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For the next Japan Society webinar, we’re delighted to welcome Matt Alt, author of Pure Invention, who will join Japan Society Chairman Bill Emmott for a conversation about pop culture in Japan.
What is really "Japanese" about Japanese pop culture? Why does it appeal all around the world and what is its potential reach, compared with equivalents from America, Korea, China and others? We have all enjoyed and/or admired the success of fantasy-based cultural products and brands, from Karaoke to Hello Kitty, from manga to anime, from Super Mario to Pokemon and now Demon Slayer. But what is it about Japan that makes the country such a fertile bed for such products to seed and to grow, and why do some of them achieve global markets and influence too?
Given that "Cool Japan" has become an official slogan and initiative of the Government of Japan, is that official endorsement and adoption of pop culture likely to be a help or a hindrance? In many countries, the moment the government adopts something is the moment it ceases to be considered cool. Matt Alt is an American writer and translator who has lived in Tokyo for 17 years, during which he has established a business "localizing" Japanese pop culture for English-language markets and has specialised in trying to understand how Japanese "soft power" has arisen alongside manufacturing as one of the country's key economic assets.
Matt Alt is the author of Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World, a cultural detective story and history of modern life told through the lens of Japanese consumer products. Matt tracks down the creators of what he calls “fantasy-delivery devices” that changed us as we consumed them. From toys and gadgets like the karaoke machine and the Walkman to increasingly immersive virtual escapes of anime, video games and anonymous online imageboards, essential inessentials made in Japan profoundly transformed lifestyles and disrupted societies around the globe. They bewitched millions partly because they were well crafted products, but also because advanced nations across the planet have come to resemble Japan demographically, economically, and socially. We live in strange times: by turns more interconnected yet more isolated, spending increasing amounts of our lives immersed in virtual escapes. Pure Invention offers a roadmap for how we got to today.
Matt is the co-founder of AltJapan Co., Ltd., a Tokyo-based entertainment localization company. With more than twenty years’ experience working alongside Japanese game, manga, and other content creators, he brings a unique perspective from inside Japan’s pop-cultural production machine. The author of numerous books about Japan, his writing has appeared widely in print and online at the New Yorker, Slate, Wired, CNN, BBC, Vice, and more.
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