When acclaimed critic Hiroki Azuma isn’t writing or teaching at Waseda University, he’s bridging the gap between academia and the general public through the Contectures publishing company as its President and Editor-in-Chief.
With Genron, Contectures English language portal, he and his staff have their eyes set abroad by translating articles for Western readers not adversed in Japanese.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Naoki Matsuyama who is in charge of translations and global outreach and Ko Ransom, a translator for the company, to discuss Genron, criticism in Japan, Azuma’s work, the Great East Japan Earthquake, and the country’s future.
BF: How did you get involved with this project?
NM: I was born and grew up in Italy and I studied in the UK. I came to Japan two or three years ago with very little knowledge of Japanese criticism or Azuma-san’s works. A friend of mine introduced me to Azuma-san’s books by chance and they completely blew me away. It felt to me like it was the first time that criticism was trying to convey something about the current situation and move forward to do something about it, instead of providing a simple negation of the current conditions. I immediately knew that this was something I wanted to get involved in, and I knew I could contribute having straddled between cultures all my life.
So one day I sent him an e-mail saying, because I’m a translator, “If you need any help, I’ll be more than happy to”. That was before the first issue of the journal Shisouchizu Beta was published, and a few days later I received an email saying that he wanted to include English abstracts for all articles in it and that he wanted me to work on that. From there, I started to become involved in different activities of Contectures, the company that was created to publish the journal, including the website Genron that I initiated and an iPad app[lication] as well.
KR: Right around April after the disaster, I was in a Japanese language program in Yokohama. All of my classes at school got cancelled so I was just sitting at home most of the day. I looked at Twitter and I saw someone retweet something that Naoki sent saying that Contectures was searching for translators. I sent an application and after that I managed to get here. It was part of the company’s wave of hiring new translators to do more articles for the disaster issue.
BF: What’s the translation process?
NM: We usually do entire articles and each translator works on one article at a time. The translation team is composed of myself, Ko, and three other translators who all have different specializations. Ko’s is subculture, and he also knows a lot about criticism related to subculture. The other guys specialize in different fields such as modern critical theory in Japan, Japanese orthography and the political history of Japan. We try to do whatever we can that we think will have an impact focusing on translating articles we feel should be read abroad.
T-SHIRTS + ME
T-shirts with Logos.
T-shirts with sayings.
T-shirts with designs on them.
How do we each choose what we put on?
I admit, I can be a t-shirt snob. It has nothing to do with sticker price or brand. It’s more about an originality factor. And I’m not gonna lie, I kinda like a person 5% more if the t-shirt they are wearing is an interesting one; a good t-shirt and good socks (but the socks are for another story.)
Actually, my first introduction to Giant Robot was from a t-shirt. Around 8 years ago, I saw a guy walking around 3rd Street promenade in Santa Monica with a Giant Robot shirt on. I went up to him and asked,
“Who is this Giant Robot?”
That led me to search out the magazine.
Even now when I wander into the store on Sawtelle, I usually rifle through the t-shirts. I am guaranteed to find a fun selection of unique art designs I know I won’t see anywhere else.
So—it’s been a long time since I bought a t-shirt at a concert but Battles were just in town. In my life, inspiration often comes from a jolt of the unfamiliar. Hearing Battles for the first time did this to me. For anyone who isn’t familiar with their music –I would describe them as an energetic type of meditation—heavy instrumental perhaps. Their unique sound has creatively stirred me when some of my favorite tunes distract with heavy lyrics. That being said, I was pretty excited to finally see them live.
I asked my friend Zuleikha Robinson to come down with to The Mayan theatre downtown to see the show. When I got there, my excitement was heightened even more by the glowing t-shirt stand to the right of the stage.
“I have to get a Battles T-shirt!”
Well—I had 13 bucks in my pocket. Darn! Of course not having the full $25 on me turned getting that shirt into a mission. Z lent me $11 and as I was about to start bargaining for that last buck, a kind stranger saved the day.
Thanks guy wearing the black flannel.
In 1986, a wire thin Ralph Macchio was cast again as karate champ “Danny” in Karate Kid 2. This time, he leaves the San Fernando Valley and travels to Japan with his Karate sensei, “Miyagi” played by Pat Morita. Miyagi needs to visit his dying father. Meanwhile there’s drama between he and his old rival friend, but stealing scenes is Danny’s hot female love interest, Kumiko portrayed by Tamlyn Tomita in her acting debut.
At the time, young Asian American female leads were scarce and Tamlyn Tomita became the woman by which many Asian American females were gauged. She was the crush of kids everywhere and 25 years later is quietly celebrating her debuts 25th anniversary. Only the Hawaii International Film Festival screened Karate Kid 2 and invited Tomita to the islands, and that’s where I caught up with her. In her Halekulani hotel suite, I got to sit down with Tomita to ask her every question I had boiling for the last two and half decades.
There’s a joke in my family that when Tamlyn Tomita’s name ever gets brought up, I’m quickly hovering the conversation. Crushes can run for decades.
Here’s a few memorable quotes:
On Karate Kid 2, “Changed by Freakin Life.”
“25 years ago I was known as the Karate Kid Girl, and now I’m known as the Glee mom. If you want any more evidence that 25 years have passed, there you go.”
“I look at a person, ok this one probably in his 40s I’ll refer to Karate Kid, if it’s a woman 25-40 I’ll say Joy Luck Club. If it’s a young teenager, it’s Glee.”