The State of Airbnb in Japan

Nick Kapur has a great thread on Twitter about the controversy (or rather, the catastrophe) concerning Airbnb in Japan. This is something I’ve been following closely as it’s descended into true madness over the course of 2018, and Dr. Kapur gives an excellent summary of what’s happening and why it’s so upsetting. This perfect storm of xenophobia and irresponsible market capitalism is going to impact a lot of people, and it’s well worth taking a minute or two to read the thread all the way through.

As a grad student friend of mine wrote in response to a Facebook post on the matter, “The big issue that [Kapur] doesn’t mention is that Air BnB has been a lifesaver for foreigners doing research in Japan for less than a year. Almost all Japanese housing contracts are for two years, and most home owners don’t accept foreigners (often being openly racist about their preferences). This leaves students and other researchers with extremely overpriced long-stay hotels, or with share houses that offer a dormlike setting with little privacy, often questionable living spaces, and sometimes a complete unwillingness to communicate with foreigners.”

Tokyo Travel Recommendations

I recently shared a list of recommendations with a student who will be studying abroad in Tokyo this coming school year, and I thought I’d share it here as well!

Two Resources

Tokyo Trend Ranking
This is a free magazine that you can find in most stations of the Tokyo Metro. It comes out once a month and is filled with photographs and information about unique and popular restaurants and pubs and cafés, as well as seasonal special events throughout the city. Because it’s meant to promote usage of the Metro, it always contains illustrated walking tours focused on one or two specific stations. If you want to explore the off-the-beaten-track neighborhoods of Tokyo, this is a great resource!

Suica Card
This is a refillable prepaid train fare card, and it’s the first thing you want to get when you arrive in Japan. You should probably go ahead and get one in the airport as soon as you get off the plane. You can get one at the automatic vending machines next to train stations, and the process is super easy. Your Suica card will work just about everywhere in Japan, and you can use it in all sorts of places, from convenience stores to movie theaters. If you’re feeling hardcore, you can link it to your smartphone and your bank account.

Seventeen Places to Visit

Tokyo National Museum
This is the big museum of Japanese art and culture that you definitely want to see. It’s in Ueno Park in northeast Tokyo, not too far away from the zoo.

Shitamachi Museum
This is also in Ueno Park. It’s a small museum, just the inside of an old house, but you can walk through it and see how people lived during the first half of the twentieth century.

Edo-Tokyo Museum
This indoor museum is probably the best place to go if you want to learn more about the history of the city of Tokyo. The architecture is really cool, and it’s a neat space to walk around. It’s also not too far away from Akihabara.

Art Aquarium
Fish and art and over-the-top spectacle. It’s really close to Tokyo Station, whose interconnected underground shopping streets are another blitz of sensory overload.

Maruzen Nipponbashi Branch
In my opinion, this is the best place to go in Tokyo for English-language books. Most of the English books they stock come from the UK, and they tend to be of higher quality than American publications of the same titles. These imports are expensive, though!

Meiji Shrine
The main shrine buildings are well worth visiting, especially because someone always seems to be getting married there. More than the shrine itself, however, the huge forested park is a great place to take a long walk while surrounded by nature. All of this is free, but I highly recommend paying the 500 yen entrance fee for the Inner Garden, which is especially lovely. Meiji Shrine is a major tourist destination, though, so you want to go early in the morning (probably as soon as they open the grounds) in order to avoid the crowds.

Nezu Museum
If you start at Meiji Shrine and walk along the Aoyama-dori boulevard through Harajuku, you’ll eventually get to the Nezu Museum, which houses a private collection of Asian art. Even if you don’t care anything about sculpture and ceramics, the estate garden is gorgeous, and teahouse café at the entrance to the garden is a beautiful place to drink tea and eat cake and feel super fancy.

Aoyama Flower Market Tea House
This café is in the neighborhood of the Nezu Museum, and it’s one of the most beautiful interior spaces I’ve ever seen in my life. You definitely want to get there when they open, because they get busy! They have tasty salads, heavenly parfaits, and delicious teas. If you can’t get a seat here, the entire neighborhood of Aoyama is full of trendy little organic restaurants filled with beautiful young people. Even going into one of the Starbucks in this neighborhood will make you feel like a rockstar.

