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The Great Shift in Japanese Pop Culture - Part Four

Last time we saw that the tastes of upper and middle-class “mainstream” consumers dominated Japanese pop culture from the post-war to the end of the 1990s. This time we will explore the most important cultural change of the last decade: the greater proportional power for marginal subcultures. Mainstream consumers, for the economic and demographic reasons given in Part One and Part Two, have ceased to consume with the same force as before and thus have lost their “voting power” within pop culture.

Part Four: The Rise of Marginal Subcultures

The drop in cultural markets has been almost perfectly pegged to the decline in incomes. Middle class consumers are buying less, and when they buy, now go for cheaper or risk-free products. Within this environment, we could expect marginal subcultures to also have curbed consumption. Yet they did not! And their steady buying into their own cultural niches has made huge changes in the tenor of Japanese pop culture.

Yankii and otaku: Consumption as pathology

The yankii and otaku have never traditionally been blessed with high incomes nor high future earning potential, and in pure homo economicus terms, should be cutting back even more than middle-class consumers. We must understand, however, that for the otaku, yankii, and gyaru, shopping is not merely a form of leisure nor has it even been an attempt to buy into a larger society-wide consumerist message. These groups use consumerism as a therapeutic solution to their psychological and social problems.

The otaku spend their time as avaricious collectors of goods and trading information with other otaku. In shunning away from mainstream standards of sociability, sexuality, and career success, the act of maniacal consumption becomes their raison d’être. They cannot relate with other people if not commenting upon these cultural goods. Culture — most of which must be purchased and enjoyed as object (even when it is just physical media holding content) — is the great satisfier of their deepest desires.

The gyaru, in comparison, put a high premium on social networks and romance. Yet there is a certain pain at the heart of gyaru culture. In his book Keitai Shosetsu-teki (“Cell Phone Novel-esque”), author Hayamizu Kenrou calls the basic aesthetic mode of gyaru literature — cell phone novels, Hamasaki Ayumi lyrics — “trauma-kei” due to its emphasis on overcoming personal tragedy. When I interviewed Nakajo Hisako, the editor-in-chief of Koakuma Ageha, in 2009 I asked, “Why do gyaru spend so much time on their clothing, hair, and makeup?” She answered, “Because we are not cute. If we were cute, we would just wear a white T-shirt. We have to work hard to look good.” There is an obvious logic to this: The gyaru’s transformation into golden curly hair and heavily painted faces is an escape from their normal selves.

Like Nakajo suggests, gyaru culture looks as it does precisely because they are not “blessed” girls (Nakajo’s words). And this means gyaru must spend on clothing, hair treatments, and makeup in order to achieve the desired self-image. Beyond this desire to look like someone else (and basically like everyone else in their peer group), there is also the social demand to show allegiance to a wider gyaru subculture by donning its uniform. To be a gyaru means dressing like a gyaru — no exceptions.

Marginal groups’ up their voting power in the consumer vacuum

The end result is that the otaku and yankii have an almost inelastic demand for their favorite goods. They must consume, no matter the economic or personal financial situation. They may move to cheaper goods, but they will always be buying something. Otherwise they lose their identity. While normal consumers curb consumption in the light of falling wages, the marginal otaku and yankii keep buying. And that means the markets built around these subcultures are relatively stable in size.

So as the total market shrinks, the marginal groups — in their stability — are no longer minor segments but now form a respectable plurality in the market. In other words, if otaku or yankii all throw their support through a specific cultural item, that item will end up being the most supported within the wider market.

The clearest example of this is AKB48. With the letters AKB in their name, this group of girls was unequivocally marketed towards older males based in the Akihabara otaku culture. Compared to past mass market groups such as Speed, the girls are intentionally chosen and styled to look like elementary schoolgirls and lyrically address older men with direct sexual references. (See the “cat-eared brothel” video for “Heavy Rotation” and the unambiguous “love knows no age” lyrics for “Seifuku ga jama wo suru.”)

The mass idol group regularly has an “election” (sousenkyo) where fans try to vote their favorite girl to Number One. Buying certain AKB48 CD singles gives the fan a vote in the AKB48 election, which thus incentivizes otaku to buy multiple copies of the CD to increase their “political” power. The CD is thus no longer a means of listening to music but a way to influence the future of AKB48. This has created a legion of fans who buy dozens and hundreds of the same AKB48 CD or even 5500 copies. There are now doubts about that story’s authenticity but it basically was an exaggeration of an existing principle. Regardless, the marketing strategy of AKB48 does encourage the purchase of multiple goods, thus amplifying the buying power of nerds beyond their small numbers. This means as a consumer bloc, the AKB48 otaku fans can rival the non-otaku consumer base.

This otaku bloc strength, as well as other niche’s dedicated buying, can be seen through the music charts. In 2010 only three artists made the Oricon best-selling singles market — AKB48 and a Johnny’s Jimusho group Arashi. (At this stage, you can almost argue that music fans of Johnny’s groups are themselves a conspicuous cult rather than a mass market phenomenon.) Only two artists taking the entire singles market is unprecedented in Japanese musical history. In the previous decade, the average number of artists in the top ten was 8.2. The best explanation is that mainstream consumers stopped buying music, even single song downloads, so the favorite acts of marginal subcultures now appear to be the most popular.

Otaku and gyaru: winners by default

This principle demonstrates how AKB48 became an unlikely “mainstream” phenomenon. Despite AKB48 being so clearly marketed towards a niche audience, their success in a declining market has made them perceived to be the most popular in the entire market. Therefore 2010 and 2011 saw AKB48, with backing from advertising monolith Dentsu, doing advertisements for mainstream brands and chains such as 7/11. (Lawson’s has now countered with a nerd-drooling K-On! campaign.) With no major competition from more mainstream-oriented idols and groups, they became the obvious spokespeople and magazine cover girls — thus amplifying their fame more.

In the case of gyaru, there are larger numbers of gyaru than otaku, meaning that the gyaru can just consume their standard number of items and still dominate the market. Before I mentioned that the extremely “normal girl” fashion magazine non•no once sold close to a million copies per issue in 1996 at the peak of the publishing market, which was once far above the 310,000 copies for hardcore yankii/gyaru magazine Popteen at the same time. Around 2009, however, non•no dropped to a mere 180,000 copies a month while Popteen was still hovering around 310,000. Gyaru are still consuming fashion, and therefore need fashion guides to tell them how to do so. “Normal” girls have generally lost interest in clothing and do not need fashion guides as much. So in this collapse of the mass market, a magazine representing a marginal taste has become one of the best-selling.

With the yankii and otaku culture being so proportionally conspicuous in the market and mainstream and avant-garde styles being so minor and invisible, the once marginal looks have a greater legitimacy for less engaged consumers who mostly just desire socially-acceptable styles. As a result, gyaru and yankii fashion have had a strong moment over the last five years, leading to large-scale booms in things once unfathomable such as “hostess fashion.” University students at elite schools like Keio are likely to have hairstyles reminiscent of yankii hosts. Films and books with obvious yankii narratives, such as Rookies and cell phone novel Koizora, became huge national hits in 2009. Gyaru singer Nishino Kana is one of the few well-selling artists on Sony (formerly known for alternative musicians Supercar, Puffy, and Denki Groove). And even former “arty” magazines like CUTiE have moved towards the gyaru style, and the fiercely indie girl mag Zipper put gyaru icon Tsubasa Masuwaka on the cover. There is no popular female style that does not see a little influence from the yankii side of gyaru culture.

