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Néojaponisme, the blog of Japanese resident W. David Marx, has a five-part piece on how Japan's economic malaise has changed Japanese pop culture (parts 2, 3, 4, 5), in particular, causing the decline of the mainstream and the rise of the fringe to prominence. The gist of this is that the golden age of Cool Japan is over; as Japanese consumers' spending power declined, mainstream consumers cut back, and cultural markets, such as music, publishing and TV have collapsed, resulting in what some commentators refer to as "the generation who don't consume". with the notable exception of fringe genres catering to marginal subcultures for whom consuming cultural products is not a matter of choice but of identity; these include the otaku (whom Marx sums up as "anti-social “nerds” interested in science fiction, comic books, video games, and sexualized little girls (lolicon)"), the yankii—working-class juvenile delinquents with poor economic and lifestyle prospects—and the gyaru, a female analogue of the yankii, only oriented around romantic fiction and elaborate cosmetics.
The end result is that the otaku and yankii have an almost inelastic demand for their favorite goods. They must consume, no matter the economic or personal financial situation. They may move to cheaper goods, but they will always be buying something. Otherwise they lose their identity. While normal consumers curb consumption in the light of falling wages, the marginal otaku and yankii keep buying. And that means the markets built around these subcultures are relatively stable in size.So while demand in the mainstream has cratered, the culture industry has retooled to servicing these reliable subcultures, with cultural products such as highly sexualised girl groups appealing to older men with schoolgirl fetishes and films with yankii themes. One side effect of this is that the days of Japanese pop culture appealing to hip, affluent consumers abroad may be over:
Most men around the world are not wracked by such deep status insecurity that they want to live in a world where chesty two-dimensional 12 year-old girls grovel at their feet and call them big brother. The average university student in Paris is likely to read Murakami Haruki and may listen to a Japanese DJ but not wear silky long cocktail dresses or fake eyelashes from a brand created by a 23 year-old former divorcee hostess with two kids. Overseas consumers remain affluent, educated, and open to Japanese culture, but Japan’s pop culture complex — by increasingly catering to marginal groups (or ignoring global tastes, which is another problem altogether) — is less likely to create products relevant for them.
The latest novel application of technology from Japan: DVDs to help train socially-challenged otaku to make eye contact, predominantly with women:
His disc features 50 people standing in front of a blank white background. They're all women, which Ito swears is just a coincidence. They stare into the camera and occasionally say stuff like "I want to leave" or "That's enough."
Try to look this person in the eyes for a full minute. Tip: when interacting with a fellow human being in the real world, it is considered rude to break eye contact in order to look at other physical attributes.Perhaps that will be Nintendo's next big hit; we had Wii Sports, Wii Fit and Wii Music, now perhaps it's time for Wii Date. It'd come with a gaze-tracking camera, and would play a lot like the zazen meditation game in Wii Fit, only instead of sitting absolutely still staring at a candle, you'd have to gaze into the eyes of a pretty girl in a revealing top, and if the system noticed your gaze straying below her eyes, a buzzer would sound and the session would come to an end.
The version of the iPhone sold in Japan has one difference from Western versions: the camera shutter sound cannot be switched off, apparently because Japanese gadget fans cannot be trusted not to use it for surreptitiously photographing up skirts.
The latest beat-'em-up video game from Japan is Line Kill Spirits. It's much like any other beat-'em-up (Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and all the numerous lookalikes), except that (a) all the characters are lolitaesque anime girls, and (b) the only way to make damage to an opponent stick is to take a photograph of her underwear. Or from the Google translation of the official page on the game:
it is possible to convert the latent damage to the actual damage. First, the punch button and the kick button are pushed simultaneously, the skirt of the partner is turned, " it turns and makes skill move ". When the skirt burrs and rises, timing the photographing button (with default the V key) pushing well, it will cut the shutter. It is appraised at 3 stages of the BAD * GOOD * GREAT by the area of the underpants which have been taken, if above the GOOD conversion of the damage is done.The web site also has two video clips of the game in action; Line Kill Spirits appears to be the work of a group of hobbyists, rather than a game publisher. It appears to be part of the "Dojin Soft" small-press game movement, which does tend to produce its share of bizarre ideas, such as a fighting game based on Les Misérables.
A Washington Post article looking at Akihabara, and how the Tokyo electronics-retail precinct has become transformed into the world's first geek ghetto:
"We have been discriminated against for being different, but now we have come together and turned this neighborhood into a place of our own," said Yamagata, nursing his tea as he sat with a portly computer technician friend at Akihabara's Cos-Cha, one of a dozen "maid cafes" in the neighborhood. Here, the waitresses' uniforms are inspired by the French maid-meets-Pokemon outfits of adult manga. At other cafes, waitresses greet patrons at the door with a curtsy and the words "Welcome home, master."
