Thursday, December 31, 2009

"This Year," Loudon Wainwright III

Listen HERE

This Year

Another year's gone
Here comes a new one
What's gonna happen?
This year

We're gonna make it
Not gonna take it
Make no mistake it's
This year

Last year was a fiasco
A real disaster
So full of sorrow

This year will be a great year
I just can't wait, dear
Until tomorrow

Forget the old pain
Sing a new refrain
Uncork the champagne
This year

No, it's not too late
We've got a clean slate
The future's our fate
This year

Last year was a fiasco
A real disaster
So full of sorrow

This year will be a great year
I just can't wait, dear
Until tomorrow

It's after midnight
I'm just a bit tight
Hey, but I'll be all right
This year

The year is brand new
The old one's all through
And it's time to kiss you
This year

--Loudon Wainwright III

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Confucius for US? Adbusters 2010

My latest contribution for Adbusters magazine is Confucius, a riff on the shifting winds of influence in the 21st Century, with special mention given to the now-iconic Sony Walkman.

Yoi otoshi o -- Happy New Year.


"What I only dimly knew then, of course, was that the Walkman was produced by a nation low on national resources, limited in space and keen on reinvention. A nation much like the world we are all living in now." [Complete story HERE]

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Booking back at 2009

My "Year in Reading 2009" for the eds at The

"As a half-Japanese kid growing up in the Northeast, I masqueraded quite successfully as another disenfranchised suburban Caucasian dude, angry more at being nowhere special than for any definable reason. But two historical phrases instilled unease: 'Pearl Harbor' and 'The Bataan Death March.'
The former’s nasty ethnic stereotypes of the Japanese character—sneaky, cowardly, backstabbing—made me wary of my mother and half of my family, all of whom seemed otherwise sane and trustworthy to me. And the latter left me cold: How could such mindless barbarity even happen? One of these days, I used to think, I’ll be unmasked—as one of them ..." [more HERE]


Pats vs. Jags @ Gillette w/sis on Sunday

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy holidays ...

...with humble thanks from 'home' in New England, courtesy Remy Martin.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Our Hybrid Futures

Here's my latest and last 2009 column for the Yomiuri in Tokyo:

SOFT POWER, HARD TRUTHS / Our hybrid future is here

Diana Yukawa, 24, is a violinist whose story is film worthy, melodramatically so. In 1985, her Japanese father died in the crash of Japan Airlines Flight 123, the deadliest single-aircraft accident in history. Born a month later, Yukawa was moved to her mother's home country of Britain, where she was raised. But she performed in her early years in Japan at a memorial service for the victims of the JAL crash--and was promptly hailed as a child prodigy.

I first met Yukawa about five years ago, when she stopped by my Tokyo office. I found her remarkably level-headed and sincere, and I was impressed by her reviews and credentials. So I paid attention when her latest CD, The Butterfly Effect, landed in my mailbox this autumn.

Pop and classical music are uneasy bedfellows, as most attempts to meld the two demonstrate. But Yukawa brings a personal angle to the hybrid form: She is also a blend of two distinctive strains.

"I think it's something I'm lucky to have," Yukawa told me earlier this week by phone from Britain. "It's something really wonderful that I can tap into and explore further."

Butterfly boasts hypnotic dance club rhythms behind aching and sometimes otherworldly violin leads. The effect can be coolly quirky: French techno musician Jean Michel Jarre filtered through a quasi-Eastern voice.

It makes perfect sense to Yukawa. "When I was writing music with [collaborator] Andy [Wright], it was quite natural that some of the music sounded quite Japanese. It happened organically, it wasn't something I was consciously trying to do. I think it's because I'm really proud of my Japanese side and fascinated by Japanese culture that it just emerged naturally." [more @ YOMIURI HERE; & with more graphics @ 3:AM HERE]

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

new review of Japanamerica from Fan to Pro

Here's a smart, thoughtful and genuinely balanced review of Japanamerica, penned by Steven Savage of FAN TO PRO:

"Japanamerica is a journey - in some cases literally - through the world of Japanese Pop Culture in Japan and America, the fused world of "Japanamerica". Mixing visiting historical places and persons, talking to individuals, and speculation, author Roland Kelts asks just why and how Japanese Culture is big in America, and what it may mean.

This is a phenomenally difficult task quite frankly, and he does a good job of it.

Kelts approaches his subject in several ways, mixing them together throughout the book:
  • The development of and traits of Japanese media companies.
  • The history of the U.S. interests and how those intersected with Japanese products.
  • The changing relations and technologies that made this possible.

The author handles these by using a mix of history, interviews, statistics, and speculation. Much as it's hard to break out one factor from another, Kelts doesn't really try - the entire "Japanamerica" phenomena is studied from its facets as opposed to broken down.

Thus the book looks at everything from the way Japanese media companies have developed the ability to produce effective niche media, to the effect of Star Wars and 9/11 on American media interests, to contrasts of artistic styles between Japanese and American aesthetics. The structure of the book itself is personal, almost like a story, and thus there are no "hard answers", so much as look at the players and their interactions.

I found the book to be very informative, mostly because of this approach - without overarching theories or simplistic answers, the book invites you to discover what's going on through the eyes of Kelts and the people he talks to. You don't go to this book for a list of answers - you go to it to get a feel for what's going on."

[read more Here]

Friday, December 11, 2009

My review of the Rough Guides to ANIME and MANGA

Bits and pieces--online HERE and HERE:

Britain’s Rough Guide series has been helping itinerant travelers navigate foreign destinations for nearly 30 years. As globetrotting becomes more casual, and print guides feel more extraneous with the internet’s immediate and wider scope, the presence of the Rough Guides and their counterpart, Lonely Planet, provides security amid the angst of 21st-century travel. We still like to carry paper in our bags—and the Rough Guides’ latest introductions to anime and manga are easy-to-read and suitably compact.

I have been asked too many times the same question about Japanese pop culture: “Where should I start?”

These books are your answer.

The Rough Guide toAnime takes you deep into the art form’s best stuff—without speaking down to you. You’ll learn about the major films, with author Simon Richmond’s easygoing guidance, and broaden your horizons via his questing voice. You will finally realize why Japanese animation “supersedes the American model,” as Richmond writes, without missing the goods. Richmond loves the form, and his prognostications and descriptions more than make upfor his lack of insider knowledge. “Mind Game is a surreal world unlike anything you may have encountered,” he writes about Studio 4 C’s 2004 epic. It’s a tasty tease.

Some might say that Japan is nothing more than a subculture of Western desires, but both books seek to debunk the silliness of subcultural mystique,without denying the fundamentals of attraction.

And so The Rough Guide to Manga serves its purpose—a 200-plus page introduction

to the magic of Japanese comics, penned by aficionado Jason S. Yadao. Yadao helps us understand why manga have become hugely popular in the West without watering down their essentials—good stories, smart drawings, and plenty of naughty suggestive images to keep the audience hooked.

Both books break down the forms into bite-sized categories. You will learn why certain titles have succeeded abroad, why others are local-only, and what makes them so special to begin with. You’ll find out why your kids get it while you don’t, and what you need to understand in order to be on the same page. Or why a little blue cat named Doraemon is huge in Japan, but virtually unknown overseas, and why another feline named Kitty White (a.k.a. Hello Kitty) is mightier worldwide than Mickey Mouse.

In short, Rough Guide’s two books on anime and manga arrive right in time for Christmas—when we all need a little help understanding how global our worlds have become. If you’re intrigued by Japanese pop culture but are not sure where to begin, these works serve as helpful catalogs. If you’ve never heard of these stories and want to know more, they are the books to get you started.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

New column in Paper Sky

Here's my new column in the just-published, refurbished edition of Paper Sky magazine--to which I am honored to be a contributor. The column is focused on travel to hybrid locales (like Sydney, Tokyo and NYC) by hybrid travelers (like most of us).

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Latest Yomiuri column--print edition scan

Replete with big-nosed, manga-like Perry portrait.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Psychology Today

I wrote this story about Japan's unique generation gap for Psychology Today. Things keep changing, but the fundamentals remain the same. Japanese youth are enacting a kind of Bartelby Rebellion--checking out, passively, to check in. The story can be read online here.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Back from UK

And happy to be in Tokyo. Except my eye hurts, my back aches, and my knee is killing me. Otherwise, I feel great.