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Brutus Does Dogs

Just wanted to drop some roses at the feet of this Brutus issue all about dogs. The Akita-Inu staring back at you is the best cover model I’ve seen in a long time. I like that white Softbank dog and all, but this girl Shoko — an Akita-ken from Akita-ken — has made my year. Buy it while still on stands…

W. David MARX
February 29, 2008

Japanese Cabinet Does Cool Japan

Cool Japan

A screen grab from the Japanese Cabinet Publicity Department‘s website.

What says “Cool Japan” more to you: the Council for Promoting Consumer Policy, the Start of Diet Deliberations on the FY2008 Budget, or 1st Meeting of the National Commission on Social Security? Radical, holmes. These videos could be the chill pill for all those whack MCs bogarting your gnarlyness.

This site is working so hard to put nails in the Japan Cool coffin, but if only PM Fukuda could offer us some sort of rap…

W. David MARX
February 27, 2008

How Boring is Ping Pong?

Seriously, could this advertisement make the game of table tennis appear any less exciting? Fukuhara Ai‘s face looks as if hitting the ball is about as fun as doing laundry. The other guy is sleepwalking through his swing. If you kids hate it so much, just quit already!

W. David MARX
February 26, 2008

Smart Girls Returns

The world’s favorite hipster booby magazine Smart Girls is back from the dead. Apparently, publisher Takarajima asked original founder and lo-fi erotic photo mastermind Yonehara Yasumasa to come back and resurrect the title. (There was a falling out between the two parties long ago.) The new issue is pretty close to the original format, although the printing quality is pretty third-rate for some reason. Also, there are fewer straight-forward no-top shots than in the past, perhaps trying to expand the audience to women and not just pornophiles with high aesthetic standards.

Yonehara’s been one of the few people hovering in the street fashion/hipster world who has been able to cross over to the mainstream lately. Continuing with his signature style, Smart Girls mixes erotic, yet clean pictures of big name girl-friendly models (like Fujii Lena) and more explicit shots of his usual porn girl cavalcade.

W. David MARX
February 25, 2008

The Adventure of Link

Koakuma ageha – The P & J tapes

Crucial conversation on the socio-psychological pathology behind the Koakuma hostess gyaru.

Road to the Deep East L.T.U. Part2.1 – Can you live without children?

Recovering Lolita maniac bemoaning the coming criminalization of possessing child porn in Japan. Anyone know why the possession of child porn wasn’t already illegal? Is the pedophile lobby much stronger here or the PTA much weaker? Once they pass this thing and the 9-year-old-with-extreme-cameltoe genre loses its commercial magic, I fear the economy of Akihabara may take a huge hit.

W. David MARX
February 25, 2008

Rockabilly in Japan

Showa 33: the year Japan got all shook up

This relatively long Japan Times article about the “Rockabilly” era in Japanese music is pretty interesting. The tone is relatively affirmative, whereas PARCO’s Street Fashion 1945-1995 takes a much more cynical perspective on the whole thing. The PARCO book claims that all the girls “grabbing at” the stars and throwing underwear on stage were hostesses and other girls paid off to act crazy and be sensational. None of the “frenzy” came from normal teens.

The book also notes that Rockabilly never reached the level of a national trend, nor did the main singers’ fashion sense inspire anyone. Their preferred “Regent” haircut was big with the kids out in the sticks, but seen as outdated in Tokyo. (This is still true today.)

The PARCO author cabal goes on to claim that the entire Rockabilly “craze” was essentially a hoax, seeing that when the musicians were playing at jazz kissa, teens in the audience treated them as almost equals rather than stars in the Elvis mold. Interestingly, however, the original Rockabilly singers went on to form the backbone of the Japanese entertainment industry — namely, the company Watanabe Pro — and took with them these lessons on manufacturing consent. As the Japan Times mentioned, that particular management company perfected the creation of “idol singers” and completely controlled the songs and artists appearing on Japanese variety hours in the 1960s.

PARCO seems to suggest that there was never a “pure” era of Japanese music when production companies were not creating “booms” instead of reacting to them.

W. David MARX
February 21, 2008

Marxy DJing at Bar Drop

Short notice, but I will be DJing at Bar Drop in Kichijoji at an all-night event on Friday, February 22. No clue on timing, but I shouldn’t go on too late.

As usual, Dr. Usui from Motocompo and Ian Martin (Call and Response Records) will be deejaying. Live performance from beloved Neo-Shibuya-kei cuties Hazel Nuts Chocolate.

Probably going to pull out some vinyl and go real “90s.” Beware.

W. David MARX
February 21, 2008

Fifties Dancers at Fifty

A crowd gathers in Yoyogi park on Sunday afternoon to watch an institution of Tokyo “street” culture: the Fifties Dancers. Oh, Pompadours and Regents! Leather jackets and sunglasses and chest tattoos. I’d seen them in documentaries and cigarette ads, but here they are in the flesh!

