My friends like to rub in my face the current American fascination with Japanese pop culture — “If Japan has become so uncool,” they are prone to ask, “why is it now more popular than ever in the States?” They’ve got a point: I cannot deny the popularity of Lost in Translation, anime, kanji tattoos, Puffy Amiyumi, A Bathing Ape, Hiromix, and Japanese horror films. Hell, Nigo’s in the new Snoop video.
However, all of the current items mentioned above are all essentially dated from the late ’90s Japanese pop explosion. What has happened is this: The wave of Japanese culture has gone from innovators like Momus and Tokion to early adopters Raygun and Matador to the mainstream. But it’s the exact same wave of content and creators. For example, A Bathing Ape was something Mo Wax (London) and RECON (NY) were fooling around with in the mid-’90s, then became a hipster item for British street wear kids around 2000, and now is fashion for the Source Awards set.
My point remains: The issues is that there’s no next wave here in Japan. There’s no new Nigo, no new Puffy, no new Cornelius. There are certainly a bundle of super talented individuals, but they’ve parted ways with the Japanese mainstream and live on the fringes. I don’t believe that Americans will see this late ’90s wave as a mere “trend” but a sign that Japan “has made it” in the world community. The sad thing to report is that the environment that created and coddled that specific post-Bubble cultural milieu is now defunct. At least in music and fashion, things are grim, and I’m not convinced that Japan has more power in the video game industry than it used to. Art and design may continue to be strong, but in what other fields is Japan currently becoming more innovative?
Since I thought it would always remain somewhat under the radar, I am very surprised that circa 1998 Japan has now become big in the United States, but I’m not quite sure that circa 2004 Japan is going to fly with the same crowd. They better like bad hip hop and Uniqlo cotton blazers.
Editor’s Note 2011: They do like Uniqlo cotton blazers!