This L.A. Times article explores the decline of Hollywood star appearances in Japanese commercials. While more self-confidence about Japanese culture and a new interest in Asian celebrities has perhaps softened the demand for Western talent, the Japanese market is no longer overflowing with the wealth to pay mediocre American actors several million dollars for a spot. French soccer players and Chinese actresses are fortunately much cheaper buys and ultimately just as effective.
I do not want to say that an increase in neo-nationalistic navel-gazing stems directly from lower consumer budgets, but if we look back on Japan’s more internationally-minded artists and citizens from the ’80s and ’90s, they were almost all rich kids — like Oyamada Keigo, Ozawa Kenji, Konishi Yasuharu, and Tanaka Yasuo — who showed a curiosity for the world through their spending habits. Japanese youth these days are not so lucky and depend upon their local mass market to entertain them. Or at most, they shallowly explore the English-speaking world’s musical acts and films already within the mass distribution channels. Japanese teens love their Nirvana, but not necessarily their Nirvana (UK). In the ’90s, consumers all strove to dig deeper, and that frenzy for completing perfect collections of knowledge has calmed down in recent years. The first song on any popular J-Punk or J-Reggae CD will tell you exact what kids these days aren’t listening to.
The media seems to think that we should all be amazed by the hanryu boom, but I don’t have to remind any of you that this influx of Korean culture has little to do with young people. Married women in their 40s love their Yon-sama, and teenagers go on with their daily lives unaffected.
The international acclaim awarded to Japan’s pop culture in the ’90s gave Japanese youth consumers more pride about domestic output, but now combined with a lack of money to pull too much from all over the world, everything is pushing towards a more monotonous local orientation. Now I don’t think the new lack of Western actors in ads will have an impact on Japanese tastes, but this and the rise of blatantly pro-Japan youth culture are cut from the same cloth. Japan is really into Japan at the moment — partly because they want to be, partly because they have to be.
(A Side Note: While visiting a college campus in America, I ran into a Japanese female professor from prestigious Hitotsubashi University. She told me that her students asked her, “Why would you go to America? Japan is the best! Why would anyone ever leave Japan?”)