Oct 6

JQ Magazine: Book Review — ‘Perfume’s “GAME”’

“To call Perfume’s GAME a ‘deep dive’ is both an understatement and compliment. From its very first chapter, St. Michel’s decade of experience writing about music shines.” (Bloomsbury Academic)

By Greg Beck (Hiroshima-ken, 2006-11) for JQ magazine. Greg is a writer, producer, home brewer, and Social Coordinator for JETAA Southern California and Arizona. A former news producer for Tokyo Broadcasting System in New York, he currently works freelance in Los Angeles. For more cinema reviews, follow him on Twitter at @CIRBECK #MovieReview.

If you were to ask me prior to writing this, I vaguely recalled Perfume as some heavily autotuned “girl group” from Hiroshima. Now that I have read Perfume’s GAME, all of that has changed.

Written by JET alum Patrick St. Michel (Mie-ken, 2009-11) and released earlier this year, this insightful work of nonfiction is part of a series called 33 1/3 Japan, also related to a larger, global series of short, music-based books sharing the 33 1/3 title. This book specifically goes beyond simple fandom, providing a master class on the early-to-sophomore career of the pop group Perfume, and how their album GAME would become an important influence in popular music on the international level.

To call Perfume’s GAME a “deep dive” is both understatement and compliment. From its first chapter, St. Michel’s decade of experience writing about music shines. That’s an extremely difficult task for the written word, given we perceive music using a different sense entirely. Descriptive prose does an excellent job identifying and elucidating songs and their smaller components. St. Michel starts with a modest introduction of his personal discovery of Perfume and how it helped him connect to his Japanese community, which for any JET alum should feel familiar, if not nostalgic. Next, he tells the story of the members of Perfume and their humble beginnings. Had the rest of the book been solely focused on their music, it would only be worth reading if you were already a diehard fan, but the author does much more.

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Sep 23

Posted by Tom Baker

The Japan Writers Conference, a free annual event that invariably attracts at least a few JETs, will be held at Otaru University of Commerce on Oct. 13 and 14. One of the JETs giving presentations this year will be Suzanne Kamata, who will be giving two of the 36 presentations scheduled for the big weekend. One of them was described in a previous JETwit post. Here’s the official description of the other:

“The Truth about Writing Contests”
Short lecture with Q & A

I will describe various kinds of writing contests, the pros and cons of entering said contests, and give advice on how to improve an entrant’s chances of winning.

There are many contests for writers. Some may think that it’s not worth the time or the cost of the entrance fees. After all, many contests get hundreds of submissions, and judging is often somewhat subjective – every reader has different likes and dislikes. However, thanks to winning or placing in writing competitions, I have received plane tickets to Paris, Sydney, and Columbia, South Carolina (from my home in Japan). I’ve also been awarded cash, medals, trophies, and plaques and shiny prize stickers for my books, not to mention bragging rights and prestige. A contest win can also be an excuse for a burst of publicity. Contests may lead to recognition, getting an agent or publisher, and book sales. So how do you decide which contests to enter? How do you win? In this session I will share my expertise as a frequent contest entrant, sometime winner, and occasional judge.

Suzanne Kamata has won many awards for her writing including a grant from SCBWI for her forthcoming novel tentatively titled Indigo Girl (GemmaMedia 2018), a grant from the Sustainable Arts Foundation for her as-yet-unpublished mother/daughter travel memoir Squeaky Wheels, the Paris Book Festival Grand Prize for Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible (GemmaMedia 2013), and an IPPY Silver Medal for her most recently published novel The Mermaids of Lake Michigan (Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing 2017).


Sep 21

TED JETs: Amelia Hagen asks, “What if Everyone’s Wrong?”

Posted by Tom Baker

JETs tend to be interesting people. After all, every one of them has relocated to a different country at least once. It’s not surprising that many of them have also had other interesting experiences, some of which lead to insights that they end up sharing in TED talks.

This is part of an occasional series on current or former JETs who have given TED talks. Here is JET alum Amelia Hagen speaking about getting uncomfortable to find tolerance.

