NIPPON, Land of Subcultures | Japan Highlights Travel, for sightseeing around Tokaido

Nagoya Station [World Cosplay Summit] ©World Cosplay Summit 2014

In recent years, more and more people have been coming to Japan to explore its "subcultures" rather than for Mt. Fuji, historic cities or Eastern exoticism. Let's take a look at these unique aspects of our culture, which people abroad are hailing as "Cool Japan".

If Japanese culture is a tree, then Japanese subcultures are its abundant leaves and branches

  • During the course of Japan's long history, many cultures have been blended and fostered. Some of these cultures however came to be supported by the masses and went on to form some of ethnic and lifestyle traits of the Japanese people. The so-called mainstream cultures like classical literature, Waka (Japanese poetry), Buddhist art, Noh (masked drama), Kyogen (comedy), and tea ceremony have all done their part to make Japan such a unique place.
  • On the other hand, some of the slender tributaries originating from these mainstream cultures gradually attracted more and more fanatical fans. And so popular culture in such forms as Gesaku (pulp fiction), Haikai (comic poetry), Kyoka (satirical poetry), Ukiyoe pictures, Kabuki plays and Rakugo (comic storytelling) grew and flourished like the branches and leaves of a great tree.
  • In the background of this myriad of diverse cultures, one is sure to find a Japan’s original sense of aesthetics and beauty. For example, in order to make living in small town houses that little bit more comfortable, people contrived lattice doors to form an open space, and would sprinkle water onto the dirt in their small gardens to cool the air. These things help create an atmosphere of philosophical contemplation. And then there are the delicate designs created by the sophisticated techniques of traditional crafts. Because the Japanese are so fastidious and always pursue a high level of perfection, they have developed extremely dexterous fingers. This is the foundation of the technology which has led to Japan's being regarded as a "Mecca of technological innovation". Japan is very open-minded, accepting new cultural ideas and fusing them with its own.
  • Against this background, the great tree of mainstream culture has acquired a rich crown of leaves and branches - subcultures.
  • Japan now has a chaos of subcultures!?

  • In Europe and the United States, the word "subculture" is used as opposed to mainstream culture. In Japan however, "subculture" is used to refer to the polar opposite of the so-called refined or high culture of intellectual, highly educated people, as represented by learning, literature, art, music and drama.
  • In modern times, "subculture" covers an extremely wide range of movements broadly centered around cultures supported by enthusiastic fans of manga, anime, computer games, figurines and idol culture, and also including "youth cultures" that give rise to new trends, like "idol" culture, independent cinema, modern art, street fashion and indie music.
    A multitude of diverse cultures, each of which is recognized for its uniqueness and originality, all intertwine to create a rich and extremely open-minded cultural sphere. In other words, present-day Japanese subculture has become a kind of chaos which will defy all attempts at simple description.
  • Tokyo Station, Shinagawa Station
    [Kawasaki City Fujiko・F・Fujio Museum]
    ©Fujiko-Pro

  • Tokyo Station, Shinagawa Station [J-WORLD TOKYO]
    ©B/S・F・T

  • Nagoya Station [SKE48 Theater] ©AKS

  • Tokyo Station, Shinagawa Station
    [Tokyo Idol Gekijo]

  • Kyoto Station
    [Kyoto International Manga Museum]

  • Nagoya Station [Maid Cafes]

  • Discover, or rediscover, through the eyes of Cool Japan

  • There seems to be a big difference between how people from other countries see Japan and what the Japanese think of themselves.
    For instance, according to Shoji Kokami, author of "Cool Japan!? Gaijin ga Mita NIPPON", the three coolest things about Japan for visitors from overseas are "ice coffee", "all-in-one bidet toilet seats" and "granny bicycles". In other words, common things in the daily lives of Japanese are impressive in a foreigner’s point of view and are accepted as very attractive things.
  • This means that things which for the Japanese are commonplace and taken for granted can, by global standards, seem fascinating to people from other countries.
  • Right now, Japanese subcultures derived from the mainstream are all the rage! It could be that the Japanese are at last discovering, or perhaps rediscovering, the unique subcultures of their own country through the things that foreigners think of as "Cool Japan". The point here is that with just a change of perspective, even the things which are right under our noses can yield discoveries, or rediscoveries, that can make the whole world stop and take notice.
  • Kyoto Station
    [Samurai Kenbu Theater]

  • Shin-Yokohama Station
    [Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum]

  • Kyoto Station
    [Ninja Kyoto Restaurant & Labyrinth]

  • Tokyo Station, Shinagawa Station [Robot Restaurant]

  • Shin-Yokohama Station
    [CUPNOODLES Museum]

  • Kyoto Station [Toei Kyoto Studio Park]

  • Pretend you're somebody else! The world of cosplay, satisfying people's desire to transform themselves

  • We live in an era when "cosplay", originally a Japanese-English word, has become a common word. In case you still haven't heard of it, cosplay means dressing up to look like anime characters, and hordes of young people all over the world are already hooked on it.
  • That Europe and America hold cosplay in such high regard as a "means of self-expression" is perhaps not so surprising if we remember that they too have a long tradition of great festivals involving dressing up, like Halloween and masquerades. "I want to be a different me!" This is a desire that everyone has, and a wish that cosplay culture can easily fulfill.
  • Step inside and find yourself in another world! Cosplay eateries

  • Eateries where the waitresses are cosplaying as "moe" (cute) or "iyashi" (comforting) characters are still a very popular part of nerd culture.
    It all goes back to the so-called "maid cafes". They say that a certain long-running maid cafe in Nagoya gave birth to the "manor-style" concept, according to which the waitresses dress up as maids and greet customers with, "Welcome home, Master."
  • Many other types of eateries have emerged since then, including restaurants which combine cosplay and performances. The original performances draw visitors into a special world.
  • The charm of starting with amateurs! A golden age for idol groups

  • The Japanese have always had a liking for idol groups. Maybe it's because when many people get together, they create a charm and power which is more than just the sum of what each person contributes. The Japanese are also a race who like to enjoy the process of development. The popularity of AKB48 and other amateur idol groups is a product of a wonderful cultural phenomenon which is unique to Japan: "nurturing amateurs by giving them support". There may even be some points in common here with the goings-on in a typical "geisha district" of old.

updated on Aug 21, 2015