Japan, an island nation. It obtained an empire by the force of its armed forces and the diplomacy of its trading arrangements that then withered under the scrutiny of history. Yet this was not enough to finish them off. Instead, it took over the globe in a very different way. This course proved greater than weapons and commerce. It was the path of popular culture, which threads now weave well into our televisions, and even down to how we listen to music.
If you are looking to see a prominent monument to Japan’s influence, look no further than the Disney hit film, Big Hero 6. The plot? A boy and his homemade robot taking on a supervillain. Nothing to write home about there. The style and setting of the movie sure are. Set in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo where large neon cats grin atop red brick office buildings. Even the iconic cable cars have paper lanterns trembling from edges.
The intermingling of American and Japanese culture has been ongoing on for decades now. Just following the end of the second world war, director John Ford first visited the set of an Akira Kurosawa film. Only 13 years later Kurosawa returned the experience and was attending one of Ford’s sets when suddenly the entire cast and all of the crew gave a standing ovation to the Japanese director. It seemed the enduring visions of a terrible war were not enough to undo the ties binding these incredible artists together.
And now, the following post-war generations have probably soaked in the rays of the land of the rising sun. You can guarantee nearly every childhood fad over the last 30 years has originated in Japan. The likes of Transformers, Power Rangers, Tamagotchi, Pokémon are still just as popular, and the rage looks set to continue.
Japan has a genuine talent for exporting not only its goods but its iconic self to the rest of the world. Look at Nintendo for example. Even before selling hundreds of millions of consoles, Nintendo had already increased its footprint in the USA.
Nintendo’s most famous protege, an enthusiastic plumber by the name of Mario, lives in a world influenced by classic Japanese folklore. This despite the fact he was created to preserve the culture of gaming arcades across America.
Yet this phenomenon and cultural influence is not merely child’s play. Japan likes to keep the adults entertained too. One such Japanese megahit that has crept into the West is aimed at adults as much as the young people. Based entirely on a manga comic, the anime series “Attack on Titan” starts with a giant leering over the walls of a city and as the protagonist escapes from its clutches he witnesses his mother being bitten in half by one of these beasts, her blood falling to the ground in slow motion. And it can no longer be stated as “Only in Japan” that this is happening.
The rest of the world is taking note. The Pixar team who produced Toy Story sit high in the ranks of the Walt Disney Company. This is following years of celebrating and highlighting the talents of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, a man who makes films for children, that are just as much fun for adults. These movies make money.
As an aside, while we are talking money, a 20th-anniversary version the Sony PlayStation was sold in a philanthropic auction for a massive $129,000. This merely highlights the reach of this phenomenon. Sayōnara from San Fransokyo. Population: every single one of us.