Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon


Looking Back on 2012 (Part Two)

July brought many exciting developments. I was promoted to full Professor and became chair of my department at the University of Chicago. The Japanese translation of Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon came out from Byakuya Shobo. At around the same time, the discovery I helped make of some previously unknown 1950 Sacramento concert recordings by Misora Hibari, Kasagi Shizuko, Yamaguchi Yoshiko and many other Japanese singing stars became big news in Japan. I was apparently a featured item on television “wide shows” for a couple of days; I’m told that at least one of the shows introduced me with a photograph that was not actually of me. The Japanese edition of the book was well received, too; dozens of newspapers and magazines ran favorable reviews.

The whole family flew to Tokyo in late July. I spent a couple of days doing press interviews at my publishers’ offices in Takadanobaba. On July 29, Satoko and I were able to participate in one of the largest anti-nuclear demonstrations of the year, a march that started from Hibiya Park and ended up surrounding the Diet building. We celebrated the children’s birthdays up in Sendai with Satoko’s parents. With the help of a reporter from the Kyodo Tsushin wire service, I was able to get a copy of the 1950 wire recording of her Sacramento concert to 92-year-old Yamaguchi Yoshiko, who gave an interview about how delighted she was to hear it. As a result, once again I showed up in newspapers across Japan.

We returned to Chicago in early August. I recorded a segment for public radio’s “To the Best of Our Knowledge,” which was broadcast nationally later in the month (you can listen online here). We brought the whole family to a terrific play,”The Death of Harry Houdini,” at the House Theater. We ran up to Minnesota again to celebrate what would have been my father’s 75th birthday on August 15, and while there I saw another ballgame at Target Field. I also got to see one of my old favorite local bands, the Flamin’ Oh’s, play a show at Mears Park in downtown St. Paul. Back in Chicago at the end of the month, we attended the opening night “Tribute to Ella” with Dee Alexander, Frieda Lee, and Spider Saloff at the Chicago Jazz Festival. I returned again on the last day of the festival to catch stellar sets by the Steve Coleman Group and Pierre Dørge And The New Jungle Orchestra–two more favorite musical discoveries of the year.

In September things started gearing up in my new role as department chair, but on a stormy night we saw Bruce Springsteen give a fine concert up at Wrigley Field, and when the Twins swung through town early in the month I ran over to New Comiskey Park to take in a game. Late in the month I filled my car with grad students and drove to Kalamazoo for the Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs meeting at Western Michigan University.

Classes started in October. I taught two seminars this past fall–one on Japanese literary discourses of “furusato” (hometown), the other on Japanese cultures of the Cold War. As usual, I learned a great deal from the students in both. Extracurricular activities slowed down as I resumed full-time teaching, of course, but I still managed to get out now and then. In early October, I saw a nice set by guitarist Wayne Krantz at Martyr’s and later in the month caught an intriguing performance by shamisen composer Kimura Shunsuke. In October, I attended the Association for Japanese Literary Studies meeting at Ohio State, reconnecting with many old friends and meeting some new ones. I also enjoyed the opportunity to make a presentation about the 1950 wire recordings at the annual Humanities Day celebration here on campus in Hyde Park.

We had a quiet Thanksgiving at home, with me preparing the turkey as usual. In December, we enjoyed a show by Leo Kottke up at SPACE in Evanston, as well as a terrific performance of Barber’s Violin Concerto and Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony by the CSO. I made another trip to Los Angeles to give a talk at UCLA and to film an interview about the 1950 wire recording of Misora Hibari for a television special which was broadcast in Japan on the BS-TBS network on December 7. We spent Christmas with family in Minnesota, quiet and relaxing. On Boxing Day, we went ice skating with a big group of my cousins and their children.

Later today we’ll bring our 2012 cultural calendar to a close by attending the acclaimed production of “Annie” at the Paramount Theater in Illinois: the last few years, our family has made a tradition of attending a musical in the week between Christmas and New Years. We also have tickets to see the opening night of Buddy Guy’s annual stand at his own blues club downtown later this week, and we’re off to Second City a few days after that for some comedy.

