Japanese escapism

Sanne van Oosten

Japan is the world of alternate universes. If you please, Japan is the place where you can immerse yourself in any unrealistic world you can think of. You can go to a Sega game tower, you can lose yourself in a Manga comic book, you can visit a themed restaurant where everything and everyone follows the theme, you can go to Joyworld where the computer games literally spin you around and nothing is like the world you know. I’m not aware of any other nation where fantasy, escapism and the cyber world have fused with such intensity.

Japan is also known for its staggering suicide rates, its regimented society and the extreme dedication to the company you work for. Do these two societal characteristics have anything to do with each other? Are the Japanese computer games, comics and themes so popular so you can feel like you are in a different world, far apart from the stressful world of reality?

Popular culture always complements the dominant culture of society. As Japan is very regimented and cold. So, pop culture, is everything but regimented. Pop culture in Japan is all about creating a world where anything is possible. Is Japanese pop culture all about escapism, a way to get away from it all?

There’s a Japanese word, otaku, denoting a whole universe of monomaniacal geek-like obsession, whether with an electronic game, some odd hobby, or the cartoonlike “manga” comic books devoted to everything from kamikazes to kinky sex. This fusion of geek-like obsessions might have something to do with the great wealth of the nation, if you have a lot of money to spend, you’ll develop a strong pop culture.

But it might also have to do with the great conformism that presides over the Japanese nation. Do what the rest does, and you will be fine. Don’t do what the rest does and you will bring shame upon your family and friends. Lastly, could it have anything to do with the great despair the Japanese live in? There is no country where there are so many complaints about the great expectations every one has to live up to. Maybe these expectations are just too much for many and they seek enjoyment in the alternate universe of Otaku.

But does it all have to be so negative? More about this in tomorrow’s blog on Japanese cuteness.

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