Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Appearing @ Ottawa International Animation Festival 2014, Sept. 17-21

I will be a guest speaker at the 2014 Ottawa International Animation Festival in Ottawa, Canada, Sept. 17-21, at the behest of the Embassy of Japan.

COOL JAPAN: New monthly column for the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan


Cultures Intertwined

American influence on Japan’s soft-power push

By Roland Kelts

In 2002, American journalist Douglas McGray published an article in Foreign Policy magazine called “Japan’s Gross National Cool.”

After spending a few months traveling around the country, McGray concluded that Japan was transitioning from being a manufacturing exporter to a cultural exporter.

What he called “the whiff of American cool” that dominated most of the 20th century was being supplanted globally by “the whiff of Japanese cool,” in the form of cultural products such as manga, anime, fashion, and cuisine.

McGray cited the phrase coined by Harvard professor Joseph S. Nye (who was, incidentally, President Barack Obama’s first choice for ambassador to Japan in 2008): Soft Power.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Haruki Cool for The Japan Times

Haruki Murakami’s Cool Japan

I was in New York last week to host a launch event for the English translation of Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.” My good friend and Murakami translator Ted Goossen, professor at York University in Toronto, joined me, as did pianist Eunbi Kim, whose multi-media project, “Murakami Music,” I saw performed at Symphony Space in Manhattan last year.

With all the talk of the Cool Japan campaign, it’s worth remembering that author Haruki Murakami reigns as the nation’s most potent global cultural export.

I wasn’t surprised to find the venue packed when I arrived. Kinokuniya bookstore’s New York branch in midtown comprises two floors and a basement. Events and readings are staged in the center of the ground floor. Audience members filled the seats and spilled into adjacent aisles, many of them peering over bookshelves.

I first met Murakami 15 years ago on a kind of bet. I was living in Osaka, where a group of editors from a now-defunct English-language magazine had commissioned me to contribute stories. They had invited me to one of their monthly meetings at a tachinomiya (standing bar) on a dark corner near the city’s business district. One of the editors had read my review of Murakami’s “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” a year earlier in an American newspaper.

“Think you could get an interview with him?” he asked, grinning and swaying a bit on his heels.

“I could try.”

“He’s a total recluse, you know. Won’t talk to anyone. If you get the interview, dinner’s on us.”

I realized the other editors were grinning, too, and one of them raised a glass to me.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Thank you Los Angeles, Tokyo, New York City

Summer gigs, 2014 -- thanks to Nobuyuki, Tsuyoshi, Marlan, Ian, Marc in LA; Peter, Nagame, Lars at Embassy of Sweden, Tokyo; Manabu and Lisa at Meiji University, Tokyo; John, Ted, Eunbi and Haruki at Kinokuniya, New York City.

Next up: Ottawa, San Diego, Los Angeles, Palo Alto, San Francisco and Berkeley.

Project Anime / Anime Expo @ Los Angeles

The Embassy of Sweden @ Tokyo

Meiji University @ Tokyo

Kinokuniya Books @ New York City

NHK "Tomorrow" shoot @ Tohoku

Thursday, August 07, 2014

On Haruki Murakami's latest -- Live in NYC, 8/12

Haruki Murakami's Pilgrimage @ Kinokuniya NYC, Tuesday, August 12, 6 p.m.

To celebrate the release of Haruki Murakami's latest novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, join author Roland Kelts, who has known and interviewed Murakami for 15 years, Murakami translator Ted Goossen, and Murakami Music composer Eunbi Kim for an intimate encounter with the author's life, work and personal journey from Japan to the world.

Info here.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

On NHK this week

The NHK documentary, "Tomorrow," focuses on post-tsunami relief efforts in northern Japan. I host this week's program on volunteerism. Broadcast specs on TV and online are here.

(It's a tad personal, since I attended kindergarten in Iwate, and my mother was raised there.)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thank you, Sweden!

Introducing MONKEY BUSINESS: New Voices from Japan, thanks to Peter MacMillan, Ambassador Lars Vargo and the embassy staff.  With founding editor/translator and dear friend, Motoyuki Shibata.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

JP "Tomorrow" on NHK BS-1, Wed. 7/9, 2 p.m.