No, there has not been a revival of the late 1970s/early 1980s Fifties scene. These are the same “kids” from the original movement, showing up in Yoyogi to dance their silly dances to the classics of early ’80s J-pop as if it were a Theta-Pi Homecoming Tailgate. They’re in their late 40s now, skin as rough and tough as their leather.

Who needs new Japanese street fashion from “rebellious” youth when the middle-aged will drive into the city on the weekends and show the kids how it’s done? Hopefully soon we’ll get some real-deal Takenokozoku grandmothers and Taiyo-zoku zombies rising from the graves of Shonan — that will get this youth culture thing up and moving again! The bandaged Cosuplay freakshow on the bridge just sit there, expecting to be photographed. More dancing, less posing, people.

W. David MARX
February 19, 2008

What? Such culture exists in Okinawa

Interview with Uchināguchi activist FIJA Bairon at Japan Focus, complete with introduction to the Ryūkyūan language situation in general. Great reading. One-question/one-answer summary:

Japan is not a country with one culture, one nation, one language then?

It’s not and from now on also the Japanese will have to accept this. . .

Does everyone else remember Aso’s “一文化、 一文明、一民族、一言語” speech in late 2005?

(Via Pinyin News.)

February 17, 2008

Little Devils

I thought the whole gyaru thing was RIP, but Popteen is a player in the publishing world, Tsubasa was a big star before her surprise yankii wedding, and this mag Koakuma Ageha is literally the brightest thing on the shelves. The black-face Ganguro are ancient history, but the angelic Koakuma Gyaru are being spun to be “Gyaru + Cosplay” because of the tiaras and lacy dresses. Everyone, however, is ignoring the white elephant in the room.

Read the Japanese State’s official take on them here — only mentioning the word “hostess” in a single sentence. That’s like only mentioning the word “cocaine” once in describing Crack Whore Monthly.

I was in denial about the hostess-ness of the Koakuma for a while, but actually browsing through an issue of the magazine, I admit defeat: the editorial tone takes for granted that the reader works in the “the night life” or is hoping to once Senior Year at Saitama High School finishes in March. 41% of girls date guys that are “customers.” This doesn’t mean that love bloomed over the cash register at Wendy’s.

Perhaps the word “yankii” is too much rooted in a specific late 1970s fashion, but there is a very resilient aesthetic of the Japanese working classes. They did dark skin and bleached hair before it was “okay.” And that aesthetic guides the all kogyaru/kogal after the original girls as well as the current boys doing O-nii-kei. These subcultures stab the “Japan is a classless society” myth right in the heart. They represent not only a different fashion but a completely set of social mores. These styles are despised and not recognized by the “middle-class” fashion press. The magazines for these styles come from smaller independent publishers. The magazine content presents employment in semi-sexual nightlife services such as hostess and host clubs as not only an option for employment, but the job to take after high school (Host Knuckle, anyone?). There are no sections about “what to wear to your interview with Mitsubishi UFJ Trust & Banking.

Magazines like Egg speak frankly about sexual promiscuity and activity in a way that “mainstream” magazines do not. But more importantly, they set the expectation that everyone gets married around 20, as is normal in Japanese working-class communities (Tsubasa was not pregnant, just “marryin’ age”). Sometimes these marriages don’t work out, however, and everyone heads back to their subcultures. Koakuma Ageha has a special section called シンママ同盟 — “Single Mother Community” — a section I don’t remember seeing in Non•no or even CanCam

Here’s the real question: is the sudden popularity of O-nii-kei and these post-ganguro gyaru further proof of social disparity in Japan? The “working classes” are growing as the middle-class generally descends into lower stratum. Makes sense that more and more rural lower and lower middle class youth see delinquent subcultures as a lower risk than in the past since behaving properly in the education system does not pay off so well anymore. Or perhaps the barriers to entry in the media world are low enough that the working class subcultures can advertise their cultures more. In the past, the Bosozoku did not have their own monthly fashion magazines to teach kids the best places for a weekend gang rape. Now if you want to learn what to wear so that some married Assistant Director of Logistics keeps coming back every Thursday night, you can pick up an issue of Koakuma Ageha at 7-11. Japanese conservatives surely liked it more when the working classes stayed hidden out in the countryside and were not setting “trends in Japan.”

W. David MARX
February 15, 2008

Kawakami Mieko wins 138th Akutagawa prize, hearts of bookish men everywhere

You’d have found it hard to take a train through Tokyo this week without running into Kawakami Mieko, chin in hands and gazing pensively down at you as if to say, “How much more smokey do my eyes have to get before you buy my Akutagawa prize-winning book Chichi to ran (Breasts and eggs), citizen?”

The Akutagawa judging panel must have high-fived each other silly after reaching this decision: A writer this prizeworthy yet also this photogenic! Bungeishunjū certainly wasted no time getting her into the Shūkan Bunshun‘s embarrassing weekly gravure feature, “Illustrated treasury of beautiful girls in natural color” (原色美女図鑑); Kawakami made a dignified, arty appearance there a couple of weeks ago, right after the decision was announced.

