On Sunday mornings, teenagers crowd the sidewalks of Tokyo's Shibuya
district until they spill over the curbs and into the streets. They start
at Hachiko Square, under a video monitor that takes up the entire face
of a glass and steel high-rise, and spread out, 30 or 40 wide in the crosswalks.
They mill around displays stacked with new sneakers -- Nike and New
Balance from the United States, Puma and Adidas from Europe via New York.
They gather in a small music store that specializes in the American vinyl
records played in Tokyo's popular soul bars -- Grandmaster Flash,
Curtis Mayfield, Parliament. They spend 370 yen (roughly $3) at Starbucks
for a tall iced latte, which tastes just as it does in Washington, D.C.,
and is just as overpriced. Like any global metropolis, Tokyo serves up
a substantial dose of American culture, particularly to its youth. Sometimes,
like Starbucks or Nikes, it is authentic. Sometimes, like a "Harbard
University" sweatshirt or a potato salad pizza, it is not. But cultural
accuracy is not the point. Less important than authentic American origin
is the whiff of American cool.
A few blocks from the Starbucks in Hachiko Square you will find Mandarake,
a shop that sells used manga and anime (Japanese comic books
and animation, respectively). There is no storefront full of dog-eared
comics in plastic sleeves, just a maw of an entrance carved cavelike out
of fake rock and flight after flight of stairs down to the basement-level
shop. There, comic books and videotapes are stacked to the ceiling, alongside
the toys and collectibles they inspired. The real esoterica are under
glass, rare Godzilla and Ultraman action figures selling for hundreds
of dollars each.
With a network of shops across Japan and a listing on the Nikkei Stock
Index, Mandarake Incorporated is positioning for global expansion. New
stores opened in Los Angeles in 1999 and in Bologna in 2001. Japan accounts
for the bulk of Mandarake's revenue, said company president Masuzo
Furukawa, "but in, say, about five to 10 years, it should be the
other way around. The foreign market should be much bigger."
Already, "there isn't much of a time lag between what sells
well in Japan and what sells in the United States," Furukawa said,
comparing business in Tokyo and Los Angeles. The buxom, gun-toting pixies,
cute monsters, and transforming robots that fill Mandarake in Shibuya
show up in MTV graphics, street fashions, bars and dance clubs, and even
museums. Last year, the Getty Center in Los Angeles debuted a blockbuster
show on Japan's "Super Flat" movement -- young Japanese
art inspired by the two-dimensional look of commercial cartoons.
Sometimes, like an Issey Miyake gown, the Japan that travels is authentic. Sometimes, like cream cheese-and-salmon sushi, it is not. But cultural accuracy is not the point. What matters is the whiff of Japanese cool.
THE POKÉMON HEGEMON
Critics often reduce the globalization of culture to either the McDonald's
phenomenon or the "world music" phenomenon. For the McDonald's
camp, globalization is the process of large American multinationals overwhelming
foreign markets and getting local consumers addicted to special sauce.
In this case, culture flows from American power, and American supply creates
demand. For the world music camp, globalization means that fresh, marginal
culture reaches consumers in the United States through increased contact
with the rest of the world. Here, too, culture flows from American power,
with demand from rich Americans expanding distribution for Latin pop or
Irish folk songs.
But Japanese culture has transcended U.S. demand or approval. Director
and actor Takeshi Kitano, arguably the Japanese film industry's most
noteworthy recent export, was first embraced in Europe, then in the United
States. At this year's Berlin Film Festival, Hayao Miyazaki's
Spirited Away became the first animation feature ever to win a
top festival prize. A major publishing show in Frankfurt, for the first
time, opened an exhibition of Japanese manga. Namie Amuro, reigning
"J-Pop" (Japan-Pop) music diva of the 1990s, built a huge fan
base in Asia without ever going on tour in the United States. Millions
of teenagers in Hong Kong, Seoul, and Bangkok covet the latest fashions
from Tokyo, most of which never make it to New York. Japanese lifestyle
magazines, some of the most lavishly produced in the world, are smuggled
by illegal distributors across Asia as soon as they are on newsstands
in Tokyo, though none has launched an American edition.
At the same time, Japan has made deep inroads into American culture,
usually written off by the rest of the world as aggravatingly insular.
Bestselling Sony Playstation and Nintendo home video games draw heavily
on Japanese anime and manga for inspiration. So have recent Hollywood
films, such as The Matrix, and television series, including director
James Cameron's Dark Angel. "Tokyo is the real international
capital of fashion," the style editor of the New York Times
proposed this spring, spurning Paris, New York, and Milan as pretenders.
Japanese anime-style cartoons currently fill the majority of time
slots in the after-school and Saturday morning schedules on U.S. cable
television. The cartoon and video game franchise Pokémon -- broadcast
in 65 countries and translated into more than 30 languages -- even made
the cover of Time magazine.