My relationship to Japanese Popular Culture…

After reading Shanell’s blog post I realize that her and I shared similar childhood experiences. My first (known) encounter with Japanese culture was with my PlayStation two, an item my sisters and I received for Christmas. We spent countless hours playing video games with characters like Crash Bandicoot. However, I recognize that most video games were targeted to young boys I did play games created for the female gamer. For example, my sisters and I played Mary Kate and Ashley’s “Mall Madness” game.

Introduction to Japanese Popular Culture

Until taking this class, I never thought about my relationship to Japanese culture. However, after reading some of the articles from the first week of class, I’ve realized that my relationship to Japanese culture is an active one. It started when I was a little girl. On page 3 of Douglas McGray’s “Japan’s Gross National Cool”, he states that “best selling Sony PlayStation and Nintendo home video games draw heavily on Japanese anime and manga for inspiration.” When I was younger, I did not think about the origin of the gaming consoles and games that I played with. However, now I realize that these things that I thought came from America – were actually products from Japan. Anime has also influenced several cartoons that I started watching when I was younger, which I continue to watch today. I used to have several Hello Kitty products when I was a little…

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Nostalgia’s influence in perceiving Japanese Pop Culture

When I was a kid, I was introduced to gaming through Pokemon.  My first console was a Game Boy Color, and I still remember the sound the handheld made as it booted up.  My earliest gaming memories involve beating my rival ‘Butts’ in Professor Oak’s Lab in Pallet Town.  I remember my Charmander getting beaten by Brock in Pewter City, evolving it to into a Charmeleon, and brute forcing my way through that gym with no regard for type matchups.  And I remember being a little kid and injuring myself while being rowdy while playing Pokemon while running around.

My childhood was defined by my interactions with this game and had influence beyond those early years.  Even in the past few years I found myself mass breeding eggs in order to find the perfect shiny Larvitar.  I failed, by the way.  Despite that, I found myself loving every second of the necessary grinding for one simple reason: it was nostalgic.  And not as a Japanese game, but as a game at all.  There was no nationality, just fun.

For me, Pokemon wasn’t a Japanese game with rad animals.  It was just a cool game with rad animals.  And looking back on it, all I can think of is how little it meant to me that the game is Japanese when I finally discovered that fact.  That game was the gateway to most of the products I use to define myself now.  It didn’t really matter where they came from to me back then.  Carolyn Stevens’ article, “You Are What You Buy,” states that people define themselves through what they choose to spend money on, seeing as how money is so valuable.  What I chose to define myself with was Pokemon to begin with, which grew into Yu-gi-oh, which spread to other cool cartoons and anime.  I defined myself using them as a medium.

As I get older, I remember those games and experiences more fondly.   I remember sitting on the couch watching my brother play Ocarina of Time.  I remember playing Dragon Ball Z Budokai with my friends and whooping them.  I totally still do, for the record.  And looking back, I’m glad that I grew up when these influences were readily available for consumption, because I’m truly happy to define myself as a nerd.  And I was introduced to that society of nerds through gaming as a kid.  That nostalgic feeling I have for games and how truly happy they have the ability to make me is a driving force in how I perceive fandoms and the true good they can do.

~Alex Gorinsky

Japanese Pop Culture – Naruto

Naruto Poster

Naruto Poster

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Japan has to be the popular anime and manga series Naruto. I recall the first time I was captivated by this anime. My brother was watching it and had been completely ignoring me ever since I came home. I was in intermediate school and thought that everything my baby brother was watching was not cool enough for me, but that day was different. He was so absorbed into watching 2-D cartoon kids training to become ninjas (or in Naruto terms, a “shinobi”) while reading English subtitles. I could not stop watching either and was immediately sucked into this realm of popular Japanese culture. This is an example of Japan’s “soft power” as discussed by Douglas McGray’s. Originally the anime is Japanese with English subtitles, but there are episodes that are English dubbed (English voiceover). These changes are made for those who do not understand Japanese so they can comprehend the show. It’s influences expands outside of Japan to America as shown with all of the popular merchandises such as action figurines, video games and posters. Naruto aside from it’s comedy, teaches it’s audience more than how to be a “shinobi”. In my honest opinion, Naruto is a very heartwarming anime that has made me cry countless times, teaching values such as the importance of teamwork, what it means to be a friend, how to pick yourself up after you’ve failed, etc. The show shapes identity and although the viewers are not ninjas, we can still connect to the characters. I think it breaks the foreign “anti-social” perspective that Carolyn Steven discusses because there are social events concerning anime/manga where those with similar interests come and feel more comfortable to be themselves because of a common interest.

I never would’ve thought that I would be a fan of Japanese Idol

The poster of "Boys over Flowers returns/花より男子2 リタㅡンズ/Hana Yori Dango Returns"

The poster of “Boys over Flowers returns/花より男子2 リタㅡンズ/Hana Yori Dango Returns”

I got interested in Japanese pop culture rather late compared to my classmates who were always talking about Japanese drama. As for me, I started to have my interest in Japanese pop culture when I was in 9th grade from a suggestion of my best friend to watch the television drama “Boys over Flowers/(花より男子)”, so she and I can have more things in common to talk about. And as I started to watch that drama, I got curious about the actor who played a role as Domyoji Tsukasa(道明寺司) who I later found out that he is Matsumoto Jun(松本潤) who is the member of an idol group called Arashi(嵐). From then, I slowly became a huge fan after watching them being funny on their variety show called “Arashi’s Shukdai Kun/(嵐の宿題くん)”.

