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Looking at the large number of Japanese popular culture products/media that has successfully made its way into American households and overseas, one could say that Japanese popular culture has indeed become “global”. However, as Koichi Iwabuchi explains in his article “How ‘Japanese’ is Pokémon?”, we can see that it would be more appropriate to say that the products of Japanese pop culture that have been successful overseas have become “Americanized” rather than “globalized”. As Iwabuchi points out by using Pokémon as an example, American involvement in the success of Pokémon overseas was not only limited to distribution of the franchise but also its production (Iwabuchi 2004:8), thereby altering and changing many aspects of the show, from the character’s names to Japanese street signs, thus removing the characteristics that made the show identifiably Japanese.
The notion of altering something or as Iwabuchi would say, removing its “cultural odor” is not something that is limited to the Pokémon franchise.
We can see the same editing in other products of Japanese pop culture that have made their way overseas, from English dubbing of Japanese films to altering characters “Even if Japanese animators do not consciously draw mukokuseki characters in order to appeal to international customers, they always have the global market in the back if not the front of their minds and they are well aware that the non Japaneseness of their characters works to their advantage in the export market.” (Iwabuchi 2004: 9).
This also explains why certain items of Japanese pop culture were popular only in Asian regions but not overseas, because they did not remove aspects of the culture that would make it relatable to viewers outside of Asia.
In continuation, one could argue that when the “cultural odor” of a Japanese pop culture product is removed, then it is no longer fundamentally Japanese but has become “Americanized” or molded to whatever its target audience is. Therefore, Japanese popular culture that has become successful overseas because of this “Americanization” wouldn’t be considered true Japanese pop culture anymore, and the true Japanese pop culture whose target audience is still the Japanese people would not be considered to have become global. While some non-Americanized Japanese products and pop culture do make their way to America and can be appreciated here without removing its cultural essence, it’s nowhere near the same sphere as say Hello Kitty or Pokémon which have become household names.
This notion of “Americanization” rather than “globalization” can be explained by the principle of “soft power” that Joseph Nye explains in chapter 1 of his book Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics. As he describes, America has a great deal of hard power but also soft power and this soft power makes it so that other countries will want and be influenced by what we put out on the marketplace.
Given so, it makes sense why the Japanese would want to alter or “Americanize” their pop culture products”…our decisions in the marketplace for ideas are often shaped by soft power—an intangible attraction that persuades us to go along with others’ purposes without any explicit threat or exchange taking place.” (Nye, 10) and in doing so it also serves to help increase the popularity and sales of the products by making them appeal to both Americans and other nations that are influenced by America’s “soft power”. Furthermore, when one talks about “globalization” of Japanese products, it is evident that they are referring to their export overseas to the US or other countries that are at the forefront of the global market. However, they exclude the countries and places where these products wouldn’t be disseminated to, thereby making them not completely global, “While Pokémon might be perceived as “ours” in many parts of the world, there are still many people living in poverty who cannot afford to consume Pokémon or for whom Pokémon might carry the despairing sense of belonging to others” (Iwabuchi 2004:12).
In conclusion, while looking at the popularity and success of many Japanese popular culture shows, media, and products, one might say that Japanese popular culture has indeed gone “global”. However, many shows such as Pokémon or Sailor Moon have been edited to remove aspects of them that are uniquely Japanese, making them Americanized in order to appeal to a wide audience. Since the U.S. has a large amount of “soft power”, products that are Americanized appeal to various countries around the world. By editing pieces of Japanese popular culture to make it more Americanized, they may be making it more popular and successful, and indeed “global”, but one can say that’s no longer true Japanese popular culture. Thus, it can be said that actual Japanese popular culture that has not been modified for oversees viewers would therefore not be considered to have become “global”.
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