Japan Pop goes global:

Japanese Pop Culture on Aesthetics and Creativity



25 November 2017

Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo (Japan)

Japan has increasingly become a source of inspiration in many creative fields: from manga illustrations, street fashion, and contemporary art; to storytelling devices such as the ‘Rashomon effect’ in Hollywood movies, decluttering lifestyle techniques inspired by Japanese minimalist aesthetics, and even food such as kyaraben. According to Dolores Martinez, “underlying various processes of adaptation and transformation lies a common desire to somehow make art one’s one, sparked by an engagement with the ideas contained in the Japanese source products.” Japanese aesthetics, such as kawaii, is shaping the worlds’ influencers in art, design, fashion, gaming, and movies. Contemporary artmaking has progressed through many forms, and the current fascination of many young artists is a hybrid combination of the globalizing influences of East and West, technology, and collective and personal memories. This symposium aims to consider the growing influence of Japanese popular culture on contemporary visual arts, trace the process of how it has crossed cultural boundaries, and provide an insight into the dynamics of how culture, memory, and technology can affect the way we view and construct things in the present and future.


Aoyama Gakuin University (Japan)



[Bio statement]

Northrop DAVIS

University of South Caroline (USA)

Manga and Anime Go To Hollywood: The Amazing Rapidly Evolving Relationship Between Hollywood and Japanese Animation, Manga, Television and Film

Book talk

Peak TV and Anime: Why It Matters

Keynote speaker


[Bio statement]


Cardiff University (UK)

Manga Scanlation and the Representation of Japanese Visual Culture


Guest speaker


[Bio statement]


Kobe University (Japan)

Guest discussant


[Bio statement]

Nargiz Balgimbayeva

University of Tsukuba (Japan)

Supernatural creatures have always been an irreplaceable element of Japanese culture. From the oldest collection of myths such as Kojiki to modern manga, anime and video games – they have always attracted the attention of people of all ages. Nevertheless, modern yōkai (a common name for such creatures, popularized by a philosopher Inoue Enryō), have changed dramatically in terms of both visual representation and their role in the context of the work they appear in. The images of yōkai used in modern popular culture are recreated in various ways in order to appeal to tastes of different kinds of audience.  To explain these changes, the author will present the yōkai image re-creation process taking place in Japanese animation, which is a concept playing a significant role in the amalgamation of folk and popular cultures of Japan, which are regarded as two elements of the structure of Japanese contemporary culture. In order to demonstrate how yōkai images are re-created, the author will use the example of the Yo-Kai Watch anime TV series (the original Japanese TV series), the influence of which can be seen in modern contemporary Japanese culture. The presentation is meant to be a multidisciplinary project, aiming to fit such disciplines as Japanese Cultural Studies and partially Japanese Folklore (the term “yōkai” is usually referred to Folklore Studies). The aim of the presentation is to demonstrate how the cultural heritage comprised of traditions and beliefs of the Japanese people are reflected in Japanese popular culture with the help of the image re-creation process in anime.

Luciana Cardi

Osaka University (Japan)

Beyond the Traditional Fairy-Tale Canon:

The Japanese Fox Trickster in American Grapich Novels


[Bio statement]

In the last decades, the shape-shifting fox trickster depicted in Japanese and East-Asian folktales has become increasingly popular among Euro-American audiences and has inspired a large number of adaptations. After providing a brief overlook of this phenomenon across different media (films, role-play games, illustrated books, science fiction, etc.), my paper will analyze the representation of the Japanese shape-shifting fox in American graphic novels, focusing on Neil
Gaiman’s The Sandman: The Dream Hunters (1999) and Bill Willingham’s series Fairest (2012- 2015). Gaiman’s and Willingham’s works, both published by Vertigo and addressed to an adult audience, combine the Japanese fox lore with narrative motifs from Western myths and fairy tales. In The Sandman, a figure reminiscent of Morpheus helps a shape-shifting vixen infatuated with a Japanese monk. On the other hand, in Fairest, the story of Rapunzel intertwines with that of a foxwoman named Tomoko, against the backdrops of medieval Japan and modern-day Tokyo.

My analysis will explore the narrative and visual representations of the Japanese trickster in a new cultural context, in graphic novels that mirror the recent tendency to mix Euro-American fairy tales with wonder tales from other cultures (Bacchilega 2013). In this process of cultural contamination, the Japanese tales are incorporated into the Western fairy-tale canon but, at the same time, they challenge and transform it. They create new narrative spaces beyond traditional cultural boundaries, thus defying the notion of fairy tales as an exclusively Euro-American genre.

