Neojaponisme in Japan Times

An outside eye on Japan

I am quoted in this article.

I know there are some old-timer, culture-lovin’ expats in Tokyo who probably differ with my appraisal that there’s something new about being young and obsessed with contemporary Japanese pop in the 21st century. But every time I go to some obscure music event in the city and see a half-dozen white kids in the front row (something that would have been absolutely shocking at a Supercar show in 1998 or Readymade Records night in 2000), I have to think that things have changed for the positive. Heartland Brewery may be the new Gas Panic, but there’s now a countervailing force in town to all that Occupation-era residue.

Also, watch out Dave Spector and Pakkun! Here comes Magibon! Become a foreign Japanese-TV celebrity without leaving your own bedroom!

W. David MARX
April 15, 2008

28 Responses

  1. Aceface Says:

    “These days, after the protracted economic downturn, the only reason to come to Japan is an interest in Japan,”

    Is this really the case?
    Since I see more expat business people here in Tokyo(may not be around Kabuto-cho,though)than anytime.
    Tokyo may not be the rising sun,but various markets are slightly more “open” than the bubble days of the 80′s.

  2. W. David MARX Says:

    You may actually be right. I just saw less people in the formal language programs etc. who plotted to learn Japanese as a way to make easy money.

    There may be a lot of entrepreneur types lurking around, but many of them seem like holdovers from the Bubble who are finally old enough to look like they can be business leaders.

  3. Aceface Says:

    And here again I have to ask questions,and I know M-Bone knows well about this,but are there any decline of students in formal Japanese language programs?
    I do read in the states the Chinese class is on the rise,but even the times of recession,Japanese language students had steadily grown and that was actually bigger than the times of bubble,partially due to the rise of anime fandom.
    I’ve also notice watching J-TV recently and there is a corner of asking foreigners about Japan,that existed in the past too,but I see more and more of them speak fluent Japanese.I also noticed more continental Europeans in Tokyo than the past,perhaps strong EURO can explain this.

  4. W. David MARX Says:

    I think Japanese language programs are up or stable. I am just saying there are less people in those programs who are only there for reasons of future profit. Most are interested in Japanese language and culture – especially contemporary pop culture.

    There is also a growing feeling among young non-Japanese living in Japan that speaking a certain level of Japanese is a must. I lot of 20 year olds these days speak way better Japanese than many venerable professors who made a career on explaining Japan.

  5. paul Says:

    On the Magibon phenomenon. In the YouTube comments cesspool some people proclaim her to be another lonelygirl15, but even if that were the case the GyaO crew getting her to do cosplay seems overly exploitative.

    Is it just me that is creeped out by this?

  6. Gen Kanai Says:

    Gyao requires Windows and Internet Explorer. Japan Probe has Magibon at Gyao on YouTube.

    Magi needs some dental braces, although without them she looks like most of the women of Japan.

  7. W. David MARX Says:

    I love the Billie Jean ripoff song in the background.

    Here’s some cosplay stuff… Gyao really knows how to appeal to the prurient needs of the otaku!

  8. W. David MARX Says:

    Also note that Weekly Playboy picked up the Magibon phenomenon too. If there’s some sort of little-girl eroticism out there, they are the #1 mainstream media source.

  9. Aceface Says:

    “Magi needs some dental braces”

    But that’s the charm point here,Gen!
    You just hung around with the Gaijins far too long and lost in touch with the taste of the ordinary.

  10. Mark A. Says:


    Is it just me or has there been a semantic shift of “expatriate”? Originally it seems an expat was supposed to have little to no interest in the culture of the country in which they were situated, “I’m just here for the job.”

    As an American journalist seeking an elusive position in one of those vanishing foreign bureaus, the advice I’ve received from virtually every established reporter, including the head of AP’s San Francisco branch, are variations on “move there and live there first, then apply for the job.”

  11. M-Bone Says:

    “And here again I have to ask questions,and I know M-Bone knows well about this,but are there any decline of students in formal Japanese language programs?”

    No decline that I can see. Many universities in the English-speaking world have booming Japanese programs because of the China boom – Chinese kids with the $$$ to pay foreign student tuition but no desire to do difficult work in English and doing a Japanese major instead.

    “Most are interested in Japanese language and culture – especially contemporary pop culture.”

