A few weeks ago, when I was pondering what to write about for my 11th Annual Kawaii Kon preview article — a preview that over the years has seen me talking to people like the MangaBento gang, nemu*nemu artist Audra Furuichi both in and out of her Riza Hawkeye wig, Stan Sakai and Mari Iijima, among many others — the profile subject came to me more quickly than usual: It had to be Jamie Lano, the cheerfully chipper manga artist/blogger/Princess of Tennis author who moved to Oahu last year and will be hosting three panels at Kawaii Kon.
My interview with Jamie ended up being one of the best interviews I’ve ever done. You can see the first fruits of that interview in today’s paper (Star-Advertiser subscription required to read that link; c’mon, spring for it, it’s cheap!). But it’s also a very teeny tiny cross-section of our conversation, one that (a) lasted more than 90 minutes and (b) has a transcript that spans 24 pages of largely single-spaced 9-point type.
So let’s face it: One story in the paper isn’t nearly enough to share the Jamie Lano story. A four-part series this week leading up to Kawaii Kon Day 0? We can do that here in Otaku Ohana, where one of the only limits on what we publish is the time and energy your friendly neighborhood anime/manga blogger has available to write and edit content. I’ve broken up the best interview portions as follows:
Part 1, looking at Jamie’s travels over the years and just why she’s so willing to travel begins after the break.
Jason: I guess my first question would be, give me … try to think of five highlights of your life so far, with one catch: can’t include the “princess of tennis” era, since that’s on a whole different level (you wrote a book about it, after all!)
Jamie: You mean like personal highlights, things that I’m proud of?
Jason: However you want to interpret the question.
Jamie: Hmm … well, of course going to Japan was one. I mean, that was the big one for me. It was … a two-month decision. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I decided to do that.
There’s that … ummmm, you have to make this so hard (laughter) … oh! My TV show! (Jason’s note: Jamie hosted Asahi Pop’n’ Press, a bilingual show that aired from 2009 through 2013.) I loved being on the TV show because I’m not like an actress, but they wanted me to do it, and I was like, “Well … sure, I’m willing to try.” I mean, it ended up being a very positive experience for the most part … stressful and positive. I loved it, I would totally go back and do something similar if I ever had the opportunity.
Jason: How long did you do that show?
Jamie: It ran for four years, which is pretty good for a variety show, you know? And we were on at, like, 6 a.m. We had syndication, so it was on at different times in different parts of Japan, but it was basically early Saturday morning. So we ran pretty long despite our bad time slot. There’s that, so I did all kinds of fun stuff through there.
Ohhhh … I took a trip to China once, and I loved that. That was fun … getting to see the Great Wall and … you know, all the fun things … freezing my butt off … it was really great.
Another great thing was my trip to London a couple of years ago. That was fun, because I got out of a bad relationship, and I got my tax return at the same time. So I was like, well, I could be an adult and use this as I should to pay off this or that or to put it in the bank, right? Because I didn’t have any debt back then — ha ha ha, I wish I could say that now! — so I was like, “I need to get out of this country.” I like Japan and everything, but I was just wallowing in despair. So I said, “I’m just going to go to London.” I mean, the real reason was that there was this Star Trek convention there, and I was like, “That sounds like fun,” so, you know, I flew across the world to go to that and go see all the Harry Potter stuff. I wanted to go to see Stonehenge. Never did. (laughter) But that was so much fun. I spent two weeks there, and I just fell in love with the city. And it was cold, and … I don’t know, I guess I got lucky because it wasn’t really rainy or anything when I was there. It was sunny every day, beautiful. It was just a little cold for me, being October. But it was fun, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
One more highlight … moving here. All my good things are moving somewhere, going somewhere. I think I’m a traveler at heart, and I come from a family that’s … I mean, we’re not, like, super-poor, but we’ve had to struggle my whole life, so … nothing was ever really handed to any of us, and we just kind of scraped by most of the time. So I was coming from that, and … I guess to me the world seems like a place that only rich people got to go around to. And now I might not be rich, but when I can or when I have the opportunity, I just kind of jump on it and go.