It really has been a blessed year for us: writing this up has helped remind me how lucky I am. I’m surrounded by a supportive family, wonderful friends and colleagues, students who keep me on my toes, and a city that bustles with creativity and energy. As usual, I have compiled a long list of New Years’ resolutions, but I won’t bore you with those. Suffice it to say that I am looking forward to 2013.

Let me end by wishing you joy, peace, and health in 2013. Thanks for stopping by.

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Looking Back on 2012 (Part One)

I have several projects with looming year-end deadlines. I really should be working on those this morning. Which, of course, makes this an excellent time to devote instead to an update here. 2012 is fast winding down. What kind of year was it?

A fine and memorable one, thank you. Not without its bumps and bruises, of course, but those just help remind me that I’m alive. I end the year feeling gratitude and hope.

The first half of 2012 found me on sabbatical. In early January, I flew to Seattle for the MLA convention. I saw old friends, sat in on some good panels, caught the film “The Descendants” in a cinema across from the hotel–and accepted the Scaglione Prize for the translation I co-edited of Natsume Soseki’s Theory of Literature and Other Critical Writings. Later that month, I flew up to Ann Arbor to participate in a faculty workshop, and a week later I presented a talk at another faculty seminar at Northwestern University. The month ended with Satoko and I enjoying a performance by Westside blues legend Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater at SPACE, the little-club-that-could up in Evanston.

In February, we caught Ricardo Muti conducting the CSO in Franck’s Symphony in D minor and then, a few days later, I attended the University of Chicago Folk Festival, featuring Billy Boy Arnold. The most exciting event of the month: my book, Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop, came out from Columbia University Press. I heard many nice things about it from people–to the point that I started to worry that it must not be very good. If something you write doesn’t piss anyone off, how interesting can it be? But later I heard through the grapevine that a number of senior scholars in my field hated it. I felt reassured. In late February DePaul University hosted a fun workshop based on the book for Chicago public school teachers.

On the first day of March we watched Pierre Boulez lead the CSO in a wonderful performance of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. The next morning I was off to NYC for meetings. Then on March 10-11 I co-hosted a conference in honor of my colleague, Norma Field, who retired at the end of the 2011-12 academic year. “What March 11 Means to Me” brought together an amazing group of public intellectuals from Japan for personal and philosophical reflections on the first anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster: Amamiya Karin, Komori Yoichi, Ryusawa Takeshi, Takahashi Tetsuya, and Yokoyu Sonoko. The following week, I traveled to Toronto for the AAS annual meeting, where I chaired a roundtable discussion on the 1950 wire recordings of Japanese performers in concert in Sacramento (more on those anon).

In April, I was back in NYC for a lecture at Columbia University. While there, I saw the acclaimed revival of “Death of a Salesman” with Philip Seymour Hoffman and caught up with a few old friends. Back in Chicago, we attended a lively concert by Rodrigo y Gabriela and a fine performance by the Alvin Ailey dance company a few days later. Later in the month, I drove up to the Twin Cities to visit family and friends, catching a Twins game while there and a Beloit Snappers minor-league game on the drive home. During the month, I also finished up an article on Natsume Soseki’s conception of world literature, which appeared in the May/June issue of the Iwanami Shoten journal Bungaku.

On May Day I joined the protest march that started out from Union Park and made its way past the site of the Haymarket Massacre (the historical origin of May Day) before ending at a rally downtown. A few days later, we caught a live performance by one of my favorite musical discoveries of the year: Kids These Days. The group manages to combine rock, funk, jazz, and hip hop and make it all work; their debut album Traphouse Rock came out later in the year and was one of my favorite records of 2012.

