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August 25, 2009

On "The Soul of Japan"

Roland Kelts, “The Soul of Japan“, Adbusters

I am not sure I understand what is going on in this article.

1. Japan has been too influenced by American culture, but also hasn’t been influenced enough.

Murakami Ryu complains about Japan taking up too much American-style materialism, but then complains that Japan only took up American culture in a superficial way. But wouldn’t it be way worse had Japan adopted American style values in a deep and thorough way? Hasn’t Japanese culture been “saved” by only appropriating American culture as surface?

2. The entire idea of Japanese social dependence comes from the defeat of WWII and not over a millennium of Confucian-derived values.

“A Japan shaped by its reliance upon big brother/big daddy America would naturally perfect this form of expression.”

Murakami Takashi — if I was new to this, I would think that everyone in Japan is named “Murakami,” by the way — is obsessed with framing every possible Japanese cultural tendency through the lens of WWII. Sure, the war was an epoch-changing affair and the scars are deep, but I don’t think America suddenly invented the idea of dependence and hierarchical relations and hoisted them on Japan. Murakami seems to complain about all these hierarchical structures — in an incredibly Oedipal American way — and then blames them on America. And then he also goes around saying that Japan is “superflat” — no hierarchies at all.

Then Murakami Ryu says, “The paradigm of Japanese society has changed since the era of rapid economic growth, but our society still provides the same kind of education and corporations are still managed by rules based on norms rooted in the paradigms of that time.”

This is a great summary of Japan’s political issues, but the cause has way more to do with Japanese internal political inertia and social organization than any sort of complex with America.

3. Japan is powerless to do anything about this American influence.

“There are 45,000 American troops here, and American fast food is everywhere. What could we do to stop it?”

For the time being, let’s ignore the fact that there is Japanese fast food everywhere and that there are probably as many Doutors as Starbucks.

I absolutely believe that the United States has had a distorting influence upon the Japanese political process. The CIA secretly funded the LDP until, at least, the late 1980s and put right-wing thugs on their payroll to crush Leftist dissent.

That being said, individual Japanese citizens do have a choice of whether to eat McDonalds or Yoshinoya. All that “fast food” is there because it sells really well. McDonalds Japan just posted record revenues.

In the same way, the Japanese people could have voted for a political party that promised an independent foreign policy from American needs, but the LDP has been given the reigns to the country for almost the entirety of the post-war period. There are everyday lifestyle choices that would help mitigate the American influence, but most people are choosing the status quo. No one seems to be interested in asking why there is such a high demand for American culture and products in Japan.

“And the BBC reported in May that Japan’s Communist Party had swelled to more than 400,000 members, with 1,000 newbies signing on every month.”

So, good, the Japanese, through support of the JCP, are making a political movement against Japan’s participation in the American capitalistic sphere and the nuclear treaty. But if membership is increasing, why did the JCP lose ground in the last Tokyo election? And why do people think they will lose further ground in this month’s big national election?

4. Everyone loves American culture, but there is something shameful about liking American culture.

“Oe admitted that books like Huckleberry Finn and volumes by Walt Whitman first inspired him to embark on his career as a writer. He reportedly bowed his head in apology immediately after making this confession.”

I think the context of that anecdote was that Oe has always been aligned with the Japanese left, but as an American Left-style humanist liberal democrat, he had to feign a certain amount of shame in front of the dominant USSR and China-oriented Socialists. I don’t think that liking Huckleberry Finn is particularly shame-worthy in more mainstream circles. Murakami Haruki wears his American influences on his sleeve, and he’s a hugely-selling author.

5. American culture has lost influence in Japan.

“Younger Japanese are setting the trends that young Americans and other Westerners now follow”

This needs to be highly qualified. Mixi was a Friendster rip-off, and American web culture — other than 4-chan perhaps — has taken very little influence from Japanese web culture. There are probably things that prove the “Japan got to postmodernity before the US,” but net culture does not work as an example.

But I agree with the bigger point: young Japanese have generally lost interest in the U.S. This is totally true — especially in the fashion world. Japanese youth know so little about the rest of the world that there is no way they could harbor an inferiority complex.

So shouldn’t this be a cause for celebration? Isn’t this the end of the psychological crisis? Do any of the artists featured in the piece feel happy about the artistic potential of the latest youth generation? Wasn’t it the complex and dialogue with the West that spurred the creative tension in their work? Would Murakami Takashi give all the money back for his “soul”?

W. David MARX
August 12, 2009

Chewing the Cud: Herbivores

Emergency Message to the MSM
June 1, 2009

From the desk of The Reporter Generalissimo

To Japan correspondents:

Please go and write an article about Japan’s soushokudanshi: the so-called herbivore men.


We don’t care that this is an old story in the Japanese media.