The Japanese-language edition of "Tomorrow," the doc I host on volunteers in tsunami-damaged towns, is on NHK BS-1 in Japan today (Wed) at 2 p.m.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Hosting NHK's "Tomorrow", about post-tsunami recovery

At the following times, streaming here:
NHK WORLD TV Mon. 01:30, 07:30, 13:30, 19:30 (UTC)
NHK WORLD Premium Wed. of next week 17:00 (UTC)
(Japanese language only) Wed. 14:00 (JST)
  Sun. 04:00 (JST)

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Talkin' Anime Expo 2014 for NPR, Los Angeles

My conversation with animation critic/author Charles Solomon on Anime Expo 2014 & Project Anime in Los Angeles, on NPR/KPCC.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Off to Los Angeles for Project Anime keynote @ Anime Expo

Roland Kelts to give Keynote Presentation at Project Anime: Los Angeles 2014 

Project Anime is proud to announce Japanamerica author Roland Kelts as a Keynote Speaker for Project Anime: Los Angeles 2014.

Roland Kelts is a half-Japanese writer, editor, scholar and cultural expert. He is the author of the bestselling Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture has Invaded the U.S., and the forthcoming novel, Access. His writing on contemporary Japanese culture, art and literature is published in Japanese and English in publications such as The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek Japan, Adbusters, The Japan Times, the BBC, NPR and CNN.

In his Keynote Speech, “Re-Opening Japan,” Kelts assays the specific trans-cultural reasons behind the misunderstandings and sometimes unintended insults that occur when non-Japanese try to work, collaborate and make deals with Japanese creatives.

Monday, June 16, 2014

On the "Summer of Kawaii" 2014, for The Japan Times

Forget Cool Japan — cute is this summer’s hot global export

Summer is high season for fans of Japanese pop culture. School’s out, weather’s amenable and festivals, conventions and expos shift into top gear in Japan and across the globe.

Many in the pop-culture business are branding summer 2014 “the summer of kawaii” (Japanese uber-cute), and it’s not hard to see why. To inaugurate the season, Japan’s digital diva and holographic pop star Hatsune Miku, cute as her turquoise pigtails, hit the road in late May as the opening act for the first leg of megastar Lady Gaga’s North American tour. Miku’s makers plan to reprise her supporting role when Gaga tours Japan in August. This echoes animated band Gorillaz’s collaboration with Madonna at the 2006 Grammies — beautiful illustrations and flesh-and-blood pop icons share the stage. Expect more.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

On UNIQLO for M magazine and Women's Wear Daily

M: My Name Is Uniqlo

Tadashi Yanai
Photo By Courtesy Photo
Photo By Courtesy Photo
I am on an escalator located in the center of Uniqlo’s flagship store in Ginza, Tokyo, and I am rising. The twelve-story rectangle, with its floor-to-ceiling glass facade, anchors Tokyo’s most luxurious shopping zone.

I usually dread shopping for clothes. The volume of options amid mazes of racks induces nausea. But here, the tightly folded and labeled stacks convey the comfort and clarity of minimalism—even though there’s tons of stuff. “We excel in plenitude,” a staff member tells me.

Back to Iwate for NHK

I attended kindergarten in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, when I lived with my grandparents. I revisited Iwate many times, accompanied by my mother.
Now I am here to host a documentary for NHK, Japan's national broadcaster, on the aftermath of the 2011 quake and tsunami.

Iwate is as beautiful and becalming as I remember it.

Monday, May 19, 2014

On Japan's 'satori sedai,' the enlightened generation, for Adbusters

The Satori Generation
A new breed of young people have outdone the tricksters of advertising.
by Roland Kelts

[photo by Ono Kei]

They don’t want cars or brand name handbags or luxury boots. To many of them, travel beyond the known and local is expensive and potentially dangerous. They work part-time jobs—because that is what they’ve been offered—and live at home long after they graduate. They’re not getting married or having kids. They’re not even sure if they want to be in romantic relationships. Why? Too much hassle. Oh, and too expensive.

In Japan, they’ve come to be known as satori sedai—the “enlightened generation.” In Buddhist terms: free from material desires, focused on self-awareness, finding essential truths. But another translation is grimmer: “generation resignation,” or those without ideals, ambition or hope.

They were born in the late 1980s on up, when their nation’s economic juggernaut, with its promises of lifetime employment and conspicuous celebrations of consumption, was already a spent historical force. They don’t believe the future will get better—so they make do with what they have.  In one respect, they’re arch-realists. And they’re freaking their elders out.