Post Bubble Culture

Although the economy have sunk greatly during the post bubble period, the music of Japan seemed to culturaly prosper.  New genres of music rose such as Visual-kei, a rock band with an emphasis on the ‘visual’ appearance of artists (ex: X-Japan), and Sibuya-kei, stylish mixture of house, bosa nova and other musical components (ex: M-flo).

Unlike other genres of music, the pop/idol music of Japan during this era was quite much dominated by the female artists; Artsit like Utada Hikaru (left), and Aiko gained universal pupolarity regardless age groups and genders.

Post Bubble Japan

During the heyday of the Japanese bubble economy, Japan’s rock scene saw the birth of a novel genre of music known as visual kei. The rebellious and shocking nature of visual kei, that was simultaneously a sound and a subculture, served to prelude the popping of the bubble.

With the fall of the inflated economy, Japanese rock saw a meteoric rise, an upswelling in popularity that visual kei accompanied. As witnessed in the States after the post-stagflation recession in the early 80s, rock music represented one of many avenues for people to channel their disillusion and discontent, either personally through the sound or vicariously through the subculture. In this context visual kei was essentially symbolism, representing many feelings: severance between one’s identity and the traditions of the past, honesty of expression in a society where pursuit of economic success had been a facade, the futility of social and artistic restraint, etc.

The picture here is of the guitar of former X Japan lead guitarist Matsumoto Hideto, better known by his stage name: hide. hide died in 1998, though whether by accident or suicide no one is certain. The shot was taken 9 years later at a show during X Japan’s resurgence, where the guitar occupied the same spot on stage that hide would’ve in the past. The lovingly decorated guitar speaks to the fact that visual kei was more of an idea than a fashion and that it was an entire avenue of expression for musicians and fans alike. Although visual kei no longer enjoys the mainstream popularity of the 90s, the idea endures in the underground scene, carrying the same ideas that inspired music since its inception.

Post Bubble Culture

When one thinks of Japan, beyond the more traditional aspects of the culture, the Japanese fervent passion for baseball often comes to mind.  Whether you’re an avid sports fan or a casual follower, you’ve probably heard that the Japanese love, ironically enough, “America’s pastime.”  But it’s become more than just a pastime to the Japanese:  baseball is now.  It was then, and, for the forseeable future, will be.  It’s a constant in the lives of the Japanese:  for the first 70 years of Japanese professional baseball, when a game was scheduled, it was played.  But then came 2004, and all of that changed.

Times were tough in the economy following the collapse of the Bubble Economy in the early 1990s.  The lost decade (失われた10年) lasted until 2003, even taking its toll on professional baseball.  It claimed its first victim a year later, after the 2004 season, an entire team, the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes, had to be bought out by a team based just down the road in Kobe, the Orix BlueWave, merging the two together into the Orix Buffaloes, upsetting the traditional balance of teams in Japan’s two leagues (the Pacific was reduced to 5, while the Central stayed at 6).  There was not enough time for negotiations, however, and the players did the unthinkable, they struck for the first time in league history.  There would be no baseball in Japan on September 18 and 19th of 2004, marking a very dark two day period in Japanese baseball history.  Teams changed owners all the time; the fans knew this.  But the strike made fans, especially those Kintetsu fans, realize that nothing is untouchable during an economic recession, not even a game.

Post-Bubble Japan

The “Refresh” button has changed the world. For anyone, who has ever spent an evening wasting away clicking for WikiAnswers, or flipping through endless Facebook photos of complete strangers, or watching e-documentaries on Baby Geniuses, they are familiar with the despair and desire for the “Refresh” button. The 20th century gesture of a fag between your index and middle has made way for the kink-in-the-neck check of your latest txt msg. Virtually anything is possible. Everything is within reach. And you need more. We’ve made a messiah out of technology—this much is universal idea—but has it delivered us? Can a click of a button re-establish a connection, show us an image?

The Information age alone has brought with it countless social concerns. Overlaid with Japan’s bubble burst economy, the saccharine cute idols and animations of the post-war era, news footage random acts of violence in Harajuku or the Sarin Gas Attacks on the Tokyo Metroline, the information age itself calls into question what are we clicking for?

In this photo by Yoshitomo Nara, a prominent SuperFlat artist, you might be drawn girl’s immediate cuteness. Her frumpy glare and kitty costume. But what constitutes her cuteness? What forces have anthropomorphized this child and urinating in a plastic duck, while staring back at her voyeur? In Post-Bubble Culture, one can find a somber reflection on the implications on a world electronically wireless and tuned out. How can we then, “refresh”?

Post-Bubble Japan

After World War II, the Japanese economy was in ruins and people struggled to recover from the war. However, after the Korean War, Japan did recover. During the economic rapid growth, Japanese society was urged to support the nation by working hard and saving diligently. As a result, economic boost heavily influenced culture, science, sports, and everyday life of Japanese people, improving the quality of life significantly.

In 1991, post bubble recession began and brought a huge impact on people. Japanese lost their identity and self-confidence in their future and wondered what has gone wrong.

