Matt Alt is a Tokyo-based translator, writer, and speaker. He has written for or writes for The New Yorker, CNN, Wired, Slate, The Japan Times, Newsweek Japan, Vice, and more. Matt’s curiosity and love for Japanese culture and inventions have led him to find the creators of what he calls “Fantasy Delivery Devices”; gadgets that changed our lives, things like the karaoke machine, the Walkman, the Nintendo entertainment system, the Gameboy characters like Hello Kitty and the Pokémon. He’s also tracked the roots of strange new forms of digital expression like the Tamagotchi, Emoji, anonymous imageboards, and he discovered how a wild bunch of Japanese creatives has shaped modern life, forging new tools for navigating the weirdness of late-stage capitalist societies. For nearly the last two decades, Matt has worked successfully alongside his wife for a company they started called Alt Japan.
In this interview for the School for Good Living Podcast, Matt joins Brilliant Miller to discuss his latest book called “Pure Invention: How Japan Made the Modern World”. Japanese culture and inventions are what Matt is passionate about and he’s good at sharing it with the world. In this interview, Matt shares how his 24 years in Japan has helped him understand how language shapes our thoughts and how we see and experience the world. He discusses his take on Japanese spirituality, and how deep-down humans really are the same in some fundamental ways. This interview helps us to grasp how, for Matt, Japanese pop culture has been a key to good living.
This week on the School for Good Living Podcast:
Connect With The Guest:
Brilliant Miller [00:00:08] Hi, I’m Brilliant, your host for this show, I know that I’m incredibly blessed. As the son of self-made billionaires, I’ve seen the high price some people pay for success. And I’ve learned that money really can’t buy happiness. But I’ve also had the good fortune to learn directly from many of the world’s leading teachers. If you are ready to be, do, have, and give more, this podcast is for you.
Brilliant Miller [00:00:00] Today, my guest is Matt Alt. Matt is a Tokyo-based translator, writer, and speaker. He has written for or writes for The New Yorker, CNN, Wired, Slate, The Japan Times, Newsweek Japan, Vice, and more. His latest book is called “Pure Invention: How Japan Made the Modern World”. For this book, Matt tracked down the creators of what he calls “Fantasy Delivery Devices”; gadgets that changed our lives, things like the karaoke machine, the Walkman, the Nintendo entertainment system, the Gameboy characters like Hello Kitty and the Pokémon. He also tracked the roots of strange new forms of digital expression like the Tamagotchi, Emoji, anonymous image boards, and he discovered how a wild bunch of Japanese creatives have shaped modern life, forging new tools for navigating the weirdness of late-stage capitalist societies. Matt says “Japanese pop culture and the ways that it is made and consumed, both in Japan and abroad is more than my hobby or my reporting, but it is my lifeblood.” It’s one of the things I’ve really enjoyed about reading this book and about talking with Matt is that it’s clear this is his passion, it’s something he’s curious about. I think he’s really good at sharing it with the world. In this interview, I ask him about how he has worked successfully with his wife for the last nearly two decades. They’ve started a company together Alt Japan. And I also ask him about how language shapes our thoughts and how we see and experience the world. I ask him a little bit about his take on Japanese spirituality, and we explore how deep down humans really are the same in some fundamental ways. So it’s a wide-ranging conversation. I hope you enjoy it. You can connect with Matt, you can learn more about him at MattAlt.com. That’s MattAlt.com, you can find him on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. With that, I hope you enjoy this conversation with my new friend Matt Alt.
Brilliant Miller [00:02:09] Matt, welcome to the School for Good Living.
Matt Alt [00:02:13] Thanks for having me.
Brilliant Miller [00:02:14] Will you tell me, please? What is life about?
Matt Alt [00:02:18] Well, that’s a big question. I guess I’d say that it’s about leaving the world a better place after you leave than it was when you got there.
Brilliant Miller [00:02:27] How do you go about doing that?
Matt Alt [00:02:30] Well, I’m a writer, so it’s in my nature to try to leave things behind that I’ve written, observations and things like that. I try to convey things that I have learned in the hopes of, I don’t know, making readers a little bit more knowledgeable. A little bit smarter. Awesome.
Brilliant Miller [00:02:48] Tell me, you live in Japan.
Matt Alt [00:02:52] Yes.
Brilliant Miller [00:02:52] Been there for two decades.
Matt Alt [00:02:54] Yeah, close to it. Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [00:02:56] Working as something I’ve heard you describe as a localizer. What is that? What what do you do?
Matt Alt [00:03:04] Well, localization is a fancy word for translation, and what it means is that you’re not only translating something from one language to another, but you’re also making the finished product read naturally in the target language. You know, if you need a Ph.D. in Japanese studies to understand an English translation of something you didn’t, you failed as a localizer, or it should be able to be consumed in the same manner that the original was. So if it’s made for kids, the translation should read as something that kids would really appreciate. If it’s written for, adults that should be written and should read or be consumed in a way that adults can appreciate. So that’s what localization is. And we’ve spent the last two decades helping Japanese creators translate their works and helping them sell their products abroad.
Brilliant Miller [00:03:56] So I know many people listening to this might not be familiar with Japanglish. But it sounds to me like working as a localizer, you might be on a mission to banish Japanglish.
Matt Alt [00:04:08] Japanese have this amazing ability to bend and break the English language, and it’s interesting because it actually comes from a very educated sort of backdrop. Japanese people learn English in high school, and so they have a certain background in the English language. Much more so than the average American has in Japanese. So a lot of times you will see, and you don’t see this as much anymore because of globalization. There’s so much more interaction between Japanese and Westerners, but in the 80s, you’d see all sorts of really amazing semi-English brand names and logos and things like that. And today you even still sort of seeing them like there’s a famous drink called Polcari Sweat that always shocked me when I first saw it. Now it’s just kind of become part of the fabric of life here in Japan. But I actually love the way Japanese bend the rules of English to make all sorts of new words and phrases, whether it’s soft drink names or pocket monsters, you know, or whatever it is.
Brilliant Miller [00:05:10] Yeah, me too. So you’ve written a book called “Pure Invention: How Japan Made the Modern World”. Why did you write this book? Who did you write it for and how did you want the world to be different because it exists?
