Japanese popular culture includes ideas, philosophies, games, sports, television, cartoons and other pastimes.
Pachinko, otherwise known as "Japanese pinball," is a popular leisure pastime in Japan. In 1992, official revenues from the game reached almost 17 trillion yen. The unofficial estimates are almost double. Between 40 and 50 million people play pachinko; roughly, a quarter of these play regularly. The game operates like American pinball, though the Japanese tilt the game vertically so that a customer can comfortably watch his game from a seated position. Balls, which are automatically propelled by the player turning a handle, fall into a number of open slots, some of them with scores. At the end of the game, the player receives a slip of paper with the score and can exchange this slip for prizes.
Legal prizes for pachinko are usually little trinkets, food, cigarettes or home electronics. However, most pachinko parlors offer the option of exchanging these prizes for cash. This exchange is illegal and is usually done in a back alley with the help of the mafia.
In Japanese popular culture, a person's blood type is extremely significant. Similar to a person's zodiac sign, a blood type supposedly provides indication about a person's personality. Matchmakers often propose dating partners and marriage suggestions based on compatible blood types. A prospective employee can be asked his blood type on a job interview. Hundreds of books have been written in Japanese about the significance of blood types.
Sumo is Japan's traditional sport. It has penetrated deep into Japan's national psyche. During a sumo match, a wrestler, called a rikishi, tries to force the other wrestler out of the circular ring or to touch the ground with anything other than his feet. Though sumo has been modernized and is watched on television like all sports, some of the ancient traditions surrounding it have been maintained. The Sumo Association sets down rules to ensure that all rikishis follow the traditions such as eating certain foods and wearing traditional dress.
The romances of Japan's royal family have become part and parcel of Japan's popular culture. Prior to World War II, Japan's royal family carefully supervised their public images, permitting only iconic images to be made public, such as the emperor in full dress uniform.
In 1958, Crown Prince Akihito rocked Japan by becoming engaged to the daughter of a businessman. Though the businessman was successful and prominent, he and his daughter were still commoners. The press heralded this match as a sign of Japan's new democratic ideals. The wedding ceremony was closed to the public, but two commercial networks televised the wedding procession in April1959. Since then, the comings and goings of the Japanese royal family are read about, discussed and watched by the Japanese public.
Japanese television has its own style and signature. Most of all, it is marked by comedy. The Japanese love shows that make them laugh. Even programs that are not comedy often include humorous aspects. The sound of laughter, from guests and studio audience -- never from a laugh track -- are heard on almost all shows.
A popular Japanese television program is The Taiga Drama, a historical fiction series. The show airs every Sunday in 45-minute segments. A new series starts every January. Broadcasters mount a large publicity campaign before the beginning of each series to entice as many viewers as possible.
Karaoke is another popular leisure pastime in Japan. The word karaoke is actually a combination of two Japanese words, kara -- empty and okesutora -- orchestra. Karaoke is a form of interactive entertainment, where amateurs can sing along to music, usually with a microphone. Karaoke first became very popular in Japan and then spread to other parts of Asia and the rest of the world. Today, karaoke can be found all around Japan and is part of Japanese life. Karaoke mikes can be found in McDonalds and in special karaoke clubs in every neighborhood.