Friday, December 28, 2012

Thank you, Kindlers, in 2012

The sort of stuff that helps me finish the next book.  Thanks.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Hols 2012

Happy Holidays from Japan & America -- and to each and every one.

Egg nog, Boston, 2012

Osechi, Tokyo, 2012

Hanukkah, Los Angeles, 2012

 Singalong, Brooklyn, 2012

Chocos, Manhattan, 2012


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Hatsune Miku in 2013

Hatsune Miku Goes Highbrow
Special to The Japan Times

On her own, Japanese pop superstar Hatsune Miku can't sing. Nor can she rap, dance or DJ. She is drug- and alcohol-free because she can't indulge in either, and she can't have affairs or engage in offstage shenanigans fit for YouTube scandals or tabloid headlines. Now entering her sixth year as a beloved idol with a global fan base, she looks as youthful and demure as she did when she debuted. She can't even get old.

Itoh, CEO of Sapporo-based Crypton Future Media, is a software developer and so-called meta-creator, whose goal is to aid others in realizing their artistic endeavors. In 2007, he asked a graphic artist named Kei to create an anime-inspired digital avatar, the kind of cartoon-company mascot common in Japan, to represent both Crypton and its virtual-voice program for Yamaha's Vocaloid software — a singing-voice synthesizer.

Vocaloid enables its users to create songs by typing in lyrics and melody, then hear them sung through a bank of prerecorded and remixed human voices. But in its initial incarnations, users found Vocaloid lacking. Something fundamental was missing — a singer. Kei's creation, the long-legged, green-eyed, turquoise-pigtailed Miku, quickly emerged as the Vocaloid "performer" of choice, a mega-mascot for consumer-generated media (CGM).

"Other Vocaloid (avatars) are popular, just not as popular as Miku," notes Ian Condry, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is a specialist in Japanese popular culture and teaches a section on Miku. "(She) was the first to cross the threshold of quality voicings, the first to be presented as a character with a look. Like all popular culture, things are popular because they are popular, so Miku had a first-mover advantage."

Naomitsu Kodaka, cofounder and CFO of TokyoOtakuMode (TOM) Inc., which provides platforms for otaku (obsessed fans) via its website and a Facebook page with nearly 9 million "likes," says Miku may be TOM's most popular character.

"I think one of the reasons she's so popular is because otaku can collaborate openly with the character without commercial concerns," he says. "Plus, they can be both artist and audience, creators and consumers."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hip-hop Japan--First Japanamerica Guest Post

Writer Evelyn Anderson won the jackpot by becoming the first guest contributor to the Japanamerica blog. Herewith, her take on Japanese hip-hop.  Move over, PSY.

Hip-hop in Japan: Carbon Copy of America or Japanese take on an American Movement?
Hip-hop is arguably one of the most influential subcultures in the world. It has caused teenagers all over the globe to don baggy clothing, wear their caps back to front and slip pieces of urban American slang into their conversations. It is therefore no surprise that the youth of Japan has been heavily influenced by this movement, with young people emulating the fashion, vernacular and musical tastes of the US ghetto. There are now over three hundred shops selling hip-hop clothes in central Tokyo alone and it is commonplace to see young men dressed in the ‘b-boy’ style that was popular amongst American rappers during the ‘80s. However whereas in the past, Japanese hip-hop fans imitated their American counterparts without adding any elements from their own culture into the mix, over the course of the last few years, hip-hop culture in Japan has transformed into its own unique movement.

From Gangster Rap to Reality Rap
In late 2003, the owner of Tokyo hip-hop record shop Hideaki Tamura noted that a major change was occurring within the Japanese hip-hop scene. When interviewed by a BBC News reporter, he commented that Japanese rappers had started doing their own thing as opposed to emulating American rappers. Instead of rapping about things like guns, violence and drug culture in New York, which there is little of in Japan compared to the United States, they were beginning to rap about everyday life in Japan, focusing upon peaceful topics and structuring their lyrics in a poetic manner. 

One of the factors that had originally held Japanese rappers back and caused most Japanese youngsters to listen to American hip-hop instead was the perception that the Japanese language is not suited to this form of music. Sentences must end with one of a few simple verb endings and the language does not contain stress accents. However after the success of several pop-rap artists during the mid 90s, Japanese language rap gradually grew in popularity. Now that the lyrics are also becoming more reflective of Japanese life, it could be argued that the Japanese have taken an American style and made it Japanese.

