A native of Washington, D.C., Matt has been working as a professional translator and freelance writer since the early 1990s and along with his wife he owns Alt Japan, a translation and content creation company.
His translation experience includes four years as an in-house technical Japanese translator for the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
He is the co-author of numerous books about Japan, and a contributor to CNN, Wired Magazine, Slate Magazine, the Independent, Newsweek Japan, the Japan Times, the New Yorker, and many other publications and has recently released Pure Invention -
HOW JAPAN'S POP CULTURE CONQUERED THE WORLD
They deliberately kept their company small. They realized these large translation companies can’t really offer anything more creative than a smaller company can. The company is mostly Matt and his wife Hiroko with a number of free lancers they bring on on a project basis.
The company has pivoted a little from translation to content creation with the release of his new book, Pure Invention. They are probably 50/50 split on localization and translation and their own content creation through yokai books and other pop culture titles.
He had his own skill set and wanted to be master of his own time. He didn’t want to commute to an office anymore and decided awhile ago that they were disciplined enough to work out of their home.
“Alt Japan is less of a business model in and of itself, than it is a vehicle for Hiroko and I to do what we want to do with our lives.”
“The work that we do, puts us in a really privileged place that most foreign people don’t get to see, which is, you’re right in the beating heart of this kind of pop cultural creation machine.”
The way many people now connect with Japan is through its products. That is how the West interacts with Japan.
Japan and the West have synchronized their tastes more recently.
Western countries tend to glorify other countries and look up to these exotic terms that take over pop culture such as hikkikomori, ikigai, Hugge from Scandinavia, Karoshi etc. We tend to forget that Marie Kondo came about because there was a problem in Japan, it wasn’t just that Japan found a solution to some phenomenon they discovered.
Start a new business on the side before you jump all into. You can take a job and learn skills and the environment from the job while you are developing the business plan.
More and more it will become more difficult to get into the translation of pop culture, anime, video games. AI is having a difficulty with really interpreting Japanese language, but the translation industry is changing and competition is growing.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
by David Marx
– a look into Japanese fashion redesigned American fashion
A native of Washington, DC, Matt has been working as a professional translator, an freelance writer since the early 1990s, and along with his wife, he owns all Japan, a translation and content creation company. His translation experience includes four years as an in house technical Japanese translator for the United States.
Patent and Trademark Office. He is the Co. Author of numerous books about Japan and a contributor to CNN, Wired magazine, Slate magazine, the Independent Newsweek Japan, and the Japan times, The New Yorker and many other publications and has recently released pure invention how Japan's pop culture conquered the world.
Welcome to the show Matt.
Thanks for having me.
What is your connection to Japan?
Well, I've been living here for the last wow 17 years. I moved here with my wife in 2003 and we founded A what's called a localization company, which is a fancy term for translation. We've produced the English versions of all sorts of Japanese.
Entertainment, mainly games, also manga, toys and toy packaging and things like that. So all sorts of fun stuff.
So did you have all of this lined up and ready to go when you made?
The step to Japan in 2003.
No, well, I mean you know yes yes and no. I've been working as a translator in the United States. I worked for the US patent Trademark Office for quite a few years, so I had a pretty strong connection to Japan. I'd actually I've actually been connected to Japan ever since I've been a kid. I just love Japanese pop culture, and, you know, robots and toys and an email and manga and all that sort of stuff.
Kind of at the forefront of that appreciation of Japanese pop culture before it really broke big in the 90s and early 2000s, but I was really fortunate that my high school had a Japanese program that was really uncommon for a public school in America at the time. Now it's pretty, you know, it's it's not 100% common.
It's more back then it was really out of the question that a school would be teaching that and I was really lucky to have.
Yeah, yeah, that's a very experience. Still yes, yes, OK, so you were hooked at a young age, yes? And then was then after college you decided you know, I've I've had this built up passion. I I have to go.
Well, I'd always wanted to do something related to my passions with Japan. You know, I always love games. I always loved manga. It always love Donnie made always love toys, you know, and the The Patent and Trademark office on the surface seems like I was moving away from that. You know, it's a government agency.
But you know what is? What is the patent, it's intellectual property. It's basically the foundation of you know, making all sorts of businesses based on manufacturing product. So that turned out to be really useful, not directly in my in my later life, but just seeing kind of behind the curtain of how all sorts of things were made. I mean we translated.
You know it wasn't just toys. Of course, you know we translated everything from, like you know, sanitary napkins and diapers to you know, nuclear triggers. And like all sorts of Crate whatever came in and the and the patent attorneys needed.
You know, looking at we we helped them read through and looked at.
So, so at that point those were Japanese companies looking to spread or expand in the US.
Well, actually the way the Patent and Trademark Office Works is. Whenever anybody submits a patent for a new invention, it has to be checked against what's called prior art.
Which basically means has anybody invented this before, and so you know the patent examiners look through the entire planet's worth of patent? Oh wow offices to see if there's anything similar out there, and when they find something similar, often they're looking just based on keywords or on illustrations 'cause each patent has an illustration.
