Now I Understand Why Contemporary Japanese Pop Culture is at a Nadir

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One of the key presuppositions of this blog is, “For the last five years, Japanese mainstream pop culture has gotten progressively more boring and less stimulating,” to which many answer:

1. Yes! The innovation and spark of the 90s is gone!
2. No! Your head is stuck in the past and you are missing the stunning glory of today!
3. No! You are deluded and have no idea what is actually going on!
4. No! You are looking in the wrong fields. Culture is not just music and street fashion!
5. No! You are a hater!

Every month or so, I start toying with ideas 2-5 and ask my Japanese friends to fill me in on everything I am missing. They never come up with much of anything: They either shrug in resigned apathy or call me later on my cellphone to announce that they are so bored with things that they don’t leave the house and I have been talking to thin air the entire time. This gently nudges me towards 1 again. Then I have dinner with my friend and his arty 19 year-old date who tells me “the 90s were the era for me!” which kicks me back into the 1 position.

For a minute at least, let us presume that the “Pop Cultural Decline” idea is at least valid — viewed from a specific subcultural perspective held by many readers of this blog and general non-anime fans of Japanese culture. Some evidence:

1. All cultural industries in total nosedive, even with increased exports.
2. Koda Kumi — probably the most unattractive, uncharismatic, untalented idol to ever grace the island of Japan. And she is #1, as if all girls decided they wanted to worship stars worse than themselves on every possible criteria other than “fame.” Her success proves that Avex has the power to do unnatural, evil things: make rivers flow backwards and turn dogs against their masters.

So far, I have proffered the following explanations for the current malaise:

1. Demographics: smallest percentage of young people in population since WWII (and perhaps, ever?), so companies are moving away from teen-targeted product marketing
2. Economics: decrease of teenage allowances and increase of phone bills has led to reduced spending in the cultural markets of magazines, music, manga, books, and films
3. Information: reduced influence of magazine editors and other “curators” interested in importing “elitist” Western ideas and products into Japan
4. Psychology: a cohort of teenagers who only know economic downturn and have never grasped an interest in consumer spending, which until now, has been the fundamental action of Japanese pop culture
5. Class Dynamics: the rise in income inequality has created the need for middle classes to focus on status-displaying consumer items rather than taste-displaying consumer items

This WaiWai summary of a piece in R25 seems to open up another explanation:

6. Cyclical history: culture moves in (increasingly-shorter) cycles, and Japan is currently stuck worshiping the gaudy, hollow Bubble Era

Those quoted in the article seem to look back fondly upon the Bubble — which they never experienced as adults — because:

1. You were rewarded like a king for just showing up
2. The job market was un-selective and grossly overcompensating
3. Booze and hostess bars
4. Anybody with a paycheck got access to “exclusive” clubs

kataoka2.jpg

I can safely say that the cultural artifacts of the Bubble Era account for plus or minus 0 percent of what the rest of the world loves about Japan. Juliana’s and “bodicon” and the hack Roppongi demimonde chronicled by Karl T. Greenfeld never held much appeal to anyone who did not directly participate. Even our ’90s Japanese heroes like Takahashi Jun and Oyamada Keigo spent their Bubble years in underground clubs and small record shops sheltering themselves from the terrible pageant of wealth set to Eurobeat and bad bangs.

If you have the words “Gordon Gekko” tattooed on your lower back in katakana, the Bubble was for you. Otherwise, it was a cultural nightmare, an apocalyptic after-school special bemoaning the Third Deadly Sin. This was an era of tasteless nobody salarymen flush with cash, nonchalantly ordering $250 bottles of foreign whiskey every single night and then drowning out the executive flavor with ice water. They look back fondly on ’89-’91 solely because they can remember the feeling of clutching all that cash, losing up to ¥100,000 a night just because it was hard to eat and hold all those ¥10,000 bills at the same time. Everyone else in the entire world on the Bubble era: *shrug*

So, now we have to deconstruct the Bubble akogare of today’s youth. Essentially, they are dissatisfied with:

1. A tight job market
2. Low salaries
3. Performance-based pay
4. Expectations of hard work

Recession has scarred the psyche into ignoring anything other than the aspiration for a high cash flow. And what would our fair youth do if they had money? Spend it on booze and hired girls.