Not truly “the most popular”

While otaku and yankii cultures are enjoying a new cultural influence in their deep commitment to consumption, we should not forget that these groups do not make up any kind of actual societal consensus. The masses may be consuming parts of their culture, but these groups are at best pluralities rather than majorities — dominant in the market but nowhere near 50% of tastes.

For example, if you look at the sales numbers for the #1 single of 2010 — “Beginner” by AKB48 at 954,283 copies — this would not have been enough copies to make the top ten from the years 1991 to 2000, when the wider public bought CDs in droves. In 2001, it would have ranked in at #10 — a successful hit for a niche, but not the symbol of J-Pop for the era. The population of Japan in the last ten years has not dropped enough to make this smaller number of sales proportionally relevant — just less people are purchasing music.

AKB48’s narrow popularity becomes very clear when the group appears on television — a medium that continues to have a mass audience (although disproportionally elderly viewers.) Maeda Atsuko had been repeatedly voted the #1 member of AKB48, and yet her recent drama Hanazakari no Kimitachi e (Ikemen Paradise)saw extremely low ratings (episodes around 6%). AKB48 variety show “Naruhodo High School” has drawna dismal 4.5%.

AKB48 have also been extremely popular on YouTube, which skews towards a tech-savvy male audience in Japan. And yet a song like “Heavy Rotation”— at over 50 million views — has nearly one-third “thumbs down” votes. This is an extremely high amount level of dislikes compared to other music videos on the site.

So AKB48 are the most conspicuous music group in Japan at the moment with the highest record sales and highest number of appearances, but they should necessarily be considered a “mass” phenomenon with widespread fans across multiple segments. The group has captured the strongest plurality in the market, and companies have mobilized around them in desperation. If Dentsu could sponsor a different hit idol group with an even broader fan base, they would. But ironically, no one other than AKB48 or Johnny’s Jimusho groups have the sales or market legitimacy to work in the context of mass market advertising. Marginal groups are now feeding and over-influencing the remnants of the mass market just as counter-consumer once did.

Next time, we look at whether marginal subcultures can produce goods that are easily exportable.

W. David MARX
December 1, 2011

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

76 Responses

  1. W. David MARX Says:

    One thing I should have also mentioned is that more and more people in Japan are moving online and finding media on the web, and yet the predominant source of web media creation is from otaku culture or its 2ch net right cousin. This again gives otaku culture higher visibility in people’s lives than ever before.

  2. zoltan Says:

    Good points on AKB48 but I shall add my observation

    There are no new independent shops dealing in idols in Akiba or Nakano even though the media tells that idols are mainstream. Seems the same shops that used to support Morning Musume switch AKB.

    Oh yeah, would love to see if you can pull Kpop into these series of articles.
    Probably the most genuinely exciting thing in Japan right now…

  3. M-Bone Says:

    The image for this installment needs an otaku in the bottom right corner taking upskirt photographs.

  4. ian Says:

    With pop at least, I suspect that a lot of this is down to the Japanese media and music establishment being incapable of moving beyond the formulae that they have seen work in the past and just repeating a series of dead-end ideas that fail to inspire audiences. Mainstream audiences have stopped consuming J-Pop because J-Pop has lost touch and isn’t giving them any new reasons to consume it. The popularity of K-Pop, while not anywhere near 90s levels of consumption, shows that mainstream audiences (and at least my observation suggests that K-Pop fans *are* mainstream, not just a core of Korean culture geeks) can be mobilised by new things if they’re given the choice.

  5. MattA Says:

    I’m with you on a lot of this, but:

    “there is a certain pain at the heart of gyaru culture.”

    “Trauma-kei” could be used to describe a lot of Japanese literature. There is a distinct preference for the bittersweet as opposed to the outright triumphalism of a lot of Western storytelling. (The almost trite example being of Rocky’s victory as compared to Jo Yabuki’s glorious death in the ring.) So I am not sure that in and of itself indicates a dark heart beating beneath gyaru culture. That said, I don’t deny that there is a dark side — just that dark keitai novels don’t really support that thesis.

  6. W. David MARX Says:

    Cell phone novels are all about dead boyfriends, abortions, and rapes, and Hayamizu shows how these are identical to the “reader letters” sent in to classic yankii female mag Teen’s Road. The whole gyaru world is about “our lives are hard, we are not blessed, but we have banded together to get over the hardships.”

  7. ian Says:

    I’ve used the term “trauma porn” in the past to describe the story arc you see over and over again in visual novels, which I think is something similar, albeit passed through the otaku’s moe filter. Where would Japanese culture be without stuff to go “Ah, setsunai!” over? I’m sure there are degrees of this stuff though, and I don’t doubt what you’re saying about gyaru.

  8. whir Says:

    As somebody with only a cursory knowledge of Japanese pop culture, I found this four-part series to be fascinating, thanks! I’m curious about whether social networking sites (Facebook, twitter, and so on, or their Japanese analogues if those exist) are as popular in Japan as in the West, and whether that cultural competition might account for some of the lost audience for cultural products among the vast middle. Any thoughts?

  9. Jakyuu Clinic #9121174 Says:

    These groups use consumerism as a therapeutic solution to their psychological and social problems.

    that kind of dehumanizes them doesn’t it

    i mean, sure, maybe they do? so does pretty much everyone else.

    i worry there will be a backlash against them especially considering that a stagnant economy is fertile ground for fascist attitudes

  10. W. David MARX Says:

    i mean, sure, maybe they do? so does pretty much everyone else.

    Except for normal young people, who have ceased to be interested in consumerism or much of anything.

    i worry there will be a backlash against them especially considering that a stagnant economy is fertile ground for fascist attitudes

    If there are “fascist attitudes” in Japan, they exist within something like 2ch rather than against 2ch.

  11. W. David MARX Says:

    Another thing kind of crucial to this analysis is that the “otaku” subculture has changed and merged with similar other groups. Someone like Okada Toshio could probably explain it better and with more nuance, but from my perspective:

    Otaku in 1980s — on group of consumers in a consumer driven market who have a particular interest in scifi (although Lolicon was a part of it). With a good economy, they could get decent jobs and weren’t “societal losers.” Demonized by otaku killer Tsutomu Miyazaki but lots went on to be in the cultural industry and normal companies.

    Otaku now — downwardly mobile in a much tougher employment environment, much more focused on lolicon-esque culture rather than sci-fi, lots of links to nativist, conservative, “preserve the status quo / punish dissent” kind of crowd on 2ch (although still a debate about whether these are the same groups.)

    Although otaku are less demonized today, I almost feel like they are much more marginalized as a group — as if their hobby and sexual preferences are a result of their marginalization rather than a reason for it.

  12. W. David MARX Says:

    Oh yeah, would love to see if you can pull Kpop into these series of articles.
    Probably the most genuinely exciting thing in Japan right now…

    I address it somewhat tomorrow, but I still think my thesis here — — holds up. Basically K-Pop has fans of “mainstream consumers” who are sick of niche or bland pop from the Japanese industry.

  13. MattA Says:

    “from my perspective:”

    It’s tough for me to buy into a narrative of societal marginalization of modern otaku.

    Otaku were closeted in the Eighties and early Nineties. They didn’t reveal their interests to anyone but fellow otaku. There was discrimination and association with mental illness. The word itself wasn’t even allowed to be said on NHK until quite recently.

    They are totally out of that closet today. It’s hard to call them marginalized when when Comic Market attracts millions of visitors, when the cover of every manga magazine features kawaii moe-style girls, when “civilians” flood Akiba to try maid cafes and when the government has an anime- and manga-focused “Cool Japan” office.

