Geeky, nerdy, enthusiastic…I am never sure what the correct word is, but I know that it gives me joy and never fails to produce a smile on my face. This blog post is about how, as a 30-something woman, giving in to my geeky side in Japan gave me joy and a much needed positive boost for my mental health.
Read on to read how being geeky in Japan helped my mental health!
In October 2016 I traveled to Japan with a friend and absolutely fell in love with the country. The vacation came at the perfect moment, as I was exhausted and had, unknowingly, experienced my first bigger depressive episode a few weeks prior. A lot of pressure disappeared when we arrived in Japan, especially as it was such an immersive experience. Other rules of conduct, restaurant menus that you cannot read and getting lost in the train station on the regular, really helped give the feeling we were definitely on the other side of the world. I believe one of the things that gave me so much energy from Japan was allowing my inner geek to let loose and enjoy.
With this post, I want to share my favorites, but also highlight that for our mental health it’s important to listen to what we need and get energy from. Sometimes this isn’t in line with what people ‘expect’ – and that is 100% OK.
For those that are not familiar with these terms, in short: Manga are Japanese style comics, and anime (short for animation) usually refers to animation from Japan or Japanese style animation. Often, Manga series will be animated into an anime series.
Before we left for Japan, I had not seen much anime. I was, however, obsessed with the series ‘Assassination Classroom’ and had watched the first seasons of a few other shows. In Japan, this posters of anime and manga were everywhere, and my friend and I had fun guessing which shows they were and if we could find it on Netflix. Especially in neighborhoods such as Akihabara in Tokyo and Den Den town in Osaka are full of anime references. As I kept seeing some characters over and over, it inspired me to check out the anime once back in the Netherlands.
Since that holiday, anime has become one of the things I turn to when I have a tough mental health day. Most shows that I watch are quite funny or cute, and it really helps me to relax. Others are so exciting that they stop me from overthinking. I’m lucky to have friends that have great recommendations and have made fun connections over Instagram discussing favorites as well.
I have to admit I was hesitant when the game was initially released. I had never watched the series when on TV – my sister LOVED it and collected all the toys. That made me (an awkward teenager at the time) think I was obviously too cool for it. Well, no more! When I left in October 2016, some of the hype had already receded in the Netherlands, but in Japan, everyone was playing it. From older businessmen to moms and cool teenagers. At home, friends might lovingly tease me for playing this, but in Japan we were just one of the many, sitting on the Pokémon benches and playing the game. As both my friend and I really enjoyed it, I’m happy we got a lot of joy from playing this together.
It made a 20-minute walk in the rain exciting and fun, instead of exhausting and daunting. Finding joy in small things does really help re-frame an experience. When the game was released there were a lot of people sharing how it had benefitted their mental health. From personal experience, I really agree. On tough days, it is sometimes what gets me outside for some fresh air (which always makes me feel better) and small wins in the game help give a positive boost!
My love for the movies from this Japanese animation studio is endless. I’ve been watching their movies such as Spirited Away since my early teens, and they always amaze me with their magical animation, empowered female protagonists, and heartwarming stories. We visited the museum in Kichijoji, this is a must for any Ghibli fan.
We went to a few stores that sold Ghibli merchandise, and I really had to restrain myself from buying everything I saw, especially all things Totoro. In the end, I bought a cute charm for my bag and three finger puppets from my fave movies that now keep an eye on my living room. Whenever I see these small charms, it brings a smile to my face. These small boosts of joy are sometimes what we need to get through challenging days.
I am an enormous fan of Harry Potter, immersing myself in the books and charms have really helped me the last few months. In Japan, we found a lot of Harry Potter things too, such as great merchandise and the best ride ever. If you’ve read my post about Universal Studios in Osaka you know that I was blown away by the Happy Potter ride at USJ. The Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride is THE BEST RIDE EVER, and I wish I could experience the Harry Potter world at USJ again.
All the other cute things
There are so many other cute characters we saw while in Japan, which made me smile! First of all, there are the Sanrio characters with Hello Kitty and Keroppi (just two of hundreds of characters). Another Sanrio fave is Gudetama, which is a lazy/depressed egg…I relate to him on a spiritual level! Then there is a cute mascot for almost everything… even the Himeji castle has its own mascot, as does every prefecture in Japan. I gave in to this and started a pin collection from all the places we visited after Tokyo.
We found one hotspots for cute characters in the Tokyo Station – named Character street. Twenty-six stores devoted to merchandise for different characters or many from the same series. See below for more information and a map in English!
I was lucky I was traveling with a friend who was as enthusiastic (if not more) as I am regarding the cute characters, so we both got a lot of energy from indulging ourselves in this. It allowed me to escape mentally as well and gave a break from all the negative feelings I had in the Netherlands. Some people may think a 30+-year-old woman (or man) shouldn’t have Hello Kitty and play Pokémon Go. But in the end, we are the only ones responsible for ourselves. That includes taking care of our mental health and working towards living our living our best lives. If that life includes enjoying Pokémon Go, gaming or Hello Kitty, embrace it!
Life is too short not to have fun and live it according to other people’s expectations of what we should be.
Where to find all this cuteness in Tokyo and Osaka:
- Kiddyland Harajuku: 5 floors filled with character merchandise – heaven <3!
- 6 Chome-1-9 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0001
- Studio Ghibli Museum: buy these tickets at least a month in advance!
- We bought tickets in advance through this website – don’t forget to bring your ID/Passport when you visit, or you may be denied entrance.
- Character Street: an entire street filled with character stores, located in the Tokyo Station. Find the English map here.
- Akihabara: a neighborhood with a lot of game, mango and gatcha stores. It was a bit overwhelming but definitely worth a visit if you’re into manga/anime.
- Den Den Town Osaka: similar to Akihabara in Tokyo, but in a smaller area.
- Universal Studios Japan: if you go, the Harry Potter ride is a must do!
- Tips for stickers/merchandise: Daiso (cute and cheap!), as are LOFT and Tokyu Hands.