Saturday, July 30, 2011

Baltimore Sun on Otakon signings

Author Roland Kelts is signing 'Japanamerica' at Otakon all weekend


Roland Kelts, who is appearing on Japanamericapaperback.jpgfour panels during Otakon, will also be signing copies of his book, "Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S.," throughout the weekend. One of Kelts' themes in this smart, zesty guide to the interface of Japanese and American pop is the twin-like connection of the cultures. His favorite metaphor is the Mobius strip, a twisting surface with one continuous side. In a 2007 epilogue Kelts asks readers to envision "the strip in motion -- whirling through the winds of the Pacific and DSL, cable, and satellite TV signals, crisscrossing the fifty states and beyond" to get "a clearer picture" of the phenomenon "tying the two countries ever closer together."

Kelts told me earlier this week that when he was growing up in New England in the 1970s and 1980s, “Japan was anything but cool. It was not cool to tell my friends that my mom was Japanese. Japan was this strange, distant, alien place, where they ate raw fish, which most Americans then found disgusting. The Japanese were supposed to be our evil competitors – they all were supposed to be conformists, wearing suits to work and doing jumping jacks to the company anthem. But in the 21st century Japan has become the arbiter of ‘cool’ around the globe, in fashion, design, style, cuisine, and certainly in this vein of bright, colorful and inventive popular culture.” [more @ Baltimore Sun here]

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Otakon 2011 update

With Otakon, the East Coast's largest annual anime convention, merely a day away, here's the preliminary schedule for my panels:

7/29/2011 10:00 AM 11:00 AM - Japanamerica Book Intro & Background

7/29/2011 4:00 PM 5:00 PM - Japan's Apocalyptic Imagination

7/30/2011 12:00 PM 1:30 PM - Multi-Polar Pop Culture

7/31/2011 12:00 PM 1:30 PM - Japan's IP Challenge

Copies of Japanamerica will be on sale throughout the convention, thanks to the largess of Jim Vowles, Connor Cochran and tireless publicist Siobhan Paganelli, and there will be at least two official book-signing / meet & greet sessions. Oh, and anime auteur Makoto Shinkai (5 CM Per Second) will be on hand--worth admission alone, as they say.

See you under the sun at Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pacific Rim Diary 4: Tohoku, Tokyo, US Media for NPR

I asked ABC News correspondent Akiko Fujita to join me in the studio in Tokyo for my latest "Pacific Rim Diary" segment on The Madeleine Brand Show for KPCC/NPR. I talk about returning to a transformed Tokyo in May, and Akiko and I discuss how the US media misread parts of the story--and the Japanese themselves.

You can hear it here.

It's been over three months since an earthquake off the coast of Japan triggered a tidal wave that nearly caused nuclear meltdown. American news teams had heavy coverage of the devastation and threat to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, but according to Japanese-American author Roland Kelts, the U.S. media missed the point. Kelts joined us in the U.S. right after the disaster in Japan. Now he and ABC News correspondent Akiko Fujita explain from Tokyo.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Blissfully unbewared ...

My sister's boy, Argus, is blissfully unbeware of the attack frog--who himself appears unaware of attack.
'Kappa wha?'
Wise choice.
[Upstate NY, Summer 2011.]

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Meiji Monday

Giving a presentation on Monday, July 25, at Meiji Daigaku. INFO here
Roland Kelts
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:>
Title of Lecture: Pop Culture from a Multipolar Japan
Brief Abstract of Lecture: Is there something more to the West's fascination with Japanese anime and manga? How are anime films and manga comics cultural channeling zones, opened by the horrors of war and disaster and animated by the desire to assemble a world of new looks, feelings and identities? Lecturer at the University of Tokyo, Sophia University and the University of the Sacred Heart Tokyo, Roland Kelts addresses the movement of Japanese culture into the West as sign and symptom of broader reanimations. With uncertainty now the norm, style, he argues, is trumping identity, explaining, in part, the success of Japanese pop and fashion, design and cuisine in the West.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Manga: legitimately digital at last?

SOFT POWER HARD TRUTHS / Can fansites help industry's digital survival?

[From the Daily Yomiuri]

Last summer, manga fans worldwide were jolted by the advent of the Digital Comic Association (DCA), a hastily formed 39-member coalition of Japanese and U.S. manga publishers bent on squelching so-called scanlation sites--fan-operated Web sites that translate, scan and post manga to stream or download for free.

DCA membership comprised the mighty: Shogakukan Inc., Shueisha Inc. and Kodansha Ltd. in Japan teamed up with Viz Media, Hachette Book Group's Yen Press and the now-defunct TokyoPop in the United States.

Their announcement was followed by sporadic arrests in Japan. A 14-year-old in Nagoya and two teens in the Kansai region were among domestic fans accused of posting manga for free via file-sharing sites like YouTube and Nico Nico Douga and reaping personal profit from ads on their sites.

