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Japan Today supports Church of Scientology

What Japan Thinks pulls out some crucial investigative journalistic skills to show a creeping influence of the infamous religious cult Scientology on the infamous Japan news site Japan Today. Taking money for Scientology ads is one thing, but letting Scientology members write editorials on “moral education“? Why can’t they leave the bad persuasive essays to lay expats?

I have never quite understood how the Japan Times or Japan Today have much potential as businesses, and I guess turning to aggressively-recruiting religious organizations is the only solution. I feel kind of insulted that cults aren’t calling me up to invest in Néojaponisme! I would refuse and all, but I would finally know we had made it.

W. David MARX
April 26, 2008


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Oricon wins suit against writer

I have a lot of other stuff going on right now, but I just wanted to bring this to your attention.

The Japanese legal system has ruled that, yes, companies can successfully sue individuals quoted in magazine articles for libel. Even though Ugaya neither wrote or published the offending Cyzo article on possible Oricon chart-fixing for advertisers and had a certain amount of evidence to back up his statements, the judge agreed with Oricon that Ugaya had committed libel. Oricon did not sue the publisher Infobahn for publishing the article, did not sue the magazine that printed the article, and did not sue the writer of the article. They only sued the person quoted in it (whose quotes were edited).

This is obviously a very bad precedent, and even worse that the Japanese mass media has not uttered a peep about this possible threat to media freedom.

W. David MARX
April 23, 2008


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When we interviewed Japanese leftist terrorism expert Dr. Patricia Steinhoff last September, I commented that someone should probably release the otherwise-unattainable early ’70s Adachi Masao and Wakamatsu Kōji documentary Sekigun-PFLP Declaration of War on YouTube. The film, created for Red Army recruiting and fund-raising purposes back in Japan, showed members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Japanese Red Army training in Lebanon camps. Steinhoff told me that the film is “definitely not a YouTube kind of thing,” but this is the internet we are talking about. Finally, someone has uploaded the first bit of the film, and I would hope that more will follow.

Not a particularly engaging piece of cinema, but as Steinhoff explained, the close-ups of young men handling guns was enough to excite the hearts of young Japanese leftists at the time. Midnight Eye has a bit in this essay about the film.

W. David MARX
April 21, 2008


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Denki Groove are back with their first single in eight years, and the accompanying video is so good that it makes me want to throw a temper tantrum. An homage to the Japanese 1980s pop moment, directors Prince Tongha (DG’s Pierre Taki and Super Lovers/Super Milk Chan art director Tanaka Hideyuki) collected a large and diverse group of intentionally-unremarkable girls to act out Matsuda Seiko, Pink Lady, Pro Golfer Reiko, Sukeban Deka, and other iconic aesthetic moments of the “idol” era. The song’s not bad either.

Now this is the J-Pop I remember! The video shows Sony Music Japan at its best: slightly alternative production and catchy melodies mixed with high-level art-driven visuals. Imagine the entire label filled with acts like this (Judy and Mary, Supercar, Sunahara Yoshinori, Puffy, the Chappie album etc.) and you’ll realize why the mid-to-late 1990s showed such creative energy in the mainstream arena.

The more this decade progresses, the more I realize that the quality decline of Japanese music in the last 7-8 years has been essentially a generational problem. We tend to discount bands once the members start hitting their late 30s, but Denki Groove, Scha Dara Parr, Cornelius, and other core members of Gen X keep providing a level of pop music and visual that strives towards artistry and critical irony. Maybe the latest Cornelius stuff is less essential, but he’s still schooling everyone else.

This ragtag mopey Generation Y has basically rejected any sort of artistic pretension on the grounds that it gets in the way of fraternal compassion. Everything’s gotta be “real” — like Let it Be over Sgt. Peppers. You can’t be earnest and ironic at the same time, and they’ve chosen the former.