Natalie Close

Sophia University (Japan)

In 2008 the Japanese government set a goal of attracting 20 million foreign tourists by the Olympics in 2020. The country managed to achieve that goal by last year and has since revised their goal to 40 million tourists by 2020. A big part of the drive to increase tourist numbers has been the government led Cool Japan campaign. Attracting foreign tourists remains one of the mainstays of the Cool Japan campaign, as can be seen in the tourist-focused events and advertising witnessed overseas. One of the key aspects of the Cool Japan campaign has been to promote creative cultural industries, in particular businesses associated with anime, manga and gaming. However, the campaign has also been accused of lacking focus as it tries to promote such varied aspects of both traditional and modern Japanese culture. This paper investigates the success of this campaign and looks at the extent to which this fractured focus is actually attracting tourists. This paper draws on data collected both overseas with potential international tourists, and in Japan with those experiencing Japan as part of their vacation. The focus of this paper is on how the Cool Japan campaign influences potential tourists, and how this perception changes and develops once the tourists arrive in Japan.

MichAl DalioT-Bul

University of Haifa (Israel)

The media franchise Ghost in the Shell (Kōkaku Kidōtai), tells the story of Public Security Section 9, a special law enforcement unit in the near future, and its main protagonist Major Kusanagi Motoko, a female cyborg with full body prosthesis and a human brain.  The franchise is based on a manga by Shirō Masamune (1989-1990, 1997), but it is probably Oshi Mamoru's stunning animated theatrical adaptations of the manga (1995, 2004) that gave the franchise its fame. In my talk, I will critically compare the controlling philosophical ideas in Oshi's films, with that of the recently released American live-action adaptation of the story (Sanders, 2017). I will argue that whereas Oshi's films offer a philosophical existential exploration that is  developed all the way to new frontiers of post-human existence, while considering related losses and potential, Sanders' movie resorts to a eulogy of the physical human body and human existence as we know it, thereby duplicating the American Robocop formula. Oshi's films ask what does it mean to be human, and Sanders' film asks what does it mean to be a human in a robot's body. As other have noted, cyborgs are not about the future, they are about contemporary societies and their anxieties. I will suggest that the philosophical complexity of Oshi's films and their  daring endings, was entangled with, and to some extent foreshadowed, the permissive embedment and embodiment of avant-garde digital technologies in Japan, in ways that are popular also in the US, and yet are still resented there.

Heike Hoffer

Ohio State University (USA)

Depictions of Beethoven in Japanese Anime: Japanese Visual Arts Transforming Western Iconography


[Bio statement]

Though hailing from eighteenth-century Vienna, Beethoven’s legacy is still alive and well in present-day Japan. Beethoven iconography was introduced by German music scholars during the Meiji era, firmly establishing the Western vision of the wild-haired, scowling genius commonly recognized in Japan today. Since Beethoven’s life and works continue to play a major part in Japan’s modern cultural landscape, it comes as no surprise that many agencies have tried to harness the power of his unmistakable image to attract Japanese consumers. As such, Beethoven’s distinctive features have been the subject of playful reimagining in both artistic and commercial products, some stretching his persona to the extreme. The composer has also been depicted as a character in Japanese anime, where common historical tropes about his appearance merge with the fantastic ideas of professional character designers to demonstrate how contemporary Japanese visual arts can imbue conventional Western iconography with uniquely Japanese aesthetics. Scholar John Tibbetts’s monograph on composer biopics describes how filmmakers forge a tenuous balance between historical record and filmic dramatization in their works, a juxtaposition certainly felt in Japan’s animated depictions of Beethoven. This presentation examines the character “Beethes” from NHK’s 2016 comedy anime ClassicaLoid, who is a stylishly leather-clad android obsessed with cooking the perfect gyoza dumpling. In addition, we will hear how Beethoven’s symphonic masterpieces are transformed in the anime underscore to support the distinctly Japanese characterization of Beethoven found in this popular show.

IRIE Toshiko

Doshisha University (Japan)

Transnational Takarazuka and American Female Fans

[Bio statement]

The Takarazuka Revue (often just refered to as Takarazuka) is a Japanese theatrical company composed entirely of unmarried females who perform both male and female roles. Previous work focuses on how Japanese female fans use Takarazuka to explore their gender and sexual identities in contemporary Japan. Few studies, however, investigate the transnational spread of Takarazuka to other parts of the world. They also rarely mention the way non-Japanese fans, who even cross travel across national boundaries in their pursuit of their fandom, have shifted the meaning of Takarazuka. This project is therefore the first to investigate why American female fans are attracted to the fandom of Japanese Takarazuka and how they use it to fashion their own gender, sexual, national and ethnic identity, along with how they recreate it with their own styles.

By focusing on the transnational fandom and tracing American female fans’ understandings of Takarazuka, this research will reveal the complex processes by which other nations and peoples reconstruct meanings of Japanese popular culture based on their own needs. Therefore, my project opens the study of Takarazuka and its fans beyond Japan and the categories of gender and sexuality that previous work has mostly focused on.

