Tuesday, March 31, 2015

We Love Japan, for The Happy Reader

My short subjective and selective history of the West's infatuation with "Japan." For Penguin UK's The Happy Reader.

Taking pictures of taking pictures

"We're not here to capture an image, we're here to maintain one."
Don DeLillo, White Noise.

Friday, March 27, 2015

On AnimeJapan 2015 & Comiket's "Otaku Summit," for The Japan Times

AnimeJapan 2015 sees the big picture

by Roland Kelts

For most in Japan, April marks the beginning of the new working year. But for the anime and manga biz, it all starts in March.

Last weekend, the second annual AnimeJapan trade fair overtook Tokyo Big Sight, with more than 120,000 total attendees (a spike of 10,000 over last year’s tally), 2,500 of whom were business representatives from Japan and overseas. This weekend, March 28 and 29, will see the first-ever “Otaku Summit,” a special edition of the biannual Comics Market (Comiket), featuring manga-fan artists from 18 countries and held at Chiba’s Makuhari Messe.

AnimeJapan is the union of two events, the former Tokyo Anime Festival (TAF) and The Anime Contents Expo (ACE), whose initial split was caused by a rift over ex-Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara’s controversial censorship drive in 2010. The first TAF I attended in 2005 targeted industry insiders — domestic studios, networks and media. But AnimeJapan has evolved into a hybrid that is part overseas-style fan convention, part trade fair, and far more globally conscious.

“Yes, we are really trying to transform AnimeJapan into the world’s best anime event,” says general producer Yuji Hirooka of Bandai Visual. “We are actively inviting more foreign visitors. We are also trying to make it more enjoyable for different kinds of visitors, like fans, businesspeople and even families. We want to meet their different needs.”

[photo Rob Pereyda]

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Turning Japanese, for The Long + Short

Turning Japanese
Coping with stasis: how the supposed 'sick man of Asia' might be a model for us all

By Roland Kelts

I travel back and forth between Japan and the United States, mostly Tokyo and New York and a few other American cities, several times a year. The contrast is jarring. Arriving in the US can feel like rolling back a decade or more, returning to a time when information was scarce, infrastructure creaky, and basic services like ground transportation chaotic and unreliable.

I steel myself before landing, my mind tallying variables and unknowns: will my luggage land with me and emerge on the dingy carousel? Will the taxi service I booked online arrive on time, at the right terminal, or at all? Will traffic be an impediment to my destination?

And then there’s the view. Whether it’s the outskirts of Queens from New York’s JFK airport, or the fringes of Los Angeles highway off-ramps from LAX, everything seems a bit run down and decrepit.

Landing in Tokyo, though, is a breeze. All the travelators and escalators glide silently; the wall-mounted clocks, digital and analogue, tell the right time. When I reach the baggage carousel, my suitcase is already circling. Trains and buses depart punctually. I don’t have to pre-book because they’re scheduled merely minutes apart. I don’t have to think of anything beyond a book, the last one I was reading upon touchdown, fishing out my passport at immigration, and what I might order for dinner that evening once I reach my apartment. Everything seems to be taken care of, and nothing is broken.

Friday, March 20, 2015

"Cool Japan" analyzed in The Atlantic

Japan's Ministry of Cool
Ahead of hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics, the country is ramping up government-sponsored efforts to promote its culture abroad.

Japan wants the world to know just how cool it is. Over the past six months, the country’s government has announced plans to pump millions of dollars into companies eager to expand internationally, such as the online lifestyle retailer Tokyo Otaku Mode and the ramen chain Ippudo. And that’s just the start. There are plans for a Japan-centric TV station and many more projects aimed at promoting the nation’s culture to the rest of the world while generating money and interest in the 2020 Olympic Games, hosted by Tokyo. The effort isn't new: For over a decade, the country has embraced “Cool Japan,” a government-supported movement focused on selling what many have described as its “gross national cool.” This has involved touting cornerstones of pop culture such as cartoons, comics, music, and food overseas, as well as seemingly less hip products such as rugs and salt.

