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Japan's new sakoku? - click opera
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Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 03:04 am
Japan's new sakoku?

What a difference a decade makes! The Japan I encountered in the 1990s was a place where you found not just the best of Japanese culture, but the best of Western culture too. Japanese book and record and fashion stores had better selections of Western culture and clothes than you could find anywhere in the West. The Japanese, ten years ago, were brilliant filterers, curators and connoisseurs of other people's culture.

At the same time -- and not by coincidence -- there was a headily-creative cultural ferment going on between Japan and the West. My own 1990s experience -- as a pop producer imported into the movement known as Shibuya-kei, and a pop ambassador exporting Japanese culture to the UK and the US -- was possible because of that ferment, that mutual interest we had in each other. Even now, when I write about Japanese artists, they tend to be people like "cultural hopper" Aki Sasamoto, people who are obviously products of cultural fusion between Japan and the West. I've talked about an "emerging third culture" consisting of Japanese and Westerners (mukokuseki diasporans, I've called them) collaborating, but that "emerging" culture has become a receding culture. These days, Japan is no longer so interested in the West, and the West is no longer so interested in Japan. It might even be time to talk about a "new sakoku", a return to Japan's pre-1853 isolation.

One by one, the central pillars of Japan's mukokuseki (multi-national) tent have toppled. In late 2006 the Japanese edition of Tokion relaunched, with a focus on expat creators in Tokyo. The magazine disappeared towards the end of 2007, having failed to draw "mukokuseki diasporans" in sufficient numbers. Excellent diasporan music magazine OK Fred published their tenth and possibly final issue in August 2007. In August 2008 there was a more catastrophic commercial failure: Yohan, which controlled 70% of foreign book and magazine distribution in Japan, went bankrupt. In September, Sugatsuke Masanobu described in Tokyo Initiator's Diary being unable to find his favourite magazines at Tower Books in Shibuya:

"I buy a pile of foreign magazines as usual, but unfortunately feel the effect of the collapse of the Yohan Book Service. Some of my favorite magazines aren't available! It’s too sad, really!! My bounty used to be too heavy to carry home, so I always had everything delivered to my house, but this time I'm leaving the store with a much smaller and lighter package. According to a clerk I ask, it is uncertain if and when the foreign magazines that used to come through Yohan will arrive."

Sugatsuke then touches on the New Sakoku theme: "The idea that Japan is turning into a country where even the biggest international publications are unavailable is highly lamentable and above that just plain annoying. Not that I'm simply praising all things foreign, but culture grows from active exchange between the domestic and the imported. The top ranks of the Japanese movie charts are occupied mainly by domestic titles, and in the music business, Japanese artists are dominating more than ever before. If the situation escalates to an extent that even foreign magazines are no longer imported, this really makes me worry, even anxious about the future of Japanese culture."

The latest collapse happened on December 31st, when Pingmag -- an excellent daily design webzine and an exemplary "third culture" platform -- ceased publication, citing "tough times" and "uncertain months ahead". Parent company Yes! Communications -- motto "Connecting creative Japan to a creative world" -- also has a stake in social networking site Asoboo ("the network for creative, internationally-minded people") and innovative art listings site Tokyo Art Beat. Even if these sites aren't yet in danger, it's clear that the idea behind them -- the ferment between Japanese and Western creativity, and creators -- is currently in some sort of crisis.

I have mixed feelings about the new sakoku -- or "Japan sucking in on itself", as one commenter on the Japan Today site described it. Working at a Japanese university in 2005, I noticed a "new mood of national narcissism" emerging. My Japanese students at the Future University in Hakodate had little desire to see the world. I didn't blame them. The following year I applauded the "hoga bubble" -- the moment when box office for Japanese-made films overtook box office for foreign films and Hollywood product in Japan. Any nation would see that as a positive development.

