Super Attractive Japan

The following essay originally appeared as the June 27, 2007 entry on critic Uchida Tatsuru’s personal blog. We have published this translation without the author’s express permission, and we accept all responsibility for any problems resulting from its publication.

Mecha Mote Nihon

Media people keep asking me why the magazine CanCam has won complete victory over its rivals. Yeah, I wonder why that is… (Like I would know…)

Thankfully, however, many of my students are CanCam readers, and they may be the world’s most knowledgeable experts on the semiotic differences between CanCam and its competitor titles JJ and Vivi. One of those students Ms. M-mura raised a daring and radical question in our seminar: what does the CanCam fashion look’s ultimate goal of being “super attractive”1 say about the state of things?

A nice perk of being a women’s college professor is the ability to pick up such delicious topics from the field without even lifting a finger. Most of my fellow teachers use the classroom to pass on knowledge to students, but I end up acquiring knowledge from students. Since I draw a salary for this, I can understand the criticism that I am all give and no take2 or just holding a candle to the devil.3 But this is a puzzle of magazine strategy that even media people can’t solve. So if my students tell me, “Professor, we can give you the answer,” there’s no way I can turn them down. Please, students, tell me why.

According to Ms. M-mura, the CanCam blowout started after the magazine’s sharp recovery in 2004 — suddenly jumping from a circulation of 420,000 copies to 510,000. Now at 620,000 copies, CanCam enjoys a wide gulf between itself and its main competitor JJ (circulation of only 510,000).4 The May issue of CanCam had 644 pages (60% advertising), whereas JJ only had 466 pages (51% advertising). The editors of CanCam are acting as if they seek the honor of being “The Heaviest Magazine in Japanese Publishing History.” With five copies, you’ve got yourself an industrial weight.5

CanCam‘s concept is being “super attractive.” Not just “attractive,” but “super attractive.” The originality is all in the adverb “super.” In contrast to JJ‘s fashion strategy of “having the man of your dreams fall in love with you,”6, CanCam’s goal is “to be loved by everybody.” Ms. M-mura writes, “The target for female ‘attractiveness’ is not just limited to possible marriage partners. For example, female TV announcers all wear CanCam-style ‘super attractive’ fashion because they want to be broadly embraced by everyone from kids to the elderly.”

I see.

So, what kind of strategic survival advantages do the CanCam girls see in “being loved by everyone”? This is a very interesting topic.

A certain segment of today’s youth still holds onto the semi-autistic tendency of “I really like me because I am so very me,”7 but it seems that mainstream trends are slowly turning the rudder towards “I want to be loved by everyone, one person at a time.” I think it’s okay to see this as an omen that a corrective process is at work, fixing a social attitude that went too far. Maybe this “super attractive” boom is attempting to correct that “me-centered” route. The nation is beginning to understand that emphasizing self-decision-making as an individual — with that resolute conviction “this is good because I like it!” — is not necessarily the most advantageous survival strategy. CanCam‘s big lead over its rivals is an omen of this change.

Globalization over-allocates social resources to the “winners” of competition, and that means that “strong individuals” will be the only ones to enjoy a self-sustainable urban life.

The abandonment of government bailouts and the Ministry of Finance’s “convoy system” of financial administration, the failure of the social safety net due to the breakdown of the family, the collapse of lifetime employment, the rise of non-regular employment, the collapse of the education system and medical system, the increase in insecurity about pensions, and the net cafe refugees… these are all part of the “dark side of globalization” that continues to target and threaten the survival of the “weak individual” in very real terms.

The public applauds globalization because most everyone has allowed themselves to dream (with absolutely no basis) that “I too can someday become a winner.” Unfortunately, this dream will not come true for everyone.

With competitive games like globalization, a feedback loop will strongly come into play: winners will keep winning while losers keep losing. In a short time, this will create a society bifurcated into a handful of winners and an overwhelming number of losers. The younger generation has seen the “losses” of the previous generation and has subsequently learned the painful truth that, as hard as we try, we are just not talented enough to become winners in society. This new generation has decided that a symbiotic society where “even the weak can live” is more beneficial for self-survival than a competitive system of “winner take all.” I think this is a rational judgment.

There are not very many ways for the weak to survive. Logic leads us to only two possible strategies.

The first strategy is to live under the protection of the strong. This is the so-called Aiming for a Wealthy Husband Strategy.8 But women are beginning to notice the surprisingly low reliability of those wealthy men they hope to marry. As soon as they realized the high risk of the “Marrying Up” strategy, women rejected JJ and embraced CanCam.

The second strategy is to be loved by all those around you, one person at a time. Thus they have chosen the “super attractive” CanCam strategy: to be a “lovely” girl, loved by everyone. Young people have chosen this direction as the most advantageous option in the world they face.

Of course, there are still a lot of young people who behave egotistically or arrogantly and think only of “I do what I want because I want to.” But when it comes to resource allocation and risk hedging through a mutual support network, they are already way too late. Before too long, they will be pulled to the lowest strata of society.