Furthermore, my research project will help move forward an emerging field of transnational fan studies, showing the ways transnational fandom creates new meanings for popular culture phenomenon like Japanese Takarazuka.

Evan R. Jones

University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (USA)

Fantastic Damage – Architecture, Anime, Destruction, and Tokyo



[Bio statement]


Of all of the world’s major cities perhaps none have undergone more cataclysmic changes in a shorter time period than Tokyo. Earthquakes, modernization, war, and urban renewal have changed the three dimensional Tokyo just as much – if not more – than giant robots, angels, and magical girls have changed a myriad number of two dimensional versions. But how do these depictions change people's personal, artistic, and collective memories as well as their interactions with Tokyo? By analyzing Tokyo as a historical entity, a physical space, and as an internationally-minded narrative setting, I will explore it as a cityscape of limitless narrative flexibility, one which creators and visionaries the world over bend and manipulate at will to satisfy various wants and needs. My presentation will utilize a number of curated visuals to highlight various interpretations of Tokyo with an emphasis on important representational shifts and their discernible physical impact upon the corporeal spaces they depict, with special attention given to recent attempts by local communities to attract fans and followers of various popular offerings via creative immersive marketing campaigns perpetuated by globally-minded online communities and convergence culture. I will specifically focus on how a societal feedback loop is established between creators, fans, depicted settings, fans' idealization of such settings, and the physical places in question. These concepts are especially relevant to scholars focusing on East Asian media and Global Studies in the digital age.

Boris Lopatinski

Shanghai International Studies University (China)

Even though the influence and the integration of Japanese subculture could not be resisted, it is admitted that its variation in different societies and workflow production when being observed closely the scheme of transcultural and Inter-cultural communication, especially when focus on the level of assimilation. In comparing the situation in Japan, China and France, the “Anime” integration would be analysed in the technical aspect, which regards the specificity of the software and production processing. This question will naturally lead to the common thoughts or interest that China and France have developed for the Japanese anime, and what type of show and movie they prefer and why. When common point is found, due to the background of these two countries for their humour, based on cynical aspect, ridiculous and surrealistic elements presented in some shows, it is evident that differences exist and can lied on a basis of fundamental structural elements of their society, as moral vs ethics. The last element is the paper or the internet encyclopaedia concerning the world of “anime” as The Anime Encyclopedia (US), the complete dictionary of the anime world (China), Le dictionnaire de l’anime (France), and for the internet “Anime Networks”, “Animeka”. From what has been discussed above that with the certitude that Japan do has influenced the world by its animation, it is clear that the major objection is generally based on the distance, and the lack of internal communication and of exchange among young generation, working in the animation industry. Even if great efforts are contributed, for the fact that inviting the specialists of all parts of the world to Japan, US and France or China, trying to discuss and exchanging ideas, there is a fact that should not be neglected that the globalisation of which those specialists have been dreaming, still has a long way to go, for all those reasons.

Nakagawa Yuzuru

Japan Institute of the Moving Image (Japan)

The emerging structure of hegemony and criticism from history

[Bio statement]

There are several researches of adoption of Japanese movies (especially Anime) in foreign countries, and the topic itself is rather popular. Using sociological methods to research audience is also preferred. The question is, however, a movie can really be completed by its own content. As Jenkins described by the concept of "Convergence", a film showed in a theater is not the only experience of audience for the title. A title should include not only a feature film but also multiple films, TV franchises, print-media, toys, and even fan communications for its whole experience. The convergence theory is also reasonable and acceptable for the understanding of current social video-game, movie, and book distribution networks which are not providing goods but serving limited time-span experiences.

Japanese government has used exertion for exporting Japanese popular culture contents to foreign countries, but convergence idea has been neglected since the beginning. On the contrary, there are several new economical bodies which distributing Japanese culture as their main commodity like "Crunchyroll", and they are platforming a new convergence in this century.

This research will focus on the new ecosystem of rising companies using methods of sociology and industry analysis. As the goal, the research will describe the complex relationship between technology and expression, and how human being is affected by the both, based on comparative study.

Renato rivera rusca

Meiji University and Yokohama National University (Japan)

In comics and animation, “Manga Style” is a term that essentially used to mean, in its infancy, Japanese-influenced attributes to character design, typically denoting large, round eyes, spiky hair, and often sharp, exaggerated facial features. These design elements are thus, to non-Japanese, culturally-specific to Japan, instantly recognizable, and, as a result, highly influential.

