Paris – Emil Pacha Valencia is the 32-year-old chief editor of Tempura Magazine, a French-language publication based in Paris. The magazine looks to target an audience that craves in-depth conversations about contemporary culture in Japan and launched this year after reaching more than 300 percent of its crowdfunding goal. So far it has examined such varied topics as tattoos, love hotels and flower arrangement.
1. What got you hooked on Japan? Japan is a materialistic society, but in a good way. The people respect manufactured objects and crafted goods, which is not a sentiment easily found in the West. You consume less when you understand well-crafted items are not disposable. And, of course, there’s the sushi.
2. What were you doing before launching Tempura Magazine? I majored in anthropology and Japanese studies at Waseda University. I researched Japanese masculinity associated with salarymen and capitalism. After school, I founded a creative agency in Paris called Normal.
3. Can you tell us more about your research? My goal was to survey why the salaryman’s social status was crumbling although they were the dominant representation of masculinity. I started by how that symbolic status was created in the 1960s and how a new generation of Japanese men rapidly went through sociological changes.
4. Did you find any striking similarities between salaryman culture and that of the OL (office lady)? Those two images (salarymen and OLs) were constructions that served purely economical purposes. Men were to sacrifice their lives to the company and the women were expected to serve tea and retire once married, something that actually accelerated Japan’s economic growth in the past. It’s progressing and there is more flexibility now.
5. How did you come to start Tempura Magazine? Despite the fact that French readers love Japan, it was very difficult to find a publication that accurately depicted the country without focusing heavily on manga or anime. From there, we defined the editorial line: to be entertaining, yet critical. The key point was to give voice to Japanese people. That’s why we mainly work with journalists that are Japanese or live in Japan. For the choice of topics, we try to find universal subjects that French readers can easily relate to while perceiving them through a Japanese lens.
6. What are some of the most erroneous depictions of Japan that you’ve seen in France? That Japan is a mix of tradition and modernity. We love to think of Japan as a highly advanced yet traditional country, but the fact is that I don’t think many people properly distinguish the differences between Japan’s modern and traditional cultures. There is also the stereotypical “Japanese people only eat sushi” train of thought.
7. Why call the magazine Tempura? Tempura originates from the Portuguese tempora dish, which was first introduced to Japan in the 17th century and later became a staple of Japanese cuisine. We liked this link between the West and the East. It symbolizes the essence of our magazine: despite the walls we build, ideas and culture will always circulate.
8. Have you published an article that has been particularly special for you? This may sound strange, but it’s an interview with a non-Japanese writer, Dany Laferriere, who wrote a book titled “I am a Japanese writer.” We discussed cultural identities and why we can choose to be a Japanese, because our identity is nobody’s business.
9. When it comes to publishing, do you prefer print or digital? I believe the experiences are very different. There’s something about paper you can’t get from a digital read, and vice versa. We are wrapping up our next print issue but planning on developing more video content at the same time.
10. Have you found any similarities between Japan and France? We share a similar sensibility for well-being, for example, in cuisine, self-care or the importance of socializing, like nomikai (drinking parties). I think that’s why we love Japan, our faraway neighbors, so much — it’s a distorted mirror of France.
11. Do you miss anything from France when you are in Japan? I wish there were more cheese shops, but I always feel perfectly at home there. On my first trip to Japan, I remember trying to rip my return ticket home. I was only 15 years old and thought maybe the gate agents would not allow me to leave the country.
12. Are you facing any difficulties due to France’s coronavirus-related lockdown? Printing is OK, but there is a crisis in the distribution system. One of the two main distributors is going down, so the whole industry is restructuring.
13. How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic will impact the industry? Newspapers may strengthen their online strategies. For magazines, we have to think about a distribution system that will reach our readers directly, and build a strong base of subscribers.
14. You’ve experienced states of emergency in both countries, how were they different? The Japanese government only had to ask people to stay home more and they complied, even shops closed. In France, people were bar-crawling until the night before the government enforced a lockdown.
15. Are there any good spots in Paris to experience Japan? The Opera district is home to Japantown and has many stores and restaurants. Taku Sekine is a Paris-based Japanese chef who offers extraordinary dishes.
16. How about the opposite? Are there any places in Tokyo to experience France? A bakery near Musashi-Koyama Station called Nemo does amazing pastries.
17. Do you have a favorite convenience store grab-and-go item? A bottle of Oi Ocha is the first thing I buy when I land in Japan. It’s my secret ritual.
18. Did you ever experience the “gaijin-seat phenomenon” in which people refuse to sit next to you on the train? Of course. At first it annoyed me, but I chose not to care. I can’t complain much about discrimination as a Caucasian male.
19. Any advice for readers who are visiting Japan for the first time? My advice would be to seek no advice, especially in Tokyo. Jump off at any station and just walk. It is a city I can’t get enough of, you always find something new. As for manners: watch and copy. The locals will acknowledge that and it can really broaden your experience. You’re not at home, always remember that.
20. What should we learn from modern Japan? Respect for others while on public transportation. Well, except during rush hour. Then it becomes a bit hard to say who should learn from who.