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Plus ca chūmon, plus c'est la meme usagi


Matt Treyvaud examines the increasingly eccentric ways that anime studios use titles to differentiate seasons.

For a four-panel moeblob manga/late-night anime in the character-driven genre known only half ironically as “cute girls doing cute things”, Gochūmon wa usagi desu ka? is pretty standard fare. But its title is another story. The fact that the four-mora abbreviation of its title is Gochi-usa rather than, say, Gochūsa will surely play a significant role in future scholarship on the morphology of Japanese fanbbreviation. And the (official!) English title, Is the order a rabbit?, is the greatest use to which English has been put since that Peter Frampton talk box guitar solo. But what I really want to talk about is the punctuation.

You see, the first 12-episode season of the anime adaptation was just called Gochūmon wa usagi desu ka? But the second season, which began airing October 10, is called Gochūmon wa usagi desu ka??, with two question marks. Presumably the English version will follow suit: Is the order a rabbit?? Same content, but with a hint of hysteria creeping in at the edges — like a Hitchcock zoom.

This isn’t the first time that an anime production company has used this technique. The earliest example I am aware of is K-On! (2009) and its second season K-On!! (2010). Dog Days (2011) was followed by two more seasons, Dog Days’ (2012) and Dog Days” (2015). (These are pronounced “Dog Days Dash” and “Dog Days Double Dash” respectively, but a natural English translation would use “Prime” instead of “Dash.”) Working!! (2010) had two followup seasons combining these conventions: Working’!! (2011) and Working!!! (2015).

There are more cryptic examples too: Nisekoi (2014) and Nisekoi: (2015), Seitōkai Yakuindomo (2010) and Seitōkai Yakuindomo*, and Ore no Imōto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai (2010) and Ore no Imōto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai. (2013). Oreimo also deserves some recognition for its mildly Beckettian video game title scheme: in translation, the first is My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute Portable, and the second “My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute Portable” Can’t Go On.

On one level, this is just a trend. Production companies have decided (or, perhaps, learned) that they need some way to signal to consumers that the current self-contained batch (“season”) is connected to but different from the previous one, and punctuation is in right now. In the past, other methods have been used — OG fans will recall that Sailor Moon was followed by no less than four variations: Sailor Moon R, S, Super S, and Sailor Stars.

But is it a meaningless trend? You can’t discount the influence of K-On!, I suppose — it was huge — but I think something deeper is at work. Differentiating seasons by punctuation alone is a way for anime studios to modulate their signals for fans alone, since anyone liable to notice an extra colon here or there is, pretty much by definition, a nerd. The form of the signal also sends its own message: this season is just like the last one, only more so.

The order can’t be a rabbit, it must be a rabbit, it is a rabbit.

October 13, 2015

Matt Treyvaud is a writer and translator living near Kamakura. He is Néojaponisme's Literature/Language editor and the proprietor of No-sword.

New Youth: Shinseinen’s Suicidal Playboy


W. David Marx looks at one of Japan’s first modernist magazines, Shinseinen, and the tragic life of Japan’s first fashion columnist, Nakamura Shinjirō.

In 1920, a new publication called Shinseinen『新青年』(“New Youth”) hit Japanese newsstands, filled with short stories and writings on culture for urban, modern men. At first, the editorial focused on the joy of international adventures, encouraging readers to board ships to foreign lands like Brazil and the new Japanese colonies in China, Manchuria, and Karafuto (Sakhalin). The magazine later became a clearinghouse for unauthorized translations of foreign texts sent in from readers.

By the mid-1920s, most readers picked up Shinseinen for its iconic detective stories. But in January 1929, the magazine started Japan’s first-ever column dedicated to men’s fashion. The first one was called “Vanity Fair” 「ばにちい・ふえいあ」written by Kudō Akiko (工藤晃子). In January 1930, this morphed into a new column called “Vogue en Vogue” 「ヴォガンヴォグ」. From the Meiji Restoration onward, Fukuzawa Yukichi and other luminaries had publicly advocated Western dress, but “Vogue en Vogue” was cut from a different cloth: chic illustrations, wry observations on Tokyo fashion trends, educational tutorials for dressing up on the town, and even short skits.

