Have you ever watched anime or taken the time to read a volume of manga? Do you play Nintendo or sing karaoke? Did you ever beg your parents to buy you a Hello Kitty backpack, or have a meltdown during class because your teacher confiscated your Tamagotchi? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you might want to check out Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World, by Matt Alt.
In Pure Invention, Alt discusses some of the Japanese products and inventions that have not only had a significant impact on Japan, but also on the rest of the world. From toy cars, to video games, to Hello Kitty and beyond, Alt focuses on things that have become part of world pop culture, and have influenced the development of new technologies, the ways in which we communicate, fashion trends, and even politics.
What is incredible about this book is the fact that Alt doesn’t just talk about the inventions themselves. The author also provides readers with information about their creators, as well as some very helpful historical context.
Pure Invention was an extremely interesting read. I liked having the opportunity to learn more about the history surrounding the invention of these products, as well as their effects on Japanese society and (eventually) the rest of the world. The way in which some of these products were viewed by corporate executives vs. their target audiences was also very interesting, especially in the case of video games such as the original Donkey Kong arcade game and Pokémon.
Another thing I really liked about this book was the fact that it is so relevant. Having just been released in June, Alt was able to include the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the way in which people around the world have embraced things like games and streaming services to “soothe their loneliness” while practicing social distancing (Alt 296). He even references the global obsession with Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which allowed a lot of people to interact with a virtual version of nature, as well as each other, without ever leaving their homes.
Pure Invention is a great book, and I had a lot of fun reading about products that I remember coming out when I was a child. I grew up playing video games on various Nintendo systems, loved having the opportunity to go to the Sanrio store, and spent a significant amount of time listening to music and audiobooks on a Walkman. Like many of my friends, I was obsessed with playing Pokémon, watched the anime every day, and collected Pokémon cards and figures. I even took my stuffed Pikachu with me when I went to have my wisdom teeth removed! Looking back at my own life, I definitely have to agree with Matt Alt. Japanese pop culture has had a massive impact on the world.
Whether you are interested in Japanese culture, pop culture, or history in general, I think you will really enjoy taking the time to read Pure Invention. If you do have the opportunity to read the book, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.