And here come the bangs!

This Bubble lust also explains why hosts are so such a central part of the popular conscious of the moment: They get to dressed up in awful late ’80s fashions and bad tans and make a healthy salary from boozing and chatting with ladies (from the mizu shobai world). It’s as if the host profession perfectly combines the work and play of the Bubble Era into one lifestyle. If only mom and dad weren’t Waseda graduates from Jiyugaoka! If I had moved to Tokyo from some farm village in Saga, I would be host #4 in no time!

No part of this disposition lends itself to “let’s celebrate the arts” or “let’s use our hard-earned baito money to explore difficult artistic ideas.” Much like the Bubble, the more worldly Tokyoites seem to be going back underground, setting up their own subcultural communities, Moodman throwing parties in abandoned hospitals in Chiba. But this group cannot take pride in its permanent outsider legacy. They are not the radicals of the Natural Law Party, but more like the Reform Party in 1996 — an opposition in decline, glory days long past, like fans of Hall and Oates in ’92. Success was our greatest curse.

If this is all actually cyclical, the Bubble Revival should end relatively soon, although things feel too early for a real celebration of the ’90s. I don’t think this is all cyclical though — in five years, broke twenty-somethings are still going to want money for nothing and chicks for free (forgive me, Dire Straits). Maybe their bosses will stop bragging about the “T-backs” at Juliana’s though and start talking about how they once saw Ozawa Kenji on the subway.

All in all, one cannot expect much from a population enamored by the greed and banal debauchery of the Bubble Era. I am sure things “were crazy” but they also said that about being at Altamont. Remember: Richie Rich stank like a skunk. You don’t get clean in that bath of coins.

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

60 Responses

  1. Boyrand Says:

    Marxy! Great news! Your theories are becoming quite popular on 2ch!

  2. Boyrand Says:

    Whoops! Sorry, man. 2ch is done with you and moved on to sexier, newer theories. Still, it was a great run while it lasted.

  3. P P Says:

    If only you were Japanese; or maybe the problem is that Japanese and American pop consciousness is too converged, conformed to each other; they “get” each other too well.

  4. marxy Says:

    Whoops! Sorry, man. 2ch is done with you and moved on to sexier, newer theories. Still, it was a great run while it lasted.

    My run on 2-ch was the most adulation I have ever received in 30 seconds. I will never forget it.

  5. SoccerBoy Says:

    すげえな。よく勉強してるね。感心する。

    内容は別にして、本当に感服する内容です。

  6. r. Says:

    this was wild and flailing.
    nice.
    r.

  7. marxy Says:

    I wanted the tone to match my normal physical mannerisms.

  8. SMonk Says:

    So, what country is where it’s at these days, then? Who has the most vibrant mainstream pop culture?

  9. marxy Says:

    That’s the “Big Question” point, because all the things I complain about not really existing in Japan don’t really exist anywhere else either. My gut feeling though is that Internet culture is leading to some interesting new things and that Japan has yet to add much to that particular field. The pipe between underground Japan and mainstream Japan also seems to have been cut a bit, and other countries seem to be doing a better job in getting their cult heros into the big time. (Although Cornelius did do the music to that Vodaphone commercial…)

  10. Chris_B Says:

    Marxy: The waiwai bit made plain what I’ve been seeing since I got here in 97. Anyone who was even self aware during the bubble or even several years after the crash is now and has been nostalgic for it ever since. Lots of 30-somethings I know still have not figured out that it was an abberation, it wasnt representative of a “normal” economic period. Then again, I’m of the assumption that perhaps Japan has never experienced “normal” economic cycles, or at least not since early Meiji. Thats a whole nother topic though.

    As far as pop culture goes, are you really sure that the things you love so much were ever anyting more than fringe or at best long fringe? Was your shibuya kei stuff ever selling as well as koda kumi’s admittedly deflated “hit” numbers? What I’m saying is if the good things are what you miss, thats like me saying the punk scene here isnt as good as it was in Austin in the late 80s. Ya cant go back home and pop will never be as cool as it was.

    One other thing about nostalgia, it always looks better when you are looking back on it. Who knows how good the bubble years really were anyways.

