Nothing has eaten into the Japanese cultural industries more than the spread of cell-phones (keitai). Where kids from the ’80s and early ’90s had ¥10,000-20,000 a month to spend on records, clothing, and karaoke, kids today have to scrap together the same amount just to pay their monthly phone bills. Numerous studies on the decline of the music market blame keitai, and since the Japanese still primarily go “online” through their phones, using the Internet appears to have an inverse relationship with cultural participation.
Meanwhile, in the rest of the post-industrial world, the computer-based Net is relatively low priced, and for most kids under 22, provided for free by parents or universities. And what’s more, all the illegal downloading and file trading has provided amazing access to music and movies at the rock bottom price of zero. The long-term effects on the cultural industry have yet to be seen, but at least the American markets have fought off constant decline like in Japan.
Of course, the Japanese record industry blames CDRs and file-trading on their yearly 10% descent, but file-trading culture here is still in its infant stages. For starts, there aren’t massive networks of T3-connected college kids in dorms, and most Japanese Internet users are men in their 30s and 40s who don’t have so much incentive for illegal downloads. There is not much to suggest that the number of music fans has remained constantly while fewer pay for real releases. Simply, less Japanese people care about music than in the past.
With print media and fashion, there is no real threat of bootlegging, and yet there are similar rates of market contraction. The phone bills and general economic malaise have redistributed funds out of the “leisure” business into the communications business, and I would not assume that kids are using phones to access more culture. They easily rack up ¥10,000-20,000 bills just talking and emailing friends.
For at least the last twenty-five years in Japan, all pop/youth culture has been consumer culture, and now that kids can’t buy anything, “culture” has gone into a strange transitory period where the old “buy=participation” market structure remains, but the values and consumer abilities have changed. Meanwhile in the United States (and possibly, in Korea and elsewhere), youth Internet usage may not be increasing media sales, but it seems to be boosting overall participation and involvement in culture.