It’s almost always turned out well. You just have to overlook the little setbacks and the bad things that happen. I’ve certainly had my share of them everywhere I’ve been, but … it’s just so much fun. I can’t advocate more getting out and seeing the world, and if you can living abroad, because it changed my entire perspective on life, and I feel like I know a lot more about who I am and how to celebrate the differences between other people.
That’s why I like it here in Hawaii, too, because it’s so multicultural and everybody I meet has some different background and I just love that and that we’re all still friends even though we’re so different.
Jason: It’s quite a spirit of adventure you have. I mean, how do you think you developed that over the years? I mean, I know some people who are just comfortable staying in one place their entire lives, but people like you, you’re just like, “Okay, I want to go here,” and off you go, you know?
Jamie: Well … there’s a little planning. But the problem … like I said, I was never rich, so I just can’t seem to get ahead in that point. So I just said, “You know what, what do I have to lose?” If I do lose, then I can always come back, I can always run back to my mom, and I hate that, because we don’t always get along. But at least I know that I’m not going to end up homeless on the street somewhere.
So I guess maybe that safety net … just knowing that if something devastating happens, and it has, I can always pick myself back up eventually. You might be miserable, but I’d rather have those times of the positive highs, than have to … you know, and actually have to deal with the negative lows, too, than having never had anything at all and just having a flat life. And you said, and I have, the same kind of friends that have stayed in our hometown forever — you know, they never left. Or like my mom, she doesn’t care, she doesn’t want to go anywhere. I lived in Japan for nine years; she never visited. She never left the country ever. And she doesn’t really care about it. She doesn’t have any desire.
I probably do because I watched Star Trek as a kid and I grew up on The Next Generation. They were explorers, exploring the galaxy. It made me feel like I want to do that someday. And it pains me so much that we don’t have a Federation of Planets that I can go around, travel the stars, because I would so be there. I would have went straight from school into the Academy, there would not have been a moment’s thought, you know?
We don’t have that, so I chose to study art because that’s the closest I can get right now, to use my imagination. So I dunno … I do want to go back to school. I was thinking of going back to school next year and getting a second degree. But I want to study exobiology so that I can learn about alien life as it may or may not exist or as we may or may not have encountered already, I can’t say. I want to be involved in that, paving the way for some kind of future space exploration and exploring other cultures — the ultimate alien culture is an alien culture, right? I want to go live with the aliens someday! That’s the ultimate exploration, right? One day, for sure.
Jason: That would be kind of cool, yeah.
Jamie: Yeah, so if I had to pinpoint anything … it would probably be Star Trek. Just instilling that adventure. Plus the fact that we never got to go. We never traveled the world. We traveled the states, like in a car, sleep in our car, drive to New York. We did that, but it’s not the same. It’s not the same as a totally new culture, so .. ahh, the more the merrier, you know?
Jason: I was looking at your blog, and the first thing I could find when you said you wanted to come to Hawaii was all the way back on your first post on Jamieism on Sept. 9, 2011.
Jamie: Oh, probably, yeah…
Jason: Has it been that long, at least, that you wanted to come here, or…?
Jamie: It must have been! (laughter) You know, I can’t remember when it was. Before I had my blog, I had another blog on LiveJournal, and … I don’t remember exactly when, but I know why. I lived in Japan and they didn’t have insulation in the house. So for me, the comfortable temperature starts at 70 degrees and goes up. That’s, like, nine or 10 months of the year in Japan. So with no insulation, you basically freeze unless you’re running the heater constantly. I was really tired of it, and I was like, “I’m going to move someplace warm, where I don’t have to deal with this,” and that’s where the idea came from.
That was the main idea. I was just like, “Well, you know, I’m sick of this.” Because I thought I would never really leave Japan, you know? But … once the idea got in my head that Hawaii was warm and Japan was not, then it just kind of festered there for a couple years until finally I was like, “You know, the time is right. Let’s just go.” And I mean, the time wasn’t right, but it was. My TV show ended. I wrote a column for one of the papers over there, Asahi Weekly (Jason’s note: “Jamie on the Go,” which ran from 2008 through 2013; here’s a sample) and that ended. So both my contracts ended, and it was look for a new job or just dump it all and leave.
I stayed for a couple months, kind of trying to figure out what to do while I waited for the last paychecks to come in, and I was like, “I don’t know … this is too big of a step. My whole life is here, but I just … *sigh*” I don’t know. I was looking for other jobs, I was like, none of these feel right. I don’t want to go back to teaching English, I would like to do comics but I need a way to support myself until that kind of stuff can pay off, because it’s very dicey, you know? And I just could never quite figure it out.
So I was like, “You know, just forget it, just forget it.” My mom was like, “I’ll buy you a plane ticket if you come back to see me!” And I was like, “Okay, fine.”
So I came back to her. I couldn’t go straight to Hawaii, even if I had wanted. Besides, I didn’t have much savings. I had my cat, and you have to go through … a long, long, long import procedure if you don’t want them quarantined. And I didn’t want her quarantined, so.
I went back to stay with my mom, and it was good in a way. It was cold there, too, so not my ideal. I … was in a small town that I wasn’t really familiar with, because I didn’t grow up there. But I got to see my sister and get to know her kids, and I saw my brother, and I hadn’t seen either of them in more than 10 years. That was nice, getting to know them as adults, because they’re very different than when they were kids. We did not get along as kids, but as adults, we were able to get past that, which is good. And I got to know my nieces and nephews a bit, which is nice.
Jason: Well, that’s good.
Jamie: Yeah … it changed some of my perspective on parents as well. Because I’m certainly not the having-kids type at all. I just don’t want to be tied down. I want to find a partner, but I don’t want kids because I feel like I’m not stable enough financially and situationally. I can’t provide a home for kids. And I don’t know … babies are not my thing. But she changed my perspective to where I can appreciate them, and … I can understand the good parts of having kids. I won’t ever have any. I’m gonna have cats. But mothers are cool. They can still have their own lives and still be cool people, so. That was a plus.
So while I was there, I went through all the procedures — took about six months to get my cat ready. Then I stayed another couple months and just came over here. I didn’t have enough money. I knew it. I knew I wouldn’t survive if I just came and stayed in a hotel with my cat, so a friend of mine from high school was like, “We’re here. Just come stay with us. You can stay for about a month.” The military won’t let you live on the base, so they won’t let you stay longer. But I had a month, and that was it! I could do it. So I went ahead and came over, so … that was a really sudden decision, but I made every decision that way pretty much, so.
It’s working out okay. I definitely do not regret it. I love it here. The weather’s wonderful. The people are wonderful. There’s such a sense of community here, like with the anime fans. And I love that. I’ve never known libraries to be like, “We need cosplayers! Come!” Or things like that. That’s not a part of my experience at all, and I think that is awesome. There’s also all these other artists here that I’ve met and talked to, and … it’s so interesting, so welcoming. And I love it so much. And then, you know, weather and all that stuff.
Sometimes I think maybe I’ll leave, and sometimes I’m like, “No, I want to stay forever.” But I’m sure the wanderlust will get to me eventually, so. We’ll see. I’m thinking about maybe starting school here and transferring to UCLA after two years or so. It might be a good life — had my thing, and then I’m going to go over here and do a thing. We’ll see. I don’t know.
Last week I thought I’d go to Seattle, because they had a master’s degree in exobiology program, and I was all, “Hmmmmmm …” But it’s too cold. And I don’t know … me and Seattle, probably not a good match.
Jason: But yeah … that’s the thing.When I write this and I mention that you had a plan to come here, people who’ve lived here all their lives are going to read that and say, “My god, how can she do that? Doesn’t she know about the high cost of living, the traffic, the general lack of opportunities here as compared to larger cities?” So i guess the question is … has your experience been all that you had hoped, had envisioned it would be here?