  11. Momus Says:

    the rise in income inequality has created the need for middle classes to focus on status-displaying consumer items rather than taste-displaying consumer items

    Pubmedcentral reports that “the mean Gini coefficient in Japan in 1995 was 0.36”, and CIA World Factbook reports Japan’s Gini level in 2004 as 0.24, which shows declining inequality in Japan, unless those figures are wrong somehow.

    But I’d like you to explain the difference between status and taste, given that Bourdieu has very convincingly made the case for taste being, precisely, a marker of status?

  12. Chris_B Says:

    momus shoots and scores!

  13. Momus Says:

    Well, those stats certainly give a misleading impression. I don’t dispute that inequality is increasing in Japan. But I’d like to hear Marxy’s answer to the bit about taste and status.

  14. Chris_B Says:

    I’ll have to see if the Gini numbers are available pre-bubble as well. I strongly contend that were just now barely coming out of the hangover. I wonder how survivable this upcoming interest rate increase is.

  15. marxy Says:

    The Gini is definitely increasing. I am not sure why those numbers are off. The middle class is shrinking – much like in America and everywhere else in the world. It’s not really unique to Japan – just the Japanese have made a bigger deal of income equality being a fundamental part of their economic system than the other capitalist countries.

    As for taste-discrimination vs. simple wealth-discrimination, I am fully aware of what you are suggesting. All pursuit of cultural creation probably has some class motivation behind it – whether it be subcultural creation by lower classes (Hebdidge) or stylistic innovation in attempt to escape imitation by the lower classes. Simple discrimination by “luxury goods” or other obvious signifiers of capital seems to me to be a very “primitive” means of distinction – seen more in countries with high Ginis like China and South Korea.

    Since the post-War, blatant wealth discrimination in Japan was seen as rather uncouth, and so “real” rich families would use taste discrimination as a replacement. I think the Bubble amplified this because it made the Old Rich – the Ozawas, for example – have to work double hard to distinguish themselves from the fake rich of the Bubble. As I have said before, Shibuya-kei came out of a Bourdieu-esque drive to make “culture” the distingushing factor, not raw capital.

    Both types of discrimination may be bad from a Socialist standpoint, but one is obviously better for artistic innovation and the elitism that often goes hand in hand with “arty-ness.”

  16. Mulboyne Says:

    Interesting piece, thanks.

    Income inequality may or may not be increasing now but the 80’s certainly saw greater wealth inequality because of sky-high asset prices. Perhaps it’s harder to keep your eye on the pack pulling away when your own wage packet and bonuses are rising.

    I don’t know that I agree that the bubble nightlife never held appeal for those who didn’t participate. One of the most striking things about the fleeting wealth of the internet era is that it was spent in almost exactly the same ways in Japan by people who weren’t old enough to be there first time around. There were some sniffy articles at the time from 80’s survivors claiming that, even if the good times returned, you could never repeat the experience of the bubble. Others bemoaned the lack of imagination of the new entrepeneurs.

  17. Chris_B Says:

    “back in my day we had to walk uphill 2 kilometers just to get a bottle of Krug and then crawl through the underbrush to get the hostess to open it. you kids have it too easy.”

  18. Mulboyne Says:

    Greenfeld himself, wanting it both ways, from a piece in 2003:

    http://www.time.com/time/asia/2003/journey/japan.html

    “For me and my friends—other writers, a musician, a few younger Japanese whose profession could be described as a sort of lazy gangsterism—there was a sense that we were at the heart of something, at the center of a scene of groovy 20-somethings who successfully straddled East and West and were not only thriving in both cultures but were actually redefining how one lived between them. Never mind that generations before and since have had the same specious notion. It was, I now accept, the misconception endemic to young people that what we are doing when we are 25 is important, not just to us but to the world. In the case, say, of Lord Byron or Bono, this may be true. For me, it was self-delusion. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun and intoxicating.”

  19. Chris_B Says:

    nice summary there. very true as well.

    marxy thats what I was talking about, we cant be 25 ever again.

  20. Momus Says:

    I’m still 25!

  21. marxy Says:

    My problem with K-Taro is that he seems to think that reveling in his own debauchery is the content of his work. He could have lived the sleezy colonialist expat life anywhere and written a book about it but I guess Japan made the most sense for his location – seeing that he is the son of a Akutagawa prize winner.

