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Pure Invention: How Japan's Pop Culture Conquered the World

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4.32  ·  Rating details ·  196 ratings  ·  41 reviews
The untold story of how Japan became a cultural superpower through the fantastic inventions that captured--and transformed--the world's imagination, from karaoke and the Walkman to anime and emoji.

During the "economic miracle" of the 1970s and 80s, Japan seemed to exist in some near future, soaring on the superior technology of Sony and Toyota while the West struggled to c
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Published June 23rd 2020 by Random House Audio (first published 2020)
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Average rating 4.32  · 
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Kyle Dinges
Jul 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-2020, books
Pure Invention by Matt Alt is a new release that chronicles that wide-ranging impact that Japan’s pop-culture has had on the world from the years following World War II through today. The breadth of topics is fairly wide-ranging, rather than focusing on a single industry or phenomenon. It’s a testament to the sheer size of the pop-culture juggernaut that Japan has become over the 70-plus years that the book covers. While Pure Invention isn’t an “own voices” history, Alt lives in Tokyo and seems ...more
Brian Ashcraft
Sep 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Matt Alt has written another terrific book. His latest is packed with info and history that's never been published before in English. Insightful and interesting, it's highly recommended.
Jill S
Nov 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
4.5

I loved this deep dive into the history of Japanese pop culture. This book has the perfect balance between biographical information, Japanese social and cultural history, and the history of technology. I think anyone interested in pop culture would be fascinated by this book.

My small caveat is the final chapter on the "anti-social network" feels different in tone and pacing than the rest. Alt tackles a massive subject here and makes good on what he can, but it does feel like a small, awkward
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Victor The Reader
A sweeping and incredible time trip back to Japan inside the past 70 years and how they made a huge impact in pop culture: toys, anime, music, fashion, video games and social networking. A (100%/Outstanding)
Tripfiction
Sep 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Remember the Tamagotchi? A peek at the pop culture in JAPAN



This is a fascinating look at the pop culture of Japan.

The backdrop is the post WW2 economic picture of Japan, with its tremendous ups and downs; as the economy dipped and soared across the decades, there was a whole industry steadily growing in confidence and edging its way ono the world stage. Essentially the Japanese tapped into the things that the world wanted, rather than needed. It heralded the rebirth of a nation after a very diff
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Adriana
Apr 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a massive and unabashed fan of pretty much all the things that this book talks about, I have to confess that I can't be completely objective about it. However, anyone should be able to agree that Alt really does his homework in researching the history behind the country and the things he writes about. Its information is incredibly well-researched and detailed and presented in such a way that it reads like you're having a conversation with those that lived through it. Which in most cases, you ...more
Gunnar Larson
Jul 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing and thorough look into the Japanese influence on pop culture throughout the decades following WW2. A must read for any self-proclaimed Japanophile or pop culture junkie.
Emma Murray
Nov 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Who knew one of the biggest take aways from this book would be that hello kitty is a feminist icon, but here we are.
Hidemi Woods
Jul 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Japanese subcultures have become popular among the millennials generation who grew up with Pokemon and Nintendo. They are getting interested in more of those from Japan such as games, comic books, anime, karaoke or bentos. Also, the population of Asian origin that resides in North America and UK is about 30 million, and many of them are getting remote from and curious about the culture of their roots. However, their opportunities to appreciate it are limited, especially for Japan. There is scarc ...more
Kristen Brida
Jul 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was amazing, surprising, and insightful. A must-read.

My only complaint is that there should have been more Sailor Moon.
Nick
Jul 03, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japan, media-studies
It's alright, but is essentially a book written for outsiders by an insider (albeit a very well-done version of this format). I'd like an even deeper dive, but this is a good step.
Mia | The Bookish Feminist
“Pure Invention” is a sweeping, fascinating analysis of how Japanese pop culture came to set the global standard for technology and cultural consumption. Matt Alt has clearly done a plethora of research, and he expertly crafts a narrative that spans decades upon decades of social, economic, and cultural history. He examines the resilience and seemingly constant relevance of Japanese pop culture and how it continued to influence global culture even during economic downturns. This is an ambitious ...more
Maire
Apr 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A unique take on the "we are who we are because of Japan" global influence narrative. Favorite inventions and pop culture influences are presented within their historical context and how the markets in Japan and the United States reacted in tandem to each innovation. Pick this one up if you like history, inventions, and/or pop culture.
Mikala
Oct 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’ve finally finished this book! It only took 2 months 😬

I really got into this book once Matt Alt started talking about inventions more related to my own consumption trends, such as Hello Kitty, Space Invaders, Super Mario Brothers, Pokémon and anime.

This book was such an amazing insight into the creative genius of Japan throughout (largely) the 20th century, with highlights on resourceful toy manufacturers, budding artists of all mediums, and ingenious technology wizzes. I really enjoyed how A
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Scott Baxter
Overall, I liked Matt Alt's book Pure Invention: How Japan's Pop Culture Conquered the World. I read the book on my kindle and listened to the audiobook version at the same time. The book is listed as having 352 pages, but it seems much shorter because the notes section takes up 25 percent of the book and I skimmed through that notes section rather quickly.