Later in May I attended the Atomic Age II conference at Chicago. It featured a keynote address from Koide Hiroaki, one of the most important critics of Japan’s “nuclear village.” The next day, we joined a group to visit the nature preserve in the western suburbs where the remains of Chicago Piles 1 and 2 (the world’s first nuclear reactors) are buried. Later in the month we caught a surprise cameo appearance by Ray Davies at a public television benefit concert, and then I was off to Tokyo for a quick one-week visit. During that trip, I attended the May sumo tournament, met a number of scholars, visited libraries and bookstores, and stopped by an exhibit of photographs by Mike Nogami. After coming back to Chicago, I survived the NATO conference shut-down of the city, dragged the kids to the reunited Beach Boys concert at the Chicago Theater, and enjoyed a Millenium Park performance by Kelly Hogan (another key musical discovery of the year). We ended the month by catching Court Theater’s production of “Angels in America” with Larry Yando’s memorable turn as Ray Cohn.

As June began, I flew to Los Angeles to join in the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the UCLA Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies. It was lovely to catch up with old friends from UCLA, and while there I got to meet and chat briefly with one of my childhood heroes, Daniel Inouye (RIP, Senator Inouye). It turned out that he was one of the 442nd veterans involved in inviting Misora Hibari to Hawaii in 1950 for a charity concert–which led in turn to the 1950 Sacramento concert recordings. Another quick trip to Minnesota followed, and I was back home to catch the last day of the Chicago Blues Festival, including an uplifting headliner set by Mavis Staples. During June we also caught the CSO a couple times, including an eye-opening public rehearsal led by Ricardo Muti, and we visited the Roy Lichtenstein exhibit at the Art Institute. But the cultural highlight of the month was the acclaimed production of “The Iceman Cometh” at the Goodman Theater, with an ensemble cast so strong that the supposed stars, Brian Dennehy and Nathan Lane, mostly just blended into the scenery.

July is when things really got busy. I’ll write about the second half of the year tomorrow. In the meantime, I really should get hopping on those year-end projects….

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This and That

Posted in Books,J-Pop,J-Rock,Japanese literature,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the November 10th, 2012

Apologies for the lack of updates these last two months. Not only have I returned to teaching from my sabbatical, I’ve also become department chair. Life is busy, in other words–but it keeps me off the streets.

This has come up rather suddenly, but I’ll be giving a talk at UCLA next week (Friday, November 16) on “Tokyo Boogie Woogie in California: The 1950 Sacramento Recordings in Japanese and Japanese-American Cultural History” (details available here). In the presentation, I’ll introduce the collection of 1950 concert recordings of Japanese musicians (Misora Hibari, Kawada Haruhisa, Yamaguchi Yoshiko, Watanabe Hamako, Kasagi Shizuko, among others) that I helped authenticate and that were in the news in Japan this past summer (see, for example, here and here). The man who discovered the recordings has now donated the entire collection to the UCLA library. While in Los Angeles, I’ll also be filming an interview for a television special about the recordings that will air later this year. I’ll post details about broadcast times when they become available.

I was also recently a guest on the NPR radio program “To the Best of our Knowledge,” talking about my book, Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop. You can listen to or download my segment here. And don’t forget about the online companion for the book that I’ve put together: I’ve heard from a few people who are teaching the book this all that the webpage was very useful.

The Japanese translation of the book continues to do very well, with nice reviews coming out in many magazines and newspapers (for example, here and here).

In the meanwhile, I am moving on to other scholarly projects: co-editing a two-volume series of new scholarly essays and translations related to early postwar Japanese literary criticism, finishing up a translation of Karatani Kojin’s magnum opus The Structure of World History (Sekaishi no kozo), and returning to a longstanding project that involves rethinking Natsume Soseki in relation to the problems of modern property regimes and world literature.

I’ll try to blog here a little more regularly in the coming months, too. It keeps me off the streets–the wild, wild streets.

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Wish I’d Had These Books in Hand Back Then

Posted in Books,J-Pop,J-Rock,Jazz,Music by bourdaghs on the July 19th, 2012

I finished writing my book Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop in late 2010. Chapter Five, on 1970s New Music, was the last one I worked on; the other chapters were mostly finished (and published separately as articles and chapters) years before that. I was able to make a few last-minute revisions in the summer of 2011, but for the most part my work on the book was finished in 2010. Since then, several important new books have appeared in Japan. I wish I’d had these available to me when I was doing the research for the project. They would have not only made my job easier, they would have made the book better.

