Sunday, January 17, 2016

On this year's anime revolutions in Japan & US, for The Japan Times

Online streaming keeps anime afloat


Last week in California, I caught up with some of the chief purveyors of Japanese popular culture in the United States and elsewhere in the world. It became rapidly clear that 2016 won’t be at all like 2015 — or any other year before it.

The rollout of streaming media is fast approaching an avalanche. Mainstream portals Hulu and Netflix are snapping up anime licenses in an effort to target an expanding niche of young and dedicated global fans. Crunchyroll, the pioneer and leader in the market, is exploring content coproduction deals with anime studios, as Japan’s notoriously byzantine production committees slowly disintegrate in the face of plunging domestic DVD sales.

Anaheim, California-based Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation (SPJA), the nonprofit organization behind Anime Expo, North America’s largest anime convention, is expanding, refocusing and rebranding. It plans to move beyond otaku/fan culture and embrace the broader challenge of integrating successful conventions in film, gaming, tech, music and other forms of entertainment media. SPJA will open an office in Tokyo later this year and will soon reveal a new brand name and logo.

Friday, January 08, 2016

On Japan's troubled farmlands, for The Australian Financial Review

Beyond Japan's glittering cities lies a troubled farm sector


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, January 07, 2016

On Tokyo's new Hotel Okura, for The New York Times

In a Renewed Hotel Okura, Japanese Historians Still See a Loss


The old main wing of Hotel Okura in Tokyo, now demolished. The new main wing is scheduled to open in 2019.

TOKYO — The outcry over the demolition last year of the 53-year-old Hotel Okura in Tokyo surprised no one more than Japanese historians and architectural specialists.

Monocle, the global lifestyle magazine, had circulated a petition,, to register the “outrage from admirers of its unique design.” Tomas Maier, the creative director of Bottega Veneta, an Italian luxury brand, filmed a video memorial and started a social media campaign, #MyMomentAtOkura.

The hotel’s modernist postwar lobby artfully balanced elements of traditional Japan, like lacquered plum-blossom-shaped tables and chairs, with visions of what was then futuristic: a lighted world map displaying global time zones. It was frequented by United States presidents including President Obama, and other heads of state, celebrities, artists and designers. It played a central role in the 1960s James Bond novel “You Only Live Twice.”