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Notebook on Cities and Culture S3E14: New York, Tokyo, and Back Again with Roland Kelts

Colin Marshall sits down in Echo Park, Los Angeles with Roland Kelts, visiting scholar and lecturer at the University of Tokyo, contributing editor to the literary journals A Public Space and Japan’s Monkey Business International, which he will be launching in New York City with Motoyuki Shibata, Paul Auster and Gen’ichiro Takahashi and others this May, and author of the book Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S. They discuss whether Japan has yet really figured out how to sell its pop culture abroad; the success of; his time growing up as a partial outsider in the white northeastern United States, and how anime and manga’s focus on the outsider thus resonated with him; the commission he received from the Coppolas to write a story about Japan, which had him live in Osaka for a year; the subsequent offers that came his way to write about Murakami, Miyazaki, and Japanese youth culture; why the Wachowskis like anime so much;  what his youthful Anglophilia revealed to him about the parallels, especially aesthetic, between Britain and Japan; how we even have sushi in American convenience stores, yet nothing like Japanese street vending machines; whether he felt, as did novelist Todd Shimoda, a not-fully-foreign presence in Japan; how he splits his time between New York and Tokyo, and the importance of maintaining ties with his native land; how the geographical oscillation provides him perspective on both cities, and what escapes his attention (Lena Dunham, for example) when he’s away from each; the relative lack of coded engagement and easier physical flow of New York; his understanding of American psychology coming through a cross-country drive of vast spaces and non-major cities; and the passing of Donald Richie, which raises questions of how best to write about Japan, a country which must now return to doing more with less.

Download the interview from Notebook on Cities and Culture’s feed or on iTunes.

(Illustration: Gant Powell)

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