Spring Across the Ocean:
by Roland Kelts
When I landed in Tokyo after my last radio interview <*download file to listen.> in Los Angeles some days ago, the California sun seemed to have crossed the Pacific with me. Tokyo was bathed in it. But now the rains and grays have settled in, the cherry blossoms have dispersed --- and it’s risky trekking anywhere without an umbrella and a windbreaker.
Even so, exchanges across the Pacific are lively this season. Last week I was privileged to accompany veteran New Yorker magazine illustrator Roz Chast and her daughter Nina as they visited Tokyo for the first time.
Roz was born and raised in Brooklyn, and has clear memories of strolling beneath the cherry blossom canopies in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden with her parents during the city’s annual Sakura Matsuri Sakura Matsuri, which begins this very Saturday in New York. Her cartoons began appearing in the New Yorker in 1978, and I have clear memories of encountering her quirky lines, perplexed expressions and surreal humor as a kid leafing through my parents’ weekly issues.
Last November I had a brief layover in Washington, DC en route from Tokyo to New York to launch Japanamerica. Perusing the New Yorker’s annual “cartoon issue” at a magazine rack, I came upon Roz’s entry titled “Turning Japanese” (a few panels of which are scanned here: ( http://www.wunderland.com/WTS/Rash/misc/roz.htm).
I was pleasantly startled: On my way to launch my book about Japanese pop culture, I was greeted by one of my favorite New Yorker cartoonists explaining her fascination with the same subject. A few days later, at a dinner party hosted by author Barry Yourgrau, I met a New Yorker editor who said he knew Roz and her daughter, and that both would be interested in Japanamerica. They got the book, and I suddenly received a very friendly and complimentary email from Roz herself.
Roz announced her plans to visit Tokyo in the spring and we arranged to meet this month. But while Roz was certainly interested in Japan (and manga), the real impetus behind her decision to book a flight across the ocean came from her 16 year-old daughter, Nina.
Like so many young Americans I profiled in my book, Nina is a fan of anime and manga whose interest in Japanese pop culture has expanded to include the entire culture. She is studying Japan’s customs, history and literature; she is learning the language; and she wants to someday live in Japan.
Roz and Nina’s favorite manga/anime series is Azumanga Daiyoh, a blissfully wacky and surreal comedy set in a Japanese high school and originally created in 1999 by artist Kiyohiko Azuma. Over lunch in Tokyo earlier this year, my dear friend and editor Mihoko Iida cooked up the brilliant idea of arranging for the two artists, American and Japanese, to meet during Roz’s Tokyo sojourn. Azuma-san said yes --- and Roz and Nina were thrilled.
And so it was last week that a very affable Azuma-san and his colleagues welcomed Nina, Iida-san, me and Roz (see photo above with Azuma’s latest heroine, Yotsuba) into his cozy studio in western Tokyo to talk of art, culture and humor, to exchange ideas and insights, to express mutual admiration and share camaraderie. The visit was thrilling, edifying, even spiritually nourishing: Two artists from opposite sides of the globe discussing their crafts and laughing together. When Roz presented a copy of her new book Theories of Everything as a gift, Azuma-san smiled. He already had it.
The Japanese-language edition of Japanamerica is due out next month; I will be giving my first Japan tour presentation on Sunday, May 6 (>>More detail: PDF File) at The Pink Cow in central Tokyo. If you are in Japan, please come.
Till next time, here’s some selected recent Japanamerica media for your entertainment:
US Public TV:
*Starts at start, then 14:00 minute mark
The Australian, Australia:
The Guardian, UK:
By Roland Kelts, Author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture has Invaded the US and Contributing Editor of A Public Space
JAPANAMERICAN EYES - BACKNUMBER:
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