Thursday, June 30, 2011

Monkey rolls: Tokyo launch, new reviews

Roughly one month after its multiple New York City launch events, Monkey Business: New Voices from Japan landed in Tokyo for its debut at 'home' in Japan.

Tower Books in Shibuya hosted founding editors, translators and scholars Motoyuki Shibata and Ted Goossen for their introduction to the publication, readings, Q&As and photo-ops with the SRO audience.

A book-signing followed, as did an intimate and much quieter dinner conversation among the principals.

[Goossen and Shibata have a good time]

Monkey Business is now available in Japan at Tower Books, Tsutaya, Kinokuniya and other bookstores specializing in literature and global culture. Twenty-five percent of all sales benefit The Nippon Foundation/CANPAN Northeastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund.

Our launch events in Canada will take place in Toronto early this fall. Details TBA.

Meanwhile, Volume 2 is well underway, and as of this writing, nearly completed. It promises to be longer and thicker, so to speak, than its virgin predecessor, whose diverse suitors nevertheless continue to issue praise:

"There is no doubt that this endeavor will bring in new audiences for the amazing talent emerging from Japan." Chopsticks NY

"A primary reason to collect literature in translation is to provide a window to different perspectives. Monkey Business is a good choice for collections of contemporary literature." Library Journal

"I love that manga, short fiction, poetry, and interviews can all take their place next to one another... I would not hesitate to recommend Monkey Business to anyone interested in contemporary and experimental Japanese literature." Experiments in Manga

"A strangely fascinating look into the innovative writing that is currently coming out of Japan ... [with] a wonderful interview of Japanese novelist Haruki Murukami [and] a wide selection of material in which we can indulge." iSugoi

[Monkey receiving line]

[NYC-Tokyo jet lag jitters]

[...and Monkey makes three]

*thanks to Rie Muto, Lisa Kato and Yuko Matsukawa.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Home, wherever you are

Coming Home to London
I was looking for a light blue raincoat. The bulbs were dim and the ceilings low. At Heathrow Airport’s Passport Control Center, the line of my fellow arrivals amassed in clumps, passengers slouching and scratching away the hours of cramped flight, fingering their cell phones and sleepily eyeing watches. There were browns, blues and starched whites—sweaters, jerseys, overcoats and t-shirts. But no light blues. Not a raincoat in sight.
I had landed in London from New York with a singular mission: to escort my Japanese mother around town for a little over a week. My mother, Kaori Saeki, travels a lot, but as a Spanish-language specialist and linguist, and as a Japanese with relatives in her homeland, most of her recent travel has been to Spanish- or Latin-language speaking countries like Ecuador, Mexico, Italy, and of course, Spain, or to her homeland archipelago in Asia, Japan. She hadn’t been to London in nearly forty years.
For me, London is something like a third hometown, hovering just behind New York and Tokyo. It was the first city I inhabited as a young adult, when I studied theater, literature and anthropology as a college student, living in a shared flat in Willesden Green, North London, and indulging my Anglophilia. I now have several friends and professional contacts in the city, and I return to London whenever I can.
But this time I was nursing an Achilles heel: I needed to meet and take care of my mother.
Kaori is now into her early seventies. She is spirited and energetic, genki, but no longer invulnerable in the way we children fantasize our parents to be. For many years, I needed her more than she needed me. That equation is now reversing.
We were supposed to meet in London last year, when it became apparent that my father’s health was ill-suited to global travel. He had a minor stroke and was diagnosed with an aneurysm and arthritic knees. My mother and I were concocting our London plans when a volcano in Iceland sent ashes over Europe’s airports and scuttled any reasonable strategies for European travel.
This year, of course, natural disaster struck Japan on March 11. However awful, it was too far from London to affect our itinerary, and too early to hinder our April plans.
So we flew—Mom from Boston’s Logan Airport, nearest our family home, and me from New York’s JFK. I had several jobs lined up in the US in March and April, taking me from Oregon to LA to Baltimore, DC, Boston and NYC.
The only way to coordinate our visit to London was to have each of us depart at roughly the same time from Boston and New York, and meet in London at Heathrow airport.
Mom made the bookings. My job was to catch the flight on time in the wee hours.
Unless you’re taking your kids on vacation or engaging in a charter tour, travel is largely a solitary enterprise. It can be a welcome relief, respite from communal duties in offices, classrooms and households, a stretch of time unburdened by conversation or distraction. Most of us can ill-afford monastic lifestyles, temporally or fiscally. Travel often imposes such luxuries.
Yet despite the solace of the seven-hour flight from JFK to Heathrow, I was agitated from the start of this journey. Usually my responsibilities are limited to my own goals—meet the local vendor and hop in a private car to my hotel, or navigate the journey on my own, with a little spare change for cab or train fare and my ID at the ready for check-in.
But now, I had to find and take care of an irreplaceable figure in my life: my mother. Transportation and check-in were far from my mind.
There were no blue raincoats at Passport Control and none at the luggage carousel ninety minutes later. I had proposed in an email to my mother that we meet at a bookstore near the British Rail shuttle into London in case of emergency. As I felt the sweat on my brow and neck while retrieving my suitcase, I realized that ‘emergency,’ a word that seemed benign as I typed it to my mother from my apartment in Tokyo, felt suddenly urgent.
When I emerged on the third floor concourse of shops and cafes, I swiftly pivoted toward a lighted map and located the bookstore, several meters to my right. And then I saw her: a diminutive figure, slightly bent, face turned expectantly toward me, eyes hollow. My mother.
We spent the following days on outings in London, a city that still feels like home to me, radiating memories of my youth with a clarity that almost hurts, like seeing a photo of a younger you, a self you vaguely recall but know you'll never meet again.
Lucky to have locals as pals, I was able to provide my mother with a resident’s view of tourist sites. We dined high and low—Beef Wellington at the Savoy, high tea at Harrods, and greasy fish and chips at a local shop in Bayswater. We saw Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ at the National Theatre and caught buskers in Brixton. We brunched in Richmond and strolled the grounds of museums and mansions.
Great cities are characters, suffused with particulars as much as are great people. You don’t alter them; they alter you. When you arrive in Tokyo, you are nowhere else but Tokyo, like it or not. New York smells like New York as soon as you step out of your car from the airport. London might have ‘malls,’ but they are subsumed in London-ness the second they are erected.
I am privileged to travel to these cities and indulge in their unique identities, honored to be a part of our globalized world vis-à-vis technology and money. Not for a minute do I forget that stroke of good fortune. Plenty of people today live on small plots of land and never see the streaks of jet plumes above, let alone imagine boarding the flights themselves.
But along the concourse in Heathrow airport this spring, I was reminded how the simplicity of intimacy trumps all other concerns, however fast we travel and connect in our 21st century. Whatever the sights and sounds and smells of London that I encountered in my reunion with my past, the image that lingers is that of my mother, one hand on her suitcase, eyes quivering expectantly as she sought her son amid the strangers, still and soft in her light blue raincoat.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Monkey Business and Japanamerica, Roland Kelts in NYC