 


Sep 20

Posted by Tom Baker

The Japan Writers Conference, a free annual event that invariably attracts at least a few JETs, will be held at Otaru University of Commerce on Oct. 13 and 14. One of the JETs giving presentations this year will be Tom Baker (who wrote this post, along with a recent Japan News article previewing the event). Here’s the official description of his presentation:

Anatomy of a Book Review
Short lecture with Q&A

“Anatomy of a Book Review” will explain how a book review is structured and what elements it should include. The key is to not merely indulge in one’s own reaction to a book, but to focus on being an informative and trustworthy guide for other readers.

A book review is like a book in miniature. It must grab the reader’s attention at the beginning, hold their interest through the middle, and leave them feeling satisfied to have spent their time on it by the end. But what goes into each of those parts and how do you put them together?

“Anatomy of a Book Review” will pin several reviews to the dissecting table to look at what parts they include and what function those parts serve. Vital organs include a catchy lead, facts about the author, and at least a sketch of the context in which the book appears.

Reviews of fiction and nonfiction will be compared. For any type of book, reviewers of course want to express their opinions. This presentation will focus on doing so in a way that fulfills the reviewer’s mission to be a concretely helpful guide for other readers.

Tom Baker has written and published about 300 book reviews over the past 20 years. He edited the Books page of The Daily Yomiuri, which is now The Japan News, where he edits the Bound to Please column. He was the ACCJ Journal’s book columnist for two years.

 

 


Sep 18

Posted by Tom Baker

JETs tend to be interesting people. After all, every one of them has relocated to a different country at least once. It’s not surprising that many of them have also had other interesting experiences, some of which lead to insights that they end up sharing in TED talks.

This is part of an occasional series on current or former JETs who have given TED talks. Here is JET alum Chris Broad talking about his experience of becoming a YouTube star:

 

 


Sep 17

Posted by Tom Baker

The Japan Writers Conference, a free annual event that invariably attracts at least a few JETs, will be held at Otaru University of Commerce on Oct. 13 and 14. One of the JETs giving presentations this year will be poet and novelist Holly Thompson, who first came to Japan in connection with the pre-JET MEF program. She will present “Half the Story: Writing for the Picture Book Market.” Here’s the official description of her presentation:

Short Lecture, Exercises and Q&A

Picture book writing is a particular art. Writers of picture book manuscripts must write for page turns and create opportunities for the illustrator—writing just enough to offer possibilities. This session introduces the craft of writing picture books for current English-language picture book markets.

Writing is only half the story in picture books–images and text interact to tell the story together. So how do we write text without saying too much? Where in our writing should we step aside for the illustrator? And how do we compress stories for the strict count of 32 pages? How can we skill up to craft manuscripts that appeal to editors and art directors for their illustration possibility? This session will explore the anatomy of the picture book as it pertains to writers and offer guidelines for crafting fresh, marketable picture book manuscripts. We’ll examine sample picture books—fiction, nonfiction, poetry—and try some interactive exercises. We will address the current English-language picture book markets and share the gaps, openings and opportunities for writers to get a foot in the door.

Holly Thompson is author of the picture books Twilight Chant; One Wave at a Time, The Wakame Gatherers: verse novels Falling into the Dragon’s Mouth, Orchards, The Language Inside; and the novel Ash. She writes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, is SCBWI Japan Regional Advisor, and teaches at Yokohama City University.


Sep 16

 

Posted by Tom Baker

The Japan Writers Conference, a free annual event that invariably attracts at least a few JETs, will be held at Otaru University of Commerce on Oct. 13 and 14. One of the JETs giving presentations this year will be Suzanne Kamata, whose story “Monchan” appears in the “The Best Asian Short Stories 2017” anthology. Suzanne will be giving two presentations. Here’s the official description of one of them:

Panel discussion w/ Q & A

Kitaab Publisher Zafar Anjum and contributor Suzanne Kamata will discuss The Best Asian Short Stories 2017 anthology. Anjum will also talk about other anthologies in the works and publishing opportunities for Japan-based writers and translators in Singapore.

Zafar Anjum, who heads the independent Singapore publishing house Kitaab International, and contributor Suzanne Kamata, will introduce The Best Asian Short Stories 2017 anthology. In addition to the anthology series, Kitaab has published novels, short story collections and stories for children. Anjum will also discuss his vision for Kitaab and publishing opportunities for Japan-based writers and translators. There will be a question and answer period.

