Only In Japan

Friday, April 13, 2007

Six years

Japan is well known as a land of faddists, a country where people are as quick to adopt new fashions en masse - as to discard them. There are many reasons for this: strong social pressure to conform to one's group's trends, massive and constant media bombardment, and a general lack of self-confidence among Japanese people. At least that is the theory; but I thought it would be funny to show some of the fads that have swept Japan in the six years I've been here. Enjoy...

-FOOD: the Japanese are notoriously obsessed with food, and 85% of all TV programmes are devoted to the topic, so it should come as no surprise to hear that following food fads is a major part of life in Japan. When I arrived in 2000, Korean food was all the rage: simple, cheap, healthy, it was a welcome change from the French and Italian trends that had fattened the Japanese (and flattened their wallets) for years previously. Nowadays, there is no dominant trend, but many "mini-booms" have come and gone during the last few years. Roll cakes are on the way out (finally!), the mango boom last year went bust very quickly, Spanish raw ham has kicked Italian raw ham out of the shelves and seems here to stay. Shochu (a Japanese spirit) has seen an incredible renaissance some 3 years ago, but has now stabilised. Happoshu, a cheap ersatz of beer that (supposedly) tastes like the real thing and has a lower alcohol content, also seems to have become a staple. "Galettes", those buckwheat pancakes from Brittany, seem like they might be the next big thing, but it is too early to say.

Anyway, the real good news is... Bitter chocolate seems to be winning the war against Hershey's! The Japanese learned chocolate from the Americans after WW2, and that is very unfortunate considering how low-level chocolate in America is. But the Japanese have finally realized that Belgium and Switzerland are the real references when it comes to chocolate, and as a result more of the good European stuff is invading the market. Which is why you can now find 80% cocoa chocolate anywhere at reasonable prices... Let's pray it lasts!

-ENTERTAINMENT: you want the good news first? The Morning Musume are on the way out! Music lovers rejoice!
Hamasaki Ayumi has also been taking a back step; and I think it was high time she did. After years of seeing her huge frog eyes glaring at me from every magazine cover and advertising space in Japan, I'm glad she is taking a break. Actually, I'm especially glad considering NAKAMA YUKIE has replaced her as the most popular model in the archipelago, and I am really a huge fan! Big thanks to AU (a cell phone company) and JR (the main train company) for covering the city with posters of her lovely smile.

Japanese children seem to have got fed up with Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Crayon Shin Chan, and Beyblade. These were all very popular anime, but it looks like they're gone. I have no idea what is replacing them though.

In other news, the Korean Wave has also finally receded. For a few years Korean food, singers, TV series, movies, and models were all the rage; I felt those years coincided with a short period of time when the Japanese felt more Asian than usual (many Japanese don't really consider themselves Asian, just "Japanese"), and felt more kinship with their neighbours in Korea and China. At least younger people did... But the Japanese population has the oldest average age in the world, and the political and economic rise of China is felt as deeply threatening; these two factors have translated into more and more political success for nationalist politicians, which in turn translated in recent years into a much more aggressive and strident attitude towards China and Korea. Relations deteriorated quickly, and interest for Korea and China also went down. And now Japan is back to its schizophrenic attitude of ignoring its Asian-ness and looking for its identity in the West... Thus "24" has replaced "Winter Sonata", Cameron Diaz has shown Zhang Zi Yi the door, and New York-style yoga and Pilates have kicked Feng Shui back to obscurity.

This latter development is quite interesting: through yoga, a lot of interest for India has arisen in Japan recently. India is seen as a land of great spirituality and culture, and the fact that Buddhism originated there also creates a link between the two countries. I have a feeling India will be the "next big thing" here in Japan, but I doubt it will last very long. The Japanese will come to realize how fundamentally different the two countries are, and how hard it is to glamourise India. Pretty much as happened in the West 30 years ago...

MISCELLANEOUS: the "French maids" have finally got their letters of recognition.
The Nintendo DS is everywhere. I guess you're not too surprised...
"IQ Training Games" have also been very popular for the last few years, as senior citizens started panicking about losing their marbles unless they exercised their brains 14 hours a day. Interest for such games then trickled down to the general population and combined with the worldwide Sudoku craze to create a widespread addiction to math games, logical puzzles, and obscure kanji (Chinese characters) tests. I still prefer reading a good book, but that's just me!
The one really big thing to have come out in the last few years, though, is Mixi. The Japanese equivalent of MySpace, it has picked more than 8 million members in 3 years; it's only a small part of the total Japanese population (128 million) but 80% of Mixi members are in their 20's or 30's, which makes them a sizable chunk of the young population. Sadly, it's yet another trend that encourages people to live in virtual reality... Encouragement the Japanese didn't really need, but anyway.

And finally a short "wishes" section: there are a few things I always wish would become fashionable in Japan. Praline and pistachio cakes, ice-creams and desserts are delicious, and a staple in France and Italy; and considering how much the Japanese love these 2 countries, I am very surprised no-one has tried to convert Japan yet. Pistachio ice-cream yum yum...

Real pizza: you know, the ones from Italy with a thin crust? They are still largely unknown in Japan, since the country unfortunately got its pizza culture from America. What a shame.

But of course, the one thing I really hope will someday be fashionable again is kimono... There was a micro-revival 2 years ago, but it didn't hold up. When will Japanese women finally realise how good they look in kimono?

Well, I guess I'll have to make do with mini-skirts.


At 2:04 AM, Blogger Radicalpatriot said...

I would not charactize Ayumi's eyes as "frog eyes" and she is by any standard a legendary performer of almost immortal stature. I do not followe her that closely but her fan base says that your view is inaccurate and perhaps unjustified.

At 5:50 PM, Blogger PODJAPAN said...

Or maybe it's just that frog eyes are popular?
Just kidding.
The point is, yes she is a legendary performer, and I am not implying anything different by saying the size of her eyes is exceptional in Japan. I do not find that as attractive as most Japanese people do, and that's all I meant. Personal aesthetical tastes and respect for someone's skills as an artist are two very different things, and I don't see why you link them.


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