    Definitely true. I was a bit surprised to discover this but the biggest area of interest / knowledge seems to be recent “cult” film (Miike Takashi, J-Horror). Anime would be a close second but the “moe” stuff that Japanese politicians seem to think is carrying the flag for Japan internationally is really not significant (and the shift to this kind of thing in NAmerican DVD releases is probably behind the drop in overall sales). Miyazaki and “Ghost in the Shell” have a lot of fans. It is not uncommon to find students interested in fashion (mostly goth-loli) and “classic” film (Kurosawa and Ozu mostly) but I have yet to sense much of an interest in Japanese music (a bit of a surprise).

    Interest in video games is huge but most students are not thinking about them in terms of their “Japaneseness”.

    Japanese popular culture is leading people to Japan – I would say that about 25% of my students have either gone to Japan or have actual, real plans to go to Japan in the near future. Those who have gone almost universally love the lifestyle and want to go back.

    “lot of 20 year olds these days speak way better Japanese than many venerable professors who made a career on explaining Japan.”

    I have to wonder if there is going to be a decline in the near future, however. When I was coming up (went to Japan first in 2000), there was relatively little translated and if you wanted to feel “involved” in Japanese popular culture at all you had to learn Japanese. These days the fansub of a new anime is online 3 days after it airs in Japan and one has to wonder if the motivation for learning Japanese will be as strong.

  12. W. David MARX Says:

    “move there and live there first, then apply for the job.”

    At the same time, a lot of foreign companies do not have much infrastructure for picking up entry-level or young foreigners in Japan. If you have lots of work experience and are older, there are plenty of head hunters who’d like to place you. But I do not think there is some wealth of (non-English teaching) jobs out there for even Japan-experienced young Westerners in Japan.

  13. Matt Says:

    “are there any decline of students in formal Japanese language programs?”

    I attended one of the pilot Japanese language programs in the public high school system in America in the late ’80s. I had the opportunity to have lunch with my teacher several months ago, and she lamented the shrinking interest in Japan among the current crop of students, who appeared more interested in learning Chinese and Arabic instead. Anecdotal to be sure, but an interesting viewpoint nonetheless.

    “These days, after the protracted economic downturn, the only reason to come to Japan is an interest in Japan,”

    Having moved to Japan to start a business myself, I was all set to disagree here. But the fact is that my business (and those of the entrepreneur types I know) grew out of my longtime interest in the country, not the other way around. Then again, there seems to be no shortage of well-heeled, culturally-disinterested expats whooping it up in Roppongi…

  14. M-Bone Says:

    The (US) Modern Language Association reported a 20% increase in Japanese students at university level between December 2003 and December 2007. Japanese is still the Asian language with the most total students. Survey says that the top reason for studying Japanese is indeed popular culture.

  15. Aceface Says:

    Yeah,J-media often reports of rising Arabic and Chinese overshadowing Japanese.I saw on NHK news about Virginia school changing to Chinese.
    I remember the Clinton era U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky’s child go to the school in DC area which also switched to Chinese and she was making one of those schadenfreude-like “we-are-more-interested-in-China-than-you-guys-nowadays”speech in Tokyo few years ago.
    I’d imagine there are grwoing pragmatic demands for both languages in the US.Probably more urgent to know how to say “we are here to bring you democracy”or “Free Tibet!”in local language than watching undubbed Anime on You-tube.

  16. Aceface Says:

    OK,this just in.And it’s about a student learning Japanese culture.
    There is a girl missing presumably in Hokkaido area leaving memo in her house in Wasington saying “I can die after watching cherry blossoms in Japan” and bought one way ticket to Sapporo and Missing since.

    The family and the consulate is now seeking her whereabouts and all the J-media showing her pictures on the air.

  17. M-Bone Says:

    The missing girl reminds me of one of the things that I am a bit worried about when it comes to Japanese culture / language students – many who have not been to Japan talk about it like some kind of heavenly paradise on earth. Many who have been to Japan also stick to this story because having lived in heaven gives them some kind of odd cultural cred back home. I like Japan just fine, but it is definitely part of this earth.

  18. Geoff L Says:

    First time posting here…

    I spent a semester in Tokyo studying at Temple Japan, and I found many students to have that sort of heavenly paradise view of Japan. I was puzzled how these kids weren’t in the slightest prepared for life there, but when all these students are exposed to in the states is Japanese pop culture, isn’t it guaranteed that they have a pretty unrealistic view of Japan?

