Notebook on Cities and Culture
(Formerly The Marketplace of Ideas.) Colin Marshall sits down for in-depth conversations with cultural creators, internationalists, and observers of the urban scene all around Los Angeles and beyond.
S3E7: The Accidental Japanophile with Christopher Olson

Colin Marshall sits down near Nara, Japan's Tōdai-ji temple with artist, critic, and teacher Christopher Olson. They discuss his thoughts, as a Winnipegger born and raised, on Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg; the displacement, discombobulation, and respectable bullshitting of Chris Marker's Sans Soleil, a copy of which he keeps at all times on his phone; high-risk art, and the stuff that requires more time spent absorbing than creating; the still-exciting art school idea of limitations and restrictions as the engines of creation; whether or not Japan is "a land of images"; why you can't resist photographing your food in Japan, and what this has to do with the cultural sense of doing things properly or not doing them at all; the utilitarian, quick-and-dirty mindset of our North American homelands, which we notice with special force after having spent time amid Japan's superlegitimacy; the modern west's lack of filial piety, which he came to understand after getting involved with a Japanese lady (in a relationship that endured its Griffin and Sabine period); life in Japan as a constant process of auditing one's assumptions, especially those instilled by western Buddhism; freeloading on the Japanese social contract as a foreigner, and enjoying the liberty to "create your own Japan"; the gaijin you meet in Japan, including the "weeaboo" and the last-refuge English teacher; how Japanese vending machines could possibly not be trashed, robbed, and stripped of all saleable metal; Vancouver, the city where Canadians go to figure their shit out; the benefit of the foreigner's anti-inanity language barrier; how the force that makes Japanese trains run on time also causes the occasional Japanese to jump in front of one; the lack of ambient ambition in Japan, as opposed to the aspirational culture in North America that generates both resentment and a certain charge; his turn toward writing and criticism after an "I'm just not that good" moment in the visual arts; his desire to recapture that Chris Marker sense of delirious displacement in day-to-day life; and how he's ridden that distinctively Japanese sawtooth pattern of culture shock.

Direct download: NCC_S3E7_Christopher_Olson.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 1:38am UTC

S3E6: Form Over Function with John Dougill

Colin Marshall sits down seven stories above Kawaramachi, Kyoto, Japan with John Dougill, professor of British culture at Ryukoku University, blogger at Green Shinto, and author of books including Kyoto: A Cultural HistoryIn Search of Japan's Hidden Christians, and Oxford in English Literature. They discuss the commonalities between the Kyoto geisha and the English gentleman, who practice their respective cultures' ritual, regulation, and repression; form's dominance over function in Japan, as exemplified by one young fellow in a Union Jack t-shirt; how he got a handle on Japan by writing a book on Kyoto, and how in the process the scales fell from his eyes, revealing the "magical paradise" he lives in; his ambivalence toward the "sprawling urban mess" that has built up around modern Kyoto; Oxford, the other city in his life, and the formula of "old buildings and young people" that makes it ideal; his early feelings of isolation and anger toward Japan, and how he overcame them; coming to represent British culture in Japan, using Marmite and other traditional tools; his attractions to "earth religions," particularly Shinto, which he considers to be the true essence of Japanese culture; the Japanese tendency to contextually follow a variety of religious traditions and honor a variety of "equally valid" though sometimes opposing truths; how Japan's "hidden Christians" created and protected their own mixed folk religion; his current project, a book on Japan's UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and the problems inherent in a place becoming one; how Kyoto's younger generation has preserved and repurposed traditional machiya buildings; and the process by which he has come to see his own country through Japanese eyes, which means he sees a great deal of "rudeness, dirtiness, and lack of efficiency" — a different Britain, in other words, than the one he grew up in. 

Direct download: NCC_S3E6_John_Dougill.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 7:56pm UTC

S3E5: A Decent Banger with Josh Parkin

Colin Marshall sits down in Nakatsu, Osaka, Japan with guitarmaker Josh Parkin proprietor of Josh Parkin Guitars. They discuss how the intensity of Japanese enthusiasm extends to guitar-playing; how Japanese friends in London urged him not to set up shop in Tokyo, but in Osaka; his early life in Yorkshire, "the English Kansai," where he made his first attempts to build and modify guitars; the importance of finding the best handmade pickups and of learning to see the difference between .2 and .3 millimeters; the excellence of Japanese manufacturing, and its somewhat less impressive mastery of anthropometrics; his working life on Denmark Street, the center of London guitarmaking, and why he decided not to open his own business there; his travels through Asia before moving to Japan, which began in India and eventually found him homeless in Beijing; what it takes for a foreigner to open a business in Osaka (besides a few years off that foreigner's life); the impossibility of finding a decent banger in Japan; his dissatisfaction with the usual foreigner's job of teaching English, because it wasn't making guitars; his work with Tim Olive and experience of the Japanese noise scene, which seems to spring from within the culture rather than interpreting traditions outside it; the way everything in Japan gets easier after six months, except perhaps dealing with the ward office; Japanese-style obsessive drive as a necessity of guitarmaking, no matter where you do it; and his dream job of building a guitar according only to the player's musical style.

Direct download: NCC_S3E5_Josh_Parkin.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 1:28am UTC

S3E4: Ashukurafuto with Brian Ashcraft

Colin Marshall sits down in Osaka, Japan's Senri-Chūō with Brian Ashcraft, Senior Contributing Editor for video game site Kotaku, contributor at Wired, and author of the books Arcade Mania! and Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential. They discuss the kind of arcade gaming best (and now only) seen in Japan; the Expo 70-developed north of Osaka versus the city's "real" south; Osaka's reputation across Japan for brash un-gentility; where best to do one's gaming in Osaka, the the overall continuing robustness of Japanese arcades; the tradition of North American arcade gaming growing up around alcohol, and the tradition of Asian arcade gaming growing up around coffee, cigarettes, and milk tea; the Nintendo Entertainment System, known in Japan as the Famicom, and how it shaped both a decade and a generation on either side of the Pacific; the inevitable proximity of Japanese celebrities to gaming culture, whether through commercials or some stronger connection, in stark contrast to their game-averse American counterparts; his Dallas-Tokyo flight attendant childhood neighbor, and the strange but alluring cans of Coca-Cola she'd bring back from work; his first Japanese friend, whose family introduced him to their country's gift-giving culture; Tokyo's feeling of a "city of strangers," versus the more personable Osaka; his trying early years of Japan, and how he recognized his own sprachgefühl while watching Battle Royale; his time in Japan's having made him interested in his own Texas background; how he has made sure his sons learn about American culture, and how he laments their limited linguistic interaction with their American grandparents; the importance of raising children in Japan without giving them "the strange-last-name complex"; Japan's lack of weirdness, or at least the lack of weirdness you perceive if you take the time to ground your observations of it, including observations of or relating to arcade machines and schoolgirls, with as much non-oversimplified historical and cultural knowledge as possible.

Direct download: NCC_S3E4_Brian_Ashcraft.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 4:08am UTC

S3E3: "The Foreign Guy" with Michael Lambe

Colin Marshall sits down in Kyoto, Japan's efish café with Michael Lambe, Deep Kyoto blogger, teacher, and Public Relations Representative for the Kyoto Journal. They discuss the city's flummoxing preponderance of Irish pubs and the "celebrated infamy" of one in particular; the rich cultural heritage that brings foreigners to Kyoto, the modernization that foreigners bewail, and the preservation efforts that certain Japanese now make; his arrival in Japan on the JET program and original intent to go to the "wild snowswept north" of Hokkaido, though he wound up going from the northeast of England to the northeast of Japan instead; the Beatles-in-1963 treatment he received as the only foreigner in town; his time in Fukushima, then known as an unusually safe place, and one famous for its fruit; disasters, such as the 2011 one in Fukushima, as facts of life in Japan, and the necessity to rebuilt efficiently as another fact of life; his own adoption of that spirit when he volunteered to build houses in the Miyagi prefecture; the times he found himself bowing on the phone, leaving taxi doors open in England, and having lived over a decade in Japan; the difficulties of living vegetarian in Japan, even when you allow yourself fish; missing British television amid the "appalling" morass of cheap Japanese variety shows; evasion of the British television license men versus Japan's (as seen in Haruki Murakami's "Town of Cats"), and how he once got an NHK collection agent to think him a madman; how his four-year stint in Tokyo came up against his small-town sensibility, and how he disappointedly discovered the capital's absolute lack of demand that he speak (and thus learn) Japanese; his move to Kyoto, where visiting a rock bar he began making "real" non-Anglophone Japanese friends; the role of "the foreign guy" in Japan as comparable to Norm's on Cheers; Sons music bar, one place he discovered in the project that is Deep Kyoto (and Tadg's, which he recommends wholeheartedly); the history of the Kyoto Journal and its latest special issue on energy; Japan's odd reliance on nuclear power (not to mention squat toilets); and how blogging has connected him with foreigners, opposed to his original mission as that is.