    The hardest of the hardcore may be downwardly mobile but you could say the same of any social misfits or outliers. While their social prospects may be limited, they are a widely acknowledged and accepted demographic today.

  14. Adamu Says:

    It is AKB48’s world, we just live in it. At this point they are just a fact of life kind of like Kimutaku being popular.

    I don’t know if this has been said yet, but I feel like a lot of “mainstream Japan” is getting split up in terms of culture consumption, not so different from the US. People have smartphones and dumbphones that let them keep in touch to whatever forum or friend group or keitai game they want, and only a few big things like Ikegami Akira or Exile bring them together. So with so much competing for the eyeballs and wallets of normal people, the fact that AKB48 and whatnot can attract a critical mass of consumers on top of their generic trendiness value might be part of what makes it so attractive to advertisers.

  15. Janne Says:

    I do wonder how much of this specifically Japanese and how much it simply reflects a worldwide trend of cultural fragmentation. You see the same drop in hit sales, viewer ratings and the rest in many other societies, simply because consumers have many more outlets to choose from, many more possible personas to fit, and so less crowding to the same limited number of alternatives.

    It wasn’t that many years ago that a popular hit series or weekend variety show in Sweden could grab more than 50% viewer ratings. Such ratings belong in the realm of fiction today. The same thing goes for hit sales.

    Significantly, one outlet that has bucked this trend to a large extent is cinema. The cause is probably the same: the number of available screens hasn’t exploded so there aren’t more alternative choices for the moviegoer than before.

  16. Miroku Says:

    I’d like to see some discussion of culture that escapes 2ch; one that came out recently is a まとめ called 風俗行ったら人生変わった, which I saw spreading on twitter. It’s much like Densha Otoko, and was read by a ton of my college age friends. Matome themselves are still collected and aggregated by otaku, though I don’t see much monetization coming out of them?

    Another thing is, to what extent is a manga like onepiece being propped up by otaku, rather than the general population? It always seemed to me that it actually is popular, and is used as small talk among younger Japanese — but this series is making me rethink that.

    Also, for tv appearances, are there no examples of using talk shows, music station, etc as a platform to attract advertisers and viewers? From the description (and indeed, the last post about the roles of clothing manufacturers) it seems like what is really allowing these subcultures to survive are the shows and advertisers themselves…

  17. W. David MARX Says:

    The thing is though, if media truly fractures, then you’d also expect LOTS of different pockets of interesting things going on with momentum. This is what you see in the U.S. definitely. There’s just more cable channels, more websites, more everything for everyone.

    In Japan, you don’t have this at all. You have less culture for both mainstream and leading-edge consumers (mostly because it came in the form of products). And then you have exclusively otaku and yankii/gyaru having conspicuous and well-selling products.

    When the mainstream does decide to get into something — Murakami’s 1Q84, Dragon Quest, Girls Generation — you see these massive hits where everyone buys the same thing. There are not “finer divisions within an engaged culture.” There are only marginal subcultures buying and everyone else doing nothing.

  18. W. David MARX Says:

    It is AKB48′s world, we just live in it. At this point they are just a fact of life kind of like Kimutaku being popular.

    They are ubiquitous but that is different from being “popular.” Kimutaku was legitimately popular among a lot of people. AKB48 are popular with the only people who buy things. Everyone else is just tolerating them.

  19. Michael Says:

    Janne, to give you an idea, the #1 box office hit in Japan this year is Ghibli’s Kokuriko-zaka Kara (From Up on Poppy Hill), it grossed $56,029,615. Last year, in 2010, the #1 hit was Ghibli’s Arrietty… it made $110,013,058. Almost twice as much!

  20. zoltan Says:

    Didn’t SMAP popularize purikura and para para on their variety show? I remember reading about that in Ashcraft’s School Girl Confidential book.

    And last I check, Japan has no Hulu (not yet) or Netflix right? There’s DMM but that’s mostly for porn. There is some anime stream in Nico Nico but thats it.

  21. M-Bone Says:

    “This is what you see in the U.S. definitely.”

    This is true. However, the US has 3 times Japan’s population, exports more popular culture by dollar figures than every other country combined, draws the biggest stars from all over the anglosphere, and so on. I have to wonder how Japan stacks up compared to Germany, Italy, Australia, and the like. I think that Canadian popular culture has become less diverse because of an intensification of US cultural exports in the 2000s.

    In Japan, even with a smaller pie as discussed earlier, one does see more diversity in publishing (Leonardo and I were talking about history manga and I forgot to mention that this kind of thing is made possible to the fact that you can go to any major bookstore and get books about Viking or Tibetan visual and material culture) and manga.

    Your (Marxy) major areas – fashion and music – are in inexorable decline. But doesn’t Japan still have far, far greater fashion diversity than America? Is there a decent Japanese club scene that ties into what people are doing when they drop out of consumption – focusing on sense, experience, and building and enjoying personal relationships, circles of friends, and taking over urban space?

  22. M-Bone Says:

    I glanced at a drama that my wife was watching the other day and I said “Wow, who is that wrinkly oldass dude who kinda looks like Kimutaku.” It was Kimutaku.

  23. anhh Says:

    Can we agree that some of the data used here is too close to being circumstantial evidence for its own good? I’m saying that we can’t extract these conclusions from this data, not that the conclusions are wrong or that the data pointed above isn’t meaningful.

    If I believe the data posted below on that thread about Naruhodo, ratings are something like this:

    04/21木 *8.1%(新・なるハイSP)
    04/28木 *6.3%
    05/05木 10.8%
    05/12木 *9.0%
    05/19木 *7.7%
    05/26木 *7.6%
    06/02木 14.2%(ぐるナイSP)
    06/09木 11.7%
    06/16木 *8.2%
    06/23木 *6.9%
    06/30木 11.9%(ぐるナイSP)
    07/07木 *7.7%(なるハイSP)
    07/14木 *8.1%
    07/21木 *7.0%
    07/28木 *7.5%
    08/04木 *8.0%
    08/11木 *6.1%
    08/18木 15.3% ぐるナイSP
    08/25木 11.3% 野球2時間
    09/01木 *7.5%
    09/08木 *6.5%
    09/15木 *4.5%

    Hanazakari no Kimitachi e (Ikemen Paradise) had ratings around 6%. It’s a dorama mainly about boys (the girl pretends to be one).
    Q10 had ratings around 10% (also Maeda)
    Watashi ga Renai Dekinai Riyuu (with Oshima Yuko) less or more 15% until now.

    Collecting data for each PV on their YT channel (title, views, likes, dislikes, %)

    ポニーテールとシュシュ 34494898 /12829 / 3078/ 0.23
    ヘビーローテーション 55388198 /24232/9329/0.38
    10年桜 9492893/4092/461/0.11
    Choose me ! 2343924/1422 /89/0.06
    マジジョテッペンブルース 5747467 /2589/194/0.07
    RIVER 11564808/658/6190/0.106
    ひこうき雲 1027891 /433/44/0.10
    マジスカロックンロール 7251485/2619/340/0.13
    遠距離ポスター 4280669 /2417/128/0.05
    ラッキーセブン 3649733/1672/156/0.09
    言い訳Maybe 11465740/5184/542/0.104
    桜の栞 5416492/3115/273/0.09
    君のことが好きだから 6047824/3368/266/0.08
    盗まれた唇 2433382/1121/161/0.14
    大声ダイヤモンド 15077660/6746/823/0.12
    飛べないアゲハチョウ 2269391/1301/118/0.09
    僕のYELL 1798241/596/65/0.11
    野菜シスターズ 10046206/4194/590/0.14
    涙サプライズ ! 15271306/7353/877/0.12
    涙のシーソーゲーム 1756892/672/128/0.19
    Beginner 17063845/ 7645/1909/0.25
    桜の木になろう 3150532/2476/242/0.10
    チャンスの順番 3812489/2251/438/0.19
    Everyday、カチューシャ 12916303/8967/ 2224/0.26
    フライングゲット 5236454/4233/1099/0.26

  24. M-Bone Says:

    Good dramas used to do 20-25% just 10 years ago. 4-6% on Japanese TV means – people just happen to have their TVs on and there is nothing else playing. 6% is tremendously low for a drama.