    That’s my general feeling about the Bubble – great you had pricey things and cheap sex and perversity. What made that uniquely Japanese? What part of that added to global human value?

  22. Chris_B Says:

    momus: enjoy it while it lasts

    marxy: who said the debauch was uniquely japanese? Here they had champagne in hostess bars, in the US its coke and hookers, same ol’ same ol’

  23. adamu Says:

    Great table in English of Gini coefficient here on page 2:
    http://www.esri.go.jp/jp/prj-rc/macro/macro15/07-5-P.pdf

    It’s only to 1999 and then projected to 2002 or so, but you get the idea. Note that the biggest jumps occurred in the early 70s and the 80s.

    Here’s a more detailed breakdown in Japanese of asset distribution, and the inequality is up in all categories since 1978:
    http://www5.cao.go.jp/seikatsu/whitepaper/h18/01_honpen/html/06sh_dat_22.html

    I appreciate that Momus looked them up, but those CIA figures are often random, and cherry-picking 2 years might not tell you anything.

    And I just have to say that with resources like Wai Wai, asahi.com and yomiuri’s great English sites, a wealth of English-language Japanese government sources online for free, and a handful of good Japan blogs, we’re in something of a golden age for English-language Japan coverage. Sure, the internet has also produced a huge amount of useless Japan sites that offer nothing, but the wealth of good, free resources out there astounds me. Normally, research like that in your article would require extensive Japanese-language reading (taking a lot of time) and some costs incurred in acquiring the materials. But armed with an expertise in the fundamental issues and on-the-ground observation, all the grunt work can be handled with knowledge of a few good links and some google searches. Rejoice!

    And one more thing: you call those bangs? Japanese people might be nostalgic but I hope they’ll never be *that* nostalgic.

  24. alin Says:

    i’ve been listening recently to some mp3s of ryuichi sakamoto’s nhk radio shows from the early-mid 80s, jun togawa, akiko yano, david sylvian etc. quite relevant stuff. you can’t dismiss the cultural foundation laid during the bubble. oddly many of those people still pop up in something as now as ok fred while shibuya key have all but dissapeared

  25. Chris_B Says:

    adamu thanks for the PDF. How odd that 1971 was the “best” year but too bad the data only goes back to 1963. P4 summarizes nicely as well.

  26. check Says:

    Excellent essay.

  27. Mulboybe Says:

    As Chris_B implies, sex drugs and rock’n’roll have been the model of debauchery for centuries so I’m not sure why anyone should expect Japan to have been any different.

    You think the bubble-era gave the world nothing? Where did the global appetite for sushi come from?

  28. marxy Says:

    i’ve been listening recently to some mp3s of ryuichi sakamoto’s nhk radio shows from the early-mid 80s, jun togawa, akiko yano, david sylvian etc. quite relevant stuff.

    The early-mid 80s is not the Bubble. I don’t think any of these artists would be considered “Bubble” music. More like early 80s post-YMO semi-underground.

  29. marxy Says:

    You think the bubble-era gave the world nothing? Where did the global appetite for sushi come from?

    Sushi was already catching on before the Bubble. Watch The Breakfast Club for proof.

  30. Mulboyne Says:

    “Sushi was already catching on before the Bubble. Watch The Breakfast Club for proof.”

    That’s why I said “global” appetite rather than US. But, even so, that film was released in 1985 which was the year of the Plaza Accord so it is hardly a pre-bubble cultural artifact.

    Sushi acquired its cache because of the bubble. The supply lines for fish and chefs were established overseas during that period and became more mainstream when the expat corporate cards ran dry and prices came down.

    Also, look at where the new money dines in Russia and the ‘stans. They don’t want French or Italian, they want sushi.

  31. Mulboyne Says:

    “cachet” even…

  32. alin Says:

    The early-mid 80s is not the Bubble.

    fair enough.

    i (often) don’t get what you mean by underground. we’re talking nhk fm here.

    you have an odd way of analyzing a culture: you stand outside , zoom in at a couple of points that have appealed to you and leave everything else as some sort of dark zone (terra nullus). if you looked at it more from within and included in the picture stuff that for some reason or other doesn’t appeal to you or is not understood by you personally (like i said before, say, non ‘shibuya-kei’ 90s j/pop/rock , certain publications etc) you’d find that the whole thing, actually makes a lot of sense has integrity and continuity and is not this swamp that spawns the odd monster.

  33. marxy Says:

    That’s why I said “global” appetite rather than US. But, even so, that film was released in 1985 which was the year of the Plaza Accord so it is hardly a pre-bubble cultural artifact.

    ’85 is Plaza Accord, but that is not the start of the Bubble from a cultural perspective. (85-88 is DC Boom, not so much what we are talking about above.) ’89-’91 is classic Bubble, where things got really extreme. The yen took a while to hit its peak.

    you have an odd way of analyzing a culture

    I think of things as Zeitgeists – where music, fashion, attitudes come together to make something bigger. You can argue that the Hosono-Sakamoto-YMO-Plastics-Pizzicato Five-Cornelius chain extends throughout the post-60s, but why did it explode into the mainstream in the 90s? There will always be cultural exchange between Japan and the world at a small, niche/underground level. I have always been more interested in those aspects of cultural being embraced by the mainstream, which is a relatively rare thing to happen: late 60s psych, 90s grunge, 90s shibuya-kei. Not that I am “analyzing a culture strangely” as much as looking for one specific thing.

    There’s not much interesting to say if the idea is: “Japan has always had a cool element.” So has everywhere. The question is, why were average Japanese consumers devouring foreign items that the home cultures cast off into the margins? Togawa Jun is interesting and all, but the fact that Shiina Ringo essentially did a Togawa Jun revival and still hit #1 is perhaps more interesting.

  34. will Says:

    Marxy,
    Why is it that Yuki can badmouth Japan as she does on a regular basis over on her blog and get off scot free, while you are invariably lambasted for your slightly more detached crits of this counrty ? I would love to get your opinion on this!
    Thanks,
    WIll

  35. marxy Says:

    I think most of it is because Japanese people are automatically assumed to understand Japan better than outside observers. Also, being American brings in all sorts of associations with bullying and the cultural distortions of American capitalism – criticism being a complaint against non-conformity. There are a lot of difficult issues imbedded in the discussion, and I understand why I get attacked sometimes for echoing the same arguments as Japanese leftists. It just sounds better coming out of the mouth of a Japanese person.

  36. Momus Says:

    There’s not much interesting to say if the idea is: “Japan has always had a cool element.” So has everywhere.

    This is Procrustean Seeing! And it simply isn’t fair or true. When did you ever read an article, in even the most obscure magazine, about Mongolia’s cool underground scene? Or Kenya’s? Why tell us that Japan’s underground cool is no more or less significant than any other country’s when it simply isn’t so? Why insist that things are only meaningful when they cross over to the mainstream? Your whole cultural perspective is held hostage by the good taste of the masses, and I can promise you that you’re bound to be let down on that score most of the time.

  37. marxy Says:

    Why insist that things are only meaningful when they cross over to the mainstream?

    I personally am fine with things that do not break into the mainstream, but it is ridiculous to somehow say that the sudden widespread global interest in Japan for the last 8-10 years has been unrelated to the fact that “underground culture” made it into the bigtime in 90s Japan. The whole idea of “Japan Cool” is that the coolness completely permeates society – not just that there are interesting people in the fringes we need to pay attention to.

    Artists and musicians have come to love Japan because they visit here and have 200 kids line up for autographs. In Prague or Berlin, I would think they could only get a nice reception from some local contemporaries. For a long time in certain sectors, Japan paid the bill for every Western artist who could only find “general favor” and not sales back home. Everyone loved Futura 2000 in NYC, but the Japanese actually put money in his pocket.

    Japan has reverted back to an “uncool” mass/mainstream with interesting people in the fringes. That can still be interesting – hell I love Shugo Tokumaru and NhhmBase, etc – but I think a lot of people come to Japan in the hope that they have found a mass culture embracing “cool.” I will admit that this is what intially got me intrigued. For Momus of all people – who scored a huge hit for Kahimi Karie, who would be just a low-level indie musicians in any other market – to make this revisionist claim of liking underground Japan regardless of market size seems silly. I know it’s not so fab to claim that market success adds to artistic value, but it does! We implictly bestow value and importance on things within a market framework.

