London Calling Japan
by Roland Kelts
I am writing now from London, where the weather is playing its conventional role: rain and wind are making the windows vibrate in my hotel room high above the desolate docklands. To the east, the city's lights are enveloped in a tissue paper haze.
Actually, the windows only vibrated when I had them open, breathing in the moist air after a long day inside trains and an arid convention hall. This is a big, industrial-weight hotel. The winds are whooshing, but I've got the heat on in here.
I departed Tokyo amid a blitz, per usual. This time I boarded the plane on the very day that the Japanese-language version of Japanamerica arrived in the archipelago's bookstores-or at least its Tokyo-based shops-and landed in a London that had gone tropical. A wall of 26-degree humidity stood between me and my hotel in Bloomsbury, and before I could cave into jetlag's gravitational crush, I found myself desperately stripping naked and slipping into a cold shower for relief. Springtime in London? Local news reports were ambivalent: Fine weather had British gardens in early bloom, cricketers and golfers indulging the greens, and tourists of all creed and breed supine on a temporarily lawn-laden Trafalgar Square. A bit gimmicky, but apparently they'd brought in some grass plots from up north and for a few days laid them down over the concrete, banishing pigeons and inviting visions of a climate-changed London of the future.
I write 'ambivalent' because reports of animal and plant activity arriving some twenty days earlier than normal year by year begs the question: Just how quickly is this climate changing anyway?
This trip was planned months ago: My dear friend and Japanamerica contributor, Leo Lewis of the Times of London, was getting married in Oxford over the weekend. Very hasty arrangements were made for some UK appearances in support of the book and surrounding the date of the wedding itself.
After some phone calls on Thursday, I met with the indefatigable 3AM magazine editor Andrew Stevens, who had interviewed me only days earlier, and strolled from Bloomsbury to Charing Cross Road-'crossroads of European bookshops,' as one prominent British journalist told me. The weather was balmy; trees whisked us past the cafes and theater marquees down the coursing lanes to Blackwell's, where an enormous stack of my book awaited my signature. I obliged, thanking the very kind folks who made it happen, then walked with Andrew over to Covent Garden for a meal of French sandwiches.
I was last in this city two years ago. It looks great right now?clean and lively, but still full of the rich cubby holes and independent shops that have virtually vacated Manhattan amid the real estate spikes. Somehow London, prohibitively expensive to anyone bearing yen or dollars, seems to have managed a balance between the gentrified and the genuine, at least for now.
Andrew toted me over to the "Manga Café" a fast-food joint gussied up with some J-Pop inspired imagery and exactly one shelf of manga. Then we visited "Fluid," a Japanese-themed bar near the Barbican that, as Andrew noted, appears to be patronized by everyone but the legions of young Japanese tramping through every other street in town.
The following day I trained to Oxford for Leo's lovely wedding at a restaurant/lounge across the street from vast playing fields, all of them redolent with springtime greens. On Sunday I zipped back to London for book-signings, panel talks and general glad-handing with legions of British and European fans of anime and manga. Many were quite young. One thirteen year-old arrived at my booth and promptly asked the price of the book. "Thirteen quid (pounds)," said the sales staff somewhat gently. Bang. The kid unfurled the bills, grabbed the book and opened it to the author's page for my signature.
My general assessment at this late hour, with wind and rains reminding me of sleep's netherworld, is that the interest in Japan's contemporary culture still feels comparatively fresh here in the UK. (Members on my panel are just beginning to create the manga version of Shakespeare's plays, for example, and their enthusiasm is infectious.) The fans seem more thrilled, less jaded, less possessive of their enthusiasm than some of the youths I met in the US. Check out the accompanying photo: British cosplayers bearing a sign that reads:
"Free hugs for Yaoi fans!"
That’s a first and wee-hour impression. I’m back in Tokyo soon, where we will hold the official launch party for the Japanese book at Tokyo’s SuperDeluxe on June 14 (http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/); a reading in Osaka on June 17 (http://www.fourstories.org/events-upcoming.html), a Tokyo cosplay party at the Pink Cow on June 19 (www.thepinkcow.com), and a “Book Break” presentation at the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan (http://www.fccj.or.jp/~fccjyod2/node/2272). Somewhat dauntingly, there may be other events TBA. If you’re in Japan, you are most welcome to all of the above.
By Roland Kelts, Author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture has Invaded the US and Contributing Editor of A Public Space
JAPANAMERICAN EYES is a special column for Japanese Writers' House Newsletter.
Distribution: The fourth Wednesday of the month.
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