Saturday, June 20, 2015

The future of streaming music in Japan, for The Japan Times

Last week, Line Corp.’s, the operators of Japan’s most popular messaging app, launched an in-app music streaming service called Line Music. Japan is the second-largest music market in the world after the United States, but its consumers have so far been global outliers, clinging to physical products like CDs and DVDs, which comprise 80 percent of all sales, when everyone else switched to digital. Line Music joins the only other active streaming service in Japan, AWA, established late last month by Avex and Cyber Agent. Apple Music, Spotify and Google are said to be studying the market but have yet to make moves.

Some see Line Music and AWA as harbingers of Japan’s music business future, aligning it with the rest of the world. Veteran Tokyo-based producer and songwriter Jeff Miyahara, however, is doubtful. The novelty of streaming will wear thin fast in Japan, he tells me, because it’s a culture that prizes physical products, packaging and the kind of product-focus that is lost when all-in-one streaming services offer millions of songs — with little guidance or categorical control.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"The Fifth Flavor," for Guernica magazine

The Fifth Flavor

By Roland Kelts

Umami gives identity and intricacy to mother’s milk, a bowl of ramen, a writer poised between Japan and America.

“Be always beginning,” Rilke wrote. You begin again because you have no choice. When I was six, my Japanese mother took me to her hometown to live with my grandparents. In Morioka, a northern capital city, I attended the neighborhood kindergarten. My memories of those days are uniformly positive: hunting cicadas in the backyard with a store-bought child’s-net-and-terrarium set (cicada-catching is standard summer fare for Japanese kids); watching Ultraman monster shows, animation, and sumo wrestling on TV, seated beside my grandfather, both of us barefoot on the ribbed tatami mats; and bathing nightly in my grandparents’ stainless-steel tub, encased in dark wood-paneled walls.

But my mother tells me I was miserable, especially at school. I cried so hard and often that the principal called home in the middle of the day and asked her to please pick me up. I struggled with the language, the differences in cultural assumptions and attitudes, my alien looks and their alien food. I learned Japanese songs and chants and games that I can recite and play to this day, but I could not learn how to be Japanese.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Monday, June 01, 2015

On Tokyo's coffee craze, for The Journal (ACCJ)

Indie brews ride “third wave” with quality beans and creative cafés

By Roland Kelts

James Freeman, the founder of California-based Blue Bottle Coffee Inc., was baffled.

His first overseas roastery and café in Kiyosumi, Tokyo, did more business on its opening Friday than any of the company’s 17 US outlets do in a week. His order of branded coffee mugs shipped in from the US was supposed to last a month; they sold out in a few days.

Two women, who stood in line for five hours in front of the Kiyosumi store, told him they had taken the bus from Osaka to Tokyo—almost four hours away—to be there. The next month, when Blue Bottle opened its second Tokyo outlet, a café in the Aoyama neighborhood of Tokyo, the same pair turned up again.

“They seemed like lovely suburban ladies,” Freeman says. “And they were thrilled.”

Thank you, Richmond, VA!