly due to what you could classify as “creative differences.” I spent a few months in a self sentenced exile of anything that I could really say I was a fan of, and quite honestly, I have very little memory of this period. That is until I was introduced to professional wrestling. In January of 1999, my cousin introduced me to World Championship Wrestling. Now you may ask, why would you pick WCW in 1999? The answer is quite simple. I was still an impressionable child and my mother and aunt forbid me and my cousin from watching the then racy and provocative World Wrestling Federation.
Having always had an interest in history, I rented several WCW tapes from my local video store. I became familiar somewhat with Japanese wrestlers such as The Great Muta, Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Ultimo Dragon, and a few others. It was very obvious that the Japanese had a very different style than the American “big men” or even some of the luchadors. With the Internet gaining a lot of steam during this era, I was able to look up things about Japanese wrestlers that interested me. I could look up the history of the IWGP Title, which would be the equivalent to an American promotion’s Heavyweight Title.

In my research, I discovered several interesting points that made me look at some American wrestlers differently. That was the fact that several of my favorites had competed in Japan for quite some time. The late Eddy Guerrero was known as Tiger Mask, Chris Benoit as The Pegasus Kid, and Chris Jericho as Lion Heart. This explained, at least in some capacity, of why they seemed to have so many more moves in their arsenal, how they could adapt their styles, and how they seemed to just be overall much more rounded and more efficient workers in the ring.

It may not be the case so much today in American wrestling, but at the time, Japan’s influence was quite prevalent. However, just like the landscape of American wrestling, Japanese wrestling has changed a lot over the years. Things are just not what they used to be. Perhaps that could change. People often look to escape from disasters both mentally and physically. There is an underlying feeling of escapism when watching wrestling. In the back of your mind you know it’s a work, you know or learn all these little tricks they use, but at the same time when it’s done right you eat it up as a fan. I’m sure many Japanese people are looking for some form of escapism these days. A way to just forget what happened, if even for a moment. I’m not trying to suggest that people should try to forget this event, but a momentary lapse in the sadness or the stress is always a good way to help someone move on with their life. I can speak from personal experience, in that, if the show I’m watching truly has my attention I am not worrying about anything else for the duration of that particular show.

This is perhaps the lesser of my “connection” feelings, but I still feel it’s worth mentioning. I think like most males between the ages of say 5 and 30, I like to play video games. Nearly all of my video game consoles were made from Japanese companies. Any Nintendo, Sega, or Sony system is a product of Japan. The same could be said for several other electronics. My degree is in Computer Science, which means I look at and use several different electronics every day. While I may wish that the United States would engineer and create new technologies to help our economy, I can’t deny that the Japanese make some very nice products. Products I seemingly use all the time. So again, the techy geek part of me looks at this disaster in a completely different way, but still a way that makes me feel somewhat connected to the issue at hand.

They have said that some 10,000 people are lost. The images that have come out in the news show communities reduced to nothing but sticks and mud. Giant cracks in the earth ripped apart roads and seemingly changed the landscape of different areas. I know the Japanese people are very disciplined and resilient. I have no doubt that they will forge a way through what seem like uncertain times. Just like your entertainment productions, wrestling promotions, and electronics companies, I’m sure this is only a temporary down time. An off year, if you will. You will find a way to turn things around and soon we’ll all be talking about your remarkable recovery and these catastrophic incidents will seem like ancient history.

Until then, you have both my thoughts and my prayers. God bless you.