Nich Schools

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When I was young, I was fascinated with cultures other than my own. I caught glimpses of China, of Russia, of Italy with every step I took. Little china dolls and pizza shops advertising authenticity seem to pervade every city, every town, every square mile of inhabited land in this melting pot called the United States. But what’s melted into this pot is no more than bits and pieces, generalizations and stereotypes. And when I realized this a few years ago, it ignited a desire in me to seek the truth of these cultures. [Read more…]

Nathan Traceski

Nathan’s life changed when he was 7. A genetic mutation allowed him to develop a superpower…the ability to become a Pokemon master! Or so he thought. This virtual world enthralled him and he spent a grandiose number of hours staring at a 2D screen, with his thumbs twiddling to no end. Cast all illusions aside; he did have a life in the real world as well. OK, you’re right. He did spend most of that time with friends who also lost themselves in the phenomenon, working toward the ultimate goal of catching them all. How he wished he could sick his Lv. 100 Mewtwo and Dragonite on the bullies at school. Hyper Beam would have demolished them! Nathan’s parents admired the imaginative spirit of their son. He had fun.

Reality check: Middle school – angst, puberty, first crush, friendships lost and found. Pokemon moved to the backseat as a hobby; no longer a lifestyle. Other passions emerged including art, baking, poetry, and mathematics. He had indeed become more learned as he matured. Success in school was easy. He could regurgitate facts to please his teachers. High school was another level to beat in the fickle game Nathan played. He realized that at this age, innocence gets tossed out the window like a cheating ex’s junk. Sexual awareness kicked in, clicks formed, and the world turned against those who weren’t, heaven forbid, cool. Nathan cowered on the sidelines, ate lunch alone, and kept waiting for the 3 o’clock bell to ring. What did he truly appreciate of the immense world around him? He couldn’t even answer that. Was he happy? No.

Out of complete and utter boredom, he once took a Pokemon Personality Quiz. This was the result:

Sad Karp

Evidently, something was wrong. How did a feverishly giddy child end up so lame? So normal. College was next. Hold up, what?! Nathan was pessimistic and apathetic. College is the land of freaks who want more of life. They seek understanding and don’t need approval to be content. Passion is the smell of the air. This was no place for someone who used up his childhood in a fantasy, and regarded everything else in vain seriousness. During the fall of 2009 after Nathan graduated, he boarded a plane and flew for 20 hours across the Pacific Ocean to a little island called New Zealand. He spent the next 2.5 months in an apartment with four strangers, and spent his days as a zoo volunteer. Where did this courage come from? It emerged from the necessity for Nathan to find clarity. Soul searching can begin at any age, and is a perpetual experiment. Nathan was introduced to fresh perspectives and he was able to interact with real-life Pokemon: the animals of the Wild Kingdom. When he returned home, his family could sense immense growth in him. He even wanted to do more and more. Next destination: Puerto Rico. Deep in the jungle he sweat out the two best weeks of his life. He aided in the research of indigenous frog, lizard, and tree species with a dynamic group of individuals. He loved it so much that he did the same thing in New York!

So you think Nathan is ready for anything? Not hardly. But now he can be one of those passionate kooks who goes to college and has the desire to be a part of something bigger than himself. All right, so what the hell does this have to do with anything? Some cheap way to give an inspirational pep talk? Nah. Expressionistic catharsis.

Nathan still plays Pokemon. Yet Nathan doesn’t know much about Japan. He knows that people are fascinated by its futurism and that it has created abstractions of empirical status such as anime, Hello Kitty, pop art, and Pokemon. He would love to know more. He has faced both relatable and unique circumstances thus far in his life. He is ready to soak up what he can. Japanophilia is new and exciting to Nathan, so bring it on!

Squirreltle omnoms Pokeballs.

They are out there!

The “radio” of the 21st Century by Ally McKechnie

Spirited Away and Anime in the American Cinema Market

Far more Americans saw the clips from Spirited Away shown just before its Academy Award was announced than will ever see the movie. Despite anime’s extreme popularity in certain US markets, anime films have almost universally underwhelmed at US box offices and receive little general exposure in the states. What did it take for Spirited Away to attain its relative prominence in the American market and, if any, what effect has its story tell us about the possibilities for wide scale US distribution of anime films in the States? [Read more…]

Pop Psychosis: the Influence of the Bomb on Superflat Art

Takashi Murakami,

Murakami Takashi, "Gero-Tan" "I express hopelessness."