Matt Alt [00:05:23] Well, you know, there’s been a lot of interest in things Japanese over the last couple of decades. You know, as kids raised on things like the Transformers or the Power Rangers or Nintendo games or, you know, Pokemon, came of age. And when I was a kid growing up, I grew up in an era in the 80s when there was a lot of what was known as Japan-bashing. Japan was seen as a sort of enemy and economic enemy, a rival at best. And there were all sorts of political grandstanding and things directed at Japan on the grownup side of society. But us growing up as kids and later teenagers, we never had this image of Japan as some kind of terror of the Far East. You know, we never had the experience of fighting Japan during World War Two, and as kids, things like economic, you know, issues just sort of sailed over our heads. Japan was always this sort of factory of dreams to us that made all of the stuff that we wanted the Hello Kitty products, the robot toys, the cartoon characters, the manga. And it occurred to me over the years of working here, running my company with my wife in Japan, translating materials for Japanese pop culture creators that there are very few examples out there of a nation whose image is so wholly shifted in the way that Japan’s has over the last 70 to 80 years, from World War Two to today. I mean, we were literally bombing Japan back in the 1940s, and now it’s like the place every kid wants to go because they want to catch more Pokemon or what have you. So that’s a really amazing shift, and nobody had really set out to quantify that. There’d been a lot of little pieces of the puzzle done. You know, there are great books on manga. There are great books on anime, great books, and video games, but none had ever really stitched together the big picture of why Japan seems to have this pullover all of our hearts and minds in the West. And that sort of dissatisfaction is what drove me to start, you know, thinking about how to write this book. And that’s actually true about a lot of my creative endeavors. They’re driven by dissatisfaction. I don’t find the thing I’m looking for or I don’t like the way that some other person approached it. Not because it’s bad, but just because it’s not my way. And channeling that is has helped me in a lot of different ways over the years.
Brilliant Miller [00:07:45] That’s awesome. When you say it’s helped you in a lot of different. Ways, what’s another example of that?
Matt Alt [00:07:49] Well, actually, the way I got into localization, a translation of Japanese pop cultural content was totally driven by that. When I was a kid, you know, the Nintendo Entertainment System was ascendant. You know, when you played video games as a kid, you said you were playing Nintendo, you know, this was a ubiquitous sort of machine, whether it was the NES or the game boy. You know, then later the Sega Genesis, the Sony PlayStation. But in those early years, in particular, the translations of the games were horrendous. They were really hideous. And they’ve even spawned memes like, for instance, “all your base are belong to us”, which was one of the very first internet memes, actually the turn of the 21st century. It comes from a Sega Genesis game called Zero Wing, and you had these amazing visual experiences, these immersive worlds and the English was all fractured and it drove me nuts, as a kid. I always liked writing as a kid, and I love these games, and I wasn’t mad in the sense of anger, but I was just like, Wow, like, this is such a beautiful world. It deserves a better translation than this. And that is what drove me to start trying to get into video game translation in the late 90s, and I was able to do that through introductions through some friends of mine. And at that time, there were very few people on the planet who specialized in video game localization, just as just a handful of them. And so we kind of were able to get into that industry on the ground floor. And, you know, I like to think that, you know, we and now there’s many, many people and companies engaged in the art of localization that we’ve made the video game world a little bit of a better place.
Brilliant Miller [00:09:23] Yeah, I think so. Who is the audience for your book? Like, who did you write this for? It sounds like you wrote it for yourself in one way. Yeah.
Matt Alt [00:09:34] It’s sort of a crypto memoir, and in a certain sense, I mean, you know, I grew up playing with all of the things in the book, the Walkman. You know we all did Hello Kitty products, you know, Godzilla toys and movies, you know, all of that stuff. They’re more than just products. They’re really part of the fabric of our lives as Gen Xers and millennials in particular. So, yeah, I mean, it’s written for basically everyone because the book is a sort of roadmap for how we got to now in so many ways, how our culture and in particular our pop culture and internet culture develop in the way they did because there’s all of these sort of invisible threads extending back from many trends that we think are cutting edge and very American that actually their roots are found in Japan in the 90s and even earlier, because in a lot of ways, Japan got to the future a little bit ahead of the West, and that’s why the products it made appealed to us so much.
Brilliant Miller [00:10:34] Why do you think that is? I mean, yeah, what’s your take?
Matt Alt [00:10:39] Oh, I mean, Japan is, Japan suffered some pretty terrible fates at the end of World War Two. You know, it was almost leveled as a nation, but it quickly rebuilt and it quickly urbanized at a pace that really outstripped the urbanization of America and a lot of other Western democracies. And as an advanced nation, Japan has experienced things like a horrific economic crash, the pop of its economic bubble in 1990, and all sorts of trends, such as the hyper aging of society. Famously, adult diapers outsell baby diapers in Japan because the population is so aged here. Things like young people feeling really ambivalent about their future because they don’t have guaranteed employment anymore, it’s much more difficult for them to leave the nest, just to get jobs, to even get married. All of these trends sort of manifested in Japan in the late 1990s, not because Japan was weird, but because Japan was a little ahead of the curve for the path of all advanced, post-industrial, late-capitalist advanced societies. And that’s why the things that it made seem so strange to us because there were like little beacons coming from the future, whether it was simple stuff like virtual pets or things like emoji, which we now use every day in daily life. But they were basically pioneered by Japanese schoolgirls on the streets of Tokyo in the late 1990s. So there are all sorts of manifestations of that, and I tried to kind of pick them apart and weave them together in a way that was very understandable for Western audiences in “Pure Invention”.
Brilliant Miller [00:12:16] Yeah. You know, I really enjoyed reading this book for many reasons. One is I’ve had a lifelong fascination with Japanese the language, the culture, the people, and having studied the language, having been there and played with so many of the toys. I’m sure eight years old when the Nintendo came out and I would literally in the summer wake up and run to my friend’s house who had one to play. We’d play all day and then go home at night when it was dark. And so forth. But your book really filled in a lot of gaps for me on, you know, the people and just the amazing coincidences behind some of these things and some of the terms you introduced me to like this “fantasy delivery device” I thought that was really, really interesting. And I thought that was just so spot on. But when you talk about what do you mean by that and how do you classify them?
Matt Alt [00:13:11] Yeah, well, so the products that I talk about in the book were more than just hits. You know, we’re surrounded by hit products from all sorts of countries, but only, you know, a certain type of product has the ability to really stimulate our imaginations and create and plant the seeds of new dreams in us and by so doing, actually transform our lives and and and inflect the path of the future. I called these seminal sorts of devices, products, fantasy delivery devices, and in the book, you know, I set up a kind of criteria for them. They have to satisfy certain criteria. For instance, the reason that a Honda Civic, which is a hugely selling product is not in my book is that when people bought a Japanese car, they didn’t do it to buy into the Japanese mindset. They did it because a Honda Civic was a well-made car that was cheaper than the other options on the market. On the other hand, something like the Nintendo Entertainment System was a complete inessential. You didn’t need this. You bought it because you wanted it. And when you played on it, you were playing dreams fantasies that were made in Japan, Super Mario Brothers, Metroid, Zelda. These were created for Japanese audiences, but we love them nonetheless. And these products also were everywhere. As you know, as you were just saying, you couldn’t escape the Nintendo entertainment system when you were a kid. So I have these three criteria. I call it the three ends to be considered a fantasy delivery device. A product has to be an inessential board because you wanted it. It had to be inescapable that it became a huge hit and everywhere you looked, it was around. And most importantly, it was influential. It had to either change our minds about Japan or change the way that we thought about our own lives and lifestyles. And usually both. So products that satisfy those three criteria are what I consider fantasy delivery devices, and through our consumption of them, we transformed ourselves.