Sunshine Aquarium
This large rooftop aquarium has no redeeming cultural value, but it’s a cool place to spend an afternoon. If you watch a lot of anime set in contemporary Japan, you’re sure to recognize the setting! The caretaker talks showcasing the animals are a lot of fun to watch; and, since they’re geared toward children, they’re also relatively easy to understand. The Sunshine City shopping complex contains a Pokémon Center, a Studio Ghibli store, a Shonen Jump store, and other pop culture outlets. It also contains a Tokyu Hands, which is a great place to buy just about everything. The Tokyu Hands fronts the main outdoor shopping arcade, and they host small indie craft fairs at the entrance on the weekends.

Cat Café Nekorobi
This is right behind the Tokyu Hands, and it’s a warm space filled with softness and light. In my experience, it generally isn’t that crowded; and, although the cats are standoffish (but what can you expect, they’re cats), the staff and the other patrons are very friendly. What you really want to take your time with is the guestbook, which is an ongoing work of art. Also, this is the starting point of Otome Road, which is where you go if you’re looking for pop culture goods targeted at a female audience.

Shoto Museum of Art
This is a neat little art museum in Shibuya with some really cool gallery spaces. They exhibit a lot of early modern (Edo period) and modern (Meiji and Taishō period) art alongside contemporary work, and the architecture of the building is quite interesting as well.

Shibuya Botanical Center
This is a warm and happy healing space full of greenery. The entire building is suffused with humidity, and there’s free tea on the top floor. This is a great place to learn the Japanese names of flowers and plants, and it’s also a wonderful place to take selfies or pictures with your friends in soft diffuse light. For some reason it’s never crowded, but I’m not complaining.

Mori Art Museum
This museum has some really cool exhibitions, which feature everything from avant-garde architectural photography to the work of popular manga artists. The gallery spaces are located at the top of a huge skyscraper, so the views of Tokyo from the windows are incredible. It’s located in the Roppongi Hills shopping complex, which is super trendy and also home to a large movie theater that shows a lot of American movies with subtitles. TV Asahi also has a presence in the area, so you can sometimes randomly encounter live performances of various Power Rangers and Doremon characters if you go during the afternoon.

Oedo Onsen Monogatari
This place is ridiculous. It’s an onsen theme park where you can go in and take all sorts of baths and eat all sorts of snacks and drink all sorts of beverages. A lot of people visit with their families, so it’s a good place to chill out in a yukata and watch people walk by. It’s in Odaiba, an artificial island in Tokyo Bay, so it’s kind of a pain in the ass to get to, but there’s a huge mall called VenusFort nearby that has an Italian-themed interior. The mall is an experience in and of itself, and you can often see brand-new idol groups performing there on pop-up stages.

Ghibli Museum
110% worth the hype. When you first enter, you’re allowed to watch a screening of an original short film, and your “ticket” is a tiny animation cell. You’d think that this place exists solely to sell you merchandise, but commercialism isn’t really the focus, thankfully. Still, you probably want to get a ticket for early in the morning before the crowds gather. You can only reserve a ticket in advance (usually at least a week in advance) from one of the digital vending machines in Lawson convenience stores, but the process isn’t really that difficult. Because of the scarcity of tickets, this is something you can only do if you’re in Japan for an extended period of time, so you should jump on the opportunity if you’re interested!

Yokohama Museum of Art
The building is awesome, and the exhibitions are always fantastic. The reason you’d want to make a special trip out to Yokohama, however, is because the museum is part of the Minato Mirai waterfront area, which is a huge upscale shopping complex and gourmet paradise. You can find the same sort of pop culture specialty chain stores (like the Pokémon Center) that are in Sunshine City in Ikebukuro, but Minato Mirai is way more classy and far less crowded over the weekend. Also, there are a lot of restaurants in the Yokohama Chinatown that have branches in Minato Mirai, and it’s usually much easier to get a table here than it is in the main branches.

