Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Japanamerica in BEST OF 2010, US & JP

In US Here:

[Yoshi Domoto - Executive Director, Japan-America Society of Georgia]
"Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S. " by Roland Kelts

Roland Kelts visited Kennesaw State University in March 2010 for a lecture event, which was organized by KSU's Dr. Edward Chan and Atsuo Nishikata, the chair of the Japan-America Society of Georgia's Young Professionals group. The JASG was a promotional partner of the event and many of our members enjoyed the lecture very much. Roland Kelts has both Japanese and American ancestry like myself, and I was particularly interested in his views of the relationship between Japanese and American pop culture.

The book gave me a better understanding of how Japanese popular culture developed to what it is today and how it has spread across the world. Although Japan is still a huge contributor to the world economy, its cultural influence, especially its pop culture, may now be more influential. Japanese pop culture has spread throughout the world and has defined what is "cool" in many countries (the theme of JapanFest 2009 in Atlanta was "Cool Japan" and attracted over 17,000 visitors). Manga and anime alone are now a multi-billion dollar industries in the U.S. Japanese pop culture is everywhere you look these days and I think it is important for The Japan-America Society to be part of this trend and use the influences of Japanese culture to bring together the Japanese and American communities here in Georgia.

I highly recommend this book. It is a very easy and fun read and it will give you a better appreciation for how popular culture has evolved and how it will continue to evolve.

『ジャパナメリカ 日本発ポップカルチャー革命』 ローランド・ケルツ著、永田医訳 武田ランダムハウスジャパン刊

『ジャパナメリカ 日本発ポップカルチャー革命』 ローランド・ケルツ著、永田医訳 武田ランダムハウスジャパン刊

V・S氏 クランチロール株式会社
40代、男性、アメリカ

 友人に薦められて読みました。アメリカ人がアメリカ人向けに書いた本ですが、日本語翻訳版も出ています。
 クランチロールは世界で一番大きなアニメ・ソーシャル・ネットワークを運営し、日本のアニメを中心とするアジアのコンテンツを世界に配信するベンチャー企業です。私の会社はその日本法人で、08年に設立されたばかり。新丸の内ビルにある日本創生ビレッジにオフィスを置く若い会社です。私の仕事は、人気のタイトルを日本での放映後すぐインターネット配信できるよう、ライセンサーと交渉し、正式契約まで持っていくこと。ただ、私自身はアニメファンというわけではないので、「最新のエピソードをいち早く見たい!」という熱心なファンの気持ちを理解するために、この本を読んだのです。
 単に、日本のマンガやアニメが“クール”だという話だけでなく、日本のアニメがアメリカでどんなふうに受容されているか、日本の文化がアメリカの文化にどんな影響を与えてきているかにも触れており、なかなか面白かったです。

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cosplay in America, Ninja Attack, Schoolgirl Confidential

Ishihara's big bill

Last Friday, after ramming through Bill 156—the so-called “non-existent youth bill” targeting manga and anime imagery while exempting live action photography and video, not to mention live human beings who actually possess child pornography—Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, the former taboo-busting novelist turned moralist politico, claimed in his monthly press conference that Japan had become “too uninhibited” compared with “Western societies,” and added that readers of offending manga had “warped DNA.”

The subsequent decision by ten top manga publishers to boycott next year’s Tokyo International Anime Fair (TAF), slated for March 24-27, amounts to an unusual act of corporate protest in normally conflict-shy Japan, prompting Japan’s otherwise reticent Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, to post his first message under his own name, pleading for both sides to find a resolution.

TAF 2011: ripe for China?

No wonder: reports out of this year’s TAF were dominated by the arrival of several Chinese anime producers on the scene. Next year, they may have the floor all to themselves.

Given such dire prognostications, it may be better, or at least more fun, to look back at a few of 2010’s gift-worthy Japanese pop culture publications.

The folks at Kodansha International help us decode two of the most ubiquitous icons of Japanese pop imagery—schoolgirls and ninja—vis-à-vis two authoritative husband-and-wife teams. Wired magazine contributing editor Brian Ashcraft and his wife Shoko Ueda, based in Osaka, bring us Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential, a surprisingly capacious work that covers every permutation of the uniformed femmes in manga, anime and flesh and blood live action, fatale or not, even recording the history of the Sailor Moon-style uniform itself, imported from the US by a fast-militarizing Japan at the turn of the century.

Another conjugal pair, Matt Alt and Hiroko Yoda, having already enlightened us about Japanese ghosts (Yokai Attack!) and everyday cartoon characters (Hello, Please!), turn their lucid lenses to the myths and realities behind Japan’s irresistible secret agents, spies and assassins in Ninja Attack!. Revealing what true ninja actually wore (not the sleek black uniforms and masks of popular rendering, of course, because they tried to blend into their surroundings—duh), ate, brandished and so on, the book admirably balances the seductions of ninja fiction with the astonishments of historical truth. (Did you know, for example, that Matsuo Basho, Japan’s most renowned haiku master, may have served time amid his nomadic wanderings as a spy for the shogunate?)

Both books are tidy, lightweight and colorfully designed paperbacks with ample illustrations and photographs that won’t alienate or bore manga and anime enthusiasts keen for visual aids. Concise sidebar definitions, diagrams and cartoon bubbles keep the layout fresh and inventive, enabling readers to dip in and be edified at random.

"Western societies" go crazy for cosplay

At the other end of the scale is the substantial hardcover photography collection, Cosplay in America, by Ejen Chuang, featuring a plethora of schoolgirls, ninja, Super Marios and just about any other manga, anime and video game character imaginable—or at least a bunch of Americans dressed up to look like them. If you’ve never attended one of the hundreds of manga and anime festivals and conventions held nearly every weekend across the United States, this voluminous bilingual (English and Japanese) tome offers a sneak peek at the variety and dedication of Japanese pop culture’s overseas fans, whose elaborate costumes are usually at least partly homemade, if not entirely stitched by the cosplayers themselves.

Perhaps someone should send a copy to Ishihara so he can see firsthand what those “Western societies” are really up to these days.

>>also @ TCJ

Friday, December 17, 2010

my Japan fam

Aunt Reiko, Uncle Iwane and me in Tokyo, 2010

Maids + Cafes + Trains = What?



They are not your average train ticket inspectors. Picture a bevy of young ladies dressed in flouncy blue and white dresses, accessorised with over-the-knee socks, pretty hair bows and undimmable million-watt smiles.
Welcome to Japan’s latest eyebrow-raising innovation – a “maid café” train where passengers are “served” by a clutch of pretty all-singing, all-dancing and all-adoring female train staff.
The popularity of Japanese maid cafés has been well documented over the past decade: primarily located in Tokyo’s subculture hubs such as Akihabara and Ikebukuro, they involve young women in maid outfits (often dubbed modern day geisha) innocently serving tea and cakes to manga and anime loving customers.
Last weekend, the Seibu Railway Group installed a “maid café” on board its limited express Red Arrow train operating between Ikebukuro and Chichibu, a stretch of track renowned as home to a number of high-profile animation companies.
Nine maids recruited from Akihabara’s maid café district will tend to passengers on board by serving drinks, playing games and taking turns to make tannnoy announcements.
The cartoon-like selection of maids on board include Shoko Suzumiya, who says she has “increased motivation whenever she puts on a maid uniform”. Then there is Kira Hoshino, who derives pleasure in “soothing and instilling vigor in people”, not to mention Chuchu Amakusa, who likes to “give people nice warm feelings”.
And their ages? All maids are forever 17, says a spokesman for Seibu, seemingly with a straight face. Describing the reason behind the launch, he adds: “This train is a sort of theme park inspired by the world of anime and games.”
Never mind maid lovers, its arrival is also likely to be welcomed by the government, which is increasingly keen to tap into the growing popularity of Japanese subculture trends overseas and boost export of domestic anime, manga and gaming.
It seems likely that the new train will open up the world of maid cafés to a wider audience, not least because it combines two of Japan’s biggest “otaku” geek obsessions – trains and maids.
“It’s important to note that it runs on a route that has become increasingly obscure and disused in recent years and its operators are naturally desperate to attract riders to the line,” says Roland Kelts, author of Japanamerica and visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo.
“But the convergence of trains and maid cafés makes a lot of sense as [a way of] attracting a sizeable population of “otaku”, or obsessive fans.”
Whatever the reason, ticket inspectors in many cities around the world could well learn a thing or two from the ever-smiling and friendly demeanour of their Japanese maid counterparts.
But the flouncy maid outfits? They can perhaps stay in Japan.They are not your average train ticket inspectors. Picture a bevy of young ladies dressed in flouncy blue and white dresses, accessorised with over-the-knee socks, pretty hair bows and undimmable million-watt smiles.

Welcome to Japan’s latest eyebrow-raising innovation – a “maid café” train where passengers are “served” by a clutch of pretty all-singing, all-dancing and all-adoring female train staff.

The popularity of Japanese maid cafés has been well documented over the past decade: primarily located in Tokyo’s subculture hubs such as Akihabara and Ikebukuro, they involve young women in maid outfits (often dubbed modern day geisha) innocently serving tea and cakes to manga and anime loving customers.

Last weekend, the Seibu Railway Group installed a “maid café” on board its limited express Red Arrow train operating between Ikebukuro and Chichibu, a stretch of track renowned as home to a number of high-profile animation companies.

Nine maids recruited from Akihabara’s maid café district will tend to passengers on board by serving drinks, playing games and taking turns to make tannnoy announcements.

The cartoon-like selection of maids on board include Shoko Suzumiya, who says she has “increased motivation whenever she puts on a maid uniform”. Then there is Kira Hoshino, who derives pleasure in “soothing and instilling vigor in people”, not to mention Chuchu Amakusa, who likes to “give people nice warm feelings”.

And their ages? All maids are forever 17, says a spokesman for Seibu, seemingly with a straight face. Describing the reason behind the launch, he adds: “This train is a sort of theme park inspired by the world of anime and games.”

Never mind maid lovers, its arrival is also likely to be welcomed by the government, which is increasingly keen to tap into the growing popularity of Japanese subculture trends overseas and boost export of domestic anime, manga and gaming.

It seems likely that the new train will open up the world of maid cafés to a wider audience, not least because it combines two of Japan’s biggest “otaku” geek obsessions – trains and maids.

“It’s important to note that it runs on a route that has become increasingly obscure and disused in recent years and its operators are naturally desperate to attract riders to the line,” says Roland Kelts, author ofJapanamerica and visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo.

“But the convergence of trains and maid cafés makes a lot of sense as [a way of] attracting a sizeable population of ‘otaku’, or obsessive fans.”

Whatever the reason, ticket inspectors in many cities around the world could well learn a thing or two from the ever-smiling and friendly demeanour of their Japanese maid counterparts.

But the flouncy maid outfits? They can perhaps stay in Japan. [More @ Monocle]

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cool Japan chilled: Ishihara gets his censorship bill


Earlier today in Tokyo, the Metropolitan Assembly passed the government's revised bill to amend the Youth Healthy Development Ordinance--otherwise known as the "non-existent youth" bill, a story I wrote about late last month, and also last spring, when the revised bill was first submitted for approval and was flatly rejected.

While restrictions on sexually stimulating and/or harmful depictions have long been in place, the new revisions specifically target "manga and anime," while exempting real-life photography (explain that one), and focus on materials that may be "disrupting of social order"--much like Ishihara's own taboo-breaking novels and plays, and his more recent nationalist, racist and homophobic blather.

In objection, ten major manga publishers--Kadokawa Shoten, Shueisha, Kodansha, Akita Shoten, Hakusensha, Shogakukan, Shonen Gahousha, Shinchosa, Futubasha and LEED--have vowed to pull their wares from the 2011 Tokyo International Anime Fair (TAF), whose executive committee is chaired by Ishihara himself. Rumors are emerging that the action could prompt a cancellation of next year's TAF.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan is taking the news seriously enough to post the following commentary on his blog--the first time, I'm told, that the PM has posted in the first-person under his own name:

"There is another topic I would like to talk about concerning [the strength of] the Japanese brand. Currently, there are concerns over the possibility that the Tokyo International Animation Fair could be cancelled due to controversies related to the healthy development of youth issues. Healthy development of youth is an important issue. At the same time, it is important that Japanese animation is broadcast to a global audience. I urge all parties involved to try to work toward preventing a situation where an international animation fair cannot be held within Tokyo." [transl. Dan Kanemitsu; ital. mine]

Per usual, Tokyo-based translator and writer Dan Kanemitsu nails all the ugly details down on his indispensable blog.

PS
Any of you remember the ‘Comics Code’ in America, effectively shutting down the most creative comics artists in the US in the 1950s, as aptly recorded by David Hadju in The Ten Cent Plague? Let's hope that doesn't happen in Japan.

>>More @ The Comics Journal

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

Manga vs. Comics: Does it matter? @TCJ

Felipe Smith’s is an exceptional story, to be sure, as is the story of Peepo Choo itself—a US-Japan culture clash comedy that both mocks and celebrates fans of comics and manga, illustrated in riveting and sometimes surrealistically violent detail. His achievement would seem many a foreign manga fan’s dream. But the artist remains frustrated by the us-vs-them mentality pervading the manga industry in Japan and overseas.

“We have to get beyond these silly classifications of manga vs. comics and whatever,” he says. Smith even objects to English speakers using the term ‘manga.’“There’s a word for them in English—‘comics.’ Just call them comics."


Stu Levy of TokyoPop cites a personal favorite of his, the manga Zombie Hunter, authored by a Japanese, Kazumasa Hirai, and illustrated by a Korean, Kyung-Il Yang. “Does that qualify as manga?” he asks. “These distinctions are like splitting hairs. In Japan, ‘manga’ as a word is simply the term for ‘comics,’ but overseas, manga has come to mean a particular style within the overall world of Japanese-originated sequential art. This narrow definition of the term tends to rely on the more commonly-used character design and stylistic approach found in many Japanese manga—but by no means found in all manga. So, there has been unfortunately more of a closed-minded view of manga in the West." [more @ The Comics Journal]

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

'What's wrong with being #2?' in Adbusters magazine


“what’s wrong with being the world’s no. 2?”

So said Renhō, the single-monikered and, for a Japanese politician, unusually single-minded 42-year-old female member of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, tapped by Prime Minister Naoto Kan this summer to serve as minister of administrative reform (aka, chief budget-slasher). Renhō uttered the question during a debate late last year on financing a next-generation supercomputer project powerful enough to compete with the US, but her plaintive question resonated far beyond the walls of Japan’s Upper House chamber.

By the middle of this year, as the stack of urgent reports concerning Japan’s stagnant economy, political paralyses, fading competitiveness, so-called Galápagos syndrome isolationism, emerging social strains amid widening income gaps, diminished labor pools and a rapidly aging population piled high, Renhō’s rhetorical query seemed to cut to the core of Japan’s mounting troubles.

She was promptly criticized, most notably by old guard politicos like former Trade Minister Takeo Hiranuma when he offhandedly reminded voters that Renhō “[was] not originally Japanese,” playing the hoary hand of nationalism by referring to her naturalization in 1985.

Born to a Taiwanese father and Japanese mother, Renhō is a former pinup model and TV news presenter who maintains a very active Twitter account, YouTube channel and Ustream internet video streaming site. She favors short haircuts and lean white jackets over her almost entirely middle-aged male colleagues’ bland barbering and suits of charcoal gray. A Wall Street Journal profile of Renhō this summer called her “the ruling party’s most recognizable face,” a significant label even in a country that has gone through five prime ministers in four years.

In other words: Most Japanese needed no reminder of who she is.

And then it happened. In the middle of Japan’s month-long summer holidays, during which local papers reported that some companies were curtailing vacations or cutting them altogether to stay competitive, the international media made it official: Japan suddenly became No. 2, at least in Asia, and No. 3 in the rest of the world. China had made sure and quick work of it.

Photo by Yasutaka Kojima

Reaction in Japan’s domestic media was mute to nonexistent. Some questioned the various methods used to calculate GDP figures, while other outlets simply ignored the story. The implied answer to Renhō’s question, which resonated deeply enough that she published a book titled Do We Have to Be No. 1? in June, has grown glaringly obvious: What’s wrong with being No. 2 is that you have to adapt to it. [more here @Adbusters magazine]

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Shibata, Auster & Yourgrau in NYC, Dec. 7 & 9

GOINGS ON ABOUT TOWN: READINGS AND TALKS

MOTOYUKI SHIBATA

Shibata, one of Japan’s leading translators of contemporary American literature, works at the University of Tokyo, but he’s making two appearances in New York City this week. On Dec. 7 at 6:30, he talks about the art of translation with Paul Auster at the Asia Society. (725 Park Ave., at 70th St. 212-288-6400.) On Dec. 9 at 6, he joins the New York writer Barry Yourgrau for a bilingual reading from Yourgrau’s new book of stories, “Gangster Fables,” which was just published in Japan. (Kinokuniya Bookstore, 1073 Sixth Ave., between 40th and 41st Sts. 212-869-1700.)



Read more http://www.newyorker.com/arts/events/readings/motoyuki-shibata-various-locations-generic-no-phone#ixzz17QkcGPA1

Friday, December 03, 2010

Props for Japanese version of Japanamerica, via Crunchyroll


Vast thanks to Vince Shortino of Crunchyroll Japan for the props in selecting Japanamerica as a "favorite book of 2010" for this month's Buaiso magazine (story online here).

Japanamerica, the Japanese edition is translated by Iyasu Nagata and was first published by Random House Kodansha, now Takeda Random House:

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Haruki Murakami interviews


Two of my conversations with Haruki are out now in a comprehensive collection just published in Japan, a week before the release of Anh Hung Tran's film version of Noruwei no Mori / Norwegian Wood. Here are some legal teasers:


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Papersky Issue 34: New York City: A Photographic Walk with Shingo Wakagi...

Issue #34 of Paper Sky is out today, featuring a striking range of photos and photographers from New York City, plus my latest column on travel, virtual vs. physical. More here.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Yomiuri column on revived anime/manga porn bill

SOFT POWER HARD TRUTHS / Tokyo govt's Barely-Offensive Content Act, Version 2.0

The Tokyo metropolitan government's bungled proposal earlier in the year to broaden its powers of censorship over manga and anime it deemed "harmful to minors" has been occasionally addressed in this column. The fuss started back in March, when a formal protest by manga artist luminaries was followed by similar objections from IT giants Google, Rakuten and others. By June, the legislation was flatly rejected, but not without a vow from Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara to revamp and try to push it through again this autumn.

The controversial Ishihara has his supporters and detractors. But like him or not, in this instance, there is no denying he is a man of his word.

Now we have Version 2 of the "nonexistent youth bill," so-called because of its opaque language promising to monitor depictions of fictional characters government officials decide are too young to be engaging in the fictional activities government officials decide are too harmful to real youth that government officials decide are too youthful to view or read about them. Ironies abound. Fictional portrayals of nonexistent young characters continue to proliferate as the financially strapped manga and anime industries cater to their largely middle-aged and male otaku core demographic, making more "moe," or soft-core porn imagery, in order to survive. Meanwhile, Japan's real youth are thin on the ground: The nation's notoriously declining birth rate is among the lowest in developed economies, and jobs for those youth who actually do exist in the form of university graduates have grown scarce. What's more, government officials are not doing much to help them.

The metropolitan government's latest efforts are being tracked by the indefatigable Tokyo-based translator Dan Kanemitsu, a half-Japanese writer whose blog, "Dan Kanemitsu's Paper Trail" is a font of cranky observation and excellent insight. According to him, Ishihara and Co. are trying to "sneak" the legislation into approval by making its language vaguer, its goals sanitized. The metropolitan government now aims to control what Kanemitsu calls "the danger posed by fiction that is not obscene, not extremely sexually stimulating, and not strongly prone to compel youth to conduct criminal acts, but is still harmful to youth because it deals with the subject of minors and sexuality in a realm of fiction, especially if presented in an 'anti-social' manner."

I phoned Kanemitsu in Tokyo on the eve of the unveiling of the latest redrafted proposal on Nov. 22. He remains deeply concerned about the legislation's stealthy, under-the-radar nature. "They're doing their best to not raise publicity," Kanemitsu tells me. "And they're doing their best not to [let anyone] examine [the legislation]. I think it's disingenuous, since it's something that could possibly have a lot of impact."

Japan's corrupt society of "press clubs" give voice to the major players who support them. The government issues a statement, journalists dutifully record it, and all bask in the glow of a brutally efficient PR release, disguised as journalism. Democracy, as someone once said, is messy. Japanese politicians and their docile toadies in the media don't like "messiness." Hence the latest step in government efforts to control what you see and read. "They want to go after three things," says Kanemitsu. "They want to go after shojo [girl's manga/anime], yaoi [manga/anime aimed at women and featuring beautiful men who love other men] and cheesecake [pornographic material aimed at men.] Under the existing regulations they could go after yaoi and cheesecake, but not porn. Japan's current penal code just says that we'll bust you if it's obscene, but it doesn't define what's obscene."

And there's the rub: Who defines what's "obscene," and how does one define it?

The question is even more relevant when one considers the winds of change in our clumsily globalized world. China is weighing in heavily on the question of authority, pressuring its trading partners not to participate in the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Norway owing to its clampdown on dissenters, one of whom was awarded this year's peace prize. Meanwhile, Western democratic freedom is manifest in images of British students and protesters smashing windows in central London in response to budget cuts.

Which world would you rather inhabit? "There are two groups of moralists in Japan," Kanemitsu explains. "One is the school teacher who is almost Catholic in stylization, very conservative, old-school Confucian. They are now mixed with progressives who have a feminist point-of-view, and who are anti-pornography more than anything. The old moralists want to make society go back in time; the new moralists want to banish all discrimination against women. But not all members of the Tokyo government want such repressive measures."

Not all. It's a small reed, but a worthy one. Not everyone wants to control what you see, read and hear, and not everyone mistrusts what you think and curate. But at least a small part of the goings-on in Tokyo involves all of us. How do you trust freedom, in its purest, most expressive forms, in a country that fears its own passions?

Kelts is a visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo who divides his time between Tokyo and New York. He is the author of "Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S." (www.japanamericabook.com).

(Nov. 26, 2010)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Talking Turkey w/NHK about Akira


'SHELLY,' Jonathan Sherr and I discuss Katsuhiro Otomo's manga and anime epic, Akira, on NHK's "Japan Unlocked" broadcast today (Thursday) and tomorrow.

The show will be streamed online six times here, once every four hours starting at 6:30 p.m. EST/ 3:30 p.m. PST / 11:30 p.m. GMT on Thursday, November 25--beginning at 8:30 a.m. Friday, November 26, JST.
I can't vouch for the contents because I can't recall what I said and haven't seen the edited version. But like most recordings, it will be aired and readily available online anyway. Apologies in advance.

Murakami does Macy's, T-Day 2010

The sight of Pikachu, Pokemon's electrifying yellow mouse mascot, soaring above Manhattan five years ago in the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was one of the catalysts for writing Japanamerica. Aside from Independence Day on July 4, Thanksgiving is among the most American of holidays celebrated in the United States--allegedly originating in a feast shared by Native Americans and Pilgrims to mark a rich harvest--and the Macy's Parade is somewhat akin to processions of floats in Japanese matsuri (festivals), albeit a decidedly secular version, branded by a major department store for over eight decades.

Seeing Pikachu's balloon likeness alongside American stalwarts from my childhood like Snoopy, Mickey, Bullwinkle and others seemed a striking statement of just how deeply Japanese animation and its iconic character designs had penetrated so-called 'mainstream' American sensibilities.

A few months ago in New York, I read in the New York Times's Art Beat blog that conceptual artist Takashi Murakami's blissed-out and vaguely menacing icons, Kaikai and Kiki, would be the next Macy's participants to make the trans-Pacific T-Day flight from Japan. Hardly ubiquitous children's fare like Pokemon, K & K are unlikely to elicit squeals of recognition, as yesterday's NYT story notes, and might just cause shudders of discomfort in those kids seduced into staring.

