Wednesday, August 21, 2013

@ Japan Expo USA this Sunday, August 25, 2 p.m.

Japan Expo FB Cover Photo
Roland Kelts is speaking on behalf of the Japan Society of Northern California thanks to a generous grant from The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership. His lecture will be held at 2:00PM on Sunday, August 25th at the Hall Stage.


Roland Kelts, author of “Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S.,” talks about modern Anime, its influences on Hollywood, and vice-versa. An in-depth examination of how Japanese and American entertainment businesses are influencing each other in an infinite loop. Just as Japanese artists like Osamu Tezuka, Hayao Miyazaki and Katsuhiro Otomo were fascinated by classic and sci-fi American movies, George Lucas, The Wachowskis, Guillermo del Toro and other directors were influenced by Japanese anime classics like Gatchaman, Speed Racer, Spirited Away, Akira and Ghost in the Shell.

Friday, August 16, 2013

On 20 years of Otakon for my latest Japan Times column

Otakon celebrates 20 years of anime fandom in the U.S.

The American anime convention, Otakon (“Otaku Convention”), begins with a costume parade before it officially opens. Last week I had a bird’s-eye view of the spectacle from my 14th-floor hotel room in Baltimore, Maryland. An endless army of imaginary characters trudged across the elevated concourse and down adjacent sidewalks to the Baltimore Convention Center to register and obtain entry badges. Most were instantly recognizable from anime series old and new, brandishing swords or other weaponry fashioned out of homemade materials, or wearing massive multicolored wigs, capes or sewn-on tails — or very little at all.

For three days the colorful mob overtook Baltimore’s downtown and Inner Harbor neighborhoods, and until they returned to their hometowns in 42 different states, you couldn’t walk 20 meters without bumping into, overhearing and/or following them.

Roughly 35,000 fans of Japanese pop culture attended the event, according to Otakon’s director of press and publicity, Victor Albisharat. They skewed 53 percent female; 75 percent aged 19-34, and organizers say they keep getting younger.

“People go to Otakon for different things,” says Lance Heiskell, director of corporate strategy for Funimation Entertainment, one of the largest distributors of anime in the United States. “This year they had (Japanese anime soundtrack composer) Yoko Kanno. Some people came for the J-Pop of T.M. Revolution. Others just want to dress up and get together. And some people just come to dance at the nightly raves because, you know, they’re safe.”

This year also saw the celebration of Otakon’s 20th anniversary, a milestone for any kind of convention, let alone one devoted to a popular culture in a foreign language from a country thousands of miles away. Otakon retains a special place among fans and industry guests from both sides of the Pacific, artists, performers, panelists — and even its own mostly volunteer staff.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

On Caroline Kennedy as US Ambassador to Japan for TIME

Tokyo Doesn’t Care Who the U.S. Ambassador Is (but Caroline Kennedy Will Do Fine)

By Roland Kelts for Time

Caroline Kennedy 
Caroline Kennedy speaks at the 2013 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award ceremony at the Kennedy Library in Boston on May 5, 2013

The Kennedys are the last big dynastic name in American politics. With no more Nixons to kick around and the Reagan offspring reduced to infighting, the Kennedys still have clout — which also makes them reliable targets for pundits. Not surprisingly, President Obama’s nomination last month of Caroline, the only surviving child of assassinated former President John F. Kennedy, as the next U.S. ambassador to Japan has raised both eyebrows and hackles.

I was in Boston when the news broke. Home of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, the city, and its state Massachusetts, are liberal and intellectual bastions of Kennedy boosterism. The family long made Massachusetts its home base, literally, symbolically and politically, and John’s deceased younger brother, Caroline’s Uncle Ted, was its most famous Senator.

Local media embraced Caroline Kennedy’s nomination. Boston University professor of international relations, Thomas Berger, cited three critical assets of a Kennedy ambassadorship to Japan: celebrity status, direct access to Obama and gender.

“Japanese women continue to look for role models who demonstrate that it is possible to be a woman and have a successful career in politics,” Berger told the Associated Press. “I expect that many in both the United States and in Japan will want to use her to send that message to the Japanese public.”

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

On Hiroshima, 2013, for The New Yorker

Fragments of Hiroshima

hiroshima-290.jpgThe first time I visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, I carried a notebook and a sense of dread. The mood was as solemn as I expected, but the place was crowded and not very peaceful. Visitors were silently urged to go with the flow, move in step with others and not linger too long.  

The displays were impressively well kept—maybe too well kept. There were life-size dioramas of bloodied victims trudging barefoot through ashen sludge; massive models of the city as it was, pinpointing the exact location of ground zero; bent and crushed watches and clocks frozen to the moment—8:15 A.M., August 6, 1945. 

That all the carefully curated and eye-catching exhibits felt like part of a Hiroshima theme park was probably unavoidable.

“A lot of people died instantly,” I wrote. Trying to soothe burning skin, some died in the river when fireballs swept up the oil-slicked water. Others died years later, stricken by cancer. Lots of letters were written by Hiroshima mayors, global politicians, and civilians, begging the world and the powers that be to not let it happen again.

I wanted to write that the bombing was unthinkable, or something equally righteous. But, of course, it was very thinkable. It had happened, not once but twice, and could easily happen again. The museum was there to make us think about that banality.

Monday, August 05, 2013


Author and scholar Roland Kelts
11:15 AM
12:15 PM
Anime vs Hollywood [G]Panel 4 (BCC 341-342)
12:30 PM
 1:30 PMOpening CeremoniesPanel 2 (Ballroom II-III)
 2:30 PM 3:30 PMAnime's Online Expansion [G]Panel 1 (BCC 314-315)
11:15 AM
12:15 PM
Anime After The Quake [G]Panel 5 (Hilton Holiday Ballroom 4-6)

Thursday, August 01, 2013