By AnimeEv 2 years, 10 months ago
Patrick Galbraith lives for anime. It’s not something he does for fun. It’s not a hobby. It’s not something to fill the time until he starts dating somebody else who drags him into a Harry Potter fixation or something. No. Patrick LIVES for anime.
I first met Mr. Galbraith in Tokyo while working for some entertainment and travel companies. His love of animation and fascination with Japanese pop culture was apparent from day one, and while some of us talk about, I can guarantee you that Patrick is busy BEING about it, and also researching whatever “it” is and writing about it for such outlets as Otaku2.com and Metropolis magazine.
Patrick is also, of course, well-known as the iconic Akihabara tour guide Gaigokujin… whose mysterious origin will finally be explicated in this interview!
Love. Of anime, yes, but specifically of bishoujo in anime. When I was growing up in Alaska, my oldest brother was learning Japanese. He was in high school, I was maybe 6 or 7 years old. He would bring home VHS tapes of anime, stuff like Bubblegum Crisis and Megazone 23. One day, he was watching Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and I pleaded my way into the big boy club. Only the blasted thing was in Japanese, and it is a complex story to begin with! I just sat there, entranced by the art, by the moving images. I was especially draw to Nausicaä because, let’s face it, the girl is cute. She ruined me for real women. I probably sound like a total pervert, but remember that she was older than me when our relationship started. Now, I am a middle-aged, balding, overweight man and she is still as vibrant as ever. This is the problem when you fall in love with images in the media. The meanings grow up with you, but the characters do not. Anyway, I started to think like this, you know, that anime was this great and wonderful thing that I wanted so much to be a part of. Literally, to join the two-dimensional world. I tried to learn Japanese and watch as much anime as I could. I sort of became my thing. I was maybe 12 or so when my dad got sacked and we moved to a ranch in Montana. My brother stayed in Alaska, and I had a terrible time adjusting. I mean, damn, middle school in a totally new place? I was an unsociable bastard to begin with, and this awkward transition was too much to bear. I retreated into my room and into anime. I had bad experiences with sports, which my dad forced me into, and a girl, who I pursued owning to peer pressure. Long story short, I stopped talking to people and started tattooing my two-dimensional wives on my body. It was an extreme form of escapism, but it made me happy to think I was not alone. It’s a pathetic story, but I started to think there was nothing else for me and pursued anime with single-minded determination. I went to university and studied Japanese language and print journalism. Pretty stupid, really, because Japanese language was becoming less important since the end of Cold War politics and the Japanese “Bubble Economy,” and print journalism was already in decline. I didn’t care, though. I just wanted to come to Japan. I finally did in 2004. Though I had taken many classes in Japanese history, literature, culture, society and so on, I quickly found that I was really confused about Japan. After all, I was searching for the fantasyland I encountered in anime. That, and all the kanji and grammar I learned in translation class did nothing to help me communicate with people in Japan. I decided to start over again, and entered a graduate program in Japan Studies at Sophia University in Tokyo.
Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies.
Sure! I would start off by recommending doing fieldwork in Japan, or at least spending a year or two at a university while you collect data. It is a stimulating environment. You feel the pulse of popular culture, talk about it with fellow grad students, and have the benefit of a wealth of information. This includes archives, of course, but just material all around you, regular events and lectures, the works. There is cheap academic literature in major bookstores, fascinating stuff on myriad facets of Japanese popular culture. It doesn’t often make it out of Japan, but is a potential goldmine of ideas. It is faster and easier if you speak Japanese, but these texts tend to be written in simple language for a popular audience. You can get through it with a dictionary. Further, you have direct access to Japanese scholars working on topics related to your own. For me, having this kind of contact made all the difference. There are recently a few universities in Japan offering programs that might interest scholars of anime and manga. Kyoto Seika University has a graduate program in manga studies, which includes both practical and theoretical courses. They also run the Kyoto International Manga Museum. Meiji University has its School of Global Japanese Studies. It is a new program, but definitely worth checking out. Morikawa Kaichiro is there, and planning to open the Tokyo International Manga Library in 2014. Sophia University, Temple University Japan Campus and International Christian University are great, because courses are in English, and you have access to visiting professors from around the world. These really aren’t emphasizing popular culture, but you will find many interesting courses are offered.