A picture of Japanese Idol Group, "Arashi/嵐" debuted in 1999.

A picture of Japanese Idol Group, “Arashi/嵐” debuted in 1999.

After becoming a fan of Arashi, I started to collect “Japanese products”. I went to the CD store to buy their album once a month that was always released in two versions. Even though it was not an affordable cost for high school student to pay each month, as Carolyn Stevens explains in “You Are What You Buy”, I chose to buy their albums almost every month because that was one way of showing my identity as someone who is in part of Arashi fandom.

Also, as for “Cool Japan”, I think it affected me as who I am now. Because that I thought Arashi was cool, I started watching music or variety shows that they appeared. This led me wanting to learn about Japanese language to understand what they are saying without subtitles. I never thought that from the moment I decided to study Japanese, my identity would change. From that day I started studying Japanese and this decision later gave me an impact on choosing Japanese language and literature as my double major in Korea. I guess their “Cool Japan” ideology takes some part in my life, since I later became interested in ordinary Japanese people’s everyday life as well and actually went to Japan.

 -Hye Sun Hwang

My Relationship with Jpop Culture

I’ve never  thought of the influences of Jpop Culture on my life, but looking at things I use, Jpop has had a big influence on me. Growing up I’d dress up as Sailor Moon on Halloween and had a Hello Kitty lunch box  I’d carry to karate practice after school. Japanese culture made its way into my life from an early age and continues to have an influence on my life today. One of the biggest ways Jpop culture affected me was through Pokemon.

I was a huge Pokemon fan growing up. I collected cards like it was my job and religiously followed the journey of the crew on TV, hoping some day I’d be a ten year old Ashley Ketchum with my own super kawaii Pikachu and the squad Misty and Brock to explore the Kanto region with and catch them all. You can just imagine my excitement when I got my first Gameboy Color and I was able to go on my own Pokemon adventures. I played  until the buttons wore out. What was great was so many of my friends played too. In McGray’s “Japan’s Gross National Cool”, he refers to The Pokemon Hegemon, the power Jpop has on other countries, or their soft power. With Pokemon broadcasted in 65 countries and  30 languages, Japan’s definitely a cultural superpower. 

Sadly, I’ve since retired my distinguished career as an elite Pokemon Trainer, but as a consumer of “Cool Japan” I think Jpop definitely influenced my ideas of cuteness. Pokemon had characters that perpetuated the “cute” female archetype. Being exposed to it as a child made me think that’s what girls were supposed to be like. With time and exposure to different female characters, those ideas change, but that was the first impression I had.

J-POP Culture & Pokemon

I am not nearly as familiar with Japanese culture as others in the class. I do have a background in women’s and gender studies. I have always had an interest in gender relations and feminism. Moreover, I already feel that I have learned so much about Japan from just the first few classes. Growing up I had only been exposed to Japanese culture through the cartoons presented to Americans, such as Pokemon and Sailor Moon. A big draw was the “cute” factor — including big eyes, smooth skin, and sparkles. The humor, surrealness, and animation definitely had a factor in my initial interest, but the cuteness overload was what really fed my affinity at the time.
In Carolyn S. Stevens’ article, “You Are What You Buy,” she mentions that fans can be aggressive and that consumption is not solely from a financial exchange.  By aggressive, I mean that fans are passionate and go above and beyond in how they choose to express their infatuation. I completely agree with this. Of course, I bought the pikachu backpack and traded the Pokemon cards, but I would also draw a lot of Pokemon characters in my down time and hand them off to people who were near and dear to me. Stevens also mentioned that consumption can contribute to self identity. I can see how this relates to me. When I was attached to pokemon, I would always root for Misty, one of the main female characters. I felt that females were supported in the show, which was very different from what was in the media and society.

Little Pets and Big Brands

My childhood was outlined with Japanese pop culture that made its way into America just years before I was born. Hello Kitty stickers surrounded my friend’s composition notebooks, Sailor Moon smiled brightly across the lunch bags of the younger girls, and Pokemon was the topic of conversation at the lunch table. Cool cartoons surrounded and made their way into the nearby Toys R Us, but I never found myself a consumer. That was until I discovered Tamagotchi. My Tamagotchi was the most important non-living thing in my life from third to fifth grade. I had two on me at all times, and I treated them like royalty. Tamagotchi became so popular in school that the principal banned them from all classes and that just increased their appeal. Much like McGray discusses Hello Kitty in “Japan’s Gross National Cool,” my friends and I found Tamagotchi cool because we knew that they were from someplace other than America (McGray). With nothing to compare the toy two outside of baby dolls, we found this Japanese import fresh and exciting, sharing it with our friends so enjoy for themselves. Today, I can pull out my toy and relish in the memories I’ve had with it, but I doubt that I would develop the same sense of excitement that once held around the toy. The sense of obsession has faded away but my interest in Japanese pop culture has not. I am still a regular consumer of the culture, feeding into the Gross National Cool of the nation by my attention to the culture.