Zafar Anjum is a writer, publisher, and filmmaker who lives and works in Singapore. His books include Kafka in Ayodhya and Other Short Stories (Kitaab International, 2015), Iqbal: The Life of a Poet Philosopher and Politician (Random House India, 2014), and The Singapore Decalogue (Red Wheelbarrow, 2012). He is the founder-editor of Kitaab, an online journal and publishing company that promotes Asian writing in English.

Suzanne Kamata is the author or editor of ten published books including, most recently Screaming Divas (Simon Pulse, 2014), The Mermaids of Lake Michigan (Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing, 2017) and A Girls’ Guide to the Islands (Gemma Open Door, 2017). Her story “Mon-chan” was selected for inclusion in The Best Asian Short Stories 2017 anthology. She is an Associate Professor at Naruto College of Education.


Sep 16

TED JETs: Amelia Hagen on the value of starting conversations

Posted by Tom Baker

JETs tend to be interesting people. After all, every one of them has relocated to a different country at least once. It’s not surprising that many of them have also had other interesting experiences, some of which lead to insights that they end up sharing in TED talks.

This is part of an occasional series on current or former JETs who have given TED talks. Here is JET alum Amelia Hagen  (Fukuoka-ken, 2008-13) speaking about what she has learned from starting face-to-face conversations during her international travels.

 

 


Jun 25

TED JETs: Roland Kelts on “The Core of Cool Japan: Sustainability vs. Stagnation”

Posted by Tom Baker


JETs tend to be interesting people. After all, every one of them has relocated to a different country at least once. It’s not surprising that many of them have also had other interesting experiences, some of which lead to insights that they end up sharing in TED talks.

This is part of an occasional series on current or former JETs who have given TED talks. Here is JET alum Roland Kelts speaking about “The Core of Cool Japan: Sustainability vs. Stagnation.”


Apr 14

Posted by Tom Baker


The 12th annual Japan Writer’s Conference will be held this year in Hokkaido, a new location for the event. The organizers are now seeking writers to give presentations on the weekend of Oct. 13-14 at Otaru University of Commerce in Otaru, Hokkaido. If you are a writer and would like to participate, contact details appear at the bottom of this post.

Each year, the Japan Writers Conference attracts English-language writers in a variety of genres and fields to share ideas on the art, craft and business of writing. And each year, a significant number of past and present JETs take part. These have included anthologist Suzanne Kamata, textbook author Todd Jay Leonard, travel writer Victoria Vlisides, short story writer Claire Dawn-Marie Gittens, novelists Benjamin Martin, Percival Constantine and Holly Thompson (the last of whom came to Japan in connection with the pre-JET MEF program), and journalists Elaine Lies and Tom Baker (the latter of whom wrote this post).

Past presenters have also included Australian poet David Gibley, “Slumdog Millionaire” novelist Vikas Swarup, “Cash Crash Jubilee” novelist Eli K.P. William, young-adult author Margi Preus, horror author Thersa Matsuura, and memoirist Leza Lowitz. The 2017 edition of “The Best American Mystery Stories,” edited by John Sandford, features a story by Karen McGee, who hosted the 2017 event in Tokyo. The host of this year’s event will be travel writer and textbook author Shawn Clankie.

Representatives of literary journals such as The Font and Cha have participated in past years, as have representatives of publishers including Fine Line Press and Isobar Press.

Run entirely by volunteers, the Japan Writers Conference is a free event open to all. Details on this year’s event can be found at http://www.japanwritersconference.org.

Writers interested in making a presentation at the 2018 conference are asked to contact organizer John Gribble at gribblej@gol.com. The deadline for presentation proposals is June 1.


Apr 14

TED JETs: Bruce Feiler on “Agile programming — for your family”

 

Posted by Tom Baker


JETs tend to be interesting people. After all, every single one of them has voluntarily relocated to a different country at least once. It’s not surprising that many of them have also had other interesting experiences, some of which lead to insights that they end up sharing in TED talks.

This post begins an occasional series on current or former JETs who have given TED talks. To kick things off, here is Tochigi Prefecture JET alum Bruce Feiler speaking about “Agile programming — for your family.”


