What is the popular culture in Japan

Advertise the country's special charms with pop culture “Made in Japan”

Japanese pop culture such as anime and manga is now very popular not only in the country itself, but also abroad, especially among young people. In this article, the focus will be on this "pop culture", which has meanwhile developed into an important part of Japanese culture. At the same time, other people should be taught the special charms of the country with their help.


An important part of Japanese culture

Japan has a rich culture that can look back on a long tradition and of which the people of the country are rightly proud. She is also highly valued worldwide. Only kimono, ikebana, tea ceremony, kabuki theater or the traditional martial arts budo are mentioned here. All of these cultural facets stand for the special charm that defines Japan. For example, the Japanese food culture washoku, which was included in the list of intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2013, is now experiencing a veritable boom across the country's borders, and it has become an extremely popular food culture worldwide. In recent years, however, not only the traditional culture of the country, but also the more modern culture of Japan has been attracting more and more attention. This includes in particular “pop culture”, which is particularly popular with young people.


What is "pop culture"?

The term pop culture generally describes all cultural elements that relate to the population as a whole: keyword “mass culture”. Today the term is used in Japan to mean "something that exerts great fascination and that conveys contemporary Japan in a lifelike manner". Specifically, this includes manga, anime, computer games, light novels, pop music and corresponding television programs. All of these genres are not only presented worldwide in an almost inexhaustible variety of works; rather, special events are now taking place in numerous countries that clearly demonstrate the great appeal of Japanese pop culture and make it more and more popular. These works and events are constantly gaining new fans, who then also begin to be interested in the Japanese language and the culture of the country. Such fans can now be found in large numbers all over the world, so that Japanese pop culture has developed into an important means of promoting understanding for Japan and to promote trust. In the following, various examples of cultural exchange in the field of pop culture are presented.


Opening ceremony of the “World Cosplay Summit” in July 2015
(Photo: WCS Organizing Committee)


Manga: International MANGA Award

Japanese mangas are now extremely popular abroad too; and more and more people not only want to read manga, but also want to work as professional manga artists themselves. This development led to the foundation of the International MANGA Award in 2007. This prize was created by the then Foreign Minister Taro Aso to promote international exchange and mutual understanding through the culture of the Manga. One of the submitted works will be awarded the main prize and three others will receive additional prizes. In addition, the Japan Foundation invites the award winners to the award ceremony in Japan, where they can meet with Japanese manga artists and have the opportunity to visit publishers. In the first year of the competition, 146 works from 26 countries and regions were submitted; since then, these numbers have increased continuously every year. In the 2015 budget year, the International MANGA Award will be presented for the ninth time; 259 entries from 46 countries and regions were counted. The award ceremony will take place in February 2016.


Award ceremony of the 8th International MANGA Award (February 2015)


Cosplay: World Cosplay Summit (WCS)

Cosplay (originated from “costume play”) is a genre of pop culture that originated in Japan and has meanwhile had numerous followers, including not just young people. Fans of manga and anime dress up as well-known characters from their favorite works. There are now cosplay events in many countries, but the World Cosplay Summit (WCS) is the absolute highlight in this area. The WCS has been taking place in Nagoya since 2003 and is the largest event of its kind in the world. As an opportunity to organize a new exchange in an international context, it is the focus of special interest. The number of participating teams is increasing from year to year: In 2015, participants from 26 countries and regions were welcomed in Japan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan has also been a member of the organizing committee of this competition since 2009, and the winning team will receive the Foreign Minister Prize. The visit of a delegation of cosplayers to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo is now one of the Ministry's fixed events during the year. In 2015 eight cosplayers from the Philippines, Vietnam, Portugal and Kuwait, whose countries participated in the WCS for the first time, visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and presented their unusual costumes there.


Left: Presentation of the “Foreign Minister's Prize” award at the World Cosplay Summit 2015
Right: A delegation of cosplayers visiting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan


Cultural events abroad

The diplomatic missions of Japan such as embassies and consulates general or the Japan Foundation are committed to the presentation of various facets of Japanese culture abroad. In the last few years they have been organizing events from the field of pop culture more and more often, as the demand for such events is steadily increasing. For example, at the Japan Pop Culture Festival 2015, which took place in the Mongolian capital Ulan Bator in July last year, the local embassy of Japan organized a cosplay competition, a competition for anime songs and a quiz on the subject of anime. And in September 2015, the Indonesian idol group JKT48, inspired by Japanese models, performed at the “Jakarta Japan Matsuri” in Indonesia. With their appearances at the Japan Week Event and at the closing event of the festival with around 30,000 listeners, the singers thrilled the audience. Numerous cosplayers also took part in the festival, giving an idea of ​​how immensely popular Japanese pop culture is now in Indonesia. A wide variety of events are taking place in many other countries and are becoming more and more popular.


Left: "Japan Pop Culture Festival" in Ulan Bator (July 2015)
Right: "Jakarta Japan Matsuri" in Indonesia (September 2015)


Anime: Anime characters as cultural ambassadors

Another form of cultural event that is actively promoted by the diplomatic missions of Japan, among others, are the "Anime Cultural Ambassadors". As part of this commitment, Japanese anime are broadcast in various countries, which are intended to deepen the understanding of Japan and at the same time arouse interest in Japan itself. In 2008 the anime character "Doraemon" from one of the most famous series in Japan was named "Anime Cultural Ambassador". As part of bilateral anniversaries or “Japan Weeks”, Japanese embassies and consulates general then showed the anime film “Doraemon: Nobitas Dinosaurier” from 2006 as part of their cultural work. In addition, lectures with representatives from the anime sector took place.


Presentation of the certificate of appointment as "Anime Cultural Ambassador" to "Doraemon" (March 2008)


Television: Broadcasting pop culture programs abroad

In the meantime, new approaches are also being taken in opening up new global markets for pop culture made in Japan. Government agencies such as the ministries of home affairs and communications, foreign affairs, economics and industry or the state tourism agency work closely together to promote the broadcasting of relevant programs and in this way to deepen the understanding of Japan. Special programs are being created to help increase the number of foreign tourists in Japan and to present the latest trends in music and fashion in Japan. Model projects, which are continuously carried out abroad, serve to strengthen demand in the tourism sector and to open up new sales markets, for example for fashion products. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in close cooperation with the Japan Foundation, also selects suitable programs such as television series from private television stations, which are then broadcast free of charge in developing countries, where commercial exploitation is often difficult.


The role of pop culture

In this way, Japanese pop culture, along with traditional culture as an integral part of the country's culture, acts like a showcase for Japan to arouse interest in the culture and language. At the same time, pop culture impressively demonstrates the great creativity of the people in Japan, and it also embodies the freedom within Japanese society, in which it is unhindered to generate and develop a wide variety of ideas. Pop culture is therefore an important tool today to make Japan's diverse attractions known around the world. And it has also become indispensable for promoting understanding and deepening affection for Japan, so that the Japanese can act across the country's borders and create a smooth exchange with the whole world. Cultural exchange is an important part of Japan's foreign policy today, and the role that pop culture plays in it will continue to grow in importance in the future.


Note: This article was published on January 7th, 2016 as the 138th episode of the information series “Understanding the international situation!” On the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. He was made for News from Japan translated into German.



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