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An audience with Danny Choo April 14, 2010

Posted by ayasawada in Anime, Culture, Japan, Net, Personal.
Tags: , , ,
Danny Choo in London

Danny Choo in London. Credit: Flickr/Dougal Wallace

On Tuesday night one of my heroes came to town. Given the nature of this blog, the name Danny Choo will be familiar to many of you — anime/collectibles/J-culture blogger extraordinaire, creator of dannychoo.com — one of the foremost otaku community sites on the internet. Oh yeah, and his Dad makes nice shoes apparently :P

In the four years since I started reading his site, I’ve grown to admire Danny for several reasons: 1) He’s a British-born Malaysian Chinese, like me; 2) He developed an obsession with Japanese stuff in his late teens, like me; 3) He is living his dream — running his own company and living and working in Japan; 4) He is 100% genuine, open and honest about who he is and what he likes (which has contributed somewhat to his achieving No. 3). And lest anyone forget, the man has a job where he gets sent the latest gadgets, figures and collectibles… for work! How many of us dare to dream that is even possible???

Danny returned to the UK for the first time in five years this week and gave a talk at his old University, the School of Oriental and African Studies in London (which just happens to be five minutes from where I work). So on a sunny spring day, me and about 80 other fans, alumni and interested parties crammed into an underground lecture theatre to hear him speak about ‘Creative Industries in Japan‘.

What we got did not disappoint (despite the best efforts of the embarrassingly awful SOAS technical set-up). As an alumni talk, he gave an account of how he ended up at SOAS and how his MA in Japanese and Korean Studies helped him get where he is today.

What it actually was was a whistle-stop tour of an otaku’s road to glory — how a love of gaming and a Sega Megadrive led him to the Japan Centre and a world of anime and Japanese idols. How he took up Japanese to learn more about his favourite idols, games and shows, studying earnestly and incredibly jumping from 4kyu of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (then the lowest level) to 2kyu (one off the highest, and which is damn near impossible from my point of view :P).

Danny’s passion and drive led him to Japanese bookshops where he obtained Japanese TV on VHS tapes for practice, and a part-time job in a restaurant through which he met his wife (!). His initiative and willingness to take a chance got him a position reviewing anime for the then nascent Manga Entertainment‘s anime newsletter. Knowing he needed business-level Japanese and additional skills to succeed in Japan, he took up the course at SOAS and, despite a previously unremarkable school record, ended up with a first class degree. He also got a job working for Japan Airlines at Heathrow airport, escorting Japanese passengers between flights.

But it was all toward his primary goal: mastering the language, culture and mannerisms so he could one day get out there. And it worked. He taught himself programming, which led to a job at Nature in Japan. (Incredibly, this involved him coding a Korean version of the Nature website overnight and posting it under the hotel room door of Nature journalist David Cyranoski — a bold move that paid off with an interview in Tokyo and subsequent position).

Mirai merchandise

Danny discusses Mirai-chan's range of merchandise. Credit: Flickr/Dougal Wallace

Jobs with Amazon Japan and Microsoft Japan followed before at last he set up his own company, Mirai Inc. and the rest is (ongoing) history.

Danny’s now worked with a number of well-known clients in the mainstream (Disney, Colombia to add to the likes of Amazon, Microsoft and Nature) as well as the otaku-verse (Cospa, Good Smile Company and HobbyLink Japan will mean a lot of some of you). He now has a very successful consulting firm and essentially now acts as a liaison or ambassador for Japanese geek culture all over the world. His business has expanded to encompass licensing, publishing, broadcasting, events (all with an otaku slant) and his site’s mascot, Mirai-chan, has her own merchandising range and is soon to be in an anime series (that itself grew out of an April Fool on dannychoo.com).

Many things Danny said chimed with me: particularly the stories of his teens and twenties attending Japanese language exchange clubs in London, taping the voice track of VHS tapes to practice listening, recording the sounds of Shibuya on a minidisc just so he could play them back as ‘atmosphere’ back home.

Hearing Danny’s stories confirmed everything I’d thought about him and it was refreshing to discover that the web persona matches that of the man himself — no ego, no marketing puff; who he is on the web is who he is in real life. He’s an eloquent speaker for sure, no surprise given that he has spoken many times in Germany, Singapore, Korea and elsewhere. But he was also humble, friendly and engaging, smiling through every projector failure on the night (and there were many).

Most impressively, he stayed right until the end, taking the time to speak to and answer questions from every single fan — which meant he totally missed the free booze and canapés at the reception, and had to stand out in the cold after closing time! He’s dead serious when it comes to sharing contacts and helping people network and is in no way territorial or snobbish.

I went to the talk to fanboy and hear some entertaining stories about Japan, but came away with many more valuable life lessons, particularly how passion, taking the initiative and sheer bloody-mindedness can help you achieve your goals. Danny said the most dangerous thing in life is the ‘comfort zone’ (“It’s like being strung up by the toenails and fed to meat-eating baboons”).

“The Comfort Zone prevents you from seeking out opportunities to fulfil your true passion and desire in life,” he said. “Stay passionate, stay focused… because life is really short. And when you realise your goal in life, then it passes really quickly.”

SOAS crowd with Danny Choo

The SOAS crowd with Danny Choo (me below right of Danny). Credit: Flickr/Dougal Wallace


1. Danny Choo - April 14, 2010

Thanks for coming along!

2. Hammy - April 15, 2010

I have to agree with everything you’ve said in your post, the talk was nothing short of inspiring and it was an absolute pleasure meeting so many other like minded people and bloggers.

3. Hummy - April 18, 2010

It was a very inspiring talk.

4. eliawithbirds - April 18, 2010

Nice post :) I really enjoyed the talk too, and was nice to see so many anime fans in my occasional lecture theatre xD

5. My anime 2010 « Canned Memory - January 30, 2011

[…] saw Kabuki live, which was excellent and met Danny Choo, an inspiration to us […]

6. My 2010 « Canned Memory - January 30, 2011

[…] saw Kabuki live, which was excellent and met Danny Choo, an inspiration to us […]

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