Friday, December 31, 2010
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
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.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Friday, December 17, 2010
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.
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
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
“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."
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
“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
Friday, December 03, 2010
Thursday, December 02, 2010
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Roland Kelts / Special to The Daily Yomiuri
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).
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
By John Nichols, The Nation
Posted on November 22, 2010, Printed on November 23, 2010
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
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.
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.
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.
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]