Sakoguchi Sanae’s (砂古口早苗) Bugi no joo: Kasagi Shizuko (『ブギの女王・笠置シヅ子』) (Gendai Shokan, 2010) is the first biography of Kasagi Shizuko, Japan’s early postwar “Queen of Boogie Woogie” (excluding a quickie autobiography that Kasagi published in 1948, which I do cite in the book). It includes many photographs and a useful chronology of Kasagi’s life. Sakoguchi’s book fills a definite need: I wonder why it took so long for someone to write up the remarkable story of Kasagi’s life?

Ue o muite aruko (『上を向いて歩こう』)(Iwanami Shoten, 2011) by Sato Go (佐藤剛) is another long-overdue study, this one on Sakamoto Kyu’s 1963 worldwide hit, “Sukiyaki,” which I take up in my chapter three. There are several other books out about Sakamoto’s life, which I cited, but this is the first book-length study to focus on the cultural repercussions of Sakamoto’s global smash, both inside and outside of Japan. Like me, Sato is interested in Sakamoto’s relation to contemporary Western popular music, including Elvis Presley and the Beatles.

Yuasa Manabu (湯浅学)is a prominent music critic in Japan–and one of the participants, along with Hagiwara Kenta, in the taidan dialogue that was included in the Japanese translation of my book. Ongaku ga orite kuru (『音楽が降りてくる』 (Kawada Shobo Shinsha, 2011) is a collection of his articles and liner notes. It opens with a series of essays on 1970s New Music (Happy End, Hosono Haruomi, Endo Kenji, etc.), including the “rock in Japanese” debate that I write about. The other chapters range widely across genres and styles: Misora Hibari, Nakajima Miyuki, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, etc.

Wajima Yusuke’s (輪島裕介) Tsukurareta ‘Nihon no kokoro’ shinwa (『創られた「日本の心」神話』)(Kobunsha Shinsho, 2010) is a critical history of postwar Japanese popular music centered on the genre of enka. The winner of the Suntory Gakugeisho book prize, it starts off with a question I explore in my own book: was Misora Hibari really an enka singer?

All of the above are highly recommended to anyone interested in the subject. When I started studying the history of Japanese popular music back in the late 1990s, I was shocked by the paucity of reliable scholarship on the topic available in Japan. As the above titles suggest, the situation has improved considerably since then, and I think it will continue to get better as writers and scholars in Japan continue to reassess the crucial legacy of music in Japan’s modernity.

If you know of any other useful recent studies of Japanese popular music, please drop a line in the “Comments” section.

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Revisiting Dodsworth

Posted in Books,Change is Bad,Fiction,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the June 17th, 2012

My father was raised in Minnesota during the 1940s and 50s. This predated the rediscovery of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and so Sinclair Lewis, winner of the 1930 Nobel Prize for Literature, was the celebrated hometown author. I remember visiting Lewis’s boyhood home in Sauk Centre during a family vacation in the late 1960s and I can vividly picture the squat pocket-sized editions of Lewis’s novels in Dad’s bookshelf: Babbit, Main Street, Elmer Gantry, Arrowsmith, Ann Vickers….

I read them all as a teenager. I was particularly struck then by Dodsworth (1929). It was likely the very first rendition of the jaded-American-reawakens-in-Europe plot I ever encountered, and it seemed quite brilliant to me at the time.

Sinclair Lewis’s stock has fallen considerably in the last few decades. It had been many years since I read him, but this summer I picked up (more precisely, downloaded) a copy of Dodsworth. I returned to it after this long absence with a sense of curiosity: would it still speak to me as powerfully as it did when I was sixteen?

The answer: yes. The novel feels dated in places. There is a misogynistic tinge to the portrayal of Fran, Dodsworth’s narcissistic wife, and there is some gay-bashing and some discomfiting ethnic stereotypes–though not as cringe-inspiring as in many other works from the period.