The man behind “Vogue en Vogue” was 24-year-old Nakamura Shinjirō (中村進治郎), a notorious philanderer and the living embodiment of the mobo modern boy. Nakamura knew how to write about Tokyo glamour because he lived it daily. He wrote lyrics for musical reviews at Casino Folies. He hit the town with novelist Kitabayashi Tōma, actor Egawa Ureo, and his roommate, fiction writer Watanabe On. Often described as a “beautiful young man,” he was most well known for his chronic concupiscence. According to later court documents, he dated “four female students and two waitresses” back to back. He moved through women so quickly he once broke things off with a woman simply through a telegram that read, “Sayonara.”

Tokyo’s mobos hung on to Nakamura’s every word in each month’s installment of “Vogue en Vogue.” But between the shallow history of Western fashion in Japan and the author’s own lack of sartorial experience, Nakamura’s fashion advice was often times dubious. VAN Jacket founder Ishizu Kensuke went to Meiji University during the peak years of “Vogue en Vogue” and learned all his style basics from Nakamura. Ishizu’s adherence to the column, however, often got him in trouble. After reading Nakamura’s review of an amazing new cologne, Ishizu bugged every department store in Tokyo until he finally found a bottle. Ishizu proudly wore the fragrance around town, despite the fact that it made him smell like a sweaty animal. Turns out that it was not a cologne at all, but pure musk oil.

This was the least of Nakamura’s problems: at the end of 1932, his transgressions escalated to national infamy. On December 12, newspapers reported that he attempted a double-suicide with the brooding 18 year-old Moulin Rouge Shinjuku-za soprano Takanawa Yoshiko (高輪芳子). Takanawa often talked about dying at a young age, and after meeting Nakamura, she finally decided to take matters into her own hands (source). Despite a platonic relationship, the once-cynical playboy Nakamura fell so hard for the young woman that he decided to join her plunge into death. Nakamura poisoned them both with gas in his apartment.

But the couple failed to enter the afterlife together: Nakamura survived, while Takanawa died. Police prosecuted him for his role in the suicide. In the courtroom, the judge accused Nakamura of ruining the lives of countless young virgins from good families, but Nakamura argued that it was the girls who kept begging him for relationships. Perhaps his explanation resonated with the judge, as he only received a suspended sentence. And as further proof that all publicity is good publicity, the incident put Tokyo’s Moulin Rouge Shinjuku-za theater on the early Shōwa pop culture map.

After the scandal, one of the hit productions at the Moulin Rouge was Nakamura’s own self-written play about his double suicide — “Shinjuku Souvenir.” He played himself. And then on November 15, 1934, Nakamura again attempted suicide with sleeping pills, this time with the actress who played the Takanawa role in the play. But in an ironic reversal, Nakamura died this round, and his female companion survived.

Living only to the age of 29, Nakamura was a great mystery in his day and fell into obscurity in modern times. Magazine Brutus asked older readers to send in personal accounts of Nakamura in a 1980 issue but came up dry.

Like most liberal modernist culture in Japan, Shinseinen faced tough times in the fascist 1930s. The magazine expanded its readership to women during that decade, and “Vogue en Vogue” came to cover fashion trends for both sexes. Translator Hasegawa Shūji took over under the column, writing under the female pen name Hara Narako. But “Vogue en Vogue” ended in December 1938 just as the Pacific War took on a new intensity in China. Shinseinen dropped its stylish modernism for jingoistic war reports.

In the peace of the postwar, the magazine returned to its roots with detective fiction. But unable to keep up with increased marketplace competition, Shinseinen folded in 1950. With 30 years on newsstands, the magazine lived just one year longer than NNakamura Shinjirō.

Sources and Further Reading
Yasuko Claremont: Shinseinen in the Interwar Period (1920-30)
湯浅篤志・大山敏編『叢書新青年 聞書抄』
中野正昭: 新興芸術派とレヴュー劇場

W. David MARX
September 8, 2015

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

Mirror of the Sun Gods

Matt Alt on the unlikely similarities that occur in book design.