Meigetsuin Temple in Kamakura
Why go all the way to Kyoto when you can go to Kamakura? You’ll probably have to go through Yokohama to get here, but it’s really not that far away from Tokyo, and the train ride is lovely. I recommend getting off the train at Kita-Kamakura Station and then walking to Kamakura proper along the main road while visiting a few temples along the way. Engakuji and Kenchōji are the two most popular sites, but my favorite is Meigetsuin, which is known as “the hydrangea temple” because of its stunning mountainside walking garden. Due to the natural beauty of the area and relatively low rent, a lot of artists live in Kamakura, and there are all sorts of small galleries and lovely cafés in and around the city. Once the weather gets warm, you’ll notice that the lifestyle magazines in convenience stores start featuring Kamakura locations on their covers, and it’s well worth consulting one for recommendations!

American Anime Conventions

Earlier this year an artist I know through Tumblr asked me about anime conventions in the United States, and I ended up sending them a long email based on my experiences and bits of gossip I’ve picked up here and there. This information is aimed at a professional artist who has already exhibited at a few regional conventions and has enough experience and polish to start aiming big, and I thought it might be useful to reproduce my message here, if only to preserve a snapshot of what the American convention scene looked like in early 2018.

Youmacon (in Detroit over Halloween weekend)
From what I hear, this con can occasionally be a bit of a dumpster fire in terms of its administration, but I’ve always had a good time there. Rooms at the convention center hotel are relatively inexpensive, and the attendance is always well over 20,000 people.

Katsucon (in National Harbor right outside of DC over Valentine’s weekend)
With around 15,000 to 18,000 attendees, Katsucon is a bit smaller than Youmacon, but it’s always run very efficiently. I’ve heard that the people who manage the Artist Alley are extremely professional, but the deadline for application is a bit early. The Gaylord Resort where the con is held is absolutely lovely, and the staff will take care of you if the con gets snowed in, which occasionally happens.

MAGFest (also in National Harbor right at the beginning of January)
A gaming convention that’s also held in the Gaylord. The focus is on indie games, but there is a relatively large Artist Alley, and I’ve heard that people can make a killing on commissions at this con. MAGFest is also an excellent place to make professional connections, not in the least because of all the industry people who hang out here. It’s a really fun event if you love games, because the exhibition space is all about people showing off their playable demos. A word of warning, though – most people generally behave themselves, but there is some hardcore drinking that happens at this convention. If it makes a difference, though, there’s always a diverse crowd in attendance, and it’s not just a bunch of gamebros.

PAX East (in Boston during the first weekend of April)
This used to be a sausage fest of truly epic proportions, but then the anime fans got their grubby hands on it and now it’s much more inclusive of all genders. Attendance is huge (way over 80,000 people), but I hear that the Artist Alley isn’t that competitive. They’re always looking for fresh talent!

Sakura-Con (in Seattle at the beginning of April)
Around the same size as Youmacon, but in Seattle! In my experience, Sakura-Con is a great way to make connections with the West Coast art scene, as the con is both well run and relatively laid back. Seattle is gorgeous in April, and it’s not as expensive as you might think, especially if you stay in one of the smaller (but much trendier) hotels a few blocks away from the convention center. My recommendation is Hotel Max, which will make you feel like a rockstar. If you’re interested in spending time in Seattle but want to forgo the insanity of a large convention, GeekGirlCon (in October) is a decent alternative, although with only 2,000 attendees it might be too small to be worth your while.

Otakon (in DC at some point during August)
The big East Coast anime convention, generally with around 25,000 attendees. It used to be in Baltimore, and you would always hear news reports about cosplayers meeting terrible fates, but it recently moved to beautiful downtown DC. The Artist Alley was huge in Baltimore, and it’s even bigger in DC. There’s always a wide range of artists who table here, from experienced professionals to students who are just starting out, and people seem to have a lot of fun.

Anime Expo (in LA over the 4th of July weekend)
This is the big one, and it’s always absolutely insane. You’ve probably heard stories about how crazy AX is, and they’re all true. Because the Artist Alley is so enormous, I hear that it’s not particularly competitive, and I also hear that people make a ton of money at this con. There’s none of the pressure or industry blitz of the San Diego Comic-Con, and it’s worth mentioning that artists from all over the world (especially from Asia) table here. Since most of the American anime companies are located in Southern California, there are also a lot of freebies floating around, as well as free world premiers of various shows and movies.

