JapanAmerica: Barry Meets Roland Kelts in SF

Last night I attended an intimate author reading by Roland Kelts. Roland read from his new book JapanAmerica. It was his second Bay Area stop on his nationwide tour. Earlier this week, he had a much larger attended reading at UC Berkeley, but this event at the Foto-Graphix bookstore, located in the Cartoon Art Museum in downtown San Francisco.

About 15 attendees listened to the reading and engaged in a freewheeling discussion surrounding Kelts’ theme that …
Japanese Anime culture has, if not “invading” the US, “leaked” into the US for quite a while now, to the point where the effect can be noted much further and wider. At a cultural level, there seems to be interaction back and forth between Japanese pop culture and US pop culture, where forms and teams are filtered repeatedly as they cross the Pacific in art, anime, cartoons, music, movies, games, and more.

Kelts and the attendees agreed there are many examples where the origin of a form is forgotten, or thought to have come from one country when in fact it came from the other. Cosplay is widely believed to be a Japanese phenomenon first, but Kelts quotes a super-otaku (fan) who indicated that the Japanese got the idea from the US, from the earliest Star Trek Trekkie craze.

Kelts’ actual reading segment reported an interview with a fan of the well-known-but-rarely-seen-in-the-US genre of Japanese manga, the ultra-violent rape fantasies (for lack of a better word). The word we use in the US to refer to this genre, is hentai, which is a Japanese term never used in Japan. The corresponding word in Japan is ero-manga, derived from the English “erotic”.

According to Kelts’ book, there are numerous similar examples, and also very profound examples in the business world as well. Many were listed and discussed by the crowd.

Kelts’ secondary theme is that this shifting nature of what is real or appropriate and what is not, relying as it does on a very high-context decision rather then an absolute, low context decision, is very second nature to Japanese, and is increasingly the way the internet is evolving around the world. Business industries and high level government ministries have noticed this, and are working to see if Japan’s vast pop culture archives and ongoing prodigious output can be turned into the next great wave of Japanese exports in the 21st Century. Perhaps enough so as to pull Japan at last out of its long economic slump.

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