Then they would bring it down to us and be like, well, this guy is saying he's dipping this thing in chocolate, you know, is this being dipped in chocolate, you know? And we would kind of read it together. And if it turned out to look even closer than he thought, then he would request us to translate the entire patent. OK, so that was my, you know, sink or swim.
Education in translation and it was, it was good. It was really cool. I met a lot of great people there, but you know it. It's translating. Patents is a very different thing from translating video games and stuff like that. So I had there was a whole new learning process when I started branching out into entertainment.
Over that, yeah.
Any difficulty switching from a, I would assume a stable solid government job with a pension and all of that. Yes, yeah. Entrepreneurial pursuits.
Yeah, that was a leap of faith, but it wasn't the leap of faith that we made lightly. And what I mean by that is.
You know, I had started translating video games on the side when a friend of mine who is in that industry said I'm swamped. Can you take this for me? And this was in the late 90s and that to be honest, there weren't very many translators of video games around at that time like you could. You could literally count the number of full-time localizers of Japanese games, probably in two hands.
On the entire Planet, Wow and he gave it to me. I started looking at it and it was extremely complicated, both Linguistically and also it was embedded in all this code. That's how it was done back then and I realized I was in over my head. So I I called in my my girlfriend at the time, who later became my wife, Hiroko, and we started working on it together.
And that led to another job and another job, another job. And after about three or four years of this it was getting to the point where our night work, quote Unquote, and our you know, we were doing it at night and on the evenings, right? We're starting to we would be losing money if we turn down a job. And that's when we were like, you know what this is? I think we can make a go of this.
Right this site.
Also has become exactly a focus on.
Exactly exactly, and that's why I often tell, especially young people, and I'm gonna find a business. You know what I mean? Like that's great I I, I respect that. I love that. But you know, there's a lot you can do before.
Making the leap it shouldn't. It should be a leap of faith is normal, but it shouldn't be like a leap into the abyss.
You know what I mean?
Right exactly yeah, so you know we always had a we we knew that we were. We were making a calculated risk, not like a total like let's put all the chips in one you know spot on the roulette wheel chance you know there's a big difference between those two things.
Great OK yeah.
So I guess just.
Explain to everyone briefly what your business is and what are your main revenue streams.
Yeah, so the company is called Alt Japan and our main revenue streams have traditionally been from videogame companies. We do B to B business to business translation. We don't accept translations from individual people or individual.
Authors or anything like that. It has to go through publishers. It has to go through game companies, toy companies and we for the last close to two decades have been helping all sorts of Japanese creators and and content owners and stakeholders translate kind of their visions into English. And sometimes we also oversee doing European languages as well and.
As Japan has hugely pivoted from making physical things to intellectual property, what's known as soft power, a business is like our is really rose in prominence over the first part of the new Millennium and came to play kind of a vital role in how.
Japanese companies starting to market their products abroad because up until up until the early 2000s it was really ad hoc and catches catch Ken, like Japanese companies, would be. Just ask some random person who happened to take some English you know in the office to translate something, and that's how you got like all your base are belong to us and like a winner is you. And all of these other crazy.
You know, like you know semi English constructions from classic Nintendo and like Sega Genesis and and old school video games.
Yeah, so that's where we came in. OK, yeah.
So I guess how, how?
Large is your company now.
Well, we kept ourselves deliberately small. That's great, like like a boutique type operation an you know there are huge translation companies out there, but like it's it's what we quickly realized is is that you can scale up your company.
But it's really tough to scale up a pipeline to translation pipeline beyond a handful of people, because at a certain point some of the Buck has to stop with somebody you know whether it's a video game or a comic book or whatever. You could farm out to 100 different translators, but some editor is going to have to put that into a singular voice.
Or, you know, 'cause this. The client will always have a style guide and like you know, glossaries and things like that, so you know, let's just say you have a video game that's got a million words of translation in it. Well, you know you could hire that out to a million people and get the thing done tomorrow. But then it's going to be this patchwork Frankenstein mess and you have to. You have to get it edited and you have to get it in.
Ready to be on screen and that is something that's really difficult to scale up. So even these giant translation companies you know can't really offer anything on the creative side.
That's better than. It's an agile small company, so you know all Japan is basically just Hiroko and I with a lot of freelancers and we scale up and down as needed. When a project comes in. But you know more recently you know this. This kind of being at the front lines of of the Japanese pop cultural, you know?
Creation scene is what led me to get into starting to write about it and so over the last few years I've been contributing pieces to The New Yorker and like you know, wired, and you know, Japan times and all sorts of other slate about kind of Japanese trends. And that led.
Yes, that's kind. Thank you, thank you.
And my new book, which is called pure invention, how Japan's pop culture conquered the world just came out last week.
So yes, that's kind. Thank you, thank you. That's kind of A.
Big pivot for us. You know, from translation into content creation.
OK, OK so prior to this it's been more translating.
Pop cultural works or older things as well.