Toronto Comic Arts Fest (at the central Toronto library during May)
Generally clocking in at around 5,000 to 6,000 attendees, this is a good size for a comic convention, and it’s especially welcoming to artists in their twenties. Even though there’s a very strong focus on comics (as opposed to merch like prints and stickers), a lot of people show up with zines that they obviously photocopied and stapled themselves the week before the con. There are always a lot of interesting people and up-and-coming artists tabling here, and it generally has a relaxed atmosphere.

Small Press Expo (right outside of DC in September)
This is the holy grail of conventions for people who want to be professional comic writers and artists outside the DC/Marvel studio system. This is where the Ignatz Awards happen (basically, you nominate yourself and then there’s an open ballot over the weekend, so it’s incredibly low pressure despite being such a big deal). This is where people get discovered, and this is how you get your first book deal. Because it’s relatively small, it’s extremely competitive, but the lottery system guarantees that even newcomers have a chance to get in. What most artists do is piggyback alongside a friend who gets accepted and then share their table, so it helps if you can convince other people to apply. The staff, the artists, and the industry professionals are all super friendly and supportive, and the bonds that people form here tend to result in high-profile comic anthologies that make tons of money on Kickstarter and launch people’s careers. SPX is definitely a goal to aim for!

Tumblr vs. Social Media Algorithms

Listen fam, I know we all like to hate Tumblr, but let me tell you about Twitter.

After Nintendo gave its presentation at E3, I spent some time on Twitter to see what everyone’s reaction was. All I do on Twitter is post, like, and retweet cute video game art, so you’d think Twitter’s algorithms would shove all the sweet Nintendo E3 content right to the top of my feed. I know Nintendo pays Twitter to promote its content, and I know that Twitter knows that video game preorder announcements are irresistible clickbait for me, so it’s like I’m paying Nintendo to pay Twitter to show me Nintendo-related content.

But that’s not what happened. Instead of showing me cute pictures of Zelda and Daisy, my Twitter feed exhibited a constant ratio of five Nintendo-related tweets to one super-upsetting tweet about current events and identity politics, like “three people were attacked and injured at a local pride march” and “it’s racist to say that someone draws in an anime style.” These were generally tweets that someone I follow had liked hours (and sometimes days) in the past, and Twitter’s algorithms were putting them on my feed because that’s just what they do.

The algorithms that control your feed on Twitter and Facebook have calculated that people, on average, are more likely to engage with the platform (or to exit the platform to buy something) if they’re upset. This is why, for example, it can sometimes seem like everyone you know on Facebook is always happy and successful all the time – Facebook’s algorithms know this bothers people. Meanwhile, Twitter’s algorithms know that discussions related to issues such as gender, race, religion, sexuality, disability, body shape, and so on tend to trigger intense emotional responses, even if you’re presented with views and opinions you generally agree with. By “know” I mean that, over the course of billions of data points gathered during the past decade, these algorithms have found patterns that they attempt to replicate by manipulating the content feeds of individual users. (Jaron Lanier has written a great deal about how this works, if you’re interested.) These algorithms make the owners of these supposedly free social media platforms a ton of money, which is why they’re probably not going anywhere anytime soon.

This is why I appreciate Tumblr so much as a platform for online fandom. You can block ads, you can block sponsored content, you can block an unlimited number of tags, and your feed consists of nothing more and nothing less than the posts of people you follow in reverse chronological order. There are algorithmic shenanigans concerning which users and posts are promoted and which posts disappear from tag archives, but this is something that most users will never have to worry about. The important thing is that, if someone brings bad mojo to my Nintendo party, I can just unfollow or block them without constantly having to click on drop-down menus to inform the platform that “this is not relevant.” In other words, I have almost effortless control over my engagement with Tumblr. This level of control is crucial to the experience of people who use fandom as a safe space where they don’t have to worry about things like, for example, whether they’ll be attacked if they go to a pride march.

Tumblr isn’t perfect, but it’s what we’ve got. If you live in a country where laws regulating internet access are currently in dispute, I think it’s a platform worth fighting for. Even if you’re unable to take political action, I hope you’ll take care of your fandom communities. The world is awful, but kindness and joy can go a long way.

Keep Going, You’re Doing Great!

This is what I did today:

– I worked on a book review (of Shion Miura’s novel The Great Passage) that very few people will read.

