Monday, May 18, 2015

Thank you, Chicago & Anime Central, for The Japan Times



By Roland Kelts

The 18th annual Anime Central (ACen), North America’s third largest anime convention, was held May 15 - 17 in Rosemont, near Chicago. Last year’s event drew a record 29,000 unique attendees, tallying 81,000 in total over its three full days. Organizers breached those figures again in 2015, hosting over 31,000.

ACen is something of an oasis for anime fans in Middle America. While official celebrations of Japanese popular culture take place across the United States nearly every weekend of the year, many of them are modest affairs, geared toward less populated regions and local fans, sometimes hosted by municipal libraries and schools. The larger conventions and expos, with their bus-loads of cosplayers and A-list Japanese guests, tend to be coastal events, hosted in urban centers such as Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston and New York.

ACen is held in the heart of the American Midwest. Chicago hugs the shores of Lake Michigan but is otherwise landlocked, a city surrounded by forest and farmland with a reputation for plain-speaking, hard work and killer blues.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

After the Monkey Tour, it's Chicago's ANIME CENTRAL

After a stellar tour of the Midwest and New York City with Monkey Business magazine, I am back in Chicago, honored to be appearing with Japanamerica from May 15 - 17 at Anime Central, the region's largest celebration of Japanese art and culture. 


Friday, April 24, 2015

Monkey tour complet, 4/26 - 5/8 2015


MONKEY BUSINESS US MIDWEST AND NEW YORK 2015 SPRING TOUR  

MIDWEST
With:
Aoko Matsuda
Satoshi Kitamura
Susan Harris (4/28)

April 27 (Mon.) – Chicago, IL: Columbia College-Chicago, 1:00 – 5:00 pm

April 28 (Tue.) – Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 4:30 – 8:00 pm

April 29 (Wed.) – Kalamazoo, MI: Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo), 4:30pm~

April 30 (Thur.) – Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin (Madison), 5:00 – 7:00pm

NEW YORK
With:
Aoko Matsuda
Satoshi Kitamura
Ben Katchor (5/3 – 5/6)
Kelly Link (5/4 & 5/6)
Jay Rubin (5/7)

May 3 (Sun.) – Brooklyn, NY: BookCourt, 4:00pm~

May 4 (Mon.) – New York, NY: Asia Society, 6:30pm~

May 6 (Wed.) – New York, NY: McNally Jackson, 8:00pm~

May 7 (Thur.) – New York, NY: Japan Society, 6:30pm~

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Meet us in Michigan, 4/29

From Timbuktu to Kalamazoo -- Monkey Business at Western Michigan University, April 29th.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Japan's anime biz screams for streaming, for The Japan Times

At last, Japan gets it


by Roland Kelts

The Japanese entertainment industry is finally growing up, says Shin Unozawa, and he should know. Unozawa joined Bandai Entertainment back in 1981, and serves as chair of the Computer Entertainment Supplier’s Association (CESA), co-hosts of the Tokyo Game Show.

Now he is CEO of the recently formed Anime Consortium Japan (ACJ) — a multipartner corporation launched last November, with the goal of localizing and consolidating the digital streaming of official Japanese content.

The ACJ’s lineup is top shelf: Production and advertising giants Toei, Sunrise, TMS, Aniplex, Asatsu-DK, Nihon Ad Systems and Dentsu have teamed up with major shareholders Bandai Namco Holdings and the government-sponsored Cool Japan Fund. Their primary aim is to tackle piracy and develop the first Japan-centered streaming entertainment and e-commerce platform called Daisuki. It’s as impressive as it is long overdue.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

What the West can learn from Japan, for New Statesman

What the west can learn from Japan’s “lost decades”


Roland Kelts wonders whether Japan-style stagnation would really be so bad in the west.

by Roland Kelts

I travel back and forth between Japan and the United States, mostly Tokyo and New York and a few other American cities, several times a year. The contrast is jarring. Arriving in the US can feel like rolling back a decade or more, returning to a time when information was scarce, infrastructure was creaky and basic services such as ground transportation were chaotic and unreliable.

