In the popular manga Card Captor Sakura (Nakayoshi magazine), there is an episode in which Li Syaoran harbors a crush on Tsukishiro Yukito. They’re both boys, but in the series—which depicts many different forms of love—it’s depicted as a natural scene. However, when you switch it out with reality, there are many people who perceive LGBT relationships to be “different from the norm,” even as they have become more widely known overall.
To that extent, even if it’s not a distinct phenomenon, there are times when we can’t speak our true intentions for fear of being “different from the norm,” fitting in somehow with the atmosphere established by the people surrounding us. However, the people around us are also just concealing themselves, the truth being that many people’s values are bound to be mixed up. Today, we’ve posed the question to CLAMP’s Ohkawa Nanase (primarily in charge of story-writing), who also says that “people who are completely the same as us don’t exist.” How can we best tolerate different values and escape the narrow constraints of having to go with the social flow?
The measurement for normal is on everyone’s own ruler
Ito Maria: My name is Ito, and I am conducting this interview for the Cybozu –shiki editorial department. As for myself, as much as I might be nursing negative feelings toward the limitations we call “normal,” I also have a kind of sense that I don’t want to be disconnected from it. Why might you think we end up feeling that way?
Nanase Ohkawa: It’s probably because we each have only our own, individual “ruler,” so to speak.
Ohkawa: It’s that I think it’s inevitable that we measure people and the world with our own rulers. If you’re convinced that only your own ruler is correct, then whenever you see different people’s rulers, you’ll be bound to think, “That’s so weird,” right?
Ito: Well, then, if you were made to meet other people and change…
Ohkawa: How, I wonder. I wouldn’t really agree to having my own ruler made more elastic, you know?
Ito: Why is that?
Ohkawa: I do think it’s better not to have negative feelings and so on when talking about diversity, but in a situation where I didn’t have any negative feelings at all, I think other people would influence me to the point that I’d end up not knowing even the things I like. It would be heartbreaking for me.
Ito: I wonder if it’s like that feeling of fatigue that flashes over you from behind when you’re forced to interact with too many different people. You get that once in a while, right?
Ohkawa: It’s for this very reason that if there’s one more use for your own ruler, it’s for having something to stick to when you confront somebody—you’ll probably find it easy to finish the job. But it’s hard to have two rulers at the same time, isn’t it?
Ito: So how do you suppose this “ruler” comes to be formed?
Ohkawa: I think it’s good to meet people, read books, watch movies, think to yourself, so on. Because in general, humans really are creatures incapable of not thinking.
Buddhist monks undergo ascetic practice in order to renounce the self, too, right? I’ve also tried that, way back when, but I can’t do it at all. Thinking about nothing, that is.
Ito: I have a feeling that the thinking route seems terrible, but…
Ohkawa: While you may seem to not be thinking, your unconscious is always thinking! It’s for this reason that if you can gain experience in it, you’ll likely be able to gain the awareness that “these [thoughts] are here, too.”
Ito: We can probably stray away from our rulers, but I’m always thinking about what “normal” is. I have the sense that it’s obligatory to be normal, which also makes me feel disgusted, you know?
Ohkawa: “Normal,” huh.
Ito: In the end, what could “normal” be?
Ohkawa: My sense is that among the younger generation of our society, the use of the word “normal” is different. In our generation, you didn’t really hear phrases like “That tasted kind of normally good” and so on.
Ito: Huh! Is that so!
Ohkawa: For example, when we said “I want to find a normal job,” the word “normal” was kind of stuffy, something like that—I don’t really understand it, you know? Was it that our parents were employed, so we believed that was normal? What kind of work do we believe to be normal?
Ito: I’m sure that even if it’s called “normal,” the criteria probably changes depending on the person.
Ohkawa: So in that sense, it might be that young people of today don’t really think that the word “normal” doesn’t have personality.
Ito: It’s that each of us is involuntarily just holding on to the framework of “normal,” is that right?
Ohkawa: We probably find relief in saying “normal.” Because in reality, there’s no such thing as a “normal” child. According to statistics, we can establish a middle ground, but if you were to bring in girls of average weight and average height and call them “normal,” that would be wrong, wouldn’t it?
