Ian Lynam is a graphic designer living in Tokyo and the art director of Neojaponisme. His website is located at ianlynam.com. His new book, Parallel Strokes, on the intersection of graffiti and typography is available now.
If you watch all those yearbook videos (i.e., 74年、７５年）in a row, you can date when Japan became massively more superficial: 1981. Suddenly, there’s no more death or war or innocent obsession with the Bay City Rollers – it’s all idols and Louis Vuitton bags.
Marxy wrote: “you can date when Japan became massively more superficial: 1981.”
I recall you saying on your old blog that the cultural impact of the bubble was primarily limited to “89-91”. I thought that was bizarre at the time but I’m pleased to see that you can now see the earlier roots.
You wrote: “The Bubble was technically post Plaza Accords.”
You wrote before: “’85 is Plaza Accord, but that is not the start of the Bubble from a cultural perspective.”
Certainly, if you parse them carefully then those two statements could be consistent but I come from the perspective of being warned that the bubble might have burst in Summer ’86 during a crackdown on eigyo tokkin funds (spiritual, but not legal, cousins of today’s hedge funds).
The Plaza accord created conditions which exacerbated the bubble but the accord itself was designed to deal with excesses which were already evident.
Yes. That’s a good description. Although I would say, when people say “Bubbly” in Japanese, they refer to the super-excesses and particular culture that flourished in the very late 80s/early 90s a la Juliana and bodicon. In that recent movie Bubble e Go!!!, they go back to 1990 – not 1981.
It’s certainly true that the excesses of any bubble always have the highest profile just before a bust. Although I understand the reasons why, it seems a little strange that Juliana’s is remembered as a bubble icon because it didn’t open until 1991. The management company had planned to make it a more exclusive club like Gold, which opened a couple of years earlier, but realized that market was already on its last legs and lowered their prices. It helped bring in the crowds and establish the “Juliana’s style” but meant that the club never had a chance of breaking even.
Being quite a sad man, this was on my mind last night so I was boring people asking them about some of their earliest bubble memories. One Japanese friend worked in 1984 as a DJ and waiter in a Philippine hostess club. He looks a bit swarthy and said that one businessman handed him a 50,000 yen tip because he had “obviously tried hard to learn Japanese”. He replied “A-RI-GA-TO” and for the next few months found that speaking in broken Japanese earned him enough money to buy his own bar.
Seriously. This whole thing is basically about who knows most so get on it, people. Hopefully soon we can find some kind of objective measure of writers’ knowledge (multiple choice questions? short essays?) so that readers will have hard numbers on which they may base their enjoyment of blogs.
Interesting phenomenon – the 1980s anime film boom (from Nausicaa to Macross to First of the North Star to Akira to Patlabor) was “bubbly” in that it manifested an almost morbid obsession with collapse / burst (major 1970s films – Yamato, Galaxy Express 999, Cagliostro – were more about rebirth). I think that, to some degree, “the bubble” is useful as a cultural label for the 1980s. The newly articulated social critiques in these films also counters the identification of this period as an age of superficiality (as does the shift in historiography from an airy utopian Marxism to new approaches describing Japan’s pluralism).
No, but I think the Japanese sentiment is that the 80s were very superficial, sex-obsessed, and overly-consumerist. This is not that far from the Bright Lights, Big City/Wall Street/Reagan version of the U.S. 80s, but with a touch of idol-induced airheadism. Doesn’t mean all of society suddenly stopped thinking or something, but when you say something is “バブリー” in Japanese, that’s not usually a compliment. The word has the nuance of “meaningless expenditure of money in a showy way.”
(Also, the weight given to idols in society was much stronger in the 80s than the 60s. It would be wrong to think that Okumura Chiyo was ever as big of a deal as Matsuda Seiko.)
My use of “bubbly” was in jest, but in terms of having a “bubble feeling” (anxiety about coming collapse), 1980s culture has a number of fascinating high points.