Although I have blamed Gen Y’s cultural malaise on their navel-gazing insularity, Denki Groove shows that you can create gold out of exclusively domestic source material. The problem again is Generation Y’s failure to know how to remix, sample, and recontextualize their own Japanese pop heritage. When you think the entire exercise of “contemporary art” is pretentious fakery, you limit your creativity to a small scale that will not impress anyone outside of your peer group. Denki Groove are a band that contributed to the idea of “Japan Cool,” and they seem to be the only ones these days performing up to the promise.

W. David MARX
April 18, 2008


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TH&S

I normally am not a big toy fan, but I do approve of old school-style kaiju. And as far as kaiju go, these Portland/Tokyo guys make some of the most tripped-out, interesting kaiju out there today. I will fully be attending this opening and insist that you do the same!

Tentacles, Horns, and Scales
April 19th Thrash Out in Koenji, Tokyo.
Artshow, toy release, sneak attack.
Featuring all new works by Koji Harmon, Bwana Spoons, and Martin Ontiveros.
Sponsored by Dekline footwear.

Come join us for good times, art, toys, prizes, and a few big suprises.
Thrash Out is the Flagship store and gallery of mind bending vinyl pioneers Gargamel.

Gargamel makes toys that look like Jolly Rancher coated diamonds.
Koji, Bwana, and Martin make art and toys that explode with color, depth, and endless imagination.
Collector and fan Takaomi Fujiki put it best when he said “Happy Beam Discharge!”
For more info as it becomes available, interviews and photos please contact Grass Hut in the U.S. at 503 445 9924 or grasshut.corp@gmail.com

Martin Ontiveros
Martin Ontiveros grew up in San Diego, California. Graduated CalArts in 1996 with a Bachelor’s degree in Experimental Animation. Then he moved here to Portland. He isn’t rich… yet. But he is getting paid to do what he enjoys, and he’s been doing it for years now. He lives in an awesome basement apartment that he shares with his cool son named Felix and two cats not named Felix. His many many years of pop culture emersion and empirical knowledge of useless trivial information have somehow paid off in spades. Call it luck. His work has appeared in publications like Craphound, Juxtapoz, Pencil Fight, The Stranger, Portland Mercury, and Nickolodeon Magazine, as well as awesome books like BEASTS!, The Darkening Garden, Neither Here Nor There (Melvins), Qeedrophonic, Dot Dot Dash and others.

Koji Harmon
Koji Harmon is a zine maker, photographer, and collector. Koji has worked on several projects with Gargamel, and is fast on his way to master sofubi painter. This is koji’s first venture in to toy design.

Bwana Spoons
Bwana Spoons was raised in the woods. He likes moss and Lego and monsters. When he was a little one he would draw detailed crayon renderings of all his favorite Star Wars figures. When he was older he lost them all in a battle with a mildew giant. He likes making zines and comics and paintings and silk-screened prints and designing toys and making things with rainbows and animals. Recently Bwana was bitten by the textile bug. He has designed shoes for Converse, and Dekline, tees for Giant Robot, and MonsieurT., and baby strollers for Bumbleride. Over the years he has worked on and/or created several zines and comics. “Ain’t Nothin’ Like Fuckin’ Moonshine” was the first and longest running; his most recent projects include Pencil Fight, and Soft Smooth Brain, and the upcoming Welcome to Forest Island book designed by Ian Lynam on Top Shelf Books.

Info and directions to Gargamel here.

Tentacles,Horns,and Scales
開催期間:4/19〜4/28(13:00〜20:00)入場無料
*19日は14:00オープンとなります。
会場:Gargamel Flag Store THRASH OUT

See you there!

Ian LYNAM
April 16, 2008


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Font "FoundryGridnik Medium" was not found.Disabilities + Poor Acting = Another SMAP Success

Wow. SMAP’s Kusanagi Tsuyoshi is not so skilled of an actor, at least not skilled enough to play a “blind masseuse” without looking like a 1950s parody of the differently-abled. This movie Yama no Anata seems to be aiming for a certain nostalgic bittersweet, and yet, they had to throw the lead role to someone whose entire “acting” career was built on his management company’s economic extortion of the media.