But the novel also includes much deft, sly writing–not something I usually associate with Lewis. Here is his description of Sam Dodsworth’s first encounter with the woman who will become his wife, at a party in 1903:

If she was an angel, the girl at whom Sam was pointing, she was an angel of ice: slim, shining, ash-blonde, her self-possessed voice very cool as she parried the complimentary teasing of half a dozen admirers; a crystal candle-stick of a girl among black-and-white lumps of males.

What really strikes me, though, is Lewis’s portrayal of his hero Dodsworth, a type of man that Lewis must have despised.

Samuel Dodsworth was, perfectly, the American Captain of Industry, believing in the Republican Party, high tariff, and so long as they did not annoy him personally, in prohibition and the Episcopal Church. He was the president of the Revelation Motor Company; he was a millionaire, though decidedly not a multimillionaire; his large house was on Ridge Crest, the most fashionable street in Zenith; he had some taste in etchings; he did not split many infinitives; and he sometimes enjoyed Beethoven. He would certainly (so the observer assumed) produce excellent motor cars; he would make impressive speeches to the salesmen; but he would never love passionately, lose tragically, nor sit in contented idleness upon tropic shores.

The verb “to bully” appears repeatedly in the novel, usually with Dodsworth as its subject. We follow this unpromising personality, who “was extremely well trained, from his first days in Zenith High School, in not letting himself do anything so destructive as abstract thinking,” as he loses his position after selling his company and as he confronts his own utter loss of identity: “He had no longer the dignity of a craftsman. He made nothing; he meant nothing; he was no longer Samuel Dodsworth, but merely part of a crowd vigorously pushing one another toward nowhere.”

We plumb the depths with Dodsworth and experience the despair of his middle-age crisis. We watch his marriage disintegrate. But then we gradually float back to the surface with him, as he reawakens to the joy and possibilities of life, thanks in large measure to the “contented idleness” he enjoys during a sojourn amidst the humane culture and earthy landscape of Naples. Lewis depicts Dodsworth’s decline and rise with remarkable sympathy, complexity, and good humor. We can’t help but like this Dodsworth, for all his bullheaded dundering.

It is a novel, finally, about a bully’s redemption. How many of those do we have?

Takahashi Tetsuya on Fukushima and Okinawa: Japan’s “Sacrificial” System

Posted in Books,Current Events by bourdaghs on the June 2nd, 2012

Takahashi Tetsuya (University of Tokyo) is one of contemporary Japan’s leading philosophers and public intellectuals. I’ve just finished reading his most recent book, Gisei no system: Fukushima Okinawa (The sacrificial system: Fukushima and Okinawa; Tokyo: Shueisha, 2012). It builds on Takahashi’s earlier work on the postwar Japanese social system as one grounded in systematic sacrifices and scapegoating. In other words, Takahashi finds in both Fukushima and Okinawa paradigms for the problematic structure of postwar Japanese society.

Here’s how Takahashi defines a “sacrificial system”:

In a sacrificial system, the profit of one person (or persons) is obtained and maintained through a sacrifice in the living conditions (life, health, everyday life, property, respect, desires, etc.) of another person (or persons). The profit of the sacrificer cannot be obtained or maintained without the sacrifice of the sacrificed. This sacrifice is ordinarily either repressed from view or aestheticized and legitimated as a “noble sacrifice” carried out for the sake of the community (sate, nation, society, company, etc.) (my translation, e.g., p. 185)

Takahashi, who was raised in Fukushima, traces the ways this insidious logic led to the concentration of nuclear power plants in rural areas such as Fukushima, as well as to the concentration of U.S. military bases on the small province of Okinawa. Each is an instance of a kind of colonization, he argues, and each has been recently aestheticized and praised by national politicians as a kind of “noble sacrifice” carried out for the benefit of the nation.

