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Pacific Briefing: Steady Growth in Gross Transnational Cool
Giant Robot 2: Sawtelle Boulevard location of a chain that sells Japanese and Japanese-inspired creative imports including T-shirts, collectable toys, magazines, stationary, and art. (Photo by Fadwa Rizek)

Pacific Briefing: Steady Growth in Gross Transnational Cool

UCLA project devoted to Tokyo-LA interactions in art, fashion, food holds workshop on 'LA as Offshore Japan.'

Fadwa Rizek Email FadwaRizek

Although youths are a minority group in more than 50,000 Japanese residents in L.A., their motivation and lifestyle reflect an emerging transnationalism.

Thriving metropolises located on opposite sides of the Pacific Rim of Fire, Los Angeles and Tokyo have more in common than their famously mild "earthquake weather." UCLA sociologist Adrian Favell is leading a group of researchers in a study of trans-Pacific movements of art, fashion, food, and people who set trends in all three endeavors. Favell and his colleagues plan to conduct about 100 in-depth interviews with creative people in both countries.

The project has attracted funding from the Japan Foundation, awarded through the Social Science Research Council, and UCLA grants including a mid-sized faculty grant from the International Institute and a Sasakawa grant from the Paul I. Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies.

On May 13, 2006, Favell and UCLA doctoral candidate Misako Nukaga put on a workshop to discuss Los Angeles as a zone of Japanese cultural influence and "soft power" with students and invited scholars. Titled "LA as Offshore Japan," the seminar-style forum was the second of two related events sponsored by the Institute and the Terasaki Center. The first was held on May 12 and focused on new trends in the orthographic technique of Japanese girls.

Departing from writer Douglas McGray's term "gross national cool," Favell discussed J-Pop music, Anime cartoons, and other artistic products in the American mainstream as indications of the Japanese experience in Los Angeles. He called attention to the Giant Robot stores and to the former Westwood Internet hotspot Rooms café and introduced the audience to West L.A.'s Sawtelle Boulevard. With central hangouts for Asian young people and fans of Japan creative imports, it a hub of the "cool industry."

Though discussants noted Korean influences on Anime and J-Pop, Favell maintained that "Japan has a high-end grip" on these cultural products.

In her introduction, Nukaga looked at the demographics and social variety of the local Japanese communities in Little Tokyo, Sawtelle, and Torrance. She identified Japanese Americans, Japanese nationals, temporary residents, and permanent residents as constituent groups.

Also at the workshop, Fuminori Minamikawa, an American Studies professor at Kobe City University, discussed his work on migration patterns of Japanese youths, focusing on temporary residents of Los Angeles County.

"Some young Japanese enter the United States as students, live in Los Angeles, and often work part-time illegally," he said. "Although they are a minority group in more than 50,000 Japanese residents in L.A., their motivation and lifestyle reflect [an] emerging transnationalism among younger generations in Japan."

This transnationalism, Minamikawa observed, is not the product of a collective travel plan among Japanese youths, but of individualized efforts to go abroad. Traveling to the United States as students of English, Minamikawa concluded, these Japanese students invariably bring their individual life narratives with them.