I steel myself before landing, my mind tallying variables and unknowns: will my luggage land with me and emerge on the dingy carousel? Will the taxi that I booked online arrive on time, at the right terminal, or at all? Will traffic impede me on my journey?

And then there’s the view. Whether it’s the outskirts of Queens on the way from New York’s JFK International Airport or the fringes of the Los Angeles highway off-ramps by LAX, everything seems a bit run down and decrepit.

Landing in Tokyo, though, is a breeze.  All the travelators and escalators glide silently; the wall-mounted clocks, digital and analogue, tell the right time. When I reach the baggage carousel, my suitcase is already circling. Trains and buses depart punctually. I don’t have to pre-book because they’re scheduled minutes apart. I don’t have to think of anything beyond the last book I was reading during touchdown, fishing out my passport at immigration and what I might order for dinner that evening once I reach my apartment. Everything seems to be taken care of and nothing is broken. As I ease into town, usually on the limousine bus service, the streets outside are teeming with well-dressed urbanites heading home from work or out to restaurants, everyone in motion with purpose and meaning.

The MONKEY meets MURKAMI at The Japan Society New York, 5/7

The Magical Art of Translation: From Haruki Murakami to Japan's Latest Storytellers


Thursday, May 7, 6:30 PM
Buy Tickets
Jay Rubin, Ted Goossen, Aoko Matsuda, Satoshi Kitamura, Motoyuki Shibata, Roland Kelts.

Since 1989, Jay Rubin has translated many of Haruki Murakami's most successful and prize-winning novels, including The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Norwegian Wood and 1Q84. In this program, he is joined by Ted Goossen, translator of Murakami's most recent U.S. publications, The Strange Library (Knopf, December 2014) and Wind/Pinball: Two Early Novels (Knopf, August 2015), and co-editor of Monkey Business literary magazine, which showcases the best of contemporary Japanese literature for an international audience. They will discuss the unique challenges of translating modern Japanese literary works into American English, and vice versa. Rubin will also talk about his transition from translator to novelist vis-à-vis his debut novel The Sun Gods.

Joining the discussion from Tokyo will be authors Aoko Matsuda and Satoshi Kitamura, and Motoyuki Shibata, friend and translating partner of Murakami, former University of Tokyo professor, and the Japanese translator of such American literary luminaries as Paul Auster and Thomas Pynchon. Author Roland Kelts, co-editor of Monkey Business, moderates the discussion. Followed by a reception.

Tickets: $12/$8 Japan Society members, students & seniors

This program is funded, in part, by a generous grant from The Japan Foundation, New York.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Meet me in Madison, 4/30

With Satoshi Kitamura, Aoko Matsuda, Motoyuki Shibata, Adam L. Kern and Glynne Walley. Hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Thursday, April 09, 2015

On the road again: Chicago appearance, 4/28

With Satoshi Kitamura, Aoko Matsuda, Motoyuki Shibata, Susan Harris and Michael Bourdaghs. Hosted by the University of Chicago. Specs here.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

We Love Japan, for The Happy Reader

My short subjective and selective history of the West's infatuation with "Japan." For Penguin UK's The Happy Reader.


Taking pictures of taking pictures

"We're not here to capture an image, we're here to maintain one."
Don DeLillo, White Noise.


Friday, March 27, 2015

On AnimeJapan 2015 & Comiket's "Otaku Summit," for The Japan Times

AnimeJapan 2015 sees the big picture


by Roland Kelts

For most in Japan, April marks the beginning of the new working year. But for the anime and manga biz, it all starts in March.

Last weekend, the second annual AnimeJapan trade fair overtook Tokyo Big Sight, with more than 120,000 total attendees (a spike of 10,000 over last year’s tally), 2,500 of whom were business representatives from Japan and overseas. This weekend, March 28 and 29, will see the first-ever “Otaku Summit,” a special edition of the biannual Comics Market (Comiket), featuring manga-fan artists from 18 countries and held at Chiba’s Makuhari Messe.

