Japan Pop! is also a good reading text for mid/upper-level ESL reading classes for Japanese students. Japanese find the book very interesting; they easily relate to the content and are fascinated to learn how scholars (mainly non-Japanese) view their national pop culture.
I. Overall Content
Japan Pop! covers the following forms of Japanese popular culture: pop song, jazz, enka, karaoke, manga (comics), animation, video games, television drama, films, and "idols" (popular teenage singers and actors). It also deals directly with or illuminates the following themes: How Japanese society has changed and is changing; gender roles and relations between the sexes; social and family life conditions; Japan's cultural identity; differences and similarities between the Japanese and other peoples; and the views of Japanese on love, work, duty, dreams, war and peace, good and evil, beauty and ugliness, and life and death.
In addition to describing and discussing Japanese popular culture, Japan Pop! also gives the reader a direct taste of the subject matter via the presentation of numerous illustrations, manga samples, song lyrics, and the words and thoughts of the creators and fans of Japanese popular culture. The chapter authors are all specialists on their subjects, and the chapters are scholastically sound, accessibly written, and enjoyable to read. Japan Pop! is entertaining and thought-provoking as well as educational, and is popular with students.
II. Chapter Descriptions
Chapter 1: Introduction, by Tim Craig
Describes the growing international popularity and influence of Japanese pop culture, and explores the reasons underlying Japan's emergence as a "cultural" (vs. military or economic) power. Also provides synopses of each of the book's 17 chapters.
Chapter 2: "Can Japanese Sing the Blues? Japanese Jazz and the Problem of Authenticity," by E. Taylor Atkins
Japanese jazz musicians face a unique challenge: how to be considered authentic and original when jazz, in Japan, is viewed as something that only black Americans can really do well. This chapter explores the strategies Japan's jazz artists have used and the music they have created to cope with this situation. Topics/themes include: jazz, race, Japan's cultural identity, Japan-US relationships, the tension between the universal and the national in popular culture.
Chapter 3: "The Marketing of Tears: Consuming Emotions in Japanese Popular Song," by Christine R. Yano
This chapter examines enka, the genre of popular music known as Japan's "national music." Especially popular among the working class, most enka are about tears-lovers parting, broken hearts, longing for home. Yano examines those tears, looking at who does the crying, why, and what is gained by it. The author also uses enka lyrics to explore and illustrate traditional Japanese views of man-woman relationships and of love.
Chapter 4: "Open Your File, Open Your Mind: Women, English, and Changing Roles and Voices in Japanese Pop Music," by James Stanlaw
This chapter provides an overview of Japan's pop music scene and of the changing roles and voices of female singers and songwriters in it. Several important female singers and groups are introduced (e.g., O-Nyanko Club, Seiko Matsuda, Yuming, Dreams Come True, Shonen Knife). Quotations and lyrics provide a good feel for these artists' views, personalities, identities, and growing confidence and presence in what was once a male-dominated world. There is a striking contrast in lyrics and women's roles between the pop music described here and the more traditional and conservative enka world of the preceding chapter.
Chapter 5: "A Karaoke Perspective on International Relations," by Hiro R. Shimatachi
This chapter explains why karaoke is so much more popular in Japan than in the West: whereas in Japan it's participation and effort that count, Westerners see karaoke as a kind of talent contest, from which the less musically gifted had best abstain. The result is a reversal of the stereotype of the non-expressive, inscrutable Oriental versus the outgoing, flamboyant Westerner; instead it's the Westerner who shies away from the spotlight while the Asian takes command of the situation. The author argues that karaoke is a positive social development in that it brings people together, and provides tips on how non-Japanese businessmen can sing their way to better relations with their Japanese counterparts.
Chapter 6: "Japanese Comic Books and Religion: Osamu Tezuka's Story of the Buddha," by Mark MacWilliams
Osamu Tezuka is a giant in the history of Japanese manga (comics), and is responsible for the development of the "story manga" (the predominant form in Japanese comics) and many of the characteristic stylistic features of Japanese comics. This chapter discusses and presents story plots, character sketches, and 19 illustrations from one of Tezuka's major works, the 3,000-page Budda. MacWilliams shows how Tezuka made the story of the Buddha relevant and interesting to a young, modern audience, and introduces other innovations by the manga artist known as the "god" of Japanese comics.