The Reporter Generalissimo

CNN – “Japan’s ‘herbivore men’ — less interested in sex, money” (June 8, 2009)

Independent UK – “Japan’s Generation XX” (June 13, 2009)

Slate – “The Herbivore’s Dilemma” (June 15, 2009)


Marxy sez: I will have some deeper thoughts on this soon…

W. David MARX
June 18, 2009

10... Q...

Just a reminder that Néojaponisme contributor Daniel Morales is scheduled to begin liveblogging his day reading Murakami Haruki’s new book 1Q84 in twelve hours or so over at How to Japonese.

Be there or… reread Dōjidai game, I guess.

May 28, 2009

Adachi Yumi's Mom in Porn Debut

安達有里(安達祐実の母)がAVデビュー 7月にSODから発売 (Adachi Yuri — Adachi Yumi’s mother — to make adult video debut from SOD in July)

We’ve all suspected at some level that mothers who force their daughters into show business at a young age either have some kind of ethnically-unbound ethically-unbound capitalist lust or are using their children as proxy agents to achieve unfulfilled life dreams. Adachi Yuri, however, may take the cake for stage mom awfulness. Thanks to her nude photo book and now this upcoming porn debut (at age 51!), Adachi Yumi’s career will no doubt be forever buried under the shadow of her mother’s freak show.

More pressingly, I wonder how Adachi’s 16 year-old son feels about this.

The commenters are 2-ch are not so hot on this whole story either: “子供を芸能界に入れる親ってやっぱりどこか外れてるのか”

W. David MARX
May 24, 2009

A Bathing Ape Minus Nigo

Hypebeast: Nigo Cedes Roles at A Bathing Ape

Nigo steps down as President/Director of A Bathing Ape! I should write more about this, but I am about to step on a plane.

I will be back on the 9th with lots of new content. Sorry for the lack of blogging over the last few months.

W. David MARX
April 2, 2009

Best Bloggers in Japan! Wait, seriously?

Global Voices Online: Japan: Alpha Blogger Awards 2008 (Part 1)

Here you have it folks: the best of the Japanese web. Anyone else feel underwhelmed? Seriously, the second best is a site that gives you the most basic common-sense information about pregnancy.

I don’t want to use the word “ugly” for the featured blog formatting, but is there a law or something against breaking preset template in this country?

How many years until there are “professional-grade blogs” with mass readerships that are not horribly-corrupt product-placement schemes, fake celebrity diaries written/vetted by mangers, or re-prints of tech press releases?

Maybe the Japanese are not paranoid of the internet: they are just bored.

W. David MARX
February 25, 2009

Grass Hut

Interview here.

February 15, 2009

The Total Best Blog on Japan Ever: Us

Best of Japan On the Web 2009

Give a round of high-fivers and highly-esoteric “van Doesburg Points” to Team Néojaponisme for getting RMP (“real madd props” [sic]) from the list of lists. Listen to this, lesser peoples of the net:

Néojaponisme (www.neojaponisme.com)
Possibly the hippest cat on the block, this site is run by a group of cooler-than-thou arty types, mainly based in Tokyo. They certainly know their stuff, and hitting the site regularly enough leaves you with the satisfying feeling that you’re kinda hangin’ wid da in-crowd. Don’t get any big ideas, though. You’re still too dassai to approach them in reality.

If you approach us at parties, we will inform you that dasai has one “s” and then go back to being horribly nerdy misanthropes with persecution complexes. Alas, I speak for myself.

No, we kid, we kid. We always appreciate compliments and show our gratitude by being completely uncomfortable on how to react and descending into strange self-parody.

Also, a personal triumph: MEKAS. — Best Poser Site. I think he means “cultural elitist” for “poser” since the best “poser” site would be a site posing to be cultural elitist, right? My idea for Best Poser Site would be a collection of photos capturing all the guys in my high school who ran out to get chain-wallets and Dinosaur Jr. T-shirts in early 1994. A special page would be dedicated to Straight Edge tattoos for guys who stopped being straight edge after about three months.

W. David MARX
February 6, 2009



29 year-old delivery man Ike Takao of Kagawa Prefecture was arrested for sending bomb threats to the video game company Hudson Soft. One threat included “Bring 80 trillion yen in cash to Takamatsu Station! Or else I’ll keep sending bombs to your company until everyone is dead!” After being arrested he said, “I sent them my opinions and hopes for their games, but they didn’t make the games better, so I did it.”

Among his opinions — Momotaro Densetsu: momo not big enough to fit small boy. Bomberman: not enough bombs.

February 3, 2009

Japanese Voices on Quarter Pounder Line-Hoaxing

Japan: Blurry Lines Between Buzz and Truth – McDonald’s Quarter Pounder Debut

My love for Global Voices Online grows. This is a great summary of the “Quarter Pounder Line-fixing Debate” plus a chance to hear real Japanese opinions on the matter.

