Why is Japanese Pop Culture so Popular?

Japanese culture is easy to spot. Whether you’re watching a TV show, or playing a game, or reading a comic book, you can quickly learn to differentiate the country’s distinctive style. In many cases, some of these cultural exports have been adopted by the wider world, and even fed back into Japanese culture. An artist growing up in Brazil might watch the films of Hayao Miyazaki and ultimately go on to work for a western-style animation studio whose works ultimately fare well back in Japan. Similarly, J-rock takes influences from American heavy metal and commercial pop music – but applies an unmistakably Japanese spin on the subject.


Perhaps the most obvious type of Japanese cultural export is the anime film. An anime film is one that’s based on a finely-honed style based on manga comic books. There are actually myriad different styles of anime to distinguish, if you’ve got a discerning eye. While we might imagine characters with bulging eyes and gigantic heads, there are as many styles of anime as there are of western animation. You’ll find them adorning posters which are sold even in the UK.

What makes anime such an appealing proposition is its willingness to venture into difficult territory, and tackle topics which a western audience might find controversial or even uncomfortable. In many cases, the subtler points of the story depend on a cultural context which a western viewer might lack. Something like Akira or Godzilla, naturally, will be viewed differently by a nation which has actually had nuclear weapons dropped on it.


The cuteness factor of Japanese culture goes way beyond anime. There’s even a word for it – kawaii. This aesthetic is a prominent pillar of modern Japanese culture, and is most notably demonstrated by the Pokémon and Hello Kitty brands. Some of these artistic choices appeal to universal human emotions and affections – which might explain why it’s popular around the world. The aesthetic is extremely saleable, with the aforementioned brands showing up on everything from backpacks to clothing to aeroplanes. Moreover, the cuteness thing can be endlessly recycled, and applied even to foreign brands and characters.


Japan’s status as a technological superpower stands apart from the rest of its cultural output, and yet it’s linked to it inherently through companies like Sony and Nintendo. The country spends heavily on education, and the high-school graduation rate is extremely high. The country’s embrace of robotics was driven in part by economic necessity – with an aging population and a shrinking workforce, automation represented a way out.

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