    If Harajuku was 10 kids dressing up instead of 1000, would it still be the same? (Does it matter that it is 1000 instead of 10,000 would be my next question…) Is a society where Cornelius sells 200,000 records different than one where he (or his new version) sells only 25,000?

  38. Momus Says:

    This is probably a fundamental point of difference between us. I’m happy when what I consider good taste goes mainstream, of course (though snobby enough to then move on to something else), but I’m quite content to reduce my vision of Japanese fashion flair to just one person if necessary (at the moment it’s the eccentric Fumiko Imano, for instance).

    While this may be snobby and elitist, there’s also something unselfish about it. You say “Artists and musicians have come to love Japan because they visit here and have 200 kids line up for autographs.” That may have been a motivation for me on my first visits to Japan. But now — and I promise you I couldn’t get arrested on the streets of Tokyo, let alone recognized, these days — I think I’ve reached a much less narcissistic appreciation. I actually dig, you know, other people and the work they do, whether they dig me or not. In fact, I prefer it if they don’t. Signing 200 autographs is extraordinarily tiresome.

  39. Mulboyne Says:

    “’85 is Plaza Accord, but that is not the start of the Bubble from a cultural perspective. (85-88 is DC Boom, not so much what we are talking about above.) ’89-’91 is classic Bubble, where things got really extreme. The yen took a while to hit its peak.”

    Obviously, you are free to assign labels to periods in whichever way you want but it seems odd to me to narrow the bubble down to 89-91 and I think it may be leading you to underestimate what did happen “culturally” during the period.

    If one of the points you make in your piece is that Japan is currently running on empty for all its apparent success overseas then I’d agree with that.

    I’d be interested to know whether you buy into the idea that Japanese music is on the verge of making a splash in the US as the self-interested writer of this piece maintains:

    http://news.asianweek.com/news/view_article.html?article_id=2678f5aa59e69f844690ff18578074bc

  40. marxy Says:

    I am not particularly pessimistic about the prospects of individual Japanese artists and creators, but I am highly pessimistic about the legs of “Japan Cool” to walk out of its era of genesis.

    I went out to near Odaiba today and then walked some of the backstreets of Nagatacho and realized how great Tokyo is as a city completely impossible to predict. New things pop up at every turn, the disorder is pretty dreamy and keeps you always entertained. I think there are many things still great about Tokyo and Japan in general, but I have been less than optimistic 1) that Japan represents an “alternative social system” that can be adopted in the West without serious reservations about traditional ideas of freedom and equality etc. and 2) that “everything in Japan is cooler and more high-tech than anywhere else.” Things are much more complex than the conventional wisdom suggests.

    I have fun living in my little non-mainstream bubble, at my friends’ events and gigs and gallery openings, but I do think the mainstream culture is now as limp as that of other countries, worse in some ways. However, there was a point when I thought Japanese mainstream culture was superior to American mainstream culture, and obviously I am going to ask myself whether something has changed other than my own tastes.

    I don’t think I would have enjoyed the general vibe of Bubble Japan, nor would have most of the readers of my blog. For the same reason, the current Zeitgeist offers less to me than the old ones.

  41. jeff Says:

    Excellent return to form, Marxy. I wondered where the Neomarxism of your student days had gone–perhaps everything really *is* cyclical.

    Actually, I’m just an avid lurker here, and I have an ulterior motive for posting today. I would like to send a music-related email to you personally, David, and I can’t find an email address anywhere on your site. I would greatly appreciate it if you could contact me at royjefflee@gmail.com .

    Everyone, please forgive me for being a icky slug and interrupting the conversation, and do please carry on !

  42. marxy Says:

    I’d be interested to know whether you buy into the idea that Japanese music is on the verge of making a splash in the US as the self-interested writer of this piece maintains:

    I have been thinking of doing a post responding to that article. I am not sure any of those anime-related bands have sold more copies than Pizzicato Five did in the mid 90s. I don’t know why the current phenomena really warrants a cover story. Icelandic music exports still probably crush Japanese exports.

    Overall, selling all this terrible visual kei music in the US just waters down the “Japan Brand” and doesn’t even really make Sony (who are behind Tofu) any kind of meaningful profit. It’s much better image-wise to sell 50K records to record snobs and tastemakers than the lumpen anime fans. (Not that record snobs are better people or anything, but this is all about image and profit, no?)

