Why Independence Day Has Me Thankful For Japanese Videogames

I never stopped to think about how strange it was that an enemy my Grandpa — and our entire country — fought decades prior was providing my greatest source of entertainment as a kid.

I mean, imagine 20 years from now if the Taliban starts making a series of efficient household appliances that take the Western world by storm.

My grandpa was an Ace in World War II, and although he fought in the European Theater, Japan was just as or more so hated by Americans for carrying out the “date that shall live in infamy” of the Pearl Harbor attack.

What I was just learning as history as a kid (and through early computer games), Grandpa lived, as a young man, barely 20 and risking his life every mission to win what was one of the few unavoidable, justifiable wars in human history.

So as he got me into the family Atari and then a real computer (he was an IBM lifer), in 1987, I saw Super Mario Bros. for the first time — Mario running through a whole level, the detailed world and creatures, the warp pipes, and the incredible music — I imagine it was like the first time people saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. The Commodore 64 overnight became as cool and cutting edge as Pat Boone white-washing Little Richard.

Nintendo was the hottest “toy” in the country and the latest in a parade of quality, inexpensive Japanese products invading the USA and out-innovating and out-selling American stuff we thought we were best at: vehicles, music players, and now videogames.

Japan is an incredibly proud nation, and like every nation, it balances its national pride with reflecting on its gravest mistakes — mainly, its actions in the 1st half of the 20th century.

After World War I, the European winners punished the losers for the global quagmire and devastation they were all left to clean up.

If anything, the crimes against humanity before and during World War II could have justified ever greater reparations against the vanquished.

As the most powerful men in America debated which tens of thousands of non-combatants would be annihilated to shock the Japanese into unconditional surrender, many officers and scientists wanted to go for the jugular — something to not only display the unimaginable destructive power of the Bomb, but maim Japan’s spirit irrevocably.

The US Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, disagreed with one potential target, and repeatedly took it off the target list as they kept putting it back on there, like a shoving match between siblings in a car backseat but with quite higher stakes.

Stimson personally appealed to President Truman to spare Japan’s oldest center of learning and history, Kyoto, so as to leave its culture — and perhaps soul — intact for after the war.

We all know that revenge doesn’t help make things better, yet we naturally crave it after we’ve been wronged. Can you imagine the personal and political pressure Allied leaders must have felt to “make them pay” for Pearl Harbor alone? I mean, I want revenge after losing a match of Street Fighter. I can’t imagine the revenge I’d want if I’d lost one family member through combat in the Pacific, or more horrifically, in a Japanese P.O.W. camp.

The Allies made post-World War II treaty choices we still suffering the consequences of today, but before the war was even over, they consciously strived to learn from Versailles in 1919 and do better.

America helped rebuild and support Japan after the war, and just a few decades later, not only were we finding out these guys could make awesome stuff, but they loved Western culture. And on the flip side, think of how Japan must have felt after the war. We dropped the biggest explosions in human history on 150,000 non-military people there. It’s easy for a “losing” country to transform its collective shame into anger and indignance, which allows blind nationalism and then to fascism to take over (some Americans are still not over the South’s “Lost Cause”).

Yet 30-40 years after the Bomb especially, they’re rearranging our language into innocuous gibberish like “circuit beaver” on their T-shirts.

I heard my grandparents use racist language many times. If there was one group I’d have expected (though not excused) ill will toward, it’d be the Japanese. Yet I never heard him say one negative or mocking word about the origin of the entertainment I’d obsess over from ’87 through the rest of his 14 years on this earth.

I’m no expect on 20th-century cultural attitudes, but this post-war love affair between the United States and Japan seems an incredibly unlikely one after what we put each other through. Because we both vowed to do better and not replicate some of the mistakes of the past, look at the great things that came about, mutually and separately.

Today, so much of my life has come to me through videogames — happiness, accomplishments, so many friends and cultural experiences, and now, my job and a company I created — and specifically, Nintendo. Yeah, there was Atari and the arcade days of the ’70s and ’80s, but videogames were a “fad”, and the Western videogame industry with a giant crash in 1983, left for dead with a capital D.

Nintendo — who treated videogames as artistic creations full of beauty, music, life, and even love, when everyone else them as just bloops and bleeps and — single-handedly revived videogames globally and created not just the modern gaming industry but birthed a new aspect of human culture and expression.

Do you know where Nintendo was founded, way back in 1889, and still is headquartered today?


One American’s restraint and vision overruled revenge and victory, and we offered Japan a helping hand rather than a clenched fist.

Yes, we Americans do have the Toby-Keith-Put-A-Boot-In-Their-Ass side to us too. But that’s not all there is to America. In fact, our greatest moments of achievement and national pride are often collaborative.

Heck, look at the strained relationship between Britain and many of its past colonies. Not only were we the first colony to break free from the lion’s den in the history of the world, as Ben Franklin said, but (despite that 1812 hiccup) we became best buds decades later.

The Statue of Liberty is a French gift, for God’s sake.

On this 4th of July, I celebrate not just the wars we won, but the ones we didn’t have to — the times we used the Teddy Roosevelt big stick to protect, not just to strike.

I love history; I love my family; I love videogames; I love Japan; I love my country. Happy Independence Day!