A Monster Lives in My Purse: Totoro!

Warning! This post was dictated via cell phone at midnight one evening. Good luck if it makes sense. Grammatically, or otherwise, haha.

For many years, any bag I use has housed a “purse monster.” Totoro, the lead guy from Japan’s My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari No Totoro). People think it’s really weird–and I don’t care. Their eyefuls tell me. At the store. The mall. Restaurants. People over here seem confused when a girl whips out a little monster, or he accidentally falls out, any moment my purse gets opened. You know they’re expecting 4+ lip glosses and half the kitchen sink o’ girly stuff. No, a Japanese cartoon character. He eats popcorn beside me in the movie theater, or sometimes foodie selfies beside my dinner. Totoro has a pretty active social life for a monster.

“Why?” “What’s that?” from the few brave asking me about it. Totoro’s presence represents a constant reminder of how I need to make my early childhood dreams into reality. I met Totoro around the time I was 7. I' am not of an East Asian background, but! My great aunt, married into my family, is from Okinawa, Japan. Whenever I went over to my great uncle and great aunt’s home in Illinois, very often, I was given big exposure to Japanese culture, cooking, and cartoons. I was gifted origami paper to play with and paint sets, told to practice music, encouraged to learn about American and Asian food, and gifted heaps of Disney and Japanese animated shows and movies. One afternoon, my great aunt returned from Japan with a Japanese language copy of Tonari No Totoro. “You will really like it,” she said.

My younger self had no idea what was going on in the storyline very much and loved it anyway. From there, I got into Kiki’s Delivery Service, Hello Kitty, and much more. Have you ever seen Hello Kitty Cinderella? Ponyo? I used to sometimes play with my origami creations and strange creatures like we were doing ridiculous stuff. Sometimes, blended with things at school. Who else but a 7-year old would reenact Abraham Lincoln’s Springfield days with paper cranes and jumping origami frogs? My great aunt let me play with a wooden spinning cicada, kawaii of course, making noise, or blow bubbles in the backyard as I had these ridiculous stories.

When you are older, we are taught to “grow up.” Be sexy. Be serious. What if I don’t want to be? Totoro is like Cinderella’s glass slipper she leaves behind at the stroke of midnight. Our culture in the West is superficial. Anyone who has ever looked at me and/or Totoro and said, “She’s not for me,” I throw in the garbage bin as a friend or would be more than friend. Being yourself is beautiful. Little cartoon characters bring happiness to the world. Why couldn’t I do that as a grown up? My young self was told I could not. When I was in elementary school, my teacher told me I shouldn’t want to make movies. I should want to be a doctor like my dad, because I could help people. As if movies don’t. Live action films do. And more so: animated films. Cartoon characters are the best friends to little kids who might need life lessons they don’t learn at home or school. They teach you to dream, love, live!

A friend of mine called me kindly a “woman child” last year. I felt proud because not a day in my life have I ever felt like a woman. Not one day have I felt “bold,” “sexy,” “flirty,” or any adjectives thrown around at adult female humanity within the media. No, because my definition of “sexy” doesn’t meet what the media tells me it is. My figure would have been the ideal 1960’s bombshell look. No, I have to starve down into a stereotypical fashion blogger figure. I’m told to donate Hello Kitty anything to Goodwill by fashion sites saying immaturity is not “sexy,” and yes I counted 5+ via Google, quit loving cartoons, this, that, this, that. By society, the media, people I meet, or anyone. Why?! When it’s not attacking women’s looks, it’s personalities.

A stigma on a love of animation and all things youth nostalgia goes for men also! The 40 Year Old Virgin decided a man collecting action figures around his apartment was the worst thing to happen to a man’s sex appeal. Not once did the film determine, “Andy (Steve Carrell) is funny, charming, and relatively good looking enough. He hasn’t had any action because of shyness and confidence issues.” He gets played as the loser with the immature collectible toys. A man with a collection of nostalgic toys is bold, sexy, fun, and sweet. Of course, people refuse to define “attractive” with a broader terminology due to their own insecurities.

I am tired of being told sex appeal is defined by early 90’s Baywatch stereotypes or dated Victoria’s Secret ads. Discarding me as a human being, denying my ability to be “attractive,” or any man’s chance at coming off “desirable,” because we hang onto the last remaining joy in our hearts that makes us human is pure nonsense. Totoro popping out of my bag says, “Buy that mint stapler.” Be who you are. Totoro encourages me when I see him to live for myself. Order gourmet restaurant food I love and swallow it like Hungry Hungry Hippos. Goof off a little. Deviate from standard cartoons in my work, taking people into crazy land when they watch my stuff. Do music. Never give up. Laugh. Watch TV shows intended for people about two to three decades younger. Dance to ridiculous tunes if alone and no one can find out. Follow my career ambitions people said I could not do.

Totoro isn’t a stupid trinket. He is my monster inspiring me to be the best version of myself whenever I see him.