Are you suggesting that I am not serious all the time? You wouldn’t be the first. I was severely criticized at an academic conference where I presented on the concept of moe. One man stood up and said to me, “You are at the University of Tokyo. Study politics.” Another time, I was asked by this TV crew to come to school wearing my Goku costume. I told them that it was impossible – the university would never agree. They called me back the next day, saying they had spoken to the university and got clearance. I had meant to politely excuse myself, but now the university had approved it. It was an early morning shoot, no one would see me, they said. Well, my academic advisor kind of did see me. He politely suggested I keep it in Akihabara. Another scholar told me that I would be blacklisted if people started to connect my academic and public appearances. I understand all of that, but perhaps it’s an overreaction. Everything has its place, be it a suit and tie or an orange jumpsuit and blond wig. There are times when a colorful costume is the best way to communicate. Just maybe not during class!
You mean Gaigokujin? That really isn’t an alter ego! I just wear a costume of Goku from Dragon Ball Z when I do the Akihabara tour. I started doing in 2007, shortly after I co-founded the first regularly scheduled, English language tour of Akihabara. One of the other co-founders, Adrian Lozano, gave me the name Gaigokujin, which means something like “Foreign Goku,” mixing “gaikokujin” (foreigner) with Goku. Replacing the “k” of gaikokujin with the “g” of Goku makes is sound like pronunciation mistake a foreigner might make in Japanese, and the “u” sound is lengthened to reflect the pronunciation of Goku. I am not a cosplayer or anything, and look nothing like Goku. The name was a way of telling people, especially Japanese people, that this wasn’t a serious thing. It was a light-hearted joke, meaning no disrespect to the iconic Goku or cosplayers inside or outside Japan. The character was my own and reflected only my enthusiasm. At the time, the pedestrian paradise was in full swing, so Chuu-ou Street was closed to vehicular traffic on the weekends and filled with performers, cosplayers, idols and cameramen. It was a wild time, and wearing the costume actually helped me fit in. The tour group would meet up with people on the street and participate in the vibrant culture. It was a great experience for everyone, I think, so that is part of why I did it. Another reason was that I was conducting ethnography of Akihabara, and wanted to experience bodily what it was like to be publicly scrutinized as an “otaku.” I was able to collect a lot of survey information from tour goers, and make connections with people on the street. Having spiky Super Saiyan locks also meant I was easy to find for the tour group, and they could follow me even without one of those wand thingies. An unintended side effect of being a foreigner dressed as Goku was extensive media exposure. The image kind of stuck, and now I am frequently asked to appear on TV in costume. I usually refuse, because I am not a TV talent, and am busy writing my thesis at the University of Tokyo. I also don’t like the way these appearances are complicit with the creation of a certain image of otaku, which is skewed towards Akihabara and moe. I am not representative of anyone but myself, and I’d rather they did not call me an “otaku,” because it gives people the wrong idea.
I don’t sleep much. Or work that much! I live for anime, idols and bishoujo games. My studies and writings tend to be focused on these things because watching anime, following idols and playing bishoujo games is all that I do. That is not an exaggeration. I have no friends, no social life. Without such distractions, it is surprisingly easy to make time for my hobbies. It’s actually a little pathetic, or so I am told, but how can it be wrong when it feels so right?
This is actually the first I have heard of this. I wrote an article about dolls for Metropolis magazine back in 2007, and it seems to have since taken on a life of its own. I was merely interested in knowing more about the doll industry in Japan, but was surprised to find that not a lot had been written. I did a little investigative journalism, mostly interviews with industry people, but also doll enthusiasts, who called themselves users. It is a little shocking to me that this article is considered controversial. It was just an overview of the growing industry. I don’t recall including any shocking images or bizarre portrayals of fans. As a rule, I try to avoid that type of reporting on Japan. Though very popular, these stories spread the image of Japan as a weird, perverse nation. That is not the sort of thing I want to be a part of. The fact that people involved in doll culture talked to me at length should demonstrate my benevolence. In fact, everyone I interviewed liked the article, and praised its sensitivity. Looking back, I only regret that I casually included sex dolls and resin ball joint dolls in the same article, which might have been confusing for some people. I did not mean to imply that they are the same – I meant no disrespect. Both industries were booming at the time, and that was the focus of the article. To be fair, it should have been two separate pieces. But I don’t think it was too erotic.