In any case, these types of judgments depend on what types of things people chose to remember. The 1950s are remembered as the golden age of critical, quality Japanese film but when the critics’ darlings of that period (Imai, Kinoshita, Kurosawa) made war films in the 1980s and 1990s (up to “Rhapsody in August” and “War and Youth” in 1991 anyway) they seemed like lightweight waffling humanist fluff compared with projects like “The Sea and Poison”, “Grave of the Fireflies”, “The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On”, “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” – real products of the 80s high culture zeitgeist that had mass appeal as well. Some may characterize the 1980s as a period of degenerate consumption, but it also has the roots of a number of cultural trends that Japanese (and outside critics and fans) associate with the “quality” of the nation – anime film (especially Ghibli), video games (in which Japan still has a lead in a lucrative world market – representative of “character business” in general), straight to video or low budget experimental film (which gave the world Miike Takashi and Tsukamoto Shinya who are probably more watched in North America now than Kurosawa), female literati (Yoshimoto Banana, etc. – they may not be Kawabatas but they represent a break from the male dominated literary circles of earlier decades and presented much needed voices in Japan’s public space that eventually helped to broaden discussion of ideas like sexual harrasment, domestic violence, etc.).
Also, when you look at shukanshi and similar things from the 1950s – they were absolutely obsessed with sex, with youth crime scandals (12 year old kills his father’s misterss’ infant – death and illicit sex together), etc. It is just that most Japanese since that time have chosen to view that period through “Always San-cho-me no yuhi” tinted glasses (or through the “young people were all student radicals” trope).
It is also very easy to argue that Misora Hibari was even more of a mass culture fluff idol in the 1950s than Matsuda Seiko was in the 1980s given her TV / music cross media domination position. Let’s also not forget that some idols (if you use a broad definition of the term) like Miyazawa Rie went from crap mass market film, to hair nude, to appearing in some stunningly good films like “Tony Takitani” and “Twilight Samurai”. Earlier Japanese pop culture, if anything, showed an opposite tendency – hauling good talent (like Kayama Yuzo who shined in Kurosawa’s “Red Beard” and Okamoto’s “Sword of Doom”) into wasting their prime on junk films (the Wakadaisho series in Kayama’s case).
The day before yesterday,I was watching special featuring program of American Idol-esque amteur rock band band championship TV called
いかすバンド天国(aired from 89~90)which drastically changed the whole landscape of J-pop.
“Ikaten”was not my first,but in a way the strongest memory of bubble age culture.
All the bands shows up in the program have certain amount of techniques,but nearly all of them were comic bands as if being serious about music was something to be embarassed of,and seemingly all they had in their mind were how to grab their ten minuites fame by maximizing one trick pony-like comic gigs.It’s like there are no meanings in anything,and you’ve got to stop thinking heavy and enjoy the moment,was the zeitgeist.
Happy New Year all – and more power to Neojaponisme.
1. The 1980s anime film boom epitomized bubble no more than Ghost in the Shell epitomized the dot com craze of the 1990s. If bubble is useful as a label for the 1980s, then what about the 1990s? Were the 1990s any less of a bubble period than the 1980s?
2. The so called excesses and sex obsessions were by no means typical of the 80s – Isnt this one of the things we can glean from Norwegian Wood? It is set in the 60s, yet one could hardly accuse Murakami of translocating 1980s scenery back into the 1960s just to prove a point.
3. If the 1980s were a period of degenerate consumption; then what of the 1990s? I find attempts to coopt entire eras in the service of general human attributes to be highly dubious.
4. Yoshimoto representing a break from male dominated literary circles? Pray tell – in what decade did Kono Taeko and Oba Minako win the Akutagawa? I think it was in the 60s – not the 1980s. I suggest that these trends were already quite present in Japan way before Japan Cool – essentially an export oriented phenomenon began manifesting itself in the late 1980s. We must continue to distinguish between social trends as they are and how these trends are perceived – even by critics. Not to nitpick but the general trend of the comments is to simply report perceptions.