[photos-NYT]
But Murakami's unsettlingly passive-aggressive take on kawaii, or the Japanese aesthetic of needy uber-cuteness, may be softened a bit by the artist's own presence, marching alongside his creations down Central Park West in a self-designed, goofy-green, smiley-faced flower costume, laughing, once again, all the way back to the bank.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chalmers Johnson, 1931-2010

Japan scholar, author, and critic of American Imperialism, Chalmers Johnson, died on Saturday, November 20, 2010. To those of us who read and write about Japan--and America--his work remains essential. Here's a solid account of his life and writing by John Nichols of The Nation, posted here at AlterNet.org.:
Chalmers Johnson, Visionary Scholar on Empire and Decline of America Passes Away
By John Nichols, The Nation
Posted on November 22, 2010, Printed on November 23, 2010
http://www.alternet.org/story/148952/

With one word, "blowback," Chalmers Johnson explained the folly of empire in the modern age.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September11, 2001, true American patriots—as opposed to the jingoists and profiteers whose madness and greed would steer a republic to ruin—needed a new language for a new age.

They got it from Johnson. His 2000 book, Blowback,: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (Macmillan), he took an old espionage term—which referred to the violent, unintended consequences of covert (and sometimes not so covert) operations that are suffered even by superpowers such as the United States—became an essential text for those who sought to explain the attacks and to forge sounder and more responsible foreign policies for the future.

Johnson, who has died at age 79, was no liberal idealist. He was the an old Asian hand who had chaired the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of California-Berkeley from 1967 to 1972 and then served as president and co-founder of the Japan Policy Research Institute. In other words, he was a man of the world who knew how the world worked. And what he tried to explain, to political leaders and citizens, was that the old ways of empire building (and maintaining) no longer worked in an age of instant communications, jet travel and doomsday weaponry.

"In Blowback, I set out to explain why we are hated around the world," Johnson explained in Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, another of his series of three books on imperialism and empire, which became best sellers in the period after the 9-11 attacks. "The concept 'blowback' does not just mean retaliation for things our government has done to and in foreign countries. It refers to retaliation for the numerous illegal operations we have carried out abroad that were kept totally secret from the American public. This means that when the retaliation comes—as it did so spectacularly on September 11, 2001—the American public is unable to put the events in context. So they tend to support acts intended to lash out against the perpetrators, thereby most commonly preparing the ground for yet another cycle of blowback. In the first book in this trilogy, I tried to provide some of the historical background for understanding the dilemmas we as a nation confront today, although I focused more on Asia—the area of my academic training—than on the Middle East."

Johnson, a frequent contributor to The Nation in his later years, argued in his most impressive book, The Sorrows of Empire, that Americans needed to recognize something that their leaders denied: that the United States, a nation founded in opposition to empire, had become an empire.

"The Sorrows of Empire was written during the American preparations for and launching of the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq," he explained. "I began to study our continuous military buildup since World War II and the 737 military bases we currently maintain in other people's countries. This empire of bases is the concrete manifestation of our global hegemony, and many of the blowback-inducing wars we have conducted had as their true purpose the sustaining and expanding of this network. We do not think of these overseas deployments as a form of empire; in fact, most Americans do not give them any thought at all until something truly shocking, such as the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, brings them to our attention. But the people living next door to these bases and dealing with the swaggering soldiers who brawl and sometimes rape their women certainly think of them as imperial enclaves, just as the people of ancient Iberia or nineteenth-century India knew that they were victims of foreign colonization."

Johnson, in his last years, became a hero to old-right conservatives and new-left radicals, who recognized the truth of his observations about "the sorrows (of empire that are) already invading our lives, which (are) likely to be our fate for years to come: perpetual war, a collapse of constitutional government, endemic official lying and disinformation, and finally bankruptcy."

"The United States today is like a cruise ship on the Niagara River upstream of the most specacular falls in North America," Johnson warned. "A few people on board have begun to pick up a slight hiss in the background, to observe a faint haze of mist in the air on their glasses, to note that the river current seems to be running slightly faster. But no one yet seems to have realized that it is almost too late to head for shore. Like the Chinese, Ottoman, Hapsburg, imperial German, Nazi, imperial Japanese, British, French, Dutch, Portuguese, and Soviet empires in the last century, we are approaching the edge of a huge waterfall and are about to plunge over it."