Oh, sure, they quote her as asking “Is it really OK for me to appear in [this feature]?”, but don’t mistake her for some reclusive scribbler shading her eyes and blinking as she emerges into the public sphere. She’s already published books, released a couple of CDs, performs live, and appears in Quick Japan, Eureka and the like fairly regularly. It’s not often that a triple threat wins a literary prize, although admittedly in Japan it seems to happen more often than elsewhere.

Incidentally, the “modern Higuchi Ichiyō” angle that Bungeishunjū is working isn’t as vapid as it might seem at first glance. It isn’t just that she wrote poetry before branching out into fiction, and is female (Holy cow, I gotta call my editor!) — she herself actually cites Higuchi’s Takekurabe as an influence on Chichi, and the river-of-words sentence structure she employs is very Higuchid in its way.

February 15, 2008

Mob Influence on Entertainment: HK vs. Japan

The most interesting thing about this Edison Chen scandal — besides the pornographic pictures of celebrities traded around in the name of journalism — is the open discussion of how the Triads may dole out extralegal punishment upon Mr. Chen for bringing such disgrace upon their Hong Kong Entertainment world. This is not idle banter: the president of Emperor Entertainment Group (EEG) and Edison’s former boss Albert Yeung apparently has well-known ties to Chinese organized crime. Even the New York Times today made a note of organized crime involvement within the Hong Kong industry.

Although the Japanese industry is equally rumored to be funded by organized crime, I wonder why there is less open discussion of this fact in either the Western or Japanese press. Mainstream Japanese magazines rarely ever openly talks about the most conspicuously mob-linked “Don of the Japanese Entertainment World” Mr. S*** (ex-chauffeur to mob-linked LDP politician Hamada Kouichi) in the same way as Albert Yeung. Perhaps the international range of the Triads’ financial dealings, especially now since they are investing in Canada, have put them more on the radar than yakuza-backed entertainment companies in Japan, which intentionally stay small in size and scope to avoid being conspicuous. The Mr. S noted above barely appears from a Google Image search, whereas Albert Yeung comes up pretty quickly since he seems to be a public figure. The Japanese guys behind the curtain keep a low profile. They don’t want to be household names.

Interesting parallel though: both Hong Kong and Japan have mob-backed entertainment industries focused on artists within “management companies.” In the past, I have tried to show through data that this industrial organization leads to much more stable artistic standards than markets with “free agents” artists like in the United States (artists directly make deals with labels rather than become employees of middle-men management companies). Historically, “entertainment” in Asia (and elsewhere for that matter) was a risky and low-class venture best funded by organized crime, so I understand why there are still links today. However, is there something about management companies in particular that make them a good opportunity for money laundering and illegal racketeering?

W. David MARX
February 14, 2008

New articulo over at PingMag

While in Malaysia last year, Selena and I came across this rad seal carver and had seals made. I have an affinity for hanko carvers because they create work in relief and in reverse, like the punchcutters of yore. Much radder to see it done by hand than by a guy doing it on a computer (which is the norm for low-rent seal shops in Asia). If you are ever in Malacca (which is the awesomest city in Asia in my book), hit up King. Read all about it over at PingMag.
[Soundtrack to this post: "Heads Are Gonna Roll" by RFTC]

February 12, 2008

Inui Akito in Shincho

Néojaponisme contributor Inui Akito has a short story called “鮒(フナ)のためいき” (“Sigh of a Crucian Carp”) in the March 2008 issue of esteemed Japanese literary journal The Shincho Monthly 『新潮』.

Last October, I translated two of Inui’s very short pieces “Deep Within the Island” and “Cutting Off a Piece of the Sky” for the site. He is the founder of Tokyo theatre group Crack Iron Albatrossket (Tetsuwari). (Enjoy this skit “Cock the Cock” from their DVD).

W. David MARX
February 11, 2008

O-nii-kei: Gigolo Fashion

Progress Vanilla Perfect

Patrick Macias does a close reading of a new “mook” from O-niikei bible Men’s Knuckle: Host Knuckle. You may scoff at the idea that Japanese men would be so interested in dressing exactly like professional gigolos (who mainly service prostitutes and other paid-members of the demi-monde entertainment economy), but as I wrote for clast

O-nii-kei Blazes On

This O-nii-kei thing is a real movement. In more classical models of consumer behavior, fringe styles like this only rise to prominence after attracting mass audiences, thus gaining enough numbers to warrant mainstream press attention. In the case of O-nii-kei and Akiba-kei, however, we should at least entertain the idea that mainstream consumers have dropped out of the market so quickly (or at least, dissipated so throughly into their own micro-segments) that these “fringe” styles can set market records on their own. In other words, Japanese pop culture has become a game of the last consumers standing together.

Edelstein: Schoolboy Cafe

I know everyone loves all these schoolboy and maid cafes, but I personally wish Edelstein was the name of a new Jewish deli in Tokyo. I could do with a chocolate egg cream, matzo ball soup, an open-faced brisket sandwich, and potato latkes with applesauce right about now.

W. David MARX
February 8, 2008