ADVENT PLAYLIST 2014 | 12. “omanko”

Welcome to the 1%J 2014 1%J ADVENT PLAYLIST, in which we attempt to reconcile the simultaneously occurring but often contradictory spirits of Advent season and the “holidays.”  

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“reading Japanese comics / and fucking Japanese omanko / oh Japanese Jesus / oh Japanese Jesus, come on / I’m gearing up / I’m gearing up for a Japanese Christmas – “

“Omanko” is the Japanese word for “cunt” but without the wonderful diversity of usage that the English term encompasses.  It refers exclusively to the vagina and vaginal intercourse – not, as it does in English, to any object or situation that requires more vitriol than “fuck” (whether this makes it more or less problematic depends on your preferred school of feminist linguistics).  It’s not a very Christmas-y word.  Christmas may be one of the most vaginally-oriented holidays in the Western calendar, but “omanko” is hardly the right word for the (notably Immaculate) vagina in question – not least because it’s a Japanese word and Japanese people, historically, don’t really celebrate Christmas.

If “cunt”/”omanko” is a linguistic signifier that aggressively segregates itself from everything positive/natural that its signified embodies, then “Japanese Christmas” might be its holiday equivalent.  Christmas in Tokyo is an obscenity of lights and hyper-American commercialism – essentially Charlie Brown’s worst nightmare.  This makes sense – Japan is  a country that’s been dramatically impacted by many aspects of Western (specifically American) culture, but not by one of Western culture’s most central components – that is, Christianity.  Their version of Christmas, then, maximally amps up American commercial traditions (as is Japan’s cultural wont) while completely ignoring the reason Christmas was a big deal for Americans in the first place.  It’s all signifier and no signified – a blinding marquee with no performance going on underneath to show for it.

This is all very exciting and, in an emotionally numb, Sophia Coppola sort of way, kind of beautiful – just as I imagine “fucking Japanese omanko” might be if you’re into that kind of thing.  But it’s hardly what Christmas is all about.  And if you grew up in a world where Christmas, at some point at least, really meant something, you can’t help but feel the hideous emptiness at the heart of a Shinjuku Christmas Chapel.  The same way that “omanko” feels hideously empty if vaginas have ever been an important aspect of your life (do you exist? then they have).

Japanese Christmas is just the maximalization of American Christmas commercialization, and in many ways America is quickly catching up [obligatory Black Friday insanity link].  Every part of the holidays that isn’t rooted somewhere in love, community, and genuine gift-giving naturally comes out dry in the end, and there’s a reason why one of the most universal modern holiday sentiments is disappointment.  We’re gearing up for something, and in the end it’s just a Japanese Jesus – who, no offense to the 3 million or so Japanese Christians out there, barely even exists.  The sprint toward the finish is a rush, but it stalls out on the morning of December 25 when you wake up and realize that you’ve had nothing at all to be running toward.  This happens again and again, every time, every year, and it feels like shit.

There’s an analogy about American sexuality in there, but it’s not my place to make it.  My concern is the disagreement of linguistic signs, and the unhappiness they bring about when a signifier with too much meaning gets attached to a signified without enough of it, and vice-versa (simultaneously).  “Christmas” to fairy lights in a Tokyo love motel, fairy lights in front of St. Patrick’s to Christ – “vagina” to object of sexual malice, “cunt” to the capacity for human life.  Things exist, and when you scorn the breadth of that existence for nihilistic materialism (or, worse, for expectation without acknowledgement of materialistic existence) you get nothing but omanko.  That doesn’t have to happen.  There can be an agreement between signifiers and signifieds (existence and essence, material and spirit, man and God).  This used to be – way, way back – what Christmas was all about.  It would be nice to get that back.

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