Monday, October 13, 2014

Pop Culture in Japan (Crystal)

One of the classes I’m taking this semester is called “Japanese Pop Cultures and Subcultures.” So far, a lot of what we have discussed covers smaller groups in Japan; it doesn’t necessarily represent the broader Japanese perspective. Of course, there are those who are really into manga (otaku) or BL (fujoshi), but they do not represent the majority.
A more typical view of Japan's pop culture: The Pokemon Center in Osaka.
 Music, unsurprisingly, is a one of the most prevalent forms of pop culture I have noticed among Japanese youth.  Karaoke is a popular way to pass the time among friends, and one of the questions I often get when meeting Japanese students is, “What kind of music do you like?” Two of the most popular answers I’ve encountered from Japanese girls are AKB48 (an all-female J-pop band) and Avril Lavigne.

American music is definitely known among the people I’ve met. I’ve gone to a karaoke with a few Japanese students, and most were able to sing along with at least a few of the popular hits in the US. I was actually very surprised by the variety of English songs there are at karaoke places here. There’s plenty of decades-old music right along with the more recent hits.

Unlike America, though, band t-shirts don’t seem to be as popular here. Girls especially tend to be dressed much nicer, in solid colors or patterns. When the shirts have writing, they’re usually cute English words rather than emblazoned with slogans. Among the guys on campus, I have seen a few people wearing, for instance, Nike t-shirts, but it’s still less common than at my campus back home.

Fashion itself, of course, is a form of pop culture, and I’m sure that the way the students at Kansai Gaidai are dressed broadcasts something about their personalities and social groups, but I’m not well-versed enough in the intricacies of Japanese fashion to understand it.
A group of music kids, one playing guitar. Like an American clique, perhaps?
Another aspect of Japanese pop culture I find particularly intriguing is the divisions in marketing manga. I feel like when it comes to TV in the US, peripheral demographics are often ignored in favor of the much sought-after 18-35 male audience.

In Japan, however, TV networks and manga publishing houses have different divisions for different age and gender groups; shounen (young boys), shoujo (young girls), seinen (adult men), and josei (adult women). Though shounen is definitely the most popular, the others still have quite a lot of material to work with. Even a genre like BL (typically marketed to the shoujo demographic) has plenty of material, though interest in it is often considered something of a dirty secret.

Of course, this marketing does rely on stereotypes, which certainly aren’t always accurate: Boys are interested in action and fighting bad guys; girls are interested in emotions and personal relationships. Still, what it does is give a wide variety of material from which one can consume. And it’s important to note that none of these demographics are considered genres in Japan; science fiction, horror, romance, and historical fiction manga could all fit into any of the four main demographics. All in all, I have to admit that my exposure Japanese pop culture is far from extensive. It’s not something I have spent a lot of time discussing with my Japanese friends (because it’s not central to their lives? because they know I’m not familiar enough to know what they’re talking about?), but I look forward to learning more.


glassgourd said...

I have also noticed that there seem to be less people around with band T-shirts here than back in the U.S.. I know that back home people will often consider what music they like to be a central part of their identity, and I wonder if that's either less true here or if people just don't like to be as conspicuous about it.

I wonder if

Crystaline Hoover said...

That's definitely true! I suspect it's both less part of their identity, and they don't the need to wear that type of thing on their sleeves. Branded clothing overall seems to be less of a thing. Something to do with fitting in, trying to seem adult, maybe?