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I'm a pretty big deal in Japan.
January 12, 2014 6:22 AM   Subscribe

You might not know me, but I’m famous. Don’t feel bad. Until recently, I didn’t know I was famous either, and most days, even now, it’s hard to tell.
posted by graventy (64 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's hilarious! Thanks! :)
posted by jeffburdges at 6:32 AM on January 12


That must feel totally surreal. But then from what I've heard, being famous generally does feel surreal, at least at first.
posted by orange swan at 6:43 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Improv Everywhere is getting out of control.
posted by Ian A.T. at 6:48 AM on January 12 [46 favorites]


The trailer for the Japanese movie based on the book.
posted by octothorpe at 6:57 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


Time to start working on the Japanese translation of my novel.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:58 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


That's a pretty interesting piece, and the books sound like ones I'd like, so I'll go looking for them. Maybe this dude can become famous in Canada, too.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:59 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


And apparently he didn't even give a single thought to the person who made it all possible: the translator.
Who obviously did a fantastic job.
Did he even make an effort to meet him or her?
posted by sour cream at 7:11 AM on January 12 [47 favorites]


There should be a word for this -- doppelfamer maybe? Because just like those little moments of deja vu we all get, we should all have a moment of being inexplicably famous in a place we have never been, for reasons we don't understand.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:12 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


I have the feeling his translator writes circles around him.

I can't wait to read the English subtitles for the Japanese movie.
posted by pracowity at 7:19 AM on January 12 [10 favorites]


Wait for his follow up book, Macho Business Donkey Wrestler.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:26 AM on January 12 [13 favorites]


This reminds me of an interview I read w/ Connie Willis once. She said that science fiction fame was ideal, because she could go to a convention, & be famous, but then go home & live normally. This seems like that on a larger scale.
posted by broken wheelchair at 7:30 AM on January 12 [15 favorites]


The movie's soundtrack was all covers of Jesse and the Rippers songs!
posted by griphus at 7:35 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


Because just like those little moments of deja vu we all get, we should all have a moment of being inexplicably famous in a place we have never been, for reasons we don't understand.

I was once recognized in Toronto by someone who had seen me Dj in DC a few weeks prior. It was as bizarre to experience as you'd imagine. He stopped and wanted me to take a picture with him and everything, and dragged me over to talk to his friends. Totally surreal experience, and I had no idea how to handle it, being naturally introverted, and you know, being basically nobody special in DC, but he didn't really know that. Even as an exceedingly minor 'someone' in a small local scene, it's weird when people know you and you don't know them, but they talk to you like you're friends. I was drinking enough back then that chances are, I wouldn't have remembered talking to half the people I met at clubs anyway, so it always took me a while to figure out if I actually knew the person or not.

I really admire the famous people I've met that people describe as 'down to earth' because it's not at all a natural situation to be in to try and make casual conversation with strangers who know a lot about you. A lot of them just hide from people when they're not performing because they can't deal with it.
posted by empath at 7:42 AM on January 12 [8 favorites]


applauded my ability to eat with chopsticks

From my visit the Japan, many, perhaps most, Japanese are amazed that a Westerner can use chop sticks.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:10 AM on January 12 [6 favorites]


Does anyone know how much books change in translation? Is it likely the book is substantially different in Japanese?
posted by zscore at 8:39 AM on January 12


I volunteer to read this man's book!
posted by stinkfoot at 9:04 AM on January 12


He left out the bit where he meets Scarlett Johansson in the hotel bar and has a series of emotionally meaningful experiences with her but is too wise to just sleep with her and then fucks it all up with some chanteuse.
posted by Nelson at 9:15 AM on January 12 [37 favorites]


Does anyone know how much books change in translation?

Possibly a lot, in tone especially. I thought To Kill a Mockingbird to be a pretty bad book until I read it again in English, having read a particularly terrible translation.
Could go the other way, probably?
posted by lbebber at 9:33 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


I recorded a song once, for a friend, and much later at a party someone I'd never met before heard my name, said "oh, are you the [name] who did [song?] I love that song!" and, unprompted, showed me how he had my song on his iPod.