Brilliant Miller [00:15:18] Oh, yeah. It’s so interesting and a point you make, too, about how so many of the well, first of all, how much globalization really does show up. Right. And you make this point about how in some ways, you know, it’s not that we’re becoming Japanese, but we’re all becoming the same. And you use the term the great synchronization. Yeah, that
Matt Alt [00:15:43] yeah. Well, I mean, you know, this touches on what we were discussing before about how Japan hit certain milestones in the development of its nation ahead of the West because it had its population was cramming into these big urban centers because they were experiencing these big economic rises. The Japanese, it’s called the economic miracle, which led to the bubble, which in the 1980s Japan was everywhere. It was considered that Japan was going to be the future of the planet, that we would all be working for Japanese masters to the point where, like, even in pop culture, like Back to the Future II, Marty McFly is getting fired by a Japanese boss by fax somewhere in our far-flung, lost future of 2015. So Japan was perceived as this sort of terror as the sort of rival as a sort of scary place. But in fact, the products that it was producing brought us closer together. You know, as the politicians were smashing cars and radios on TV and these big stunts, kids were opening their hearts to all sorts of experiences that were made by Japanese for Japanese. They weren’t made as propaganda. They weren’t made to change minds. They were made to sell. And the fact that we like them showed that we were catching up with the way that the Japanese were, how they were consuming things, how they were living. And you can see the synchronization in the way that so many Japanese social phenomena and even words have started to enter the English lexicon. Like, for instance, in the 80s, there were these diehard fans of pop culture adults who refused to graduate from watching cartoons or their favorite shows. The Japanese mass media kind of condescendingly called them otaku, which is Japanese for people who never leave their homes. Basically, it’s like a homeboy in the sense of like, you just stay in your house and consume anima or read manga and play video games all day. Now, you know the West, everybody goes and watches superhero movies and plays video games and engages in what I think probably boomer generation would have seen as infantile sorts of behaviors, were eating cupcakes, you know, were taking nap times and time outs. So, you know, we have a hard time adulting. That’s just one example. You know, in other trends are like hikikomori, you know, recluses. That word has entered the English lexicon or in Japanese parasite singles. This was a 90s word. We don’t use that word, but the term, which means young people who are healthy but can’t leave or won’t leave the nest for whatever reason, either they’re not making enough money at their jobs or they don’t feel stable enough to leave. There’s more people living at home with their parents now than at any point since World War Two. So the trends that were treated as sort of weird in Japan are odd by the mass western mass media in the 90s. Well, it turned out the joke was on us. Those were just kind of, you know, Japan was sort of the canary in the coal mine for late capitalism.
Brilliant Miller [00:18:44] Yeah, it’s so, it’s so interesting. Let me shift the conversation just a little bit and ask you about, I know this isn’t something you talk about explicitly in the book, but I’m curious to get your take on it, which is about the Japanese. I would say sensibility or even sense of spirituality and how that influenced the culture. Because as I’ve looked at the rise of the life-changing magic of tidying up. Yes, and how that has just a while recently swept Netflix, but as I watch Maria Kondo think her possessions? Right. And I just am reminded of how there’s this sensibility. I think that exists from a history of a culture with a sense of animism that isn’t present in a materialistic western society in the same way that were deeply resonating with even if we don’t recognize it. Will you just I don’t even know if I have a clear question there, but will you speak to these deep cultural difference that maybe comes from some of these traditions?
Matt Alt [00:19:53] Well, it’s really interesting. You bring up the question of Japanese spirituality because I think it’s really key to a lot of what the West loves about things Japanese. You know, you mentioned the word animism, which is the belief that, like spirits dwell in objects, you know, it’s a sort of anthropomorphized version of the world. And, you know, I don’t know that the average Japanese person is animist, you know what I mean, like, I don’t know that they believe that there’s a spirit dwelling in their desk, you know, or in their, you know, or in the tree out in their garden. But just like Westerners who might not consider themselves religious but were raised in that judo Judeo-Christian tradition, Japanese are raised in a very different sort of spiritual tradition, one that is by turns animist and polytheistic. There are many gods here. In fact, the Japanese belief system is said to be home to some eight million gods, which is a sort of number sort of to be a stand in for an uncountable number. And there are multiple religious traditions sort of coexisting here in a balance, a very warm balance. You know you’ll see Shinto shrines on the grounds of Buddhist temples and Buddhist imagery and Shinto ones. And now, Christian, Jewish faith of all denominations can practice their beliefs here in a way that I think is not always the case in foreign lands and that Japanese sensibility about, you know, the Japanese traditions of animism and polytheism, I think really deeply inform a lot of their pop culture in unconscious ways. You know, the idea that almost anything can have a spirit is a really sort of fertile soil for growing the idea of characters, all sorts of characters, mascot characters. You know, so much of what I hear from people will come to Japan is how thrilled they are that there’s like a mascot for everything, usually an anthropomorphic object of some kind in ways, you know, we have mascots for sports teams and stuff in the United States. This isn’t some kind of alien concept, but the Japanese just take it to another level like everything has a mascot here, even like the Japanese equivalent of the IRS, even like the military, they all have cute, fun mascots that serve as sort of mediators in society at large. And that kind of sense of spirituality and play fuzed together infuses a lot of the products I think that we get out of Japan, you know, in their in their design sense, in their presentation, they’re whimsy. It’s it’s neither better or worse than our Western sensibilities, but it’s different and it feels authentic. And I think that’s really key.
Brilliant Miller [00:22:38] Yeah, I think you’re right. And I realize the response you just gave to that question could perhaps be the response to the question I’m about to ask, but maybe
Matt Alt [00:22:49] we were heading to the future already, just like Japan.
Brilliant Miller [00:22:51] That’s right. So what is it that people get wrong about Japan or they just don’t know?
Matt Alt [00:22:57] Well, you know it’s funny, you’re right, I think you’re actually touching on something that we talked about just a moment ago, which is, you know, especially when I was growing up, the image of Japan that I saw portrayed in the mass media was this kind of lockstep worker drones, everybody operating in sync, you know, follow the rules. There’s so much etiquette. It seemed like a really, you know, harsh cold
Brilliant Miller [00:23:24] to jump in there for a moment any any culture or language that has a word for death by overwork.