  25. zoltan Says:

    And the AKB48 fanboys come out of the woodwork.
    I wont’t argue the ratings or Youtube likes.

    But I would love to hear your explanation for AKB48 singles sales compared to the 90’s? As the article states, its just outside the top 10 and the population did not decrease significantly.

  26. subdee Says:

    Heads up guys, I posted this series to Metafilter and there’s been some discussion of it over there. Apologies if it is not finished yet or for any misframing on my part.

  27. Cag Says:

    While I totally agree that AKB started out as being targeted for the otaku, I think saying that all of Japan is “tolerating” them and only otaku like them is a little far fetched. Sure, their sales would’ve been the norm in 2000 but this is not the case, if you sell a million copies in this point of time (IIRC the last million seller before Beginner was released in 2006 or 2007) it’s not just because of the otaku, or they would’ve never had a phase of selling only 20000 copies of their singles when they started out.

    I think they’re more of a fad right now, and obviously it will eventually go away, but it’s undeniable that if you have a product everywhere spending so much in advertising it it’s because you can get profit out of it, which they wouldn’t if they had only their old niche market.

    BTW, you got it wrong, the election is not “senbatsu” it’s “sousenkyo”. Senbatsu are in general the members that participate in the singles, sousenkyo is the general election that happens yearly.

  28. zoltan Says:

    The article pointed out that a majority of the mainstream is NOT into AKB. They are undeniably some but not much. The tv ratings are pretty good indicators that mainstream Japan just doesn’t care. Let’s not forget that if Dentsu could support another idol group that could if even sell 20% as much, they would but even AKB is probably just profitable for them.

  29. Meh Says:

    It’s amusing how you believe that AKB48’s success is driven by perverted otakus, yet you believe SNSD’s success is simply mainstream.

    They sell the same thing to the same people.

    The both make shit “music” and are marketed to hell and back.

    Your personal preferences that enter your pop culture analysis is what always ruins it.

    “I like this over this, so I’ll pretend the former only sells because of freaks but the same type of idol group who are popular because of a fetishished body part are completely different and Japan just loves them.”

    I wouldn’t mention it if it was the first time, but this is honestly like the fourth or fifth time you’ve done this.

    Come off it.

  30. W. David MARX Says:

    AKB48′s success is driven by perverted otakus, yet you believe SNSD’s success is simply mainstream.

    AKB48 is clearly made for otaku. Otaku make up their biggest fanbase. These statements are difficult to counter.

    SNSD do not appeal to a particular subculture in Japan. Their audience is women in Japan — not men. These statements are also difficult to counter.

    I said clearly, however, that AKB48 sells way more than SNSD/Kara. Which is my point — something “mainstream” in Japan cannot even sell as much as something that is clearly marketed towards a specific subculture.

  31. Meh Says:

    Yet you have provided no evidence for either except a picture of a guy buying 5500 copies of an album that was already proven to be a Chinese store owner.

    Actually, a recent poll done by a Korean paper showed that while 75% of Korean culture fans are women, most of them are in their 40s and of the men who were fans, most of them were also in their 40s.

    So I guess mainstream to you is effectively selling sex to both sexes?

  32. Meh Says:

    With the over 40 crowd being an obvious nod to lonely housewife and single virgin otaku.

  33. M-Bone Says:

    Meh, does that “Korean Culture Fans” category include TV dramas? In that case, the audience would skew older.

    In any case, Marxy has not provided evidence that SNSD appeal mostly to young female fans but people are accepting the assertion based on having seen how they are marketed in Japan and presented on television and in various forums. I agree with Marxy here, but if you have any evidence to the contrary, let’s see it.

    The way that you can “win” here is not to demand evidence, but to present evidence of your own.

    The newspaper survey isn’t going to cut it. We knew that 50 year old women like Yon-sama. If the survey doesn’t refer specifically to SNSD (and for all we know predates them debuting in Japan since you didn’t actually cite it) it isn’t good evidence for this discussion.

  34. zoltan Says:

    AKB48 at least has no pull among the teenage female crowd.
    Good old 2ch found out that Love Berry was closing and they summarize is the AKB48 touch of death to female magazines

    Take note that Love Berry started really pushing AKB on their covers to the detriment of their attached models

    I have also confirm that Love Berry is indeed dead

    This website has a nice timeline when AKB48 entered the picture

    And they were other magazines who supported AKB too but it did nothing to stop their deaths (Cawaii and Hata Chu)

    Safe to say that AKB has no traction with females in Japan.

    The thing with Kpop is that they are not aggressively pushed as AKB and yet, they are extremely profitable (sell out concerts and good sales) Don’t forget that Japan never embrace a foreign Asian movement so lovingly as Kpop. 2ch/right wingers are no fans of Kpop and yet the success is undeniable.
    If 2ch goes down today, moe/idols/marginal subcultures were go down with it. You cannot say the same with Kpop.

    This is a seismic change in attitude and circumstantial evidence point to a mainstream acceptance.

  35. Google+ Signs Up Superband in Japan, Boosts Visibility | Says:

    […] band is a fusion of marketing and music, as this Neojapanisme article explains in some detail, with the girls chosen and dressed (often as schoolgirls) to appeal […]

  36. Anymouse Says:

    We shouldn’t ignore that there may be a significant subculture of teenage girls who are fans of AKB48. They may be dissolved in the general male oriented culture but they most likely do exist to some extent.
    If one looks at the statistics for the following video the audience is overwhelmingly female.

  37. Anymouse Says:

    Of course that sample is heavily influenced by American pop culture.

  38. rainy_outside Says:

    The article has a good point, but it has flaws. Someone already pointed out how the TV viewing rating was not accurate, but was dismissed as “an ordinary AKB48 fanboy”… The biggest flaw here is admitting that AKB48 has ‘broke the cage’ and nowadays is not a ‘otaku thing only’ anymore, it IS mainstream. C`mon, I live here, see this group appearing in inumerous TV shows, having several own TV programs, appearing all the time in ads, see their most popular members being voted in several pools as ‘the most beautiful’, ‘most appealing’ and so on… and you try to make me believe it is not mainstream?!?! It`s breaking records of sales one after another and it`s just a bunch otakus that are behind it? AKB48`s phenomenom is exactly being caused cuz it is tha first idol group to cross the line and become appealing to everyone (morning musume almost achieved this in the past. almost). I went several times to AKB48 related events and I can tell you: you`d be surprised to see how the audience is heterogeneous. Well, I had to make this comment cuz seeing a so well written article trying to deny a FACT was too much for me. Besides that, was an interesting reading.

  39. Arbitrary_greay Says:

    Karaoke requests are a measure of true mainstream popularity because they are independent of buying/owning a copy of the song, and someone merely tolerating their presence in pop culture wouldn’t request it. Guess who’s still on top. Unless you’d like to suggest that Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Rihanna dominating radio airplay is also this phenomenon, that we’re merely tolerating their presence, and that they don’t have real mainstream popularity either.