It was very hard to decide what words should go into the text and the amount of detail to go into in a given entry. The book is only 250 pages long, and space fills quite rapidly when documenting a complex culture, or rather a collection of cultures. I started with well over 500 pages of just text, which was narrowed down to the current selection. My editor, Andrew Lee, was a tremendous help in this process. He said we needed to think about the target audience and make the material as accessible as possible, rather than just a collection of random bits of data that would appeal to most seasoned of otaku. The ultimate goal was to build understanding and promote otaku culture, so those already steeped in the culture ostensibly need it least, though I still feel there is information of interest in here for all otaku. Kodansha International also wanted the book to be a self-standing reference, or to eliminate the need to look up Japanese words and concepts that appeared in interviews or the text without qualification. Sometimes these are not necessarily related to otaku culture, for example White Day. We also included things that appear in anime, manga and videogames, but are not necessarily related to otaku, for example the neighborhood of Shibuya and the “gal” subculture. The goal was to orient people who interested in learning more about otaku culture, which means learning a little about Japanese popular culture, and about Japan, as well. So, we didn’t include many specific anime, manga or videogame series unless they were related to the history of otaku culture or were just too important and iconic to not know about in a discussion of otaku. Some older stuff, like kaiju and cult film, was not included to the extent that they deserve, just because of space limitations. Entries for newer stuff, especially specific series, were also limited. This was because, for example, you kind of need to know about doujin culture and Nico Nico Douga before you start talking about The Touhou Project, right? We wanted to provide the basis for the discussion, and that unfortunately left us little space to talk about specific series to the extent that they deserve. I hope that there will be a chance in the future to do an expanded edition of The Otaku Encyclopedia, which would be much more complete. But, on the other hand, the more pages the book has, the more expensive it becomes. There is a delicate balance there, and the editors and I agreed it was important to keep the book inexpensive and see it widely read. I hope each reader will use this as a starting point to explore otaku culture on his or her own.
I wanted to include Book Off, which is such a great source for cheap manga, artbooks, games and anime DVDs, but the editors thought we should not include too many specific stores. The rational was much the same as what was said of specific series. They argued that if we opened that door, then we would have to include every store frequented by otaku. With series, we would have to include every anime series beloved by otaku, right? This is of course impossible given page limits. As one editor put it, the goal was not to create a shopping guide or listing of otaku stores. The rule was if a store was strongly associated with otaku, or had a place in the rise of otaku culture, then it would be included. Not even all of these stores had space for their own entries. Manga no Mori and Messe Sanoh might have been included. Or Liberty and K-Books. The list just goes on and on, but it was decided that other words had priority this time.
I have been really busy trying to get my Ph.D. thesis finished, and also writing academic papers. Those who are interested might want to check out Mechademia 5 this fall. I have an essay on Akihabara and a dialogue with Thomas Lamarre on otaku in that volume. I am not doing the Akihabara tour with H.I.S. Experience Japan anymore, just because I am too busy to do it every weekend, but it is still open for reservations. Check out Otaku2.com for details. Also, I recently worked with White Rabbit Press to release Tokyo Realtime: Akihabara, an audio version of the tour. It includes guest appearances by Patrick Macias, Danny Choo and Morikawa Kaichiro, among others. The production values and packaging of the CD, map and photo album are incredible, thanks to Max Hodges. I am also working on a few more book projects, which I hope to finish this year. My goals are somewhat separate from this activity, though. My primary goal is to marry Yamada from B-gata H-kei. She is so self-absorbed, but I know she is just shy and unable to express her true feelings. It will take a while to win her heart, but I’m in it for the long haul. Come to think of it, I want to marry every character voiced by Tamura Yukari. And to live happily ever after with Furukawa Nagisa. All at once. That’s the dream, brother.
