Friday, December 18, 2015

Hatsune Miku to tour North America in 2016, for The Japan Times

My 2015 kicked off with a January concert by Hatsune Miku, Japan’s digital pop star, in Las Vegas. It is wound down with a visit to Miku’s creator, Hiroyuki Itoh, at his company’s head office in Sapporo, Hokkaido.

I’ve long learned to temper my skepticism toward Japan’s cultural presence in the United States. As a half-Japanese American kid, I never thought I’d see sushi in supermarket aisles, manga in malls, or Pikachu and Hello Kitty balloons soaring over Manhattan in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, as they did again last year in that distinctly American matsuri (festival).

I also never imagined that a Japanese virtual singer (Miku) would be the featured musical act on an iconic American TV talk show (“Late Show with David Letterman” in 2014).

Now the resilient Miku, an 8-year-old piece of musical software whose content is user-generated, is about to headline her first North American tour.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Jake Adelstein on the death of Shigeru Mizuki

Goodbye to Japan's Manga King

My comments:
<<“I’ve always thought of Mizuki as an innovator and something of an outlier in the history of modern manga—a striking combination of a cartoonist in the more conventional manga-ka mode, largely established by Tezuka (creator of Astro Boy), and an illustrator more akin to Dickens’s Boz or Hogarth, incorporating their stinging critiques of societal hypocrisy and historical violence. His backgrounds are often meticulously detailed and almost photorealistic, while the main characters, or narrative witnesses, are drawn in more simplistic outlines and minimalist designs.

“I attended an exhibition of his World War II works in Yokohama a few years ago and came away feeling that he was sui generis—there’s simply no one like him, in Japan or elsewhere. His obsession with spirits and the supernatural can be found embedded in later manga and animation like Pokemon and (Hayao) Miyzaki epics Totoro and Spirited Away. And his recently translated magnum opus, (which chronicles Japan’s history up to and after World War II) Showa: A History of Japan, will likely remain unsurpassed as a graphic storytelling document of an entire historical epoch.”>>

Monday, November 16, 2015

Autumn in Kyoto

Otagi Nenbutsu-ji, Arashiyama, Kyoto. Nov. 2015.

Friday, November 13, 2015

On Viewster and Anime fashion, for The Japan Times

Back in the Stone Age of streaming media, the most notorious and popular of pirate anime websites suddenly went legit. In January 2009, after securing distribution agreements with Japanese studios and a licensing deal with TV Tokyo that included episodes of the global hit series Naruto Shippuden, the San Francisco-based fansite Crunchyroll banished all illegal content and started offering paid-subscription packages.

In three years, the site turned a profit and began funneling earnings back to Japanese producers. In 2013, Hollywood mogul Peter Chernin’s investment arm, The Chernin Group, acquired a majority stake in Crunchyroll to the tune of an estimated $100 million.

This did not go unnoticed. Media giants like Hulu and Netflix leaped onto the streaming-anime bandwagon, with the latter’s CEO Reed Hastings announcing earlier this month plans to co-produce anime titles in the near future. So called over-the-top content (OTT) — online, on-demand and delivered via ISPs by third-party outlets — is the now and future of global media.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

On to Singapore for The Singapore Writers Festival & NUS

Roland Kelts

Roland Kelts is featured in the following SWF event(s):

31 Oct, Sat 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM
TAH, Kumon Blue Room

1 Nov, Sun 2:30 PM - 3:30 PM
TAH, Chamber

1 Nov, Sun 7:00 PM - 8:30 PM
TAH, Kumon Blue Room

Arigato, Smith College

26 October 2015

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Monkey & Murakami in Manila, in the Philippines Inquirer

Want to satisfy your Murakami and manga cravings? 
Check out Monkey Business
Japan Foundation, Manila hosts a forum on the new literary journal, with contributing editor Roland Kelts and artist Satoshi Kitamura talking about what makes Japanese literature and popular culture click

HARUKI Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto are familiar names in Japanese contemporary writing to Filipinos and the West, more familiar perhaps to the younger generations nowadays than, say, the modern writers such as Yukio Mishima, Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, Kobo Abe, Shohei Ooka, Shusaku Endo and the Nobel laureates Yasunari Kawabata and Kenzaburo Oe.