Last year, the Japanese government created the Cool Japan Fund, an organization tasked with helping businesses expand overseas, backed by an initial investment of several billion dollars. The country shifted to this approach several years after its “bubble economy” popped in the 1990s, turning to pop-culture exports in place of the industrial ones that helped Japan boom in the 1980s. There is some irony at work here—an eagerness to promote something as trendy usually signals the opposite—but for years the country's efforts have paid off. Now, though, Japan’s drive for coolness faces pressure from its Asian neighbors and growing concerns regarding who exactly Cool Japan is aimed at—the outside world, or the Japanese themselves.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Japan's vending paradise, in boingboing

by Colin Marshall

When he tried to quit smoking, the writer David Sedaris distracted himself from his lingering cravings by changing his surroundings: specifically, he moved to Japan for a few months. Not only did it help him kick the habit, it gave him a great deal of material for his hilarious and observant stories.

In his book When You Are Englufed in Flames, Sedaris tells of his and a French Japanese-language classmate's astonishment at Tokyo's abundance of vending machines:

“Can you believe it?” he asked. “In the subway station, on the street, they just stand there, completely unmolested.”

“I know it,” I said.

Our Indonesian classmate came up, and after listening to us go on, he asked what the big deal was.

“In New York or Paris, these machines would be trashed,” I told him.

The Indonesian raised his eyebrows.

“He means destroyed,” Christophe said. “Persons would break the glass and cover everything with graffiti.”

Thursday, March 12, 2015

On Japan's earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, for NHK TV

With author Marie Mutsuki Mockett on 3/11, for The Christian Science Monitor

On Fukushima's anniversary: A Japan of 'great gifts'

With the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and on the fourth anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, a Japanese-American writer talks about Japan, the West, responsibility, history, and fun. 


Employees of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, take part in a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m. local time at TEPCO's headquarters in Tokyo March 11, 2015, to mark the fourth anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands. (Yuya Shino/Reuters)

Marie Mutsuki Mockett is a Japanese-American writer who was born and raised in California but spent considerable time with her mother in Japan. She feels that her upbringing gives her a “dual vision” into West and East.

When Ms. Mockett first heard of the March 11, 2011 tsunami that flooded the Fukushima nuclear reactor four years ago today, she panicked. The Japanese side of her family owned a Buddhist temple in the town of Iwaki in Fukushima prefecture, 30 miles away. Her family not only survived but planned to stay, a decision that led to her new memoir, “Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye.”

The book depicts a Japan both secular and spiritual, and a people whose apparent stoicism can be a bulwark against chaos -- but can also foster a blind spot to historical reckonings, an issue with particular resonance as the 70th anniversary of the end of War War II nears, stirring deep emotion in Northeast Asia.

Roland Kelts spoke with Mockett in Tokyo this week.

Q: In the weeks after 3/11, US media portrayed the Japanese as model victims: unselfish, silent sufferers, waiting single-file for a bottle of water or ball of rice.  No violence, no looting. The workers who stayed at the radioactive plant were dubbed “The Fukushima Fifty,” though no one in Japan used this phrase.

You infer a subtext: that Japanese are also presented in this narrative as not quite human​,​ or as robotic. As an American writer of Japanese descent, how do you navigate these stereotypes?

A: I remember on one flight to Japan, landing at Narita airport, and the little squeal of glee that a first- time visitor gave when he saw the ground crew bow to the pilot. “Look! They’re bowing!” And I cringed inside. Yes, modern Japan with its amazing airport, and yes, they still bow.

Monday, March 02, 2015

On "The Anime Encyclopedia 3," for The Japan Times

‘The Anime Encyclopedia’ goes full digital

By Roland Kelts

“The Anime Encyclopedia, 3rd Revised Edition: A Century of Japanese Animation” was released on March 3.

Editions 1 and 2, published in 2001 and 2006 respectively, have long proved invaluable to English-speaking scholars, fans and writers, serving as reliably exhaustive and often highly entertaining guides to a world that can seem as massive as it does impenetrable. As author Neil Gaiman gushed, the book is “an astonishing work." In the era before the Internet was awash in anime trivia, it was also an imperative one.

But the Encyclopedia’s publishers, California-based Stone Bridge Press, were not only aware of the flood of anime sites online since the last edition, they dove straight into it. The e-book version of the third edition is peppered with hyperlinks to Internet sites relating to the films, series, directors, authors, studios, genres and terminology highlighted in the text, enabling readers to leap seamlessly between platforms. It also retails for about a quarter or less of the hardcover’s cost, and is already available via iTunes and other e-book outlets.

Peter Goodman, Stone Bridge Press