Matt Treyvaud compares the covers for famed translator and scholar Jay Rubin’s new novel.

Here is the cover of The Sun Gods, translator and scholar Jay Rubin’s new novel about the U.S.’s wartime internment camps and their aftermath. As you can see, the designer has placed everything on a background of old-timey Japanese text, suggesting a certain linguistic and cultural separation between the intended readership and the contents of the book.

Here is the cover of the Japanese translation of The Sun Gods, Hibi no hikari 『日々の光』. As you can see, the designer has placed everything on a background of old-timey English text, suggesting a certain linguistic and cultural separation between the intended readership and the contents of the book.

Hopefully there will soon be a translation into Korean or French, say, to break the tie.

August 31, 2015

Matt Treyvaud is a writer and translator living near Kamakura. He is Néojaponisme's Literature/Language editor and the proprietor of No-sword.

Obituary: Yanagihara Ryohei

Obituary for Ryohei Yanagihara

Ian Lynam looks at the career of legendary postwar illustrator and whiskey promoter Yanagihara Ryōhei.

On Monday, August 17, Japan lost one of its greatest post-War illustrators and animators — the inestimable Yanagihara Ryōhei (柳原良平). His creations have had a consistent presence across Japan since he created the character Uncle Torys (アンクルトリス), featured prominently in Suntory Whiskey ads in the 1950s and 1960s and revived over the past decade for a number of promotional campaigns that spurred Japan’s recent highball boom.

View Yanagihara’s animations for Suntory’s original canned highball product, Wistan, here:

In 2008, Suntory made new commercials utilizing Yanagihara-style characters and mimicking his original animation style.

Uncle Torys — a diminutive, sexually promiscuous character with a penchant for hooch — appeared across innumerable pieces of print and broadcast advertising, but was most in action in “Yoshu Mame Tengoku”「洋酒まめ天国」 (“A Piece of Liquor Heaven”), Suntory’s house “style guide” for the swinging gentleman of the 1950s and 1960s. “Yoshu Mame Tengoku” featured sexploitative illustrations contained within baroque borders on the cover designs by Yanagihara as well as racy nude photography and explicit sexual illustration (with j-u-s-t the right amount of detail left out to not enrage censors) by Yokoo Tadanori and others including Yanagihara himself to illustrate the bawdy tales within. The palm-sized book-like magazines were the read at assorted bars throughout Japan during that time.

Uncle Tory’s pink visage also appeared in countless promotional items, from posters to figurines to assorted accoutrements, helping to sear the horny caricature onto Japan’s national consciousness. Unknown to many Japanese consumers at that time was that Yanagihara’s character’s skin color-change upon drinking Suntory products was a fairly direct swipe from French designer A.M. Cassandre’s series of 1930s posters for the wine company Dubonnet.

Yanagihara’s work for Suntory vaulted him into a freelance career designing innumerable book covers for assorted publishers including Kogumasha and Gakken, making record jackets for Toshiba-EMI, and creating thousands of illustrations for assorted shipping companies.

Yanagihara’s work for clients like Mitsui O.S.K. lines (with his own Yanagihara Museum web page), Sado Steam Ship Co., Ltd., Taiheiyo Ferry Co, Ltd., and Tokai Kisen Co. Ltd. perhaps fully expressed Yanagihara’s love for the sea and for marine transport. Over the years, he was awarded the title of “Honorary Captain” for each company — a first for an illustrator anywhere in the world. One can still obtain promotional products for Mitsui O.S.K. featuring illustrations by Yanagihara here.

Yanagihara worked in animation as well as illustration. He formed the three-member experimental animation and production company Animation Sannin no Kai (三人の会) with Kuri Yōji (久里洋二) and Manabe Hiroshi (真鍋博) in 1960 where they created a number of stop-motion works that were played at a screening in Sogetsu Hall in Akasaka. (You can see some examples of their work from that time on Kuri’s Facebook page here).

See more of Yanagihara’s animated work here in this playlist.