Finding Japan in NYC for Japan Day 2011--with help from May S. Young, Motoyuki Shibata, Stann Nakazono and the sakura in Central Park:

(Special thanks to Kyle McKeveny, Elizabeth Van Meter and Michael Wolk from Gorgeous Entertainment.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Takashi Murakami's 'Google Doodle' for Summer, 2011

My short article for The Christian Science Monitor on Takashi Murakami's 'Google doodle' for summer 2011:

Takashi Murakami has become a global superstar since founding the Hiropon Factory collective of young artists in Japan.

Screenshot of home page on June 21.

By Roland Kelts, Correspondent / June 21, 2011

Japanese hipster-turned-multimillionaire artist Takashi Murakami’s trademark psychedelic flower faces, narcotized eyes, and menacing mouths have been seen in a lot of places: from MOCA in Los Angeles, the Brooklyn Museum in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, to the sides of Louis Vuitton handbags and the covers of a Kanye West album. Today, they’ve taken root in cyberspace. Mr. Murakami has contributed the latest so-called Google doodle, a time-specific embellishment of the search engine’s corporate logo meant to commemorate a significant occasion – in this case, the official start of summer 2011.

Skip to next paragraph

Murakami emerged as a self-styled late century Andy Warhol in 1996 when he founded the Hiropon Factory, a collective of young artists who would reproduce his works like widgets. I first encountered his art in the form of a sculpture called Hiropon: a wide-eyed girl-woman with comically massive breasts swinging a stream of lactating milk like a jump-rope around her skipping body.

Hiropon’s sparkly oversized eyes above a pert and tiny nose at first struck me as too self-consciously borrowed from anime clich√©. But upon closer inspection, I realized why they were making me increasingly uneasy: blank white orbs of reflected light sat just off-center, adding a hint of Orphan Annie inscrutability to the colorful swaths.

She was cute, even sexy by way of hyperbolic parody. But she was also, quite possibly, deranged.

[more @ CSM]

Friday, June 10, 2011

Latest Yomiuri on TokyoPop, SakuraCon, Kodansha International--and the chasm

SOFT POWER HARD TRUTHS / Japan's pop industries: blind at home, beloved overseas

By now it's no secret to anyone with a high-speed Internet connection: The gap between the popularity of contemporary Japanese culture overseas and its anemic industries at home has become a chasm.

Anime conventions in the United States continue to proliferate, not only in cosmopolitan coastal cities like New York, Boston and Los Angeles, but also in more rural areas in Ohio and Tennessee. Annual attendance at these conventions is record-breaking. Sakura-Con in Seattle in late April, the convention I most recently attended as a guest, tallied 19,040 individual attendees this year. Elmira Utz of the Asia-Northwest Cultural Education Association, a host of Sakura-Con, notes that their celebration of Japanese pop culture fed roughly 50 million dollars into Seattle's economy from 2006 to 2010. Not sneeze-worthy numbers in post-Lehman shock economies.

