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: