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If someone said “clear your mind”, you sit there in anticipation because - 1. This person is a bit bizarre for asking you to clear your mind. 2. In reality your mind is like a truck on the highway dropping thoughts like trash, but you want to humor them. So, you try your best to make it as empty as possible. They say, think of the first thing that comes to you when I say “Japan”. You're transported to Shibuya Crossing - lights, noise, people, anime, manga, Otaku, Pikachu, gaming, plushies!
If you’re a Japan enthusiast you’ll often be asked “Why do you like Japan?” and often the answer is… anime. Fantasy worlds that can fulfill every viewing desire, whether you enjoy series about teenage athletes, serial killers, colossal man-eating giants, magical action-adventures of a teen girl or monster catching, there’s something for everyone! But between enjoying the anime culture of Japan and Japanese culture there is a particular type of person that goes beyond enjoying… more of an all consuming love - the “otaku” (おたく). Often described as people with an intense passion and interest in anime culture, manga culture and gaming culture. Manga and anime are possibly one of Japan’s biggest cultural exports - so how exactly is anime a culture?
The simplest version of pop culture is the idea or practice of something that is widely favored and well-liked by many. In truth when modern anime began in the 1960’s in Japan it became exceedingly popular, becoming loved by all ages. Often when you think of Japan it is followed by anime, these two ideas are so intertwined, that really you couldn’t imagine what Japan would be without this cornerstone identity. Considering that anime has had such an influence in Japan you can visit statues, landmarks and theme parks dedicated to anime culture and their creators.
For example, in Odaiba, Tokyo, you can stop at a monstrous life-size Gundam! It's a gigantic entrance greeting for the popular anime series theme park.
Anime represents Japanese culture by taking mundane life and spicing it up with animals you catch, battles with monsters and psycho thriller hunting. It's using an escape from day to day humdrum to make life more exciting and adventurous. Even within the fantasy world viewers can still experience Japan through seasons, like spring cherry blossom season and roaring cicada bugs in summer. Japan is dripping with influences that can be used to create entertaining hyperreality. With inspiration at their doorstep for the creators it’s easy to see how Japanese culture affects anime. Often in anime you’ll see exaggerated personalities, like the burnt out salaryman, the kawaii Harajuku girl or the shy introvert boy. These stereotypes are often magnified to show the sub-cultures within Japan, whether they are truly inspired by people of Japan or not, it still creates amazing characters and story lines.
Photo: Sugoi Mart Instagram
Now, let’s fast forward to the 90’s when everyone in the western world was obsessed with Pokémon, Digimon, Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon and Yu Yu Hakusho, these anime became a staple to Saturday morning viewings. But anime culture is not just for kids, with anime like Attack on Titan, Dr. Stone, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Jujutsu Kaisen and Death Note to name a few, develop strong complex themes and obscure characters that we learn to love to hate or hate to love. In Japan anime and manga are used as inspiration for cosplay, not just for conventions like AnimeJapan or Comiket (コミックマーケット), but also on the streets of Tokyo as an everyday hobby. People wear anime merch in Japan to celebrate their love for the characters and their love for the anime. Merch like plushies are an easy way to show appreciation to your favorite anime, just for Pokemon plush there are so many varieties, so you can find the perfect character for you! Like the exclusive Shibuya Pikachu plush, the standout all star collection Sylveon plush, the mysterious Mimikyu plush and shiny Mimikyu. If you’re feeling a bit nostalgic you can even find Digimon plush like Gabumon and Patamon, or if you’re after new anime plush merch you can get your hands on Tsukasa Dr. Stone, Jujutsu Kaisen Maki or even the Kurama plush from Naruto.
Japan has created the best stream of anime in the world, but besides that it is the birthplace of legendary video games, like Mario, Zelda, Dragon Quest, Pokemon and Pac-Man. Japan has a long history of game and video game culture, with the original arcade game Space Invaders in 1978, revolutionary Pokemon Go in 2016 and the recently sold out Playstation 5 in 2021.
Photo: Adobe Stock
Arcade culture in Japan was a major influence for young Japanese people with Akihabara - Electric Town, since the arcade days, which are still around in Japan, there has been a huge influx within the gaming culture. With the change of technology there has been a reawakening in the gaming world, like with Zelda, you can explore an open world platform and appreciate the landscape for its beauty, or just beat up as many Bokoblin as you can! We are living in the perfect time where we can experience the most breathtaking games ever made and where you can get the fluffiest of plushies, the crossover of these two are purely magical.
Video gaming culture in Japan has enjoyed games made in the west too, like Among Us, Borderlands and Call of Duty. With the Japanese translation becoming available in 2020 Among Us has risen to popularity in Japan. Using intense strategy, quick thinking and un-sus like tactics, Among Us is a game you can be hooked on. Choose your favorite color, get your orders and you’re off! But be aware that friendships have been ruined because of Among Us, so make sure you can mend them with the cutest mini Among Us plush whether you choose orange or yellow we know it can help!
To quote one of the (arguably) best anime to come out of Japan “I wanna be the very best…”. All that we can hope for in life is being the best version of ourselves, and through the escape of reality we can easily do that. We have anime, manga and gaming to let us be whatever we want, and it’s no wonder that these cultures have grown so much! So, let’s explore these unfamiliar lands, not alone but with your plush pals for the ride of a lifetime!