AnimeJapan is the union of two events, the former Tokyo Anime Festival (TAF) and The Anime Contents Expo (ACE), whose initial split was caused by a rift over ex-Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara’s controversial censorship drive in 2010. The first TAF I attended in 2005 targeted industry insiders — domestic studios, networks and media. But AnimeJapan has evolved into a hybrid that is part overseas-style fan convention, part trade fair, and far more globally conscious.

“Yes, we are really trying to transform AnimeJapan into the world’s best anime event,” says general producer Yuji Hirooka of Bandai Visual. “We are actively inviting more foreign visitors. We are also trying to make it more enjoyable for different kinds of visitors, like fans, businesspeople and even families. We want to meet their different needs.”

[photo Rob Pereyda]

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Turning Japanese, for The Long + Short

Turning Japanese
Coping with stasis: how the supposed 'sick man of Asia' might be a model for us all



By Roland Kelts

I travel back and forth between Japan and the United States, mostly Tokyo and New York and a few other American cities, several times a year. The contrast is jarring. Arriving in the US can feel like rolling back a decade or more, returning to a time when information was scarce, infrastructure creaky, and basic services like ground transportation chaotic and unreliable.

I steel myself before landing, my mind tallying variables and unknowns: will my luggage land with me and emerge on the dingy carousel? Will the taxi service I booked online arrive on time, at the right terminal, or at all? Will traffic be an impediment to my destination?

And then there’s the view. Whether it’s the outskirts of Queens from New York’s JFK airport, or the fringes of Los Angeles highway off-ramps from LAX, everything seems a bit run down and decrepit.

Landing in Tokyo, though, is a breeze. All the travelators and escalators glide silently; the wall-mounted clocks, digital and analogue, tell the right time. When I reach the baggage carousel, my suitcase is already circling. Trains and buses depart punctually. I don’t have to pre-book because they’re scheduled merely minutes apart. I don’t have to think of anything beyond a book, the last one I was reading upon touchdown, fishing out my passport at immigration, and what I might order for dinner that evening once I reach my apartment. Everything seems to be taken care of, and nothing is broken.

Friday, March 20, 2015

"Cool Japan" analyzed in The Atlantic

Japan's Ministry of Cool
Ahead of hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics, the country is ramping up government-sponsored efforts to promote its culture abroad.
PATRICK ST. MICHEL


Japan wants the world to know just how cool it is. Over the past six months, the country’s government has announced plans to pump millions of dollars into companies eager to expand internationally, such as the online lifestyle retailer Tokyo Otaku Mode and the ramen chain Ippudo. And that’s just the start. There are plans for a Japan-centric TV station and many more projects aimed at promoting the nation’s culture to the rest of the world while generating money and interest in the 2020 Olympic Games, hosted by Tokyo. The effort isn't new: For over a decade, the country has embraced “Cool Japan,” a government-supported movement focused on selling what many have described as its “gross national cool.” This has involved touting cornerstones of pop culture such as cartoons, comics, music, and food overseas, as well as seemingly less hip products such as rugs and salt.

Last year, the Japanese government created the Cool Japan Fund, an organization tasked with helping businesses expand overseas, backed by an initial investment of several billion dollars. The country shifted to this approach several years after its “bubble economy” popped in the 1990s, turning to pop-culture exports in place of the industrial ones that helped Japan boom in the 1980s. There is some irony at work here—an eagerness to promote something as trendy usually signals the opposite—but for years the country's efforts have paid off. Now, though, Japan’s drive for coolness faces pressure from its Asian neighbors and growing concerns regarding who exactly Cool Japan is aimed at—the outside world, or the Japanese themselves.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Japan's vending paradise, in boingboing

by Colin Marshall


When he tried to quit smoking, the writer David Sedaris distracted himself from his lingering cravings by changing his surroundings: specifically, he moved to Japan for a few months. Not only did it help him kick the habit, it gave him a great deal of material for his hilarious and observant stories.

