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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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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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