Yet here in Japan, the news on the ground continues to be bleak. Anime studios underpay their younger staffers, who often quit as a result, and aging producers are desperately seeking solutions amid a diminishing youth market. Manga publishers, like all publishers, are watching print sales tank.

Kodansha International, the 48-year-old English-language imprint of Japanese publishing giant Kodansha Ltd., closed in April--a move that was apparently unexpected by the imprint's authors and, by some accounts, its own staff and editors. Kodansha International translated and published numerous works of Japanese literature and nonfiction, including elaborately illustrated guides to Japanese robots, baths and sake. It was also a crucial purveyor of books delineating Japanese popular culture to non-Japanese fans, scholars and general readers.

The pressure on U.S. distributors of manga, anime and other J-pop products has proved unbearable in recent cases. TokyoPop, a trailblazing distributor and publishers of manga and anime in the United States, responsible for global versions of the Sailor Moon series, closed its manga publishing division for good two months ago.

"I'm laying down my guns," wrote founder Stu Levy, who built his company from scratch in 1997. "Some of it worked. Some of it didn't." [more here]

Thursday, June 09, 2011

New Travel Column in Paper Sky

Here's my latest column for Paper Sky magazine--on travel and trauma, danger and disaster, and the uselessness of alliteration:

Monday, June 06, 2011

Books RX, from Seattle's Chinmusicpress, includes the MONKEY

My dear pal Bruce Rutledge in Seattle launches a sterling new project--with a Japan-oriented package for the devoted.

Bruce Rutledge, founder of Seattle-based independent book publisher Chin Music Press and editor of Ibuki magazine, has launched an innovative new approach to independent book publishing:

Mail-Order Medicine For Your Mind!

Announcing BooksRX

In 2010, small independent publisher Bellevue Literary Press won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction with Paul Harding’s Tinkers – the first time a small press had won the award since 1981! In 2011, the media bombards us with tales of Amazon’s digital books gobbling up demand for the printed page, and yet small presses continue to pop up all over the US and Canada.

With the book business in a state of flux, we here at Chin Music Press believe that independent publishers are poised to carry the banner of the publishing world far into the 21st century. We are fortunate to find ourselves in a literal consortium of visionary presses who refuse to believe the media’s Doomsday prophecies foretelling the slow demise of the printed book. In fact, we’re convinced that our fellow indie publishers offer the perfect elixirs for eager readers and despairing booksellers alike.

Beginning June 1, Chin Music Press will offer BooksRX, a quarterly curated collection of the best that North American independent publishers have to offer. We’re excited to prescribe publishers, writers and artists whom we think should be a part of any literary medicine cabinet. BooksRX ensures that you’re getting your recommended dose of vitamin READ.

“BooksRX is undoubtedly the gateway drug for unsuspecting readers into the world of independent book publishing!”

Dr. R. Max Sneezeworthy, Literary Division, US Department of Health and Human Services

Available as a single dosage (one issue) or as a full regimen (annual subscription), each installment ofBooksRX is a limited edition of 100 and arranged around a loose theme. Our first issue is inspired by our passion for finding new ways to tell stories from and about Japan.

BooksRX is available exclusively through the Chin Music Press online store:

  • Single dose (one issue): $40 including shipping to US and Canada ($10 extra for shipping to international destinations)
  • Full prescription (four quarterly issues, save $20): $140 including shipping to US and Canada, ($35 extra for shipping to international destinations)

A carefully edited selection including two dynamic books featuring new voices from Japan paired with an exclusive hand-numbered and signed art print!

More: Chin Music Press · Online Store
600 North 36th Street, #212, Seattle, WA 98103

Japanamerica appearances @ Otakon 2011, July 29-31

roland kelts

Roland Kelts

Photo by: Matthias Ley

Writer, Author, Lecturer

Roland Kelts is a half-Japanese American writer, editor and lecturer who divides his time between New York and Tokyo. He is the author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture has Invaded the US and the forthcoming novel, Access. He has presented on contemporary Japanese culture worldwide and has taught at numerous universities in Japan and the US, including New York University and the University of Tokyo. His fiction and nonfiction appear in such publications as Zoetrope: All Story, Psychology Today, Playboy, The Wall Street Journal, Vogue Japan, Adbusters magazine, The Millions, The Japan Times, Animation Magazine, Bookforum, and The Village Voice. He is the Editor in Chief of the Anime Masterpieces screening and discussion program, the commentator for National Public Radio's series, "Pacific Rim Diary", and the author of a weekly column for The Daily Yomiuri newspaper. His latest project is the English edition of the Japanese literary culture magazine,Monkey Business, and his blog is:

Monkey display in Shibuya, Tokyo