    Note that non-sexual song and MV “Aitakatta!” is one of the songs up there. I’m not saying AKB48’s main marketting isn’t still sexual and their physical sales aren’t still mainly otaku-based, but it’s an oversimplification to chalk up their “popularity” and immense media presence to only these factors.

    This one may be questionable due to it’s source, but still: (sorry I couldn’t find a video with english subs)
    At 11:58 here, the girls play a variation on Family Feud, and the survey this time was about favorite karaoke artist.(Out of 100 people) AKB48 comes in at #4 ahead of Amuro Namie. What I love about this clip is that the girls themselves are aware that they’re an otaku-targetted group and on borrowed time, so they weren’t expecting to be ranked at all.(ie, having any “real” popularity) As a matter of fact, the director(the interviewee) was so surprised at the survey results that he re-did the survey, this time concealing the fact that it was an AKB show conducting it, and yet the results still came out with AKB48 at #4.

    In addition, I have to disagree with the claim that AKB48’s sales don’t hold up in relation to numbers from the 90s. According to testimonies from people who were living in Japan at the time, Morning Musume was water-cooler talk when they had their first million-seller single in 1999 with Love Machine, and apparently one of those “symbols of J-Pop for the era.” It sold 241K its first week, and took 8 weeks to reach 1 million. They never managed to work up such sales after they fell out of mainstream popularity and became an otaku niche group. The most an otaku buying surge has gotten them is a #1 at 70K in 2009.

    Even if AKB48 otaku were all buying at least 200 copies each, they’d still need a very sizable dedicated fanbase of 50,000 to achieve a million seller, which is comparable to what Kpop acts are entering the market with these days. We know that the 200+ copy buyers are in the minority, so where are the rest of those sales coming from? Where did all of the sales come from for the Spice Girls, apparently the #1 girl group of all time in sales, and why do we only remember “Wannabe” for that? Were they only an otaku-inflated group too?

  40. W. David MARX Says:

    nowadays is not a ‘otaku thing only’ anymore, it IS mainstream.

    Two points I was trying to make: that a “number one” single doesn’t mean something is “mainstream” in terms of wide acceptance across society. That being because otaku culture has made it into mass media, there is more otaku influence on the mainstream. AKB48 are definitely mainstream, but my point is, by default rather than from active embrace from “normal” middle-class consumers.

  41. W. David MARX Says:

    Morning Musume was water-cooler talk when they had their first million-seller single in 1999

    Morning Musume were created on the TV show Asayan, which was the American Idol of its day. They were water cooler talk long before they had any hits. That being said, “Love Machine” had a long-wave of sales which you mention, ending up at 1.76 million. Good to also remember that Morning Musume were not set up to be marketed at first to otaku, but that’s who became their ultimate audience, as you mention. AKB48 is this backwards.

    Even if AKB48 otaku were all buying at least 200 copies each, they’d still need a very sizable dedicated fanbase of 50,000 to achieve a million seller, which is comparable to what Kpop acts are entering the market with these days. We know that the 200+ copy buyers are in the minority, so where are the rest of those sales coming from?

    This is a good question and I certainly admit that otaku are not the sole audience for AKB48. But the product is defined and created for them and they are the primary consumers.

  42. zoltan Says:

    Didn’t I mention in my earlier post that AKB48 has no traction with females?
    If they had, you would assume magazine circulation would have gone up. (maybe they should included some special items, like Peach John)

    Sure, they have female fans. But the MAJORITY of females in Japan do not care. Unless someone can show that female oriented content outside of singles and karaoke actually increase in value due to AKB, my earlier post stands

  43. rainy_outside Says:

    Thanks for the responses. Now your point is clearer to me. But I think you are, when speaking about AKB48 nowadays, giving too much `power` to a minority. If otakus were so numerous or influential, Ishihara wouldn`t get his manga censorship approved, for example. To my eyes, today the majority of AKB48`s fans are not otakus, but ordinary people.

  44. Anymouse Says:

    And if people without children were so common, Ishihara would not have been elected. It is obvious everyone in Tokyo wants to have a large family.

    Tongue fully in cheek. Things are more complicated than explicit support or disapproval. The Republican party was big time behind Herman Caine, not because he quoted Pokemon but because he wasn’t Obama.

  45. Arbitrary_greay Says:

    there is more otaku influence on the mainstream
    This makes sense to me, in the same way “geek chic” is a thing even in America, with the rise of the blockbusters adapted from comic books and anime, and more action flicks being sci-fi than strictly action, or Dreamworks Animation films all being tributes to nerd sub-cultures, or even the re-appropriation of vampires and zombies.


    I don’t understand the exclusion of karaoke here. It’s the best measure of “real” popularity because it doesn’t require the requester to buy, own, or want to buy/own AKB48 merchandise, and if someone truly didn’t care, then they wouldn’t request it in the first place. Again, are you suggesting that despite her continual radio airplay, because Katy Perry has explicitly male-pandering idol-influenced releases that she has no traction with females?

    Some of AKB48’s Youtube videos show “Female 13-17” as a main viewer demographic: the demographic of the girls auditioning for AKB48 and the other girlgroups riding on their coattails. This may be that “geek chic” thing again, as many AKB48 frontgirls became popular because they proudly proclaimed their own otaku tendencies, including anime cosplay, and being fans of Morning Musume. Hence otaku self-identify with them and want to support them, leading to more exposure for that girl in the media, and kids learn that it’s okay to be a female otaku because even the big name celebrities are doing it…it’s like a microcosm of how the entire brand works, except with more females.

    (For that matter, many AKB48 members also profess fandom for Kpop. Admiration for what they are not, or re-branding the Kpop groups as idols like them, after all? Because no matter how much Kpop groups may seem like “real” artists in comparison, the majority of them are still most definitely idols, albeit one that focuses on the performance aspect more than the personality aspect like Jpop does. Perhaps the otaku influence is what allowed Kpop groups to become such a lucrative market in the first place. It is a known fact that the Big Kpop groups achieve their 100K sales back home through the efforts of fanclub bulk-buying. Sound familiar?)

    The magazine thing isn’t a good argument either, as the original article points out that no one is buying anything anymore. Similarly, in 2001 Britney Spears released her htird album, the only single that people today remember being “I’m a Slave 4 U,” and I suspect that only being due to the Glee cover. Crossroads, her movie released during this time, took a nosedive at the box office after the first week. It wouldn’t be until “Toxic” in 2003 that Britney would have something else popular on it own, and not by proxy of “Oops! I Did It Again.” By your standards, then during this time period Britney was not popular, but that’s not the case. Rather, her popularity was so pervasive that people assumed that she would be successful no matter what, and thus didn’t bother buying anything of hers. In today’s internet age when magazine appearances get scanned and are available free online, why would casual fans(the “true” measure of popularity) buy magazines at all? All that it proves is that even otaku may not buy everything.

  46. zoltan Says:

    The magazine comparison stand as the internet is not a legitimate authority on fashion or even as a space for women in Japan. (2ch is the center of internet activity in Japan so this is not surprising)

    The reason magazines folded in Japan is not just because of the internet unlike elsewhere since the digital alternative does not exist and has less authority. Its more due to magazine not able to pander to the dormant majority.

    The only website that has actual sway over women in Japan that I could think of is Cookpad, something like 1 in 4 Japanese women are a member.

    Show me a website that is considered an authority for females in Japan.

