More than 90,000 attended the 24th annual Anime Expo (AX), North America’s largest Japanese pop culture convention, held at the Los Angeles Convention Center from July 2 to 5. The four-day event featured a concert by idol group Momoiro Clover Z, who were joined onstage by two members of veteran American rockers, Kiss — a result of their unlikely collaboration earlier this year on the song and music video, “Yume no Ukiyo ni Saitemina.” (In March, the two groups also performed together at Kiss’ Tokyo Dome show.)
American producer and DJ Porter Robinson, cable channel mtvU’s artist of the year and an avowed fan of Japanese pop, delivered a surprise set following a gig by Japan-influenced electronic music act, Anamanaguchi.
Sanrio hosted a fashion show to celebrate the 40th year of “Hello Kitty.” The 20th anniversary of Hideaki Anno’s seminal film and series “Evangelion” was marked with a performance by its theme-song singer-songwriter, Yoko Takahashi. Other guest producers and directors who attended included Studio 4°C President and former Studio Ghibli Producer Eiko Tanaka, and Takahiro Miura, director of the popular series “Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works.”
Last week, Line Corp.’s, the operators of Japan’s most popular messaging app, launched an in-app music streaming service called Line Music. Japan is the second-largest music market in the world after the United States, but its consumers have so far been global outliers, clinging to physical products like CDs and DVDs, which comprise 80 percent of all sales, when everyone else switched to digital. Line Music joins the only other active streaming service in Japan, AWA, established late last month by Avex and Cyber Agent. Apple Music, Spotify and Google are said to be studying the market but have yet to make moves.
Some see Line Music and AWA as harbingers of Japan’s music business future, aligning it with the rest of the world. Veteran Tokyo-based producer and songwriter Jeff Miyahara, however, is doubtful. The novelty of streaming will wear thin fast in Japan, he tells me, because it’s a culture that prizes physical products, packaging and the kind of product-focus that is lost when all-in-one streaming services offer millions of songs — with little guidance or categorical control.
Umami gives identity and intricacy to mother’s milk, a bowl of ramen, a writer poised between Japan and America.
“Be always beginning,” Rilke wrote. You begin again because you have no choice. When I was six, my Japanese mother took me to her hometown to live with my grandparents. In Morioka, a northern capital city, I attended the neighborhood kindergarten. My memories of those days are uniformly positive: hunting cicadas in the backyard with a store-bought child’s-net-and-terrarium set (cicada-catching is standard summer fare for Japanese kids); watching Ultraman monster shows, animation, and sumo wrestling on TV, seated beside my grandfather, both of us barefoot on the ribbed tatami mats; and bathing nightly in my grandparents’ stainless-steel tub, encased in dark wood-paneled walls.
But my mother tells me I was miserable, especially at school. I cried so hard and often that the principal called home in the middle of the day and asked her to please pick me up. I struggled with the language, the differences in cultural assumptions and attitudes, my alien looks and their alien food. I learned Japanese songs and chants and games that I can recite and play to this day, but I could not learn how to be Japanese.
His first overseas roastery and café in Kiyosumi, Tokyo, did more business on its opening Friday than any of the company’s 17 US outlets do in a week. His order of branded coffee mugs shipped in from the US was supposed to last a month; they sold out in a few days.
Two women, who stood in line for five hours in front of the Kiyosumi store, told him they had taken the bus from Osaka to Tokyo—almost four hours away—to be there. The next month, when Blue Bottle opened its second Tokyo outlet, a café in the Aoyama neighborhood of Tokyo, the same pair turned up again.
“They seemed like lovely suburban ladies,” Freeman says. “And they were thrilled.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.