Japanoscope Helps Explain Japanese Culture
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I’ve always felt that understanding other cultures is pivotal bridging any gaps of cross cultural ignorance. Peter Head does just that with his website Japanoscope, whose mission is to navigate the Pop Cultural landscape of Japan. I caught up with Peter and we talked about everything from Japanese culture to his love of Nick Cave.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with me this week. Please tell the readers a bit about yourself and the work you do.
Peter Head: The two main passions in my life are Japanese culture and writing songs. I’ve had a strange, somewhat unwieldy life of trying to indulge these two things. I’ve toured Japan playing music, singing mostly in Japanese, six times. I once played a gig on a helipad at onsen hot spring resort in the mountains south of Osaka, so I guess you could say there have been moments where it has all come together.
Tell me a bit about the inspiration behind Japanoscope.
Peter Head: I love Japanese culture and it has been a huge part of life since I was a boy. In my years living there, and in my time travelling around playing music there, I’ve seen a lot of stuff that I think wouldn’t be on most people’s radar. So the main purpose of the site is to shine some light on those things, and give myself an opportunity to delve deeper.
Where did writing start for you and what is your origin story?
Peter Head: I still see myself as a songwriter first and foremost, even among all the translating and other types of writing I do now. I remember being struck by lyrics written by people like Nick Cave, who seemed to be trying to combine language as if it was pieces of scrap metal. That always seemed mysterious to me. And still does. The way some writers can take two words that have never been put together before and then turn them into something new and inexplicable, but strangely cogent at the same time.
Japanoscope is clearly influenced by Japanese Pop Culture but where does the Japanese Pop Culture sit for you? What are your go to’s?
Peter Head: Japanese pop culture is weird. That’s why people love it of course.
I did an interview with a Japanese youtuber recently and we got talking about how there is this strange irony about Japanese culture. It has a negative side by closing itself off to the world and seeing itself as a “closed system’, the classic island nation. But it’s because of this that it has such a distinct culture and develops all these strange foibles that actually make the rest of the world really interested. So it’s almost the dynamic of an abusive relationship.
In terms of “go to’s”, I am mostly a fan of sub cultural stuff more than the big pop culture icons. I love Japanese films by director Ryusuke Hamaguchi. His film “Happy Hour” runs for more than five hours, and seeing it was perhaps one of the greatest cinematic experiences of my life. I also love Hirokazu Koreida, and his film “Shoplifters” has been one of my favourites of recent years.
For music, I’m a huge fan of Tenniscoats. They are kind of a psych-folk-experimental duo. Because I loved their music so much, I reached out to them to help put out an album I had made. I’ve been able to work with their Majikick label over the last few years as a result, and have come in contact with a large network of more or less bizarro acts. Majikick has recently set up a streaming music platform Minnakikeru in partnership with a range of other independent music labels. I’ve also done an intro to some of the music on there.
There is a naive, almost primitivist movement within some of the music in bands from around that scene that is also right up my ally. One band in particular that I really love is the Sendai based act Yumbo, who also has some stuff on Minna Kikeru.
What are your biggest obstacles when it comes to your work? How do you overcome them?
Peter Head: Doing anything creative can be a bit of a roller coaster of success and failure. Now that a large part of what any creative does is online, I think this is even more amplified. Some things that you do tend to “take off”, and others stay stuck on the launching pad. You can pour hours, days and weeks of work at some piece of content that barely anyone ever sees.
Then you can do something that seems pretty slap dash that gets traction. These days I try and level the playing field a bit by doing some research on what people are already seeking out online. I try and find something that I think I can contribute to, and pour passion into, around that is likely to also be close to what people are already interested in. This can be a slippery slope into middle-of-the-road meh content though, so you’ve got to be careful. At the end of the day, it’s never an exact science. It’s about finding a middle way.
What role do Artists play in a Website like yours, if any?
Peter Head: I’ve got friends from my own artistic community in Japan, and outside of Japan that I’ve been able to draw on from time to time. The people I’ve worked with have generally been people that I’m a fan of. They are people I’ve plucked up the courage to say “Hey I like your stuff, maybe we could do something”.
Many of us creators work on projects outside of our 9-5 jobs. Do you have any advice for balancing careers with passion projects/side hustles?
Peter Head: I suggest changing the language around your non-dayjob activities. Call it “work”. Say you are working on something. Tell people “no” because you have a deadline, even if it is self imposed. “Work” is anything you assign value to, not anything others assign value to.
Do you have any upcoming events/projects/releases you would like to discuss?
I’m working on creating a collection of translations of Japanese songs, that will hopefully go together to create a “Portrait of Japan, one song at a time”. I’ve been publishing these as I go on Japanoscope, most recently I did a translation of Ponponpon by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Yasutaka Nakata.
Thank you for taking the time to do this! Where can readers find you and your work?
I have a Japan podcast, videos and language practice here that presents a good overview of the work I’m doing at present.