Oh, a mix, a mix, but you know, it's Hiroko. And I actually have Co authored a bunch of books together and that kind of gave us a taste for being on the creation side of things as well as the localization side of things we created and Co authored a series of books on Japanese.
Monsters Yokai from Japanese folklore and ghosts. And like ninja, these kind of illustrated guide books that have, you know, been in print for quite some time now, so you know, they seem to be pretty popular with people. And that gave us the idea of like, hey, you know, we don't necessarily just have to be oracles. Rather, people's voices were going to kind of strange.
Position here in that we're bilingual and and in Japan, so why not try to sell some of that experience? You know, in the form of edutainment to other people as well, and so we have been gradually shifting from full localization, which is what we were doing. You know, our main revenue stream.
In the early part of the 2000s to what's more probably more balanced 5050 sort of situation where half of our time is spent. You know creating things of our own and and and creating a portfolio of our own, and then half is spent working with other people.
So you seem.
Your company seems very information based and there's you know various on line models have actually seen an uptick in business lately. During the pandemic and everything, and I'm just wondering how your business has been affected by the recession slash pandemic.
Yeah, Well, you know.
Content is King these days and so we haven't noticed a huge dropoff from our client base in a request for translation and localization and things like that. Because you know. Also, we've it seems like forever, but it's only been three months since you know. The pandemic really started.
Changing the way we lived our lives and in the modern era, most projects have started already or already in motion by that point. So we're still, in a certain sense, coasting on whatever plans were made last fiscal year whenever it was, so it would be really interesting is to see or or terrifying just see what's going to happen six months from now, right?
It's now like a. This is a game changer in a totally different world than we were a year ago. From now, unthinkably different. So that's gonna be the we're kind of watching and waiting to see what happens there.
OK, and I I think it's.
Great that you know you've you've found growth. Although you've you've managed to stay lean.
With with employees and overhead and all of that, yeah, yeah is so. Do you have or have you found a need for an actual workspace or are you able to work from home?
Well, as you can see, I'm in a space station here, so this.
Is where we do all of our work. Low earth orbit. It's just really quiet up here. You can kind of float.
No, we actually we. We have a Home Office and we've always worked out of that and.
I'm going to be.
Just kind of brutally honest here. One of my main motivations for founding the company in the 1st place was I never wanted to commute to an office ever again, like it was. It was as simple as that. Like, you know, like there's people out there who have these grand plans and these grand dreams.
But I was just like you know, I just don't wanna be in office anymore like I'm a I'm a disciplined enough person. I can get my work done without having to look over my shoulder every time you go to the bathroom or whatever it is. You know we're clocking in and all of that. And it's not that my office environments were particularly bad. You know, I I had it pretty good. I had pretty, you know, cool office, you know.
Workers and things like that. I was working alongside but I just I wanted to be master of my own time and I had this skill set.
And Hiroko did, too. We had this team, and so you know, that was the main reason that we found it all. Japan, that we could make our living on our own terms. And so there's been times over the years I've been like man. Maybe if we had an office space, we'd, you know we'd be able to have a little more work, life separation, or, you know, we'd be able to impress clients more for.
You know 'cause sometimes taking meetings is difficult.
But we've always kept it this way and I don't.
Really have any regrets about that, yeah.
So for meetings, do you find yourself you would visit their office more often or you would you were you were mastering this online communication ahead of the curve.
No, no, so like this this this zooming.
You know Skype meetings was never done in Japan prior to about three months ago. That has been a huge sea change here. We would always go into the clients offices. Our clients were Titanic. They still are. I mean, you know, big companies like Square Enix or Bondi, or you know whatever you what have you there.
Thousands of times bigger than our company is. Of course they have meeting rooms and things, so we would generally just go meet them there and that was fine. They were happy. I mean it was easier for them to just walk down the hallway into a meeting room. It actually reduced the load on them. Now zoom has become standard in Japan too, so it's gonna be interesting to see how that changes.
Yeah, we'll see if.
That continues, you know, even.
When things start to open up.
00:16:16 Speaker 1
Yeah, I think it will. I get the sense it will because now once you taste working out of your home, it's really tough to get packed on that. You know, Shinjuku train line. You know acting like Sushi, you know.
Companies might be able to save a little bit on the computation.
00:16:31 Speaker 1
Exactly exactly exactly.
00:16:34 Speaker 2
OK, so from starting all Japan up, have you run into any hurdles or troubling times difficulties?
00:16:47 Speaker 1
Well, there was certainly a really.
00:16:49 Speaker 1
You know, bad time after 311 the the big tsunami and the and the nuclear meltdown.
00:16:57 Speaker 1
Of 2011, and that was in a lot of ways to kind of dry run for what's going on now. We had to shelter in place in our house for many weeks. There was actual fallout on the city on landing on Tokyo. One point after the Fukushima Daiichi reactor meltdown. So that was a very bad time for a lot of people.
00:17:19 Speaker 1
And the are suffering was nothing compared to people who actually lost houses and family members and lives up North. So I don't mean to compare it to that, but from a pure business standpoint, yeah, everything dropped off after that, yeah?