Chapter 7: "The Romantic, Passionate Japanese in Anime: A Look at the Hidden Japanese Soul," by Eri Izawa
To many, Japan conjures up an image of a serious, formal, and hard-working people whose primary concerns are economic success and keeping a low profile ("The nail that sticks up get hammered down"). This chapter presents a very different (but equally true) side of the Japanese soul: its affinity for roman-the emotional, the grand, the epic, heroism, fantasy, adventure, passionate love, personal struggle, eternal longing. Izawa shows how these themes pervade the stories, images, music, settings, and characters of Japanese comics, animation, and even video games.
Chapter 8: Hadashi no Gen (Barefoot Gen), Vol. 8, pp 17-31, by Keiji Nakazawa, translated by Tim Craig
Barefoot Gen is one of the most moving comics ever created, for it is the author's semibiographical account of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, an event which claimed most of the author's family, either in the initial blast or through subsequent radiation sickness. This excerpt from Keiji Nakazawa's 2,500-page manga story, involving a group of street orphans growing up in survival mode in the aftermath of the nuclear destruction, is both humorous and serious, and is a good example of the "romantic, passionate Japanese" that Eri Izawa describes in the preceding chapter.
Chapter 9: "Gender Roles and Girls' Comics in Japan: The Girls and Guys of Yukan Club," by Maia Tsurumi
This chapter introduces the world and characters of Yukan Club, a popular girls' comic. Tsurumi focuses on the messages this manga sends its young Japanese readers about what makes a person male or female, strong or weak, liked or disliked. The result is a rare analysis that goes beyond common stereotypes and does justice to the complexity and subtlety of male-female issues and identities in Japan.
Chapter 10: "From Sazae-san to Crayon Shin-chan: Family Anime, Social Change, and Nostalgia in Japan," by William Lee
This chapter introduces three popular family-oriented comics/cartoon series: Sazae-san, Chibi Maruko-chan, and Crayon Shin-chan. Each is from a different time period, and Lee shows how these series portray and reflect changing social and family life conditions in postwar Japan. Early-postwar food shortages, the changing place of women, and a traditional three-generations-under-one-roof family structure are among the topics/features of Sazae-san, whose setting roughly corresponds to life in the 1950s and 60s. With Chibi-Maruko-chan (1970s setting) and Crayon Shin-chan (1990s), the portrayals of family life become less idealistic and nostalgic, and more strained and child-centered, with knowing kids casting a satirical eye on the foibles and pretensions of adults.
Chapter 11: "New Role Models for Men and Women? Gender in Japanese TV Dramas," by Hilaria Goessmann
This chapter looks at how the portrayals of women in Japanese television dramas have evolved from the old stereotypes of "reliable, strong mother" or "suffering single woman" (common through the 1970s) to more diverse depictions which deal more realistically with family problems (in the 1980s and 90s). As a case study of the latter, the much-talked-about series Zutto Anata ga Suki Datta (I've Always Loved You), which portrays a mother's excessive domination of her son, is described in detail. Goessmann also presents a comparison among twelve 1990s TV serials, which shows how male and female roles in marriages are changing in today's Japan.
Chapter 12: "A New Kind of Royalty: The Imperial Family and the Media in Postwar Japan," by Jayson Chun
This chapter examines the role that the mass media, particularly television, played in the 1959 Imperial marriage of Japan's Crown Prince (today's Emperor) to commoner Michiko Shoda. Media coverage helped transform the royal couple into egalitarian "pop celebrities," felt by the Japanese people to be much closer to their lives than traditionally distant, "above the clouds" royalty had ever been. With down-to-earth details of her lifestyle being presented to the public, Michiko was the real star, bridging the gap between the royal family and the populace.
