Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

Emergent Processes of Language Acquisition: Japanese Language Learning and the Consumption of Japanese Cultural Products in Thailand

Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

Emergent Processes of Language Acquisition: Japanese Language Learning and the Consumption of Japanese Cultural Products in Thailand

Article excerpt


During the last few decades, Japanese pop culture has become very popular throughout the world, especially in Asian countries. Newsweek on November 8, 1999 reported that many characters from anime (Japanese animation) such as Pikachu (Pokémon), Hello Kitty, and Doraemon were consumed by the new generation of middle-class Asian consumers, and that X-Japan, Puffy, and other Japanese music icons as well as TV stars had attracted the younger Asian generation, which yearned for more Japanese pop culture (Koh 1999).

Although commodified culture, which generally comprises a high proportion of native speakers, tends to flow between countries of the same language culture, Japanese is spoken only in Japan-and its commodified culture is formed mostly from the Japanese language. In order to consume Japanese cultural products, however, knowledge of the Japanese language is not necessary, since most of the products are translated and/or localized for consumption in each country and region of the world. In Thailand, manga (Japanese comics) are translated into Thai, and anime (Japanese animation) is subtitled or dubbed in Thai by Thai voice actors. Some Japanese fashion magazines are published in Thai, and readers can obtain up-to-date information about Japanese clothes, fashion, cosmetics, and accessories in their first language. Most of these products are readily available in Bangkok and are also sold in stores across Thailand.

Although Japanese language ability is not absolutely necessary for the consumption or enjoyment of Japanese cultural products, it can be an advantage for consumers of them if they want to consume them enthusiastically and pleasurably. In a previous study, a questionnaire research on fans of the Japanese male idol group w-inds., which was conducted in Bangkok in 2007, revealed that 52.9 percent of respondents started studying the Japanese language after they became w-inds. fans (Toyoshima 2011, 122). Twentyfive percent of respondents had started learning Japanese before they became fans, and 18.3 percent said they wanted to learn Japanese, which means 97.1 percent of fans had experienced learning Japanese or were interested in doing so. They needed Japanese language ability to read the lyrics of the songs, to listen to the video interviews, to write fan letters, to read idol magazines, to read information on the Internet, and so on.

In another study conducted in Bangkok, in October 2008, a questionnaire research on cosplayers-fans of the otaku subcultures of manga, anime, or video games who create costumes and props related to their favorite characters and wear them to conventions and expositions-revealed that 42.3 percent of respondents had studied Japanese in the past and 23.1 percent were currently studying Japanese (ibid., 180). Titles of several manga, anime, and video games are translated into Thai, but there are many more that have not been translated yet. If Thais want to consume such "untranslated" products, they need to study Japanese.

The two above-cited questionnaire research surveys on Thai youths reveal that the consumption of Japanese cultural products is closely related to Japanese language learning. Based on the research results as well as interviews I have conducted in Thailand over the past several years, I realize that there is a relationship between the consumption of Japanese cultural products and language learning; these surmises can be summarized in the hypotheses in the following paragraph.

First, exposure to Japanese cultural products induces Japanese language learning (Hypothesis 1). When one starts liking a Japanese cultural product and wants to consume it more seriously or deeply, one may start wanting to learn Japanese. Second, Japanese language learning induces the consumption of other Japanese cultural products (Hypothesis 2). When one studies Japanese, one may be exposed to additional Japanese cultural products, especially through interaction with other Japanese learners who are consumers of those products, and one may develop an interest in other Japanese cultural products. …

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