This apparent "new sakoku" can be explained by a number of 00s developments. The so-called "rise of the rest" which accompanies the decline in US cultural and economic influence worldwide. The rise of China as the dominant force in Asia. The availability of world culture for free on the internet (and the rise of Amazon as a source of foreign book and magazine supplies). And, last but not least, the effect on cultural markets of the recent -- and ongoing -- financial meltdown, and the global recession. It isn't the 1990s any more.

In November 2007, Tokyo curator Roger McDonald protested on his Tactical blog about the government's new policy of fingerprinting and photographing foreigners as they enter Japan. To this he added a list of sakoku-like symptoms:

"The recent illness and coma of Japan national soccer coach Osim; the departure of the first and only non Japanese museum Director in Japan, David Elliott, from the Mori Museum last year; Micropop artists; the closure of NOVA english schools recently due to scandal; the continuing rifts with neighbor countries and Okinawa over history text books, amongst other things." And a recent Japan Times article detailed the problems foreign academics have in holding onto their jobs at Japanese universities -- they're increasingly held at low levels on temporary contracts, with an annual game of "musical jobs" in which the weakest are eliminated.

It would be impossible for Japan to reinvent the isolation they had in the 1840s, even if they wanted to. The question is, do they want to? Is sakoku -- of a sort -- back?

45CommentReplyShare


(Anonymous)
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 02:26 am (UTC)
sakoku ?

i don't know. i remember you saying in the late 90s or so that japan has excellent brazilian food but no brazilians etc etc. right now within walking distance from my place i can have vietnamese food made by vietmanese people, romanian food made by romanian people, thai , indian, korean and more; if that's some kind of index


ReplyThread
akabe
akabe
alin huma
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 02:27 am (UTC)
Re: sakoku ?

that was me


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 02:32 am (UTC)
Re: sakoku ?

Interesting point; I left food out of the analysis, because I think food in Japan has quite a different status from cultural goods. I have, though, noticed a rash of TV shows about the problem -- and it is posed as a problem -- of Japan's over-dependence on imported food. There's a feeling that more should be grown locally, which fits the pattern I'm describing.


ReplyThread Parent
akabe
akabe
alin huma
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 03:14 am (UTC)
Re: sakoku ?

i don't think the 2 overlap. you're talking about the fundamentals of trad japanese food being grown overseas ( approaching hysteria with poisoned gyoza from china etc) whereas what i'm saying is that real-tokyo feels more and more like berlin or nyc in terms of the choices of eating out)


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 03:18 am (UTC)
Re: sakoku ?

But you're saying that the main difference from the 90s is that real foreigners are making the food -- in other words that immigration has loosened up?


ReplyThread Parent
akabe
akabe
alin huma
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 03:22 am (UTC)
Re: sakoku ?

i guess so , also that you have more pockets of real foreign culture rather than the sublimated cultural artifacts of the 90s -- and i guess marxy's spiel on class takes my point to a loftier place


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Fri, Jan. 9th, 2009 04:22 pm (UTC)
Re: sakoku ?

Yep, you hit the nail on the head. I live here and I am noticing how the young people in particular seem to criticize anything Western. 2chan is forever importing vids from the west that make us look like barbarians. One of the top vids on their japanese youtube clone is one where two western men are wrestling and having gay sex. There are no other vids about the west that had that kind of popularity except a vid where Ronald McDonald keeps falling down over and over again. Young people are not interested in the least in other cultures. They are unimaginative. I started to dislike talking to teenagers here. They are in general consumers of a culture that fetishizes wealth. They seem to have this naive consumerist belief that life will be better if you have more and more items. I think Japan use to be interesting when they were still taking the magic mushrooms. Now that those are illegal, I'm seeing a marked difference in the art. It's going down the drain fast and with it the culture. Oh well, it was a nice ride while it lasted.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 02:29 am (UTC)

I asked Marxy for comments on the theme, and he responded (for publication here):

"I think both of us fell in love with Tokyo because of its "third culture" internationalist power, and everyone seems in agreement now that it's just totally crumbling and being replaced by a very inward-looking domestic culture. All the "internal organs" — shops, magazines, artists — of the internationalist set have either disappeared or become marginalized. The New Sakoku sounds neat if it means a supersaturated Japanese-ness to re-export abroad, but so far, 21st century mainstream Japanese culture has just looked as provincial and limited as lowest common denominator American mass culture. There is a word tanrakuteki in Japanese, which means "short-sighted" or simplistic, and it very accurately describes the current intentions of youth culture. Everyone wants things they immediately understand, and that disqualifies most curosity about overseas innovators.

