Akihabara. Commonly referred to as Akihabara Electric Town is home to the otaku. Otaku is the Japanese word for someone devoted to a certain hobby. Thousands gather to this one of a kind part of Tokyo everyday to experience some of Japan’s most interesting subcultures. Akihabara is famously known for being crammed full of otaku goods including anime, manga, games, idol and electronic goods. This town display’s its love of the subcultures from it’s brightly lit posters and neon signs (shown in the photo above) advertising the newest anime to the best maid cafe to visit in the area. Music blasts from every shop both inside and out, gaming centres lure you in with their claw machines filled with anime figures and giant Hello Kitty plushies and all in all it’s a sensory overload that could make the most hardcore otaku’s head spin. Girls stand outside the stores with flyers advertising their themed cafes; maids, butlers, vampires, ninjas, cats, owls, rabbits, you name it there is someone there to advertise it!
I know this part of Tokyo may not be on everyone’s to do list and what I experienced there on a late Friday night in September would certainly not be considered the “normal” thing to do on an average holiday. Having said that it was one of the most fascinating and entertaining parts of the trip. This truly Japanese experience was an idol concert. The groups name was Kamen Joshi meaning “masked girls” as they are famous for wearing hockey masks while they perform. The group performed a beautiful blend of the most cutesy Japanese pop with the occasional blast of heavy metal mixed in there just to spice things up! Kind of like BabyMetal but focusing more on the JPop idol side of it.
Although I had a good idea of what I was in for I was slightly apprehensive as I realised I was about to experience something truly bizarre first hand and this time it wasn’t a computer screen I would be staring at in awe. THIS WAS REALLY HAPPENING! Imagine a small venue that can hold around a capacity of around 50 people. Now imagine it full of Japanese business men that have just got out of work and are still in full suits carrying briefcases. Ok here comes the “weird” part so imagine them holding coloured glow sticks and screaming and cheering as 9 young women come out onto the stage dressed in cute animal onesies and singing the most adorable JPop songs you can imagine. Yes. This is a thing in Japan.
Now before you start screaming perverts or pedophiles and trying to call the cops on these guys just hear me out on this one. Japanese men are usually the target demographic for this type of genre of music in Japan and although this might seem strange to us foreigners it is (usually) just wholesome fun and is a form of escapism for people. We all use some form of entertainment in order to wind down and distract us from the problems in our lives for a little while. For example reading fictional books or watching your favourite soap opera. Basically, we all want to detach from reality at some point in order to relax and forget about things even if it’s only for a couple of hours. This is because it’s pleasurable for us to delve into new fictional worlds where anything is possible. This is what idol concerts are for people interested in the culture. These business men have to work long hard hours and often their lives revolve around their work so going to idol concerts and seeing their favourite idols perform is a break from that. It allows them to be free from responsibility, let off some steam and have a good time with others who may be in the same boat. These girls were probably in their late teens to early twenties and although you might be disgusted by the idea of middle-aged men gawking at them please note that these girls did not wear provocative clothing (in fact they first appeared on stage in onesies meaning the only skin showing was their faces and hands) and they often have special rules in place in order to keep the girls safe.
I think on the whole this culture is rather innocent and I think it could be a considered a healthy hobby for people to have. Like anything else in life too much of one good thing can be bad for you! I think the only time loving idol culture could be considered a bad thing would be if people let it consume their lives and it become an unhealthy obsession. For example if an idol otaku became a NEET (meaning Not in Education, Employment or Training) and shut themselves off from the world then yes it’s a bad thing. But used in healthy amounts it is a perfectly normal hobby for people to have and embrace!
First hand experience showed me how passionate some of these men can be when it comes to their favourite idols. For example most of the audience had coloured glow sticks and each colour represented one of the girls performing and it is one thing to see the girls on stage dance in sync but it’s something else when you see both the performers and audience members dance in an almost choreographed way with one another. When certain girls came to the front all the glow stick holders of her colour would rush to the front and before dispersing and allowing the others to follow suit. I never realised an audience could be as entertaining as the main act! The girls performed for well over an hour and both the girls and audience never showed any signs of slowing down. I think that some may attend these shows to escape and become a big kid for a couple of hours and not have to think about responsibility and can just be free to express themselves without being harshly judged by society and what is expected of them.
I think the part I found truly fascinating was that these men were shouting, cheering, dancing and were utterly and completely into the show and were acting in a way that you would not expect a business man to act. I do not in any way mean that in a negative way in fact I think it is a good thing! The fact that these people have something they can enjoy and feel so passionately about makes me feel happy! I have my own form of escapism through anime and manga culture and I think finding something you love and using it when you need it most can often bring happiness to your life even in the darkest of times!
All in all do I think idol culture is weird? No, it’s just different from what we westerners are used to. I think more people should embrace it because it is a truly fascinating culture. I think by developing an interest in these different cultures it can help to expand your knowledge and understanding of different people and cultures and open up your mind to new and interesting ideas! Do I think you should check out Kamen Joshi? OF COURSE! They are a very talented group of girls that work hard at what they do and I respect them for it! If you’re planning a trip to Japan any time soon I definitely recommend you add idol concert (Kamen Joshi in particular) to your to do list!
Until next time thanks for reading and I hope you’re having a great day!
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8 thoughts on “Idol Culture:A foreigners perspective”
very intriguing read! Japanese culture is so different from American culture. It’s great to see another lifestyle – it opens your mind to new experiences : )
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I’m glad you enjoyed it! It is very different in many ways but that is what makes it so interesting! 🙂
Hi! Thank you for writing this perspective. I respect your expression and opinion, but I disagree.
First, the “overwork” culture is a sad problem. Much of it is self-induced and peer pressure vs necessary. Japan has had high unemployment for many years and good salary jobs are lacking. One reason for this is the ability of companies to get 1.25-1.5 employees for one. If a company doesn’t outwardly discourage overwork by policy their employees will sacrifice to be considered good workers.
This tendency to persevere is ingrained from grade school years and is particularly encouraged in young males. This is not noble but a mentality that reaches far back in Japan’s history.
While “idol worship” may seem like innocent escapism, the fact is that a married woman becomes old in her twenties– and over-the-hill with the birth of her first child. She is “okaasan” to her husband…his new “old lady” not so different from the mother who once pushed him to succeed.
As a former Japanese wife, I find all of this quite pathetic and sad. First, I find it sad men do not respect adult women as beautiful and their capable lovers. Next, I find it sad that men need this type of escapism and view young girls in this way. Finally, I believe strongly, that although concrete statistics are lacking, all of this leads to trafficking and molestation in the home.
I believe that the allure of the cool Japanese culture blinds many and the real issues are dismissed. We want to believe that the Japanese have a high sense of morality and would not do anything inappropriate any more than any other population. Although we have teen beauty pageants and cute cheerleaders at our football games, teen idol worship is really not a thing here in the US and if it were there would be quite an outcry.
Please consider what I’m saying. I was quite a fan of the Japanese culture– one of the early Japanophiles with my infatuation beginning in 1980. My ex Japanese husband told me his love of viewing photos of teen girls was just fantasy. Well this “fantasy” turned to reality with our daughter and he is serving his 12th year in prison.
Thank you for your response. I appreciate and respect your point of view.