Ito: Back in high school, everyone had the same kind of iPhone case, but it was only the color that was different for everybody. They gave off an individualistic impression, but I wonder if it was this kind of sense of “normal?”
Ohkawa: It looks like they want to eat the exclusive lunch special, but they don’t want to eat any weird foods, huh? (laughs) But if you were to try and talk to those kinds of people, too, one by one, you’d find them nice and fun enough, so I think it’s better not to think “I’m the one who’s normal.”
Ito: But when I ask myself if I’m individual, I get the sense that I’m wrong.
Ohkawa: There are children who lose their footing in life by deciding that they’ll do things on their own terms, too, so I think it’s also dangerous to think individualistically! (laughs)
As for me, I’m thinking that “normal” isn’t an entirely unfortunate thing. Instead, I think that a child who can say to herself, “I’m normal,” is a child who is truly self-confident. I think a kid who can say that she’s living neither above nor below, but perfectly in the middle, has got guts.
Ito: You definitely can’t say “I am normal” on your own accord, right?
Ohkawa: If you aren’t resolute enough, you can’t say it.
Itou: There’s a sizeable difference between “I want to be normal” and “I am normal,” isn’t there.
“Everything’s going to be all right” is believing in those around you
Ito: There were times in the past when everyone went out to eat together, and I actually wanted to go to the soba place, but I went with the flow and headed to the café instead, you know? Why do you suppose I just let things get washed away against my better judgement?
Ohkawa: If you were to decide that you wanted to go to the soba place by yourself, you’d end up breaking the peace, and you would need courage to do it, too, wouldn’t you?
Ito: I just think the fact that I can’t summon up the courage to announce “I actually want to go to the soba place” comes from a place where I don’t have confidence in myself. I’m thinking, for example, of how when Kinomoto Sakura (the protagonist of Card Captor Sakura) has to face something on her own, [she says] “Everything’s going to be all right!,” believes in herself, and pushes forward.
Ohkawa: I see.
Ito: How do you think I could become more like Sakura, and be able to believe in myself, “Everything’s going to be all right?”
Ohkawa: Isn’t it basically believing in other people? It’s well known that “Everything’s going to be all right” is something you can say to persuade yourself, but Sakura says that because she believes that those around her will be there to catch her.
Ito: No matter what, Syaoran, Tomoyo (Sakura’s very best friend), and the others will help her, is that it?
Ohkawa: Sakura’s situation is like that. But in real-life situations, having your circle think of you as selfish is perhaps more unpleasant than not having the confidence to say “I want to go to the soba place,” so you don’t say it at all, right?
Ito: I definitely get the feeling that saying it’s unpleasant is a different thing altogether than just having to say “soba is gross.”
Ohkawa: If you were able to believe that the people around you really understood you to a certain degree, you’d likely be able to say it. Even if you didn’t have confidence in yourself.
Ito: It’s okay if you don’t believe in yourself?
Ohkawa: Even if you think “I did a great interview today!,” if you were to fall down the last few steps of these stairs, wouldn’t you stop believing in yourself?
Ito: You’re right. (laughs)
Ohkawa: That’s why I think it’s better not to impose standards on yourself. If after you fall down, the people around you say “It’s going to be all right” and support you, then to that extent you won’t feel bad.
Ito: Definitely. (laughs)
Ohkawa: The level it takes to believe in oneself is basically pretty high. So in any case, I think that when you establish good relationships with people around you who look like they can give you some relief, and if you get support when you say “I think this way,” you’ll be able to believe in your companions.
Ito: I get the feeling that believing in the people around you is a pretty tall hurdle, too…
Ohkawa: That’s an appropriate problem, isn’t it? It’s going to be all right. (laughs)
Ito: It’s going to be all right! (laughs)
Ohkawa: It’s hard to entrust something of your own to somebody else, isn’t it? Whether this person believes in you or betrays you doesn’t diminish your value. What I told you earlier—“believe in those around you”—is important, of course, but it’s also okay to stop believing in them if you find you can’t.
Ito: I used to have the feeling that if I believed in them the one time, I ought to believe in them always—but is that okay?
