Reading about the traditional Chinese festival, Shangyuan, I felt reminded of a festival I’ve had the good fortune of being able to experience, albeit quite a few years ago: hanami. While Shangyuan is more of a tangible holiday, there is no set date to hanami. It is the viewing of cherry blossoms in Japan, a tradition that has taken place for centuries. At some point in the two weeks or so that the cherry blossoms are blooming, people make a point of coming out have a picnic under them. Admittedly, this does not have much in common with the Chinese day of love where lanterns fill the sky. What is similar about the two festivals is not their actual substance, but how it feels to be a part of them. I myself have never participated in Shangyuan, but from how it is described, with all these people crowded together, admiring the lights in the sky, with written riddles for the children and unspoken messages of love and community for everyone there, I think I can vaguely grasp at what it may be like. And when I was trying to imagine how it must feel to be part of this, I thought of my hanami experience. My family and their friends, sitting on a blanket over the green grass. Surrounding us, for as far as I could see, were people just like us, families and friends, congregating together for this beautiful day. Above us were no lanterns, but instead the pale pink blossoms of the cherry trees, drifting down onto us through the clear blue sky. There was no definitive message of love or friendship, but that feeling was as plain as can be, with all the people crowded together, drinking beer, eating greasy food, and talking about how pretty the flowers were that year. It was an unofficial gathering of the people into one tightly knit community, with so little space between groups that it was hard to tell where one family ended and another began. Though perhaps not as poetic or classically beautiful as the lantern festival, it was a wonderful community experience, one that I think everyone should get to see at least once in their lives.
Every day I go to school, sit with 25 equally uninspired teenagers all wearing the same ugly uniform, and do work assigned by teachers just trying to pass the time until the bell rings and they’re one class closer to retirement. I go home, sitting in the off-black seat of my family’s cluttered minivan, staring out at the beige grocery stores and pharmacies and gas stations that we pass along the way. At home, I do my homework, I do my chores, I eat my food, I shower, then I lie down in my bed and sleep until it’s time for a variation on this day to start all over again. This is what real life is like, and it is smothering. I know there is no escape from this, no way to run off to someplace where I won’t have to worry about grades or clean dishes or getting a healthy portion of protein in my diet. There is one thing I can do to preserve my sanity in this miserable mundane world, and that is look out into worlds where none of the things I so hate seem to matter. There is no portal to take me to these places, places where people fall in love and don’t grow to hate eachother after 19 years together in a shabby house doing boring jobs, where a teenage girl can ride through a field on a moped, take on an entire girl gang, and win, where angels and warlocks are everyday sights, where cats talk and spirits haunt and dreams have the power to change reality. These are places I can never go, but I can pull back the cover and flip through the pages of the individual windows into each of these unique worlds just to get a peek at what they’re like. Books are often referred to as doors into other worlds, but that’s inaccurate. You can look at the worlds within these books, you can get to know them as well as your own, but try as you might, their existences and yours will remain entirely separate from one another. That is certainly a pity, but there is an upside to it. When you go in a plane and look out at the clouds, as beautiful as they may seem and as much as you may want to be able to go out and touch them, they will remain for your viewing pleasures only. Books are no different. Through them you see worlds completely unlike your own, worlds you may dream about visiting, separated from you. Just like the beautiful sky you see out the airplane window, these worlds will forever remain mystical and intriguing, simply because they are so unattainable.
Lolita. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear that word? The novel by Vladimir Nabokov? Or perhaps the meaning the word has taken on since the release of that book, of a sexually precocious girl. For me, and for a number of other people throughout the world, lolita is something quite separate from that. Petticoats, knee length skirts, jumpers printed with candy and ponies and pretty much anything cute, this is what comes to mind when I hear that magical three syllable word. Lolita is a fashion trend, inspired by traditional European clothing, started in Japan, but found (in somewhat rare occurrences) all over the world. For many, it is more than just a way of dressing, but a lifestyle. To be a lolita is to slip through the bonds of boring, ugly reality and submerse yourself in a world where you can simply exist as a princess (or prince, as the case may be).
Lolita is a style that embraces femininity, using it as a source of power and pride. Lolitas are not people that dress like little girls to seem appealing to creepy old guys, and we certainly don’t look like this because it will help us make friends. A lolita is modest and girly and as cute as can be because that is the kind of person we are, and this is how we express ourselves. Anyone can be a lolita; even though it may not sound like it, the lolita style really is unisex. One of the most iconic lolitas in the scene’s brief history (having existed for only 20 years or so) is my personal idol, Mana. He popularized the look in the 1990s by wearing it onstage with his infamous visual kei band Malice Mizer, and is firmly of the belief that beauty is not defined by gender.
It may seem silly for a type of clothing to be so important to some people, but as a person who strongly identifies with the lolita spirit, I can promise that it really is life-changing. To be a lolita is to refuse to conform to society’s expectations of people, women in particular. To feel insulted by being called a girl. To have sex appeal. To avoid thinking about trivial things and only care about what is deemed important by the rest of the world. To be ‘adults’. All of this means nothing to lolitas. We are feminine and cute, and in that, we are powerful. To sum up the life of a lolita, here is an excerpt from the iconic lolita novel, Kamikaze Girls: