White guy studies in Japan for normal reasons

Lewis & Clark student plans to travel abroad to appreciate, fetishize East Asian cultures, women

Illustration of a white man holding an anime body pillow
Adri Deguzman / The Mossy Log

LEWIS & CLARK celebrates exploration: With over 35 overseas and off-campus programs ranging from New York to New Zealand, the college encourages adventuring beyond Palatine Hill and immersion into a new environment. For some students, studying abroad is an opportunity to practice another language while expanding one’s worldview, decentering that implicit American lens of college institutions in the United States. For others, it is an attempt to make valuable connections, forging friendships across the world during an unforgettable college experience. 

For Matt Whitman 25′, who hopes to study in Osaka, Japan in the Fall 2023 semester, visiting Japan is a religious pilgrimage. Last week, he invited me to his dorm room to discuss his hopes for his trip abroad. 

Whitman’s double in Platt Residence Hall is an aesthetic clash that can be divided straight down the middle of the room. The left side of the room is fairly undecorated. It includes navy blue bedding on a standard low dorm bed and three band posters above the head of this bed: The Strokes, Alex G and Mitski. Standard indie decor for an LC student. 

The right side of the room is a completely different story. 

It is a maximalist’s fever dream.. The bedding is plain black, yes, but taking up the bed’s entire space is a woman. Not a real woman, but a body pillow of an anime girl: Asuka Langley Soryu from “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” with a bashful expression in her skintight mech suit. There is a large wall scroll of Hatsune Miku with her long aqua pigtails and spinning leek. A diverse range of PVA poseable figurines take up Whitman’s whole desk and almost all of his floor space, from girls with pink hair who wear blue-and-white striped bikinis, to girls with long purple hair in sailor uniforms. 

 There is a steel katana on the wall propped up by command strip hooks. Three shuriken and one kunai are embedded in the plaster. Is that allowed? Are those not weapons? Is that not damage to property? How has his RA not said something about it? I theorize his RA is afraid to enter the unholy space and I am venturing into uncharted territory. 

Whitman bows low and beckons me into his anime cave with a wave of his hand. 

“Ohayō gozaimasu, Adri-san,” Whitman says. “Yōkoso to my room.” 

He says my name in syllabic Japanese: E-i-do-ri. I tell him that I am not Japanese, and to please not say my name like that. I take a seat on his bed next to Asuka and ask about his plans for Japan.

“My entire life has led to this trip,” Whitman says. “My waifu, Asuka, is waiting for me in glorious Nippon. I love anime. I honestly love all things Asian. I really do think I know Asian stuff better than Asians, or at least Asian Americans, no offense. Like, I’ve spent a year learning Japanese at LC, but I think I’ve picked up a lot more words from ‘Naruto Shippuden,’ enough to be conversational. Like baka, which means idiot. Or sugoi, which means awesome. Keikaku which means plan. Stuff like that. I already have a closet full of yukata, including a replica cosplay of Zenitsu’s haori from ‘Demon Slayer. I can’t wait to wear it in Japan. Maybe I’ll find my Nezuko over there.”

I ask him if he thinks that the word “weeaboo” or “otaku” is pejorative. “There’s no better word to describe my identity,” says Whitman. “Other than being basically Japanese. Like, I’m a white man, with an Asian soul. So I’m excited to go to the land of my people.”

Has Whitman ever taken any Asian Studies courses at LC? 

“No, but I mean, I’ve read “Orientalism” by Edward Said in high school,” Whitman says. 

He pronounces “Said” like the past tense of “say,” like it rhymes with “head.” 

“But I thought that was about Aladdin,” Whitman says. “So it’s different. Also, I don’t really watch Disney movies. I prefer Miyazaki. Have you heard of Studio Ghibli? It’s this niche Japanese animation house.”

Whitman’s roommate, who was in the room at the time of interview, commented on what it is like to share a room with Whitman and how he feels about Whitman’s plans abroad. He wanted to stay anonymous.

“Matt is cool,” the roommate says. “I think he just prefers Asian girls. I do too. Everyone has a preference, it’s like food. Some people like spaghetti. Matt and I both like ramen, if you know what I mean. I’m honestly jealous. He’s gonna meet so many Japanese girls when he’s over there, and I bet they’re all gonna love him because he’s … you know, white. Asian girls love white men.”

He smiles, but I am horrified, glancing up at his Mitski poster a little differently now. I am confused. Does he skip Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl?” Do Whitman and his roommate bond over their shared Asian fetish? I leave the weeb lair and make eye contact with a girl outside in the hallway. Her name is Celine Huang ’26, an environmental studies major who also lives in Platt. As an Asian woman at LC, she has had an unfortunate experience being Whitman’s neighbor. In the hallway, I ask Huang if she knows that Whitman is going to Japan next year. She rolls her eyes.

“I wish it were mandatory for some people to take AESC 270 next spring,” Huang says. “Developing Intercultural Competence. If anyone needs it, Matt does. He’s so grossly ignorant. He still thinks I’m a student from Japan. He tries to practice his choppy Japanese with me. And I’m not even Japanese! I’ve told him before, I’m Chinese American. I’m literally from SF.”

To Matt Whitman: Good luck in Japan! You are a true pioneer. And to all Asian women at LC: Rejoice! He is gone next fall.

Subscribe to the Mossy Log Newsletter

Stay up to date with the goings-on at Lewis & Clark! Get the top stories or your favorite section delivered to your inbox whenever we release a new issue. 

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

AlphaOmega Captcha Classica  –  Enter Security Code