Living on the border between Japanese creators and American fandom can be an uncomfortable experience. On the one hand I’m living in Japan, have a basic grasp of the language and the real opportunity to interact in both a net-based and face to face human capacity with artists I admire. On the other hand, the vast majority of my (e)friends speak only English and don’t have easy access to some items of digital media that I might be able to get without much trouble. Hence the dilemma: do I help my English-speaking acquaintances out by passing pirated media on to them that they otherwise might not be able to obtain and thereby risk strained or broken relationships (or potential relationships) with real people on the ground here, or do I refrain from doing so and risk… well, seemingly nothing?

When I put it this way it seems like a no-brainer: the emergence of the internet has coincided with the emergence of a generally held system of values which prioritizes real face to face interaction over net-based interaction. By closing off the trickle of piracy I could potentially provide I would hardly damage the relationship, to the extent that it exists, with people I know online. But the issue is a bit more complicated; I like the feeling of contributing to a community, and being a fount of pirated media is a cheap way to get recognition and thanks. I like to think I’m providing a service with this blog that people find useful, but I don’t know if anyone really does. This is probably normal, especially for the sort of things I post – I know I don’t post replies in news-related blogs I read unless I’m familiar with the webmaster.

In my time online in Japan I’ve “participated in the community” in a lot of different ways; scanning and translating manga, sharing media, I tried a shipping service to begin with. In the end none of it felt like it was worth it in terms of the response I got; the internet is a cold, utilitarian, hedonistic place. The motivation to contribute gradually faded as I realized I lacked the internal motivation to pursue activities that weren’t also externally reinforced; I can’t work in an altruistic vaccum, it’s a give and take thing.

There are a few reasons I think this blog will be different from my prior abortions: for one, I’m doing it as much for myself as anyone who might be reading. It’s a link/news repository for me, to a large extent, and helps me keep track of a lot of information on things I’m interested in that would be impossible to keep a handle on otherwise, without taking notes somehow. In addition, if I play my cards right I could turn it into a good first contact point for forging relationships with people here, once I have some more Japanese content. Lately I’ve been playing the stats game as well, trying to figure out how I can attract a bigger readership and make that “distinct hosts served” numbers creep upwards. To that end I posted some information on a forum recently which, along with the apparent htaccess blocking of tyth.net by Fanatic Fetish after linking him a few days ago, prompted the thought behind this post.

Japanese internet life is a very complicated institution. It seems to have a set of unwritten rules nearly as complex as those that govern its language, and a huge set of mores antithetical to the American sacred right to free-ranging parody upheld by such sites as Something Awful. If it were only media piracy that were held in contempt by Japanese creators that would be one (totally justified) thing, but if you so much as link their sites in the wrong way you might have poisoned the well for all future interaction. It’s case by case, seemingly, and impossible to know. The safe thing would be to establish contact before linking and confirm that it’s alright, but composing email in Japanese is a task that requires more brainpower and concentration than I often have available to bring to bear when I want to post a link. Communicating in Japanese in any form is just plain hard, and if I lived in an English speaking country right now I probably wouldn’t bother trying – just link and pirate and let the chips fall where they may. In Japan, in this case, which would be very, very far away.

So do I ingratiate myself to a possibly nonexistent English-speaking audience by running roughshod over Japanese internet mores that I don’t understand, or do I sit and think wistfully about making friends with Japanese artists and do nothing because I can’t be arsed to write a few emails? This is the question. From the beginning I’ve had the answer decided, but it’s not too satisfactory to my slacker instincts: I need to get off my ass and a) write more in Japanese, b) generate more original site content. I should probably yank the link to Fanatic Fetish as well as he’s not LINK FREE – he doesn’t have a link status at all, so I just assumed. The SA-reading Yankee in me says I should fuck the Japanese internet because of its arbitrary stupidity – if it’s online it’s fair game for linking/reproduction/whatever no matter what the squiggly moon-letters say on your sites, bitches – but living here I know this is a senseless war that I can’t win, accomplishing nothing other than burning bridges between me and the people I most want to interact with while I’m here.

To that end I’ll be pulling the Fanatic Fetish link from the リンク section and I will not be posting links to any sites that aren’t explicitly described as LINK FREE (リンクフリー) with no strings attached without contacting them first. Also, I reaffirm the unwritten rule I’ve established with this blog that no pirated media or links to it will be posted here, ever. Hopefully this will keep me out of trouble with the Japanese creative establishment, but for all I know the damage may have already been done. It’s the price paid for living on the edge without being a real creator with original content myself, I guess. There’s only so much a glorified leech can do.