Matt Alt [00:23:30] Yes, exactly. Kuroshio, right? So like, that’s another word that’s probably going to be entering the English lexicon soon. And it was very easy to cherry-pick examples of that like salaryman all in their suits and things like that. But you know, even as a kid, you had to ask yourself if this country is so horrifically regimented, how are they producing cars that transform into robots? Do you know what I mean? How are they making like giant monsters that breathe fire on to cities? This is all really playful, you know, hugely imaginative stuff. And when you come here, you realize that there’s this sense of play that even Japanese are not really great at articulating to outsiders, and it’s woven through so many aspects of Japanese culture, whether it’s their spirituality, you know, in the way that they present or interact with, you know, religious places and festivals and things like that, you know, which are extremely serious and very real things. But the the way that you express yourself at them is full of a sense of play that senses that sense of whimsicality and play, I think, is the number one thing and also individuality, you know, like the sense that you would get of Japan in the 80s, particularly when I was growing up, was that you know, everybody looks the same, nobody acts the same. And that’s just completely not true. If it were, if it were true, we wouldn’t be purchasing all of these wild inventions coming out of Japan. You know, if if Japanese people were all like, you know, some kind of regimented, you know, worker drones, they wouldn’t be able to innovate like they have. So that’s the kind of conundrum. And it works the other way too, right? Well, you brought up Marie Kondo, OK? And Marie Kondo, she’s a fascinating character to me. And in the way that she has packaged Japanese spirituality. But you have to ask yourself if Japan has the answer to, you know, keeping your house and life completely clean, why did they need to invent Marie Kondo in the first place? You know, she’s an answer to a very specific Japanese problem that happened. And again, you know, she’s another example of finding Japan kind of finding a problem with modern society and then inventing a solution to it. And then that solution taking off abroad because it’s all of our problems. You know, we’re all in this together. There’s no American, Japanese, there’s no Russian, Korean, we’re all people and our motivations are all really down. When you get right down to it, exactly the same the way we manifest started the tools or whatever our response them differ all over the world. But the fundamental things that we all want are exactly the same. And that was one of the big kind of insights of writing pure invention that like these inventions that we thought of as wacky, they’re not wacky at all when you start to look at the socio economic milieu in which they arose.
Brilliant Miller [00:26:17] Yeah, absolutely. Well, you mentioned that was one of the surprising things you learned from writing this book. What else did you learn that surprises you either about Japan or about the act of writing or about yourself or anything?
Matt Alt [00:26:32] Sure. You know, I’ll tell you one big thing that came out of the book was realizing how little control creators have over their creations once they leave their hands. Virtually every object that I talk about in the book was transformed by consumers into something completely different than its designers intended. You know, the Walkman was intended as a tool to help kids study tools so they could listen to music late at night without keeping their parents up. And Sony believed that nobody except high school kids would buy it. As we know, that’s completely not the case. It took off all over the world because people used it to tune out the world around them and to kind of put a fast forward on life, which is something we all know now from our smartphones. Things like that. They happen again and again in the book, where people created something sometimes with good intentions, sometimes not. And it got taken in by a totally different direction, completely out of their hands. So and that’s sort of a metaphor for creation. You know, whatever sort of creative work you do, whether you’re a painter, a poet, a writer, you know, any sort of creative endeavor, you create something and you release it into the world and then it kind of takes on a life of its own kind of a little bit like animism, I guess. Yeah, I
Brilliant Miller [00:27:44] like as an example and what you’re saying reminds me of what you shared about the back story to Pokemon, right? And that was so fascinating to me. Such a great example of where, you know, when Nintendo developed this and the creator, it took him. Six years and they thought of a send-off for the game boy, which by then was old technology. And instead, the world, once it was released into the world, it was embraced.
Matt Alt [00:28:07] And everybody, yeah.
Brilliant Miller [00:28:08] Nobody expected.
Matt Alt [00:28:09] No. And that’s another great example, because if you remember the reporting around that at the time, like Time magazine, it’s like poker mania, the Japanese, the brainwashing, our kids, you know, they’re trying to steal their souls with video games. I’m sure you remember all of that hype. The irony is that Pokemon was not only not made for Westerners, it was made completely for Japanese kids. Nintendo didn’t even want to export it abroad. They didn’t think it would sell. Nintendo did not think it would sell Miyamoto Shigeru, the creator of Mario, who is like the consultant on the project. It’s a guy named Satoshi Tajiri who actually made it said, Yeah, at our meetings we were all talking about, man is never going to sell. So like the idea that Japan set out to brainwash kids with this product is prima facie absurd. And then the fact that kids loved it shows what a kind of purity it had. What a need that it answered. This ability to take the experience of playing outdoors inside in a rapidly urbanizing world where those places to play outside have started to disappear. Japanese stumbled on that first, bottled it and sold it to the world.
Brilliant Miller [00:29:12] Yeah. You know, something that I really enjoyed reading in your book as well was your personal experience talking with some of the creators of this technology of these different technologies, will you just share a little bit about what your process was like, what you were sure was like identifying them, contacting them, interviewing them, this kind of thing?
Matt Alt [00:29:34] I started with big lists of products that I thought were kind of, as the Japanese say, epoch making, transformative sorts of things, and I whittled it down by applying the criteria and things like that. And once I had to come up with the basic list of products that were in the book, I hit on the idea of making this sort of like a detective story. I wanted to track down the very first incarnation of all of these things wherever it was. Is it in the museum? Is it in the personal collection? You know, does the inventor have one in his closet and talk to the people who had made them as much as possible? Because there’s so much reporting on these objects, like if you talk about something like the Gameboy or the Walkman or Hello Kitty, there are entire books devoted to these subjects, but they tend to be treated as product histories, and I was much more interested in the thought processes of the people who came up with them. So some people had already passed on, you know, the inventor of the very first postwar tin toy car died in 1971. You know, Akio Morita, who was the chairman of Sony, passed away in the 90s. So it wasn’t always possible. But the few times that I was able to make contact with people, for instance, like when I met the 90 something creator of the first karaoke machine, I mean, that was just it was, to be in the same room as these people under such unassuming people like these aren’t people who demand that you kneel that their feet because they invented something there is shocked by their products taking off as the rest of us. And that was a huge inspiration to me too. It’s just the way to live is to create and by creating, to make something perhaps bigger than yourself, hopefully. And so it was a lot of fun to talk to these people who, you know, had changed, touched my life in so many ways and so many other lives, and yet find them so human so, so down to earth, so easy to talk to.
Brilliant Miller [00:31:24] Yeah, I’ll bet that was really cool. And also the I’m just reminded, although you used this word in the book about the power of a zeitgeist. And how karaoke as an example you talk about between 1967 and seventy-one or seventy-two. Yeah, that that had been invented by multiple people in different areas, unbeknownst to each other. Right. And how remarkable that is that these things just kind of spontaneously seem to arise. Right. That’s really probably no surprise based on some of what you talked about. And you know, what’s going on in society and things like that?
Matt Alt [00:32:04] Well, that was a great example of, you know, the karaoke machine we kind of take for granted now. And it’s like most of the time here. I hate karaoke. I love karaoke. You know, it’s like it’s just such a part of life. They don’t really even question the fact that there was a before and after. And, you know, the components of the first karaoke machines, you know, a microphone or an amplifier, a tape deck. It was there were tape decks back then. They weren’t like streaming or like, you know, DVD based or anything. Those were all Western technologies and Western are saying, We love to sing, you know, we sing all over the place. Why was it Japan where this thing was invented six times in a row and not, you know, the Netherlands? Not, you know, somewhere in Africa? Why was it Japan? And the answer to that after I did a lot of reading and a lot of research and talking to people was realizing that it was a tool for salaryman Japanese businessmen. And to entertain their clients. And there was this huge client entertainment business ecosystem in the 1960s and 70s that we just didn’t have in our American madmen, you know, corner office three martini lunch and that had home to your picket fence in the suburbs. Picket fence house in the suburbs. It was just fundamentally different from the way we did business, and the karaoke machine was a business tool in its first incarnation. That changed over the decades and is another example of how the zeitgeist consumers through their, you know, countless choices have the ability to innovate in ways that big companies or single people or even organizations can’t control or even foresee.