Chapter 13: "Into the Heartland with Tora-san," by Mark Schilling
Otoko wa Tsurai (It's Tough Being a Man) is the world's longest-running film series. Schilling gives the reader a tour of the Tora-san series, as it's popularly called, and of the nostalgia, fun, and bittersweet romance that are its trademarks. In one sense all Tora-san movies seem the same, and Schilling provides a perfect description of the series' winning formula. But he also shows how Tora-san depicts a changing Japan and addresses deeper issues beneath the surface of slapstick comedy and sentimentalism.
Chapter 14: "Sailor Moon: Japanese Superheroes for Global Girls," by Anne Allison
This chapter looks at the "transplantability" of Japanese superhero television series to overseas markets, analyzing the appeal and success of two popular programs, The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Sailor Moon, in the US market. Allison highlights differences between these Japanese superheroes and typical Western ones and describes the changes that are made to the Japanese originals to make them less foreign and more "culturally appropriate" for American kids (and parents). For American viewers, Sailor Moon offers a new kind of role model for girls, one that combines fashion and human foibles with strength and self-reliance.
Chapter 15: "Beauty Fighter 'Sailor Chemist'," by Yuka Kawada
Yuka is a 15-year-old Japanese Canadian high school girl who is a fervent manga reader and talented aspiring artist. This seven-page manga was originally created as part of a school project; it's a takeoff on Sailor Moon, and complements the preceding chapter.
Chapter 16: "Doraemon Goes Abroad," by Saya Shiraishi
Doraemon is the bright blue cat with the magic pocket full of high-tech gadgets, and the star of the best selling comics/animation series in Japanese history. This chapter examines the reasons for Doraemon's international popularity, particularly in other Asian countries. The author discusses the appeal of core Doraemon themes, such as kids' empowerment and technology as friend to man, and describes the role that the "image alliance" among artists, publishers, television studios, and character merchandising companies plays in the dissemination of Japanese pop culture abroad.
Chapter 17: "Pop Idols and the Asian Identity," by Hiroshi Aoyagi
This chapter describes Japanese-style "pop idols"-teenage singers and actors-and what it is about them that accounts for their popularity both in Japan and in other Asian countries. Idol characteristics such as the "cute style" and the "life-sized" persona (above average but not outstanding) are introduced, along with the views and words of several idols and fans. Aoyagi also links idols to economic growth, and shows how they contribute to the formation of a common "Asian identity" among young people from different Asian nations.
III. Class Discussion Questions and Activities
(The questions provided here are intended to stimulate thinking and discussion; they are not "repeat information in the readings" questions or questions with clear, unequivocal answers.)
General (for the entire book)
1. In what ways is Japan's popular culture similar to that of your home country? In what ways is it different?
2. Judging from the readings in this book, are Japan and the Japanese people different from their common stereotypes or from your own previously-held images? If so, how are they different?
3. What can one learn about Japanese society (or any society) from its popular culture? To what extent is a country's popular culture an accurate reflection of that country and its people?
4. In what ways has Japanese society changed over the past two or three decades? What has caused or is causing this change?
5. Why has Japanese pop culture become popular internationally? Why is American pop culture popular internationally? Are the reasons similar?
6. The term "cultural imperialism" has been used to describe the export of American pop culture to other countries, where its strong commercial presence and popularity threaten to weaken or displace local cultural forms and practices. Is cultural imperialism an accurate term for the presence of American popular culture in Japan, or for the presence of Japanese popular culture in other Asian countries?
7. Student Project: Presentation and/or written report. Investigate and critique a particular work, artist, or form of Japanese popular culture. Consider and discuss, if relevant, such things as: historical development; target audience; connection to social conditions, ways of thinking, or identity; issues of creativity vs. imitation; keys to popularity; cross-culture appeal; etc.
Part I: Popular Music
1. Does the concept of "authenticity" have any value in the creation, evaluation, or appreciation of forms of popular culture? If it does, what makes a work or artist authentic, or inauthentic? Give examples.
2. As Taylor Atkins explains in Chpater 2, Japanese audiences tend to discount the music of Japanese jazz musicians because they are not black Americans. Is it "wrong" to do this? What does this tell us about Japan?
3. Do you believe there is anything about Japan or the Japanese that puts Japanese musicians at a disadvantage when it comes to playing great jazz or "singing the blues?"