00:17:32 Speaker 1
And that was like on the that that was coming right after. Like the Lehman Shock, the big the Great Recession.
00:17:39 Speaker 1
Of 2008 nine.
00:17:40 Speaker 1
Things were just starting to kind.
00:17:42 Speaker 1
Of pick up again and then bam that happened and you know again content. There's always a kind of need for.
00:17:52 Speaker 1
Manga and anime and games and things like that, but so it never dropped to 0. But yeah, there were some kind of lean months in there, but you know, on the other hand, those lean months are exactly when we're like, Hey, we gotta let's let's make something of our own so all Japan has on Japan is less of A.
00:18:12 Speaker 1
A business model in and of itself. Then it is a vehicle for Hiroko and I to do what we want to do with our lives.
00:18:20 Speaker 2
I just wanted to take a second here to highlight something that Matt said. Alt Japan is less of a business model in and of itself than it is a vehicle for Hiroko and I to do what we want to do with our lives. This is the perfect example of a lifestyle. Japan Preneur a lifestyle Japan preneur is someone with a strong connection to Japan who builds a small but.
00:18:44 Speaker 2
Mighty business on their own terms. I have recently just released a training course on starting and growing your business as a lifestyle Japan Preneur and I'd love for you to check it out on the website at Smallbusinessjapan.com. The course aims to take you from idea creation to building a business that scales.
00:19:04 Speaker 2
But doesn't grow. That means you can lead the lifestyle you desire as your business thrives.
00:19:11 Speaker 2
Now let's hear more from this great lifestyle. Japan preneur. OK, so you weren't thinking like OK, maybe you change the business plan like maybe we do start taking on these one. On one translations, you were more like, OK, let's let's get some of our own content out.
00:19:28 Speaker 1
Yeah, well he required. The type were pretty like you know.
00:19:31 Speaker 1
Self directed, so if if something isn't working we'll try something new and you know our very first book that we did together. Yokai attack in 2008, which we started working on in 2006 or so emerged out of a down period where we didn't have a lot of big client work coming in, and we're like God, Well, you know we have all this, you know this is something that's never been exploited really before explored. Why not try to make something of our own about it?
00:19:56 Speaker 1
And it never turned into like that, but it never like you know it didn't change our lifestyle or anything like that. It's This Is This is the way people think when you do a book. Suddenly, like you know, JK Rowling or Stephen King, it doesn't work that way. It can, you know, but it generally it doesn't. It's just it's more of a kind of calling card. And actually this is really interesting because that book Yokai attack that we did in 2008.
00:20:20 Speaker 1
Ended up resulting in a lot of work over the next decade related to Yokai anytime any Japanese company had a game that had yokai in it. Which are these Japanese folkloric monsters? They would call us in 'cause they didn't have any idea how to translate them and this book existed and gave a kind of road map for that. So a lot of times these.
00:20:41 Speaker 1
New explorations that we do would connect in directly and lead to new business opportunities that we wouldn't have had otherwise. So it's just kind of evolve or die, you know.
00:20:50 Speaker 2
Right, yeah, yeah. So I guess talking about your your most recent book, pure invention.
00:20:59 Speaker 2
How did that idea come about? Is this something you've been collecting for a while?
00:21:07 Speaker 1
Well, you know I.
00:21:08 Speaker 1
The the work that we do puts us in a really privileged place that most foreign people don't get to see. Which is, you're right in the beating heart of this kind of pop cultural creation machine. And you know, over the basically two decades we've been doing this, I had been noticing subtle shifts in the way.
00:21:27 Speaker 1
Consumers approached the the things that we translated. You know. So back when we first started doing this 20 years ago, there'd be these huge lags between when you translated something and you make all these changes to make it more palatable to Westerners. Whether it was a game or a comic book or whatever, but as the years went on, like I started to notice that the customers were were the consumers, the fans, right? No no.
00:21:48 Speaker 1
Keep it as Japanese as possible. We don't, you know. Don't make any changes we wanted immediately and I realized, you know it was more than fandom. It was that our two societies had really started to synchronize and catch up with one another, and the way that they synchronized and caught up with one another is of course a big picture. Economic, social economic question.
00:22:09 Speaker 1
But on a very day-to-day level, the way we connect with Japan is through its products. You know, like your if your average person, you're probably not going to a seminar about US Japanese relations. You're you're, you're popping at, you know. If it's the 90s, you're popping a CD in your disk, man, you know. Or you're playing a game on your Japanese game, sister Game Boy, you know you're playing Animal Crossing Your.
00:22:30 Speaker 1
The new Final Fantasy 7 you know. Whatever it is, Marie Kondo Books. That's how we interact with Japan and through interacting with those things, I realized we'd actually profoundly changed our tastes. We japanized them, and so that's what the book the book initially started with me.
00:22:51 Speaker 1
Trying to tell a bunch of interesting behind the scene stories of products that we all knew, but as it rolled along, I realized this is a much bigger story than that. It was a story about how two nations had kind of not just two nations. Japan in the West had synchronized their their tastes in them anyways.