Monday, December 10, 2012

'Cool Japan' gone cold?

By Dan Grunebaum, from The Christian Science Monitor:

It’s been 50 years since Kyu Sakamoto’s “Sukiyaki Song” became a worldwide smash. The only other Asian artist to replicate the feat? Psy, from rival South Korea, with his viral hit “Gangnam Style.”

Even as Korean tech giant Samsung turns Sony into a has-been, Japan’s erstwhile colony is also beating it in the pop culture sphere: A decade after journalist Douglas McGray famously calculated “Japan’s Gross National Cool” and awoke the country to the potential of capitalizing on the global infatuation with its anime, games, J-pop, and manga, the concept of “Cool Japan” is under assault.

Artists whose work drove the trend are distancing themselves from the commercialized moniker. “Dear ad agencies and bureaucrats,” tweeted renowned artist Takashi Murakami earlier this year. “Please stop inviting me to ‘Cool Japan’ events.... I have absolutely no link to ‘Cool Japan.’ ”

But others say a more nuanced drive to deploy Japan’s national cool as “soft power” could help heal the wounds of its devastating 2011 tsunami, smooth the creation of a postindustrial economy, and even boost Japan’s manufacturers at a time when the country is competing with neighboring South Korea and China over everything from electronics to islands in the seas separating them.

Without such a change of strategy, some say, Japan's dream of cashing in on its global cachet will remain unrealized. “Japan was caught completely by surprise by the success of its popular culture overseas,” warns Patrick Galbraith, an expert on Japanese pop culture. “The government has been content to bask in that success at a time of declining political and economic significance. It is high time to engage.”

At the turn of the millennium, Japan was on a roll. In 2001, Los Angeles’s Getty Center showcased Mr. Murakami’s manga-inspired "Super Flat" movement. (Read about the artist's featured Google doodle, here) In 2002, Hayao Miyazaki's “Spirited Away” became the first animation feature to win top honors at the Berlin Film Festival. By 2006, Harvard and MIT had a joint Cool Japan research program.

Elated by the international attention, Japan’s bureaucrats and CEOs reformulated the concept of "national cool" into a Cool Japan marketing campaign that could reach new consumers and add soft power to Japan’s manufacturing achievements. And it seemed to work ... for a while.

Friday, December 07, 2012

My latest interview w/Pete Townshend on Japan/UK postwar parallels

Townshend: Japan, U.K. took same postwar path

Special to The Japan Times

Who guitarist and composer Pete Townshend originally wanted to call his memoir, "Pete Townshend: Who He?" His publisher, HarperCollins, settled on the less cheeky, more digestible, "Who I Am" — though a better title might be: "Who I Was."

Townshend has long been rock music's most articulate interviewee, a multi-syllabic spokesman for a style of music that thrives on immediacy and rhythmic simplicity. As a writer friend a few months ago in New York said, "Sometimes I enjoyed his interviews more than his music."

In interviews, Townshend could be both bombastic and eloquent, veering from the personal to the political to the literary in one or two comments.

The narrative of his digressions was driven by his confusion — the thoughts of an individual earnestly trying to trace the convergences in his mind while sustaining a world-famous rock band.

His first hit single was called "I Can't Explain," and it was written to capture the ineffable sensation of listening to Charlie Parker while on marijuana. As we learn in "Who I Am," he quickly turned it into a more conventional love song at the behest of his managers when a legendary producer offered to record it.

Yet "I Can't Explain" is what a band called The Who was trying to say, even in its name. Like most serious writers of music and literature (as opposed to journalists and academics), what Townshend wants to convey sometimes can't really be said.

Whatever you thought of Townshend's songs, or his band, his analyses were usually dramatic and

So the biggest surprise in his memoir is how quiet and plaintive is the voice behind it. "Offstage, truth be told, I am a mouse," he writes, "albeit a mouse with mood-swings."

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

On China and The World Economic Forum

Latest travel column on returning to China to speak at The World Economic Forum and meeting a new friend en route. For Paper Sky magazine.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Band Bonenkai Friday night 11/30 in Tokyo

Vast thanks to all of you who joined us.