4. What is the key to enka's popularity? Are there any musical genres in your home country that have similarities to enka?
5. The lyrics and place of women in the enka world, described by Christine Yano in Chapter 3, are quite different from the lyrics and place of women in the Japanese pop music scene described by James Stanlaw in Chapter 4. What accounts for these differences?
6. Do an Internet search or use other sources to familiarize yourself with Hikaru Utada, currently Japan's most popular young female singer. How does Hikaru Utada fit in with James Stanlaw's contention that female artists are gaining greater confidence, power, and control over their careers than they once had?
7. What do you think of the liberal use of English words in Japanese pop song lyrics and in today's spoken and written Japanese generally? Is this an unfortunate and unnecessary corruption of the Japanese language, as some people argue, or is it a creative and natural evolution that modernizes and broadens the expressive possibilities of the language?
8. Although karaoke has become known and enjoyed worldwide, it remains much more popular in Japan and Asia than in the West. Why do you think this is so?
9. Activity: Listen to some Japanese jazz, enka, and pop music. What do you think of this music? What, if anything, is "Japanese" about it?
Some Music Sources:
Jazz The jazz radio station Shonan Beach FM 78.9 is available via Internet
An Internet search will turn up many sites devoted Jazz in Japan; one is http://www.impr.com
A good way to sample enka is to watch the program "NHK Kayo Concert," broadcast every Tuesday on NHK. Outside of Japan this can be seen on NHK World TV or TV Japan in the United States.
Japanese Pop Music
"J-pop" is widely available through the Internet; a search for Jpop or J-pop will turn up many sites and many downloadable songs. Napster (and its Mac version, Macster) is a good source too, unless it gets shut down (it's being sued).
10. Activity: Hold a karaoke party! (No one can claim to be truly familiar with Japanese popular culture unless he/she has experienced karaoke.) See if you agree with Shimatachi's views on the typical reactions of Asians and Westerners to karaoke. (Most cities have karaoke establishments or you can rent karaoke equipment - check the Yellow Pages.)
Part II: Comics and Animation
1. Whereas comics in the West have remained a relatively minor and looked-down-upon form of literature, in Japan they have a huge market (40% of all books and magazines sold in 1995) and have evolved into what manga expert Frederik Schodt calls "a full-fledged expressive medium, on a par with novels and films." Why is this so?
2. What do you think of Osamu Tezuka's Budda? Would you agree that Tezuka is a genius?
3. Considerable controversy surrounds manga in Japan. Critics decry the excessive sex and violence that many manga contain and deplore the fact that young people read manga rather than more "proper and serious" literature. Supporters argue that manga is enjoyable, is often healthy and uplifting, and helps children learn to read. Based on what you know of Japanese manga, which of these views (if either) would you lean toward?
4. Eri Izawa's chapter on "The Romantic, Passionate Japanese in Anime" reveals a side to the Japanese soul that contradicts many stereotypes and would surprise many people. What accounts for this gap? Are the two seemingly opposing views - one that Japanese are romantic and passionate, the other that they are not - incompatible? Is one view inaccurate? Are there other aspects of Japanese life and culture in which one can find a strong "romantic" bent?
5. What do you think of Hadashi no Gen (Barefoot Gen), based on the excerpt presented in Chapter 8? If available, see as well the excerpt included in Frederik Schodt's Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics (pp. 238-55), which depicts the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and its aftermath. Do you agree with the view of America's Comics Code Authority that Hadashi no Gen is not suitable for children? (see Chapter 16, pp. 305-6).
6. What does the manga Yukan Club (Chapter 9) reveal about gender roles and self-images among young people in Japan? To what extent do you think Yukan Club is an accurate reflection of the ways that teenage boys and girls see themselves and others in Japan?
7. Each of the family-oriented manga/animation series described in Chapter 10 comes from and portrays life in a different decade in postwar Japan. How has Japan changed during the postwar period, as seen in these series? In what other ways has social change been reflected in Japan's popular culture?