Brilliant Miller [00:33:41] Yeah, it’s pretty remarkable.
Matt Alt [00:33:42] Yeah, it’s amazing.
Brilliant Miller [00:33:44] Let me shift to exploration about writing the creative process. Sure. And how you work. One thing I’m really curious to ask you. I understand that you and your wife are partners in Japan, Alt Japan. Is that the name of your company?
Matt Alt [00:33:59] Alt Japan. Yes. So you’re OK. Hiroko Yoda is my wife, and we founded the company together in the early 2000s and we work together and we’ve written together too. We’ve actually done that Pure Invention was my kind of solo debut, but we have done numerous books together before this,
Brilliant Miller [00:34:13] so I’m assuming because I’m married and my wife on camera when we connected. So you’re still on speaking terms. You’re living in the same house. How have you made marriage and a career work? What have you done or what have you ensured not to do?
Matt Alt [00:34:30] Wow, that’s a big question. You know, I remember when we first set out to, you know, run our company together, I literally had a friend is like, you’re going to be divorced in like a year. And I was like, Oh, thanks, buddy. Thanks for that. Thanks for that vote of confidence. But, you know, I think the number one key to us being able to run our business or to try to write together, it comes down to communication. You know, there isn’t really a hierarchy between us in the relationship, certainly not creatively or when we’re running our, you know, business. We make our decisions together. We’re in it as a team, you know, so we know that whatever, either side is arguing is coming from the standpoint of wanting to get us to a better place or keep us in a good place or whatever you want to, you know you, that benefit of the doubt is always there. So, you know, I won’t deny that we’ve had, you know, arguments, and there have been things like that over the years, over 20 years. Like, it’s just inevitable, but it’s never been existential if that makes sense. But we might just be sort of odd that way. You know, we were both ambitious to try to make our mark on the world. We were both wanting to work for ourselves and not as part of bigger organizations or systems. We thought that we’d be able to attain. You know, we had kind of similar dreams, you know, about what we wanted. So all of that helps, you know, getting on the same page.
Brilliant Miller [00:35:56] Yeah, absolutely. And when did you first know you were a writer?
Matt Alt [00:36:03] Oh, man. Well, you know, I don’t really consider myself a writer with a capital w, you know what I mean? Like, I write, you know, like, I don’t know, I would like, you know, sit up next to somebody in a bar and be like, Yes, I am a writer. You know, it just seems kind of heavy to me. But writing is something I’ve always done. You know, I always aced. I was a terrible student in high school, in college, but I always aced my English classes, and I always, while my fellow classmates were like, kind of terrified of term papers and stuff, I always loved that, you know, putting thoughts together and essays and things like that. But it didn’t really occur to me to do it professionally for many years. I didn’t get published professionally until the late 90s. I was, you know, in my late 20s by that point. And even then, that was just sort of like a side thing like, Oh, this is fine, I can contribute an essay to a toy magazine or something like that in my field. And when I really started to kind of come to terms with it was when the internet was taking off. In the early late 90s and early 2000s, I helped run a website. It was called Toy Box, and it was sort of dedicated to this knot of insane Japanese toy collectors. And you had to just keep churning out content for it. You had to keep writing, you know, back then websites, it wasn’t like social media today. They were much more magazine-like you’d have a kind of a blog type. There was even a blog. And so with me and the founder of it and the other people who kind of, you know, gravitated there, we would write and we’d critique each other’s writing, even though we didn’t realize that’s what we were doing. You know, like, I like that piece. I didn’t like that one. And that’s what sort of, I started to get a sense for what worked and what I was good at and what I did. But I didn’t aspire to be a writer, really. I didn’t set out to do that. It just sort of happened.
Brilliant Miller [00:37:56] Now, that’s something I hear from published writers, but that doesn’t surprise me anymore, because I think a lot of people think they want to write in this way that many people want to have run a marathon, right?
Matt Alt [00:38:08] Sure.
Brilliant Miller [00:38:09] But they don’t actually want to run the marathon. But those who end up publishing many cases, it seems to me it’s just a natural self. It’s a thing they can’t not do. It’s just who they are.
Matt Alt [00:38:19] Well, it’s writing. And there’s also like when you say writing, there’s so many varieties of it. Do you know what I mean? Are you writing an essay? Are you writing a memoir? Are you writing a nonfiction book or are you writing fiction? You know, are you writing short stories? You’re writing long-form. There are so many variations on it. And so, you know, you know what I’m saying? And so when you say you want to become a writer, it’s like, Oh, well, what kind of writer like? I don’t know that I would be able to offer much in the way of help to somebody who aspired to become a science-fiction novelist. Right? Which is great it’s a great aspiration if you aspire to it. I really respect that. But it’s just, you know, I chose and prefer to operate in the idiom of nonfiction, and that’s just a completely different world. It’s a completely different agent. It’s a completely different editor it’s completely different publishers. So there are all these different ecosystems there, you know, for sure.
Brilliant Miller [00:39:09] In just a moment, I want to ask you about your approach to writing. Sure. Nonfiction. But before I do, I want to ask again what’s probably going to be a poorly worded question. But when I learned Japanese, the first language I learned other than English, right, pig Latin. And I can say that Japan, my experience of Japan and like Japan, is in many ways I think as foreign culture as you can find without leaving the planet, and yet in some ways, it’s very familiar, as you’ve talked about, but the language there were so many differences that I had never even thought could exist, like in Japanese, how Japanese traditionally don’t show the spaces between words. Sure. Yeah. Top to bottom, right to left this kind of thing. Character-based, you know, so many other things that when I started attempting to write in Japanese, I was really confronted with this sense that things I had been saying my entire life were literally not true. Faced with translating them, I could see in some ways how untrue they are, right? And so I realized I might just be overthinking this. Or, you know, everyone’s wired a little differently. But how this is. Here’s the poorly worded question to try to get to. How do you deal with reckons now when it’s factual? That seems pretty sure you’re trying to say there’s a greenhouse on the corner and mark living there or something. Yeah, it’s easy. But when you’re dealing with expressing ideas, yeah. Something deeper where you know there are idioms or there’s different, you know, proverbs and formulations. How do you think about language, right? Because even the difference and Japanese is just it’s just a label we put on the language.