Dec 24

JQ Magazine: Jamming After JET — Rural Island Alums Release New Albums

“Living in Japan exposes you to music you would not have heard otherwise. I owe most of my knowledge to availability of 100 yen records all over the country and the friendly record store employees that were eager to teach me about Japanese music.” (Courtesy of Eli Cohen)

 

By Greg Beck (Hiroshimaken, 2006-11) for JQ magazine. Greg is a writer, producer, home brewer, and Social Coordinator for JETAA Southern California and Arizona. A former news producer for Tokyo Broadcasting System in New York, he currently works freelance in Los Angeles. For more cinema reviews, follow him on Twitter at @CIRBECK #MovieReview.

Regardless of your placement on JET, music is a constant part of the experience. Whether it is karaoke parties with friends, music festivals like Fuji Rock, “live house” local performances, or simply singing Beatles and Carpenters with your students (over and over), all of us take something musical with us from our time on JET. But what about musicians who join JET? JQ reached out to two alumni from small islands off the coast of Kyushu, who have gone on to release their own albums, and hear from them how these unique records reflect that experience.

Eli Cohen (Kagoshima-ken, 2009-2010) runs the International Admissions department at one of the City University of New York’s institutions. He is also a DJ who started a record label, Alliance Upholstery. His new album, Tokyo Nights: Female J-Pop Boogie Funk —1981 to 1988, is a collection of music that fits into this genre.

If that sounds obscure, we thought so, too. Cohen explains: “In high school I was really into Japanese punk (Teengenerate, Guitar Wolf). This is where my interest in Japan started. As I grew older, I became very interested in Japanese music from the ’80s, as well as fashion and art from the era. Japanese people refer to this style as ‘City Pop.’ Outside of Japan, the term is a little vague and people often call this Japanese Boogie. The sound reflects the attitude and excitement of the bubble, bright and full of optimism,” adding that his favorite artist is Toshiki Kadomatsu.

Cultures of Soul Records (click image for audio samples)

Many JETs can probably relate to Cohen’s experience as a JET placed on a rural, island, both in the difficulties adjusting, and the unexpected opportunities. Having spent several years before JET living in Osaka and Tokyo, Cohen was placed in Minamitane, below the southernmost tip of Kyushu, which he describes as “a tiny town of about 8,000 people on the island of Tanegashima.” Before that, he says, “I had felt very little culture shock when I first moved to Japan as I had only lived in major cities. Tanegashima was my first taste of inaka life and a very unique and challenging experience.” While he admits, “The students were great but I prefer city life and was eager to return to Tokyo,” he also shared the following: “JAXA, the Japanese space program, is based in Minamitane. There was a bar in town appropriately titled Moon Bar. I would DJ there on occasion and tried to incorporate space themes into the sets.”

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Aug 27

 

Posted by Tom Baker (Chiba, 1989-91).

The Japan Writers Conference is a free annual event for English-language writers, held in a different part of Japan each year. In 2017, it will take place in Tokyo at the Ekoda Campus of Nihon University College of Art on Oct. 8-9, the last two days of a Japanese holiday weekend.

There will be will be about 30 presentations by published writers of fiction, poetry, memoir, travel writing and more. Several of those writers are former JETs.

JET alumnae Susan Laura Sullivan and Suzanne Kamata, for example, will give a joint presentation on editing anthologies. Sullivan is the editor of the forthcoming anthology “Women of a Certain Age,” while Kamata’s published anthologies include “Call Me Okaa-san” and “The Broken Bridge.”

Kamata will also give a presentation together with Ann Tashi Slater on creative nonfiction.

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JET alum and textbook author Todd Jay Leonard, whose many titles include “American Traditions,” will give a lecture on “The Ever-Changing Publishing Industry,” in which he will discuss traditional versus print-on-demand publishing, followed by a Q&A session.

Poet and novelist Holly Thompson, who first came to Japan in connection with the pre-JET MEF program, will present “Writing Picture Books: Nonfiction Opportunities.” Her published works include “The Wakame Gatherers.”

For details on those and the other presentations, visit www.japanwritersconference.org or follow @JapanWritersCon on Twitter.

The Japan Writers Conference, now in its 11th year, is completely volunteer-run, and admission is free.


Jul 15

JQ Magazine: Manga Review — ‘Kitaro and the Great Tanuki War’

The Great Tanuki War stands apart from the other Kitaro volumes because in this adventure, the stakes are higher than anything you’ve ever seen.” (Drawn and Quarterly)

 

By Julio Perez Jr. (Kyoto-shi, 2011-13) for JQ magazine. A bibliophile, writer, translator, and graduate from Columbia University, Julio currently keeps the lights on by working at JTB USA while writing freelance in New York. Follow his enthusiasm for Japan, literature, and comic books on his blog and Twitter @brittlejules.