Yanagihara explored sequential art in manga form, as well—drawing the manga strip “Kyo mo Ichinichi”/今日も一日 (A Long Day Today) for the evening edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun from 1962 through 1966.

Ryohei Yanagihara

Perhaps the most iconic image that we have of Yanagihara is that of him with highball raised and surrounded by models of ships — an image of a Yokohama man happy with his work. We can only hope that he finds this kind of peace above as he did here on earth.

August 24, 2015

Ian Lynam is a graphic designer living in Tokyo and the art director of Neojaponisme. His website is located at ianlynam.com. His new book, Parallel Strokes, on the intersection of graffiti and typography is available now.

How to License Japanese Images

Licensing images in Japan

W. David Marx shares lessons from the front lines of licensing 100 images from various Japanese individuals and institutions for his upcoming book on Japanese fashion.

Disclaimer: Very sadly, we are not lawyers, so always consult with your publisher’s legal team or other counsel when making final decisions on image usage. The following article is merely intended to provide general thoughts and guidelines.

Writing about fashion requires visuals, so for my book Ametora: How Japan Saved American Fashion (Basic Books, Fall 2015!), my publisher and I planned on having around 60 images. I ended up finding more than 100 suitable ones, and we ended up using more than 80.

While the publisher helped foot the bill for the image rights, I was responsible for arranging the licensing. In other words, I had to go out and do the legwork to secure the rights for every single one. This took about five months of emails, phone calls, and faxes, but to my surprise, most everyone was happy to grant me rights. In fact, the only explicit “no” came from a famed Japanese electronics company who hilariously did not want me using a 40 year-old advertisement for a boombox because they could not clear the “portraiture rights” of the models whose faces you could not even see anyway.

Seeing that Néojaponisme readers are the type of people likely to write books that require licensing images in Japan, I thought I would pass on everything I learned in the last six months.

Prerequisites for Image Licensing in Japan

First, you need proof that you’re working on a legitimate production — i.e., the name of a publisher, date of publication, title of work, etc.

Second, make yourself a basic template in Japanese that explains what you are working on, so that you can just cut and paste your requests. Even if you do not need it for the initial email, they will ask for it, so just have it ready to go. My form had: book title, paragraph about book’s theme (with heavy name dropping on whom I interviewed), book format, number of Images, publication date, blurb about the publisher, and blurb about me.

Third, you need to prepare yourself (or a trusted associate) to do a lot of phone calls in Japanese — including cold calls to random individuals.

Images Sources

1. Photo Agencies

The easiest place to license photographs in Japan is the newspapers and wire services (prices below are for black-and-white photos, color are often more than ¥20,000.)

Yomiuri is the most expensive, but oddly, seems to have the fewest number of photos. Asahi and Mainichi are particularly easy to sign up for.

There are also a few high-end photo agencies you can use. Aflo has a lot of great images that you will not see elsewhere, as they also manage individual collections of a lot of famous photographers.

Getty is not Japan-focused, but can be useful for finding photos of Japanese celebrities when abroad.

There is an application process for licensing photos on these sites, but it is nearly automatic for any legitimate publication. Once they approved, they just send the image download links over email. Based on price and ease, any image search should start with these agencies.

2. Individual Photographers

For all other images, you will need to reach out to the photographer who took the photos. This includes photos inside magazines — the photographer, rather than the publisher, owns the copyright. The photographer maintains copyright for 50 years after death, so even if they are deceased, you will need to reach out to the family to get rights.

Fees on old photos are highly variable. Sometimes I was not charged for using the old photos, one time I paid ¥30,000, the most of any photo I licensed.

Finding widows and children seems difficult except that there is an organization called the Japan Professional Photographers Society who are happy to pass on contact information for a photographer or next-of-kin. Yes, it will be an awkward call when you ask the son of a deceased photographer to ask to find negatives from fifty years ago, but there really is no other way to do it. Expect to do some faxing too. Also note that some famous photographers are not part of the Society.

For personal or family photographs, most people do not charge but you do need to secure permissions.

