As a preface to this post I would like to say this has taken me far too long to write. I have started and stopped writing this four or five times now and I really don’t know why. Pleas excuse any disjoints you see throughout. This is an important post and deserves your consideration despite my inability to form coherent sentences.
To the surprise of no one who knows me or reads this blog I have a propensity for Japan. It’s not something I try to hide. Everything from the language to the culture. It has lead to some really great discoveries and places I never would have even considered. Just a little over a year ago while doing some Japan research I landed on some YouTube videos that were live accounts of life in Japan. Up until this point I viewed YouTube as pretty much a novelty with very little socially redeeming value. This changed things. This new medium of live action was so much more engaging than just words and pictures. With how connected we are now, sometimes a person can affect your life with you even knowing them personally. I know this concept is a little strange and can be completely foreign to those who are outside of generation Y/Z (or whatever letter we are represented by now). This is about one such individual named Rodger Swan.
I discovered Rodger’s videos through another YouTube Japan vlogger named Kevin Cooney. His videos showed the little intricacies of life in Japan and I after I watched all through his (twice) I was looking for something different. I saw Rodger’s through related videos and found out that he was inspired to do his videos because of Kevin. Rodger’s style mimicked Kevin’s, but also added his own personal touches to it. Vlogs or video logs can really give you a window into a person’s life if they allow it. They can become incredibly personal and through watching them you can befriend this person, even if it is only one-sided. That is what happened and from what I have seen around the internet I am not the only one. You could tell that Rodger really enjoyed life. He always seemed to be smiling. There was a video where he and his friend were caught in the rain and still he was toothy. He came across a a genuinely nice guy, in a world with so few, it was very refreshing.
Rodger started his videos when he was studying abroad in Tokyo. His aptly named videos, Tokyo Swan, lead us through a young man’s journey through the strange place known as Tokyo. You could really see Rodger grow up in these videos. Comparing the first and last of the Tokyo Swan series you can not only see, but hear the difference in him. After leaving Tokyo and going back to finish his degree at Western Michigan University he still put up a few videos here and there mostly of Japanese Horror movie reviews. Shortly after graduating he was accepted to the JET program and was off to film more adventures in Iwate, Japan. His new series, Iwate Swan, thrust Rodger into a completely new, small-town environment. While different than the city it was still fun to watch him discover a completely new place with completely new people.
As I was eagerly awaiting the next Swan video I saw some Rodger Swan tribute video’s come up in my YouTube subscription feed. I had only discovered Rodger’s videos a few months before, but apparently Rodger had died, suddently, of internal bleeding in the abdominal cavity caused by acute pancreatitis. His friend Rupert was visiting him from Korea during his death. It was a surreal feeling. How could he be dead? I just saw him a little while ago, and he looked fine. He was only 23. I know this sounds incredibly sappy, but it was like losing a friend. I remember telling a lot of people who had no connection to him about the incident. This was someone I never met, but felt I personally knew. I found this statment and it does a great job of summarizing the feelings of not only myself, but of all the lives Rodger touched.
If you’ve ever seen the Truman show, then you may be able to understand Rodger’s existence, and its importance to everyone that knew him. He was that normal guy that was on video–all the time. He was that normal guy that everyone watched grow up. We saw him turn from a boy into a man. We saw him grow! And those of us who began watching, be it out of friendship or even a sympathetic curiosity, we all became hooked and hypnotized by Rodger’s complete lack of ego.
via Dogen Tricks by Kevin
Rodger died on January 26, 2010. So, why am I so late to the game? Well, this was originally slated to be written and released on January 26th, 2011, one year after his death, but time got away from me as it often does. Really I wanted to write this for no one, but myself. It is guys like Rodger who inspire me. He was following what he loved and sharing it with the world. Something, I one day hope to accomplish. That is reason two why I wanted to post this. Rodger’s family in conjunction with Western Michigan University has started a fund to help students studying Japanese to go abroad. The website states:
Donations to the fund will help support the study of students who, like Rodger, are working on Japanese language or planning to travel to Japan. Through the fund, they hope to keep alive his eagerness to foster a love for Japan in others, as well as keep his name a part of the activities of the department for years to come.
Every year I like to pick one organization or person to give whatever little money I can to it. This year I am picking the Rodger Swan Memorial Fund. I hope to give at least $100 by years end. I urge you to give to. I know it’s not the peace corps, but if it can help to make more people like Rodger. I think it will be completely worth it. I will put a donate button in this post as well as in the sidebar of my website for the whole year and probably longer. Please, anything you give helps.
Rodger’s family recently put up some videos from left over footage he had and they were great. I will post the first video of Tokyo Swan and Iwate Swan. They are both great vlog series and will totally hook any Japanophiles reading. The theme songs are also totally original and have been posted thanks to the band who made them, Keterol.
Tokyo Swan 1
Iwate Swan 1
The songs used in the videos plus a special bonus can be found here: http://tindeck.com/album/jtzrl
Here is his obituary for anyone interested.
Rodger Jeffrey Swan Battle Creek Rodger Jeffrey Swan, 23, passed away suddenly on Tuesday, January 26, 2010 in Hanamaki, Japan. Rodger was born in Urbana, Illinois on December 19, 1986 to Randy and Roberta (Lunsford) Swan. Rodger graduated from Lakeview High School in 2005 and received his Bachelors Degree in English with Honors from Western Michigan University in 2009. For his junior year at W.M.U., Rodger received a full scholarship to attend Keio University in Tokyo, Japan. Rodger was currently employed as an Assistant English Teacher instructing beginning English for Japanese students at three separate High Schools in Hanamaki. While living in Japan, Rodger produced a series of YouTube videos on everyday life in Japan. This series was named Iwate Swan for the district in Japan where he was currently assigned. Rodger was also currently working on a translation of Japanese short stories which will be published this summer with the aid of his former Professor at Western Michigan University. Rodger enjoyed a variety of music, especially his favorite band, Depeche Mode. He was also interested in Japanese literature and other forms of Japanese culture, and had a great love of movies. He is survived by his parents Randy and Roberta, brothers Brenden and Erik, grandparents Elvin and Marilyn Swan all of Battle Creek and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins. He is also survived by his fiancée, Rebecca Makas of Dearborn. Services will be held 2:00 p.m. Monday at the Richard A. Henry Funeral Home with The Rev. Robert F. Creagan of St. Joseph Catholic Church officiating. The family will receive friends at the funeral home one hour prior to the service. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be directed to the Rodger Swan Memorial Fund for Japanese Studies. This scholarship was established to support students at Western Michigan University who are studying Japanese and traveling to Japan from W.M.U.