A haunted house built on an ancient burial ground? That’s minor league. How about an entire nation built above an army of human-hating yokai who command a catfish large enough to cause earthquakes?

Shigeru Mizuki’s Kitaro and The Great Tanuki War is a manga volume that tells an epic tale pitting the titular character, Kitaro, against an army of tanuki and their powerful yokai allies. There are also a few bonus stories with Kitaro’s usual one-shot adventures. You may already be familiar with Mizuki’s famous character, but if you are not, you can brush up on his origin story featured in the first volume, The Birth of Kitaro, which JQ reviewed last year here.

This marks the third volume in the English collection of Kitaro stories published by the fine folks at Drawn and Quarterly. One of our very own JET alums, Zack Davisson (Nara-ken, 2001-04; Osaka-shi, 2004-06), has been doing his part to put Shigeru Mizuki’s timeless work on the map in the English-speaking world. He has served as translator for these Kitaro stories and also for Mizuki’s colossal four-volume manga history of the Showa period. Zack is a yokai expert in his own right and you can find out more about his career and JET experience in our vintage JQ interview with him.

As many consumers of Japanese media may already be aware, yokai are strange creatures or phenomena that originate in Japan and have become widely popular globally. Kitaro is a unique yokai who solves mysteries and fights for humans. The conflict between humans and yokai is often an issue of tension for him as he straddles both sides, but this conflict takes center stage in The Great Tanuki War, when an army of tanuki escape from their underground dwelling beneath the island of Shikoku (shout-out to our Shikoku JET alums!), to wage a war on the human residents of Japan.

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Dec 29
"This graphic novel series arrests your attention, from the immersive quality of the art, to the highs of self depreciating humor, to the lows of isolation and despair that run through it. Those who have lived abroad will find a lot to relate to." (Top Shelf Productions)

“This graphic novel series arrests your attention, from the immersive quality of the art, to the highs of self depreciating humor, to the lows of isolation and despair that run through it. Those who have lived abroad will find much to relate to.” (Top Shelf Productions)

 

By Julio Perez Jr. (Kyoto-shi, 2011-13) for JQ magazine. A bibliophile, writer, translator, and graduate from Columbia University, Julio currently keeps the lights on by working at JTB USA while writing freelance in New York. Follow his enthusiasm for Japan, literature, and comic books on his blog and Twitter @brittlejules.

Everyone has felt out of place at some point in their lives. People who choose to live abroad sometimes make that their everyday. In Tonoharu, cartoonist and JET alum Lars Martinson (Fukuoka-ken, 2003-2006; Kyoto-fu, 2011-2016) illustrates a story exploring themes of human relationships through the experience of an English teacher in Japan on a journey of self-discovery. Told in three parts, the final volume was released in November and represents many years of work for Martinson that began to see fruition when he received the Xeric Grant for Comic Book Self-Publishers in 2007.

Tonoharu is a tale of several non-Japanese teachers of English living in the titular rural town outside of Fukuoka City, mostly from the viewpoint of a young American named Dan Wells. Wells feels out of place in Japan, but claims to have felt the same way back home without having the excuse of being a foreigner. The reader climbs in the back seat for an intimate road trip with him through his pursuit of purpose and success in his job and social life, privy to all manner of encounters from intimacy in the bedroom to traditional parades with locally made floats. In just one year, Wells encounters unique challenges in his work, frustrations with seemingly unrequited romantic interest for another American, confusion and alarm at the mysterious activities of other foreigners in Tonoharu, and worst of all, the inability to replace light bulbs in his apartment!

Tonoharu is full of quiet moments that when described may come off as unimpressive, but they are always captivating and powerful in the way the words and imagery captures the moodiness of imperfect exchanges between people that are not usually seen in glossier fiction. This quality is enhanced by a lack of narration—the framing story of Dan’s successor (also named Dan) features his narration, but in the main story the characters only express themselves by speaking to one another. Often the things they don’t say, their expressions and their body language, and the things they choose to say while alone, speak just as powerfully as the introspective autobiographical style of narrative-driven graphic novels such as Persepolis.

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