This post is dedicated to Bree Archer, friend and cover designer extraordinaire! Last month, before Thorns and Fangs was published, I asked everyone for questions to answer. Bree asked me how living in Japan had impacted my writing. I don’t think it has, I said. End of story.
I am kicking myself so hard. I actually devoted a guest post to how hard I was kicking myself. That didn’t end up being used, but I got permission to share it here. Bree, here is your answer take two!
A few days ago, a friend asked me how living in Japan for ten years has affected my writing. Apart from the story I purposely wrote to explore my feelings of culture shock, my declining vocabulary due to disuse and an interest in the clash and interplay between different cultures and values, I didn’t think it had. After all, I’m writing western vampires in a western setting. Nothing Japanese about that!
Only after I’d uploaded my answer to Youtube did it occur to me that Thorns and Fangs has three Japanese characters in it, two of which have a recurring role within the series. But while Aki and Ikeda-san are obviously products of my time here, it is becoming obvious that Japan has influenced Thorns and Fangs far more than I had any idea.
The most obvious way is nature. Most people associate Japan with big cities, technology and weird and wonderful fashion. My first experience of Japan was living in Sendai, a city of a million people. The neighbourhood I lived in was primarily concrete, and the park nearest my house entirely bare of grass. I had really neat experiences in Sendai, met some amazing friends, but there was always something missing. When I changed schools in my third year in Sendai, to a school that required a long bus ride that took me past greenery and rivers, I was a lot happier, but it wasn’t until I left Sendai for a small farming community of 40 people in extremely rural New Zealand that I realised that while I can live anywhere, I am a country girl at heart.
When I returned to Japan, I indicated that I had a preference for a rural location. I got my wish! Two years on an island in the Japan Inland Sea with a population of 5000 and me, followed by five years in my current town, located in Shimane — the second least populated prefecture in Japan! I love it. While Tokyo always made me feel claustrophobic if I stayed more than four days, Shimane retains that country community feeling and aspects of traditional Japanese life. While the declining population is only too evident in abandoned houses, left to be overgrown and gradually collapse, this also means the presence of nature is never far away. My neighbour’s vegetable garden is right outside my front door. When I put out my trash, I look across a valley to a highway with a protected wild life zone beyond. From my staffroom I have a panoramic view of the port and Japan Sea. The passing of seasons throughout the year gets far more attention than I remember in New Zealand. In Spring, for example, there are forecasts for the blooming of sakura and hanami, cherry blossom viewing parties, are incredibly popular with men as well as women. The blooming of various flowers are marked with festivals throughout the year. Japan has taught me how to name and identify far more flowers than living in New Zealand, which prides itself on its unspoilt nature, ever did. And that is where the Thorns part of Thorns and Fangs comes in.
Not only nature but the Japanese way of interacting with it has wound itself into the way magic operates within Thorns and Fangs. I suspect that Nate’s deep connection to plants has its origin in the holy trees seen at Shinto sites. Inhabited by kami, a word that can either be translated as ‘god’ or ‘spirit’ in English, the trees are treated with great respect. They’re marked by a rope made from rice straw and hung with white paper used in purification rituals. I didn’t purposely borrow this aspect of Japanese culture, but I think it definitely influenced Nate and Ethan’s origins and relationship with nature.
Shimane has a special relationship with the kami. In most of Japan, October is know as the ‘month without the gods.’ In Shimane alone it is called the ‘month with the gods.’ This is because every October, all the kami gather at Izumo Taisha, one of the major Shinto shrines and located in Shimane, for their annual general meeting. Because of this special relationship with the gods, Izumo Taisha has some unique traditions I’ve never seen anywhere else in Japan. Again, without intending it, I’m pretty sure that the purification rite at the ocean I attended had an impact on how magic operates within Thorns and Fangs. Shimane also has a special place in Japan’s creation myths. One of the guides who worked at Izumo Taisha pointed out to me the exact rock the god Izanagi stood on while creating Japan, and the cave in which the sun goddess, Amaterasu, hid herself. I’ve always loved reading stories that blend the fantastic and magical with the everyday, and I’m pretty sure that my experiences at Izumo furthered that love by giving me a real life experience of what it might be like to live in a world where magic is reality.