    Those initial “Sony Not for Sale Japan All-Stars” CDs were a lot cooler, but that’s when SME’s catalog was pretty amazing. They dropped all the Sunahara Yoshinori types recently.

  43. nate Says:

    that last comment from marxy is probably the most succinct and direct statement of this blog’s raison d’etre he’s ever written.

    I feel like I really stumbled into the party way too late, so I don’t have this sense that something has gone downhill… though I hear plenty about it. This wistful longing for a return of the cultural bubble is not really different from pining for the fiscal one is it? “you had to be there” kind of thing maybe.

    For me, I came to an interesting and lively Japan, if not a musically profound one, 3 years ago… and I’m in a much more interesting one today. Someone came around in the meantime and swept up 80% of the LV bags in the last year or two.

  44. nate Says:

    shit… second to last comment from marxy.

  45. Brown Says:

    Hmm, yeah- Iceland was cool in the 90s. And according to the OECD stats you linked to a while back, it tops the world in strikes! Plus their onsens are way hipper than Japan’s (see the recent Relax cover story). Eccentric non-anglo island nation Slow Life, anyone? That geothermal energy is awfully LOHAS…

    Momus, in general I don’t think J-Pop compares very favorably to Afro-Pop, but that’s just my taste. Anyway, thanks to globalization we have both close at hand:

    http://plankton.co.jp/konono/index.html

    Junk noise bands, eat your hearts out!

  46. Chris_B Says:

    marxy said why did it explode into the mainstream in the 90s?
    But was it ever really mainstream? Except in the minds of the foreign japanophiles? As to your comments about alternate society and high tech wonderland, the dissapointment you feel is common to many medium-long term under 40 foreign residents here. Confession time: I was shocked and awed when I found out my relatives didnt even own a CD player much less have robot slaves to pour their sake. None of us will be 25 again, the cool of the past is best left as a shiny memory. As you say there are way too many nice things in our fair metropolis to enjoy now, why spoil it with memories polished by the passage of time?

    momus: when people we like get succuess in the mainstream its a happy thing, but somehow I always end up feeling weird when I see some kids putting on the flavor of the moment that felt precious to me not so long ago. Maybe I’m very selfish.

    Your idea and essay on Procrustean Seeing was interesting, though its too bad you had to ruin it at the end with the alleged Rumsfeld anecdote. However, there are cool musics to be found in utter shit hole places that western journalists dont reach very often. May not be cool to you or me, but will definitely be cool to some set of outsiders. Anyways for much of what strikes me as cool, I find more in Tokyo than I ever found in New York, but I know I could find a more genuine version there. Far more Jamaicans in Brooklyn than in the whole of the Kanto

  47. alin Says:

    But was it ever really mainstream?

    indeed. – the (post)YMOs were far more mainstream during the bubble (which, i’ll take back my original point did start around 81) than shibuyakei were in 90something when tube, dreams come true mr children and so forth were the mainstream

    but i really don’t get marxy’s mainstream/underground thing.

    one can surely be as enthusiastic in the 00s about say takagi masakatsu or tsujiko noriko and much more now as marxy was about pizzicato five in 90something (i for one am) and they’re as mainstream as they’re underground.

    that oshare sensitivity that makes japan somewhat unique is well alive from italian cooking to ski and outdoors gear and of course music. (and it was that more than anything that made shibuya kei – and i really still don’t quite get this shibuya kei thing. like you’d see 暴力温泉芸者 lumped together with Cibo Matto as shibuya kei, it’s like getting yasujiro ozu and oshima nagisa and chris marker and wim wenders together as golden gai kei or something )

    For some reason cool japanese arty types gone to white man’s land have been percieved as super-cool maybe not since natsume soseki went to london or mori ogai went to berlin but at least since the 50s-60s when all the fluxus people went to nyc after doing pretty cool stuff in their country. hi-red etc.

  48. alin Says:

    just remembered. it was 2000-1 or so, i wasn’t in japan at the time and i ask friends here who used to supply me with shibuyakei and other cds to send me cornelius’ point which just came out. they were like ok but cornelius is off so what do they send me instead. supercar. there’s other hierarchies and lineages of cool depending on your standpoint. say, cornelius – supercar – polaris

  49. marxy Says:

    takagi masakatsu or tsujiko noriko and much more now as marxy was about pizzicato five in 90something

    Just look up the numbers of records sold for each of these parties and tell me again that Pizzicato Five and Tsujiko Noriko are “the same level of mainstream.” I’m not sure Takagi has been invited to Music Station either.

