April 16, 2011

J Pop Was Here

In Anne Allison’s article, “Attractions of the J-Wave for American Youth” she tries to explain why Japanese pop culture, specifically Anime and other television cartoons and action series from Japan have been so popular among American youth. She concludes by saying that it is because of its foreignness or strangeness that American children love and embrace the shows as something different and take it as their own while still being Japanese. This is opposed to adults who don’t understand the fad because they think of Japan as foreign, exotic and unknown as well but prefer to keep it that way.

Is this true? No one can deny that the popular culture coming from Japan isn’t like anything we had in America before it. It is definitely something new and exotic. But I am not sure if that is why young children love it. An alternate explanation could be that children have been collecting things for centuries, whether it was rocks, stamps, baseball cards etc. and trading them with friends. The Pokemon phenomenon could have just been that generations trading card du jour. It was definitely more exciting than stamps because of the technology it used. Sure you could trade cards as well, but then you could watch the television show and play the video can to solidify the Pokemon as a part of your everyday child life. Children also love pets, which is what the Pokemon essentially were. You had to play with them or train them and you had to take care of them. Were they exotic? To be sure, there is no naturally existing animal called a Pikachu that I know of, but is it Japanese exotic or just something new?

My brother loved Pokemon, I mean was SO obsessed and had all the cards and watched the show every week religiously and had all the games. I remember we couldn’t go out anywhere without him asking my mom to get him a pack of the cards. It was a problem (that’s the way it seemed to me anyway). But did it cause him to be more attracted to Japanese culture? Well as he got older he watched more Japanese cultural products like Dragon Ball Z and other Anime shows. I watched his best friend go through all of these phases as well. But while my brother moved on (although he still watches the cartoons from time to time) his best friend developed a love for Anime that can only be described as… insane (again, at least that’s what I think). He began to draw the comics that he saw and create his own in the Anime style. He actually started to learn a little Japanese and his dream became and still is to move to Japan and create his own comic book. This seemed utterly insane to me and not like a real life goal, but after reading about the J Pop wave I still think its insane of him but very clever on the part of the Japanese.

So what’s my end take on this? Does it work? My answer is it depends on the person and it seems as though there are a lot of people out there who are testaments to Japan’s cultural diplomacy. I can apply this phenomenon to my own life as well. My brother borrowed from a friend a game called Final Fantasy VII one summer. I was sitting in my room bored and I went to see what he was playing and why he and his friends were so animated. To his chagrin (and his friends) I was hooked and literally spent two weeks of my life completely and utterly engrossed in this game. It was SO good. The story had drama, love, a war, a distant land and honor- just utterly amazing. I ended up playing the game two times through with my brother in subsequent summers just going back to that game but I never like any successor games as much as Final Fantasy VIII or any other games that my brother brought home. Once school started I was over it and went back to my other hobbies and I haven’t played it in years. I liked the game because it was different and while the characters could be described as mildly Asian in appearance the game took place in an alternate universe, I had no idea of its ties to Japan. I just found out today that the game was created by a Japanese man and produced by Square Enix and Japanese company.

What has affected me personally about Japanese culture is what I would call its historical culture. Japanese food, the history of the geisha, Tom Cruise in the Last Samurai (just kidding- I did like the movie though...mostly for the Samurais); to me that stuff is bad ass. I don’t even get why they would have to create a popular culture when their historical culture is so new and already exotic to Western places. It was the exotic nature of Final Fantasy that attracted me to it and it’s that same idea that attracts me to Japan. I know that J Pop has been very successful for them and they want to cash in on this money cow while they can, but if they ever worry about the fad fading, I think they just have to look back to see how they can go forward.


Anne Allison “The Attractions of the J Wave for American Youth” in Watanabe Yusashi and Michael McConnell (Eds) Soft Power Superpowers: Cultural and National Assets of Japan and the United States (2008)

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