I fear that this is ultimately a class issue though. Third-way internationalist culture was always about educated upper middle-class arty kids trying to one-up and differentiate themselves from the middle mass. They, however, had a lot of power as a segment as they were the first to consume foreign goods in a nation with mass inferiority complex towards an imaginary "global standard." Once Japan caught up and consumerism faltered in the late 1990s, all the rationale for worshiping the internationalist set fell apart. Now Japan's working class cultures (i.e., yankiis) are the ones who have the greatest pull on mass culture. They are the style leaders and the ones who seem to be doing something interesting with the consumer possibilties. Third-way internationalists look like weird arty snobs, which they always were. Basically everything has "normalized" to the patterns of Europe or the U.S. rather than taken some unforseen turn."


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 03:03 am (UTC)

Interesting to inject a class angle into the conversation... I tend to keep it at a national level.

I wonder if the dominance of yankii style is a sign that the ganguro trend wasn't -- as some said at the time -- the end of something (radical late 20th century Japanese street style) but the beginning of something (21st century proletarian-dominated style)? And does this mean that Japanese culture is now dictated by the grass roots rather than small, powerful elites? Or is there some unholy alliance between the two?


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 04:38 am (UTC)

The original kogal were rich private school girls, but of the "rich delinquent" stream of culture. Not really aesthetes like your "third-way" crowd. Their popularity gave way to the ganguro, who were working class epigones and took it to a new place. Since then, the gyaru thing has been solidly yankii. Gyaru is a non-Tokyo thing: getting pregnant at 19, marrying, divorcing at 24, working as a hostess.

Kogal were originally "wealth as prerequisite of delinquency" whereas Ganguro was "delinquency as protest against no social mobility." But for the first time, you had a working class subculture take over directly the aesthetics of an upper class one.

Whatever the direction, they are way more influential on culture at the moment than the third-way crowd, who have roots back to the original innovators in Japanese consumer culture like Tsutsumi Seiji, etc.

Marxy


ReplyThread Parent
kineticfactory
kineticfactory
this is not your sawtooth wave
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 11:27 am (UTC)

There is a word tanrakuteki in Japanese, which means "short-sighted" or simplistic, and it very accurately describes the current intentions of youth culture.

"Tanrakutheque" would be a great song/album/project title.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 03:07 am (UTC)

Then again, Delaware and Apple's Jon Ives are "fermenting" fine when they come up with something like the new Records002 iPhone software!

Edited at 2009-01-07 03:08 am (UTC)


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womanonfire
womanonfire
Auriea.
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 12:15 pm (UTC)

ah thats great!


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 03:08 am (UTC)

Maybe those right-wing trucks w/ the loudspeakers are finally seeing their message seep in.


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akabe
akabe
alin huma
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 07:25 am (UTC)

as someone suggests in the comments section at jean snow , where he announces his demise maybe obama will save us arty gaijin when he saves pingmag in late 2009


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 08:17 am (UTC)

Maybe, in a cultural way, Japan is turning inward. But as an exchange student here, everyone's talking about how exchange programs are being ramped up by the government. The ministry of culture is in the process of expanding scholarship aid to foreign students and universities are responding by expanding their international departments. Most people I talk to suggest that the reason behind this change is population decline, and Japan is actively trying to lure young people into the country. And despite appearances, it's not necessarily at odds with a new sakoku... Exchange students are generally more militantly purist about Japanese culture than the Japanese themselves, so it makes perfect sense in a perverse sort of way. Save the country by importing the barbarians!