Takahashi is particularly good at tracing out the complexities of responsibility that lie behind the still-unfolding nuclear disaster in Tohoku. No one is completely innocent here, not even residents of Fukushima prefecture, and yet some people–particular those politicians, bureaucrats, scientists and industry leaders who formed Japan’s now-notorious “nuclear energy village”–bear particularly deep responsibility for the disaster.

In one particularly interesting chapter, Takahashi unpacks the ethical implications of statements by such figures as Tokyo governor Ishihara Shintaro claiming the 3/11 disaster was “divine punishment.” Takahashi sees such claims as forming a particular kind of ideological obfuscation. He reads them in relation to earlier statements by the Christian intellectual Uchimura Kanzo writing in response to the 1923 Tokyo Earthquake and Nagai Takashi responding to the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.

As Takahashi unpacks the logic of the sacrificial system, he never loses sight of the pressing ethical demand it posits. We can’t simply mourn the victims or celebrate the beauty of their sacrifice (as Takahashi notes, this was the dominant tone in coverage both in Japan and abroad of the workers who remained inside the Fukushima complex during the disaster, trying frantically to try to bring it under control). Fukushima and Okinawa instead demand that the sacrificial system as a whole must be dismantled.

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Special Issue on Soseki’s “Theory of Literature”

Posted in Books,Japanese literature by bourdaghs on the May 29th, 2012


The May/June 2012 issue of Iwanami Shoten’s journal Bungaku is out now. It’s a special issue devoted to the theme of “Opening Up Soseki’s ‘Theory of Literature'”–in other words, new approaches to Natsume Soseki’s 1907 Bungakuron, his attempt to construct a fully scientific, universally valid theory of literature. The first part of the issue draws from a conference hosted last December by the University of Tokyo and features essays by Komori Yoichi, Joseph Murphy, Noami Mariko, Saito Mareshi, Atsuko Ueda and yours truly. It also includes a transcript of the concluding roundtable discussion from that event.

The rest of the issue includes a number of very interesting looking new articles on the topic by both veteran and younger scholars. I actually haven’t received my copy of the issue yet, so can’t say a great deal at this point about them, other than that their titles are quite intriguing. Check out the full table of contents here (Japanese language only).

The issue can be ordered through Amazon.com’s Japan site, and of course the English translation of Soseki’s Theory of Literature and Other Critical Writings is still available.

Even after ten years of nearly constant work on it, I still find Soseki’s Theory of Literature a remarkably interesting, even mysterious, work. I know I will be wrestling with it for many years to come. This new special issue hints that it’s a fascination I share with many others.

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Online Companion for Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

Posted in Books,J-Pop,J-Rock,Music by bourdaghs on the May 12th, 2012

I’ve created an online companion for readers of my book, Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop, including sound samples, links to video clips, and other goodies. You can check it out here. If you have any suggestions for improvements or additions, please send them along.

In addition to paperback and hardcover, the book is now also available on I-Tunes as a download for the I-Pad, I-Phone, and I-Pod Touch. It’s also available for Kindle downloads.

In the meanwhile, the Japan Times newspaper (13 May 2012) has run a nice review of the book by Kris Kosaka. Kosaka concludes:

Stylistically, Bourdaghs’ work beats consistently up-tempo, direct, clear prose revealing his nearly 35 year engagement with Japan. Bourdaghs’ analysis reads quickly yet fully covers an important historical span of modern Japan. With the Japanese translation to be in published in June by Byakuya Shobo Publishers, Bourdaghs’ work will soon be heard by Japanese audiences as well. For music, history, or cultural fans of contemporary Japan, this book is a chart-topper.

You can read the full review here.

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The Current Reading List

Posted in Books,Fiction,Japanese literature by bourdaghs on the March 20th, 2012

George Eliot, Silas Marner (1861). My first time to read this since ninth grade English class with Mr. Sanborn. My vague memories of the story revolved around the child Eppie and her sunny influence on the title character; I was surprised to realize she doesn’t appear until halfway through the book. The seemingly realistic depictions of daily life in small-town England before the Industrial Revolution are charming–and the brief visit to a darkened factory city near the end suitably haunting. I’d like to sneak this onto the syllabus for a seminar I’m planning to teach next year on the philosophy of money and literature. Eppie’s angelic golden locks release Silas from his evil worship of gold, leading to (quite literally, the last line tells us) the happiest of possible endings.