Also, I love the fact that if you go to the press conference page, there are no pictures of the main actor. (This is why.) Is there anywhere else on earth that films are not allowed to use images of the STAR in the online promotional materials??? (Nevermind, he’s on the web page for the official site. Must be that he has his eyes closed and no one would want to steal this picture.)

W. David MARX
April 16, 2008


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An outside eye on Japan

I am quoted in this article.

I know there are some old-timer, culture-lovin’ expats in Tokyo who probably differ with my appraisal that there’s something new about being young and obsessed with contemporary Japanese pop in the 21st century. But every time I go to some obscure music event in the city and see a half-dozen white kids in the front row (something that would have been absolutely shocking at a Supercar show in 1998 or Readymade Records night in 2000), I have to think that things have changed for the positive. Heartland Brewery may be the new Gas Panic, but there’s now a countervailing force in town to all that Occupation-era residue.

Also, watch out Dave Spector and Pakkun! Here comes Magibon! Become a foreign Japanese-TV celebrity without leaving your own bedroom!

W. David MARX
April 15, 2008


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I am searching for a b-boy and a b-girl for a short film I am working on. If any MnoT readers know of anyone with talent in this vein, I am all ears!

Ian LYNAM
April 11, 2008


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Boonが5月号で休刊

booncover.jpg Wipe those smiles off your faces, you ingrates: your favorite Japanese street wear magazine Boon is as dead as a noor dail.

Okay, okay. None of you read Boon. I don’t even read Boon, and I read Japanese magazines for a living. While not exactly Relax-R.I.P. in stature, let me explain what this all means while you prepare your o-kouden to send to Shodensha.

The magazine market in Japan has seen steady decline over the last decade. Boon, however, has schooled everyone on how to
dramatically implode. Although launched in 1986, the magazine really hit its stride in the 1990s, becoming the main info source for the “vintage” clothing boom. At one point, Boon printed 800,000 copies a month! 800,000! This is more copies than every single contemporary O-nee-kei magazine (CanCam, JJ, Ray, etc.) combined. 800,000 copies of a men’s street wear magazine dedicated to dressing people in old, disposed American clothing.

By 2007, the whole vintage street wear thing had run its course, and Boon dropped to a 50,830 print-run — a mere 6% of its peak. Late last year, Shodensha rebranded the magazine as b., a Men’s Nonno clone showing you how to mix casual street wear with “high-brands” like Black Fleece by Brooks Brothers. Apparently that strategy didn’t work.

Unlike Relax, Boon did not really represent a particularly creative subsegment of Japanese youth culture, and I can’t claim that many will bemoan its absence. But look on the bright side: every time a youth fashion magazine goes under, another magazine targeted towards old people like Hers pops up. You guys are into off-season jaunts to Corsica, right?

W. David MARX
April 7, 2008


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Japan’s garrulous bloggers go strangely silent

I perfectly understand how “mean” I was being by pointing out that 40% of Japan’s blogs are fake spam pages set up to take in ad revenue. But now that we know that the original Technorati blog count was fundamentally flawed, isn’t the following statement — published just yesterday — basically, “an intentional regurgitation of incorrect information to bolster the thesis”:

According to a State of the Live Web report by blog search engine Technorati, 37% of the world’s blogs are in Japanese, putting it ahead of English, on 36%, and making it the international language of blogging.

The author then states that “Doubts remain over how many Japanese blogs are actually spam sites,” which seems to be a strange hedge that basically accepts the original report. We are still supposed to walk away thinking that Japanese is the “international language for blogging,” which taken literally, means that Japanese is the central language for international blog culture. I ask non-rhetorically: are any bilingual Japanese-English net readers out there content with this statement?