Jamie: Well, I’m an eternal optimist, so … I’ve certainly had some bad experience. And a lot of disappointment, too. But … I always think that it will get better. Like … I thought I’d come here and find a job that paid me enough money to move out on my own within a month, and … no, it’s been seven months now, and I wasn’t able to get any jobs that would really pay the rent, or I mean pay enough for me to live on my own. And I was like, well, that’s what I wanted. And I don’t want to work retail and I don’t want to work in serving, and I don’t really want to drive a tour bus. These were all opportunities I was presented with at times. But none of these … ugh, I don’t like being picky, because sometimes you just can’t be picky, you know? And I understand that. So I took some, and … you know, I quit them all because I was so miserable.
But I have to say, I have scraped by by the generosity of others, and by doing whatever I could. Now I feel a liiiiiittttle like I’m on the path to becoming more stable, but it’s still fairly rocky, pretty uneven right now. From day to day I’m not sure about what I’m gonna do. So I’m just kinda trying as much as I can every day to make it to the next month. And I’m just hoping that I can somehow build some kind of backup system. I’m starting to understand that I need one. And it’s hard when you’re just barely scraping by. But I’m trying my hardest, and yeah, so I wasn’t able to get a decent job that paid the bills and let me have enough time to draw, which is what I really want to do.
So I did a bunch of different work for people around here, like artwork and … just whatever I could. And people … all over, they’re like, “Do you want to do this? We’ll pay you,” and I was like, “Okay.” Even if it was something that took way longer and I made less than minimum wage, I was still happier because I was doing artwork instead of something else. And it might not sound like it, but I have a lot of social anxiety, so … that’s why I don’t really mesh well with retail-type things, or … even like a reception desk, that kind of thing really stresses me out.
Jason: Tooootally understand how you feel.
Jamie: Right? And it’s different, too, when it’s your niche or your interest level. But I mean, what kind of place, what kind of anime blogger-slash-manga creation studio is going to be like, “We want to hire you” randomly, right? There just aren’t opportunities out there, so I’m trying to create my own while still staying afloat. And it’s hard, but it’s okay, you know?
And the traffic doesn’t really do anything to me, because I can’t afford a car. Right now I’m living here near the university and I ride a bicycle … or if I’m really forced to, I take the bus. And I get rides with friends now and then whenever they’re going somewhere and they want me to come. I try to stay as away from it as much as possible and think, “I really want a car, I really want a car!” So I’m thinking if I manage to get ahead and get this much in the bank, then I will start saving for the car.
It’s definitely on the radar, I definitely want it. For now, a bike is doing me pretty well, you know? I mean, it’s good physical exercise. It’s really hot some days, but it’s all good, right?
Jason: And then … at least you’re in a more centralized area, as before you were in the outskirts of the island, which were kind of pretty, but yet so removed from … civilization, mostly.
Jamie: Yeah, I was staying with friends at Wheeler Air Force Base, and then I moved to Mililani, and then I moved to Waimanalo, and all those places I was staying with friends, they offered me a place where I could stay for free. And I was like, “Well, yeah, for sure.”
This is the first place in Honolulu now … where I’ve paid rent on my own, which is good, because I was trying to work for that, but it’s also way harder. I’m a lot more stressed out now thinking, “Now I don’t have to just make the credit card bill, I don’t have to just make myself one bill, I have to make rent on top of that.” My expenses went up about 500 percent. But luckily that includes electricity and water … and laundry, all that’s included, and Internet, so I don’t have to worry too much. I know it’s a set thing, set price, and I have to make sure I have that. And then enough to pay my other bills — cell phone and credit cards and Internet, you know, Netflix, that’s kind of a thing. (laughter) That’s all I need on top of that.
So it’s hard, but I’m like, I’m happy that I’ve moved up. I’ve taken the next step. And I will continue to make the next step after that, which is getting a car. And my current place comes with amazing roommates, totally awesome people who are very giving and fun to hang around with. It’s a good environment and it’s fun to have, so I’m very grateful that I somehow managed to find the amazing people.