00:23:09 Speaker 1
And what that meant?
00:23:11 Speaker 1
As our fantasies changed, our realities change too, because you know what you dream about is what you make. So the book turned into something much bigger than I initially anticipated, and it it it was great. It was a really, you know, I don't want to say it was fun. 'cause it was quite stressful or satisfying and.
00:23:31 Speaker 1
But that was a new sort of thing to do.
00:23:35 Speaker 2
And you had a where you were working with an editor on this one.
00:23:38 Speaker 1
Well, so the way this works was.
00:23:41 Speaker 1
This was my big choosing.
00:23:43 Speaker 1
The way this works was it was my mainstream my major debut. It was I wrote the proposal. I had an agent. I have an agent, a literary agent who found me through my writing in The New Yorker, just serendipity.
00:23:56 Speaker 1
And we hit it off and he guided me through the process of making a book proposal, a nonfiction book proposal which is very different from a fiction book proposal or an academic book proposal or whatever. It's what he specializes in, and then we once did after about a year of that.
00:24:14 Speaker 1
It had developed into this kind of 200 Page Monstrosity of its own millimeters.
00:24:20 Speaker 1
Live marketing plans and you know all sorts of other things and we took that around to all of the publishers in New York City.
00:24:28 Speaker 1
And one of them we we, we got a lot of interest from all of them, but one of them showed a huge amount of interest and basically said we want this will buy it out. Don't go to auction now. And that was penguinrandomhouse is Crown imprint OK and Crown is is pretty well known for publishing a lot of nonfiction they published.
00:24:48 Speaker 1
Michelle Obama's biography. They published, I believe, Dan rather did one, and so there's a lot of kind of big names in there, and I was like, wow, wow, this is this is I'm in the big leagues now. And of course they assigned me an editor, or rather the editor who is interested in it is the one who is behind bidding on it.
00:25:08 Speaker 1
And she her name is Megan, Megan Hauser and she was just great. I mean.
00:25:14 Speaker 1
She really helped.
00:25:17 Speaker 1
Sculpt the idea you know. I mean, it was great to have a young woman who wasn't. I mean she. She's obsessed with Japan as everybody is. I mean, you know she grew up on Sailor Moon and like you know, video games and whatever. But she's not like a japanophile. And so it was really great to have somebody who you didn't have to explain why the Nintendo is important. Yeah, but.
00:25:38 Speaker 1
Who wasn't like such a nerd that you get lost in the weeds? Yeah, so she was really helpful for that.
00:25:45 Speaker 2
It sounds like the book could have gone in a very different direction if you had maybe partnered up with a local local, as in Japan based publisher who you know.
00:25:58 Speaker 2
Definitely knows the in's and outs and is is much.
00:26:01 Speaker 2
Deeper on the Japan knowledge site things.
00:26:05 Speaker 1
Yeah, it could have gone very academic. It could have gone very nerdy, you know, like super super deep to the point where it wouldn't happen. There's nothing wrong with being nerdy. I mean, I'm a nerd, you know. But like to the point where you're losing mainstream readers 'cause your your anecdotes are too deep or whatever, and she really helped.
00:26:22 Speaker 1
We walk that fine line and also structure it. She really had some really just keen sharp advice on structuring the narative look that isn't when you're in the in the down in the weeds writing it. It can be sometimes tough to see that 20,000 foot picture right of your flight target audience exactly exactly and an like.
00:26:44 Speaker 1
Also, you know I love just going off on these tangents about you know anecdotes and some of these anecdotes were great, but are they? Are they moving? Uh, stored the point. The the.
00:26:55 Speaker 1
Plot the the.
00:26:56 Speaker 1
Thesis of what the book is about and having somebody who could who's who both respected it and loved it.
00:27:04 Speaker 1
But also could be like brutally critical about it, you know.
00:27:08 Speaker 1
Really, really helped. It's just nice and I I just don't know that it's possible to do a world class book without a world class editor like the editor is so key. And in all of the projects that we've worked on, we've been blessed with great editors. You know, Greg, who helped us sculpt the idea for Yokai attack. That was a very different idea when we brought it to him.
00:27:32 Speaker 1
And then what it came out as?
00:27:33 Speaker 1
Those editors who have that kind of big picture mindset or just excuse me worth their weight in gold, OK?
00:27:42 Speaker 2
So I would assume then you lean more towards the side of finding a great editor as opposed to like Self Publishing.
00:27:51 Speaker 1
Oh yeah, yeah. And I have self published.
00:27:54 Speaker 1
I have self published before and there's a place for that. You know, if you really have a story that you want to tell an for some reason that you can't interest the gatekeepers of big publishing, that doesn't mean you should be silenced. And sometimes those books find an audience you know in spite of it all, but it's.
00:28:14 Speaker 1
I had done that kind of thing before and I wanted to see what it was like. Kind of more at the upper echelons of the publishing industry, and I was really blessed and lucky to have an agent who could guide me through that process. So people like agents, people like editors and it wasn't easy like there was a lot of tension and a lot of you know, arguing and a lot of back and forth.