3. Illustrations

Illustrations work the same way as photographs — illustrators retain rights to their images used in magazines. There is an illustrators’ society called the Japan Illustrators’ Association, but I did not use them. To find one illustrator, I had to contact a tailor he did work for many years ago, beg for a phone number, and then have the conversation with the illustrator’s wife that started as, “So in 1989 your husband did a piece in Hot Dog Press…”

Also, there are no standard prices for illustrations, so you have to negotiate. For most of the ones in my book, the illustration itself was an important historical marker of style (rather than eye candy), so the illustrators gave me lower prices.

4. Magazine Covers

Most publishers will let you use these for free but you need permission. One publisher I dealt with normally charges for use of covers in Japanese media but gave me a pass because I was referencing it in a semi-academic work.

5. Magazine pages

Reprinting magazine pages is a gray area that depends on the publisher. Copyright on magazine pages is not cut-and-dry, and as far as I could deduce, publishers are very unlikely to actually own copyright on all the content in the pages. Each person responsible — the writer, the illustrator, the photographer, the advertiser — owns their own copyrights for the material.

So it comes down to case-by-case usage: One publisher told me that I could basically use anything as long as I referenced it as a “visual quotation” (i.e. fair use). Another publisher told me that the magazine I was referencing no longer existed and they did not care how I used anything (and then hung up on me.)

One major publisher said the only thing off-limits was when pages use non-Japanese models, as they sometimes have deals that their images are not used outside of Japan.

Managing Risk

Japan is often said to be a “low risk” society, and this mindset sometimes becomes a barrier to licensing images. Many rights holders or parties involved may simply reject a licensing request because there is some risk — albeit extremely low — of a future lawsuit. Here are a few additional things that you will have to think about but will come down to managing risk.

Portraiture Rights
The primary uncertainty when licensing photos in Japan is so-called “portraiture rights” (肖像権, shōzōken). From my limited legal understanding, this is not a right explicitly guaranteed by Japanese law, but people over the years have been able to sue under basic constitutional personal rights protections when they can prove damage from someone publishing an image of them without consent.

Celebrities are the most likely to sue over portraiture rights because they can claim that the publication is using their likeness to promote the book or otherwise damage their reputation. Normal people, however, can and have sued before. The most obvious case would be a photographer taking an unauthorized street snap of a young man in a terrible outfit which goes online to have commenters savage his outfit and identify his name. But what about someone whose photo was taken fifty years ago for a fashion magazine and listed as a particularly stylish person?

Knowing that there is always some risk of a lawsuit, rights agencies license you a photo and then tell you that it is your responsibility to “clear” the portraiture rights for anyone in the photo. But just imagine for a second what this task entails when the photo is twelve young men from 1964 in a shot of Ginza.

It bears repeating that I am not a lawyer, but there are some commonsense ways to lower potential risk: (1) not use images of people in a way that denigrates them or could seem damaging (2) do not use images of celebrities on the cover without permission (3) make sure the text references the images so that you can show there was a “fair use” context for using the image. Fair use does not exist in Japanese law, but it will still help your case if you are able to show that the image was critical for illustrating the narrative rather than just “eye candy.”

There are different laws on portraiture rights depending on which country you publish, so always consult with your publisher’s legal team before making any decision.

Also note that in one case I did not need to pay a licensing fee to a photographer for the use of a photo, but I did have to pay a small fee for “portraiture rights” to the estate of the person in the photo.

Orphan Works
If you are writing a history and want to show images illustrating historical moments, you will definitely uncover many great images that are essentially “orphan” works. The photographer or illustrator may be unlisted or unreachable; it may be an advertisement from a company that no longer exists.

Using these images opens you up to some level of legal risk, so you have to make a decision weighing the risk involved.

The Japanese government recently has changed the law to ease the licensing burden when all copyright owners cannot be located, but this only extends to certain trusted organizations, which we are guessing, you are not part of. This seems to signal, however, a liberalization of copyright towards orphan works.

Public Domain
Any photo or illustration where the creator passed away more than fifty years ago (that’s now 1965!) is now in the public domain. Have fun.

W. David MARX
July 22, 2015

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.