Roland Kelts, JAPANAMERICA and His Faith in Creativity

With Covid-19 a part of our reality, conventions have become digital. Geek Impulse has had a rough year as many have. So we were honored to be invited back again this year by Crunchyroll who also gave us another honor by allowing us to interview multiple guests at a safe distance of course, Digitally. Please enjoy our interview with the one and only Roland Kelts!

Joshua Sexton (VS): Tell us how you got started specializing in Japanese Culture and how has it evolved over the years around the world?

Roland Kelts (RK): I lived in Japan for the first time when I was 5 years old. My Japanese mother brought me over from New York to live with my grandparents and attend kindergarten in the northern city of Morioka. I specialized in three areas of Japanese culture: Insect collecting, Ultraman Taro and Sumo wrestling, which I acted out on the tatami mat floor with my grandfather.

Oh, also sake, which my grandfather let me sip when my mother wasn’t looking.

Back in the US, most of my friends in New England neither knew nor care about the difference between China and Japan or the rest of the massive region that is still lazily called “Asia” in English.

I visited Japan every summer with my mother and caught on to manga, anime and tokusatsu (FX) shows, but none of my friends knew more than the Sony Walkman, Japanese TVs, stereos and cars.

Roland Kelts Geek Impulse Interview

Now, of course, most everyone knows what happened. Sushi is in US supermarkets, Pikachu and Goku are in the Macy’s Parade, and Animal Crossing is the pandemic panacea. I wrote a whole book about it called JAPANAMERICA that still pays me royalties twice a year.

Also, now I live in Tokyo. And this time I’m writing about the real Japan.

VS – – What can you tell us about your book Japanamerica and what we can expect from you next?

RK – – I’m amazed by two things about JAPANAMERICA: First, that it correctly predicted so much about the global appeal and accessibility of Japanese pop culture, and Second, that it’s such a personal story.

I get readers who hand me little gifts at book signings and say, “I was really moved by your personal struggles,” and I think — what? How do you know? And then they cite some passage in the book where I write about growing up half Japanese in the US that I forgot I wrote.

So that’s become more of the focus of the novel I’m writing now, which is partly autobiographical, of course, since I’m more me now than I was before. And there’s also a new guide to great anime I’m writing in conjunction with Crunchyroll that will be published next year by Hachette. And a third book that I’m legally bound to shut up about. 

VS – – What was it like interviewing such legends as Hayao Miyazaki, Makoto Shinkai etc.. and what did you learn from any of them that changed your life?

RK – – It’s an honor and a privilege, of course, which means it carries a certain sense of responsibility. But it’s also great fun to have a job that pays me to talk to them. Everyone’s working so hard and on such tight schedules. To sit down and chat is a bit of a relief for all of us, really.

I don’t think anything specific they’ve told me changed my life because my life isn’t changed by things that people say. But people like Miyazaki, Shinkai, Yoshiyuki Tomino and others have confirmed my faith in creativity for its own sake. They all love to have commercial success, but it’s never what governs their imaginations.

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