Friday, Nov. 30: Join us for the 
annual ALi-MO Bo-Nenkai Bash this year 
@ Crawfish, Akasaka. 
Dance, Drink and Rock Out the final days of 2012 w/'Tokyo's Coolest Band.'
No cover. Just party.

Date: November 30, FRIDAY
Venue: CRAWFISH Akasaka (03-3584-2496)
Social Akasaka BF 3-11-7 Akasaka
Minato-ku, Tokyo JAPAN 107-0052
Price: FREE!!
Doors Open -- 7:00 p.m.
Music Starts 8:30-ish p.m.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Island disputes damage cultural ties in Asia

Hard Times for Soft Power

Roland Kelts

Three days after Prime Minister Yoshihiro Noda announced that his administration had purchased the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, municipal authorities in Beijing ordered a prohibition of Japanese imports – not of cars or electronics, but book content. Chinese publishers were asked not to release books by Japanese authors and those related to Japan by authors of any nationality, and also to cancel cultural promotional events.
The economic damage to the automotive and manufacturing sectors stemming from Japan’s territorial disputes with Asian neighbors China, South Korea and Taiwan has been widely analyzed and measured in recent weeks, with some pointing to Japanese makers losing out on sales and others noting the losses to Chinese workers employed by Japanese firms. News reports in Japan repeat the meme of Japanese corporations fleeing China for the more stable environs of nearby Southeast Asian nations.
But the impact on the region’s cultural markets, its so-called “soft power” interchange of ideas, entertainment and imagery, is both harder to quantify and, potentially, more meaningful and deeply felt.
“When political disputes with other countries arise, the entertainment business is always one of the first industries to feel the negative effects,” says Yuji Nunokawa, founder and former president of anime studio Pierrot, producer of such global mega-hits as Naruto and Bleach, and Chairman of the Association of Japanese Animation (AJA). “The AJA was invited to a recent ceremony celebrating the 40th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic relations between Japan and China, but [the invitation] was rescinded at the last moment. We had been working hard on building trust and good relationships with China on a non-governmental level, but it was all ruined very quickly when politics came into play.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Romney vs. Asians in America

from The Weekly Standard:

Why Romney Lost the ‘Asian Vote’

Monday, November 19, 2012

Nye on Nationalism in Japan

Professor Joseph S. Nye, who coined the phrase "soft power" thirty-some years ago, on the recent uptick in nationalist sentiment in Japan. From  Project Syndicate.

Japan's Nationalist Turn

TOKYO – Japan has been in the news lately, owing to its dispute with China over six square kilometers of barren islets in the East China Sea that Japan calls the Senkakus and China calls the Diaoyu Islands. The rival claims date back to the late nineteenth century, but the recent flare-up, which led to widespread anti-Japanese demonstrations in China, started in September when Japan’s government purchased three of the tiny islets from their private Japanese owner.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has said that he decided to purchase the islands for the Japanese central government to prevent Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara from purchasing them with municipal funds. Ishihara, who has since resigned from office to launch a new political party, is well known for nationalist provocation, and Noda feared that he would try to occupy the islands or find other ways to use them to provoke China and whip up popular support in Japan. Top Chinese officials, however, did not accept Noda’s explanation, and interpreted the purchase as proof that Japan is trying to disrupt the status quo.
In May 1972, when the United States returned the Okinawa Prefecture to Japan, the transfer included the Senkaku Islands, which the US had administered from Okinawa. A few months later, when China and Japan normalized their post-World War II relations, Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka asked Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai about the Senkakus, and was told that rather than let the dispute delay normalization, the issue should be left for future generations.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Many thanks to those of you who helped us pack the room at the FCCJ in Tokyo yesterday and fill the air with excellent inquiry.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Internet Media, Japan, the new Law, Anime

Join entertainment/media lawyer David B. Hoppe of GAMMALAW, JAPANAMERICA author Roland Kelts and NIPPON POP author and music journalist Steve McClure for a presentation/discussion about Japan's new illegal download law and the debate over online media: should it remain free and unfettered, or should it be legally controlled and restricted? Lunch served.
MEMBERS: *Please register BEFORE MONDAY EVENING, Nov. 12, at the FCCJ site here:
Nov. 12, here or via email - and let us know if you would like to purchase lunch.