That tiny little experience made me absolutely certain that fame is not a thing I seek. It was like taking a small sip of a huge [insert drink everyone else likes but you don't], thinking "huh. How weird. I can see how some people might really want more of that. Oh, no more for me, thank you, I'm good."
posted by davejay at 9:40 AM on January 12


So, instead of appreciate the point of the article, which is "it's weird to be famous in another country when one isn't at home" -instead, we must assume that the original book must be terrible and the translator must be a hero?

Yeah, this is Metafilter. Where no stone must be left unturned, instead used to throw at someone.

(besides, the original book was good enough for him to get another book contract so I assume he must be at least a passably competent author.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:41 AM on January 12 [32 favorites]


Taking his new internet fame in stride, the author is having an AMA on Reddit.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:48 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


Tom Waits told me about this phenomenon once.

Searching for Sugar Man is a fairly fascinating documentary about a "failed" American musician who worked his whole life in a deadend construction job, totally unaware that he was a Bob Dylan-level famous rock star in South Africa.
posted by dgaicun at 10:09 AM on January 12 [15 favorites]


The odd, or oddest, part, was that I had always been a fan of Japanese culture, its films, books and art, though I had never studied it, and it played no role in my books. It was like having a distant teenage crush on someone who suddenly wrote and said, “I like you, too.”


That would be really cool.
posted by louche mustachio at 10:15 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


I was left wondering what it was about his book that resonated in Japan.
posted by Area Man at 10:16 AM on January 12 [6 favorites]


As usual the Simpsons has already covered this..
posted by bleep at 10:18 AM on January 12 [6 favorites]


He's doing an AMA on reddit.
posted by disclaimer at 10:28 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


My friend's band was huge in Japan in the 80s. (think Warrant or Scorpions) He had the same experience. Anonymous in the States and screaming teenage girls camped outside their hotel when on tour. Sounded like fun to me at the time, but he wasn't into it, and I think would have traded it all for a bit of stateside acclaim.
posted by sfts2 at 10:51 AM on January 12


There is a virtuoso Brazilian tambourine player named Marcos Suzano who is in awe of how many people take him seriously in Japan. It's always interesting to me what resonates somewhere else, and what doesn't.
posted by umbú at 10:56 AM on January 12


I think this is not that big a deal in literary circles.

A friend of mine is a literary fiction writer and has had much more success overseas than here in the US. He hasn't won major literary prizes in other countries (yet?), but at this point he's able to be a professional writer because a lot of people in Germany, of all places, are really excited about his work. Meanwhile here in the US he is lucky to be published by small presses.
posted by Sara C. at 10:58 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


I am thrilled, after reading this article, to find that not only did I get the point -- that it's weird to be famous in another country when one isn't at home -- but that so many of my fellow Mefites appreciated this point as well.

Yeah, this is Metafilter. Where people have all kinds of reasonable opinions about the linked material, and almost everyone refrains from basing uncharitable remarks on scant evidence.

This article made me interested in reading this book. As a (non-literary) Japanese-to-English translator, it made me interested to know who did the translation. I'm sure David Gordon knows, and that his surprise was mostly at the level of his celebrity, not at the fact his work had been translated in the first place.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 11:13 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


From the AMA, his translator's name is Aoki Chizuru, and his book is also popular in France, where it's called Polarama.
posted by subdee at 11:28 AM on January 12


Japan produces a lot of writers and artists. Are there any (or many?) examples of Japanese who are "Big in America" but nobodies at home?
posted by dgaicun at 11:29 AM on January 12


I think the more extreme Japanese horror directors like Takashi Miike have much more of an audience abroad than the do at home. In fact 'weird Japan' in general is much more of a thing beyond the shores and kind of an embarrassment at home. Being really into anime as a adult is seen as a nerd thing and not in a good way. Even the Harajuku cosplayers / rock an roll dancers are mainly a tourist thing.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:07 PM on January 12 [3 favorites]


It must be kind of nice to have a taste of the fame, but then be able to go home and not be bothered by paparazzi when you're in the grocery store.

