My friend Kyle tweeted out that today marks 20 years since the release of the film The End of Evangelion (July 19, 1997). I actually got to see it in theaters in Tokyo that summer, as part of my first visit to Japan, and this made me think back at how much my life changed that year.
It was at the start of May 1997 that I went to the city of Tianjin, China as part of a 10-week program to study Chinese at Nankai University — along with a group of students from McGill University and the Université de Montréal (where I was studying in their East Asian Studies program). The first day I was in China, I would meet the Japanese woman who is now my wife (it took a few weeks before we actually got together though). At the end of the 10 weeks, the entire group returned to Montreal, but I decided to stay — yeah, because of the girl — and so enrolled at the university there to continue my Chinese studies.
During that summer, my wife had returned to Japan (it was the university’s summer break) and I decided to go visit her for two weeks. That would be my first visit to Japan, a place I would later call home for over 15 years.
My wife is originally from Kobe, and so that’s where I went. By boat. It was a two-day journey from the port of Tianjin to the port of Kobe, and it was an amazing way to slowly take in Japan, small island by small island, until we reached the port. I still have vivid memories of listening to Fugazi’s Repeater on my walkman, while taking in the sight of Kobe as we approached.
I stayed a couple of days in Kobe, but for the majority of the trip we were in Tokyo, staying at one of my wife’s friends. It’s during that trip that I got to go see The End of Evangelion, which was my introduction to the series — I knew zero Japanese, and considering how, ahem, narratively adventurous that movie is (especially the ending), you can imagine what a trip it was to take in. That July also marked the release of Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke, which I also went to see at the theater (and as I mentioned recently, it may have been my first taste of Ghibli).
I still have quite a few vivid memories from that trip — like the first time I watched Mecha Mecha Iketeru, a comedy series on TV starring the comedy duo of 99, who I’ve continued to love for 20 years. I also bought a PlayStation while I was there to bring back with me to China, and the first words of Japanese I really learned where while playing Tomb Raider and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in Japanese.
After the trip, we both returned together to Tianjin by boat (this time taking 4 days because of a tsunami), and would end up staying in China until the end of that year — at which point we went to Montreal for one semester so I could get the missing credits I needed for the program I was doing, before moving to Tokyo at the start of May 1998.
I’m certainly thankful for the interesting journey my life has taken, as well as for all of the unexpected swerves I’ve decided to take a chance on and follow.