00:28:35 Speaker 1
You know it's like tears and blood and sweat and all of that stuff. So like it was. It was also a willingness for me to get way out of my comfort zone. OK, 'cause it's easy to write something and just put it up online or or put it up on, you know, you know, Amazon Createspace, or whatever it is. And it's great. I really respect people who do that, but I, I wanted to see how far I could.
00:28:55 Speaker 1
Go right and that's what this was about.
00:28:58 Speaker 1
OK, that's yeah yeah.
00:29:01 Speaker 2
So you've been in Japan for a little while now.
00:29:05 Speaker 2
What's something that you've changed your mind about trend?
00:29:08 Speaker 1
Something I've changed my. You know it's it's less that I changed my mind about Japan and more than I'm kind of like changing my mind about the rest of the world. You know it's I've lived here so long now I've gotten so used to things that it's I often get kind of a reverse culture shock when I go.
00:29:26 Speaker 1
Back to my home country of America and you know, I was born in America. I was raised in America. I have. I Love America. I'm not planning on giving up my citizenship or anything like that. But it's just shocking to me.
00:29:41 Speaker 1
A lot of times the things, especially in modern, you know in the last couple of months. In particular, let's, uh, yeah, you know and and just on the very concrete level. I'm actually, really, really concerned about the you know, am I going to be able to get back right? Because right now it's not possible from like you can get some kind of.
00:30:02 Speaker 1
Humanitarian exemption, but it's very difficult. If I left Japan right now, even though I'm a permanent resident with a Japanese wife, there's a really high chance they wouldn't let me back in at the border.
00:30:12 Speaker 1
Because they're really concerned about you know transmission vectors and stuff like that. So and you know, maybe they're being overly cautious. Maybe they're being not cautious enough. I don't know. It's you know these are big questions, but it's the world we live in now. You know where are you?
00:30:28 Speaker 2
Based and based Buffalo, NY.
00:30:31 Speaker 1
Oh Buffalo NY. Oh wow you're.
00:30:33 Speaker 1
Up in the.
00:30:34 Speaker 1
Sky kind of over northern New York area. You get a lot of snow up there.
00:30:37 Speaker 2
Uh, we do we do. Yeah we.
00:30:38 Speaker 1
Have snowing now it.
00:30:40 Speaker 2
Is not it's we've had our 80 days 80 here in there. We can all Four Seasons, you know?
00:30:48 Speaker 2
You know, just like Japan.
00:30:50 Speaker 2
Well, you know I Japan at times.
00:30:53 Speaker 2
Seems to think it's the only place in the world that has yes all Four Seasons. Yeah, have a deep love and appreciation for nature and the seasons which I have an affinity for, sure. But all my time in Japan, I did have to remind people that, you know, I've seen coyo in font. You know, the yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
00:31:14 Speaker 2
The whole Canadian Red Maple Leaf thing is because they have it also.
00:31:19 Speaker 1
You know you were asking about things. I changed my mind about Japan and one of the big ones is that you know, Japanese people don't have any more of a finger on the pulse of what's going on than anybody else. Does you know what I mean? Like the world look? Loves to look at Japan is some kind of antidote to all of our problems. I mean, that's what Marie Kondo is, right? Like we can turn to this like a Yoda.
00:31:37 Speaker 1
Like Guru in Japan, to help us fix our lives, but they never. People never ask themselves. Well, if Japan is such a perfect place, why did they need this book in the 1st place? You know why did they? Why did they create Marie Kondo if they were already like so ahead of the curve for us? And I'm dealing with modern life, yeah, so this is Japan is a society with a lot of problems too.
00:32:00 Speaker 1
A huge number of them, they're just different. They manifest differently. OK now like is hikikomori or things like that like the the shut Inns you know, and then they got a lot of attention in the in the early 2000s. Oh my God, Japanese young people were shutting themselves inside their homes and this is such a unique Japanese. But no, it's not a unique Japanese, but I'm like the.
00:32:22 Speaker 1
The the the economic problems and the the lack of employment and the and most importantly, the lack of hope that young Pete that led young people to lock themselves in their houses are the same things driving like you know, political activism on 4 Chan or right.
00:32:37 Speaker 2
And they they had a cool.
00:32:38 Speaker 2
Label for it though, and I guess that's what we're sort of drawn to also.
00:32:43 Speaker 2
You know my my professor at Osaka University heavily studies like cuto she.
00:32:49 Speaker 1
And right sure, sure they have words for this stuff.
00:32:51 Speaker 2
Yeah, it's a great Japanese term, but part of what he's saying is, you know, America is actually extremely overworked as well, yes, but it's it's more of a phenomenon when we can look across.
00:33:04 Speaker 2
The ocean and say, Oh they've you know they've got this problem. Maybe they have a solution for it, right?
00:33:09 Speaker 1
Well, you know the mass media loves a hooky term. You know what I mean? And and consumers due to this isn't just it's. It's not a one way St. It's not like the mass media is forcing it down your throat. Whether it's ikigai you know which is another big word which just basically means do what you love, you know.