    Show me that AKB48 has traction with females via products targeted to females. If you have a actual press release, that be better.

    Its amazing that you are defending something that doesn’t even surprise 2ch.

  47. zoltan Says:

    And here’s a nice article that summarized things nicely

    Youtube insight comparison for GG/SNSD and AKB48

    You can see clearly that SNSD has undeniable popularity worldwide.

    I quote from the article

    “”Heavy Rotation” by AKB48 VS. “The Boys” by K-Pop group Girls Generation — As for the audience demographic, 100% males in their 20s-30s VS Young boys & girls.”

  48. M-Bone Says:

    As I wrote above, I agree totally that AKB48 is an otaku thing and a more or less Japan only thing.

    I can’t help be a bit skeptical about SNSD’s “popularity”, however. They don’t seem like they have had more than a few tens of thousands of digital download sales in the Anglosphere and yet they have the dark green color for Youtube views in Canada, the US, and Australia. Are people just watching and not buying? Has there been any attempt to quantify any of this?

    I read that Korean Dramas are “increasing in popularity in North America”. Everything can be “increasing” and “popularity” depends on the definition, I guess. But I’ve also seen that 80% of revenue from Korean dramas overseas comes from Japan. Is this the same deal with SNSD where success in Japan and a few smaller Asian markets (Taiwan, Singapore) are being conflated with global success? Have they really broken out of the tiny Asian music and Korean diaspora niches in North America? I haven’t seen a single major piece on them in any mainstream North American media.

  49. zoltan Says:

    Hiya M-Bone :)

    There is a New York Times article on Kpop recently. Google New York Times Kpop and you get the NYT review SM Town live in Madison Square Garden. Which sold out. So was the SM Town live in Staples Center LA. There is also a Kpop Top 100 Billboard Chart (!).

    I’m guessing Kpop is still a niche in the West but it now has a bigger fanbase than Jpop ever had during its prime.

  50. M-Bone Says:


    Thanks for the tip on the NYT piece – 15,000 turnout at Madison Square Garden sounds good.

    It still seems solidly niche if nobody is releasing a sales figure for anything, however. How much of this is relative? Utada Hikaru selling 55,000 copies of a US release was considered to be a major bomb. Are K-pop acts doing considerably more than this number? That’s the info I’d like to see.

    I don’t want to argue that J-pop ever has or ever will have any serious traction in North America, but I did manage to find some material for comparison –

    “On iTunes, SNSD’s “The Boys” took the 74th spot on the single chart and the 31st spot on the pop genre chart. SNSD’s single album was featured on iTunes’ main showcase and immediately took the 354th place and in six hours, they entered the top 100.”

    Compare this with the rather contrived US debut of Akanishi Jin –

    “Following its release on November 8th, idol/singer/songriter Jin Akanishi’s all English single, “Test Drive featuring Jason Derulo,” took the top position on the US iTunes digital music store’s Dance chart. The release also placed 15th in overall album sales for its debut.”

    On its own terms, I don’t see Akanishi’s “success” to be that meaningful or a reversal of Marxy’s arguments in any way (as SNSD is VERY clearly popular and appealing to a fashionable mainstream core in Japan), but Akanishi’s position relative to SNSD does raise some questions about the Korean group – which is often described online as skyrocketing into the international mainstream. It is certainly hard to square the above numbers with the youtube figures. It also makes me a bit suspicious about their American shows – were they papered? Did they hold the shows at a loss to get people in with an eye on using “American buzz” to promote the brand in Asia (Japanese US debuts and shows have often been geared toward selling “international success” to audiences back home)?

  51. Arbitrary_greay Says:

    I’m not sure why you demand a female-targetted product, (or still exclude karaoke, for that matter) because only a specific subset of females buy female-targetted products.
    Could you find proof that any current celebrity has that kind of traction? KyaryKyaryPamyu maybe? I do know AKB48 have been chosen for many, many cosmetic product CMs before, but I wouldn’t know how to find sales numbers for them. Oh, and this. Maybe it was otaku voting her up, but there’s no proof for or against that, and like I said above, there’s no proof for any other celebrities doing “female targetted products” any more than AKB48, which throws the entire argument up in the air.
    Plus, my Britney Spears argument wasn’t pertaining to magazines or internet or anything, but just pointing out that sales don’t pertain to popularity.(Which the OP says as well, although as support for another argument) Nobody’s buying anything, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t casual fans. If females were buying those magazines, you’d probably just say they were female otaku because clearly only otaku buy things anyways.

    Its amazing that you are defending something that doesn’t even surprise 2ch.
    I don’t understand this. Could you please explain?

    Using “Heavy Rotation” only as a point of comparison is skewing the results. Of course more males are watching Heavy Rotation due to its content.
    Other AKB48 videos from their channel with a Female demographic listed in their “most popular with:”
    Ue Wa Mariko (and that’s not even the full PV, just a 30-second clip)
    Kaze Wa Fuiteru
    Noel Wa Yuru (another 30-second clip)
    Flying Get
    Kimi no Senaka (a 30-second clip for a B-side)
    Dakishimechaikenai (another B-side)
    Everyday, Kachuusha (hey, this one was a bikini-fest, too)
    Chance No Junban
    Sakura no Ki ni Narou
    Namida Surprise

    etc, etc, basically every video but Heavy Rotation and Ponytail to Shushu, the two PVs that were explicitly male-pandering. The rest all have some measure of female traction, even if with the tween market. And that’s to be expected of any idol. I bet Britney Spears would have had the same kinds of numbers back in the day, because it simply would not have been considered cool for older girls to admit to liking her. Let me check something…yep, Lady Gaga’s Telephone and Bad Romance have the same kind of demographics listed. See, I can pick and choose my sources too.

    I will admit that they don’t have much appeal outside of Japan, but doesn’t that actually prove that that Female demographic listed on the above videos are in Japan and can’t be hand-waved as international fans?

  52. W. David MARX Says:

    Heavy Rotation and Ponytail to Shushu — the two that are exclusively male-pandering, as you say — are the most popular on YouTube by a mile.

    Also the number one demographic for Bad Romance is young Females.

  53. M-Bone Says:

    Why are we demanding evidence of a female fan base for AKB48? Female idol groups from Candies and Pink Lady to Speed and Morning Musume all topped the pops thanks to strong support from the young female market. This is also true of female solo artists, right up to Utada Hikaru and even Koda Kumi. If that demographic does not go for AKB48 and they still are a top seller based on a nerdy male audience, this is a huge change in Japanese popular culture (which Marxy has deftly identified) and it does not bode well for the future of Japanese pop music, which seems to risk becoming an adjunct to otaku culture.

    This can be coupled with the presentation of “AKB48 and female fans” online in Japanese. I’ve been curious about this issue myself and googled several different search terms (AKB48, josei fan, etc.) and the results are always the same. There are some articles which have a “surprised” tone that AKB48 has female fans at all. On top of this, there are some hilarious TV presentations. I saw a clip talking about the “surprising” number of female fans at a handshake event. As they were interviewing one, however, the background was a dozen guys with glasses, hooded sweatshirts, and backpacks and one old bald dude in his 60s.

    In short, the history of J-pop is a strong young female fanbase for top female artists or groups and the conventional wisdom in Japanese discourse now is that female AKB48 fans are different enough to be newsworthy.

    As an addendum, Japanese surveys (Video Research) are now reporting that not a single AKB48 member places in the top 50 female entertainment personalities (a list topped by Becky, the survey includes respondents 10 and older). This is currently being presented on the J-web as evidence that AKB48 are entirely niche.