In his book When You Are Englufed in Flames, Sedaris tells of his and a French Japanese-language classmate's astonishment at Tokyo's abundance of vending machines:

“Can you believe it?” he asked. “In the subway station, on the street, they just stand there, completely unmolested.”

“I know it,” I said.

Our Indonesian classmate came up, and after listening to us go on, he asked what the big deal was.

“In New York or Paris, these machines would be trashed,” I told him.

The Indonesian raised his eyebrows.

“He means destroyed,” Christophe said. “Persons would break the glass and cover everything with graffiti.”

Thursday, March 12, 2015

On Japan's earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, for NHK TV


With author Marie Mutsuki Mockett on 3/11, for The Christian Science Monitor

On Fukushima's anniversary: A Japan of 'great gifts'


With the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and on the fourth anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, a Japanese-American writer talks about Japan, the West, responsibility, history, and fun. 

By ROLAND KELTS

Employees of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, take part in a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m. local time at TEPCO's headquarters in Tokyo March 11, 2015, to mark the fourth anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands. (Yuya Shino/Reuters)

Marie Mutsuki Mockett is a Japanese-American writer who was born and raised in California but spent considerable time with her mother in Japan. She feels that her upbringing gives her a “dual vision” into West and East.

When Ms. Mockett first heard of the March 11, 2011 tsunami that flooded the Fukushima nuclear reactor four years ago today, she panicked. The Japanese side of her family owned a Buddhist temple in the town of Iwaki in Fukushima prefecture, 30 miles away. Her family not only survived but planned to stay, a decision that led to her new memoir, “Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye.”

The book depicts a Japan both secular and spiritual, and a people whose apparent stoicism can be a bulwark against chaos -- but can also foster a blind spot to historical reckonings, an issue with particular resonance as the 70th anniversary of the end of War War II nears, stirring deep emotion in Northeast Asia.

Roland Kelts spoke with Mockett in Tokyo this week.

Q: In the weeks after 3/11, US media portrayed the Japanese as model victims: unselfish, silent sufferers, waiting single-file for a bottle of water or ball of rice.  No violence, no looting. The workers who stayed at the radioactive plant were dubbed “The Fukushima Fifty,” though no one in Japan used this phrase.

You infer a subtext: that Japanese are also presented in this narrative as not quite human​,​ or as robotic. As an American writer of Japanese descent, how do you navigate these stereotypes?

A: I remember on one flight to Japan, landing at Narita airport, and the little squeal of glee that a first- time visitor gave when he saw the ground crew bow to the pilot. “Look! They’re bowing!” And I cringed inside. Yes, modern Japan with its amazing airport, and yes, they still bow.

Monday, March 02, 2015

On "The Anime Encyclopedia 3," for The Japan Times

‘The Anime Encyclopedia’ goes full digital


By Roland Kelts

“The Anime Encyclopedia, 3rd Revised Edition: A Century of Japanese Animation” was released on March 3.

Editions 1 and 2, published in 2001 and 2006 respectively, have long proved invaluable to English-speaking scholars, fans and writers, serving as reliably exhaustive and often highly entertaining guides to a world that can seem as massive as it does impenetrable. As author Neil Gaiman gushed, the book is “an astonishing work." In the era before the Internet was awash in anime trivia, it was also an imperative one.

But the Encyclopedia’s publishers, California-based Stone Bridge Press, were not only aware of the flood of anime sites online since the last edition, they dove straight into it. The e-book version of the third edition is peppered with hyperlinks to Internet sites relating to the films, series, directors, authors, studios, genres and terminology highlighted in the text, enabling readers to leap seamlessly between platforms. It also retails for about a quarter or less of the hardcover’s cost, and is already available via iTunes and other e-book outlets.

Peter Goodman, Stone Bridge Press