00:33:24 Speaker 1
Find find your you know your passion in in in work and life. It's not like a uniquely Japanese concept. Now it's just a word or and it's not even limited to Japan. Remember a couple of years ago that Scandinavian I Hugi.
00:33:38 Speaker 2
Was he was a huge yeah. He's gayer Hugh.
00:33:42 Speaker 1
Yeah, and which is basically cocooning in your house, right? And now we're all doing that like in the social distancing era were all like wrapped in blankets watching net.
00:33:49 Speaker 1
Fix all the time with like a hot toddy of rum or whatever you know. But the Scandinavians kind of packaged it. Everything is about packaging and branding these days, and the Japanese are absolute geniuses of packaging and branding things, and they've been doing it for hundreds of years. They they did it when Westerners first came to Japan in the 1800s, and they realized that Westerners loved all of their folk.
00:34:11 Speaker 1
Like products, like when woodblock prints and so even though these things were out of style in Japan, they started making more of them to to sell to the Westerners. So this is a give and take that's been going on forever.
00:34:22 Speaker 2
This sounds like it really bleeds into the theme of your book with, you know, even concepts are productised.
00:34:28 Speaker 1
Well, you know it's it's I.
00:34:31 Speaker 1
And that's the Internet. One of the really interesting things about writing the book is how unconscious it is here. Like almost every product that I talk about in the book that you know the Walkman, Hello Kitty Nintendo Entertainment System, you know toys and gadgets and gizmos of all kinds of none of the people who made these things were often what we would think of as Geniuses in the sense that they actually had the idea.
00:34:53 Speaker 1
And created this stuff, but none of them had a slightest clue how people would actually be embracing and using them, and that they often started using them in different ways. And some of those creators were more flexible in dealing with that than others, like Sony famously thought the Walkman was going to be a toy for students to use when they were studying and not disturb their parents.
00:35:13 Speaker 1
But like when it started taking off abroad, like Sony's aquamarine is like, OK, wrap up, you know, let's will make more and suddenly they made 2 million of them within a couple years. It's like, wait so around town with them. Exactly exactly, people like isolating themselves. That was the whole thing. Like Sony's like. They they initially thought that it would only be limited because it was too isolating to use.
00:35:33 Speaker 1
And then they quickly everybody started realizing isolation was the whole point that was. That was why we wanted the Walkman. And but they, you know, to their credit they quickly grasped that you know. And so it it's. But it's interesting, like it it. The the book was to me a study in how impossible it is to create.
00:35:53 Speaker 1
The world changing hit.
00:35:55 Speaker 1
You know, by design it almost always happens by chance, and only in looking back you realize how those pieces fit together so perfectly with some new aspect of our lifestyle that we didn't even know existed.
00:36:09 Speaker 1
You know, OK so yeah.
00:36:13 Speaker 2
Well, this is a great spot. We're gonna head into the shinkon send speed round.
00:36:18 Speaker 1
OK, what is this Max? I'm excited now. OK OK.
00:36:21 Speaker 2
OK, so some quick fire questions for yes.
00:36:24 Speaker 2
OK, where were you born?
00:36:25 Speaker 1
I was born in Washington DC.
00:36:27 Speaker 2
And where do you currently reside? Tokyo, Tokyo?
00:36:31 Speaker 2
Japan OK? How old are you now?
00:36:34 Speaker 1
Oh Man, I'm 46, OK?
00:36:38 Speaker 2
And what do you do for stress relief?
00:36:40 Speaker 1
Stress rule actually I'm a I'm a jogar. I'm a big joger gijang. I don't play video games or any of the things you might expect, you know, but yeah, I'd mainly mainly jogging and drinking, is that count?
00:36:52 Speaker 2
That counts, of course.
00:36:54 Speaker 2
Well, video games is work for you so that.
00:36:56 Speaker 1
Yeah, that's the thing, right? That's the thing.
00:36:59 Speaker 2
Yeah, well, what is the Japanese food or drink that you're sort of hooked on right now?
00:37:04 Speaker 1
Oh food or drink that I'm hooked done right now. You know people. People are often surprised to hear this. I love natto, which is the Japanese fermented soybeans an like Westerners are like, and I'm like why it's like, you know, you eat for spoiled fermented milk all the time in the form of cheese.
00:37:21 Speaker 1
You know, it's like if you want to look and you.
00:37:23 Speaker 1
You eat spoiled grain as beer.
00:37:25 Speaker 1
You know what I mean? So it's it's I.
00:37:27 Speaker 1
I love fermented foods in Japan. Does fermented foods really well? Yeah yeah. Yeah. Very healthy yes.
00:37:34 Speaker 2
Where was the last place that you vacationed and for how long?
00:37:38 Speaker 1
00:37:40 Speaker 2
Oh, right before.
00:37:41 Speaker 1
The lockdown it was our big gift to ourselves after I had, basically hikikomori, like locked myself in my house for a year, writing the book we went to the South Island, New Zealand.