  50. Chris_B Says:

    marxy can you point us to some record sales numbers for these people and compare to contemporaries?

  51. marxy Says:

    Off the top of my head, Cornelius’ album “69/96” sold around 200K copies in Japan and was something like #101 on the Oricon charts from 1995. Kahimi Karie’s “Good Morning World” was also a Top 100 Song for the year around that time. Pizzicato Five’s stuff from the early 90s probably sold equivalent numbers (“Sweet Soul Revue” in particular.) Love Tambourines, Original Love, and Ozawa Kenji also scored huge hits. Most of them were invited on to the prime-time network TV shows. They did not sell as much as Bz or Mr. Children, but they made it into “the loop” in a way that Takagi Masakatsu is nowhere close to “achieving.”

    YMO were pretty much a niche act until they exploded in the West and got gyaku-yunyuu’d back into Japan. They definitely were bigger than anyone in Shibuya-kei ever was, but they had already become “elder statesmen” by the Bubble, doing award-winning soundtracks etc.

  52. alin Says:

    numbers of records sold for each of these parties

    has anything sold as much as dark side of the moon etc yet ? doubt anything ever will.

    just a bit more (coz i’d like to see the stake driven right through the heart of) this shibuya-kei phantasmagoric thing. for example i knew this guy who was in a cover band , they were doing cornelius and fishmans. relatively sucsesful playing to audiences who didn’t find it odd to mix so-called shibuya-kei with obviously setagayakei. i can hear a lot of fishmans in tsujiko noriko7s 2nd 3rd albums and much other stuff i hear now – not much gainsborgesque-bossa-kraftwerk though. my point is that there’s such a rich tapestry here ; i don’t claim to be an expert on it but this fixation with 1997 or whatever and shibuyakei is obscene. now wait a bit, was solo ozaken also shibuya-kei ?? you’ve lost me completely.

  53. alin Says:

    ah, recently i’ve been rather appropiately hearing the girls practicing dancing on the south side of yoyogi park near nhk refered to as shibuya-kei

  54. marxy Says:

    Well, Shibuya now is so different I can imagine the problem with the old word’s application to present society.

    Read my huge thing on Shibuya-kei if you want to know who is considered to be part of the umbrella. I would argue that Fishmans definitely straddle the line.

    No one sold as much as Pink Floyd, but that was never my point.

  55. Jrim Says:

    Not wanting to drag the discussion back to where it started or anything, but isn’t it illuminating that Music Station still occupies a prime-time slot on Asahi TV (and seems to be nothing but DJ Ozma and Kumi Koda pretty much every week) while, in the UK, Top of the Pops gets cancelled?

  56. alin Says:

    pink floyd – the point was that record sales are decreasing everywhere because in the future everyone will be famous for 15 people or something

  57. Chris_B Says:

    alin: I always thought that Dark Side of the Moon was music to slash your own throat to until I heard the reggae version “Dub Side of the Moon”. Now dub side has been in heavy rotation in my ipod.

    marxy: OK 101st place aint fringe fringe. Somehow I suspected that it was like how P5 CDs were owned by maybe 20 people in NYC in the mid 90s.

  58. Rory P. Wavekrest Says:

    Those girls are busted.

    Koda Kumi’s milk/kitchen campaign was hot stuff, don’t deny it!

  59. Janne Says:

    Why do you assume “pop culture” will revive? “Jazz culture” never did after the 50’s, after all, and that was as close a cousin to it’s successor as you’re ever likely to see.

    There is frankly no intrinsic reason you’ll have the kind of streamlining of taste and shared media experience that pop culture requires ever again. Pop culture may well be dead, not because there is anything wrong with it, or because of the prospective audience, but simply because the particular cultural scaffolding necessary to support it is no longer there.

    And frankly, I for one don’t miss it. Let it just lie in peace, reverently homaged by the occasional cover band.

  60. Rory P. Wavekrest Says:

    Pop is not a style, but a status.