The history of Japan's unprecedented takeover of the global imaginary, as told through the eight packaged fantasies that charmed and changed the world most thoroughly from Hello Kitty and the Karaoke machine to the novels of Haruki Murakami.
Today we take it for granted that Japan is a forge of the world's fantasies: the birthplace of Transformers and Pokemon, of food trends like ramen and artisanal whisky and cutting-edge manga and anime. But it wasn't always this way. The first Japanese products that trickled into the global marketplace after the Second World War inspired derision, not admiration. The three words 'Made in Japan' were a punchline, a synonym for cheap trinkets from a defeated nation.
But when a steady drip of cheap novelties turned into a flood of high-quality consumer electronics and cars in the late 1970s and early 1980s, condescension turned into fury as Japan toppled cherished Western industries one after another. The nation then turned its attention to creating novel inessentials that we desperately coveted. From irresistible gadgets like the Walkman to Nintendo video games to adorable mascots, it produced products that possessed a unique, uncanny ability to grab our attention and nourish our dreams. Japan made itself rich after the Second World War by selling us the things we needed. But it conquered hearts by creating the things we wanted.
A wild and nostalgic history of the creators behind the gadgets, stories and ideas the world learned to love and need, as well as an exploration of the ripple effects and influence their ideas would come to have, Pure Invention is a detective story about an unsung chapter of globalisation that has touched us all and obsessed millions.
About the Author
Matthew Alt is a writer, translator and reporter. He is the author of several illustrated books about Japan. His writing has appeared in the New Yorker, Wired, Slate, the Independent and the Japan Times. He is the co-host of the TV show Japanology Plus on NHK World. He lives in Japan.