Johnson knew his history—not just the history of empires that had fallen, but of the American experiment.

Many of his truest and most cherished reference points came from the republic's founding. We shared a passion for a James Madison's writings on the perils of imperialism in general. In particular, that passion took us to Madison's great 1795 line from Political Observations: "Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the executive is extended… War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it. In war, the public treasuries are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them…”

Chalmers Johnson, a true son of the wisest and best of the founding generation, spoke the language of James Madison, when he argued that a republic could not maintain more than 700 military bases on foreign soil and retain its own freedom.

It was a Madisonian impulse that caused Johnson to warn us that: “As militarism, the arrogance of power, and the euphemisms required to justify imperialism inevitably conflict with America’s democratic structure of government and distort its culture and basic values, I fear that we will lose our country.”

It is a similarly Madisonian impulse, or what remains of it, that will cause genuine patriots to read Johnson as they do the founders for generations to come.

John Nichols is The Nation's Washington correspondent.

© 2010 The Nation All rights reserved.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Japan & Obama: humiliation & humbling





Obama in Japan: what a difference a bad year makes

Since the US president met with his Japanese counterpart last year, Obama has been belittled by voters, and Japan has been humiliated by its neighbors. Today, Japan and America need each other badly, and maybe more than ever.



By Roland Kelts / November 12, 2010
Tokyo

President Obama arrived in Tokyo today, exactly one year to the day of his first official trip to Japan as commander-in-chief. He is here to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Yokohama, but his itinerary includes a brief “personal” excursion to the Great Buddha, a 44-foot tall bronze statue in Kamakura, which Mr. Obama first visited as a boy with his mother. While it is safe to say that the seven-and-a-half centuries old Buddha has changed very little since last November, or even since Mr. Obama’s childhood encounter, the state of his host nation has shifted significantly.

Last year, the Japan that greeted Obama was star-struck by the man, less so by the nation he had been elected to represent. Domestic voters had only a few months earlier managed to unseat the Liberal Democratic Party, whose nearly unbroken 50-year plus dominance of Japanese politics was largely characterized by policies friendly to American business and the US military. Its successor, the Democratic Party of Japan, won on a platform that was both more socialistic economically, and more Asia-friendly politically.

A different vision last year

Incoming Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama wrote a provocative essay, published in translation in major US newspapers, advocating a new spirit of “fraternity” with Japan’s long-neglected Asian neighbors, citing the imminent end of America’s global leadership and implying that a decreasing reliance upon the US would be in his nation’s best interest.

IN PICTURES: Obama's Asia trip

Mr. Hatoyama’s essay caused predictable alarm in Washington. Its impact was compounded by conflict over the relocation of an American military base in Okinawa, Japan’s southernmost islands, which have hosted the bulk of US troops since the end of World War II.

The Japan that welcomed Mr. Obama just one year ago was celebratory but wary, and the president seemed alert to the schism, regaling his Tokyo audience with soft power stories about his boyhood Buddha visit and his love of green-tea ice cream while reminding them of the persistent military threats posed by North Korea and China.

What a difference a bad year makes. [more @CSM here]

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Far East to East Coast: Bo-Peep's kawaii killer rock

Bo-Peep en route to the USA

First X Japan, then Vamps, and now Bo-Peep, a female hard rock trio, crash into the East Coast this autumn for a J-Rock invasion: Providence, New York, Philly, Milford, CT and Boston, with two dates in NYC, one each in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Pal Ethan Green is managing the tour; dates and info below. Starts Friday.

Tokyo calling?

"VIBE" USA TOUR
SUSHI BURNING! GEISHA BURNING! HANABI BURNING!

Friday, November 12
AS220, Providence, Rhode Island
Girls Rock Showcase
9PM
$10

Sunday, November 14
The Trash Bar, Brooklyn, New York
11PM
$6

Monday, November 15th
Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
8PM

Tuesday, November 16th
O'briens Pub, Allston, Massachusetts
8:30PM
$7

Wednesday, November 17th
Daniel Street Club, Milford, Connecticut
8PM
$8

Thursday, November 18th
Arlene's Grocery, Manhattan, New York
12AM (technically Friday morning)
$8