Kira Morio 北杜夫, Yurei: Aru yonen to seishun no monogatari_ 『幽霊・或る幼年と青春の物語』 (1954). Kita’s debut novel, a lyrical collage of fictional childhood memories. It has highly comical moments, but at other times is quite melancholic–death always hovers in the background. With hardly any plot to speak of, the charm comes primarily from polished depictions of a child’s sensibility. A passage early on about how the spines of books on the shelves in the father’s study seemed like faces looking down at the hero brought memories of my own childhood flooding back: I’d forgotten how vividly I could recall the books that sat on my own father’s shelves.

Greg Robinson, After Camp: Portraits in Midcentury Japanese American Politics and Life (2012). Most histories of Japanese-American life focus on the wartime internment camps and the developments that led to them. Robinson’s welcome new study takes up the relatively unexplored question of what happened next. He traces the process of release from the camps, one driven by an ideology of “assimilation” that sought to prevent the reappearance of concentrated pockets of Japanese-American populations on the West Coast. (with the surprising result that Chicago briefly boasted the largest population of Japanese-Americans in the continental U.S.). He also provides very interesting material on the relations between postwar Japanese-Americans and other minority ethnic groups, in particular African-Americans and Mexican-Americans. Fascinating.

Leela Gandhi, Affective Communities: Anticolonial Thought, Fin-de-Siecle Radicalism, and the Politics of Friendship (2006). A remarkable study of late nineteenth and early twentieth century nonconformist radical movements in Britain (vegetarianism, aestheticism, spiritualism and homosexuality, among others) as experiments in alternate, explicitly anti-imperial, forms of relationship–as, in other words, experiements in “friendship.” Since writing my dissertation on, among others, Upton Sinclair, I’ve had a strong interest in such movements in the U.S., and Gandhi’s insightful analysis finally helps me make sense of their specifically geopolitical stakes. I now see why The Jungle necessarily includes condemnations of the imperialist Russo-Japanese War alongside its more famous exposé of the horrors of meat-eating.

Featured Book of the Week

Posted in Books,J-Pop,J-Rock,Music,The Kinks by bourdaghs on the March 6th, 2012

Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop is the “featured book of the week” on the Columbia University Press blog. Among other things, they’re giving away a free copy, but hurry: the contest ends this Friday. Details are available here.

In celebration, let me leave you with “To My Dear Friends” (Waga yoki tomo yo), a 1975 hit for Kamayatsu Hiroshi. Kamayatsu is one of the heroes of my chapter four, “Working within the System: Group Sounds and the Commercial and Revolutionary Potential of Noise.” The tune, composed by Yoshida Takuro, was the biggest hit of Kamayatsu’s solo career, which followed his stint as resident musical genius for 1960s’ garage rockers, The Spiders.

Kamayatsu was the son of Tib Kamayatsu, a Japanese-American jazz singer whose career in Tokyo dated back to the 1930s. He debuted in the late 1950s as a country-western and rockabilly singer before joining the Spiders. He was one of the first Japanese rock-and-rollers to really “get” the new Merseybeat sound when it exploded onto the scene in 1964 and went on to compose many of the Spiders’ hits. In his seventies now, “Monsieur” Kamayatsu remains an active force on the Japanese music scene today. One of my biggest thrills as a music fan came in 2006, when I ended up sitting a couple of rows away from him in the balcony for a show by the reunited Sadistic Mika Band. It took enormous will power to stop me from cornering him to gush about how much I love his work.

Incidentally, Kamayatsu was (and is) a huge Kinks fan. Listen to the opening riff from the Spiders’ 1966 recording of “Little Roby,” lifted more or less directly from the Kinks’ “Set Me Free.”

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