8. Nostalgia seems to be valued by Japanese audiences, to judge by the continuing popularity of "Sazaesan" (as well as enka and Tora-san movies - see Chapters 3 and 13), whose content appears to be rather out of date when viewed against contemporary social realities. Are Japanese audiences are unique in this respect, or are there particular reasons that nostalgia "sells" in Japan?
9. Activity: Use the Internet or other available sources (such as Frederik Schodt's Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics and Dreamland Japan) to familiarize yourself with a Japanese manga artist, work, or series. (Read the manga if you can read Japanese or find an English translation.) Critique the manga or artist in terms of quality, target audience, nature of appeal, humor, values, and potential popularity outside Japan.
A couple of manga Internet sites (there are hundreds out there!):
10. Activity: Rent and watch a Japanese animation video or watch Sailor Moon, DragonBall Z, Pokemon, Doraemon, or Card Captor Sakura (Japanese anime series currently being shown internationally). Compare these with Western animation series in terms of target audience, how they appeal to the audience, type of humor, and the values they teach or reflect.
Part III: Television and Film
1. As Chapter 11 shows, the portrayal of wives and mothers in Japanese television dramas has changed significantly since the 1970s. To what extent does this reflect actual change in the lives of Japanese wives and mothers? If, in fact, Japanese wives and mothers are viewed differently and make different choices than they did thirty years ago, what are the reasons for this change?
2. Chapter 11 argues that Japanese TV dramas educate as well as entertain, and not only reflect existing values and social conditions but actively advocate new values and promote social change. Do Japanese TV dramas differ from those of your home country in this respect? Who decides what values and social changes are advocated in Japan's TV dramas? Producers? Viewers?
3. Is television drama an effective medium for promoting social change? Why or why not?
4. What roles did the media, the Kunaicho, and Michiko and the Crown Prince play in the repositioning of Japan's Imperial Family from a remote, "above the clouds" institution to a more popular, egalitarian, and modern symbol of Japan?
5. In what ways did the engagement of Michiko and the Crown Prince symbolize or support social change in Japan in the late 1950s?
6. Compare Michiko with her daughter-in-law Masako, the wife of Japan's current Crown Prince. How have the experiences and trials of Michiko and Masako differed, and what does this say about how the Imperial Family has changed (or not changed) since the 1959 Royal Wedding?
7. What accounts for the popularity of Tora-san movies? Do you think foreign audiences would enjoy them?
8. Activity: Watch a Japanese movie or TV drama (on Japanese television stations like NHK World TV or TV Japan in the US, or by renting a video). Compare it with similar Western movies or TV dramas in terms of production, style, acting, content, message, etc.
Part IV: Japanese Popular Culture Abroad
1. What forms or aspects of Japanese popular culture have universal appeal, and thus have the potential to be popular and commercially successful in other countries? What forms or aspects of Japanese popular culture have limited appeal internationally because they embody or reflect specifically Japanese social conditions or ways of thinking that are "too foreign" for overseas audiences?
2. Compare The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers with Sailor Moon in terms of their modification for and acceptance by American audiences. What does this comparison tell us about American audiences, and about the transplantability of Japanese pop culture to the United States?
3. What are the reasons for Sailor Moon's popularity in the United States?
4. Why are Japanese comics and animation more popular in other Asian countires than in the West?
5. What, in your opinion, are the reasons Doraemon is so popular in Japan? In other Asian countries? Do you think Doraemon would be popular in the US if shown there? Why or why not?
6. To what extent is the popularity of Japanese pop culture in other Asian countries due to the financial resources and marketing efforts of Japan's cultural industries: the print and television media, entertainment companies, movies, character merchandising, and so on?
7. How do Japanese-style "idols" differ from popular teenage singers and actors in Western countries? How do their fans differ?
8. Discuss the role that Japanese pop stars, music, manga, and TV dramas play in embodying Japanese lifestyles and values and disseminating these to other Asian countries. Is this a healthy phenomenon? Do/should other Asian nations emulate Japan?
9. Activity: Watch an episode of Sailor Moon on TV. What do you think of it? As a show for your daughter to watch, would you view it positively? Negatively? Neutrally?
Contact the Editor
Please feel free to contact Japan Pop! Editor Tim Craig with questions or comments: firstname.lastname@example.org