Promoting cross-cultural communication
and understanding through the support of a hybrid community at the intersection
of Japanese, US, and other cultures.
Chanpon.org is a
site devoted to the mixture of Japanese culture with other cultures. In
addition to a web log that any reader can comment on, chanpon.org supports
a mailing list and events for registered members.
Chanpon is a Japanese word meaning a mixture of disparate things. One
common usage is in 'Nagasaki chanpon' which is a noodle dish developed
in the international port city of Nagasaki, where a mixture of ingredients
such as fish, vegetable, and meat are tossed together.
Among the international community in Tokyo, the word chanpon is used to
describe the blending of Japanese and English (as in 'it's so oishii ne.'),
distinct from more mainstream forms of bilingualism, which involve switching
between one or the other language.
Chanpon is a celebration of the space at the intersection of cultures,
where multiple viewpoints are embraced without necessarily resolving into
a coherent whole. Chanpon identity means being able to navigate and embrace
different cultural styles simultaneously; it means not only direct experience
with multiple cultures, but being able to blend them into a unique and
tasty combination. Chanpon culture is a third culture that is not wholly
defined by any mainstream national cultures, but can function as a bridge
between them and a source of inspiration, innovation, and cross-cultural
Chanpon.org was started by a group of alumni from the American School
in Japan and Nishimachi International School, who felt that we could use
the Internet to support a cultural mix that is like what we grew up with
as part of the international community in Tokyo. Practically speaking,
this means that we are a group of people that have had long-term experience
with Japanese and at least one other culture.
While providing resources to the general public, the heart of this site
is member generated and member supported. We encourage you to get involved
and to contribute to the site in any way you can, by joining the discussion,
submitting some writing, launching a project, or providing a donation.
Chanpon.org is administered by the Momoko Ito Foundation, a 501(c)(3)
nonprofit organization which Joi Ito, Mimi Ito, and Scott Fisher set up
in memory of their mother.
2005 10 11
Anime and Learning Japanese Culture
by Mizuko Ito
In her master's thesis submitted to the East Asian
Studies Center at USC, Annie Manion argues that among college students
in the US, anime has become one of the most important drivers of interest
in Japan and Japanese language study. Drawing from surveys and interviews
of students taking Japanese language classes and anime club members, Manion
suggests that "there is a good deal of overlap" between young
people studying Japanese and those involved with the anime fan community.
Over half of Japanese language students cited "understanding Japanese
anime, music, etc." as one reason they are taking a Japanese class.
“... over the last few years the type of student interest in Japan
has been changing. Where in the past Japanese language programs attracted
people interested in learning about Japanese economic growth and business
practices, recently Japanese language students seem more interested in
Japanese culture. A recent article for the Wall Street Journal addressed
the trend, saying that in the past nine years, the majority of Japanese
language students at the University of Georgia are no longer international
business majors, but rather Japanese culture fanatics.”
In line with other research by scholars such as Susan Napier or Anne Allison,
Annie has found that national origin is not necessarily what attracts
young people to anime. But she has also found that once someone becomes
an anime fan, they often develop an interest in learning more about Japan.
"The fact is that people who like anime, depending on their exposure
to Japanese culture, tend to like many aspects of Japanese culture, from
popular to traditional, as well, and develop at some point either the
desire to learn Japanese or visit Japan."
I had been hearing a lot of anecdotal information from faculty and students
at USC about how the tide has shifted in the kinds of interests that bring
young Americans to an interest in Japan. While anime is not the only type
of Japanese popular culture that has gotten interest among American children
and youth, it is probably the most dominant. Annie's thesis makes a strong
case about these trends. She also argues that it is high time we took
anime seriously in the academy as an ambassador for Japanese culture.
She notes that anime continues to be marginalized in the US despite its
broad appeal among young people. "Because of this many young people
are not encouraged to pursue their interest in anime, and it is still
uncommon for anime to be used in formal classroom settings as a means
to teach about Japan." As a member of the academy who is researching
and teaching about anime, I couldn't agree more.
2005 12 01
Fortune Finds Otaku
by Mizuko Ito
This week's Fortune features an article, Anime Explosion
on the growth of the anime and otaku market in the US. The gist of the
message is that US companies catering to the otaku market have a unique
formula for success that involves listening to fans and fandom esoterica,
and embracing the latest distribution technologies. This includes a truce
with online fansubbers and filesharing, where online distribution is tolerated
until the show is licensed in the US, after which fansubbers will voluntary
take their files down.
A few numbers jumped out at me. Conventions: Otakon in Baltimore was sold
out this year with 22,000 fans. Anime Explo in Anaheim had 33,000. Anime
and manga are now a $625 million industry in N. American retail. The output
of the top US DVD distributor in the US, ADV, is more than the combined
DVD distribution of Warner Brothers and Paramount, the top two US TV show
distributors. No wonder Fortune is paying attention.
* * *
Dr. Mizuko Ito, one of the founders of chanpon.org, is a cultural
anthropologist at the Annenberg Center for Communication at the University
of Southern California, and a visiting associate professor at the Keio
University Graduate School of Media and Governance. In 1998, she received
a Ph.D. from the Department of Education at Stanford University for her
dissertation: Interactive Media for Play: Kids, Computer Games and
the Productions of Everyday Life. In 2003, she received a Ph.D. from
the Department of Anthropology for her dissertation: Engineering
Play: Children’s Software and the Productions of Everyday Life."
With Matsuda Misa and Okabe Daisuke, Ito edited Personal, Portable,
Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life (MIT Press, 2005)
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