Introduction aka Context

An examination into Contemporary (1980-2012) Photography in Japanese adolescent popular culture:
Investigating the tension between consumerism and activist photography; using the representation of women as an example.

This section is broken into 3 sub sections, each title in bold.

Positioning myself as a westerner.

Before I begin I must to establish where I stand. I am a fan. A fan of Japanese pop culture. Some might even call me obsessed. However I have never been to Japan, everything I experience as a fan and as a Westerner is through the media, and for that reason I have a very specific view, an “outsiders” view if you like. The voices which authoritatively inform me are global companies, Sanrio, makers of hello kitty. Shoneen Jump, manga distributors. And cartoon network, the only channel in the UK that shows anime. All of these companies have one thing in common. Making money. As a country our interaction with Japan is based on consumerism. William Gibson calls this Western consumer driven view of the East ‘Orientalism’. And we are Orientalists.


Tokyo. In fiction writter William Gibsons eyes “Virtual-looking skyline, a floating jumble of electric Lego.” Inside this electric city a unique culture was formed.

Since the early 70’s Japan has established a unique youth culture. Taking it’s influence from Japanese comics (Manga) and animation (anime), Kawaii (meaning cute) culture is occupied with all things sweet and childlike. This highly visual culture dominated Japan in the 80’s. The consumers of Kawaii are young girls. Rarely do we see a culture in which the power is in the hands of young women. In the West we have boyband culture which sells to young girls through admoration and obsession, but Kawaii culture is different. It sells cute plushies, frilly dresses, glittery stickers and big eyed dolls to  school girls.

Find another visual description here.

Seems too adorable to be true? Like most cultural trends their is a dark undertone. Sex and money. Here we see the male gaze come into existence, twisting this culture into a multi-gender experience. Their has always been a darker side to Kawaii, Otaku a word surrounded by Taboo, in Japan it’s usually associated with men who have an unhealthy obsession with an object. In this case I use Otaku to describe someone obsessed with anime. They are considered social outcasts and begin to establish a relationship with the characters and fantasy worlds they see in cartoons, enjoying the company of fictional women rather than real ones. Drawn to the unrealistic depiction of women in anime Otaku’s obsess over erotic figurines and seedy posters.

Kawaii and Otaku create a perfect recipe for selling, bright colours and aesthetic appeal taken from Kawaii culture and sex appeal from Otaku culture. Artist Takashi Murakami calls this culture “superflat” he suggests that society has becom two dimension and that we live in a flat superficial world, there is no line to establish what is art and what is a product, everything is made for mass consumption. I am to explore this notion in regards to photography. Do photographers use the hybrid depiction of sexy and cute to make money in Japan? Do creatives living in Japan not question this combination of innocent and sex on moral grounds? or has this culture become so dense that their is no voice for opposing opinions in the art world anymore?

Note – Looking at my structure sheet the introduction has changed quite a bit, but I feel more confident with this one then my plan, it didn’t seem relevant to talk about the origins of Kawaii culture, and to touch on it would be misleading. I have also made the link to consumerism subconsciously, I don’t need to justify why I am looking at photography in my second section because it has all been explained in the introduction. Bear in mind this is my first attempt at writing this so it may change a lot in the future.

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