Nowadays, my attentions have turn more towards fashion and accessorizing, especially as a member of the hip-hop dance community. Fashion and dancing go hand in hand, and I’ve watched as trends come and go within the community though I am not an avid participant. It’s so interesting to watch as clothing brands spread and grow solely because of the name attached to them. Stevens bring this discussion around to Japanese culture in her article noting, “one the brand’s meaning is decided upon, accepted and affixed with a recognized logo, the product is rarely important” (Stevens 205). Both from and to Japan, these trends have integrated themselves into consumers’ lives, planting their meanings and reforming identities. I’m excited to learn more about the ways that we read Japanese products and see how young adults today integrate new obsessions into their lives like I did with my precious Tamagotchis.


As a child I remember playing video games such as Final Fantasy 7 and my first 2D crush being Cloud Strife.  I was a kid then and knew nothing about the “Cool Japan” that was being sold to me.  My older cousin was really into video games and I suppose it made me feel “cool” to be a part of this underground society that kids my age at school knew nothing about.  It was the “Cool Japan” feeling.  We had a cat named Neko and another named Kuro, because he was black, and it made us feel so clever that no one else made the connection. Later in life I would be reintroduced to Japanese culture.  This time with a little more understanding.  I was no longer following the older kids or wanting to be in on something that no one else knew about.

After returning to college from a long break from school, I met others who were just as mesmerized by Japanese culture as I was, if not more.  From there, the consumption of Japanese culture exploded. After a Netflix marathon with my brother of 500+ episodes of Naruto in the course of one week, I was hooked.  I began watching other anime, fell in love with the soundtracks and began listening to J-Rock. I then decided I needed to learn Japanese and to look into the real culture.

Douglas McGray’s article spoke of “Japan’s Gross National Cool” and I think it put some things in perspective for me.  The reason I was captivated by it as a child is because it was foreign, it was Japanese.  The idea of being different than the American pop culture sounded so appealing until you realize that you’re merely a victim of the Japanese “soft power”.

POKEMON, TAMAGOTCHI Pets, and Hyper-Consumption

I had recently discovered many cartoons that are aired on television in America, toys, originated in Japan. I never associated myself with Japanese popular culture, but I was more connected than I thought.  As a child growing up watching cartoons, such as Pokemon were shows that I would watch religiously with all of my older cousins, not that I had much of a choice with one television in the house! My grandmother would feed into our obsession and bought each of us life-sized stuffed animals and towels with our favorite pokemon character on them. The playing games with my pokemon cards were my forte and were even more popular, not only at home but in school. It was always a competition to see who had the best/most battle card. Another absolute favorite item of my childhood was my Tamagotchi Pet! I took that thing everywhere! Growing up I wasn’t allowed to have any pets in the house, so this toy was the closest thing to a pet that I could get. I collected all of the different tamagotchis and would play and share them amoung my cousins. Based on the amount of toys we had, collectively, I believe we possessed almost all of the popular tamagotchi’s sold.

According on Stevens’ article on the fandom of popular culture, she says that consumption is a subset of fandom in Japanese culture. She also states that fandom is also a “hyper-consumption” of a strongly branded product in Japanese Pop Culture.  I also believe that this ideology is true in America. People base their self-worth on what they own. As mentioned in class it is ironic how closely Japanese and American culture are interrelated. I find it interesting to learn that these fandoms are also popular in Japanese Pop culture.

-Vanessa Pierre-Louis

Influence of Japanese Culture

It’s surprising that America – a nation that is comprised of so many different ethnicities,  so many different nationalities – has managed to come up with its own distinct “American” style, a distinct “American” influence that people worldwide can recognize. America’s effects can be seen in so many different countries, in a variety of ways, from fashions (Nike sneakers) to food establishments (the oh so recognizable McDonald’s), as observed by Douglas McGray in “Japan’s Gross National Cool.” The effect a country has on another, however, goes both ways, and as McGray notes, “Japanese culture has transcended U.S. demand or approval.” So how then, has Japanese culture affected myself?

As with many people nowadays, I would have to say my first interactions with Japanese culture came through television – and I didn’t even realize it! I certainly had no idea that shows like Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Dragonball Z were from Japan. I just loved watching it after school or on Saturday mornings. I loved the storylines, the characters, the action – and so did my friends. We talked about the shows, discussing who would win against who, recapping previous episodes and wondering what would come next. We collected Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, and played video games based on the shows. I was disappointed when they stopped broadcasting the shows on local TV, not having cable at that time.

However, this didn’t stop my interaction with Japanese culture for too long. After getting into another anime (Naruto), I started reading the manga and enjoyed that as well. My early likings of the imported Japanese anime has influenced a lot of the shows and games I still watch and play today, and as Carolyn S. Stevens notes in her article, it’s always fun to discuss these shows/games with someone else in “the fandom.”