Tea Time at Japan Society

A Conversation with Author Matt Alt

November 24, 2020
Part of Tea Time at Japan Society

How did Japan's pop culture conquer the world? "Actually, it's about how the rest of the world became more like Japan," says Tokyo-based writer Matt Alt, author of Pure Invention: How Japan's Pop Culture Conquered the World. Japan actually got to the future a few clicks ahead of the curve, as the 1990s economic crash, political dysfunction, aging population and other societal trends formed a youth identity based on entertainment and virtual escape. “But now the joke’s on us”—the same societal trends around youth are happening in the West, with digital acceleration amplified by COVID. The way that Japan emerged from its so-called “lost decade” was not through authoritative figures, but people on the streets who created the tools for a new, gentler, era. Matt uses the lens of truly transformative consumer products—what Matt describes as “fantasy delivery devices that carried Japanese sensibilities to the world”— to tell the stories of the people who invented them, and changed the world. In this history of cultural and global innovation that Matt Alt walks us through, we have a roadmap for the future and a beacon of hope in Japan.

Japan Society's Tea Time Season #2, celebrating the season of culture in Japan and U.S.-Japan cultural exchanges, is proudly supported by ITO EN (North America) INC.

Matt Alt
Author & Speaker

Born in Washington, DC and raised in its suburbs, Matt Alt lives in Tokyo with his wife and collaborator Hiroko Yoda. When they aren't hunting robots, yokai, ninja, or ghosts, they run AltJapan Co., Ltd., a company that produces the English versions of Japanese entertainment such as video games, comic books, and literature. Matt was the co-host of the popular NHK World television show Japanology Plus from 2015 to 2020. His essays and cultural commentary regularly appear in a variety of media outlets, including The New Yorker online, BBC Culture, CNN Go, The Economist 1843, Wired, Slate, The Independent, The Japan Times, and Newsweek Japan.


Japan Society’s Tea Time Season #2 is proudly supported by ITO EN (North America) INC.

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