However, character design, and to a lesser extent, the thematic elements within a particular work, are simply the most superficially easily-recognizable aspect of what constitutes “manga” or “anime,” whereas the surface belies a deeper set of characteristics. Specifically, here I refer to the shisen-yuudou techniques employed in the composition of story manga pages (in other words, the guiding of the reader’s line of sight by the artist, and thus the control of the pace of the action), and the economizing of frames in the koma-wari process of animation production (that is, the “limited animation” techniques effectively emphasizing dynamism). It is here where we see the real defining qualities of modern manga and anime lie, and thus, both as creators and critics, when referring to something as “Manga Style,” further recognition is required on a deeper level, wherein we understand the elements inherent within the visual grammar of the works, rather than simplistic character design attributes.

The question, therefore, is how influential is the intrinsic visual grammar of manga and anime, and has it been employed effectively in non-Japanese works that are recognized as “manga” or “anime-like,” “manga-influenced,” etc.? We will analyze the compositions and techniques and see if and how they are being recreated in non-Japanese media, and extrapolate from that the possible ramifications in the growing internationalization of the art forms.

KrisZtina Rosner

University of Pecs (Hungary)

The paper analyzes how the concept of presence is put into play in connection to disappearance, contemporary popular media technology and objects in the 2014 production of Vocaloid Opera Lady Aoi composed by Hiroshi Tamawari. In the traditional noh theatre version of the famous story, the character Aoi does not appear “in person,” she is represented by a kimono. In the 2014 production the modified story is performed with bunraku puppets and sung by a Vocaloid singer, a software. By analyzing this, I elaborate on the connection between the posthumanist theoretical approach (Braidotti, Agamben) and the nonreflective position rooted in animism from the fan base of pop culture that attributes personality and emotions to their respective robot/android/software idol. I examine the latest performative events in contemporary Japanese theatre that involve both human and non-human actors/agents (animals, objects, androids, vocaloids): the corporeality of the organic and inorganic Other, focusing on how the presence of the organic and non-organic nonhuman appears within the interplays of representation, how it relates to the layers of empathy, responsibility and consent, in the frame of contemporary Japanese popular culture.

Ana Matilde Sousa

University of Lisbon (Portugal)

'Gaijin Mangaka':

The Outsider Insiderness of Japanized Art Comics Creators

[Bio statement]

My presentation investigates the artistic strategies of millennial Japanized visual artists by examining the emerging movement of manga-influenced international “art comics”—an umbrella term for avant-garde/experimental graphic narratives. As case study, I take the special issue of the art comics anthology š! #25 ‘Gaijin Magaka’, published in 2016 by the Baltic comics publisher kuš! and coedited by Argentinian gekiga comics artist Berliac, which features “a bunch of freaky hybrids” like Berliac, Vicenzo Filosa, Ben Marcus, Nou, Aseyn, GG, Gloria Rivera, Xuh, Luis Yang, and myself (Hetamoé). First, I focus on contributions influenced by underground/alternative manga found in Japanese comics anthologies like Garo, such as Berliac’s “Moriyama’s Dog.” Second, on the works of Luis Yang, Nou and Gloria Rivera, probing their different uses of “trashy” cute and girly aesthetics inspired by moé and shoujo manga visuals.

As some reviewers point out, the diversity and influences displayed by these “foreign comics creators” demonstrate to some extent “the futility of taking ‘manga’ to mean anything other than ‘a comic produced in Japan’.” Nevertheless, ‘Gaijin Magaka’ represents a thought-provoking collection of transnational graphic narratives showcasing different contemporary approaches to “foreign manga,” posing important if intricate issues concerning authenticity and artistic purity in a globalized age. I conclude that ‘Gaijin Magaka’ is symptomatic of the J-subculturation of millennials, immersed in a “Japanized” mediatic milieu where they no longer stand as discrete observers. Their outsider insiderness results in works whose interpretation (and arguably, enjoyment) demands that viewers are familiar with or even knowledgeable of Japanese pop culture.

Erika Ann Sumilang-Engracia

University of the Philippines (Philippines)

The Pokémon franchise is arguably one of the most enduring brands in pop culture. As of March 2014 the Pokémon video game franchise alone has sold more than 260 million games worldwide, while the trading card game shipped more than 21.5 billion cards to 74 countries in 10 languages. It fuses cultural elements in the creation of their individual and unique pocket monsters. Becoming new conduit by which these old folktales are revisited, revised, and ultimately renewed. Looking at how these pocket monsters inhabiting the world of Pokémon was created points to the importance of the folkloric inspirations behind the character designs, giving the franchise a taste of a cultural flavor that makes the experience more enjoyable. This study looks at how the franchise digitalized folktales and how these were incorporated into the Pokémon video game. Specifically, this paper traced the transformation of these folkloric images from the archetypal folktale characters found in Japan’s folk literature to pocket monsters (Pokémon).