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  When we last spoke to translators for Genron, they were hard at work translating articles for the recent issue of the Shisouchizu Beta journal. Genron is a company founded by one of Japan’s premier critics, Azuma Hiroki, the author of Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals. Genron offers an accessibly fresh “critical discourse” based on “the here and now” in Japanese society. This may sound broad, but it’s merely a reflection of the journal’s range of topics. The journal analyzes everything from the otaku and gyaru subcultures to Japanese political science and literary criticism. There’s something for everyone here. It’s academically intellectual, yet journalistically readable and has information unobtainable through Western media. The new issue, Japan 2.0, confronts Japan’s looming future after the Great Tohoku Earthquake of “3/11”. “Japan was forcibly changed by the violence of the disaster,” Azuma writes in the opening note. “What we need now are words that, accepting this as a premise, act as a lighthouse which, though perhaps unable to provide the answer to the question of where Japan should be headed, may at least hazily light the way forward.” Communication and change are indeed the journal’s raison d’être. The presence of communication in Japan’s contemporary “atmosphere,” it’s evolution, and the necessity in its transformation for the future is a recurrent point throughout the issue. We had a peek at some of the translated articles and abstracts in the back of the journal. I’ll write comments on the individual articles within the issue in the near future. In the mean time here’s a brief summary.   Highlights include an interview with Fukushima Maiko and Shikura Chiyomaru. Fukushima, better known as Mofuku-chan, is the president of Moé Japan and creator of the Mogra and Dear stage clubs and producer of the idol group. Shikura is the president of MAGES and was involved in the production of Steins;Gate. Together they discuss the current state of Akihabara and some of the challenges and possible changes it faces in the future. They explain how its culture evolved from “2D otaku” to “3D otaku” more interested in creating content through mediums like Nico Nico Douga and interacting with idol groups like AKB48. Challenges for Akihabara include the manga market’s competition with cellphones. What’s emphasized is that the otaku, usually stereotyped as asocial creatures, seek out modes of communication. They merely used different entertainment mediums as a means for discussing its content for hours on end. Included within the interview is a photoshoot narrated in the style of a Japanese Role Playing Game with Azuma, Shikura, and Fukushima cosplaying as archetypical characters from the genre. The narrative posits whether or not Moé, Akihabara, and the otaku can save the future. Next is a transcribed speech from Murakami Takashi at his 500 Arhats Exhibit in Doha, Qatar. In it, he describes his motivation for constructing such an art piece and addresses its relationship between it and the Tohoku Earthquake. “I wanted to depict the chaos of Japan in painting and make it a message...
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[youtube]xyFZl7lCz_s[/youtube] Pochuter. Yes, lean in and the girl in interactive digital poster, leans in for a kiss. It’s made of photos for now, but eventually, it’ll be moving video. Otakus who have posters of their favorite idols are in luck. Chu means Kiss and mixed with Poster, you get Pochuter. Yes, those folks at Keio University are up to fun projects. Keidai Ogawa likes the girls and this is how he can get closer to kissing them. The female used in the example looks plenty great too.  
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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.

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Say the word “Postmodern” and a tide of ideas flood the imagination. Structuralism, metanarratives, semiotics, and other obscure studies come to mind. At best they sound intelligently incomprehensible. At worst they reek of fashionable nonsense. Hiroki Azuma’s book, Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals, reads like neither. Unlike the milieu of thinkers who dwell in the pages of academic journals, Azuma’s prose is accessibly lucid despite the citation of high-minded thinkers and philosophers like Jean Baudrillard, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and G.W.F. Hegel. He eschews a pedantic writing style in favor of a lucid journalistic one to analyze and explain the phenomena of Japan’s most notorious caste of social pariahs: the Otaku. Japan’s homegrown niche of anime geeks may seem like a pretentiously unrelated topic for the lofty heights of philosophy and theory. That is, it would be if Azuma didn’t make such compelling claims. The core argument of the book centers on the collapse of the “Grand Narrative” concerning Otaku consumption. Look at the Grand Narrative as a sense of meaning or purpose, but while the rest of the world was in conflict during the Cold War, Japan only had industry and consumption as a guiding light. The Otaku substituted this with fictional narratives to fill the void, but even this was insufficient. Azuma noted that late into the 1990s, consumers ceased to show as much interest in the plots of anime so much as their characters. Azuma uses the Neon Genesis Evangelion anime as an example. Multiple narratives currently exist for the Eva franchise through various multimedia projects, but most have little to do with the “original”. “[The Otaku] did not really have a concern for the entire world of Evangelion,” Azuma writes. “Instead they focused exclusively on the setting and character designs as objects for exclusive interpretation.” In other words, the characters, not the story were its fans’ passion “One might argue that the original TV series of Evangelion [still] continued to function as an entry…into the grand narrative. However, Otaku culture of the few years since Evangelion is rapidly abandoning the need for even this entry point,” writes Azuma. The emergence of Di Gi Charot enforces his claim. An anime gaming dealership originally created its protagonist, Digiko, as a mascot for its enterprise. No narrative existed prior to this character’s conception, yet an anime and series of novels came to fruition following Digiko’s growing popularity. Even the character Usada Hikaru’s name was determined by a fan poll. In this instance, the “database” of anonymous fans directly influenced the creation of these characters without any sign of original authorship. With the collapse of the Grand Narrative then, what alternative framework is there for seeing the world? “It is easier to comprehend the world through a database model,” Azuma writes. “An easily understandable example of this is the Internet. The Net has no center. That is, no hidden grand narrative regulates all Web pages.” What’s left are different parts for consumers to pick and choose from the database and craft together and render...
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  There’s that number again, $200 million dollars. That’s how big AKB 48 is. According to the Cnet report, it’s more than what U2 makes. There’s 90 members and growing and their all day live performances which began as a novelty in geekville Akihabara is now a larger enterprise. Number one hits, sponsorships, commercials, and more. They’ve become a serious household name and it shows how a geek idea can be taken to the top. Five years ago, no chance. (Cnet – AKB48)
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