    If you are going to upend the history of J-pop (rooted in support for top female idols by audiences of both genders) and current Japanese understandings of how AKB48 fits, you are going to need some damn good evidence.

  54. Arbitrary_greay Says:

    Heavy Rotation and Ponytail to Shushu — the two that are exclusively male-pandering, as you say — are the most popular on YouTube by a mile.
    This is true. But the original claim by zoltan was “AKB48 at least has no pull among the teenage female crowd,” and “Safe to say that AKB has no traction with females in Japan.” I agree with the fact that their primary target is still male otaku, but I’m defending Cag’s statement that “I think saying that all of Japan is “tolerating” them and only otaku like them is a little far fetched.”

    M-bone: I’m not sure if you’re saying AKB48 does or doesn’t have female fans?

  55. M-Bone Says:

    Point by point:

    All other famous female groups in Japanese history have been successful because of young female fans.

    Same with solo artists like Utada Hikaru.

    This does not seem to be the case with AKB48.

    If you search “AKB48, female fans” in Japanese, you find articles that express surprise that they have female fans. This suggests that most Japanese assume that their popular is because of male (otaku) fans.

    Japanese TV manufactures trends. In clips talking about AKB48s female fans, there is nothing but nerds and old guys in the background. Nobody has presented any trend data that proves that AKB48 have significant numbers of female fans.

    Video Research Japanese survey says no AKB48 members voted in top 50 female entertainment personalities. This suggests that they have a relatively modest core niche fan base with few mainstream female supporters. They are not mainstream, and few women seem to support them.

    Hence the conventional wisdom is that they don’t have significant numbers of female fans.

    If you want to go against the conventional wisdom on the Japanese internet and the dismal showing for AKB48 in the Video Research poll, please present evidence of significant female fan engagement with the group.

  56. zoltan Says:

    I’m gonna do this one last time.

    I bring up 2ch becoz they were surprised that AKB does have female fans but 2ch KNOWS that they hold keys to the kingdom.
    Google this -> hato 2ch net / akb / and read the threads.

    You bring up western artist because that’s clearly all you know. Why no comparison to Morning Musume or Seiko Matsuda or even Anna Tsuchiya or Aya Ueto? As you said, AKB has limited appeal outside of Japan, so compare with artist in Japan.

    Namie Amuro and Seiko Matsuda are a good example. Namie for being the initial inspiration (gyaru) and Seiko Matsuda for introducing burikko. SMAP initiated the 3rd boom of Para Para purely from demonstrating it on their TV show. These were truly mainstream stars who were a social phenomenon in Japan. And all these people sold a lot of singles/albums.

    Now you have AKB who sells the most, has the most appearances, and has the biggest web presence and yet not a social phenomenon by the prior standards. As the article pointed out, the population didn’t decline that much so majority of Japan just doesn’t care about AKB. So its a niche crowd. Supported by a very tech savvy male oriented crowd but still a niche.

  57. zoltan Says:

    Oh yea,

    Marx, that lecture at Tokyo Uni ?
    Any written transcripts or audio?
    I would love to hear what JG had to say.

    And was Patrick Gilbraith there? Man disappear from the net for some time.

  58. W. David MARX Says:

    I have the audio. I need to process it, but thinking about uploading.

    P. Galbraith not in Japan at the moment.

  59. M-Bone Says:

    Galbraith is wisely focusing more on academic publishing now. I imagine that it is also time for him to pull finger on his thesis – a reality that also claimed Tobias Harris, possibly by the word the most prolific Japan blogger of all time while he lasted.

  60. W. David MARX Says:

    Still a sad irony that joining the academic world means sharing less information with those interested in your research.

  61. M-Bone Says:

    Something to be said for waiting until it is really polished before one shares it, however. A hundred thousand word book is a lot of blog posts, and some things are better thought about for years before publication (this five parter seems like it has been stewing for years, no?).

    You strike a good balance, but looking back on it, what exactly is a Harris post on a second tier Fukuda Cabinet minister making a gaff worth right now? I’m far more interested in seeing him organize his best information about the DPJ into a clear argument with enough time behind it to add perspective.

    Being an academic also means teaching something like 200 students a year. That’s quite intimate compared to blogging.

    I agree with the basic sentiment, however. Academic journals behind corporate paywalls is BS. For my little part I’m working with a web journal and an open article depository. I also want to start doing English translations of everything I publish in academlish.

  62. Arbitrary_greay Says:

    Huh, looks I should have done some more searches before embarking on my comparison arguments.

    Helpful fanbase piechart as seen here
    2010 piechart as seen here
    Females at AKB48 handshake event
    AKB48 mostly popular with teen crowd
    Last year AKB48 was ONLY popular with the teen crowd
    AKB48 in female-targetted product campaign that really didn’t need to include them
    If they’re beating Ueto Aya I bet not all of those companies are male-targetted
    Latest drama featuring AKB48 member doing okay. Most people agree that HanaKimi and Q10’s writing and production were atrocious, which contributed to their tanking ratings.

    Just curious, but do you also think that Johnny’s groups aren’t truly popular, since their sales and support derive primarily from fangirls? Not including SMAP, of course, but AKB48 is beating out even Arashi at this point. Given that apparently today’s men in Japan are all passive,(one of the apparent reasons for the women preferring Kpop) how is AKB48 motivating them to where they can even beat out the hordes of boyband fangirls that have led to Johnny’s traditionally dominating Jpop?

    My karaoke argument still hasn’t been answered. Also, it’s been pointed out that many of the artists that appear to have decreased sales, like Koda Kumi, actually have comparable sales to that of yesteryear’s when you look at digital downloads. Guess who still does strong in downloads.

    Why no comparison to Morning Musume or Seiko Matsuda or even Anna Tsuchiya or Aya Ueto?
    I made a Morning Musume comparison a while back, and it got struck down because apparently they aren’t similar enough. In that case, the only comparable group in terms of an explicitly otaku-targetting group that became popular would be Onyanko Club, which was too short-lived to compare either. I made Western artist comparisons to show how our own preconceptions of idol vs. artist change how we view the same situations. At least the Britney Spears comparison still applies, because at that time she was definitely an idol, and America had gone through an idol movement.

  63. W. David MARX Says:

    the only comparable group in terms of an explicitly otaku-targetting group that became popular would be Onyanko Club

    They weren’t otaku targeted at all! Their male fans were more of the yankii tip if anything.

  64. M-Bone Says:

    They don’t publish the methodology of those pie charts and I’m calling BS.

    BEHOLD – there are as many male Kat-Tun fans between 35 and 64 as there are female fans in the same age group!

    My suspicion is that they divide the poll respondents between different age groups and equally between the genders, allowing respondents to tick as many as they “like” or perhaps “know” or ” think is famous”.

    Honestly, that there are as many male Kat-tun fans between 35-64 as there are AKB48 male fans between 35 and 49 by proportion shows that the polls are typical arbitrary Japanese TV stuff with no transparency and that they are worthless for fan base analysis unless you want to argue that about 1/7 of Kat-Tun CDs and concert tickets go to a bunch of oyaji.

    Evidence should come from a third party that is not devoted to promoting the group on TV and publishes its methodology and so far, all we have is the Video Research poll where they struck out big time.

    The CM data is an indication of how well Dentsu has been promoting them, not a diverse fan base. Edo Harumi was the TV CM champ for her 20 minutes of fame, now she’s vanished from the face of the earth. Promotion companies and advertising companies force “talent” on advertisers all the time.