そして『NIPPON POP』作者スティーヴ マックルーアの三者が出演するプレゼンテーション/ディスカッションです。

Thursday, November 08, 2012

ALi-MO live, 11/10/12

Sat, Nov. 10th - Pink Cow Grill Night Dinner #1 & Ali-MO Live!
One grill for meat & one grill for veggies plus all kinds of wonderful side dishes, salad bar, cheese, fruits and desserts! Awesome food to accompany great classic rock band Ali-Mo gigin’ live!

Saturday Night Live with Ali-MO!
Dine, Drink & Dance w/Tokyo's coolest band in their debut show @ the New Pink Cow in the heart of Roppongi.
Rock, R&B & Pop from 4 Decades--plus a Grill Night Buffet. Don't miss it!

¥2,500 for dinner, 7-10pm (drinks separate) please email for a reservations for the best tables for dinner to For maps and more info about The Pink Cow please check



Pink Cowご自慢のグリル・ディナを頂いちゃおう。


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Monday, October 22, 2012

Travel & Friendship

 [latest column for Paper Sky]

IN a JFK airport lounge after midnight last month, one voice stood out. It was throaty, raspy at times, and female.  Julie Kavner in a Woody Allen movie, Marge Simpson with less phlegm and pitched slightly lower: a vintage Brooklyn yawp over an otherwise placid airport sanctuary.  

The lounge was filled with Asian and American businessmen quietly clicking laptops or fingering Blackberry keys and iPad screens, sipping wine or whiskey and tossing their heads back to down salty snacks.

“I don’t mind the presentations and stuff,” the voice said.  “That’s fine.  What I hate are the lunches and dinners, you know?  Where you have to talk to these people and you don’t know what to say to them.”

I was there on an unusual mission. Several months earlier, I’d been invited by the World Economic Forum (WEF) to participate in their annual event in Asia, an adjunct to their more famous gathering in Davos, Switzerland, and one focused more on media and culture than pure economics. I accepted, though it was so far away on my calendar that I couldn’t have anticipated the various distractions to come, including my father’s open heart surgery this past spring.

Acceptance always means obligation, and soon the WEF people were asking me for drafts of what I’d say and show. They had every right to do so. They were flying me to China business class from New York and had taken care of all hotel, dining and transport specs. 

So in the JFK lounge, the woman who yawped, dressed in black, caught my attention. She was clearly on the same itinerary, flying to the same event.

On the connecting flight to Tianjin from Seoul, I was seated across the aisle, so I introduced myself.  Were we attending the same event together, and if so, any tips?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

On Haruki Murakami for The New Yorker

The Harukists, Disappointed

The annual autumn buzz here in Tokyo for the Nobel Prize in Literature was more intense last week than in any years past. The Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, whose global audience and literary stardom confound conventional publishing wisdom (he’s not American, doesn’t write in English, and not a single vampire or wizard appears in his oeuvre), has been in the running several times, but this year he topped everyone’s list of favorites. Leading up to the word from Stockholm, early evening local time, a major domestic TV network aired a segment in which Murakami readers worldwide expressed their love for him and his books in a babel of languages. One Chinese reader declared that the latest China/Japan spat over disputed island territories had zero impact on China’s love for Murakami, despite the author’s recent newspaper article calling for both sides to lay off the liquor of nationalism. (Some Japanese newspapers were reportedly banned in China last month, so the reader may not have seen it.)

Speaking of liquor: At least one bar in Tokyo hosted a special Murakami Nobel gathering for so-called “Harukists,” the label at home and abroad for Murakami’s most ardent fans. They were shown clutching copies of his books and framed photographs of the author, and half-finished glasses of wine and beer. Only the World Cup and the Olympics have occasioned similar events in the past. For the first time, oddsmakers, scholars, critics, readers, and publishing pros in and beyond Japan seemed united in nodding their belief that this was “his year.” But it wasn’t. China’s Mo Yan won, and the disappointed Harukists managed only sighs, followed by half-hearted applause for their neighbor’s accolade. “I’m very happy the winner was someone from Asia,” one female Harukist told the Mainichi newspaper on her way home, polite to the end.

[Read more]


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

On Pete Townshend for The New Yorker

Pete Townshend's War

I first met Pete Townshend fifteen years ago in a modest London hotel suite. I was there with my friend Larry David Smith to interview Townshend for Smith’s book, “The Minstrel’s Dilemma.” We were already seated inside when I looked out the first-floor window and saw Townshend pulling into the parking lot.

