|Archaic Torso of Apollo|
We never knew his fantastic head,
lingers and shines. Else the prow of his breast
Else this stone would stand defaced and squat
and not from every edge explode
A couple of recent, interrelated articles on Japan seem particularly germane to conversations I've had while traveling in the US recently--so much so that I've used them as handouts on a couple of occasions to help orient audiences and raise questions.
The first story appeared in the Japan Times earlier this month and addresses the now notoriously sweatshop-like working conditions and wages in the vast majority of anime studios inside Japan, and the industry's inability to attract and retain young talent. I addressed this in Japanamerica and other venues, but since the conventional wisdom is that Japan's anime producers are being destroyed by file-sharing and downloading by overseas fans, it seems worthwhile to look more closely at the antiquated and insidiously self-destructive business model in Japan's own backyard.
After graduating from Tokyo Animator College, Yuko Matsui began working at a midscale animation production agency.
|Work in progress: A student works on a project at Tokyo Animator College. ALEX MARTIN PHOTO|
Two years later, she earns roughly ¥80,000 a month, averaging 10 hours a day doing the grunt work of filling out "in-between cels," drawings on transparent sheets used between key scenes to help create the illusion of motion.
Although she lives with her parents, she can't save any money and has given up on paying her national pension fees. Still, the 22-year-old apprentice considers herself better off than some of her peers who say they have to endure frequent all-nighters with few days off.
"There were seven others I knew who graduated with me at the same time, but three of them have already given up and quit," she said...You can access the story on the Japan Times web site here.
The second article is an Op-Ed from the New York Times that also appeared earlier this month. In it, Masaru Tamamoto addresses the curious case of a nation in perpetual stasis since World War II.
RECENT events mark Japan’s return to the world’s stage, or at least so it seems. Tokyo was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s inaugural overseas destination. Last week, Prime Minister Taro Aso was the first foreign leader to visit the Obama White House. All this suggests that Washington sees Japan, the world’s second-largest economy, as a powerful nation. If only we saw ourselves the same way.
The truth is, Japan is a mess...
Read Tamamoto's Op-Ed here.
I enjoin myself to bite my tongue. Living in Japan is a privilege, and an honorable and sane one at that. I feel very fortunate to have a life in a beautiful country, with civilized citizens, and a sane coast of cities, wherein safety is an unspoken by-product of existence. I am a half-Japanese, or a borderline figment, and as such, I'm lucky. I get to indulge in the best of our world at half the cost, personal and fiscal.
But at what price?
The problem with Japan--and the rest of us, Japanese, half, or otherwise--is that we fear the quality that most emboldens us: change. We don't want to change. We want stasis--trains that run on time, simple ideas, dumb accounts.
Since the birth of my parents, the Japanese perfected this longing better than anyone in the world. You can now be a resident of Japan, foreign, half or otherwise, and live your days in honest stupidity: No one will ever ask you to go further, press harder, ask more of yourself, or, really, really work.
But maybe now, in 2009, things are finally changing, as they do in history, without our input. As the old parable goes (and I was always told it was Chinese), if you want to boil a frog, turn the heat up slowly. The frog will adjust, the heat will increase incrementally, and the frog will die.
But if you want the frog to live, turn the heat up fast. The frog will leap from the pot.
In short: It's getting hot in here. Leap.