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November 29, 2010

Comments

Carl

Well, I would say that the U.S. #2 bestseller, "Tokyo Vice" does deal with topics and issues faced by contemporary Japanese, but otherwise, as you say, the list is more about the romance of the past. How would you evaluate the fact of the Japanese list being dominated by books about America's problems? Is it simply the appeal of gloom--are books about Japan's own problems also bestsellers to the Japanese?

As you know, we come from the generation of Americans that--at least for a decade or so--sometimes looked to Japan as a model for economic and industrial reform--I can remember bookstores in the 1980s where The Book of Five Rings had stickers on it saying "Learn the ancient secrets of Japanese business strategy!" Are there bestsellers in Japan today that advocate lessons to be learned from foreign economies, such as Korea and China? I guess, on a broader topic, since the bestsellers on America are dominated by the theme "the U.S. is in bad shape," and no one looks to Japan any more as a model, are there any bestsellers in Japan looking towards the positive side of other nations?

MattAlt

"How would you evaluate the fact of the Japanese list being dominated by books about America's problems?"

I've asked Japanese friends about that before, and the response I tend to get is that exposing the cracks in America's exceptionalist facade is a natural sort of pushback after decades of near-deification of the country in the domestic press.

"are there any bestsellers in Japan looking towards the positive side of other nations?"

The Amazon.co.jp bestseller list is always an eye-opening experience. To date we've seen everything from "The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs" to manga guides to otaku-related mental illnesses to photo collections of barely legal girls...

http://altjapan.typepad.com/my_weblog/2010/07/viva-la-difference.html

Carl

I do wonder how long it's been since we've actually been deified...I seem to recall that in the 1980s, Japanese pundits were pretty free with remarks about how dysfunctional the U.S. was. I'm not offended per se by the list--our problems are real--but, for Japan's own sake, I wonder if dwelling on the problems of the U.S. at this point (after twenty years of Japanese economic contraction) isn't a form of displacement.

MattAlt

Perhaps "deify" is a little strong, but there's definitely a sense of slaughtering the sacred cow with these books, and I am not sure that is unhealthy. For all the focus on America's dysfunction it is still seen by many as a land of more equality and opportunity than Japan. Machiyama's books in particular ("Half of Americans Can't Place New York on a Map") are very much a domestic antidote to the "wacky Japan" reporting we see so much of abroad.

When the NYT runs articles framing die-hard otaku who marry hump-pillows instead of real women, or who disguise themselves as vending machines to evade muggers, it's hard to point a finger at Japanese books that do much the same with American trends.

Steve Harrison

Actually, I might suggest you're looking at trees and not seeing the forest, kinda sorta.

What I see looking at both lists are books that re-enforce stereotypes held, embedded from whatever cultural programming people have had impressed upon them.

(no disrespect to your ninja book, Matt, but you have to admit that's a cultural stereotype here in states. That's why it was written, right? :) )

And how much of that is driven by...what, call it agenda? I would bet a donut that the Rape of Nanking book is being bought mostly by Chinese-American and Korean-American students, gearing up for the quarterly 'bash Japan' trolling as an example.

Not at all sure why the Battle of Midway is a hot topic...

MattAlt

>>(no disrespect to your ninja book, Matt, but you have to admit >>that's a cultural stereotype here in states. That's why it was >>written, right? :) )

Not exactly. We wrote it specifically to deflate those stereotypes. Given that we covered the yokai first, which were all but unknown abroad, I can't say that we never would have written about ninja if they hadn't been popular. In fact it might have appealed even more to me if they hadn't. But yes, pre-existing popularity was a perk (if a double-edged one).

Totally agreed that there are plenty of stereotypes on both sides of the pond. I find it fascinating that many Americans don't realize that many aspects of our culture are seen as being as "wacky" as we seem to find those of others.

M-Bone

"but, for Japan's own sake, I wonder if dwelling on the problems of the U.S. at this point (after twenty years of Japanese economic contraction) isn't a form of displacement."

All of the "Special Report" books use discussion of America's problems as a framework for discussing Japan's as Japan is facing many of the same issues (working poor, contingent labor, etc.) They are also from Iwanami - a (far) left Japanese publisher that favors income distribution and heavy social spending as part of its editorial policy, so criticizing US-led neo-liberalism is also a way of criticizing the way that Japan has adopted similar policies. These parallels are explicit in the books.

In addition, Japan goes through periodic booms celebrating this or that aspect of other nations and using them to play up Japanese faults - a few years ago, there was a boom in books about Finland's education system and a there has been a recent run of bestsellers on Apple and American management practices. One of the recent super hits is もし高校野球の女子マネージャーがドラッカーの『マネジメント』を読んだら」based on the work of business guru Peter Drucker (and soon to be animated, I hear).

Books on the faults of others offering lessons for self or the positives of others playing up the faults of self are very common in Japan. Not so much in the US.

Carl

Thanks, M-Bone, Matt, and Steve--this was an especially interesting post/thread. I do understand that America can look, in the immortal words of Speed Racer, wacky, to other nations (this is probably because I've lived in foreign countries). Actually, I'd rather have Tomo Machiyama explaining my country to Japanese people than anyone else; it's something of an honor.

MattAlt

"One of the recent super hits is もし高校野球の女子マネージャーがドラッカーの『マネジメント』を読んだら」based on the work of business guru Peter Drucker (and soon to be animated, I hear)."

Ah, the juggernaut that is "What if Young Female High School Baseball Team Managers Read Drucker's 'An Introductory View of Management'." (Whew.)

I am really reluctant to use the "only in Japan" term, but it's hard to imagine the moe fetish and work productivity strategies being linked in any other country. I'm not surprised it is being animated; it's been on the bestseller list for the last year solid at least. Though I strongly suspect the coquettish schoolgirl on the cover is driving sales as much as the content.

M-Bone

"Though I strongly suspect the coquettish schoolgirl on the cover is driving sales as much as the content."

Word is that businessmen are buying it as a serious in on Drucker and that his non-moe packaged books are also streaking.

I "got" the Kanikosen boom, but I've read that a book of Nietzsche's sayings has sold over 500,000 copies this year (no moe cover), rivaling the Drucker baseball book. I need to find out WTF is up with this.

Kecen

Eh, the Rape of Nanking book is still selling well today? It's still in the Borders store near my town, so I'd think so.

I giggled, a little bit, when I read "Why Are Americans so Fat?" as one of the titles.

But congratulations on getting your book on that list! It's a little more artsy than the other ones.

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