– I finished a translation (of a page from Breath of the Wild Master Works) that very few people will read.

– I worked on the final chapter a story (of the experimental Majora’s Mask AU I’ve mentioned before) that very few people will read.

– I inked and laid base flat digital colors onto a three-panel comic (about university-level teaching) that very few people will read.

– I sent final presentation evaluation emails personalized for each of my students, which I highly doubt they will read.

– I updated my CV and departmental annual progress report to reflect all the professional work I did in April, and let’s be real – no one is ever going to read either of those documents.

Yesterday I saw someone in my professional cohort tweet about someone else in my professional cohort, saying that he is emerging as the most refreshing voice in our field. Even though I know this had absolutely nothing to do with me, the tweet hit me right in the gut. Is my own work not original or impressive enough to be commented on? Will it ever be? It can be difficult to keep doing creative, intellectual, and administrative work day after day with the understanding that it’s unrealistic to expect anyone to care or even pay attention in the first place. Not everyone can be the brightest witch of her age, after all.

This sort of existential angst can lead to depression, especially when coupled with the sort of mental exhaustion that results from doing the kind of daily work I outlined above. I’m going to have to admit that I’m not always the warmest ray of sunshine, but I try to counteract the encroachment of despair by scattering small seeds of positivity. Every day I try to leave a review on the work of an academic or small-press-published author on Goodreads, or a short comment on a small-fandom fanfic on AO3, or a glowing review of someone’s craftwork on Etsy, or a line of appreciation on someone’s post on Patreon, or enthusiastic tags on a reblog of someone’s post on Tumblr, or an encouraging comment on someone’s picture on Instagram. There are a lot of creators out there who are doing good work but don’t get enough support, and I strongly believe that we have to support one another. Knowing that maybe I was able to add a bit more fuel to someone’s fire helps me sustain my faith in the validity of creative work and creative communities.

But let me tell you a secret – when I write to someone else to encourage and support them, really I’m writing to myself. “Keep going, you’re doing great,” I might comment on the work of another writer or artist, but I’m saying it to them because that’s exactly what I need to tell myself.

So, if you’re reading this, keep going! You’re doing great!!

Fanfic and Commissioned Illustrations

I’m currently writing a Majora’s Mask AU in which Termina only exists because of Link. In my story, after Link “saves” Termina, it begins to disappear. The only two people who are even marginally aware of that anything is strange are Zelda and Ganondorf, who have been drawn into Termina by the strength of Link’s dream. Zelda is seeing it in a vision, and Ganondorf is experiencing it from where he’s imprisoned in the Sacred Realm. Neither of them realizes this until the end of the story, when they figure out that they have to wake up into the “real” world of Ocarina of Time, which is a much harsher reality than the one contained within Termina.

At the moment Tumblr seems to be the main platform people are using to engage with fandom; and, unlike LiveJournal or even Twitter, Tumblr exhibits an extreme bias toward images. What this means in practice is that fan art gets a ton of love, while fanfic receives relatively little attention. People complain about this all the time, and I routinely tell fic writers I’m friendly with that they should stop trying to write for fandom. Instead, it might make more sense for them to file off the serial numbers of their work so that they can publish it as original fiction.

This is easier said than done, of course, and in fact I declined to follow my own advice when I began outlining the plot and character details for this story. Two people trapped in a fading dreamworld is a fairly broad and open concept, and the characters obviously don’t have to be Zelda and Ganondorf. It would be fairly easy to change the names and smudge the identifying details and thus write a completely “original” story… but I don’t want to.

I recently finished my third playthrough of Breath of the Wild, and instead of moving on to something different I decided to pick up Majora’s Mask, which I hadn’t played since the game was released on the Nintendo 3DS back in 2015. I love the dark and foreboding atmosphere of the game, and I’m fascinated by all the many ways that Termina is falling apart at its seams. I read Majora’s Mask as a deep dive into the trauma that Link experienced in Ocarina of Time, especially his guilt over the fact that, even with the ability to travel through time, he couldn’t save everyone. I’m fascinated by Majora’s Mask, and I want to spend more time in the world of the game. I also want to explore its themes from a different perspective.