5. Is there a parallel between our Japanese era essentialism and that of our American friends? Perhaps. Tom Wolfes Bonfire of the Vanities was meant to epitomize the crass humanity of the 1980s – a crass humanity – that yes, featured ambition, consumerism, racism and greed. It is different from I Am Charlotte Simmons in so far as its location and scenery is different.
2. The so called excesses and sex obsessions were by no means typical of the 80s
I am pretty sure people had sex in the 60s too. My point is that there was way more openness and casualness about the public discourse on sex in popular culture starting in the early ’80s. The Onyanko Club only makes sense when you realize that the “バージンじゃつまらない/友達より早くHをしたいけど” spirit inherited everything from making elite college girls battle it out in bikinis on late night TV to a new breed of sex-obsessed omiyage. I can’t imagine even Pink Lady – just a few years earlier – being so specifically sex-driven. This was the era when women’s panties changed from functional to sexy. Terekura also started in this era. Popteen started publishing as a “yankee” delinquent magazine for girls that featured lots of “true-life” sex stories.
If the 1980s were a period of degenerate consumption; then what of the 1990s? I find attempts to coopt entire eras in the service of general human attributes to be highly dubious.
Again, we are talking about self-defined zeitgeists – reality is obviously way more complex. Because mainstream trends have (had?) such unified media force in Japan, pop culture “historians” in the popular press usually are able to create incredibly detailed maps of what came where and ended where. If you want to understand the “Japanese” reading of post-war culture, there is a book called something like “Chart de Nihon Bunka ga wakaru!” (I can look it up later.) Anyway, it tells you the two years when “バカップル” were in and when then “techno cut” was in and the precise hour they went out. Although there are similar historiographical practices in the U.S. that I am familiar with, the definitions in Japan seem to be much more precise. (This deserves its own essay…)
I Am Charlotte Simmons
I think the American zeitgeist places the ’00s closer to the ’80s than the ’90s. The whole 20-year cycle thing.
“Pray tell – in what decade did Kono Taeko and Oba Minako win the Akutagawa?”
And, pray tell, how many copies of good literature did they sell and how much mainstream attention did they get? If you want to go back further you can mention Enchi Fumiko, etc. The period that I’m talking about represents a shift – women not only started getting far more recognition far more often, but started selling huge numbers of copies. Sales don’t determine literary merit, but when things of literary merit start to sell, I think that it becomes something notable. In the “bungaku zenshu” that were compiled in the late 1960s, there were few women included. I think that a real major “Heisei” collection, when it appears, may even be majority women. That shift can be located temporally and I believe that it is in the 1980s.
1.I think Anime “bubble”is pretty much the phenomenon of the mid 90’s and not the 80’s,Only after DVD became the must-have for every Japanese household,TV station got interested in DVD sales for Otaku consumers and turned sponsorless midnight hours into sorta Anime hours.
While I agree that the portion of the anime industry within the national economy is tiny,still i think anime can be said as the pop icon from late 80’s to 90’s,just like rockn’roll was in the 60’s and American New Cinema was in the 70’s.
2.I guess sex have become more commercialized and more youth centered by the media in the form of manga and adult videos and hair-nudes in shukanshi.
Back then there were more conservative outcries and because of that sexual representation in the media was more associated with rebellious attitudes.
4.Gotta agree with M-Bone here.Women of letters are actually getting almost as much power as their male counterparts in the 90’s,not only among serious Akutagawa awards-sphere(Yamada Eimi,Ogawa Yoko,Yu Miri),but also in more popular pulp fiction Naoki awards-spheres(Miyabe Miyuki,Takamura Kaoru,Kirino Natsuo,Iwai Shimako)Women are also influential in literary criticisms too.(Ueno Chizuko,Saito Minako).