Monday, June 28, 2010

Japanamerica & "kawaii" @ Japan Day in Central Park, NYC

Brief clip of a video interview that was aired earlier this month on the big screens @ Japan Day in Central Park, NYC, the same day I was giving a talk in a Tokyo monolith, else I'd have been in the park in my house of flesh.

The pretty one in pink flouncing about Manhattan's late winter glums is Misako Aoki, one of Japan's three official kawaii taishi (ambassadors of cute), referenced in columns and ruminations below, and not always positively.

The full interview was shot blocks from my home in Soho at Hiroko's Place, a becalming little Japanese cafe--and a bit of a refuge in my life this past spring.

Appropriately, the topic at hand is the concept of 'kawaii.'

Tote bag courtesy of Horibuchi-san and VIZ; flesh courtesy of me.

Friday, June 25, 2010

"Politics of Pop Culture" Part II tomorrow in Tokyo

Part II of Temple University Japan's "Politics of Pop Culture" conference takes place tomorrow, with a focus on gender. Anne Allison, Sharon Kinsella, David Slater and many other scholars will be speaking throughout the day. The full schedule is here.

If you're in town, join us. I'm told the venue will be fully air-conditioned.

Here are a couple of pics from Part I earlier this month:

Frederik L. Schodt's capacious and authoritative keynote address (above).

Me and Fred exchanging thoughts on our favorite topic--the impending apocalypse--while Otaku king Patrick Galbraith greets fans (below).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tokyo's 'Virtual Porn / Nonexistent Youth' Law going down

Via ANN & Asahi--("Are they talking about ghosts or something?"):

The General Affairs Committee of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly has voted down the bill to regulate sexualized depictions of "nonexistent youths." The bill would prohibit sexualized depictions of "nonexistent youths" — such as in manga, anime, games, and other materials — from being sold to minors. Committee members from the Democratic Party of Japan (the largest faction in the assembly), the Japanese Communist Party, and the Tokyo Seikatsusha Network party voted against the bill. According to the Asahi Shimbun paper, the bill also faces defeat before the entire assembly on Wednesday.

The bill is supported by the Liberal Democratic Party, which is the second largest faction in the assembly and the party of Tokyo's current governor, ShintarĊ Ishihara. The LDP and its New Komeito Party ally introduced a second version of the bill that attempted to clarify its vague, convoluted language. Among other changes, the second version replaced the newly invented term "nonexistent youth" with "depicted youth"; Governor Ishihara himself said in May that the term "nonexistent youth" makes people wonder, "Are they talking about ghosts or something?" However, the second version of the bill was also voted down in committee.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Celebrate Divorce in Tokyo

Tokyo sees rise in 'divorce ceremonies'

As Japan's divorce rate soars, couples in Tokyo are ending their marriages with as much care as they began them.

By Danielle Demetriou in Tokyo

Divorce ceremony planner with couple
Divorce ceremony planner Hiroki Terai with Daigo Teshima and his wife Saori Photo: SHIHO FUKADA

Saori Teshima had long dreamt of the moment. Standing nervously next to her smartly-suited partner in front of friends and loved ones, a sparkling ring appeared before her.

But contrary to conventional wedding rules, the man at Saori's side did not slip the ring lovingly onto her left hand before sealing their union with a kiss.

Instead, the pair were handed a hammer - which they held together as they proceeded to smash the ring to symbolise the end of their five-year marriage.

So goes another divorce ceremony - a bizarre, but increasingly popular ritual among Japanese couples, who choose to end their marriages with the same pomp and ceremony with which they began them.

From drinking toasts to never seeing each other again, through to symbolic rides in separate rickshaws to reflect the start of a new journey, the ceremonies consist of a string of symbolic acts to mark the definitive end of a marriage.

Their introduction is timely: more than 251,000 divorces took place in Japan in 2008, a figure blamed partly on the poor economic climate and the end of the salaryman-led family units which used to be the bedrock of much of Japanese life.

Yet with divorce still something of a taboo in Japanese society, the ceremonies have caught on as a way to publicly formalise the separation in a way that is socially acceptable to friends and family.

Pioneering the trend for divorce ceremonies is Hiroki Terai, 29, an entrepreneurial former sales man from Japan's Chiba district, who dreamt up the idea after friends of his decided to separate last year.

Since setting up a company devoted to divorce ceremonies in March, he has been contacted by more than 700 people and conducted 21 divorce ceremonies – costing from £44 to £700 - with a further nine booked.

"A ceremony at the end of a marriage gives the couple and their friends and family the opportunity to gain emotional closure," he said.

"Couples ranging from 21 to 57 have taken part in ceremonies so far. Some wear white dresses, a few opt for cakes, and it's always very moving.

"Everyone deserves a fresh new start. Two couples actually decided to stay together after the ceremony because it made them realise how much they still cared."

Roland Kelts, a Japan culture expert and lecturer at the University of Tokyo, described how divorce ceremonies were a welcome tool for Japanese to deal with shifting family structures.

"Today's Japanese women are well-educated and worldly," he says. "They watch Sex and the City and wonder why their husbands are not more dynamic." [more]

Misunderstanding America: Tokyo Talk Report

SOFT POWER HARD TRUTHS / Soft power useful, but Japan needs to find smarter approach

"The Politics of Pop Culture" was the title and theme of an academic conference hosted by Temple University's Tokyo campus last weekend and featuring an international roster of scholars and authors. Topics included video games, otaku culture, anime and manga--and especially, the still nebulous concept of "soft power." Most participants were dubious about the idea at best, poking at the phrase all day until it practically deflated. (One Japanese professor went so far as to call it "rubbish.")

Joseph S. Nye's original coinage in the late 1980s referred to the power of political persuasion derived from a culture's attractiveness to others. Nye has addressed this notion several times since then, notably in 2005, when he argued that American soft power was on the decline during the George W. Bush administration, and warned that the global coalitions necessary to fight the so-called "war on terrorism" would be at great risk without it.

But it was the use of the term in reference to Japan, published in a 2002 article cited in this column last month, that seemed to change everything, at least on this side of the Pacific.

Prof. Kukhee Choo from the National University of Singapore presented ample evidence of how the phrase suddenly ignited governmental efforts to exploit soft power. The number of meetings and proposals related to those efforts spiked dramatically, starting in the early years of the 21st century. The bureaucrats' catchall term of focus, Prof. Choo noted, has just recently shifted from "content" to "brand."

Political support for pop culture appeared to peak last year under the short-lived prime ministership of avowed manga fan Taro Aso, whose much ballyhooed plans for a national anime and manga museum were scuttled as soon as he was. But Choo told of her encounter with even shorter-lived former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who scoffed defensively at her suggestion that his props for pop might be lacking.

The scheduling of the conference turned out to be auspicious: Only a few days earlier, Hatoyama's humiliating resignation after less than a year in office provided a convincing backdrop for talk of lacking leadership--a softening of power, indeed. [more; and @ 3:AM here]