There are apparently many companies these days that ask applicants to wear casual clothing to the interview. Without exception, female students will choose their outfits through CanCam. A pastel color knit sweater with a white skirt and light brown hair curled at the tips will melt the hearts of the old men in HR like ice cream in the sun. Co-eds pass on information about this strategy faster than light. But behind the dolled-up appearances, I think the aims behind the CanCam-style “lovely girls loved by all” attitude reflect a severe and painful truth that our society continues to become harder and harder to live in.

We can use pretty words like “I will live how I want to live, yo!” and “Towards a Beautiful Country”9 and “The Dignity of the Nation”10 because society is still rich, and whatever happens, there are no real fears of starvation. Conversely, however, this repeated assertion of girls being pretty in order to be “loved by everyone” is an expression of the increased risk in our society — almost to the degree that if you aren’t loved by everyone, you can’t survive.

I wonder if this “super attractive” strategy fits well with the Japanese people’s instinctive mentality. Take Article 9, for example. If you really think about it, Article 9 is like “big juicy lips” in the world of international relations. Isn’t it basically a declaration that “There is nooooooo way we could harm any of you! (giggle)”?

Earlier I was thinking about why Islamic Fundamentalist terrorists don’t strike Japan, and I reasoned that maybe it’s because if you commit an act of terrorism in Japan, you will be ostracized by all your terrorist buddies. I mean, doing terrorism in Japan is like taking candy from a baby.11 If I was a terrorist, I would never dignify the glee of someone who did such a thing.

Japan is able to enjoy national security because it is a “very lovely” country. For example, even terrorists need to take a breather once in a while. So where would they go for a family vacation? They’d probably think, we want free water and security, where things lost on the streets are taken to Koban, where the food is delicious, where there are hot springs, where you can enjoy the world’s best customer service, where there are “priceless” smiles wherever you go. If there is a place in the world that allows a warrior to rest his body and soul, then you certainly work to preserve it. This is the same reason that terrorists do not attack the Swiss banks where they deposit their funding.

The Japanese people hedge risk through being “lovely.” Perhaps this is part of the tribal mind contained in the Japanese DNA from having lived for 1500 years as a vassal of China. So, Japan will be lovely to America, lovely to China, lovely to Korea, lovely to Taiwan, lovely to Russia.

The Japanese are unconsciously beginning to notice that the survival strategy with the lowest risk and lowest cost to 21st century global society is “CanCam Japan” — being loved by everybody, one person at a time. At least, that’s what it seems like to me.

June 27, 2007

Translation Notes:

1「めちゃモテ」
2「やらずぶったくり」
3「盗人に追い銭」
4 These circulation numbers for JJ seem to be out of date. The Audit Bureau of Circulation gives 175,634, rather than 510,000.
5 漬物石 – literally, stones for weighing down pickles
6「本命男性一人にとことん愛されること」
7「オレはオレ的にオレがすごく好き」
8 「玉の輿狙い」戦略
9 Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s book 『美しい国へ』
10 Fujiwara Masahiko’s book『国家の品格』/ “The Dignity of the Nation”
11「赤子の手をひねる」

Uchida Tatsuru (内田樹) is a critic, essayist, and professor at Kobe College. He is the author and translator of numerous books on a wide range of topics, from French contemporary philosophy to film to the history of the Jewish people. His latest work 『下流志向──学ばない子どもたち、働かない若者たち』 is a look at the current youth generation's lack of motivation towards work and education.

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

17 Responses

  1. W. David MARX Says:

    Although I translated this piece, I wanted to add that I don’t really see a vast “semiotic” difference between JJ and CanCam – at least not enough for a psychological shift to be responsible for the readership difference. I think 30% of CanCam readers read JJ anyway.

    JJ seems to be way more obvious about the dating-aspect since they use a lot of guys in photo shoots, but I would argue that CanCam‘s mote/モテ is still grounded in attracting men, preferably wealthy.

    I think Uchida is correct though about the appeal of CanCam and the rise of social instability. I think there is a clear relation.

  2. statiq Says:

    >This new generation has decided that a symbiotic society where “even the weak can live” is more beneficial for self-survival than a competitive system of “winner take all.” I think this is a rational judgment.

    Interesting that Uchida sees super-attractiveness (super-conformism) as the ethical and rational answer to the threats of a competitive system rather than as an attitude that will in fact generate more competition and make it even harder for the “weak” to survive.

    Hence adherence to standard as the “right way” of fighting the rat race.

  3. SoccerBoy Says:

    Hey I know I am saying something very poor and pointless here, but your translation is amazing. I am impressed.

  4. W. David MARX Says:

    I am not sure where you are getting “ethical,” but it’s certainly rational.

    CanCam is democratic in the sense that it teaches anyone with 680 yen how to style themselves in a “mote” style, but whether it is actually mote or not is unclear at best. And yes, highly competitive.

    Of course the best strategy to survive an anemic society would be to abandon materialistic goals and pleasures, but I am asking for too much.

  5. W. David MARX Says:

    Your translation is amazing.

    Thanks for saying that. I am not sure it’s true, but I spent a LOT of time trying to figure it out and consulted a long-time Uchida reader.

  6. tomojiro Says:

    I had a good laugh. The translation was good,it has some of the original flavor of Uchida.

    I am the least qualified person to comment about trends of young womens fashion magazines, but hey, maybe ask them (like Uchida).

    I found the discussion of the following link quite interesting.

    http://taf5686.269g.net/article/2093957.html

    She analyzes the reason why “JJ” lost to “CanCam”.

    I totally don’t know, nor have any thoughts whether she is right or not.

  7. statiq Says:

    >I am not sure where you are getting “ethical,” but it’s certainly rational.

    Because she describes the (me-centered) alternative to super-attractiveness/super-conformism as “egotistic or arrogant”, thus endorsing mote as a morally superior solution.

  8. W. David MARX Says:

    Fair enough. I think Uchida over-attributes a certain kind of broad interested in larger networks to CanCam girls. Wanting to be loved by everyone is kind of narcissistic in its own way, no?

  9. dr.panda.md Says:

    hey! i really like that graphic.

  10. neogeisha Says:

    i agree with uchida’s reading of “super-attractive” aspiration as a response to an increasingly hostile society, however, i have to disagree with his positioning it opposite JJ’s “marrying up” strategy. to me, it is clear that aspiring to be perceived as super-attractive to everyone, all the time is a semi-conscious strategy to widen one’s pool of potential protectors, all the while maintaining a pose that is beyond reproach, even in the professional sphere. to be a super-attractive jack-of-all-trades, as it were, is akin to packing for a tour in iraq: bring only things that will serve your survival in every situation, at every minute. CanCam is the j-girl’s kevlar, ammo, flare, MRE.

    [great translation, by the way.]

  11. Aceface Says:

    Is this the same dude who wrote “China talks from the street corner街場の中国論”?No?

    If so,this guy over-attributes many things.Even things he doesn’t know very well.

  12. Kim Jong-il Hater Says:

    “Earlier I was thinking about why Islamic Fundamentalist terrorists don’t strike Japan, and I reasoned that maybe it’s because if you commit an act of terrorism in Japan, you will be ostracized by all your terrorist buddies.”

    Islamic fundamentalism wouldn’t be the right word. Seeing how the pattern of terrorist attacks in the Islamic world are from neo-Salafists, neo-Salafists would be the better term. Islamic Fundamentalism is simply practicing the fundamentals of Islam.

    Neo-Salafists worldwide have been operating in nations with large Muslim communities. Japan doesn’t really have that, and of the Muslims in Japan, they are very liberal. In Europe there’s a large neo-Salafist movement, in the US to some extent. But in Japan, there isn’t any.

  13. ls Says:

    Indeed, we should all become champions of slave morality. Working for an environmental NGO, that’s more or less my job description. It’s the only strategy that holds much hope for the majority of the human population.

    Interesting that Uchida sees super-attractiveness (super-conformism) as the ethical and rational answer to the threats of a competitive system rather than as an attitude that will in fact generate more competition and make it even harder for the “weak” to survive.

    Clearly attractiveness is a zero-sum game.

  14. W. David MARX Says:

    If so,this guy over-attributes many things.Even things he doesn’t know very well.

    I think this essay over-reaches, but it was a blog post, not a published work. I do like the idea, however, of bringing together CanCam, terrorism, Article 9, and globalization in a single essay.

  15. laotree Says:

    W. David Marx said:
    “I think this essay over-reaches, but it was a blog post, not a published work.”
    Yes we all know how blogs can tend to over-reach (I speak most recently of your Village Vanguard MK post, which provided some frustrating food for thought last month.)
    Is it okay to refer to you as Marxy on here or is that a persona you would rather shield from academic scrutiny? “W. David Marx” seems so formal, tweed suits and bowties, podiums etc.
    I only wish you could have launched this new site around the Obon vacation so I would have more time to digest the massive amount of info (like all those links to student riot movies, egads!) Kudos, there just aren’t enough hours in my day to absorb it all!

  16. W. David MARX Says:

    Marxy is fine. I have not abandoned it. I just wanted to use the ALL CAPS last name, and MARXY kind of obscured the design choice.

    “I speak most recently of your Village Vanguard MK post”

    Shimokitazawa’s VV was proudly selling ナチスの発明 as their sole book on WWII a while back (a work they explained in a small note as an 偉業), but I kept that info to myself…

  17. laotree Says:

    了解!
    Marxy said: (that’s better)

    “Shimokitazawa’s VV was proudly selling ナチスの発明 as their sole book on WWII a while back”
    Do you think that individual store managers hand-pick some of the books sold, or is it all decided top-down? (Don’t know much about chain-boutique distribution structure, sorry)