Ohkawa: There are also times when you can believe them in the workplace, but private matters are right out. So I don’t think it’s a problem if you divide your belief some more. It’s hard to wholly believe in everything, isn’t it?
Ito: It is, isn’t it.
Ohkawa: I took all of this from manga. It’s because the work of manga is to depict great characters.
In any case, I’m going to make myself happy
Ito: Up until now we’ve spoken on the assumption that each person is different, but what do you suppose we should do when we come across someone with the stance that everyone is bound to have the same thoughts, saying “That’s different—isn’t that weird?”
Ohkawa: Even though you shouldn’t ask a newly-wed couple, “So when are you having kids?,” there are people who flippantly ask that anyway, right? Those people aren’t going to mind their own business, even if you shut them out of your heart at first.
Ito: Is it a good thing to shut people out? I was thinking that denying them might not be right, either.
Ohkawa: It’s better to basically leave strangers’ lives alone.
I was once told by a past psychologist that the protagonists of my works are exceedingly individualistic! Self-conscious, too.
Ito: Coincidentally, what caused them to think they were individualistic?
Ohkawa: It’s that the unit of happiness is “one’s own will.” Basically, I like people who can put their own happiness first.
Ito: What does that mean?
Ohkawa: It’s that when you reach a certain stage, the people you get along with in both your work life and your private life—just work, just private, just whatever hobbies…they all become the interlocking parts of socialization.
Ito: The parts?
Ohkawa: If you can get along well with the parts, it’s okay if you don’t fully understand it, or if you don’t fully match up with your counterparts. When you get like that, there will come days when you can think to yourself that you’re going to spend every day in good spirits. Even if you’re only trying to be in good spirits, you’ll be charming—you’ll be happy, right?
Ito: I get it!
Ohkawa: Besides that, I think the people surrounding a happy person can come to think that they want to be with them, too. It’s for this reason that I think it’s better to completely eliminate factors like a sullen attitude.
If you come to understand them as fellow writers, then you don’t need to fully comprehend them
Ito: I think people who’ve made compromises with each other—even if they’re a little self-centered—can give birth to many different stories and ideas, which makes things more interesting. How about everyone in CLAMP?
Ohkawa: We all have different hobbies and so on, so I think that when I ask for a compromise, it’s likely that all four of us will say “no!”
Ito: But your work is so successful!
Ohkawa: We had some real disagreements when we were young. Up to the point where it was “Either you’re gonna die, or I’m gonna die!” (laughs)
Ito: Was it really like that? (laughs)
Ohkawa: What I came to understand as I kept at it was that I didn’t need to fully comprehend them. Concerning how to do my work, I want to understand them as a fellow author, but it’s okay for human beings to have gaps, too. Besides, understanding is exasperating! (laughs)
Ito: Exasperating, huh?
Ohkawa: Wouldn’t you get exasperated if you were told, “Didn’t you say that you understood me? Well, then, that should be all, right?”
Ito: I would. (laughs)
The fact that “different” isn’t ordinary is evidence for diversity
Ito: Ms. Ohkawa, do you think that a society where everyone thinks that “it’s ordinary for everybody to be different” will ultimately come to pass?
Ohkawa: It depends on how you perceive society, but I personally don’t think it’s coming.
Ito: Why is that?
Ohkawa: It’s said that if you have 100 people, even if up to 98 of them say the same thing, the two people who say something different will inevitably affect some of the others. The affected people will become the majority, then the minority again.
Ito: It’s only people’s personal opinions, there’s no rhyme or reason to it! Noo-ooo, you’ve got to accept other people’s opinions! …it’s the repetition of those kinds of situations, isn’t it.
Ohkawa: Right. Conversely, it’s not diverse if everyone holds the same belief that “it’s ordinary for everyone to be different!” I think it’s a proof of diversity that that kind of society definitely won’t come to be.
Translated from Japanese by Panicle.
Interview published in Cybozu-shiki, November 9th, 2016. Available at https://cybozushiki.cybozu.co.jp/articles/m001209.html
If you found mistakes in this translation or would like to contribute with translating other interviews, please contact me.