    Also, I’ m a huge fan of Shibuya-kei and Indie, and I also didn’t find many students to have similar knowledge or interest in it. I also remember being the only non Japanese in my modern art history course.

  19. Chuckles Says:

    Yes – doesnt this make an appearance on the list of stuff white people like?

  20. W. David MARX Says:

    We’re all talking about the band Japan, right?

  21. Aceface Says:

    Reminds me of the chilling tales in afterwords in Patrick Macias’s “Otaku in U.S.A”about an American guy who killed a girl and ate her by making part of the body into sandwitches. He left a diary notes that his dream is going to Japan and buy stuffs in Akihabara and open anime shops in his hometown or something.Patrick was writing loving Japanese pop culture won’t make a man rush to eat human fresh cheeseburger instantly,but he did think J-pop culture is now reaching to the hearts and minds of those marginalized underdogs within American society and now possesses certain influence to their psyche.

    Ofcourse,there are Japanese kids who go to the states to study do have heavenly ideas about America but probably unaware about creepy sides like subprime loans/American Idol show/water boarding at Gitmo etc.So in a way people dream about heaven exist in some far away land is universal aspect of human nature.

  22. M-Bone Says:

    Remember that story about the Japanese embassy in Paris having to deal with a large number of young women who had psychological breakdowns after their dreams were smashed?

  23. Aceface Says:

    There’s an article in Korean Joongang Ilbo about many foreignesr speak fluent Japanese in Tokyo and that shocks newly arrived Korean correspondent.


    This is where I laughed.


    Yeah,The reason we don’t speaki English is your fault,Gaijins!

  24. M-Bone Says:


    I’ve usually been around universities in Japan so most of the foreigners that I come in contact with speak Japanese well.

    Living in the inaka now (about half my time), however, the foreigners that I meet have almost universally been in Japan for 2, 3, 5, 10 years and have virtually zero Japanese ability (I was asked randomly in the street to help mail a letter by a foreigner who had been in Japan for 8 years). I wonder if mad language skill is a Tokyo thing? It would make sense that the people who have the greatest interest in various corners of Japanese popular culture (and thus the motivation to learn the language) would collect at the heart of it.

  25. W. David MARX Says:

    Yeah,The reason we don’t speaki English is your fault,Gaijins!

    I would definitely say it’s the other way around. When I was in Germany, speaking German felt always like a pedantic exercise, since I knew that everyone spoke fluent English. In Japan, you really gotta speak Japanese if you want to get to the heart of things and open up your social possibilities.

  26. d.b. krump Says:

    I dont know about mad language skills being a tokyo thing, I’ve met lots of bankers and recruiters who have been here 10 years and dont speak any japanese. I would say living in the countryside is probably better for your japanese because in tokyo you can get by in english, in the countryside thats generally not the case.

    Im 25 and i agree that my generation has much higher standards for japanese ability. all of my friends who work at japanese companies speak at a high level and are hard on themselves about improvement, whereas older people i meet tend to not think fluency is really important, well we treat them with a sense of disdain.

    part of the reason there are few opportunites for young fluent westerners in japan is because getting a visa is hard (while maintaining a visa is easy.) Many companies could use bilingual western staff but the paperwork and what not is a hassle. Recruiting has boomed as an industry here, but all the foreign oriented recruiters are recruiting foreigners within japan, other than executive level jobs, ive never met a recruiter in japan who was doing search overseas.

  27. sean Says:

    I love this blog, came by it by accident. Been here 14 years and really relate to many of comments. I am so sick and tired of old skool gaijin, who have been here even longer than me and dont speak J, racist as hell toward japanese people,
    and bitch bitch bitch and never leave. so few gaijin can take this country at face value and see Japanese people simply on a human level. I speak J, live J and i am noticing slowly but surely my friends are all becoming J or gaijin who are pretty much like me. Immigrants blend in and enjoy, or detach and rot. I worked in immigrant services in canada and noticed almost the exactly the same stereotypes of newcomers. Remember those ghettoized minorites that looked at you funny and never spoke to you back in NA? Well…there you go, thats all you baby. i am just waiting for white english teachers to start their own mafia, that would be entertaining. Heartland the new gas panic, too funny, too true, but gas panic was more funny at least (in a cheesy way) enjoy japan! ignore the old farts, thats my advice, its just another spot on the planet, no more, no less.

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