Specifically, what trauma did Zelda experience in Ocarina of Time? And what about Ganondorf? Who would these two characters be if they weren’t trapped in their respective roles? And what does it mean that they are trapped?

What I’m trying to do with this fanfic is to read Majora’s Mask through a critical lens. I’m a big fan of analytic meta essays about the game and its story, but I want to do something a little more creative in the way I examine its themes. For example, Majora’s Mask strips away Link’s identity as the “Hero of Time” and places him into a new environment, but the core of his character remains – he’s still a hero. So what would it look like if Zelda’s identity as the “princess of Hyrule” were stripped away? Who would she be? And who would Ganondorf be if he weren’t the “Demon King Ganon”? I want to play with these archetypes, but I’m also interested in the challenge of adding greater depth to seemingly one-note character tropes.

One of the nice things about working in the discursive space of fandom is that there’s a pre-existing community of readers who might be interested in a story like this. There’s also a large community of artists, especially in the fandom of a well-established gaming franchise like Legend of Zelda. Even though I don’t have much artistic talent myself, I’m primarily a visual person, and I find it inspiring to collaborate with artists on illustrations. This generally works in the same way it does in the independent comic publishing business, namely, the writer commissions an artist. Although most of the actual labor of illustration is done by the artist, it’s the writer’s job to find someone whose style and interests would be a good fit for the project. In fandom, this is relatively easy, but it’s still very cool when sparks fly and magic happens.

I’m very lucky to be able to work with Thali (@snoozeforever on Twitter / @ponthion on Tumblr) to create illustrations for this story, since I’ve been a fan of her art for years. In fact, it’s her critical engagement with the Legend of Zelda games as expressed through her artwork that encouraged me to start engaging with the Zelda fandom on Tumblr.

It’s a little embarrassing to commission an illustration for my own story, especially if it’s fanfiction. On the other hand, it’s an incredible experience to watch my ideas and characters come to life in visual art. The process of communicating with artists about design elements is also a lot of fun. It can sometimes be a challenge to try to express a complicated character concept in just one or two sentences so as not to overwhelm people with long emails full of extraneous details, but I am continually amazed by the brilliant interpretations created by the artists with whom I’ve had the honor of collaborating.

In any case, Thali has created as created multiple incredible designs based on the character concepts I sent her, and you can see some of my favorites below!

( Character designs by Thali )

Overcoming the Stigma of Creative Writing

I write a lot of fiction, and I’d like to think I’ve done some good work, but I’ve never done it under my real name. For a good long time I kept an almost daily blog on Dreamwidth that was (among other things) a writing journal for the story ideas I had, a log of the progress I was making, and my thoughts on narrative and genre fiction more generally. Starting this year I decided to quit using Dreamwidth and move everything to the blog portion of my professional website, but for some reason I’ve been nervous about associating my creative writing with my actual name. I have a fantastic post about my current story that I’ve been staring at for days, and I’ve hesitated to post it.

So I guess I have two things I really want to ask myself. First, what is it about academia that makes people feel as if it’s somehow unprofessional to share their creative work? And second, that whole nasty business with people like Anne Rice and Diana Gabaldon saying “fanfic is disgusting” happened more than ten years ago, so why is it that even now in 2018 writing fanfiction feels like it’s some dirty secret?

These are the sort of questions that seem as if they might be worth asking my friends and acquaintances on social media, but I’m not interested in hearing anyone’s simplistic takes on what are very complicated issues. For example, I can imagine someone who has never been through the soul-crushing trauma of grad school answering the first question with something completely off the mark, like, “Well, you wouldn’t want your students to read your fiction, would you?” as if it weren’t a challenge to get most undergrads to read the fiction actually assigned on the syllabus. Meanwhile, I can absolutely imagine the sort of responses I would get to the second question from people who’ve neither written nor read fanfic and can therefore only parrot stereotypes like “You have to admit that most fanfic is unoriginal and not very good.”

What I’m trying to say is that I feel strong pressure never to admit to writing anything, which in turn has prevented me from taking my writing seriously. I kept telling myself that I would keep my head down and go up for tenure and then do whatever the hell I wanted, but I’m starting to feel that life is too short for that sort of cowardly nonsense. Yes, I am a literature professor who writes fiction – some of which is indeed fanfiction – and I want to be proud and look good doing it.