Tetsu Ishihara, 34, a computer programmer whose three-room apartment in west Tokyo is filled from floor to ceiling with comic books, does not want to be associated with such charges. Ishihara maintains a growing collection of 130 life-size pillows of female anime characters -- both purchased and self-designed. His favorite is Mio-chan, a female character from a love-simulation computer game in which a high school boy builds up the courage to ask a girl for a first date.
"There are some people who do lose their grip on reality, but that is not me -- or most of us," said Ishihara, a chubby man with glasses who this year started dating a woman steadily for the first time She's an anime artist. "For me, the pillows have been my source of unconditional love, a reminder of when I used to be hugged by my parents. There is nothing strange about it."Don't expect Gwen Stefani to commercialise this any time soon.
From Japan, the latest technological solutions to the problem of endemic loneliness and alienation: the Boyfriend's Arm Pillow, designed to give Japan's Bridget Joneses some "manly comfort" while they sleep. And for the otaku-boys, there's the Girlfriend's Lap Pillow, complete with tight red miniskirt, which would not look out of place in the Korova Milk Bar. (via bOING bOING)
The Tokyo area of Akihabara started out as a mecca of electronics shops (think something like Tottenham Court Road, only bigger); gradually, as a subculture of otaku evolved around the area, its focus has mutated from being just about electronics and computers to anime costume shops and venues catering for the bizarre, quasi-sexual fetishes of the truly hardcore:
Psychologists say these "otaku" or geeks are regressive, have poor social ability, and have never fully matured as adults. "Therefore, they are not good at communicating with others, cannot date real human beings, and instead adore an imaginary character," said one.
Self-confessed "super otaku" Tetsuto Fujiyama says, "There are five different kinds of geeks in Akihabara. The oldest denizens are the electric appliance geeks, who come to purchase electronic parts and other equipment. Next are the PC geeks, who like to build their own original computers that run as fast as possible. Third are TV animation geeks whose brains can't distinguish between reality and the animation. The fourth group are the magazine geeks who have made original animation fantasy stories influenced from TV and game animation and publish them in small magazines circulated among themselves. The last group are those geeks who love to play video games in which erotic animation is used."
"They are not ImeCla girls (Image Clubs in which you can act out your fantasy in a situational setting as nurse-patient, teacher-student, commuters in packed train and so on). Nor is it a a 'no-pan' cafe (where mini-skirted waitresses with no panties serve customers). These shops at Akihabara are not in the sex business because for geeks, fantasizing is much more important than actually doing anything with girls."
(via bOING bOING)
Microsoft have found a way of selling more of their bulky (and thus rather un-Japanese) Xbox game consoles in Japan: by giving away free anime-girl-shaped full-body "hugging pillows" with each unit.
Hugging pillows are printed with life-size artwork of popular anime characters, and are basically life-size teddy bears for adult males, but otaku's relationships with their dakimakura can get a little more personal. "Searching Google Images with the term dakimakura is enough to understand the people who buy these items," said Muto.
"I guess they're supposed to be used ... as pillows to hug, of course ... and for other obscene purposes that I would rather not mention."
The Onion lays into fanboys: I'll Thank You Not To Call My Collection Of Sequential-Art Erotica 'Dirty Comics'.
Manara -- not that you would be aware of this -- is famed throughout the Continent, though sadly unappreciated on these shores, thanks to the ignorance of philistines like yourself. Are you familiar with Manara's collaborations with a certain Federico Fellini, a man who is seen in Italy as a filmmaker on par with our Lucas?
(I know, it's about as sporting as clubbing helpless baby seals. But it's fun...)
More details on Bandai's Love By Email "virtual girlfriend" service, which operates through Japan's "i-Mode" mobile phone system:
Progress is measured on a chart that shows how many of the woman's 52 secrets the man has been able to uncover and what percentage of her heart he has won. At the end of the relationship, which can last from one to three months, a successful lover will be given an everlasting commitment of love. An insufficiently attentive suitor is dismissed as a creep.
Bandai had a similar service for women, named My Prince Charming, but it was unsuccessful, attracting only 1,000 subscribers in its first three days. By comparison, Love By Email has more than 30,000 subscribers.
The street finds its own uses for things: Only in Japan would you find a concept like virtual girlfriend subscriptions. If you live there and have an I-mode phone, you can have an online romance with a (realistically fussy) chat script for ¥300 (about A$4) a month. Use it to hone your bootywhangmojo or as a substitute for the real thing:
"You have the happiness of a secret woman, a hidden relationship, with none of the fear that your wife will find out and be angry. My grandfather had the geisha, my father had the bar hostesses and I have Love By Mail. It is maybe hard for others to understand, but these substitutes, or additions, for the everyday relationship between a husband and wife are well accepted in our culture."
"It's a safe way for men to try out their dating technique without having to worry about shaming themselves in front of a live girl,"
(Interestingly enough, the ads that popped up on the page included one for a mobile phone service (in the US), and one for what looked like a dating service.)
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