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Pecha Kucha Night: A Celebration

The Pecha Kucha Night: A Celebration book is finally available online. Pecha Kucha Night is a series of global events where 20 presenters take the stage to present 20 slides, about which they will speak for 20 seconds each.

This book is a “best of,” with presentations by Japanese super-architect Toyo Ito, Marcus Fairs, PKN founders Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of the insanely awesome and talented Klein Dytham architecture, Tokyo dance group Strange Kinoko, graphic designers Namaiki, type designer Odod Ezer, and British designer Sebastian Conran.

The book was edited by Uleshka, founder of PingMag, and designed by, um, Ian Lynam Design. It weighs in at 176 pages, soft-cover, and has a nice UV gloss screenprint cover. The text is a mixture of English and Japanese.

At ¥2000 ($18.75) each, including global priority shipping from Japan, it’s a steal.

February 7, 2008

2-Ch and Anti-Korean Schadenfreude

韓国人留学生がホームステイ先の白人家庭で6歳の女児と4歳の男児をレイプ …アメリカ

Having grown up with at least one foot in the nerd world — old GURPS books, 20-sided die, and TMBG bootlegs still in my closet at home — I would expect myself to feel a general sympathy towards the Japanese otaku-zoku. I do not, however, and after Patrick Macias shot down my own pet theories in a conversation a few weeks ago, I am not sure if I can explain my instincts.

But since Japanese Net Culture is pretty much a bastion for nerds, much like American Net Culture circa 1997 or so, maybe I tend to associate the central BBS 2-Ch with the collective otaku id. And one of the things I find massively unpalatable on 2-Ch is the extremely common anti-Korean and anti-Chinese sentiment.

Although I rarely agree with the conservative arguments, I can at least understand the desire to defend Japanese history and honor against entrenched Korean and Chinese attacks. I don’t find this particularly excessive. What I see a lot of, however, is collections of news stories — with zero relevance to Japan — where the wrongdoer or criminal happens to be Chinese or Korean. For example, no one is more happy to tell you that the killer of Lucie Blackman — Obara Joji — is actually Japanese-Korean. I guess the idea is that this lets Japan off the hook for the crime, although Obara Kim Sung Jong lived in Japan his whole life. Here today, we have another example of this phenomenon: Itai News has selected to feature a story about a Korean man studying in the United States who allegedly raped his host-family’s two (white!) young children. The crime is indefensible and gruesome, but the obsession with the crime seems also bizarre: why is this particular piece of news on Japan’s closest thing to a BoingBoing-esque news aggregator 2-Ch Itai News? Is there any explanation other than the fact that this particular audience wants to indulge in schadenfreude towards their Asian neighbors?

W. David MARX
February 6, 2008

The Underworld and Music

Yakuza & Idols

Bon Bon Blanco fan Santos26 writes about two recent cases reminding everyone of the close relation between the music business and the Japanese underworld.

W. David MARX
February 5, 2008

Panda Loves Music: Feb 08

Anything without 2008 on the release date is old, but that doesn’t matter… Owusu & Hannibal have the cure.

Low Motion Disco stay true to their name. But the LMD debut EP is now delayed until… nobody knows… and they continue to keep an frustratingly-low profile. There are a minimal number of places to check out their musics… their label doesn’t even mention the release that was suppose to come out today.

Grrr… I look forward to it anyway. I get like that.

Owusu & Hannibal “Blue Jay” from the album Living With…

Low Motion Disco “Low In the City”.

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Trevor SIAS
February 5, 2008

Johnnys Jimusho Insane Compromise on Web Photo Usage

Roses to our editor Matt Treyvaud for this nugget of info, but he demanded that I type it up due to my past obsession with similar topics:

ジャニーズタレントの写真 亀梨ら「ネット解禁」の裏事情

Many people are starting to notice that Johnny’s Jimusho maintains a bewilderingly-unfriendly attitude towards media companies’ usage of its star talents’ images online. (An example here.) Basically, Johnny’s Jimusho makes a lot of money selling official pictures of its boy stars as 3″x5″ photos (“bromides”) and is super paranoid that kids may print out pics on the web for their walls and collections, thus instantly destroying the entire monopoly boy band market. So we have this bizarre situation where Johnny’s tarento are represented photographically in television shows, but cannot be represented photographically on the show’s website. As we know, the internet in Japan is dangerous and must be approached with utmost caution. (I recommend that newspapers do not start their own websites: band together with two others and give it a shot. But avoid RSS!)

