Harajuku, Tokyo; Japan, Summer 2017
Harajuku, Tokyo; Japan, Summer 2017

One of the first questions I get when I tell people about visiting Japan is: why there? I’d like to answer this question with a short series for readers on how Japanese culture came into my life at an early age as a young person growing up in Los Angeles.

It started with Nintendo’s Gameboy. Not the Gameboy SP, nor even the Gameboy Color, but just the very first GAMEBOY released by Japan’s Nintendo company, along with a little cartridge disk inside of the Gameboy with a sticker at its center that glistened in the daylight as it read DONKEY KONG.

When the Metro 26 bus from Virgil Avenue to Downtown L.A. still existed, I couldn’t have been more than five years old as I sat next to mom in the terse round seats that used to make up the bus. In my hands I clutched the big, brawny Gameboy, and practically hugged it with my stomach to keep it from falling.

The 26 bus would bobble up and down Virgil boulevard and rattle its way through Temple street’s damaged pavement, but with my Gameboy in hand, there was rarely a single shock during the commute which could startle me. I sat immersed in an alternate universe with Donkey Kong, one of gaming’s favorite characters at the time, and together we skipped past troves of wooden containers and darts hurled our way, gliding through digital skies collecting banana peels for points en route to gaming victory.

It was the future, but back then it was just the early 1990s, although we the little ones knew, or our hands knew, that we were edging on the brink of a digital revolution which would change the world for decades to come. That is, until mom tugged at our hands on arriving to our stop because it was time to race off the bus.

J.T.

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