He seems to have a level headed approach to the whole experience.
posted by arcticseal at 12:17 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Having read The Serialist shortly after it came out in the US, I've got to think this is a matter of a fantastic Japanese translator, or some really stellar marketing in Japan. Or perhaps he's hit on something that resonates much more with the average Japanese reader than it did with me or other Americans. It wasn't a bad book--on the contrary, I recommended it to a few people--but I can't imagine it winning any sort of major award here. I was not surprised by his assertion that it did just well enough in the US to get him a contract for his second book: I remember thinking after reading it that it was okay, and that I was looking forward to seeing what he would do with his career once he wrote something that wasn't so clearly a debut novel.
posted by libraritarian at 1:08 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


Searching for Sugar Man is highly recomeneded
posted by shockingbluamp at 1:17 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Japan produces a lot of writers and artists. Are there any (or many?) examples of Japanese who are "Big in America" but nobodies at home?

My understanding is that Banana Yoshimoto is more of a big deal over there than Murakami, but here she's pretty much unknown despite having some stylistic similarities. If someone has more details about that, I'd be glad to read them.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:19 PM on January 12


Just found this in the used bookstore! Made my day!
posted by JARED!!! at 1:32 PM on January 12


> "I have the feeling his translator writes circles around him."

Look, my parents are actually literary translators, and I have the greatest respect for the profession, which is often grossly undervalued, but ... no. I can pretty much guarantee this is not the reason his books are bigger in Japan.

(It definitely does happen in the *other* direction, where a translator screws up a book so badly that it isn't as popular in other countries. But that is not the same thing at all. Many translators believe that this is why Shakespeare is hugely popular in Germany but not nearly as much in France -- for a long time, there were excellent German translations and only lousy French ones. Although it could also be because he dissed Joan of Arc.)
posted by kyrademon at 1:47 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


Huh. This sounded like a book right up my alley but it's $16.18 for the Kindle version. Bizarrely, you can but the paperback for $3.00.
posted by dg at 1:50 PM on January 12


Fun read, that would be a nice sort of fame.

his book is also popular in France, where it's called Polarama

Mysteries are huge here. I don't know why; never quite got into the genre. The French for a crime mystery/thriller is "polar", btw.

Many translators believe that this is why Shakespeare is hugely popular in Germany but not nearly as much in France -- for a long time, there were excellent German translations and only lousy French ones. Although it could also be because he dissed Joan of Arc.

Nah, the reasons Shakespeare is less popular in France are Corneille, Molière, and Racine, to name Shakespeare's best-known French playwright contemporaries. All three are studied in-depth as we do the Bard in English-speaking countries. In France, Shakespeare starts gaining popularity once you reach high school English, and then naturally he's required at university for Engilsh majors. There are also Musset, Beaumarchais, Balzac, Hugo, Dumas, Mérimée, Flaubert, Zola... there is no lack of excellent French theatre.

Maybe there's a similar, flip-side reason for this book's popularity in other countries. In France it's mainly foreign mysteries that are popular, they have something of an exotic cachet, and they're easier to read in translation than novels.
posted by fraula at 2:17 PM on January 12 [7 favorites]


From my visit the Japan, many, perhaps most, Japanese are amazed that a Westerner can use chop sticks.

It's a bit of a thing, in Japan, to play up surprise/delight at Westerner familiarity with Japanese culture/things. You can safely assume that at least half or more of the amazement is usually just a form of courtesy/ritual. Japanese people are actually not that impressed that you can say "konichiwa" or whatever. I mean, it's nice, but they don't think it's like incredible, and are stoked that you made the effort to learn.

was not surprised by his assertion that it did just well enough in the US to get him a contract for his second book

It's a funny thing with publishing, isn't it. Your success at a subsequent contract often has more to do with how accurately the publisher guessed your book would sell, rather than its objective merits. I've known more than one author whose chances at contracts were cruelled because publishers (bizarrely, mistakenly) assumed that their books would sell huge numbers, and lost a tonne of money on them. If they had only printed a few thousand copies (like the few thousand that sold), the author would have had a contract no worries.

My understanding is that Banana Yoshimoto is more of a big deal over there than Murakami, but here she's pretty much unknown despite having some stylistic similarities. If someone has more details about that, I'd be glad to read them.

I don't know about that. Yoshimoto is certainly famous, but Murakami is one Japan's biggest selling authors, ever. He's sold literally millioins of books over there - like, maybe not Da Vinci code level, but very very popular mass market bestseller status. He would definitely have outsold Yoshimoto by a large margin, though his books are not regarded as so literary as they are over here, I believe.
posted by smoke at 2:56 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]


1Q84 was the biggest selling book in Japan by a very, very large margin, but there is definitely a sort of feeling that Murakami's writing is odd, usually paired with a kind of "it figures he'd be popular with foreigners" feeling. I know very few people here who are fans. Mrs. Ghidorah put the first volume (there were three in total) down after fifty or so pages, and never picked it up again.

While as yet relatively unknown in Japan, I'm huge in.... Damn. I'm not huge anywhere.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:16 PM on January 12


And apparently he didn't even give a single thought to the person who made it all possible: the translator.
Who obviously did a fantastic job.
Did he even make an effort to meet him or her?


It's something he has addressed in the AMA. Looks to me like he appreciates her work:
Question: "One thing that I wanted from the article was some speculation as to what appealed to the Japanese about your article. Aside from about one line about your understanding of women, there was little.

Has anyone sat down with you and explained how your foreign novel resonated so deeply with a notoriously insular Japanese culture?

Gordon: As I said below it is a bit of a mystery, except that there is definitely an interest in Japan in some of the subject matter I write about such as pulp novels, genre fiction etc. Also some of the things people sometimes critique me for here: discussing books and film and art, sexual content, etc etc were singled out there. Or maybe my translator just improved it massively.

Question: How many drinks have you purchased for your translator?

Gordon:
I got to shake her hand and thank her but that was it. I hope to buy her a dinner some day soon. She translated my second book MYSTERY GIRL too.

posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:21 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


I'm reminded of Donna Leon, who lives in Venice and writes mysteries set there. She won't let her stuff be translated into Italian until after her death because she doesn't want people to start treating her differently.
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:07 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


This reminds me a bit of the Cheap Trick story.
posted by SisterHavana at 5:38 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]


Searching for Sugar Man is a fairly fascinating documentary about a "failed" American musician who worked his whole life in a deadend construction job, totally unaware that he was a Bob Dylan-level famous rock star in South Africa.

This.

I saw Rodriguez (the subject of the film) in London a few years ago; he has been rediscovered in the wake of the documentary, and while he hasn't written any songs since the 70s (or at least played any that night), he did a splendid job of the old ones.

Though the documentary's claims of him having sunk to obscurity in the early 70s when his albums didn't sell and he was dropped by his label weren't entirely true; apparently he toured Australia in 1982 or so, and was sufficiently well known to a generation of Australian music aficionados that his song Sugar Man was used in the soundtrack of a local film about heroin addicts a few years before Searching for Sugar Man.
posted by acb at 5:51 PM on January 12


I'm a pretty big deal in Japan.
The emp'ror himself is my fan!
I use chopsticks quite well
And my books, hey, they sell!
I'm a pretty big deal in Japan.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:13 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


From my visit the Japan, many, perhaps most, Japanese are amazed that a Westerner can use chop sticks.

In fairness I'm always amazed when Japanese people do "Western" things, like eat a hamburger or build an internal combustion engine.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:38 PM on January 12 [12 favorites]


1adam12, I can't favorite that comment enough.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:46 PM on January 12


Big in Japan might be the best band name ever.
posted by and for no one at 9:10 PM on January 12


I am certainly amazed at the amount of food that Japanese people can put away in a Waffle House. I was told it was because beef was ridiculously cheap here in comparison to Japan. I watched these tiny people put away a whole hamburger plate AND steak and eggs and boy howdy was I in awe. (/former wh waitress)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:52 AM on January 13


I am certainly amazed at the amount of food that Japanese people can put away in a Waffle House.

Perhaps it was just those Japanese people. That time. In that Waffle House.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:42 AM on January 13 [3 favorites]


Big in Japan might be the best band name ever.

Which became the worst cliche.
Right, NME? Melody Maker?
posted by Mezentian at 6:56 AM on January 13


Regarding Murakami's differing reputations in the US vs. Japan, Norwegian Wood was his breakaway hit in Japan, and also happens to be his most straightforward, "normal" novel -- there are very few (or no) fantastic elements, the timeline is quite linear, and it's rather short. Therefore, he gained his fame in Japan in large part on the reputation of a popular romantic novel.

