Colin Marshall sits down in Nishinomiya, Japan with translator, writer, and former Kansai Time Out editor Christopher Stephens. They discuss whether higher Japanese skills get a foreigner more suspicion; the nearby presence and touristic effects of novelist Haruki Murakami’s elementary school; the older writers, like Yasunari Kawabata, Junichiro Tanizaki, and Yukio Mishima, who stoked his interest in Japan; the experimental music to be found in Japan, such as the work of Keiji Haino and the Boredoms, and specifically in the Kansai noise scene; the Osaka duality between money-making hard workers and underground weirdness; the local pride taken in relative roughness and unrefinement, and the stereotype of the bad Osakan; what actually distinguishes the Osaka dialect, and how entirely different words might see use in one city but not its neighbor; Japan’s visual culture, and the problematic emphasis on beauty that can ensue; his youth in Fresno, California, whose finest quality was the way it pushed him out; the time he took Wilco to an Osaka psychedelic sixties rock bar; how, when the Japanese open a psychedelic sixties rock bar, they really open a psychedelic sixties rock bar; his early struggles with regional backwardness in the eighties, and what happens when Japanese friends still ask him to hold their babies; Osaka’s high crime rate for Japan and Fresno’s high crime rate for California; whether Paris syndrome actually afflicts the Japanese; the West’s eagerness to believe everything they hear about Japan; photographer Kyoichi Tsuzuki’s purchase of the entire collection of Toba’s science-fiction erotic museum; the cannaboid substance known as “herb” that recently made the rounds in Japan; the persistence of visual art in Japan which goes well beyond Takashi Murakami, and his own specialty, the Gutai group of painters; why no Japanese person has yet appeared on this show, and what linguistic reasons might explain it; the corrections Japanese people make to his English; his work editing Kansai Time Out during the heyday of its breed of publication; Japan’s relatively robust print culture, at least by contrast to America’s; how little time translation leaves to learn new words or savor the language; and, despite the world’s having lost confidence in Japan, his theory that darkness always brings light, and that trouble sparks creativity.
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