Japanese Pop Culture – Just for nerds?

Until very recently, if you enjoyed anything to do with Asian pop culture, you would be considered a ‘nerd’, even in London, the home of diversity and cultural differences.

Now, you may think it’s only lonely teenage boys who sit in front of a computer watching anime all day, but anime, manga and Japanese ‘Lolita’ fashion have become huge in the Western world, yet it’s still receiving a mixed response.
I’ve set out to find out what is so appealing about Japanese pop culture and whether or not it’s seen as something reserved for the ‘nerd community’.

First I’ll break down the terminology:

  • Anime is Japanese cartoons, not necessarily for children; in fact a lot of them are filled with adult themes and gore. Some famous ones include ‘Pokémon’, ‘Naruto’ and ‘Death Note’.
  • Manga is the Japanese term for comic books, a lot of anime is based on manga, the same way that a lot of Western movies are based off novels and comic books like Harry Potter and a lot of superhero movies.
  • ‘Kawaii’ translates to mean ‘cute’ as cuteness is not necessarily associated with infantilism in Japan. The’ Kawaii’ or ‘Lolita’ look is based on Victorian fashion and involves a lot of bows, ribbon and lace. This look is extremely popular in Japan and is expected of both males and females.

I asked some questions to people with varying opinions on Japanese pop culture, from those who are fanatical, to those who didn’t even know it exists.
A common ground between all these people is that they all watched anime (whether or not they knew it) as children, particularly Pokémon, and some played the games associated with the series too.
Pokémon is in fact still a huge source of nostalgia and entertainment for those who grew up with it, and with the new Pokémon X/Y games being released this weekend, teenagers and young adults all over the UK are planning on revisiting their childhoods and thousands pre-ordered the game so the could get back to past that much quicker.

It seems that anyone who enjoys any aspect of Japanese pop culture was introduced to it by friends, and the main appeal is that it’s so different from Western culture. Every fan I spoke to mentioned that the artwork in anime and manga is visually pleasing and often fun to replicate in their own artwork.
Another advantage for the fans is that the Japanese are not afraid to push limits. With violence, gore, sex and profanities not being an issue in the world of anime and manga, more and more people are becoming a part of the community where censorship almost does not exist.
Unfortunately, despite the prominent adult themes in anime and manga, it seems that the overall reaction towards those who enjoy the scene is that they are immature for enjoying what are thought to be ‘children’s stories’. I don’t know any children who’d be allowed to watch shows such as ‘Elfen Lied’.

An example of Kawaii fashion in Japan
An example of Kawaii fashion in Japan

However, despite the huge fanbase surrounding anime and manga, the Lolita fashion scene seems to take a back seat in the advent of Japanese pop culture. The one person I spoke to who does see the appeal of Lolita fashion said that despite that people may think she’s weird, she is too in love with the unique style to ‘give in to Western capitalism’.

Similarly, those who do not enjoy Japanese pop culture claim that they did like how ‘cute’ everything was when they were younger and that they simply grew out of it, instilling the idea that Japanese pop culture is only for children.

But is Japanese pop culture only for the nerd community?
Interestingly, those who are not fans sway towards the idea that Japanese pop culture can be enjoyed by anybody and everybody given that there is such a wide range of topics within the culture. It was agreed that fans tend to be particularly articulate, varied in taste and creative.
It’s hard to answer the question, but most fans claim themselves to be nerds and those who aren’t fans remain indifferent. The London MCM Expo is coming up at the end of October at the London Excel Centre; it’ll be interesting to see just how many people who go are only there for the Japanese pop culture aspects of it and who is there to enjoy all sides.

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3 thoughts on “Japanese Pop Culture – Just for nerds?

  1. ‘most fans claim themselves to be nerds and those who aren’t fans remain indifferent’ – Hallelujah, someone realises that subcultures don’t have to be either loved or hated! In my own experience, specific bits of culture are either adored or dismissed, so its nice to see that another human being agrees with me on this one

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