How Japan's Pop Culture Conquered the World
By Matt Alt
The untold story of how Japan became a cultural superpower through the fantastic inventions that captured—and transformed—the world’s imagination.
The Walkman. Karaoke. Pikachu. Pac-Man. Akira. Hello Kitty. Emoji. We’ve all fallen in love with one or another of Japan’s pop-culture creations, from the techy to the wild to the super-kawaii. But as Japanese media veteran Matt Alt proves in this brilliant investigation of Tokyo’s pop-fantasy complex, we don’t know the half of it. Japan’s toys, gadgets, and fantasy worlds didn’t merely entertain. They profoundly transformed the way we live.
In the 1970s and ’80s, Japan seemed to exist in some near future, soaring on the superior technology of Sony and Toyota while the West struggled to catch up. Then a catastrophic 1990 stock-market crash ushered in the “lost decades” of deep recession and social dysfunction. The end of the boom times should have plunged Japan into irrelevance, but that’s precisely when its cultural clout soared—when, once again, Japan got to the future a little ahead of the rest of us.
Sanrio, the Nintendo Entertainment System, and animation empires like Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z were more than marketing hits. Artfully packaged, dangerously cute, and dizzyingly fun, these products made Japan the forge of the world’s fantasies, and gave us new tools for coping with trying times. They also transformed us as we consumed them—connecting as well as isolating us in new ways, opening vistas of imagination and pathways to revolution. Through the stories of an indelible group of artists, geniuses, and oddballs, Pure Invention reveals how Japanese ingenuity remade global culture and may have created modern life as we know it. It’s Japan’s world; we’re just gaming, texting, singing, and dreaming in it.
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