Around the World in 80 Children’s Books: A Global Booklist for Kids
How Japan’s pop culture conquered the world
10th September 2020
Pure Invention by Matt Alt. How Japan’s pop culture conquered the world.
This is a fascinating look at the pop culture of Japan.
The backdrop is the post WW2 economic picture of Japan, with its tremendous ups and downs; as the economy dipped and soared across the decades, there was a whole industry steadily growing in confidence and edging its way ono the world stage. Essentially the Japanese tapped into the things that the world wanted, rather than needed. It heralded the rebirth of a nation after a very difficult period.
I am sure everyone can think of some kind of Japanese entertainment or brand. I guess I first became aware that something in the world was changing when my children badgered for a Tamagotchi (comprising the words “tamago” meaning egg and “uocchi”, meaning watch). It wasn’t so much a game but a little entity that demanded attention. Given the incorrect amount of attention (i.e. not enough or the wrong sort), it would die and have to be breathed back to life. The compelling aspect was that there was no OFF button. Something like that commands a child’s full attention (for a while, at any rate) or when interest waned, it would pass into a pixelated grave – only to be revived and the whole cycle reverted to repeat. Is this where addiction to gaming really started, I wonder?
Consider the other forms of entertainment and art forms that have – well, in my estimation – dominated the minds of not only children but adults. Hello Kitty became a huge brand, manga is loved by many around the world. Remember the video game Pac-Man? And Pokémon (not forgetting Pokémon Go)? Nintendo. Donkey Kong. Karaoke. And one can’t overlook the ubiquitous Emoji.The list is truly endless. Japan is indeed a nation that has infiltrated society at every level.
The book is not only a trip down memory lane but it also provides societal insights. When I went to Japan I at first felt it was manageable and comprehensible but after a couple of days I discovered that I hadn’t even scratched the surface. Behind the shimmering neon lights of Shinjuku was a complex society, still anchored in tradition but daring enough to pull the world in to worship at its feet.
Marketing practices for their products were often singular and defied the laws of tried-and-tested western strategies. The people behind the products (think the power house behind Hello Kitty, manager Yuko Yamaguchi who dyed her hair neon pink and chose baby-doll dresses to wear) are often as unique as the wares with which they tempt their customers.
So, if you are looking for an insight into Japanese culture, using the story of Japanese pop culture as your vehicle, then this is an ideal book to pick up. You will learn a lot, you will be entertained, informed and fascinated. The amount of research that has gone into the book is quite mind boggling. It is, as you might imagine, quite a dense book with 39 pages of notes at the end, so it is not for the faint-hearted. But learn new things you will! No doubt!
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