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Just two decades ago, Japan’s image in the world was of an economic juggernaut, challenging America and other industrialized nations with its push for dominance in everything from microchips to supercomputers. Discussion of Japanese culture typically referenced the traditional and offbeat worlds of, say, Kabuki or sumo.
Today, Japan sets the trends in what’s cool. Sarah Palin’s famous glasses came from a Japanese designer. Tokyo has the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world, with eight of them earning three stars. Even America’s favorite food show, “Iron Chef,” is a Japanese import. Japanese women are pushing the limits of literary pop culture with blogs and cellphone novels. Japanese comics occupy ever-greater shelf space in bookstores, and animé-influenced movies like the “The Dark Knight” and “Spider-Man 3” find huge audiences in the West.
What all these media share is a nuanced Japanese aesthetic that has infiltrated global sensibilities – a sort of new “soft power” for Japan. In the process, they’re challenging delineations of good and evil from the world’s main purveyor of pop culture, Hollywood, as well as American ideals of the lone action-hero.
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Japanese pop culture is slowly but surely eating away the cultural stronghold that the US has kept for more than half a century. From manga to animated movies to food, Japanese influence is increasing worldwide. Japanese pop culture is hot. One of the net’s top shopping sites for Japanese pop culture products is J-List, run by Peter Payne, who also writes peterpayne.net, a very popular blog on Japan which every day attracts some 1,000 visitors. I talked with Peter about how he ended up selling a bit of Japan to the world.
The Tokyo 135˚ shop is hidden away on the second floor in a small building on a back street of Harajuku, Tokyo’s energetic youth culture district. If you don’t know it is there, you’ll most probably never find it. You’d miss out on Harajuku’s best modern kimono shop.
The story is familiar to regular readers of Zeit Gist. Debito Arudou, a naturalized Japanese citizen, originally from America, was living in Sapporo, Hokkaido, and had heard of the Yunohana public bath’s policy of denying entry to foreigners. In 1999, media in tow, he decided to put that onsen’s policy to the test. Sure enough, entry was denied, with the accompanying explanation that foreigners often “cause trouble” and, as such, the regulars “dislike sharing the facilities with them.”
The origin of this controversy is the behavior of Russian sailors. The Yunohana “onsen” is located in Otaru, the main port between Japan and the Russian Far East. Otaru attracts over a thousand Russian vessels and more than 25,000 sailors a year on stays of varying lengths. In the mid-1990s, Russian sailors were frequently showing up drunk at the city’s various onsen and jumping into the tubs with soap on their bodies, thus rendering the facilities unusable.
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Christmas is in the air, as well as the smell of fried chicken… Over many years Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan has somehow managed to position its greasy offerings as a romantic Christmas delight. There is something deeply sad about fast food being seen as romantic.
Animators traced a real performance by Susumu Nishikawa (guitar), Takeshi Taneda (bass guitar), and Yutaka Odawara (drums) to create this version of Suzumiya Haruhi no Tsumeawase (涼宮ハルヒの詰合). It was featured in the very popular anime Lucky Star, which focuses on the lives of four high-school girls. Cool clip.
Deze Karako (唐子), een jongetje in antieke Japanse kleding, is een traditioneel ontwerp op zijde gebruikt voor haura, de achterkant van een haori (een jasje die over een kimono wordt gedragen).