As for the main point of upcoming government censorship, the Japanese state has always been seriously conflicted about the spread of the Internet in Japan. They dragged their feet on hooking Japan up to the Net (for more on this, read Japan and the Internet Revolution), so I don’t see why they would have any underlying ideological belief in keeping it unregulated.

W. David MARX
April 6, 2008


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Kondō Kōji‘s favorite cadence: Dan Bruno explains. (Spoiler: ♭VI-♭VII-I).

Not that I’m implying that anyone reading (or editing) this blog is a huge music and/or video game nerd, of course.

Matt
April 5, 2008


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One of my old blog Néomarxisme’s early successes was my translation of lyrics from seminal idol-collective the Onyanko Club: “Don’t Make Me Take Off My Sailor Uniform“, “A Pervert! (Otto Chikan)” & everyone’s favorite ode to the fact that girls have to have sex with their married teachers to make up for being bad at math “Stop it, Teacher!” At the time I wrote those essays, however, there was no YouTube, so it’s worth going back and taking a look at these bizarre sexually-frank songs in action now that the internet has delivered video capability.

「セーラー服を脱がさないで」/ “Don’t Make Me Take Off My Sailor Uniform”

The archeo-feminist in me always shakes its head at this track, for the fact that crafty male producers and songwriters got together and forced a bunch of bland teenage girls to sing unambiguous, unpoetic lines like, “I want to have sex before anyone else does” and “It’s boring being a virgin.” But the song is even weirder in context: note how generally boyish, unattractive, and unerotically dressed the girls are. (If you think I am making an overly-subjective or personal judgment about their relative cuteness, ask anybody from that era how they were perceived. Onyanko Club started the “throw a bunch of mediocre daughters of overambitious stage mothers together and the total cuteness will suffice” strategy that Morning Musume perfected.) Also note how the (incredibly shady-looking) male hosts and male audience are so enthusiastic — much more so than the girls in the group or the female audience members. The Onyanko girls look like they learned the choreography ten minutes prior and are promised a half-hour outside of their cages if they can get through the three minutes without messing up too badly.

Nothing about the actual staging or execution seems to recognize the sexual content of the song, reinforcing the interpretation that the whole thing (along with the openly-sketchy title of the show Yuyake Nyan Nyan) was a massive subversive practical joke on the part of adult men. You can argue for some Shinto non-Christian morality at the heart of this TV phenomenon, but show me similarly open child sex-pop tunes from the ’70s and ’90s. In most cases, we get “flowers blooming” and other silly metaphors, but not “I want to do H like that shown in the weekly magazines.”

Rest assured that in this clip you are peering into a fleeting moment of Japanese pop culture that would never quite hit the same touchpoints. In this day and age, Akimoto Yasushi would never pass off such literal material to AKB48 or even Jero.

W. David MARX
April 4, 2008


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After the 101 Tokyo opening last night (and before the 102 Tokyo Art opening), Jean Snow, Brad D., and I stopped into a Suehirocho Mickey Ds to eat some eco-unfriendly and inexpensive food-units. (Have you tried this “Big” Mac thing they have? It’s huge!)

We were seated next to a conspiciously-filthy group of vagrant-looking older Japanese men and women, who were drifting in and out of sleep and looked to have been camping out in those seats for the entire Fukuda prime minister-ship. Suddenly, the younger woman of this collective pulls out an enormous needle, and as we were fleeing, administered the older guy of the group an insulin shot as he laid down.

Needles and vagrants at a McDonalds? What is this — New York? I am not going to extrapolate this one anecdote into proof of Japanese economic collapse, but I almost feel like Tokyo’s less pleasant underbelly is starting to stick out a bit more, especially in downtown areas. The clerks are still perky young nationals, but the Japanese fast food environment may possibly be on its way to becoming as unpredictable as in other countries.

W. David MARX
April 3, 2008