  65. Arbitrary_greay Says:

    Akimoto also wrote lyrics for Onyanko Club,(and married one of them) both Morning Musume and AKB48 took their rotating lineup and subgroups concept, and the rotating lineup thing being one of the main things that made MM into an idol group rather than the SPEED-like singing group they were originally, and Onyanko Club had a sexual seifuku song as well… Their name means “Kitten Club”, and their TV show was called Yuyake Nyan Nyan (means “sunset meow meow”), and that doesn’t sound like a yankii-appealing group to me.

    I’ll conceded that the pie charts may be BS. However, the OriStar survey is still valid, and it shows that AKB48 has traction with the teen crowd. The 2011 survey doesn’t have a gender breakdown, but AKB48 don’t show up in the otaku age range where Arashi does has to mean something.

    I threw in the CM data because zoltan said “Show me that AKB48 has traction with females via products targeted to females.” I don’t know where I can find sales data compared to, say, Namie and Vidal Sassoon, though. Any suggestions?

  66. Aceface Says:

    More than 60 comments so far and no sign of Momus weighing in….
    Times changed.

  67. Anymouse Says:

    He’s too knowledgeable about Japan. He’s too cool for these people.

    Because he doesn’t know Japanese.

  68. W. David MARX Says:

    Here’s my take on Onyanko back in 2005:

    The model was very much Morning Musume’s predecesor, but I’m telling you, the audience wasn’t otaku. It was average guys, and then weirdly later, yankii. In Yankii Shinkaron, Namba Koji talks about this specifically.

    The other thing we should remember is that the entire concept of an “idol” has changed. They used to be demure cute girls, scouted from the streets, made for a mass audience (Matsuda Seiko, etc.). Now they represent an intentionally average-looking set of women meant for otaku consumption (AKB48, Perfume, Momokuro, all the 2nd, 3rd rate idol groups focused around Akihabara). There’s probably an entire book somewhere about this change, and Onyanko was a big part of the evolution (at least the, let’s collect average looking girls together instead of aiming for traditional beauty), but you can’t go back and make Onyanko some specifically otaku-thing.

  69. Arbitrary_greay Says:

    Do you have a link to “Yankii Shinkaron?” I couldn’t find it searching Google for “Yankii Shinkaron,” “Namba Koji,” or a combination. I did find this, but I can’t access the actual posts. Do I need to be searching in kana/kanji?

    Wow, this brings all sorts of new meaning to AKB48 member Kojima Haruna’s nicknames by her own fellow members: Harunyan and just straight-up Nyan-nyan. That’s hilarious.

    I guess the closest MM came to sexual content was first proper single “Morning Coffee?”

    I know that Akimoto wrote songs for a wide variety of people, including some Johnny’s and Misora Hibari’s “Kawa no Nagare no Yō ni.” Has he only written explicitly sexual songs for the girlgroups, or are my suspicions that the man is responsible for the way Jpop developed completely off?

    Off-topic: AKB48’s “Dear My Teacher” is, amazingly, less explicit “Stop it, Teacher.” Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” might actually be that kind of joke-y song that Momus mentioned, but then again, it doesn’t have those “must seduce because girls are stupid” implications.

    Do you really consider Perfume still idols and not mainstream? From what I’ve read, people seem to consider them more like performing artists as opposed to conventional idols like AKB48 and MM, and their fans shill them as “real” artists, but they could all also be otaku trying to up the credibility of their group, so. I don’t know how accurate the translation here is, but it looks like AKB48 girls consider Perfume at the very least to be “like a savvy artist while accompanying the enthusiasts,” a very apt description for Kpop groups as well.

    So the fact that AKB48 is all but copying Onyanko’s style, but that the audience then and audience now have changed from yankii to otaku, is a great example of what you said about how otaku culture itself has changed.

  70. Arbitrary_greay Says:

    I did find this
    My bad, the link was to a search page of old Neomarxisme posts. I found the actual posts using the search bar here. But still no results for “Shinkaron.” Would I find it amongst the posts under a “Yankii” search here?

  71. W. David MARX Says:

    ヤンキー進化論 by 難波功士

  72. Kyary Says:

    Your argument is kind of ridiculous though. If AKB were only supported by the otaku why did they ever sell 20K copies of a single? Did they just manage to find MORE otaku so that they could miraculously sell over a million in a time when nobody else in Japan does?

    How about the other otaku catering groups, like Morning musume. Why aren’t they selling a million if the trick is just to sell to the otakus? What are they doing wrong then? Was it the same thing AKB did wrong for the first 3 or so years of their existence before they found a secret gold mine of 10 otakus buying thousands of copies of their singles so that they would reach a million copies?

    It just makes no sense. Call it what you want, denying that AKB was originally meant for otakus would be naive, but being stubborn and saying that it still works that way is reaching. Otakus are being disgusted by the way their management is ignoring them in order not to alienate their mainstream fanbase.

    Also, look at the Shiseido, Peach John’s and a lot more of cosmetics, do you think those are aimed at otakus? Or do you think that they are secretly aimed at otakus but then they appear on TV with a clearly different target audience just to fool all of us into thinking they aren’t meant for otakus?

    I just don’t understand how can you be so stubborn…

  73. Meh Says:

    Never disagreed with your point about AKB48, just that SNSD appeals to a different market.



    They all do it to appeal to men, which shouldn’t surprise anybody. Just think you’re seeing what you want to see in some attempt to marginalize J-pop and prop up K-pop when they are two cogs in the exact same pop machine.


  74. Meh Says:

    Fail to see why zoltan makes the point that SNSD is more popular than AKB48 worldwide. How is that a shock or an indication of mainstream reach in Japan outside of the male demographic, which was the topic of conversation?

    The Korean government backs K-pop and uses it as a tool to spread their culture around the world. They admit as much and are doing everything possible to spread it as far as possible. It should be popular and despite their attempts to prop it up as some gigantic phenomenon, it’s a niche interest. I can see it being the Korean version of Japanese Anime. If you look at the international demographics behind it, the similarities are eerie.

    Japan and their backward companies are doing the opposite, basically making it impossible for anybody overseas to access their content without paying for it. Basically banning everything on YouTube, Dailymotion, etc that aren’t teasers.

    Personally, I prefer K-pop because it’s Westernized and simply because it’s a pain to access J-pop easily. If I want to write or link to a K-pop performance, it’s simple. If I want to write or link to a J-pop performance, I either have to dig for it through pages or upload it myself. Forget that.

  75. Meh Says:

    I’m unsure which is more disturbing: people blindly defending AKB48 as if no perverted men like it, people saying K-pop is some superior form of goddamn pop music, or the usage of these stupid Japanese polls as objective evidence.

  76. lol Says:

    i think it’s funny that you say AKB only target men when most of their fanbase now is teens and people in their 20s. they have pervy men like most of the other girl group but still, they’re mainstream now.

    and Heavy rotation wasn’t a “cat brothel.” Don’t you know it’s normal for japanese girls to kiss and take bath together? they have bath house, it’s just different cultures. Not to mention the video was more popular among girls than men in Japan too. Obviously men will like it but you can’t ignore that they actually have alot of female fangirls because of that song.

    Also Acchan Hana Drama did bad but Yuko drama did really well, around 15% rating. so it’s just based on the drama. most people hated that drama isn’t because of acchan, but it’s because of the “futsumen” or regular looking guys in the supposedly “ikemen drama”

    and anyway every decade, trend change.
    and people that think kpop is so big is delusional. so many views but they can’t sell over 300k until they go to japan?