In the past several decades, Japanese popular culture has become inundated with a “cute” or kawaii aesthetic that is unique to the country. This imagery is present in media, advertising, and merchandise, and its appeal has expanded to overseas markets—the worldwide popularity of Hello Kitty being one of the best examples of this phenomenon. But when the bright colors, cartoon characters and whimsical subject matter began appearing in high art, it prompted a discussion as to why cuteness had developed such appeal and become so omnipresent. Japanese artists of the Superflat movement use the language of this pop culture iconography to explore what kawaii says about the Japanese people and their history. Takashi Murakami, founding member of the Superflat movement and author of its manifesto, views the development of kawaii as Japan’s response to World War II and the atomic bomb. [Read more…]

Takashi Murakami & Louis Vuitton: Superflat meets Superfashion

When these two giants met, things went wild. The first collection of bags Murakami designed for the fashion house (at the order of creative director, Marc Jacobs) rejuvenated the brand–Louis Vuitton wasn’t just high-end French couture anymore, it was kawaii!3lvmurbags460 Everyone loved the collection, and the West took notice–suddenly, Murakami and his Superflatness became a big name, and not just for those in the Art scene. In fact, Murakami was worried that his initial association with LV would mislead his new found fans into thinking he was simply a hand bag designer. In a TIME Magazine article, he said that he was going to take a break from the commercial and re-establish himself as a fine artist. This reaction is strange, considering that Murakami widely promotes his art as commercial–as only commercial–as if there was no difference between the two. He even included a mini Louis Vuitton boutique in his traveling  ©Murakami show, which toured around the US. It’s this idea of superflat and commercial consumption as indistinguishable that seems, well, a little more complicated than that. [Read more…]

Sasuke Mania

Sasuke Mania

In class we have discussed the Otaku culture in Japan, and how it is perceived by through the media, and within certain social frames.  While there are similar social phenomena in the United States within certain communities (gaming, comic book, etc), I would argue that the otaku lifestyle seems to be a uniquely Japanese occurrence.  I find this to be true because unlike American geek communities Otaku have a stronger influence on greater Japanese culture and lifestyle, which is evident through the existance of locations like Akihabara (certain similar American communities have not yet reached a level of influence that they have entire neigborhoods).  Generally an otaku is an individual whose life is governed by their obsessions, that generally relate to gaming, anime, manga, dame, and other virtual experiences. [Read more…]

Hayao Miyazaki: The Transnational Fantasy of Post-WWII Japan

Of all of Japan’s modern international cultural product, perhaps the most prominent is Japanese animation, or animé, and for more than a decade, Hayao Miyazaki has been the preeminent Japananese anime filmmaker.  Wildly popular within Japan, Miyazaki’s influence has gone global, and his art is appreciated by both young and old worldwide. [Read more…]

Japanese Subculture: Kogals and Lolitas, Rebellion or Fashion

Blog Post: Japanese subcultures: Rebellion vs. Cool; Lifestyle vs. Fashion

Currently, Japan remains one of the most homogenous countries in the world with almost ninety nine percent of its population being ethnically Japanese; however, the homogenous quality often attributed to Japan underestimates the growing importance and presence youth subcultures within Japan. Two of the most prevalent and identifiable youth subcultures are the Kogyaru (young gals) or Kogals and Gothic Lolitas. The two groups use fashion or appearance to distance themselves from mainstream society. Clothing within Japanese society seems to be one of the few ways to differentiate a person from the mainstream; however, the “rebelling” individual tends to join a group that shares similar taste in clothing and behavior lessening the rebellion effect. The young person still wishes to belong to a group, just not the mainstream group. In addition, a person wearing the fashion of a certain subculture may not necessarily embrace its principles or behave according to the rules imposed by the subculture; however, for other young people, the subculture is a lifestyle choice and not simply a cute or cool fashion. The Kogyaru culture seems to emphasize outrageous, scandalous and shocking appearance and behavior while the Gothic Lolita culture stresses modesty, politeness and proper manners. Both groups possess rebellion elements. The Kogals seem to be rebelling against the meek, quiet school girl image of the typical Japanese girl. The Lolitas on the other hand appear to be rebelling against the “repugnant”, unladylike and garish behavior of the Kogals. In addition, the Lolitas possibly are trying to escape the pressures of adulthood and becoming the ideal Japanese housewife. [Read more…]

Cool Cuisine: The Marketing and Perception of Japanese Food in the West

In the past twenty years, the consumption of Japanese products in America has grown exponentially, and the consumption of its food is no exception. However, it is not simply the food that is desired in the West – it is the aspect of Japanese “cool” that surrounds it. In his article “Japan’s Gross National Cool,” Douglas McGray writes that Japanese products are desirable because they contain a “whiff of Japanese cool,” meaning they have something novel, something “Japanese,” that makes them more attractive to the West. This “Japaneseness,” whether authentic or not, is what is desired and paid for in the West as much as the food itself. Through examining the way Japanese food-related products are marketed and perceived in the West, one may see that while the food may be delicious, it is the “whiff of Japanese cool” that strongly appeals to Western tastes. [Read more…]