Enter an unlikely compromise: Johnny’s has decided it’s okay to allow “photograph-like pictures” for website promotion. (Johnny Kitagawa is most likely a big fan of Chuck Close.) But oddly, these “photograph-like pictures” tend to look exactly like a first-grader’s experiment with Adobe Photoshop filters. Check out the guy at the bottom right in this show promo shot. Maybe the storyline concerns a fresh-face youth discriminated against after a sudden bout of Low-Rez Syndrome (aka Sudden Pixilation Affliction).

Another silly example: the TBS drama Sasaki Fusai. Koyuki is looking okay, but Inagaki Goro’s got the low-rez blues.

My advice for Johnny’s: buy a printer, try to print out any normal web-ready 72 dpi image, and then bask in the terrible quality of the printing. The entire Japanese entertainment industry thinks computers can do what they do in this scene from Pretty in Pink. Sometimes we think tactical brilliance is behind iron fist tactics, but in this case, seems like it’s just paranoia born from gross ignorance.

W. David MARX
February 4, 2008

Ther thou shalt here many oon

Last week’s “new news portal” post aroused a lot of excitement, but for my money Patrick hit on the key issue in comment #1: what’s with the name?

Their “about” page explains that, yeah, it really is arata ni su as in Old Japanese for what would today be atarashiku suru, make new. Nothing says “bold step into the future” like verb forms that went out of fashion centuries ago.

(It’s still not clear whether we romaji users have permission to spell it “aratanisu” like sensible folk or whether we are expected to use the spelling in their domain name, “allatanys”, which seems to have journeyed here from a parallel universe in which a joint Italian-Danish committee had the final say on romanizing Japanese.)

Anyway, I thought some readers might be interested this Global Voices Online post linking to and translating comments on the issue from Japanese bloggers. (Pardon the new thread, but the old one seems to have drifted a bit.)

February 3, 2008

John Jay on Numero Japan

For The Moment | Being Numero One

John Jay’s posts have been pretty much on target for introducing readers to some new faces from Japanese hipster culture post-Fujiwara Hiroshi and Murakami Takashi: Visvim as the best post-Ura-Harajuku fashion designer, Oki Sato/Nendo as the new, young design entrepreneur. Numero Tokyo fits well as the media equivalent, directed by charismatic and internationally-minded editor Tanaka Ako. Despite being the localized version of a French magazine, Numero Tokyo is generally Japan-focused — filling a void since the recent departures of Relax and Tokion.

The problem with all of these names, however, is that they are “big” only within the hipster taste culture niche to which John Jay, his agency, and most members of Néojaponisme’s staff belong. And while the forward-thinking creative culture we tend to advocate had a lot of influence on broader mainstream Japanese culture in the past, that is not true anymore. If there has been a narrative for this group in the last few years, it’s certainly its fall from commercial viability. Relax went under, so did excellent hipster record stores Zest and Maximum Joy (Painfully-snobby Bonjour Records exists thanks to corporate backing from the Jun fashion group). Record label Polystar called its quits. There may be a legion of fixie-riders and Mister Hollywood fans, but in general, the hipster culture of the 1990s has failed to win over the younger generation. Every time I go to an “opening” or “reception,” I find the exact same people getting older and older, not parties over-run with young people.

With this in mind, there is something inconsistent about writing the following phrase in an essay about Numero Tokyo:

It is no secret that the young women of Tokyo rule as the consumer engine, their influence and sophistication make them a highly sought after audience.

Numero Tokyo claims to print around 60,000 issues a month, but since this figure is not verified by either the Audit Bureau of Circulation or the Japanese Magazine Publishers Association, we can assume the real number to be around 30,000 or 40,000. This is absolutely tiny compared to monoliths CanCam (524,094), with (357,092), or More (414,363). So if Japanese women “lead” the market, they are clearly siding with a completely non-hipster aesthetic. Almost no part of these popular magazines’ styling or cultural guidance has “trickled-down” from somewhere like Numero Tokyo.

So, when Tanaka says, “Today there is no social movement originated by a magazine,” it’s hard to understand what she means. The CanCam girls are a social movement in a certain sense, but since it’s not one we hipsters approve of, we tend to dismiss it. Numero Tokyo is a “challenger” and possibly a positive force when viewed from our specific taste culture, but maybe what the majority of Japanese women think is “hot” and “cool” in Tokyo has nothing to do with Araki or art or skateboarding or Yonehara Yasumasa’s photography or Justice. Maybe they just like houndtooth-check coats and curly brown hair and bejeweled cell-phones. If true, that has huge implications for the entire trend-spotting, cool-hunting industry. When the fashion elite have the power and social capital to control content, but generate little interest from people outside of their small circles, are they still a real elite? Or just a very vocal taste culture floating in space?

W. David MARX
February 1, 2008