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

44CommentReplyFlag

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!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


ReplyThread

(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.


ReplyThread Parent

(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