I think it is a positive development. I celebrate those who worked so hard for this behind the scenes, the business owners and members of the Chiyouda Ward council. It seems that people are finally ready to consider the value of having a lively street culture. That said, there are many who are very anxious about this. They wonder if it won’t be inviting shenanigans. Making a spectacle of oneself and blocking pedestrian traffic, harassing people or becoming a nuisance, flashing people on the street, shooting off pellet guns, flashing replica weapons, you know, all the good fun that everyone was having in 2007 and 2008. I personally believe that the media had a lot to do with creating this media circus – the performances would never have gotten so out of hand if there hadn’t been cameras pointed at people all the time – but the blame still tends to be on otaku, so-called otaku, on the streets of Akihabara. I don’t think most otaku want to be associated with these images of street performers, anyway. In 2009, just days before the one year anniversary of the tragedy in Akihabara, Art Jeuness hosted a photo exhibition about the pedestrian paradise, and surveyed visitors if they wanted it to come back. Surprisingly, the majority was against its revival. Most people said that they wanted it back, but realized that things had gotten out of control and needed to be reigned in. That seems a responsible stance. I think everyone is going to be more cautious about what they do now. I don’t think there will be a bohemian paradise or anything! What I am getting at is this – there is an expectation that people in Akihabara will be under public scrutiny, and a move to self-censor performances. We will all have to see how things develop from here.
I am part of an Information Studies faculty, which teaches us the value of the Internet. When a new topic comes up, we are encouraged to first investigate it online. There is so much information available that you are bound to turn up something. However, this is not the end of research. In fact, it is only the beginning of the learning process. It gives you a general idea of the topic, and from there you have to investigate further with newspaper, magazine and book articles. One source is not enough, especially when it is likely to be anonymous. There is a greater level of accountability when names are known and editors are involved. At the same time, publication also entails a certain amount of thought censorship. 2channel is a great example. A lot of what is out there is speculative and even false, but some of it is information that can’t be accessed elsewhere. For example, I recall encountering one thread on 2chan where fans were digging into the life of a certain idol. They had information that could not be found elsewhere. This, of course, was not something to be published. In another case, users were trying to discover the identity of a certain idol who was implicated in a scandal, and they collectively narrowed it down to likely candidates. The potential for cooperative problem solving and knowledge production is incredible. However, as with all research, you have to consider the source. This is not a book or whatever, but it is valid in a different way. Is a company interview with an idol any truer? Maybe not. Or rather, they are both valuable information, but we nevertheless need to consider how the information is generated and under what conditions. For me the Internet is a good starting point for research, a place to launch a cursory study and get a feel for what is out there. The ideas generated from a data dive can be cultivated in further research.
I appreciate the sentiment, but I am neither Gaigokujin nor a respected professor! Seriously, I am ambivalent about my future. The only doctors I know are insane villains, like Doctor Doom or Doctor Tenma, and they’re not role models for a growing boy. I have a long way to go before I can even imagine teaching full time, and the academic job market, like everywhere else, is pretty tough these days. I am just an anime fan who is writing about the things that I love. I am really lucky to be in a position where I can do the things I want to do. I can only hope that I will continue to be so blessed.
Patrick W. Galbraith is a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies at the University of Tokyo. His research focus is the impact of shifts in modes of capitalism and consumption on youth culture, specifically otaku in Japan. In 2007, he cofounded a weekly walking tour of Akihabara and Otaku2.com. He is the author of Tokyo Realtime: Akihabara and The Otaku Encyclopedia. Recent and upcoming publications include “Moe: Exploring Virtual Potential in Post-Millennial Japan” (Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies), “Akihabara: Conditioning a Public ‘Otaku’ Image” (Mechademia 5) and “Fujoshi: Girls and Women Exploring Transgressive Intimacy in Japan” (Signs).
The Otaku Encyclopedia:
Gaigokujin, Patrick Galbraith, anime, metropolis, otaku2