Matt Alt [00:41:02] Language affects your thinking processes. I mean, this was explored – there’s a big science fiction movie of a few years back called arrival in which the lead character is trying to decipher an alien language. And by so doing, you know, unravels all of these impacts on her own perceptions of reality. That, of course, is science fiction, but it’s true in a sense, it’s true. It’s true in a variety of ways. I mean, when you’re operating in your non-native language, you’re kind of stripped down to the basics. It’s a lot easier. It’s a lot more difficult to B.S. your way through situations, just through prose or through linguistic flourishes. Your grammar is cut way back, your vocabulary is cut way back and you’re really kind of forced to confront the basic, the most basic meanings of what you’re trying to say. And in translation, it’s the process of translation that really keeps writers honest, which is a reason why a lot of writers hate being translated. I think they like the idea that their work is being in other cultures. But in practice, I found when you’re actually working with authors and questioning them why they wrote a sentence this way, when you’re trying to translate it, it can really frustrate them. It’s like, Well, it’s right there on the page. And I’m like, Well, when you actually pass this out, are you saying this or are you saying this, that kind of thing? And I ran into this myself because there was a Japanese edition of Pure Invention. It was translated by a really, really talented woman named Article Murai, who just did an amazing job and I run a translation company, right? So like I, I should appreciate translation, but I would get questions from her and I’d be like, All right, I put it on the page, What’s the problem? And it was really funny to me to realize, like, Wow, you’re acting like somebody doesn’t know anything about translation. And she often would find things in the prose or in the text. That needed to be clarified or, certainly for Japanese audiences, versus Western ones or things like that. So it was really interesting to me to go through that process and see because it’s very – Japanese to English, there’s no one-to-one correspondence or correlation. It’s not like French or Spanish where you can, you know, literally draw lines. You know, the grammar is the same, the words are different, which is grossly oversimplifying, you know, the translation of Spanish or French and English, too. But we’ll put that aside. But there’s literally no correlation. So you have to distill things down to intent and logic to convey it. And that can be a really scary experience for a writer because, you know, every writer relies on certain stylistic flourishes or texts or forms of humor or, you know, forms of expression that are rooted in culture and don’t translate well into other ones. So when you strip those away, what are you left with? You know, it’s kind of like being naked on the stage.
Brilliant Miller [00:43:56] Yeah, for sure. Well, then I can’t believe this had never occurred to me, but somebody pointed out to be the difference between a translation and interpretation. Oh, sure. Yeah. Can you talk about that for a moment.
Matt Alt [00:44:07] Yeah, they often get. They often get misconstrued. The translation is text. It’s the translation of words. You know, whether it’s single words, sentences, books, interpretation is oral or verbal. So, for instance, at the United Nations, you see these people with the earpiece and they’re doing what’s called simultaneous interpretation. So when somebody is giving a speech, they will be conveying what that person is saying in real-time at the UN. Usually, it’s not in real-time. That is an exquisitely difficult task to master. Usually, it’s what’s called consecutive interpretation where somebody says something and then you’re like, OK. And then you say it, then they say and say something and you say it, and they’re totally different skill sets. A great translator will not necessarily make a great interpreter, and great interpreters will not necessarily make great translators. It’s very much like the difference between a writer and a stage performance. You know, just because you’re graded X or an orator, just because you’re great at expressing yourself verbally doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be an incredible writer or vice versa.
Brilliant Miller [00:45:12] No, thank you for breaking that down,
Matt Alt [00:45:15] yes, translation versus interpretation. It’s just a classic thing.
Brilliant Miller [00:45:19] Yeah. So just a moment ago, we talked about nonfiction writing and kind of how that’s your thing. And I’m curious if you would be willing to just kind of give the broad strokes on how you approach a project all the way from how you settle on, Hey, this is the book that I’m going to devote hundreds and hundreds of hours of my life to. Yeah, producing all the way to outline, researching, outlining, drafting, editing. But what’s your approach?
Matt Alt [00:45:46] I mean, I don’t want to make it sound like I knew what I was doing because I actually didn’t. And a lot of ways like, I’m very intuitive in my approach, probably too much. So other writers won’t even put a word down to paper unless they have huge outlines. And there are different ways of doing things and there are different personality types I fall on the spectrum towards, you know, try it first and see what happens later. Which drives editors and a lot of other people crazy. But, you know, writing a book is difficult. It’s really, really difficult. And I question myself constantly at virtually every aspect, virtually every level of the process, from discussing it with my agent to the drafting of the proposal to, you know, coming up with the outlines and drafting the actual, you know, drafts of the chapters. Am I doing this right? Am I doing the right thing? Will anybody care about this nonstop? It’s a kind of a form of performance, anxiety, and imposter syndrome rolled into one. And you know, if there’s any one piece of advice I’d give to aspiring writers, it’s like you just got to roll with it. Everybody’s an imposter here. Literally. I mean, you just you’re an imposter until you’re not so just keep going. And the difference between somebody who is a quote on quote writer and one who is not is just it’s just how you define it and you have to be comfortable with that. Really, nobody else can do that for you. So it’s a struggle. It’s always a struggle. And people who don’t write it just like, Hey, man, just put it down on the page, man, just put it down. And I’m like, Well, what’s your job? OK? You know, I just do it. You know, that’s not really a helpful, helpful piece of advice, though. That being said, you have to write, you have to face that page and you do have to get something down. So it’s just a constant struggle with yourself. It’s a constant struggle with the concept. It’s a constant struggle with the other stakeholders, the agents, the editors, the publishers, and things like that. So it’s a big process knowing that it’s a constant struggle and it’s one.
Brilliant Miller [00:47:55] That I have definitely experienced in interviewing more than 100 authors. It’s come up in probably almost every interview. Yeah. How do you structure your life, your physical environment calendar, this kind of data to support yourself in realizing finished work?
Matt Alt [00:48:14] Sure. Well, you know, it helps to have a goal. Do you know what I mean? It’s like, seriously, and I don’t mean that in a condescending way. It helps to have a goal. Like, am I pitching a piece, you know, to an editor? Am I delivering on a piece that an editor has picked up? Am I developing a new concept that I’m going to be doing developing into a big, bigger project? Am I helping someone else behind the scenes? More recently, actually, after finishing pure invention, I’ve been working a lot with Hiroko on a book proposal and project that she’s working on. And that’s been very kind of satisfying to do to bring the things that I learned from my process and sort of mentor, you know her in that. So it’s just there’s no – fiction that might be different because you’re generating it out of your head. But for nonfiction, in particular, you have to have a kind of target writing toward a goal. You’re running toward what? It’s something you want to express some new piece of information that you want to package and convey to the world. So you can’t just, I don’t just like sit down at my desk, be like, write, you know, there has to be some reason there.
Brilliant Miller [00:49:23] Absolutely. What habits and routines do you observe that help you as a writer?
Matt Alt [00:49:32] I don’t have a lot of these sort of habits that you hear about from like, you know, Haruki Murakami or somebody who’s just like, every morning I get up at 6:00, I jog and then I write for four hours and then, you know, whatever. And it’s great. If you have that sort of discipline or that kind of structure works for you, but I am much more ad hoc. Hiroko and I, you know, we don’t have kids. We focus on our work, so we have a lot more freedom in our scheduling. So usually the mornings we tend to spend on client work and then the afternoons we spend on our own projects. But sometimes if there’s a pressing deadline for something that could get flipped around or we spend all day on one and not in another. But we work together and we keep ourselves – I think, you know, we work in the same office together, and that really helps keep us focused on our job. I think if Hiroko wasn’t around, I’d be probably screwing around and playing video games nonstop. I’m I’m terrible when it comes to that kind of discipline, but being in the same room and kind of setting out our goals for the day, you know, whether the night before the morning or we have to do this really helps. So whether it’s like I got a draft chapter one or you have to answer the, you know, the editor’s questions to Chapter five or whether it’s just, you know, I’m going to do a bunch of reading and try to come up with something new to write about.