00:37:53 Speaker 1
Mount Al Rocky.
00:37:55 Speaker 1
And which sounds like Dothraki or something from the Game of Thrones. It's beautiful, beautiful mountain range in New Zealand was great. I I really want to get back there. It's winter now.
00:38:05 Speaker 2
OK, I would say you should have done yourself a favor and maybe stayed there.
00:38:09 Speaker 1
Yes, exactly would be the one place I.
00:38:12 Speaker 2
Guess that's exactly.
00:38:14 Speaker 2
Got a handle on this.
00:38:15 Speaker 1
00:38:18 Speaker 2
Yeah, alright. At what book would you recommend for our small business Japan listeners?
00:38:24 Speaker 1
Is this limited to business books or could it be anything? Can be life so actually I I am reading I'm reading in this book needs no more like promotion from me, but I've been reading the book sapiens which is really interesting, which is like a giant.
00:38:37 Speaker 1
History of the entire of all of humanity, and that's my big picture book I'm reading. And then my the pinpoint focused book. I'm reading that I really recommend is 1 called Me Torah, which is about how Japanese fashion redefined American fashion tastes like, you know, all of those crazy artisanal denim makers who transform jeans from like a schlubby
00:39:02 Speaker 1
Pair of slacks into like you know, the most desirable pants on the planet kind of thing. It's written by a friend of mine named David Markson. It's just. It's a really great deep dive on on that aspect.
00:39:11 Speaker 1
Of Culture Sounds Cool, Yeah?
00:39:14 Speaker 1
You should have him on. He's great. Yeah, yeah.
00:39:18 Speaker 2
So let's see what advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own small business?
00:39:25 Speaker 1
00:39:27 Speaker 1
Do it on the side of a quote, unquote real job, until it starts to get to the point where you know you need to focus on that. If you only think you have to focus on something, you probably have bandwidth to do something else and also don't shy away from working a day job that might seem like it's not.
00:39:47 Speaker 1
00:39:49 Speaker 1
Connected to what you're doing, I you know when I was in my 20s I'd be like Oh Man I only want to do something related to Japan, but I did a lot of like you know temp jobs and part time jobs and things like that in offices that gave me insight into how businesses run and things like that, you know so don't don't rush headlong into launching something you can often do it on the side.
00:40:11 Speaker 1
And kind of test it out before you, you know, jump in head first now, yeah.
00:40:19 Speaker 2
What's something that you're excited about right now?
00:40:22 Speaker 1
Even besides promoting my book the that's, I mean that's absolutely the thing that's that I'm most excited about right now, is is.
00:40:31 Speaker 1
Trying to get the word out about this. I've never ever.
Produced anything with my name on it of this level before, so you know learning, but it's not. It's not an ego boost, it's how do you make and sell an market ideas to people that an an that's you know been a really eye opening experience to me and something that's really.
You know how do you evangelize something without coming across as an insane evangelist? You know, like that's that's been a really interesting thing. That's what I've been pouring all of my effort into 'cause the book just came out last week. It's like this is like all I'm thinking about right now, and that's how you have to live it. You know, when you when you do something like this, and how do you live it without becoming boring?
Everybody around you, right? You know you have to remember that they want to be entertained and they want to be part of the conversation. They don't want you just to be like, hey, can I tell you about The Walking Dead again? You know, for this 37th time you know it's they they, you know you. It's a It's a back and forth. The give and take and that's really energizing when it goes. Well, right you know I love hearing back from readers about what they like and getting in conversations with them so.
Yeah, have you found?
Any guidance from your editor or your agent on OK? How do I you know? Up until now, you've you've basically promoted all Japan and Yeah, some of you know your other endeavors. This seems like.
A new marketing arena free.
Oh sure, sure, no. Absolutely. And like taking advantage of all of that wisdom around you from my agent to my editors, to the public, there's a publicity Department. Penguinrandomhouse, of course. And you know, going along with these suggestions at every step of the way, that might not necessarily be the way that.
I would have done things like being open to ideas from other people and being open to trying new approaches. Sometimes the things I was so fixated on is being no no. I'm going to do it this way and now looking back it went the way that the editor or my agent or somebody had suggested doing it, and I'm glad. And that's also happening with the marketing. You know, I got a lot of advice in setting up like an online presence like I had to set up like.
My own website and things that I had never done before. We had all Japan website but I didn't have a map alt.com website and those turned out to be really great pieces of advice, so you know it's it's also about listening as much as anything else.
Yeah OK, yeah. So what is next for you short term?
Today on the Small Business Japan Podcast I talk with Matt Alt about how he built a business in Japan around the lifestyle he and his wife wanted to lead and did it in the translation and content creation industry from within the pop culture creation machine.
Well, you know our I'd like to, but you know how things go they, you know we still have our our regular host of clients that we're working with. But of course I'd love to do another follow up to pure invention. That's something that wouldn't be happening for several years at least, but that's always on my mind. What's the next big trend? What's the next big story that I can tell it, really?
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