Monday, May 12, 2008

Do you think you’re turning Japanese-a, think you’re turn Japanese-a, you really think so?

Even though the song by the Vapors came out in the early 80’s, there may be something to the sentiment: Somehow, the Japanese culture has found a way to enmesh itself in the culture that has been most successful in exporting its own culture throughout the globe.

While it’s true the culture of the United States has always been an amalgam of every other global culture, there is something about the Japanese culture that is particularly marketable. However, as the referenced article is very good at pointing out, it’s not a “pure” Japanese culture that is being sought out by the American consumer:

"What is interesting about [businesses] that have been successful [selling Japanese products] is they're not going to Japan and seeing what's hot in Japan right now," Kelts says. "They're keeping a very firm grasp on what their American customers would like. So I think respecting the cultural differences is still important. It's not exactly localization. They're not changing the products to suit the American customer. They're just selectively offering Americans what might work here." [1]
Simply put, even if it is Japanese culture that is being sold to the United States, it’s only those aspects of the culture that Western values will embrace and accept. A good example of something that is commonly accepted in Japanese culture that wouldn’t be accepted in the United States would be the typical cartoon targeted to school-age children in Japan. During one trip to Tokyo, I recall turning on the television and immediately being immersed in a cartoon that would have given the FCC a collective coronary!

The cartoon had no problem showing full frontal nudity, anatomically-correct graphic violence, and implied that even younger children could have a blushing sexual streak to them. I could not even imagine this same cartoon being on HBO, much less in the middle of the afternoon, right after school hours. Western values would never accept this.

So are Americans really buying Japanese culture? I would conclude the only place it seems that other cultures are successfully marketable in the United States (even one as infectious as the Japanese culture) is when the aspect of the culture being marketed is one where Americans can see something of themselves in it.

[1] MS-NBC. Embracing Japanese pop culture. May 11, 2008. Retrieved from on May 11,2008.