Brilliant Miller [00:50:49] That’s part of it, too. That’s awesome. What tools, technology, whether it’s software, hardware, something analog, do you really like to use?
Matt Alt [00:51:00] Yeah, none, really. I mean, Microsoft Word, I have tried using all sorts of productivity packages like Scrivener and stuff like that that a lot of people swear by, but I never found them any more useful than just keeping multiple word documents open. I use Google Docs a lot because it does help you collaborate, especially if you’re doing something together with another person or they need to check what you’re writing because that way you don’t have to turn in a draft. You can kind of be updating it in real-time. So Google Docs has been great for that. But like, you know, I’m not somebody, you know, I tried over and over again with pure invention to kind of plot things out with note cards outline whatever. And what ended up happening was I just realized that after a lot of struggle, I had to internalize it, put it down and then keep iterating on it over and over again. I’m not the type of person who just thinks and thinks and thinks and puts a perfect sentence down. It’s always crap. I always have to come back to that.
Brilliant Miller [00:52:01] That reminds me of two pieces of advice that are quoted often to writers, right? One is about not saying that yours was this, but maybe about write shitty first drafts. Yeah. Yes. And I don’t, I forget who said all writing is rewriting. Yes. So yeah, yeah, that’s what this was. When. But you use the word internalize that was.
Matt Alt [00:52:20] Yes. Even Hemingway would not advise doing this right. Drunk, revised, sober. I mean, he was revising his stuff. And I don’t advise getting drunk while you’re writing unless that’s your thing, I guess. Like, I can’t tell you the number of times I have been beating myself up about what junk I thought I was putting down on the page. And then I came back the next day and I’m like, Well, it’s not so bad. Or, you know, and sometimes it is junk. I mean, it just is. You have to be prepared for that. But you know, a lot of times we’re our own worst critics and we’re harsher on ourselves than we probably should be or need to be and kind of like the inventors in the book. I’ve often been surprised at what turns of phrase have resonated with readers that I wasn’t expecting to. And sometimes the things you write seem really trite or weak or lame to you, but then a reader reads them and either infuses them with their own viewpoint. Or maybe it’s more profound than you give it credit for. So, you know, you have to just get it down to start with. You know, it’s so easy to talk yourself out of writing or so easy to talk yourself into stopping, but you really just have to, you know, get a draft down.
Brilliant Miller [00:53:30] No doubt that reminds me of something I once read. The science-fiction novelist Frank wrote about, his process was to sit down with discipline each day. And yeah, always feel like it. But somewhere he wrote that he suspected that there was a difference in the quality of his writing, when he felt inspired and when he forced himself to do it. But then he said, when he would go back and read it, he actually couldn’t tell which was right. Pretty interesting.
Matt Alt [00:53:57] Yeah. And I just believe that. And also, you know, he probably when we consume things like Dune, you know, or classics like that, we tend to get overwhelmed by them and we forget the fact that they’re the product of probably there were probably a thousand drafts of Dune before it got publishes a book. You know, there’s probably, Frank Herbert’s a genius, but you know, he’s a human being, and nobody produces perfect prose right off the bat. And in fact, you often see this with writers as they get more and more famous, and they get edited less and less. Because they’re kind of cash cows, their output gets less impressive, it gets less compelling. And that back and forth with editors and readers and stuff, you know, actually feeling a little insecure is probably a good thing when you’re a writer. It keeps you humble.
Brilliant Miller [00:54:45] You know, it’s such a powerful reframe of the security of that inner critic that we all,
Matt Alt [00:54:49] yeah, it’s our turn to turn that frown upside down, you know?
Brilliant Miller [00:54:53] Well, Matt, if you’re willing, I just want to close with a series of questions. I share something I call the enlightening lightning round. It’s not related necessarily to things we’ve been discussing. Sure. OK, so I’ll just check in with you here, too. How are you doing?
Matt Alt [00:55:09] I’m OK. I’m OK.
Brilliant Miller [00:55:11] OK. All right. So with the enlightening lightning around again, this is a series of questions that my aim is to ask the question for the most part to just stand aside. You’re welcome to answer. Sure. But I’ll try to keep us moving. OK, question number one. Mm hmm. Please complete the following sentence with something other than a box of chocolates. OK. Life is like a
Matt Alt [00:55:37] the first draft of your essay or novel.
Brilliant Miller [00:55:43] OK, question number two here I’m borrowing a question from Peter Thiel. What important truth do very few people agree with you on?
Matt Alt [00:55:53] What important truth do very few people agree with me on that, actually? Life is not as bad as it might seem right now.
Brilliant Miller [00:56:03] OK. Question number three, if you were required every day for the rest of your life to wear a T-shirt with a slogan on it or Fraser saying or quote or quip, what would the shirt say?
Matt Alt [00:56:15] Don’t mind me, I just want to be back and listening and kind of taking in the scene. And also, that’ll give me some, you know, when I say something stupid and lot let people ignore what I’m saying, too.
Brilliant Miller [00:56:28] How would that be said in Japanese?
Matt Alt [00:56:31] Well, that’s a tough one, actually. You know, like, you know, [Japanese] or something like that. But you know, it’s tough, those kind of quips and that kind of, you know, little aphorisms, they don’t really translate well into other languages because there’s so, so much part of wordplay and world view that it’s really tough. You know, that was some of the things that I struggled with in my own book. You know, when you said a turn of phrase that every American knows, but Japanese people be like, What’s that about? You know, and I’m like.
Brilliant Miller [00:57:06] Yeah, no doubt. Let me just deviate from my enlightening lightning round for a moment to ask you if you have one. What is your favorite Japanese proverb?
Matt Alt [00:57:16] My favorite Japanese proverb? God, there’s so many, or perhaps not a proverb, but a zen koan or a poem of sorts. There is a very famous zen Buddhist monk who traveled to Japan, and when he went to a famous shrine called Issei in the city of you say, he said, I know not why I cry tears of gratitude. And it was just his expression of being moved not only by this place that he was in but the power of feeling grateful for things in your life around you. And I think that’s a really powerful concept that if you can look at the world with the sense of gratitude you’re going to feel. I’m not saying you have to feel gratitude when things don’t go your way. But I’m just talking about in general, you know, I think that’s a powerful sort of worldview viewpoint.
Brilliant Miller [00:58:20] Oh, absolutely. Thank you for that. OK. Question number four What book other than one of your own, have you gifted or recommended most often?