Older lovers and readers of Japanese fiction and literature may say Filipinos should read the modern writers more (Ooka, for one, wrote the celebrated “Fires on the Plain,” about Japanese soldiers in the Visayas during the Second World War; and Endo, who wrote the novel “Silence,” which no less than Martin Scorsese himself is adapting into a movie, tackled overtly Catholic themes).

But even if younger Filipino readers are enamored of Murakami and Yamamoto, they may also be missing out on other writers in the Japanese contemporary writing scene who are just as qualified to land a best seller on various lists in the West as much as Murakami and the latest hit manga writer and illustrator.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

On Japan's "ghost homes," first column for the New Statesman

Out with the old: the ghost homes of Japan

Japan’s shrinking population has produced a different kind of housing problem.


I recently visited Aizuwakamatsu, a ­rural rice-farming region in northern Japan. The scenery was storybook Asia: precipitous hills, dense with greenery, dipping into narrow-cut rice paddies hedged by brooks and streams. At the onset of dusk one evening, our ­minivan rounded a hillside overlooking the Tadami River. A cluster of homes emerged through the mist, pastel green, pink and pale blue roofs huddled on a patch of land jutting from the shore. With the mountains mirrored in the water surrounding it, the village looked as though it were floating.

One of the local guides told me that the coloured roofs were made of tin or aluminium, covering or entirely replacing the original thatchwork, an icon of traditional Japanese architecture. Upkeep had become too expensive, and the risk of fires or snow collapses too much for elderly inhabitants to bear. But what is really sad, she said, is that no one wants to live here any more. Rural Japan is dying.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Thank you, Manila!

At Ayala Museum, Makati City, Manila, Philippines. 
(photos Japan Foundation, Manila)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

On the death of Japan's game industry, for The Japan Times

Japan once ruled and defined the global gaming industry. In the arcade age, Japanese developers gave us “Pac-Man,” “Space Invaders” and “Donkey Kong.” In the era of physical consoles: “Metal Gear Solid,” “Snatcher,” “Final Fantasy” and “Silent Hill.” Japan’s creative use of technology, physical design and narrative whimsy once made it the only country in the world that consistently delivered interactive pleasures via buttons and joysticks.

But as veteran American translator, localizer and voice director Jeremy Blaustein reminds me, that was a very long time ago.

Since then, the Japanese gaming industry has grown increasingly marginal in the global market. Costs have soared, technologies advanced exponentially and the Americans overtook the business. Speaking at the Tokyo Game Show in 2009, game creator Keiji Inafune was unequivocal: “Japan is over,” he said. “We’re done. Our game industry is finished.”

Live in Manila this week for The Asia Pacific Writers & Translators Conference

Specs & Tix.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Reviving Japan by restoring its homes, for The Journal

Minka: a tale of friendship and renewal
[photos courtesy of Craig Mod and Yoshihiro Takishita]

By Roland Kelts

To residents of the seaside tourist town of Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, it’s known as “the house on the hill”—an 18th century Japanese minka farmhouse perched atop Genjiyama, one of the town’s highest elevations.

Rumored through the years to be the villa of a former prime minister, the sanctuary of an ocean-worshipping religious cult, even the refuge of a disgraced foreign leader, it is in fact a nearly 300-year-old wooden edifice moved there in the 1960s from the rural Japanese prefecture of Gifu.

The farmhouse was painstakingly rebuilt, restored, and modernized by two men: the late American Associated Press journalist John Roderick and his adopted Japanese son, Yoshihiro Takishita. Today, it’s one of the most beautiful monuments to traditional Japan that is more than just a relic.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

On the newly legal 'hentai' erotic, pornographic manga/anime site, FAKKU, for The Japan Times


When Jacob Grady began pirating anime and manga online eight years ago, he was still in college. He took out student loans to pay the server bills, and figured that if he ever made enough money from the site to purchase a round-trip flight to Japan, the effort and expense would be worth it.