This picture represents post bubble culture. The content symbolizes Japanese pop culture and crumpled paper symbolizes the destruction in Japanese society with frustration. This music also illustrates the Japanese searching for identity and how they are unsure of their direction in life.

Post-bubble Japan

A significant characteristic of post-bubble Japanese society is the struggle for a new identity. The collapse of the bubble economy dashed society’s hopes for continual progress towards a bright and rosy future for the nation. This has led many within Japan to to grapple with the issues of how their futures will change and how they fit into a society that is in a constant state of confusion.

The issue of identity is especially relevant to the women of Japan today, including both the generation in their prime during the collapse and those born in the years following. The stunning economic gains of the 1980s seemed to also promise advancements for the women of Japan. An economically thriving Japan offered the possibility that women would be able to contribute to the economy, and that growing economic equality between the sexes could perhaps change the traditional emphasis on marriage and children for Japanese women. Then the burst of the economic bubble prematurely ended plans for a rapid evolution in the position of women in Japanese society. Although the way that Japanese women perceive themselves and how they regard their role in society has continued to change, it is now a slow and uneven process in reaction to the uncertain future that Japan now faces.

The picture above features two women who are the face of the struggle for a new female identity in Japanese society: Crown Princess Masako and her daughter, Princess Aiko, of the Japanese Imperial Family. Princess Masako has faced pressure to conform to the traditional roles of wife and mother after marrying Crown Prince Naruhito, in spite of her education at Harvard and Oxford and her previous job at the Foreign Ministry. In particular, she has faced pressure to bear a son for the male-dominant Japanese imperial line. Her daughter Aiko then became the focus of a debate over whether women should be allowed to ascend the Japanese throne (this ended with the birth of Aiko’s male cousin who is now heir). Both generations of mother and daughter are caught up in the tide of the changing roles of women in Japan, although the outcome of their futures, much like the future of post-bubble Japan, is unclear.

Post-Bubble Japan: Akihabara

The end of the Japanese bubble economy was followed by a stale economic growth with the exception in the consumer electronics industry.  In the 1980’s, the leisure activities were focused around the family; activities like excursions to parks or shopping were the common.  As the time for leisure becomes scarce with work or education, however, people start to seek entertainment wherever they can (for example, commuters will read manga or listen to music on the way to work or school).

The market responded to this new individual-oriented lifestyle by providing consumer electronics for entertainment.  Akihabara shopping district became popular to this post-bubble generation, and those who became obsessive with video games and manga were named otaku.

Post-Bubble Japan

Post-bubble Japanese society is characterized by the naturalization of shock. 20th century Japanese history is filled with shocking events, from the atomic bombs at the end of World War Two to terrorist incidents in the 1970s. After the bubble economy collapsed at the beginning of the 1990s, social pessimism reached new heights, peaking with the Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attack (pictured at right) on the Tokyo subway system in 1995. Japanese society has become accustomed to shocks, and shock has been replaced by a search for new identity.

Post-bubble culture, which is developing through the generation that matured in the 1990s and subsequent generations, develops through the various methods young Japanese employ in their search for this new identity: materialism, minimalism, obsession with the past or the future, withdrawal or escapism, and an overarching nihilism. These responses are expressed by the post-bubble youth directly through a surge in youth literature, including acclaimed novelists Kanehara Hitomi and Wataya Risa. In particular, Kanehara’s works have been touted as “shocking,” but largely have failed to actually shock post-bubble Japan.

Japan: Post Bubble Ginza

Ginza is well known for its shopping and its spot in the night. With more than 500,000 inhabitants life is brought to the city. But what if all those inhabitants disappeared? After the collapse of the economy, many people started to stay indoors and spend less, save.

Clothes, food, cars, and all these luxury goods become less desirable during a recession. Combined with the declining forces of natural reproduction, a recession could essentially collapse an entire economy. Through circumstances of unfortunate events strange anomalies are created, like the NEET society, freeters, and other sub-cultural movements. As the economy high tails for the worse and the population declining at a steady rate, the streets of Ginza start to look a lot wider.

Post Bubble Culture

After World War II, Japan underwent large-scale industrialization and modernization, leading to great economic prosperity. In order for this success to occur, the Japanese people threw themselves into their jobs. They worked hard and focused solely on the economy, disregarding the social ramifications wrought by  industrialization.

In the 1990s, with the crash of the bubble economy, social issues became prevalent in Japan. Previously, people valued their work more than their personal lives, so when the job market crashed, their lives were left meaningless. This stressful event, perceived as uncontrollable, sparked the advent of the post-bubble culture we see in Japan today which is characterized by new-age social problems.  Initially, Japanese people developed into social phenomena such as otaku, freeters, and hikikomori as a way to cope with economic stress. Ironically, these coping mechanisms have now become social stressors in Japan.

This is a picture of a strange-colored cactus growing out of lava. The lava, typically associated with volcanoes, represents the destruction caused by the economic crash. New, unexpected things have grown not only from the volcano, but also from the economic crash. Now, Japanese society is unsure about how to deal with these anomalies that have resulted from the collapse of the bubble economy.