Matt Alt [00:58:31] Wow. There are so, so many out there. There are so many great books out there in the in field of Japanese kind of pop-cultural studies. I have a good friend named David Marx, who wrote a book called Amy Torah that is an exploration of how Japanese fashion transformed Western fashion in ways we didn’t realize. It was a big inspiration for me writing my book. And I’ve suggested that and given that to so many different people. But there’s this many others in it, in a completely non-related to that field. There’s a really great writer named David Onedrich who wrote this book called Imbibe that is all about the history of cocktail culture in America. It’s full of recipes. I actually like traditional Japanese traditional cocktail recipes and things like that. But his stories of the people who made these things are really another inspiration for me because, you know, you talk about a martini, but who made it and why and how that sort of cultural background. So that’s another great book that I like imbibe.
Brilliant Miller [00:59:31] Awesome. Thank you for that. OK, question number five. So I know this might have changed a bit in recent months with the pandemic, but you’ve traveled a lot in your life. What’s one travel hack meaning something you do or something you take with you when you travel to make your travel less painful or more enjoyable?
Matt Alt [00:59:51] You know, I want to say a towel like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but I’m actually, you know, I’m not a huge travel hacker like some people are. I’m the kind of person who loves to go someplace. And then when there are problems, fix them on the ground. This drives my wife crazy and other people. I travel crazy. But that’s just my style. So I actually almost deliberately don’t hack it. I, you know, I go out there and see what the situation’s like and try to modify what I’m doing on the fly.
Brilliant Miller [01:00:20] Right on. OK. Number six, what’s one thing you’ve started or stopped doing in order to live or age?
Matt Alt [01:00:27] Well, one thing I’ve started or stopped doing to age well, I’ve certainly started to eat a lot better, you know, eat healthier foods and things like that when I was a kid, you know, and quite recently, it’s pizza, pizza, pizza, you know, comfort foods getting out of my comfort zone and eating things that incorporating more healthy sort of things to my diet has been a huge change in all sorts of things, and I highly recommend it.
Brilliant Miller [01:00:54] Good for you. You’re likely to live longer. Yeah, hopefully, yes. Question number seven So again, asking this recognizing that you were born, you’re American. Mm-Hmm. But you’re living in Japan? Yes. Which, by the way, someone pointed out to me why when people come here, they’re immigrants, but when we go we’re expats
Matt Alt [01:01:12] Yes, it’s condescending. That’s why
Brilliant Miller [01:01:16] That’s interesting. But so here’s the question what’s the one thing you wish every American knew?
Matt Alt [01:01:23] You know, one of the things that I’ve noticed here is that how people are so willing to contribute to society in ways that Americans are not. It’s why Japanese people have bullet trains. It’s why they have all of this beautiful infrastructure that everybody can make use of. But every time something like that comes up in the states, people are inevitably fighting it because they don’t like the extra taxes or they don’t like the fact they’re not going to use it. There’s this sense here that contributing to the public good is good in a way that I think is not really endemic to the West, and it holds us back in a lot of ways. When you look at the state of, you know, whenever I travel back to the states, I’m struck by how like crummy, our airports and our trains, and you know, all sorts of things are and they don’t have to be that way. We’re like one of the richest nations in the world. Why is this so it’s just a big thing I’ve noticed, you know, I think it’s good to get out of your head and think about others and not just yourself.
Brilliant Miller [01:02:23] Absolutely. OK. Home stretch almost done. OK. Number eight What’s the most important or useful thing you’ve ever learned about making relationships work?
Matt Alt [01:02:35] Listen more. I’m still working on it. I really am.
Brilliant Miller [01:02:42] You and me both. Question number nine. Aside from compound interest, what’s the most important or useful thing you’ve ever learned about money?
Matt Alt [01:02:52] Most important, useful thing I’ve got, I’m terrible with money. I’m not terrible with money that makes it sound like I’m gambling it all away or something like that. You know, when I was a kid, I dreamed of becoming a millionaire, so I wouldn’t have to worry about money anymore. But as I’ve had more and more success over the years, I’ve realized that, you know, and this sounds like a cliche, but it’s not, like money is no substitute or panacea for your own personal issues or problems or whatever. If you are feeling unstable or you’re feeling like, you know, you don’t know where you’re going or what your direction is in life, having millions of dollars dumped on you is going to temporarily sate yourself with all sorts of fun pursuits, but eventually it’s going to wear off and you get to realize you’re exactly where you were. So money is important in the sense that we need money to live and, you know, to take care of ourselves and stuff like that and hopefully help others. But it is nowhere near the antidote to the problems of our lives that’s often perceived as in the West, in America, even by myself.
Brilliant Miller [01:04:04] Yeah, I’m with you there. Yeah. OK, well, speaking of money, one thing I have done to make an expression of gratitude to you is to make $100 micro loan to an entrepreneur who is in… Let me make sure I’ve got this right.
Matt Alt [01:04:20] Please note, I’m curious about this.
Brilliant Miller [01:04:22] I won’t. I won’t make any interest on this. The interest will get a field partner at Kiva.org, so some might this is to a woman, a female entrepreneur. She is in Puerto Rico. How interesting it’s actually about fashion. Oh wow. Interesting. Great. Help her expand her business and make an impact through fashion awareness. I don’t know what that means, but that’s cool.
Matt Alt [01:04:49] Good luck to her.
Brilliant Miller [01:04:50] Yeah. So thank you for giving me a reason to do that.
Matt Alt [01:04:53] Not at all. Thanks for doing it.
Brilliant Miller [01:04:56] My pleasure. So if people want to learn more from you or they want to connect with you, assuming you’d be OK if they did? Sure. Of course, they could buy your book, but what else would you have them do?
Matt Alt [01:05:09] Oh, you know, I’m online. People can find me anywhere. I’m on Twitter or I’m on Instagram. If you look up Matt Alt or MattAlt.com, there’s actually a website you can connect with me. But you know, I think what I’d like people to do is whether they read the book or not, just when they interact with people of other cultures and backgrounds to remember. And this isn’t some kind of, you know, woke or silly thing that we really all want the same things in life. All of us, every single person. And things that seem strange or weird on the surface are only because of ignorance because you don’t know what situations or backgrounds or issues or whatever are causing people to act that way. So consideration, you know, especially in cross-cultural interactions, I think, is just really something the world could use more of. And I, you know, I hope by, you know, writing my book, at least in their field of view, Japanese relations or Western Japanese relations, I help smooth that a little bit. But it’s true for every cross-cultural pairing all over the world.
Brilliant Miller [01:06:18] Yeah. Well, thank you for spreading that message and living that message. I hope it could really benefit from now.
Matt Alt [01:06:26] Well, thanks for having me.
Brilliant Miller [01:06:27] It’s my pleasure. OK? So again, my guest, Matt, Alt. His latest book, “Pure Invention How Japan Made the Modern World”. Matt, thank you so much for being here. I look forward to connecting whenever and
Matt Alt [01:06:37] absolutely stay in touch. Look me up for dinner in Tokyo.
Brilliant Miller [01:06:40] OK, and same next time you’re in Utah. I know it’s secretly the center of the universe.
Matt Alt [01:06:45] And love Utah. I no, I love it. I’d love to go back out there. We actually went to Moab a couple of years ago.
Brilliant Miller [01:06:52] We’ll get OK. We’ll take care of my friend. I’ll talk to you later.
Matt Alt [01:06:55] Thank you.
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