Monday, January 30, 2012

Monkey Biz #1 among "Best of 2011"

"...into the stratosphere."

We're chuffed to announce that the first issue of Monkey Business: New Voices from Japan is one of the "Seven Great Lit Mags of 2011," according to the Luna Park Review. 
We're twice-chuffed to yawp 'cross rooftops about Issue # 2 of Monkey Business, which is just now barreling down the tarmac. Barring bird strikes and other unnatural hazards, MB 2 will be fully airborne in late Feb./early March.
Plans are now set for a team of Japanese writers, editors and artists to soar into NYC from Tokyo and join select American authors for a week of launch events in Manhattan and Brooklyn during the first two weeks of May.
More TK.

You can read the Luna Park review of Monkey Business and six other gems here:
Thanks to the efforts of translator Ted Goossen and the editors of A Public Space, 2011 readers were introduced to the acclaimed Japanese literary magazine Monkey Business, edited by Motoyuki Shibata (curator, along with Roland Kelts, of the Focus: Japan portfolio in APS 1). According to Stuart Dybek’s letter inserted into the issue, “Each year, a magazine of highlights from issues of Monkey Business will appear in English translation via A Public Space…. The first issue features poetry, manga, a wide-ranging, in-depth interview with Haruki Murakami, fiction from Hideo Furukawa, a beautiful sequence of vignettes by Hiromi Kawakami, and much more.” The extensive, 50+ page interview with Murakami by Furukawa is enough in itself to make the issue a must-read. Adding Furukawa’s own story “Monsters,” Yoko Ogawa’s mesmerizing and disturbing “The Tale of the House of Physics,” and a manga comic based on Kafka’s “The Country Doctor,” sends the issue into the stratosphere. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bandai & Media Blasters out; Funimation IN--latest for Yomiuri

SOFT POWER HARD TRUTHS / Embattled North American anime industry seeks redemption in digital streaming

For anime fans in the United States, the new year picked up where the old one trailed off--with news of another veteran distributor shuttering its operations amid industry layoffs and cutbacks.

On Jan. 3, Bandai Entertainment officially announced it would no longer release new DVD or Blu-ray titles in North America after 13 years in the market, canceling all releases scheduled beyond the first week of next month and laying off the majority of its staff and contractors.

One week later, North American anime distributor Media Blasters confirmed it was downsizing its workforce, asking most of its employees to continue working only as freelancers. While the New York-based company said it would proceed with its February and March releases, the combined announcements signal the radical shift under way in the overseas anime industry: The market for physical content is dwindling, and few believe it will return.

Bandai Entertainment President and Chief Executive Officer Ken Iyadomi told the Anime News Network that the decision to curtail its North American business was made in Japan.

"The pricing range for our products kept dropping in Western countries, and people tended only to buy sets with very reasonable prices, which we understand is what fans want, but it lead us to a different strategy than what Japanese licensors wanted," he said. "So we always had a problem [with licensors and consumers having different wants]."

The diminished market for the physical distribution of anime has long been anticipated by savvy industry players, whose efforts to shift to digital are beginning to pay off.

Last year, I wrote in this column about the efforts of online anime portal to expand digital offerings of anime and other Japan- and Asia-related content. I also noted that Texas-based anime distributor Funimaton Entertainment had entered into a licensing agreement with Japan-based online file-sharer NicoNico via its global portal.

"It's all about content windows," says Lance Heiskell, Funimation's Director of Corporate Strategy. 

Heiskell points out that anime distributors now need to offer content through a diverse array of channels. "Simulcasts, DVD and Blu-ray, digital download to own, ad-supported streaming, Netflix and broadcast. It has to be a coordinated effort. Our goal is to have our content on all platforms, devices, retailers and physical media so people can easily get exposed to anime and fall in love with the shows and genres."

While still in its infancy, the Funimation-NicoNico tie-up (called "Funico") has resulted in one big recent collaboration: the broadcast of the Jan. 20 premiere in Los Angeles of Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos.

Christopher Macdonald, CEO of, says the absence of TV broadcasting in the U.S. anime market has made digital delivery essential.

Heiskell sees TV exposure as a key difference between the Japanese and overseas markets. TV enables audiences to sample unique content, he notes, by flipping through channels without making commitments or choices, recalling the way radio used to function for pop music. In Japan, anime is broadcast throughout the day and especially late at night, when more adventurous or provocative series can get valuable airtime.

