Japanese Pop Culture Beyond Cute — It's Big Business

If you think Japanese pop culture is just a block of programming you see on one of the cartoon channels on television, you are only partially right. It's actually much more than that. In fact, the pop culture of Japan warrants a summer long course of study by some western universities. Though there's no four year degree offered yet, the course would suggest it's more than a passing trend.


History also tells us that Japanese popular culture is here to stay. Manga, a type of Japanese cartoon art has been around for hundreds of years. The centuries-old simple ink drawings of animals and people bear some resemblance to modern day Manga. The earliest works were drawn by an 11th century priest named Toba Sojo, who satirized Buddhist life.

Ancient Japanese Pop Culture | Toba Sojo Manga

Even this early form of Manga depicted a progressive chain of events when read in traditional Japanese fashion, from right to left.

Anime is simply the moving or animated version of Manga. It's like the difference between a Western comic and cartoon. Manga is usually read, and appears in black and white, while Anime is watched in color.

Pop Culture Japan & the Whimsy of Wa

Japanese Pop Culture Fashion | Cosplay Girl

If you read the regular Japanese Culture page, you'll know that the Ancient Chinese first recorded the doings of the Japanese and referred to them as "Wa." But don't worry, there won't be a test. We just like using the word Wa with the word "Whimsy" for it's alliterative potential and thought we should explain what in the Whirled Wa was anyway.

It's really the whimsy that's of most importance here, because it plays a large role in much of Japanese pop culture.

You will have noticed the large eyed, big haired characteristics of much of the art in the Manga and Anime worlds. It is not by any means the only characteristic of J-culture, but it is immediately identifiable as distinctly, if not primarily, Japanese.

The large eyed characteristic of Japanese art is an aspect of whimsy, but more to the point, cuteness. And cuteness is called Kawaii in Japanese.

Japanese Pop Culture Kawaii Kid

Never underestimate the power of Kawaii in Japan, or the force of its influence hitting western civilizations. If you don't believe us, read Wired Magazine's Cute Inc., an interesting analysis of corporate kawaii.

But not everything in modern Japanese pop culture is cute. Take sumo wrestling for example. Definitely not kawaii.

And there are also shows like Iron Chef, which are also not kawaii, but very entertaining.

Last, let's not forget about J-pop, or Japanese music that includes everything from actual pop to rock to fusion. But even some of that, though not all of it, seems so cutely innocent in a weirdly sexual way.

So how big is Japanese Pop Culture? It's no longer cool to say something is "Big in Japan". That was soooo last century, especially considering these conventions, which only prove that Japan, or Japanese pop culture anyway, is big EVERYWHERE:

» The United Kingdom's J-Con Anime Convention, in which a "Ninja Convoy" will escort the newbies from the market square to the convention areas.
» The Austin, Texas IKKiCON Convention complete with big business exhibitors, gaming and Cosplay Contest.
»: The Saint Petersburg, Russia Otaku Festival, in which we see a site we can't read, but the photos say a thousand words.

Been to a CosPlay or Manga convention? Tell us about it here: Contribute to the Whirled! | Global Calendar of Festivals and Events. Share your experience with fellow Whirled Travelers, have your friends comment on your post, and if your information is good, we'll add it to our spreadsheet.

Ready to travel to Japan or another country that's big on Japanese Pop Culture? Get some travel info about the place you're going on our World Travel pages.




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