He arrived alone, sans entourage or fanfare, driving himself in a gray Mercedes station wagon. Minutes later, the knob on the suite door rattled and shook. I stood, thinking that it might be a member of the hotel staff and wondering if I should turn the knob from our side. There was a pause, then more rattling, then the door swung open and Townshend burst through, eyes wide with exertion. He had apparently been trying to pull when he should have pushed.

[Read more]

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

On "HuffPost Live" tonight @ 8:20 EST

More talk about the Japan/China island dispute.  You can watch it here.

AKB48 do Davos/WEF China

Japan's ambassadors at The World Economic Forum, Tianjin.

Monday, September 17, 2012

China, Japan and WWII: 'the past is never dead; it's not even past' (faulkner)

Just back from The World Economic Forum conference in Tianjin (below) and now talking about the Japan/China island dispute for The Madeleine Brand Show on KPCC/NPR.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Forbidden Diary - Sachiko Kishimoto

from monkey business: new writing from japan #1
Sachiko Kishimoto
transl. by Ted Goossen


The Cancel-Out Apartments

I have a little brother sprouting from a spot behind my right hip. He’s about four inches long without any arms and legs, and when he gets hungry (which is like all the time) his face turns red and he starts bawling in this ear-splitting voice; and then he whips his body back and forth so that it goes whap, whap against my butt. I hate the kid, and there’ve been so many times I’ve thought about taking a razor and slicing him off, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.
Cicadas shrilling outside my window.

February 4
Heard a rumor about something called the “Cancel-Out Apartments” today. Seems it’s a two-story building with five small apartments on each floor. If, say, a cop is living on the second floor, and then another cop moves in on the first, the two cancel each other out. I mean, they both vanish, poof, just like that. If there are two babies in the building, poof, they’re gone too. If a Mr. Yamada moves in, and another Mr. Yamada’s already there, you guessed it, both gone. In one case, two tenants who seemed totally different—a thirty-five-year-old guy working part time and a sixteen-year-old high school girl—disappeared together. Nobody could figure it out. Then it was discovered that both had the same fetish for, get this, the smell of dirty socks. People living in the Cancel-Out Apartments are totally stressed because they can’t tell when someone who’s somehow like them might move in. According to the rumor, the building is right here in Tokyo.

February 5
Talked with O. on the phone for the first time in a long while. Our topic was the names of the bullet trains. If the Flash is faster than the Echo, and the Hope is faster than the Flash, then, we decided, if they made a train even faster than the Hope it would have to be called the Death, but no one would board the Death 101 for Kyūshū.
Translated a bit.

February 6
Met a dozen or so people at K. Station on the Odakyū Line and we all headed off to a bar/boxing gym called Knuckles. Everyone ordered their “sandbag set,” which gives you a drink and forty minutes punching the heavy bag for fifteen hundred yen, so we drank and pounded away to our hearts’ content.
After that we went out to a Korean barbecue place, and after that drinking in Shimokitazawa. The party broke up at 4:00 a.m.

February 7

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Book: Yurei Attack!: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guideby Matt Alt and Hiroko Yoda; illustrated by Shinkichi.

Break: Night @ Inokashira Park, Tokyo, Japan.
Matt and Hiroko give me tips on the last night of Japan's Festival of the Dead (O-bon) on surviving a Japanese ghost:

Whew. Straight faces please!

Book Break Take: Forty Japanese ghosts rendered in gory detail; their roles in Japanese history, culture, mythology--and who they haunt today; how to recognize them, why they're here, and what to do to survive an attack. The authors call it, "ghost porn."

"[Oiwa] is hands-down the most famous ghost chronicled in this book ... she has inspired legions of imitators -- most recently Sadako, from the hit J-Horror novel and film series Ring. Her ragged tresses  and ruined face are the first thing many Japanese think of when they hear the word 'yurei.'"

"Visit the Tamiya Shrine on the site of Oiwa's family home in Yotsuya. For a fee, a priest there will perform a custom-tailored Shinto exorcism to cut away any ties one might have to Oiwa's eternally furious spirit."

Yurei illustrator Shinkichi's Oiwa:

Alt & Yoda haunted by weeping willow:

Yurei Attack! w/ghost:

Get one: