Toys. Video games. Portable music players. Kawaii characters. Anime. When it comes to modern pop culture, we’ve all turned Japanese.

That’s the contention of the new book “Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World” by Matt Alt. It’s an exploration of how key Japanese exports have influenced the wider world’s perception of the country — and infused the world with a bit of “Japaneseness” at the same time.

Pure Invention: How Japan's Pop Culture Conquered the World, by Matt Alt 368 pages CROWN
“It occurred to me that Japan is a country that has a lot of cultural pull, but there had never been a book that tried to qualify it,” says Alt, a native of the Washington, D.C. area (and occasional contributor to The Japan Times) who has lived in Tokyo since 2003.

To go about qualifying Japan’s pop cultural pull, Alt turned to some of the country’s most iconic inventions, from the Walkman to the Game Boy to Hello Kitty. To warrant inclusion, each had to satisfy what Alt calls the “three ins”: inescapable, influential and inessential. In other words, no Toyota cars or instant ramen: The products had to be something you wanted, not needed.