(Photo: Stewart Wachs)

Direct download: NCC_S3E3_Michael_Lambe.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 8:03pm UTC

S3E2: The Temple Next to the Love Hotel with Tim Olive

Colin Marshall sits down in Kobe, Japan with guitarist, improviser, and sound artist Tim Olive, whose latest album is 33 Bays with Alfredo Costa Monteiro. They discuss Japan's importance to global experimental music culture; his own swerve toward experimentation after a western Canadian childhood spent listening to Black Sabbath's Paranoid; his early exploration of Javanese music in a Saskatchewan record library; how a Québécois girlfriend took him from Montreal to Osaka, where he lost "the rage"; how struck he felt by the sea of black hair Japan first presented to him; Osaka's "glorious ugliness," Nara's deer, and Kobe's wild pigs (just one of the signs of its close proximity to nature); his lack of a computer until last year, his longstanding ambivalence toward digital technology, and the double-edged sword of the internet's power to open up everything all at once; his workshop full of guitars in various states of dismantlement, and the importance of instrument modification to the physicality and sense of touch in music, both of which he prizes; Japan's distinctive combination of the highest new technology and the oldest traditions, as seen in the zoning collage of Osaka where venerable temples meet up with glossy love hotels; the fluid senses of time and space one must cultivate when moving between the West and the East, or even between Asian countries; his "under the table"-style freedom in Japan, and the other kinds of freedom the country affords, such as to one particular naked salaryman before the cops caught up with him; 845 Audio, the label he founded to release 33 Bays without delay; and his recommendations for getting tapped into the Kansai experimental music scene.

Direct download: S3E2_Tim_Olive.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 9:11pm UTC

S3E1: Buoyancy and Poignancy with Pico Iyer

Colin Marshall sits down in Nara, Japan's Nara Hotel with writer of place Pico Iyer, author of such books as Video Night in KathmanduThe Lady and the MonkThe Global Soul, and most recently The Man Within My Head. They discuss the discovery that Japan looks exactly like Japan, and the "piercing sense of familiarity" the enthusiast feels upon visiting for the first time; autumn in Japan, and its place at the core of The Lady and the Monk, his second book and still his favorite; Japan's distinctive combination of buoyancy and poignancy, which leads to the pre-savoring of wistfulness to come; the culture's dissolution of mind, heart, and soul all in the same place, and his efforts to build an intellectual infrastructure around his Japan-related intuitions; his recent reading of John Cage, an unexpected master of the Japanese virtues of not knowing and not saying; the necessity, when you want to write about something, to write about something else, and of writing about a passion in order to write about yourself; the Californian question of "being yourself," and its inadmissability to the Japanese mindset; his relief at not having to be Japanese within Japanese society, and what being a Japanese in Japanese society has done to visit a female brain drain upon the country; what it takes to best remain an outsider in Japan, enjoying its peculiar kind of diplomatic immunity, and how Donald Richie mastered that exchange of belonging for freedom; street vending machines and train-station bathrooms as outgrowths of both Japanese thoughtfulness and the nation's tendency to regard itself as a family; his visit to West Point, where the cadets received The Lady and the Monk as required reading; the danger of Japan's getting left behind by the increasingly interconnected world, what with its bad public relations and low level of spoken English; the enduring "vitality" of the seemingly less civilized places outside Japan; and how Japanese literature expresses nothing happening because Japanese life values nothing happening.

Direct download: NCC_S3E1_Pico_Iyer.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 9:37pm UTC