Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: “The Japanofiles”

Posted by Maximum Fun on 27th September 2009

Nowadays, a westerner’s profession of interest in Japan never comes as a surprise. Based on the ultrascientific sample consisting of your Podthinker’s friends and acquaintances, being fascinated by Japan has actually become more common than not being fascinated by Japan. As recent a development as this feels like, the compulsion to explore the Land of the Rising Sun did, indeed, exist before 1997. The sort of Japanophilia we see today has, in one form or another, been around for decades and decades. Here to get in depth with a few of the game’s longtime players is The Japanofiles [iTunes link] [RSS].

Hosting the program is Dave Carlson, an American with over 25 years of Japanthusiasm logged, in which he’s aqcuired a Japanese wife, a half-Japanese kid and a couple places of Japanese residence. He appears to make his living the same way many foreigners in the country do: teaching English. He’s therefore quite well tapped into the local expatriate community most of whom seem — whether or not this is an artifact of Carlson’s social network remains a bit unclear — to make a living from their native mastery of the English language, by tutoring, translating, that sort of thing. (And even when they don’t, they’ve all got intriguing stories. One of them, an Aussie who works in construction, even plays a blues song about the Cultural Revolution.) Carlson’s interviewed one fellow who owns and operates a children’s English school [MP3], for example, and one who translates the Vampire Hunter D novels [MP3].

Despite Japanophilia’s modern currency, this show refreshingly avoids pretty much all predictable angles. First and foremost, there’s not a single segment about big Japanese cities and how crazy they are. No stories of “Tokyo weirdness” here, especially since Carlson isn’t based in Tokyo. He generally sticks to his own neck of the woods, the 227,000-populated city of Matsumoto in Nagano prefecture, which you’ll perhaps recall from the 1998 winter Olympics. The program’s not only geographically rooted in its country, it’s geographically rooted even more locally, which makes the content that much more unusual and therefore interesting. The first episode finds Carlson at Matsumoto’s Tour de Utsukushigahara bicycle race [MP3], capturing the ambient sound of the event and interviewing participants from all over the Anglosphere.

That on-location immediacy is one of the neatest parts of the podcast’s production, and this happens to be one of the more pleasingly-produced podcasts your Podthinker has heard in some time. While far from flashy, it’s got a clean, calm aesthetic about it, like a lot of what comes out of Japan. Its segments click together satisfyingly, and their content fits their form. Eschewing the kind of talk about anime, comics and games you can find in a hundred thousand other places on the internet, the conversations cover the subjects listeners might not normally think about — the best sort of subjects — such as the tricky process of obtaining a house in Japan [MP3]. While it’s still early days — only seven episodes are available — and some of the interviews peter out more than finish strongly, The Japanofiles stands out as the most promising Japan-centric podcast your Podthinker has heard.

Vital stats:
Format: conversations about the Japanese expatriate life
Running since: July 2009
Duration: 23m-47m
Frequency: weekly-ish?
Archive available on iTunes: all

[Questions, comments, ideas, suggestions or threats for Podthinker Colin Marshall? colinjmarshall at gmail.]