On Click Opera, Momus wrote in response to a comment:
The media reports tendencies and directions and changes and trends rather than underlying solid states. (This same tendency is a real weakness in Marxy’s analysis. Incremental changes seem to him like definitive states.
We’ve had the solid state vs. change debate before, but the problem with ignoring incremental changes is that the Japanese Cultural Explosion of the ’90s grew out of a combination of very fragile social conditions.
Japan’s pop culture market first came together in the 1970s when rich Baby Boomer families spoiled their kids endlessly. The ’60s were all tear-gas and pentatonic melody, but by the 1970s, income equality reigned and companies found themselves rushing to fill the huge mass market for children’s products. Classic animations like Gundam went on the air as a way to sell toys, and toy firms moved into the field of video games to appeal to kids in new ways. In the ’80s, only the rich got richer, but mass tastes massively inflated in the spirit of unbridled wealth. In 1980, a laid-back Ivy league style was the standard; by 1990, designer European labels ruled.
Despite the growth of the internal market, however, the rest of the world generally ignored Japanese popular culture and art before the mid 1990s, except for toys/animation and the occasional eccentric band (Y.M.O., Japanese metal) or fashion label (Yohji Yamamoto). The system had become so advanced in its Western trend-spotting, media importation, and cultural cataloging that the 1990s creators were playing with high-level cultural ingredients completely unknown and forgotten to most of the West. In a span of a few short years, Japan’s pop culture became one of the most vibrant on the planet — a fact which the U.S. and European media now explicitly concede.
In spite of this unprecedented rise, the underlying conditions that spawned and maintained the Japanese pop cultural surge are starting to deteriorate. For example, 20% of the population of 1970s Japan was in their teens or younger, compared with 20% of the present population being over retirement age. The Japanese pop culture market is almost completely youth-oriented, and a shrinking number of youth means less market expenditure and production. Furthermore, income equality is greatly increasing, meaning that consumption of “good taste” is solely a leisure activity for the upper echelons of society. And the success of the market itself has led the younger generation to ignore Western influences and primarily consume domestic products, leading to a closed feedback loop. There’s less money, less consumers, and less openness, and this all changed quickly in a half-decade.
The American pop culture market has so many deep roots within the international system that very little can stop the tank from advancing. Japanese pop culture, however, is internally unstable and being externally processed as a fad with uncertain long-term prospects. Therefore, small incremental changes mean the difference between life and death. If the current trends continue, Harajuku will be even less Undercover and more Nike, Louis Vuitton, and Starbucks in every passing year.