Like many Americans, he got hooked on Japanese pop culture as a kid through the Cartoon Network’s action-oriented programming block called “Toonami” (“cartoon tsunami”). He would race home from school to catch the latest episodes of “Dragonball Z” and “Gundam Wing.”

But Grady was not pirating anime adventure series or kids’ shows like “Pokemon.” The content on his site was what most non-Japanese call “hentai” (abnormal, perverted), and in Japan is still largely known as ero-manga, ero-anime, or just porno.

“At some point, going through puberty and exploring the Internet for the first time, I came across hentai,” he says. “I just never looked back.”

Japanamerica goes to SMITH COLLEGE next month

Friday, September 11, 2015

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Thanks to Brooklyn, the Wythe Hotel & Waku Waku +NYC

At the Wythe Hotel with Christopher Macdonald. (photo, Susan McCormac Hamaker)

(photo, Lawrence Brenner)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Speaking & signing in Brooklyn this Sat. 8/29 for "Waku Waku +NYC"

Roland Kelts
Category: Anime

"Who is the Real Osamu Tezuka, 'God of Manga & Anime'?"
Panel #305
8.29.2015 3:30pm-4:30pm 60 mins
Location: Wythe Hotel Conference Room


Roland Kelts was born to an American father and a Japanese mother, and grew up in both America and Japan. Kelts is the author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture has Invaded the US, as well as a visiting scholar at Keio University in Tokyo. As a journalist, essayist and columnist, he writes for many publications such as The New Yorker, The Guardian and The Japan Times, and he is an authority on Japan’s contemporary literary and popular cultures. He imparts his unique perspective on Japanese pop culture to the rest of the world as a public speaker and media commentator on CNN, NPR, NHK and the BBC. Most recently, Kelts delivered a TED Talk in Tokyo at TedxHaneda.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

AKB48 goes American, for The Japan Times

AKB48 turns to an American studio

Director Keishi Otomo and AKB48
By Roland Kelts

AKB48’s commercial success in Japan is often derided as a sign of the culture’s patriarchal infantilization of women, and the girl group’s inability to appeal to Western audiences a sign of Japan’s increasingly isolated ideas about femininity, sexuality and pop music. Put simply: outside of Japan, AKB48 will never be Psy.

But inside Japan, it’s a reliable moneymaker. Its most recent single, “We Won’t Fight” (Bokutachi wa Tatakawanai), topped the Oricon charts in June. The idol group is the no. 2 bestselling music act in the entire history of Japanese pop music in terms of singles sold. And Japan is the second-largest pop music market in the world – just behind the United States.

Cuteness sells in Japan, especially if it’s well-marketed. Which is why AKB48’s latest music video is puzzling. The ironically titled 12-minute epic, “We Won’t Fight” [short v.], was released this summer. In it, the kawaii (cute) girls are more Ronda Rousey than Sailor Moon.

Cutters' Tokyo film editor, Aki Mizutani

Sunday, August 09, 2015

After Pixar, for The California Sunday Magazine.

In the studio with an Oscar-nominated startup

By Roland Kelts
Photographs by Hiro Tanaka

It’s 8 a.m. and the two founders of Tonko House animation studio are preparing to meditate. Their 200-square-foot space at the industrial edge of southwest Berkeley is filled with desktops and laptops, packed bookshelves, paint jars, brushes and carbon markers, and one ten-foot-long work table. There isn’t much room. The table and chairs have been shoved to one side and a heavy beige filing cabinet wheeled into the hallway. For 12 minutes, Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi, a wiry Japanese expatriate, and his co-founder, the younger and sturdier Japanese American Robert Kondo, sit lotus style at one end of the room while their business manager, Daisuke “Zen” Miyake, an ordained Buddhist monk, kneels at the other and chants in a droning baritone.

Tsutsumi moved to America more than 20 years ago. Kondo — palms turned upward, index fingers touching thumbs in gyan mudra formation — was born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley, east of Los Angeles. Kondo and Tsutsumi founded Tonko House in February 2014. Their first film, a heartbreaking 18-­minute animated short called The Dam Keeper, piled up festival awards. The film was nominated for an Oscar earlier this year.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Blue moon with loons

Lake break in New Hampshire