Two of the largest scanlation aggregators, MangaFox and OneManga, responded in short order. Operators of the former pulled hundreds of manga titles from their site, and the latter closed down completely.

Meanwhile, conservative Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara was busy ramming through deliberately vague legislation that would enable the government to restrict sales of manga deemed "too sexually stimulating" in an "antisocial manner" (or something like that) without consulting anyone in the manga industry's artistic or publishing community.

A host of manga luminaries staged a press conference protesting the legislation and submitted a petition to the government--all to no avail. The bill was passed just before Christmas, prompting 10 major manga publishers to pull their wares from the Ishihara-chaired Tokyo International Anime Fair (TAF) set for late March. They announced they would hold their own alternative anime and manga trade show, the Anime Contents Expo (ACE), on the same weekend.

But the much anticipated TAF-versus-ACE showdown this spring never happened. The effects of the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake led to both events being canceled.

Still, if Ishihara's crude legislation threatened manga creators, and if the DCA's declaration of war against piracy last year sent chills through some manga readers, the real scare for everyone was in the numbers.

As I have recorded in this column, by the summer of 2010, manga sales that had seen sharp drops in North America suddenly began slipping at home. The real problem, a Kodansha editor confided to me over dinner, was that uploads and piracy had recently spiked inside Japan. What was formerly deemed a foreign problem by the industry had fast become a domestic crisis.

There is an oft-repeated cliche about Japan's approach to change: It may be a long time coming, but once change begins it can spread like wildfire.

As the North American "con season" kicked off last weekend with the Anime Expo convention in Los Angeles, the DCA announced its long-awaited digital manga Web portal,, would be officially unveiled at the July 21-24 Comic-Con International in San Diego. A midday panel discussion on the state of the manga industry, featuring heavyweights from Kodansha, Shueisha, Kadokawa Group Publishing Co. and Futabasha Publishers Ltd., will be followed by an evening reception and a "sneak peak" at the first major legitimate gateway for digital manga.

While long overdue, the project marks a revealing convergence., the former fansite turned legit in 2009, has helped the DCA with system development of the Jmanga site via a partnership with Bitway Co., a Japanese e-book company launched by neolithic printing giant Toppan Printing Co. In other words, guerrilla-style, close-to-the-community fansite staffers were tapped by some of the biggest industry veterans to create an official digital portal for manga.

The DCA-Crunchyroll partnership is not the only industry-fansite tie-up on the horizon., currently in beta and planning to go live in August, seeks to work directly with manga artists who want to reach an international audience, bypassing Amazon, Apple and possibly even publishers.

"We don't want to kill publishers," a Mangareborn developer told me. "We want to help decrease their risks by creating a fan base they can use as a focus group."

The emphasis is squarely on community. While the manga industry has taken wayward stabs in the dark to find its overseas audience, amassing too many misses amid the hits, fansites have cultivated a far more intimate relationship with their visitors.

A former fansite operator puts it this way: "We're the risk-takers. We take the first step in evolution. In the world of piracy, the competition is not about 'free' content, it's about service. And that's what the industry lacks."

He pauses, palms outstretched to state the obvious: "We know our end-user, because we are our end-user."

Kelts is a lecturer at Temple University, Japan, who divides his time between Tokyo and New York. He is the author of "Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S." (, now updated and out in paperback.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

ALI-MO resurrected, July 15.

Resurrected for the FULL MOON -- 7/15

ALi-MO --
@Crawfish Akasaka

Date: July 15th, Friday
Venue: CRAWFISH Akasaka (03-3584-2496)
Social Akasaka BF 3-11-7 Akasaka
Minato-ku, Tokyo JAPAN 107-0052
Price: FREE!!
ALi-MO Music from 9:00-ish p.m. (or possibly earlier...) untill Midnight-ish
-- another awesome acoustic band may be opening before ALi-MO... TBA.

Guest musician -- Michiko "Maysico" Kawaguchi on SAXOPHONE!

Ali-Mo Website:

LIKE us on Facebook!

(Japanese text below)

7月15日, 金曜日 -- 満月の夜。
ALi-MO ライブ@Crawfish Akasaka

会場:CRAWFISH 赤坂 (03-3584-2496)
赤坂3-11-7 ソシアル赤坂地下

ALi-MO演奏: 9:00 p.m.くらい〜真夜中頃まで。

ゲスト:Michiko "Maysico" Kawaguchi on Saxophone。

ALi-MO blog:

find us on facebook, become a 'fan' --

Monkey Business in this month's SWITCH mag, JP

Journalist and pal Nahoko Adachi provides an intimate account of our series of Monkey Biz Vol. 1 launch events in NYC this spring for a spread in this month's issue of SWITCH magazine in Japan.

Volume 2 and 2012 events in NYC forthcoming shortly.

[click pic to enlarge]