I hope to write a longer essay on this at some point but “fixing lines” seems to just be one tool in a big arsenal from Japanese companies of sculpting an image of popularity into the mass media before that popularity is even achieved. Clearly companies everywhere want to achieve this, but the uniquely centralized and streamlined media system makes it a lot easier in Japan. The internet is getting in the way though! Now smaller members of the conspiratorial party have a place to whisper to millions.

W. David MARX
January 30, 2009

Dull and Ugly Homeowners Lose

Neighbors lose legal battle against unsightly house

Makoto Chan House

There are two kinds of residences in Tokyo: dull, generic ugly houses and uniquely ugly houses. Most dull, generic ugly houses have no aesthetic: they are essentially tile-covered boxes in odd geometric shapes. The worst ones are formless masses covered in stucco. They are not “post-modern” or modernist houses that start to look ugly in a few years. They are born ugly.

There are also some ugly houses that are quite interesting. These are mostly houses from rich people who can hire their own architects.

Once in a while there are some visually attractive houses, but for some reason, they are all in unadorned reinforced concrete.

So the owners of dull, ugly houses in Kichijoji tried to force insane manga artist Umezu Kazuo to make his uniquely ugly red-and-white striped house more dull ugly. They lost. A great day for uniquely ugly houses.

A note: I think we’ve complained about this before, but the problem is clearly not that Japan does not know how to make handsome houses. Traditional Japanese houses are amazing! They’re beautiful! Even the Japanese like them and preserve them and pay lots of vacation money to go visit and stay in them! And yet no one has figured out how to make a modern building with a traditional Japanese-exterior? Instead they just build a wooden box and throw some tiles on it. Could it not be related to the fact that the Japanese construction industry is the most corrupt industry in Japan, maybe after entertainment?

W. David MARX
January 29, 2009

Employees in Heat

Workers urged: Go home and multiply

I think Canon has the right idea here, but I don’t really think we are in “Japanese-companies-make-employees-go-home-early-to-make-babies trend” territory yet. This, however, would be a pretty amazing thing to see implemented across the board. I wonder why Canon has been the first to act.

This is good timing with the recession too. There is just going to be less work for everyone in general, so yeah, send people home already.

That being said, does anyone think that two days a week is going to cure the birth rate? Companies may want to consider, I don’t know, permanently fostering a better culture of work-life balance. Two days a week is kinda like, you should be at work doing nothing at a snail’s pace for twelve hours, but these are drastic times and we have to let you out! So go forth and multiply! But once you have more children, start working twelve hours again.

(I apologize in advance for the Western-bias in being pro-low work hours. I don’t know whether it’s from Plato, Christ, or Marx, but I have this odd idea that personal identity should also be allowed flourish outside of the office walls.)

W. David MARX
January 27, 2009

Japan: Obama is the Guy with the Black Face, so Blackface

雑記帳 長崎・小浜温泉では「OBAMA感謝祭」

I have only one problem with Japanese people in blackface: it’s totally inexcusably awful. I hate to be shrill about this, and outrage in this case feels like almost like a cliche, but how many more of these are we going to have to see?

Let’s assume for a minute that this sudden rash of Japanese blackface in the wake of Obama’s presidency is well-intentioned. Comedians and yuksters want to look like Obama, so they darken their faces. Does no one know that this is not okay outside of Japan? And more to the point, do people understand that putting these images on the internet means that non-Japanese will view them and say, wow, this Japanese man in blackface in imitation of Obama is a total bummer and a blight on the Japanese nation?

Obama will be president for at least four years, if not more. Someone needs to drop the hint now — in some kind of well-orchestrated national campaign — that Japanese comedians and actors can’t do their Obama imitations in blackface (or even worse, crappy blackface) for the entire span of the Obama administration. Otherwise, this problem is only going to get worse.

Spike Lee’s Bamboolzed is not his greatest work, but it definitively tackles the core issues at the heart of the blackface debate. (Wait, is this even a “debate”? You just are not supposed to do blackface in contemporary global society. Case closed.) Can we send a boatload of Region 2 DVDs of this film over here and pass them out?

I leave you with hopefully one of the last examples of Japan’s Blackface Era: a truly terrible Obama in blackface and fuzzy black wig in the world of Super Mario.

W. David MARX
January 21, 2009

Beat Takeshi and the Burakumin

Japan’s Outcasts Still Wait for Acceptance

The main point of this story is that PM Aso is kind of a discriminatory asshole, but I wanted to point something else out:

“The situation has improved over all,” said Takeshi Kitano, chief of the human rights division in Osaka’s prefectural government. “But there are problems left.”

How awesome is Japan’s famed director and funnyman Beat Takeshi? He can apparently find time between hosting TV shows to be Osaka’s chief human rights officer.

(Update #2: I scorched some text.)

W. David MARX
January 19, 2009