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A few years ago, I kept bugging my Japanese friends about the origin of the phrase mīhā (ミーハー) — which is used to identify young people who are overly starstruck towards celebrities, weak-kneed to anything popular, and too sensitive to trends. “Superficial” would be the simplest translation. One theory was that it was a Japanese pronunciation of “me her” but this basically makes no sense.

Who needs friends when you’ve got Wikipedia?

“Mīhā” is a pejorative term targeted towards superficial women who are engrossed in low-culture like celebrities, sports, astrology, ghosts, and blood-types and who show no real interest in education or culture.

The term began to be used around the same time that Ohya Souichi [famed post-war journalist and critic] came up with his idea of 「一億総白痴化」 [literally, The Dumbing Down of One Hundred Million — a comment on the mass media’s vulgarization of culture] in the mid-’50s as television began to diffuse into society.

The term mīhā was born at the beginning of the Showa Era as an abbreviation of “Mii-chan” and “Haa-chan” (these words are said to come from the names “Miyo-chan/Hana-chan” which were common women’s names at the time.) These women were also called the “Mīhā Tribe” [ミーハー族]. At the present, the word can also be used for men…The term is often used incorrectly these days to mean “Those who only become interested in something after it has become the talk of the public sphere (and picked up in the media, etc.)”

Over time, the word has retained its pejorative edge, but seems to have adapted to changes in the nature of elitism. At first, mīhā was meant to disparage women who found too much interest in low culture and the mass media. The sex specificity is important here: the educated male elites no doubt saw the roots of this problem with mass culture in some deficient aspect of femininity. Or they rejected interest in the common culture as an improper fit with traditional female roles.

Over the last several decades, however, the term has become sex-neutral. The problem implied in mīhā has shifted from a general problematic interest in low culture to the callousness of being interested in a specific pop culture item solely because it is popular. In other words, consumer culture itself is no longer a problem: The offense stems from a lack of personal judgment about the value of the item in question. There is now an “elite” way to consume that is one-step ahead of the public and a “mass” unsophisticated way to consume that puts the social participation aspects of consumerism/fandom ahead of the personal definition aspects of consumerism/fandom.

(Update: This site has “me her” as a possible derivation, but it’s less convincing than Mii-chan/Haa-chan)

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

18 Responses

  1. Gen Says:

    I haven’t heard that term used in regular conversation very often these days. The history lesson was instructive- I did not know about the original meaning, nor that it was that old of a term.

  2. marxy Says:

    I never imagined that it was a pre-war term. I do hear it a lot in regular conversation, but I have a lot of snobby friends.

  3. alin Says:

    Miihaa would make a good name for a german emo band.

  4. Italian #2 Says:

    why german?

  5. marxy Says:

    I was a big fan of the Mean Machine track “SuuHaa.”

  6. michael Says:

    low-culture, high-culture is so pre-postmodern. i mean, the assigment of hierarchies of value to aesthetics, etc. what next?
    the return of the meta-narrative? i know…The Enlightenment!

  7. marxy Says:

    Don’t be so (Lyo)tarded, dude.

    Whether there SHOULD be a recognition of no meta-narratives and no distinctions between high and low culture, I think it’s presumptuous to assume that people don’t continue to posses these biases or see themselves in a meta-narrative. If you had a population who saw dedication to astrology or celebrities as an equally valid interest as the academic study of postmodernism, there would be no need to use the word “miihaa.”

  8. Italian #2 Says:

    marxy, do you like the ‘Territorial Pissings’ song?

  9. marxy Says:

    At age 14, yes.

    Lance likes it too.

  10. Italian #2 Says:

    what’s your take on the “When I was an alien, cultures weren’t opinions” line?

    ps: we want Lance back. as i’ve written to you somewhere else, give him back to us.

  11. marxy Says:

    I like “Just because you’re paranoid don’t mean they’re not after you” better.

    I think when I was in 7th or 8th grade we considered playing the song at our school talent show but that never went anywhere.

  12. Duffy Says:

    My favorite lyric from that song is:

    “The dude who played Malachi/in Children of the Corn

    looks like Carrot Top/through the smeared lens of my memory”

    which is a clever twist on something Vladimir Lenin once said.

  13. marxy Says:

    I don’t remember that.

  14. Duffy Says:

    “I don’t remember that.”

    That’s because Lenin died way before you were born, silly.

  15. marxy Says:

    Oops, wrong blog, right?

  16. michael Says:

    “I think it’s presumptuous to assume that people don’t continue to posses these biases or see themselves in a meta-narrative.”

    I’m not presuming that–I’m affirming that you’re doing it here (rather constantly, it now seems).
    as other people have pointed out, you keep breathlessly talking about these supposed binaries, as if it’s news, when you could be exploring the utter fallaciousness of the whole enterprise–but you fall short of that. very modern of you.

    “If you had a population who saw dedication to astrology or celebrities as an equally valid interest as the academic study of postmodernism, there would be no need to use the word “miihaa.””

    “populations,” the world over, do continue to engage in this kind of (bourgeois) “cultural” and aesthetic discourse. and yes, it’s pretty fucking re(tard)ed wherever it’s found. forgive me if i’m underwhelmed that you seem satisfied to merely keep pointing it out. the stench of dead horses around here is amazing.

  17. marxy Says:

    Well if you knew where the word miihaa came from why don’t you just say something.

    Actually, I thought your original comment was a parody of the post-modern bunch, but I guess not.

  18. Duffy Says:

    “Oops, wrong blog, right?”

    Frankly, I don’t know where I was going with the lyric thing. It just kind of came out. One of these days, I’m going to make a salient point about something. Problem is, the longer I live here (14 years and counting, baby), the less I have to say about it. In fact, my opinions on life in Japan have been worn to a smooth nub of general good-naturedness by my mounting years here. I’m no haunted, wild-eyed long-timer, but I have developed a fondness for happoshu, which is perhaps a little troubling.