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akabe
akabe
alin huma
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 08:28 am (UTC)

excelent point. i was just talking to someone last night about the 'last samurai' syndrome that some japanese themselves who feel positively disconnected, freed up from their own culture it its narrower aspects, also often tend to display


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 09:48 am (UTC)

i'm just coming to the end of a five-ish month long exchange study in Kyoto (coming from a Scottish art college). Certainly it's been difficult, being my first time in Japan (or Asia at all). I wasn't expecting otherwise, so i've taken the time to learn the language and etiquette, etc, in the hope of not appearing too much of a gaijin.
But i wasn't expecting quite so much (perhaps unintentional) cultural insularity here. It's as if the Japanese don't quite know what to do with foreigners - at home the Scots treat visitors with either a great deal of interest and warmth, or else outright intimidation. But in Kyoto, no-one really knows what to do with us.


ReplyThread Parent
qscrisp
qscrisp
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 11:22 am (UTC)

That has always been my experience of Japan, even in the nineties when I first went there. That line drawn between Japanese and the rest of humanity seems uncrossable in any way that will be publicly acknowledged in Japanese society, although, if you're lucky, you might be able to cross that line with individuals. Thank god for individuals.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 11:56 am (UTC)

gosh yes. and of course the Japanese individuals who are most interested in crossing that line are the ones who aren't in Japan anymore.


ReplyThread Parent
funazushi
funazushi
funazushi
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 11:08 pm (UTC)

I wouldn't worry about it too much, Kyoto is culturally insular to Japanese people as well.


ReplyThread Parent

cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 12:26 pm (UTC)

I think this might happen, or is already happening, to other countries as well. But who knows.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 02:36 pm (UTC)

Just to put a different point of view here -- a more positive one -- it's entirely possible that the "big world" of 1990s-style cosmopolitanism we're elegizing in this entry (Tokion, OK Fred, Pingmag) is actually a very small world, and that Japanese have a much bigger global vision than that.

For instance, we cite the departure of Englishman David Elliott from the MORI Museum as a shrinking of cosmopolitanism, but fail to mention that the current show at the post-Elliott MORI (a show programmed by the new Japanese director, Fumio Nanjo) is Chalo India! A New Era of Indian Art.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 02:41 pm (UTC)

sorry, first time japan visitor here again. i saw Chalo India! and as a sidenote must say it was really disheartening to see how transparent those Indian artists were trying to emulate the western modern art aesthetic. i found few of the works really said anything; rather, it was complaining for the sake of doing so, a very american idea that i didn't particularly miss while i was in japan.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 02:57 pm (UTC)

The show's curator was Akiko Miki, who curates at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris and the Mori in Tokyo. She seems to lecture mostly on 90s figures in Japanese art -- Araki, Murakami, etc. Her show at the Mori does seem to be in the mold of other shows they've had there, like Africa Remix and the Asian survey they did in 2005. I'd say she's someone formed by 1990s visions of globalisation, and maybe the Indian show reflected that.

Indian art (curated by RAKS Video Collective) was a big part of the recent Manifesta biennial in Italy. The impression it gives is quite similar to the impression Chinese art gives -- big energy and ambition, but something trashy, like recycled Pop Art going on. But we shouldn't expect nations in the grip of materialist and consumerist expansion to be all hermetic and post-materialist in their art. We shouldn't expect something like the last Documenta or Berlin Biennial to come out of India or China.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 03:04 pm (UTC)

one of the more striking pieces in Chalo India was an artist's conception of transforming one of the most crowded parts of Bombay into a canal-ridden sort of new Venice. there were diagrams and illustrations and then a catalogue of the actual eviction notices he sent to real residents of the neighborhood and their angry and confused correspondence back to him. i found myself amused by it but then troubled. is this what countries like India and China are learning as art? glorified pranks? there's a lot of history, mistrust and discontent in India and i'd hate to see 100 Banksys replace a new age of modern art that could be more carefully cultivated.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 02:38 pm (UTC)
one impression

