Of Divine and Digital Origin: Mythology in Japanese Video Games

by Katherine Stevens

The Japanese video game industry is one of the largest and most innovative in the world. They are lauded for their creativity and longevity, as well as their broad cultural appeal. However, what many consumers don’t realize is that behind the graphics and fantastical plotlines often lies a broader significance. Many of the most popular franchises in Japanese video gaming are heavily based on mythology, both Eastern and Western alike. While it is often not apparent to many players, especially younger gamers or those who are not familiar with the mythological canon, these details give the gameplay and coinciding plots more depth, and can be seen as a reflection on the creators’ view of culture. [Read more…]

J-Pop: It’s Not About the Music

by Claire Dranginis

Japan has the second largest music market in the world behind the United States, and 75% of the music consumed in Japan is made by Japanese artists[1].  Much of this music is J-pop.  The term J-pop was coined in the early 1990s and it now refers to most popular Japanese music, from rock acts like L’arc-en-ciel to R&B and pop acts like Namie Amuro and Perfume.  With this huge variety of groups in the second biggest music market in the world, how can I say that J-pop is not about the music?  Of course it’s about the music in many cases, but there are other factors that play a larger role in popularizing certain songs or groups.  These factors include a song’s tie-in to a popular drama, anime, or video game, and the appeal of the group members themselves, either for the cuteness, sexiness, or both.  I would argue that it is these other factors that are the reason for J-pop’s place as a part of Japan’s Gross National Cool. [Read more…]

Triumph of the School Girl

Simpler times.

by Keenan Thompson

History

The shojo genre was originally aimed at young, Japanese girls. Shojo kai was the first of a series of girls’ magazine’s begun in the early Meiji era as an attempt to increase the literacy rate. Soon after these magazines’ birth, short, comic manga strips surfaced. Usually the story followed the lines of some inept female heroine being rescued by a handsome man, but for a long time, shojo romance was taboo. Eventually the taboo of shojo romance was overcome and the genre became redefined by it. The stories, however, keep the same form of a girl waiting to be saved. [Read more…]

The Virtual Idol: The Vocaloid

By Chris An

Hatsune Miku Live @ Zepp Tokyo:

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“We could begin with a music called enka,” he said, “although I doubt you’d like it.” Software agents did that, learned what you liked. “The roots of contemporary Japanese pop came later, with the wholesale creation of something called ‘group sounds.’ That was a copy-cat phenomenon, flagrantly commercial. Extremely watered-down Western pop influences. Very bland and monotonous.”

“But do they really have singers who don’t exist?”

“The idol-singers,” he said, starting up the hump-backed incline of the bridge. “The idoru. Some of them are enormously popular.”

– Idoru, by William Gibson. [Read more…]

Coming to America: J-Horror

by Mary Grob

Film critics and fans alike agree that the American horror genre entered into a slump during the 1990’s that it has yet to recover from. Gone are the days of psychological thrillers like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, and even the slasher film, an American horror stable since the 1970’s, has lost its appeal. Horror fans have been left wanting something new to chill their blood [1]. In the late 1990’s, a new wave of films known as J-Horror began to develop a cult following in the US. Soon after, Hollywood began to take notice of these foreign films, and the answer to America’s horror slump appeared to have been found within Japan. [Read more…]

Kaitenzushi: Sushi makes the rounds from Japan to America to Japan again

by Arielle Kahn

sushi earrings

Sushi earrings, just one manifestation of the food

In the past forty years, sushi has taken America by storm. Beginning as an obscure immigrant import thought to be unpalatable due to its tradition of using raw fish, sushi has since exploded in popularity, becoming an American symbol of sophistication, health-consciousness, and trendiness. It has been estimated that between 1988 and 1998, the number of sushi bars in the U.S. quintupled (Isle, 2005). Sushi is now a ubiquitous commodity, available not only in high-end restaurants or sushi bars, but also as fast food, prepackaged at the grocery store or on college campuses. Even non-edible representations are popping up everywhere, in the form of accessories, clothes, and knick knacks, from earrings to purses to refrigerator magnets to shower curtains. In America, sushi has firmly established itself as “cool.” Why did this happen? [Read more…]

Standing Out and Fitting In: Street Fashion and the Search for Identity and Power in Post Bubble Japan

by Tori Szczesniak

Fashion is the means of expressing identity. Dressing is a ritualistic, symbolic, everyday practice that we use to situate ourselves in the chaotic, judgmental world around us.  The simple act of putting on a piece of clothing immediately conveys one’s position of cultural power, class distinction, gender, and subculture, all while participating in the global economy. Deciding what we wear matters, especially in an urban, capitalist society where fashion is a tool to distinguish ourselves from one another. On an international scale, the fashion industry represents an interesting view of understanding national power and identity [3].

Professional Designers Dare to be Different

The early 1980s marked an explosion of Japanese fashion in the global industry. The fashion world reacted strongly to the avant-garde, radically different ideas of the country’s designers. The new garments articulated different ideas of what fashion was and the relationship of clothes and body. Japan gradually became a genuine force of change, challenging tradition and introducing new artistic contradictions [3]. [Read more…]

Game Over? The End of Japanese Dominance in the American Console Gaming Market

by Lauren Klaasse

Almost every gamer who was around in the 1990’s and 2000’s nostalgically remembers their first time playing what is critically regarded as some of the greatest games of all time. Super Mario Brothers, Final Fantasy VII, Ocarina of Time, and Pokémon, among others, that went into forging these childhood memories all hail from the Land of the Rising Sun. For years the Japanese have dominated the gaming industry since it took off in the 1980’s cementing their creations in the childhood of so many Americans. Talk to American gamers now however and you hear talk of much different popular franchises (Halo, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto to name a few) originating from across the Pacific Ocean in none other than the west itself. [Read more…]

When the Characteristicless Becomes Real: The Western Response to Visual Kei

by Miriam Loebman

In 2010, the Japanese Visual Kei band X Japan came to America.  The group had been invited to perform in Chicago’s music festival, Lollapalooza, and were greeted by both their screaming fans and the incredibly confused representatives of the American media.  A core cluster of questions seemed to plague the minds of all the uninitiated Americans who came into contact with them: “What is ‘visual kei’? How can it be understood in the context of American music? Why is it in America at all?” Studying not only the correct reply to these questions but also understanding why the questions arose at all reveals a lot about the barrier that still exists between Japan’s “gross national cool” and mainstream America. [Read more…]