The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture

The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture

The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture

The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture


In over seventy witty and informative entries, Schilling covers the years from 1945 to the present, casting a wide net that pulls in film, cartoons, every genre of pop music, comedians, matinee idols, gourmet fads, baseball stars, and quiz shows.


Japan, the Japanese are fond of lamenting, has a strong presence in the global economy, but no international face. Westerners, they know, would find it far easier to identify three Japanese cars in a parking lot than three former Japanese prime ministers in a crowded room.

Even Western Japanophiles are forever paying homage to the same few cultural icons. Movie folk visiting Japan from Europe or Hollywood are often effusive in their praise of Japanese films, but their pantheon of Japanese directors rarely includes anyone but the eternal triumvirate of Kurosawa, Ozu, and Mizoguchi.

In the case of pop culture, the fog is even thicker. Few Westerners could name a single Japanese rock singer, comedian, or cartoonist. Many have seen Japanese TV programs while never realizing they originally came from Tokyo, not Hollywood. The Power Rangers, as any five-year-old in Cleveland can tell you, are All-American heroes. The show's Japanese brand of chop-socky action remains, but its original Japanese face has been carefully excised.

And yet postwar Japanese pop culture has been extraordinarily fertile, vibrant, and commercially successful, despite the well- known Japanese eagerness to embrace things Western. In the aftermath of the war, with their traditional culture devastated and often actively suppressed, Japanese adopted as much of their conqueror's popular culture as they could find or afford. When Japanese films or TV programs look back at the chaotic early postwar days, the music on the soundtrack is often Glenn Miller swing tunes, the movies in the theater posters are often from Hollywood.

But while yearning after the symbols of the American lifestyle--from Coca Cola and Mickey Mouse to American-sized refrigerators and automobiles--Japanese also began creating their own postwar pop culture that, while evidencing American and other foreign influences, was definitely different from its models. Cartoonist Osamu Tezuka was a fervent admirer of Walt Disney, but he took his own work in new, more serious direction and, in the process, made it possible for manga, Japan's unique contribution to comic art, to escape the kiddy ghetto and become a major force in the nation's cultural life.

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