• Pure Invention

  • How Japan's Pop Culture Conquered the World
  • By: Matt Alt
  • Narrated by: Matt Alt
  • Length: 11 hrs and 49 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (179 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The untold story of how Japan became a cultural superpower through the fantastic inventions that captured - and transformed - the world’s imagination.

“A masterful book driven by deep research, new insights, and powerful storytelling.” (W. David Marx, author of Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style)

Japan is the forge of the world’s fantasies: karaoke and the Walkman, manga and anime, Pac-Man and Pokémon, online imageboards and emojis. But as Japan media veteran Matt Alt proves in this brilliant investigation, these novelties did more than entertain. They paved the way for our perplexing modern lives.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Japan seemed to exist in some near future, gliding on the superior technology of Sony and Toyota. Then a catastrophic 1990 stock-market crash ushered in the “lost decades” of deep recession and social dysfunction. The end of the boom should have plunged Japan into irrelevance, but that’s precisely when its cultural clout soared - when, once again, Japan got to the future a little ahead of the rest of us.

Hello Kitty, the Nintendo Entertainment System, and multimedia empires like Dragon Ball Z were more than marketing hits. Artfully packaged, dangerously cute, and dizzyingly fun, these products gave us new tools for coping with trying times. They also transformed us as we consumed them - connecting as well as isolating us in new ways, opening vistas of imagination and pathways to revolution. Through the stories of an indelible group of artists, geniuses, and oddballs, Pure Invention reveals how Japan’s pop-media complex remade global culture.

©2020 Matt Alt (P)2020 Random House Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

"From karaoke to manga, emoji to Pokémon, the creations of modern Japanese style have transformed that country and daily life around the world. Pure Invention is a delightful and highly informed view of the people, ideas, and insights behind this pop-cultural revolution." (James Fallows, author of China Airborne)

"Pure Invention is part careful ethnography, part insightful cultural history of the creative men and women who reimagined Japan in the postwar period. Matt Alt tells their backstories and illuminates the impact of their creations, from toy army jeeps stamped out of tin cans in the rubble of World War II to a torrent of anime streamed on Netflix. It’s difficult to imagine a more instructive or entertaining account of a fascinating place, people, and period." (Stephen Snyder, professor of Japanese studies at Middlebury College and translator of Yoko Ogawa's The Memory Police

"Hello Kitty and Pikachu didn't just wander into your house by accident. Maybe they snuck in while you were out crooning karaoke with Super Mario? Intriguing and insightful, Pure Invention hands readers a backdoor key to Japan's culture trend factory, whose offbeat creators remixed and reimagined the world right under our noses." (Alfred Birnbaum, translator of Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

“A kinetic canter through the social history of globalised Japanese culture.” (Peter Guest, Mekong Review)  

“As startlingly original as the inventions that it describes...Required reading for Japanophiles, this book reads like your most interesting anthropology textbook, weaving together interviews, anecdotes, and primary source material about some of Japan’s most iconic creations...People often ask me why, as an American, I'm so interested in Japanese culture. This book finally provides me with an answer." (Lauren Orsini, Forbes)  

“The rise of Japanese popular culture in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is an incredible story. Japan conquered hearts and minds with appealing objects and new sensibilities: kawaii characters, digital cultures, and new forms of personal identities. Alt tells this story with verve and panache, giving a comprehensive overview of Japan’s soft power that is informative, enlightening, and always entertaining.” (Susan Napier, professor of Japanese studies at Tufts University and author of Miyazakiworld)  

“A masterful exploration of a history, a people and a culture that have shaped our use of technology, our conception of storytelling, and our fascination with Kitties named ‘Hello.'" (The Irish Times)   

“Deep, engaging...A savvy study of Japan’s wide influence in ways both subtle and profound.” (Kirkus Reviews)  

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great book ruined by ending

Tremendous tale, RIGHT UP to the last 45 minutes when the tale is jarringly abandoned for a personal political screed that was utterly out of place. I kept thinking...did I miss something? A shame, as everything up to about 2014 was peerless; after that, just an angry millennial with a rolled-up Washington Post . Shame. Still, the part actually about Japan is first-rate!

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Japan as Herald and Harbinger of Postcpitalism

I had heard Matt Alt on the Retronauts podcast and thought I would give this a try. I was surprised well-told and researched this book is. While I knew some of this, a lot of the story was new to me. The central thesis, that Japan's rapid industrialization post WWII led to innovations and ills that would come to dominate western society, was new and very convincing.

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Awesome and engaging.

Learning this much in such an entertaining manner was a unique experience!
The storytelling made the book even more fascinating as it went progressing and connecting stories from the past to the present, and, not just that, it kept the pace by also talking about possible future impacts; even contemporary tales of western parts of the world were told without losing the focus of Japan.
I recommend it fully to those interested in the Land of the Rising Sun!

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Beyond informative

This connected so many dots to questions I had as a child. Connecting my love for final fantasy 7, the Japanese influence on aesthetics, harajuku, anime, and so much more! If you have any love for Japanese pop culture this will be a highly enjoyable listen

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Informative Cultural Review

I enjoyed this fact-filled look at how Japanese invention has impacted world culture in the second half of the 20th century.

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enjoyable and eye-opening

There were many unsurprising things—Nintendo, karaoke, Gundam, hello kitty, the things I expected going in. However, the amount I didn't know and the amount I didn't think I knew were fascinating. It's a refreshing step away from a medium I enjoy consuming and seeing the impacts regardless if you are a fan or not. Great listen and pretty fun. Fascinating history told in a fun and informative way.

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Pleasantly surprised

I came into the book with a negative view on Matt Alt but the man knows his stuff and presents it well. I thoroughly enjoyed it and might even listen again. The ending does get a bit political but everything preceeding it does a good job of building to the conclusion.

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Solid read

Solid book. Lots of interesting tidbits. The last chapter felt out of place with the rest of the book.

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Pleasantly surprised

To keep it short, this is a great book and Matt Alt truly knows the subject matter, and me, hahaha. Seriously though, this book builds a momentum that keeps up until present day (2021) in a way that I did not see coming. You will not be let down with this purchase, and I look forward to whatever Matt puts out next.

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Good Resume

I really enjoyed this audiobook it has many curious short stories and facts that are not easy to find elsewhere , the pace goes pretty well and to cover so much deep topics in one book looks hard but the author really make it work , considering the big job to summarize so much topics it might feel he missed some points in some chapters probably the author might just avoided chapter 9 as this is only assumptions from him and well the hate is something so universal and it has been spread trough so different media since many centuries ago , anyways overall a very good Book.