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Japanese Pop Culture:Gap between Government and Japanese

Megumi Kitazawa

July 26, 2018

At the Closing ceremony of the  Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appeared as Super Mario, a Japanese game character. This is a visible example that Japan has a “characteristic” culture featuring characters of manga/anime and video games. In the summer of 2020, Tokyo will host the Olympic Games and it will be a big opportunity for Japanese pop culture industry to grow in the global market.

Super Mario (Courtesy: Alexas_Fotos ) (CC0 Creative Commons )

What Is Pop Culture?

“Pop culture” in Japan includes manga, animation (anime), movies, games, light novels, popular music, TV programs, and so on. In addition, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it is a culture for masses in contemporary Japan. Also, they say that pop culture is an important tool to offer the charm of Japanese culture to people overseas.

   There are many pop culture evens held not only in Japan but around the world. Along with contemporary fashion and food, these pop cultures is called Cool Japan, a PR strategy of the government to promote Japan’s creative industries to the world.

   Pop culture reflects strong sensitiveness about kawaii (cute) and kimoi (ugly) feelings, which are resonated with and supported by young Japanese. For example, Hello Kitty the cat character represents kawaii things and queen of pop music Lady Gaga deployed Kitty in her costume.

   Japanese government expects kawaii and kimoi culture will make a big business.

Japanese Government Strategy

To promote the pop culture, Japanese government is conducting various activities. In November 2013, the Japanese Ministry of Economy and Industry and some private companies jointly established the Cool Japan Fund Inc. This organization is a public-private investment fund and it provides financial/hands-on supports to the projects promoting creative products and services of Japan. Secondly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan organizes the Japan International MANGA Award. This prize is an award created by Taro Aso, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, and honors the artists who are contributing to the development of manga in the world.

   There are many other events to promote Japanese pop culture such as the World Cosplay Summit in Cosplay and Animation Culture Ambassador in Anime.

People’s Mixed Feeling

When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appeared as Super Mario, reactions of the Japanese people were varied. Some people thought “it is cool! I like this production,” others thought “Oh my goodness! I’m embarrassed because my country’s top leader appeared as a character of subculture.”

   There is a gap between Japanese government, which tries hard to expand the pop culture, and the Japanese public, who have mixed feeling against these subcultures. As far as tax payers are reluctant, it is difficult to promote Japanese pop culture in abroad. If Japanese government really wants to spread pop culture, they should solve this problem first.

   Why do people have negative feelings about pop culture, especially about animations and comics? It has been said that, in Japan, comics, animations, and games are not good for children, because they would have a bad impact on their mental growth. According to a net survey on the relationships between the game and children conducted by a IT company Marsh, 80% of adult respondents answered that the game had some impacts on the child growth and more than half of them replied that the game had a bad influence on children. When children got into games, parents tend to think that it is unhealthy because of playing at home without going out, lack of communication skills, wasting time, children’s sights getting worse, and so on. So Japanese with a high age mainly have a negative image in the game. However, Japanese pop culture has a big economic effect.

Economic Effect of Pop Culture

The world’s largest selling spot of the magazines published by fans called Comic Market is being held in Japan. Every year in August and December, about 550,000 people gathered at the event in Tokyo Big Sight for three days. It is said that the economic effect is 18 billion yen. Why Comike (Comic Market) is so profitable? It is said that the space, cosplayers, fans from overseas, products of animation are related.

   Started in 1975, Comike has been attracted many anime/manga artists, light novelists, video game creators from around the world and they enjoy selling and buying their own works on site. Comike now became a hub of global pup culture community.

Prospects to the 2020 Olympic Games

If the government wants to spread pop culture further, it is important to change people’s bad feelings of pop culture and to make people understood that pop culture is loved by many people now, it is representing Japanese culture, as well as it has a great economic effect, especially there are increasing prospects to be held the Olympic Games.



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