The basic idea of the book is a description of how Japan experienced an incredible economic boom from the end of World War II to 1990 and how
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Matthew
Great idea for a book, and certainly interesting at points, but doesn’t quite take off. The premise is exactly correct, however.
Derek
I learned a lot from this book and thoroughly enjoyed it. I don't know much about Japan's history or classic manga and anime, so basically everything in here was new to me. Before I started, I was worried the whole book would just be successful manga and anime, but the book covered a lot more than that.
Polina
Jul 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book has immideatly grabbed my attention, I love Japanese pop culture and find many aspects of it wildly fascinating. The book has not disappointed, as it tells interesting and vivid stories about the origins of Hello Kitty, 4chan, Pokemon, tamagotchi and many more. I do think that it's only interesting to those who are already into these subjects, because I must admit the chapter on anime was too in-depth for me as for a casual anime viewer.
Really great read, well-researched and entertaini
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Gianfranco
Jul 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japan
As a Japanophile, I get my hands on a variety of books related to Japan and Japanese culture. Many of them are simply descriptive or derivative from other work, but Pure Invention: How Japan's Pop Culture Conquered the World offered a refreshing and original read.

Matt Alt combines some well known stories (Hello Kitty, Nintendo) with seemingly smaller ones to build a strong narrative on the direct and indirect influence that Japanese pop culture has had all over the world. Even for the better kn
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Michael Bridgman
This is a top-tier history of Japanese pop culture focusing on technology and economics. While it would be easy to take a gee-whiz approach to all this stuff so beloved to so many people's lives in the manner for which Richard Brody castigates Steven Spielberg's film adaptation of Ready Player One, Matt Alt is abundantly aware of the underlying cultural conflicts at work in the emergence of each pop culture medium, such as protest movements and the popularization of manga.

The underlying thesis
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Peachipam
Nov 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tyler D
I found out about this book from the Retronauts podcast, which had the author Matt Alt on an episode. It's a really fascinating read about how things the karaoke machine, Hello Kitty, and anime came to thoroughly influence the people of Japan, and subsequently, the people of the United States. The author goes into detailed stories about how, for example, the people behind the karaoke machine and Hello Kitty came to create their brilliant creations, and the author also talks about how things like ...more
Colin
Sep 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Timely and great ride to learn about how much Japan influences our tastes and how we are on a path already well-trodden by Japan: otaku, virtual entertainment, declining birth rate and older demographic eclipsing the other demographics. The author's view of the US from Japan is a bit skewed to the left and seems to be watching through a keyhole. Based on the acts of a vociferous few, he makes assumptions about the US views - a common mistake no doubt easier to make perched in Japan. This book is ...more
Scott
Aug 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Interesting look at how the strange and wonderful pop culture of the Japanese people influenced society both in Japan itself as well as the US and the rest of the world. You get your stories about the rise of Sony and Sanrio, but the book doesn't break its chapters up by company. It's more of an overall historical narrative starting with pre-WW2 up until the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. It tells the story about how Japanese culture changed the way we think, socialize, and express ourselves. Who knew ...more
Ian Loree
Sep 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting book. I don’t think we realize just how much of modern American culture has been shaped by Japan, and Alt puts that nearly into perspective. You know it’s a good book when I want even more detail; massive pop culture fads like Dragon Ball, One Piece, Final Fantasy, and Power Rangers received little to no attention. I also felt that the book would have worked better in strictly chronological order though I also understand the rationale behind more focused, stand-alone chapters.
Chad Kohalyk
Oct 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Luke Orphanides
Aug 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reads like a series of well studied collection of stories surrounding the growth in major icons of pop culture. Tons of fun facts to make you shake your head in disbelief. Does require readers to already be predisposed to the otaku culture, but a great read for those who want to dive deeper into Japanese pop culture exports.
Seth Isenberg
Sep 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, favorites, japan
Reading this book was pure joy. Matt's attention to detail, the deep dive into the economic and social conditions of each era that led to the ingenuity and success of each important pop culture product, and his ability to unlock the personalities of each character is awe inspiring. He weaves all of these facets together seamlessly, which is no small feat. Highly, highly recommended!
Adam McDorman
Sep 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book goes from WWII to the Sony Walkman to Pokémon to the Alt-Right (with numerous surprising stops along the way). It is both entertaining and informative. I couldn't put it down.

I strongly recommend reading this if you are interested in pop-culture, even if you have no interest in Japanese culture... because you may find that your tastes are more Japanese than you realize.
Love
Oct 04, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fun and informative book about japanese pop culture. Towards the end however the arthor tries to tie all of it to current american politics, which felt a bit weird. It says something about the hyper politicization of modern America when even a book about post-war Japanese cultural history has to end with a discussion of Bannon and Trump.
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Matt Alt lives in Tokyo with his wife and frequent collaborator, Hiroko Yoda.

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