By contrast, Murakami's first big hit in the US was The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, a sprawling, surreal, semi-historical fiction novel that established him as weird, thoughtful, and intensely literary. When Norwegian Wood was finally translated and published in the US years later, it was more like "That serious author Murakami also wrote a delightful short coming of age novel," as opposed to being the text that set the tone for his reputation.
posted by telegraph at 9:11 AM on January 13 [3 favorites]


Kusama Yayoi, while not completely unknown here, is relatively unknown in Japan compared to her fame and renown overseas.
posted by donkeymon at 8:19 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Kusama Yayoi, while not completely unknown here, is relatively unknown in Japan compared to her fame and renown overseas.

Hmm... I may very well be out of touch with "overseas", but is she really well known among the general populace of, say, US or European countries? Has her work been featured in some big ad campaigns or something like that in recent years? Because for a contemporary artist, she is VERY well known by lots and lots of, you know, *average* people here in Japan. I'm not even talking about modern art aficionados, just regular folk.

This past summer I went to a very well-publicized retrospective show of hers at a museum in Karuizawa.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:08 PM on January 13


She is very well known in the US. (And it's interesting that you mention ad campaigns, because I believe she did some kind of collaboration with Louis Vuitton or Louboutin or something a year or so ago.)

That said, the average American knows fuck all about modern art, so being well-known in artistic circles isn't the same thing as being a household name among regular folks around the country.

I would guess that the average middle class American, even among people who consider themselves cultured, enjoy visiting museums, know about art, etc. would not be familiar with a list of 10 of the most important artists of the last half century.

Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol are really the only two post-WW2 artists I can think of that the "average" American is familiar with. Possibly with the addition of Jackson Pollock. If a major Hollywood biopic hasn't been made about your life, you're hopeless.
posted by Sara C. at 9:16 PM on January 13


Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol are really the only two post-WW2 artists I can think of that the "average" American is familiar with.

Banksy.
posted by empath at 9:24 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


Eh, for a certain degree of "average", maybe. Either way, back around to the topic, while Kusama Yayoi is well-known among people who follow the contemporary art scene, she's probably better known in Japan if she's a household name there.
posted by Sara C. at 9:36 PM on January 13



I am certainly amazed at the amount of food that Japanese people can put away in a Waffle House.

Perhaps it was just those Japanese people. That time. In that Waffle House.



No, this was a recurring thing. A local college had some kind of program whereby Japanese people came to the area on a regular basis and it seems that one of the cultural stops was to, yes, a Waffle House. Usually no one ever let on that they could speak English, so ordering involved pointing at menu pictures. (Turns out at least one member of the group would be fluent in English but they were careful not to let you know till the last minute.)

And every single time we would be astonished at just how much food these folks could ingest with no discernible difficulty. I do feel a little sad that their conception of a T-bone would be that of a Waffle House T-bone, but for the price, hey, I'd eat it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:53 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]


Usually no one ever let on that they could speak English, so ordering involved pointing at menu pictures. (Turns out at least one member of the group would be fluent in English but they were careful not to let you know till the last minute.)

I don't know if you've ever traveled to a non-Anglophone country, but this is pretty much how it is when you go somewhere and don't speak the language.

A lot of Japanese people don't speak English, or don't speak it with enough confidence to feel comfortable in a relatively high-pressure situation like ordering in a restaurant. It would be awkward if the one person at the table who kind of spoke a little English ordered on everyone else's behalf. There are pictures right on the menu.

It's possible that Waffle House was such an institution specifically because of the menus with pictures.

They weren't trying to make your life harder, I swear.
posted by Sara C. at 3:09 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]


Heh....having been to Thailand, I could relate. ;-)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:10 PM on January 14


Just finished The Serialist, and while it's a pretty good as a debut effort, it kind of lilts along at points and I'm sure the translation did it heaps of good. He's definitely going for a Benny Profane or Bukowski-esque protagonist- pathetic and slovenly, still getting laid.

That said it was fun, and I've already bought Gordon's 2nd book.
posted by stinkfoot at 12:55 PM on January 21


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