Tell us about your background.
I’m from Dallas. I’ve been living in Japan since 2001. I’m currently senior contributing editor at video game culture site Kotaku.com, one of the world’s most widely read blogs, which I’ve been writing for since 2005. I’m also a contributor at Wired magazine, and my work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Popular Science and tech mag T3.
What brought you to Japan?
It’s hard to pinpoint a single reason. During my late teens and early 20s, I spent my summers in Los Angeles working at Quentin Tarantino’s now-defunct distribution company Rolling Thunder Pictures. While there, I watched a ton of Japanese movies and met many famous Japanese movie industry people, like director Kinji Fukasaku, actor Sonny Chiba and filmmaker Masayuki Suo. At the time, I was also listening to a lot of Japanese pop and rock.
I had always been interested in Japan, and during the ’80s, the fruits of the Japanese economic miracle were often in the news. I grew up playing Japanese video games and playing with Japanese toys. For a short time, I even tried following Japanese baseball. A family friend was, and still is, a flight attendant, and she was always bringing knickknacks and snacks back from Narita.
Probably just like with other people who decide to take the plunge and move to Japan, it was a combination of several elements that brought me here. After I graduated from Cornell University, I decided to finally visit Japan, and I ended up staying. Since 2001, I’ve called Osaka home.
How did Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential come about?
I had worked with Andrew Lee, the editor of Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential, on my previous book Arcade Mania!, which he had designed. Knowing that I got my start in paid, professional writing by penning Wired’s “Japanese Schoolgirl Watch” column, Andrew would often mention that he was interested in doing a book on Japanese schoolgirls. And we talked and talked about how we could do something interesting and unique. For me, the raison d’etre would have to be that the book would look at the impact Japanese schoolgirls have had on Japanese society and culture. Moreover, it would need to examine why and how they appeal to society as a whole—women, men and children.
Often when people talk or write about Japanese schoolgirls, they do it in a very focused way—for example, “Japanese schoolgirls and technology” or “Japanese schoolgirls and fashion.” This approach is fine for looking at things on a micro level, but I really wanted to look at things from a macro level. That would mean the book would encompass multiple disciplines and a variety of mediums. For this topic, that has never been done before, which is something I found to be both incredibly challenging and exciting. The idea that Japanese schoolgirls are appealing because “they’re cute” is not only a gross oversimplification, but in many ways also wrong.
For the book, we interviewed a wide variety of people—from idols to movie directors, from world famous artists to schoolgirls themselves—and the more people we spoke with, it became apparent that there are much deeper reasons why in Japan schoolgirls are used to sell everything from kimchi to insurance.
What surprised you most when working on the book?
The celebrities we interviewed, like Chiaki Kuriyama and AKB48, were incredibly generous with their time. From working in Hollywood, I knew that dealing with celebrities could sometimes be problematic, but everyone we interviewed was not only professional and kind, but also insightful. I don’t know if this surprised me the most, but it certainly was a pleasant surprise.
Personally, the most wonderful surprise was how much I enjoyed working on the book with my wife, Shoko. For years, she’s helped me with the “Japanese Schoolgirl Watch” column, finding interesting topics to write about or giving advice. For this project, her input was invaluable, because I really wanted the book to engage both male and female readers. It was great to hash out chapters and interviews here in our living room.
What do you like to do during your downtime?
My wife and I have two sons, and we like to go for a drive on the weekend, play baseball and take walks in the mountains near where we live. That, and trying to catch up on sleep. Mmmm… sleep.