From Tokyo to Tacoma

by Roland Kelts

   Last month I wrote of the growing interest in Japanese narratives-stories about and from the fringes of 21st Century life, where we all seem to be living in narrowing worlds, a kind of global otakudom.

   I am now in the midst of a 9-city book tour in support of Japanamerica. Thus far I have greeted audiences and members of the media in six of the nine: Tokyo, New York, Boston, Washington, DC, Berkeley and San Francisco, in that order. I am writing to you from Seattle, and am about to leave for Powell's Books in Portland.

   I can confidently say that I have encountered that growing interest firsthand.

japanamerica    From Tokyo to Tacoma, I have been humbled as much by the numbers of audience members as by their searching intelligence. In Tokyo’s Good Day Books, we ran overtime during the Q&A session, a scenario that has been repeated at events on both coasts of the US, where readers have ranged in age from the early teens to the late 60s and even early 70s. Topics of discussion have included the decline in America’s reputations and popular media/iconography; the rise in both the quality and quantity of Japan’s cultural output; the de-privileging of the photograph and the elevation of the illustration; apocalypse as spectacle, fantasy and the beginning of new narratives and worlds. Forgive the laundry list. There’s even more.

   One young man in line for the book signing after my talk at UC Berkeley asked me in shaky voice: “How did you manage to write a book on this stuff that went mainstream?”

    "I wrote the book," I acknowledged, "but I have nothing to do with the 'mainstreaming.' That's down to you guys."

japanamerica    As I write, Natsuo Kirino is embarking on her first US book tour in support of Grotesque, her latest book to be translated into English. (The paperback edition of Out, her first translation and a bestseller, glares at me through bookstore windows across America.) The magnificent Tekkon Kinkreet, the first anime feature film to be directed and scripted by Americans, is slated for its US premiere in a five-day screening session at MOMA in New York from April 25 to 30. Rumor has it that the director (American), artists (Japanese), manga author (Taiyo Matsumoto) and Japanese producer will be flying to Manhattan for the event. I have been discussing the film, which I saw in Tokyo, with audience across the US? and you can check out my review of the feature in the current issue of Animation Magazine.

   A bit closer to home: I met with the founder and editor and chief (and my esteemed colleague) of A Public Space, Brigid Hughes, in New York a couple of weeks ago. The occasion was auspicious: Matthew Sharpe was reading from his extraordinary new novel Jamestown in the East Village amid a classic Manhattan ice storm. Motoyuki Shibata, his wife Hitomi, the author Lynn Tillman, and a Japanese journalist and her photographer from Tokyo were all in attendance. We all convened for dinner at Esashi Sushi next door, sipping sake as the windows rattled.

   We’ve got some great new Japanese fiction planned for issue 5 of A Public Space, and you can read my Village Voice review of Jamestown right here:
Here's me on BBC radio today:

   The Japanamerica mobius strip twists into Portland and Seattle this week. Then it's off to Los Angeles before a return to Tokyo. Two newspaper interviews, two radio, and four gigs coming up. The Japanese edition launches at the start of May. More soon.

By Roland Kelts, Author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture has Invaded the US and Contributing Editor of A Public Space

BACK NUMBER of JapanAmerican eyes


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