Despite what Heiskell calls "gloom and doom" reports about physical products, Funimation remains committed to its North American DVD and Blu-ray businesses. He points me to an industry report issued earlier this month mentioning a 20 percent spike in Blu-ray spending in 2011, and adds that despite the shrinking shelf space in brick-and-mortar outlets, Funimation's sales via online retailers such as Amazon and anime specialist are increasing.

"[DVD and Blu-ray] are probably 80 percent of our overall business," Heiskell says. "Our fanbase has a collector mindset. They like to collect, display and show physical ownership of the shows they love. Online streaming is actually supporting our physical sales. In our consumer survey, seeing an episode online is the number one reason fans cite for purchasing a DVD or Blu-Ray. You can't display an anime collection that's on your computer."

Still, Heiskell is hardly celebrating the latest crises at Bandai and Media Blasters. Anime industry players don't view one another as opponents, he explains.

"People don't realize that the [anime conventions] are more like summer camps. People that are supposedly competitors are more like friends. Whenever a company struggles, it's not good for the industry. We need that friendly competition."

L'Arc's official presser--MSG tix on sale Sat., 28



"The biggest band you've never heard of." - Kerrang!
L'Arc-en-Ciel, one of Japan's most celebrated rock bands, will make their long overdue U.S. return on March 25th with a performance at New York’s legendary Madison Square Garden. Originally scheduled for March 23rd at The Theater at Madison Square Garden, the show has been moved to the world famous arena due to the overwhelming demand of fans. This will mark the first time a Japanese band headlines MSG. Tickets will go on sale this Saturday, January 28th. Visit for details.

In support of their 20th Anniversary, L'Arc-en-Ciel will bring their epic pop rock - a sound that has sold over 40 million records, scored the band back to back #1 albums and broken numerous concert records – to their most passionate US supporters for only the second time in 20 years, creating an authentic J Rock pilgrimage for fans of the genre hungry to see the real thing.

Check out this live performance of “HONEY,” one of the band’s most popular songs:

Formed in 1991 in Osaka, Japan, L'Arc-en-Ciel has mesmerized crowds since the very beginning. No matter the year, with their unique melodies and edgy sounds, the band, responding to the zeitgeist, has had a hit song to match the times. Like all great musicians, the band's music has evolved over the years and has had a lasting influence. From their early work to their most recent offerings, which ranges from Goth rock to jangly guitar pop reminiscent of The Cure's lighter moments and U2-esque stadium anthems, L'Arc-en-Ciel has continually captured audiences worldwide.

In 2004 the band made their first and only performance in the USA (Baltimore) to an audience of 10,000 people; and has since performed in China (Shanghai and Hong Kong), Korea (Seoul), Taiwan (Taipei), and France (Paris), playing to millions of fans and proving that L’Arc~en~Ciel’s sound extends across borders.

Returning in May 2011 from a three-year hiatus, the band came together for two sell-out shows in aid of Japanese Tsunami relief at Tokyo’s Ajinomoto Stadium. The performances in front of 100,000 fans reestablished the band’s position at the center of the Japanese Music scene.
L’Arc~en~Ciel will embark on their “L’Arc~en~Ciel WORLD TOUR 2012” this March visiting Hong Kong, Bangkok, Shanghai, Taipei, New York, London, and Paris, before concluding back in Japan. Tour dates below.

L'Arc-en-Ciel recently released a spectacular box set called “TWENITY” which runs the full gamut of their music. Visit for more details.

L'Arc-en-Ciel will release a new album “BUTTERFLY” on February 8, 2012 via iTunes. Stay tuned for more information!

L'Arc-en-Ciel W
ORLD TOUR 2012 dates:

March 3rd         Asia World Expo Arena         Hong Kong
, China
March 7th         Impact Arena                          Bangkok
, Thailand
March 10th       Mercedes-Benz Arena            Shanghai
, China
March 17th       TWTC Nangang Exhibition Hall  Taipei
, Taiwan
March 25th       Madison Square Garden         New York
, New York
April 11th         indigO2                                   London
, UK
April 14th         Le Zenith                                Paris
, France
May 5th           Jamsil Gymnasium                  Seoul, Korea
May 12th          Nissan Stadium                       Yokohama, Japan
May 13th          Nissan Stadium                       Yokohama, Japan
May 19th          Universal Studios Japan Open Air Special Stage       Osaka, Japan
May 20th          Universal Studios Japan Open Air Special Stage       Osaka, Japan

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

PEN & WNYC Global Salon pics, 1/19/2012

[photo courtesy of Akiko Yano]

[photo by Matthew Septimus for The Greene Space]

[screen shot by Lisa Kato]

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Global Salon Japan video simulcast

Tonight's PEN/WNYC Japan event--"The Global Salon: Cities in Japan"--is apparently sold out, but it will be video simulcast and archived online here
Starts at 7 p.m. EST/4 p.m. PST/9 a.m. JST.  
Updated info below.


In collaboration with PEN World Voices Festival

Thursday, January 19, 2012 

7:00 PM

Sold Out

The Global Salon: JAPAN presents compelling stories of courage and resiliency, while the country continues to face unprecedented hardships of increased suicidal rates and unemployment, before and after the Tsunami of 2011. Host Eddie Robinson will engage the audience and esteemed guests through captivating dialogue and enchanting musical themes about the country's economic future, advances in technology, and the preservation of its remarkable culture.
Conversation and Performance with
Keiko Matsui An icon of contemporary jazz. With nearly 1.2 million units sold in the U.S. alone and packed concert halls, she is one of the most recognized artists in the genre. Her elegant piano melodies and gentle jazz grooves have enormous appeal.
Akiko Yano, Japanese pop singer, has recorded with Pat Metheny, Thomas Dolby, The Chieftains, and The Yellow Magic Orchestra. Her singing style has been compared to contemporary English singer, Kate Bush. Akiko will collaborate with jazz icon, Keiko Matsui in an exclusive duet, together for the first time!
Ian Buruma, British-Dutch writer and academic who worked as a journalist, and spent much of his early writing career travelling and reporting from all over Asia.  He has written such books as "God's Dust: A Modern Asian Journey," "Behind the Mask" and "The Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan."
Roland Kelts, half-Japanese American writer, editor and lecturer, lives half of each year in Tokyo and New York. He is the author of "Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture has Invaded the US," writes about contemporary Japan for several publications in the US and Japan, and is a frequent commentator on Japan for National Public Radio and the BBC.
Mr Yasuhisa Kawamura, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Consulate General of Japan in New York. He began his foreign service career in Washington D.C.(1984-6), and since then served in various countries, including Geneva, Jakarta (Indonesia), Brussels. Since his arrival in New York in 2010, he has played a crucial role working as a bridge between New Yorkers and the Japanese community.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Kitty says Hello to Mr Men

My chat with Hugo Macdonald of Monocle 24's 'Midori House' starts at 37:00 here.
Kitty, of course, was born in London.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Meet Akiko Naka, Japanese IT entrepreneur @ 27!

Modestly hopeful profile for The Christian Science Monitor:

Thirty ideas from people under 30: The Entrepreneurs

The Monitor interviewed young artisans, politicians, educators, entrepreneurs and faith leaders. And they have trenchant suggestions on how to improve the world. We'll serve this smorgasbord in bite-size servings of 3 to 7 profiles per day. Today's lineup of entrepreneurs includes a Mexican rain man, an Indian bike rental exec, and a Japanese web business recruiter.
Akiko Naka, founder of in Japan. (Yuka Yamaguchi)

Akiko Naka: Japan's high-tech recruiter

In Japan, 27-year-old Akiko Naka is a triple threat: an independent IT entrepreneur in a culture that prizes conformity, a successful young professional where status is still rooted in age-based hierarchies, and a fluently bilingual and bicultural businessperson in a mono-ethnic and largely monolingual nation.
Oh, and she's a she – a successful female in a corporate culture that remains very much a man's domain.
Ms. Naka was born in Japan but spent part of her childhood in North Carolina, where her mother was teaching at Duke University. In her mid-teens, she went to school in New Zealand for three years. She returned to Japan to study economics at Kyoto University. A stint with Goldman Sachs followed – and turned her off to the sclerotic financial industry for good.
"Lehman Brothers went bust, and so many of my colleagues left the company," she says. "I realized that I wasn't happy anyway. I wanted to do something more creative, to go from zero to 100 on my own."
Naka left Goldman and devoted six months to launching her own website, Then she met Taro Kodama, in charge of starting Facebook in Japan. He recognized her talent, but she wasn't ready to commit.
"We agreed that I'd spend 50 percent of my time on Facebook and 50 percent on my own site. I learned so much from Facebook about leveraging social media and financial stability."
Now she has created, a bilingual social recruitment service. "I believe that people are becoming free agents, working as a group on small projects, then leaving and working on other projects. My idea is to promote a new lifestyle based on projects, rather than recruit for companies. I think that's how people will start working."
– Roland Kelts, Tokyo