well, i'm back from my first trip to japan, so i can only comment on what i noticed there. i was surprised to find a lot of nyc fashions in vogue there, definitely far before such clothing reaches the smaller states in the U.S. they were, however, outrageously priced compared to in manhattan. on new year's day females sporting the traditional clothing were mainly only small children and the presenters on television. in the department store restaurant floors, many of the japanese restaurants were packed but more american or western places were semi-empty. italian fare was still wildly popular. i was disappointed to find most of the japanese top 40 infested with really boring facsimiles of coldplay, nickelback, britney spears, et al. on the ANA flight back i was intrigued to find the new capsule album highlighted as a listening choice on the inflight entertainment system. japan seemed to me as a country not exactly embarrassed by its heritage but instead distracted by the sheer amount of consumer goods from the west. unfortunately i think this will be the case in every country eventually. even the radicals who shot up bombay were wearing bootleg versace. anyhow, one point of view from eight days of trying rapidly to soak up everything.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 03:21 pm (UTC)
Re: one impression

japan seemed to me as a country not exactly embarrassed by its heritage but instead distracted by the sheer amount of consumer goods from the west.

I think you may have a clearer view, as a first-time visitor, than we do; that probably is still the big picture. We're so fixated on incremental changes (ie the fact that Japan used to be massively more like this than it is now) that we fail to see that this is basically still the general situation there.


ReplyThread Parent
dignified_devil
A Dignified Devil
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 03:58 pm (UTC)

Oh man, a chance to bitch about Japan and the decline of creative culture. BITCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
That's all.

p.s. there is something disturbing about modern japanese culture, but it could be said most of the world has been in decline creatively since the 80s reached their peak and identities became policed by more conversative policies and dress code reached back into the gritty and then the simple. We live in conservative times, and Japan's embrace of a more conservative culture might be merely a covert Westernization. A kinda catching up with the world's general apathy.

BITCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 04:23 pm (UTC)

"We live in conservative times, and Japan's embrace of a more conservative culture might be merely a covert Westernization. A kinda catching up with the world's general apathy."
Exactly what I was thinking. The international lowering of the lowest common denominator is one of the true success stories, as it were, of globalization. However, one difference while the rest of the world seems to waste their time on drivel about American bird-brained celebrities, the Japanese waste their time on Japanese bird-brained celebrities. (They are not facsimiles, as somebody wrote, it's more a case of parallel evolution.)

"Japan is no longer so interested in the West", Momus said, thereby somehow implying that it OUGHT to be. But isn't a large part of the problem that the West and Western (= Anglo-American) culture just isn't very interesting any more, and hasn't been for at least the last decade? Focusing on Japan in this matter seems rather beside the point.

The demise of Yohan was inevitable, I think. Selling already overpriced foreign books and magazines with a hugely inflated markup (sometimes of several hundred percent!) was doomed to fail. It was disturbing to see, however, how amazon immediately raised their prices significantly as soon as they had gotten rid of their rivals.

Jan


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 04:35 pm (UTC)

"Japan is no longer so interested in the West", Momus said, thereby somehow implying that it OUGHT to be.

Oh, I don't want to give that impression. No, as I said, I have mixed feelings about this. The days when the West could say "we are the world" are gone. It was great to be an in-demand gaijin in 90s Japan, but I felt it was incorrect even at the time (in fact, that's a theme of many of the songs I wrote for Kahimi Karie -- basically, I was making her sing her defiance of... well, of me making her sing her defiance of... me!). I felt that Japan was more interesting than its interest in the West suggested. But now, ironically, having lost interest in the West, Japan has become less interesting. And so has the West, having lost interest in Japan, or in Japan's interest in itself. We were holding up mirrors to each other and getting interesting distortions, but now we occupy our mirrors with ourselves.

But I thoroughly approve of a Japan that's getting more interested in the rest of Asia, in India, in Africa. Bring it on! (Not militarily, obviously.)


ReplyThread Parent
dignified_devil
A Dignified Devil
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 04:45 pm (UTC)

"But I thoroughly approve of a Japan that's getting more interested in the rest of Asia, in India, in Africa. Bring it on! (Not militarily, obviously.)"

Yeah those Japanese books of African villages are amazing and the latest issue of Tune features several young men hunkering around Osaka's shinsaibashi in Laotian textiles. The local African bar here in Bangkok has a note in Japanese kindly requesting tourists not to take photographs. They do remain a culture in love with travel.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 07:16 pm (UTC)

Do you give much thought to the survivalists' claim that the world will end in 2012?


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 07:21 pm (UTC)

No. I am glad they delayed switching on the Hadron Large Collider, though.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 8th, 2009 05:40 am (UTC)

""Japan is no longer so interested in the West", Momus said, thereby somehow implying that it OUGHT to be.

Oh, I don't want to give that impression."

I knew you would deny it, but nevertheless, that is what this whole discussion implies. My point is that conflating Japan's apparent loss of interest in the West with nationalism and isolationism seems severely misguided.

Politically, since WWII, Japan has always had a right-wing government with strong ties to Washington, and if the last few administrations have been somewhat more right-wing than those of a decade ago, that is just part of the larger global trend. But I don't see that this has anything to do with popular culture at all.

Apart from the current universal blandness, economic factors are also highly significant. For the last couple of years (until about two months ago) the yen has been extremely weak, especially compared to European currencies. That in combination with skyrocket fuel surcharges has made it much more difficult for ordinary Japanese people to travel abroad the way they used to, and Europe in particular was forbiddingly expensive. It has also meant that the price of many imported products have escalated to a level where they are simply unsellable, that putting on concerts with foreign artists have become increasingly difficult, and that gallery exhibitions of contemporary art by British and European artists have become virtually non-extinct, since almost nobody can afford to buy the works any more. This may change again this year, but perhaps the damage has already been done.

Interestingly, there was a long article in the Asahi Shinbun this morning about many of the topics in this discussion. The author laments what he calls the "Family Restaurant Syndrome": the increasing prevalence of the "safe but bland" at the expense of anything challenging or difficult in music, art, TV programs etc, and how dull Tokyo is becoming as a result. He also mentions an inquiry done yearly by a Kobe university professor to his female students about "what topic do you think is of the most urgent interest to women in their early 20s today?". Before, students used to answer "fashion", "brand goods" and things like that, but this year not a single student (out of 49) gave those replies. Instead, the top answers where "East Asia" and "poverty"!

Jan


ReplyThread Parent
dignified_devil
A Dignified Devil
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 04:40 pm (UTC)

Qoute:
"Japan is no longer so interested in the West", Momus said, thereby somehow implying that it OUGHT to be. But isn't a large part of the problem that the West and Western (= Anglo-American) culture just isn't very interesting any more, and hasn't been for at least the last decade? Focusing on Japan in this matter seems rather beside the point.
/Qoute

This is rather true, the West might have been a factory of new ideas and aesthetics for awhile, but it's been some time since a musician, at the very least, really threw out some new ideas and at the very least many art magazines seem to feel art is in decline creatively too. Derek Bailey's ideas of improvisation might have inspired Keijo Haino, John Zorn's compositions saw reflections in Otomo Yoshihide's work, and then the whole Shibuya-kei movement. What I'm interested in is what do Japanese feel they're getting out of the inward looking ideology? Aside from the pleasures of nationalism and the weight of having a more working class culture pervading the media how will these ideas spill out artisictically, or will they create a more widespread apathy towards the arts? The nineties might have been about minimalism in the west in both dress and music, but such explorations showed that simplicity can be deep, what will the Japanese produce to express their new found cultural sensibilities?


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 10:50 pm (UTC)

Almost everyone appears to dismiss Yohan as rapacious profiteers which is an unfair way to remember a company which did so much for overseas publications and writers in Japan. You have to bear in mind that Japanese bookshops have sale-or-return relationships with Japanese publishers. Yohan was caught in the middle because there was no way that foreign publishers were going to agree to take back any unsold inventory. Given the shipping costs, it wouldn't have been particularly economic anyway.

Either Yohan had to get bookshops to take the risk or else they had to be prepared to accept back the unsold books. Shops with specialist English language sections like Ginza's Jena (closed in 2001) might have bought some stock outright but most didn't. Yohan could have played it safe by importing sure fire bestsellers but they instead had almost a Reithian mission to inform. Consequently, they brought over books and magazines which they thought people ought to be reading. Many of these did find an audience but they had more unsold stock than if they had followed a more downmarket strategy. Other companies did go that route so Yohan had to compete with people trying to undercut them on bestselling titles. Their response was to buy shelf space in bookshops. That may seem anit-competitive but it gave them some much-needed stability. When you factor in all these additional costs, it isn't surprising that the final book sticker price showed a high mark-up. It isn't as if Yohan was making bumper profits, though. They were always book lovers rather than good businessmen.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 11:11 pm (UTC)

This is a good account of the history of Yohan and Tuttle, up to their merger in 2003.

I always find the business stories behind these wider shifts interesting. For instance, I'd love to know more about the longer-term prospects for Yes! Communications, and the relative stability of Asoboo and Tokyo Art Beat compared with Pingmag (I'd have thought Pingmag, with relatively high traffic, would be one of the more robust titles). Similarly, I'd like to know whether OK Fred really have called it a day with the magazine. Businesses tend to be very secretive about things like this -- even whether they're still in business.

I guess you have to just hear the izakaya gossip -- you have to be there on the ground to know this stuff. Otherwise you're stranded in the la-la land of "We're temporarily not updating, but we may be back". Japan is especially prone to this "extended hiatus" business -- I believe Relax magazine is on "extended hiatus" to this day.


ReplyThread Parent
funazushi
funazushi
funazushi
Wed, Jan. 7th, 2009 11:17 pm (UTC)

Interestingly, there was a show on NHK the other night on this very topic. It seems there is some concern in Japan as to why young people have lost interest in international travel. Perhaps the "internationalization" mantra has finally petered out, but I would have thought that economic considerations would drive some young people abroad as it did for me.

On a another note, My wife's friend sent her a cd of a Japanese band, who she described as like Pizzicato Five but with better lyrics. Perhaps, insular Japan is not as interesting to us because we don't understand it.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 8th, 2009 01:08 am (UTC)

I would have thought that economic considerations would drive some young people abroad as it did for me.

But Japanese haven't been economic migrants -- in the way that, say, Indians or Mexicans or Turks have been -- for at least a century, when there were economically-motivated migrations to the US and Brazil. The Japanese who go abroad now are more likely to be students, or artists, or posted by their corporations. They don't just go abroad speculatively to find work.


ReplyThread Parent
funazushi
funazushi
funazushi
Thu, Jan. 8th, 2009 02:27 pm (UTC)

I was thinking more in terms of young people out of university, finding no opportunities at home, who look abroad to perhaps buy time until things turn around. Perhaps something more in line with the way things were in Ireland, up until recently.

It appeared to me that was what was happening up until now with many young Japanese coming to Canada on work holiday visas. There also seemed to be a growing demographic of young Japanese women who were moving here through marriage, although that may be through the lens of my "Japanese bubble".

Incidently, last night after I posted, LJ appeared to go down. I don't know if it was for routine maintenance or a portent of things to come. I was wondering if you have a contingency plan if LJ goes on an indefinite hiatus?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 8th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)

I expect I'd just migrate to Wordpress. I've backed up the past five years of posts, although not the comments.


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Jan. 10th, 2009 02:20 am (UTC)
sakoku in London

Hi,
Did you notice that there aren't many Japanese in London any more?
London art schools used to have many Japanese students (5-10%) but they seem to have disappeared, replaced by Chinese and Korean students.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jan. 10th, 2009 07:09 am (UTC)
Re: sakoku in London

I have indeed noticed that. And it's not just London; New York art schools now have far fewer Japanese students.

The Japanese who do still go to London art schools also seem less susceptible to influence from the UK while they're there -- check this piece I wrote about an exhibition at the Japanese Embassy in London featuring interviews with Japanese students.


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